Posts tagged ‘Bill Miller’

The Art & Science of Successful Investing

As I described in my book, How I Managed $20,000,000,000.00 by Age 32, I believe successful investing is achieved by integrating aspects of both art and science. The science aspect of investing is fairly straightforward – most of the accounting and valuation math involved could be solved by a 7th grader. The more challenging aspect to successful investing is controlling the vacillating emotions of fear and greed when searching for attractive investments.

When people ask me about my investment philosophy, I do not like to be pigeon-holed into one style box because normally my portfolios hold investments that outsiders would deem both value and growth oriented. Since I am an absolute return investor, I am more concerned about how I can maximize upside returns while minimizing downside risk for my investors.

Because valuation is such an important factor in my process (price always matters), the most accurate description of my style would likely be “high octane GARP” (Growth At a Reasonable Price). While many GARP investors limit themselves to current or historical valuation metrics, my process has allowed me to take a more long-term, forward looking analysis of valuations, which has directed me to participate in some large winners, like Amazon (AMZN), Apple (AAPL), and Google/Alphabet (GOOGL), to name a few. To many observers, positions like these have traditionally been falsely considered “expensive” growth stocks.

Case in point is Google/Alphabet, which went public at $85 per share in 2004. At the time, the broad Wall Street consensus was the IPO (Initial Public Offering) price was way overheated. As it turned out, the stock has reached $1,000 per share and the Price-Earnings ratio (P/E) was a steal at less than 3x had you bought Google at the IPO price. ($85 2004 price/$33.98 2017 EPS estimate). Google is a perfect example of a dominant market leader that has been able to grow earnings dramatically for many years. In short order after going public, Google’s earnings ended up more than quintupling in less than three years and the stock price quintupled as well, proving that ill-advised focus on stale, traditional valuation metrics can lead you to wrong conclusions. Certainly, finding stocks that can increase in value by more than 11x fold is easier said than done, however, applying longer-term valuation metrics to dominant growth leading franchises will allow you to occasionally find monster winners like Google.

The greatest long-term winners don’t start off as the largest weightings, but due to the compounding of returns, position sizes can explode over time. As Peter Lynch states,

“You don’t need a lot of good hits every day. All you need is two to three good stocks a decade.”

 

Google/Alphabet proves what can appear expensive in the short-run is, in many cases, wildly cheap based on future earnings growth. Earnings tomorrow may be significantly larger than earnings today. Lynch emphasizes the importance of earnings over current prices,

“People concentrate too much on the ‘P’ (Price), but the ‘E’ (Earnings) really makes the difference.”
 “Just because a stock is cheaper than before is no reason to buy it, and just because it’s more expensive is no reason to sell.”

 

The Google/Alphabet chart below shows the incredible price appreciation that can be realized from compounding earnings growth.

The Google example also underscores the importance of patience. Although the stock has been a massive home-run since its IPO, the stock barely budged from late 2006 through 2011. Accurately picking the perfect timing to make an investment is nearly impossible. I concur with Bill Miller when he stated,

“We expect the stocks we buy today to contribute to our performance several years hence. While it’s nice if they contribute to this year’s performance, this year’s performance should be driven by decisions we made in previous years. If we keep doing this, we hope that we will provide adequate returns in the future.”

 

Regarding timing, Miller adds,

“Nobody buys at lows and sells at highs except liars.”

 

The Sidoxia Philosophy

Over time, as I have fine-tuned my investment philosophy, I have not been bashful in borrowing winning ideas from growth gurus like Peter Lynch, Phil Fisher, William O’Neil,  and Ron Baron, to name a few. By the same token, I am not shy about stealing ideas from value veterans like Warren Buffett, Seth Klarman, and Bill Miller as well.

While I don’t agree with Warren Buffett’s “forever” time horizon, I do believe in the power of compounding he espouses, which requires a longer-term investment horizon. The power of compounding is accelerated not only by committing to a long-term horizon, but also by the benefits accrued from lower trading costs and taxes. What’s more, taking a long view lowers your blood pressure and creates fewer ulcers. Legendary growth manager, T. Rowe Price, captures the essence of this idea here:

“The growth stock theory of investing requires patience, but is less stressful than trading, generally has less risk, and reduces brokerage commissions and income taxes.”

 

The Science of Investing

As discussed earlier, successful investing is an endeavor that involves the practices of both art and science – too much of either approach can be detrimental to your financial health. Quantitative screening can be an excellent tool for identifying new securities for research along with streamlining the fundamental analysis process. However, many investment funds rely too heavily on the quantitative science. The adage that “correlation does not equal causation” is an important credo to follow when reviewing various quantitative models (see Butter in Bangladesh).

The collapse of the infamous, multi-billion Long Term Capital Management hedge fund should also be a lesson to everyone (see When Genius Failed ). If world renowned Nobel Prize winners, Robert Merton and Myron Scholes, can single-handedly bring the global market to its knees as a result of using inconsistent and unreliable quantitative models, then I feel validated for my fundamentally-based investment approach.

While there are some artistic facets to valuation techniques, in large part, the valuation science is a fairly straightforward mathematical exercise. Unfortunately, the market consists of emotional and unpredictable individuals who continually change their opinions. Eventually the financial markets prod prices in the right direction, but over shorter time intervals, proper investment analysis requires some imperfect estimation.

Emotions regularly result in individuals overpaying for stocks, and this tendency is a risky strategy for any investment. In many cases investors chase darling stocks highlighted in news headlines, but regrettably these pricy investments often end up performing poorly. When it comes to hot stocks, I’m on the same page as famed value investor Bill Miller,

“If it’s in the papers, it’s in the price. One needs to anticipate, not react.”

 

Usually a news event that makes headlines is already factored into the stock price. The financial markets are generally forward looking mechanisms, not backward looking.

The Art of Investing

“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

-Yogi Berra

Investing is undoubtedly a challenging undertaking, but like almost any profession, the more experience one has, the better results generally achieved. Experience alone does not guarantee extraordinary performance, in large part due to emotional pressures. Investing would be much easier for everyone, if you didn’t have to worry about controlling those pesky emotions of fear and greed. The best investment decisions, and frankly any decision, are rarely made under these heightened emotions.

The most successful set of investors I have studied and modeled my investment process after are professionals who have married the quantitative science with the fundamental art of investing. At Sidoxia, we use a disciplined cash flow based valuation approach, along with thorough fundamental analysis to identify attractively valued, market leading franchises that can sustain above average growth. It sounds like a mouthful, but over time, it has worked well for the benefit of my clients and me.

The market leading franchises we invest in tend to have a competitive advantage, whether in the form of superior research and development, low-cost manufacturing, leading marketing, and/or other exceptional functions in the company that allow the entity to consistently garner more growth and more market share from its competitors. Quality franchises tend to also employ first-class management teams that have a proven track record, along with thoughtful, systematic processes in place to maintain their competitive edge. These competitive advantages are what allow companies to produce exceptional earnings growth for extended periods of time, thereby producing outstanding long-term performance for shareholders.

Finding sustainable growth in competitive niche markets is nearly impossible, and that is why I center my attention on large or emerging sectors of the economy that can support long runways of growth. When analyzing companies with durable, long runways of earnings growth, I concentrate on those developing, share-taking companies and dominant market leaders. In other words, disruptive companies that are entering new markets with vast potential and established companies that are gaining significant share in large markets. Well-known growth authority, Phil Fisher summarized the objective,

“The greatest investment rewards come to those who by good luck or good sense find the occasional company that over the years can grow in sales and profits far more than industry as a whole.”

 

I am privileged and honored to manage the hard earned investments of my clients. If this was a simple profession, everyone would do it, and I would not be employed as an investment manager. I have developed what I believe is a superior way of managing money, but I realize my investment process is not the only way to make money. If you were to assemble 10 different investment managers in the same room, and ask them, “What is the best way to invest money?,” you are likely to get 10 different answers. Having been in the investment industry and managed money for over 25 years, my experience has shown me that the vast majority of professional managers have underperformed the passive benchmarks. However, there are investment managers who have survived the test of time. For those veterans incorporating a disciplined, systematic approach that integrates the artistic and scientific aspects of investing, exceptional long-term returns can be achieved and have been achieved.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, AMZN, GOOG/GOOGL, and AAPL, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

June 18, 2017 at 7:25 pm Leave a comment

Time Arbitrage: Investing vs. Speculation

The clock is ticking, and for many investors that makes the allure of short-term speculation more appealing than long-term investing. Of course the definition of “long-term” is open for interpretation. For some traders, long-term can mean a week, a day, or an hour.  Fortunately, for those that understand the benefits of time arbitrage, the existence of short-term speculators creates volatility, and with volatility comes opportunity for long-term investors.

What is time arbitrage? The concept is not new and has been addressed by the likes of Louis Lowenstein, Ralph Wanger, Bill Miller, and Christopher Mayer. Essentially, time arbitrage is exploiting the benefits of moving against the herd and buying assets that are temporarily out of favor because of short-term fears, despite healthy long-term fundamentals. The reverse holds true as well. Short-term euphoria never lasts forever, and experienced investors understand that continually following the herd will eventually lead you to the slaughterhouse. Thinking independently, and going against the grain is ultimately what leads to long-term profits.

Successfully executing time arbitrage is easier said than done, but if you have a systematic, disciplined process in place that assists you in identifying panic and euphoria points, then you are well on your way to a lucrative investment career.

Winning via Long-Term Investing

Legg Mason has a relevant graphical representation of time arbitrage:

Source: Legg Mason Funds Management

The first key point to realize from the chart is that in the short-run, it is very difficult to distinguish between gambling/speculating and true investing. In the short-run (left side of graph), speculators can make nearly as much profits as long-term investors. As famed long-term investor Benjamin Graham astutely states:

“In the short-run, the market is a voting machine. In the long-run, it’s a weighing machine.”

 

Or in other words, speculative strategies can periodically outperform in the short run (above the horizontal mean return line), while thoughtful long-term investing can underperform. Like a gambler/speculator dumping money into a slot machine in Las Vegas, the gambler may win in the short-run, but over the long-run, the “house” always wins.

Financial Institutions are notorious for throwing up strategies on the wall like strands of spaghetti. If some short-term outperforming products randomly stick, then financial institutions often market the bejesus out of the funds to unsuspecting investors, until the strategies eventually fall off the wall.

Beware o’ Short-Termism

I believe Jack Gray of Grantham, Mayo, Van Otterloo got it right when he said, “Excessive short-termism results in permanent destruction of wealth, or at least permanent transfer of wealth.” What’s led to the excessive short-termism in the financial markets (see Short-Termism article)? For starters, technology and information are spreading faster than ever with the proliferation of the internet, creating a sense of urgency (often a false sense) to react or trade on that information. With 3 billion people online and 5 billion people operating mobile phones globally, no wonder investors are getting overwhelmed with a massive amount of short-term data.

Next, trading costs have also declined dramatically in recent decades to the point where brokerage firms are offering free trades on various products. Lower trading costs mean less friction, which often leads to excessive and pointless, profit-reducing trading in reaction to meaningless news (i.e., “noise”).  Lastly, the genesis of ETFs (exchange traded funds) has induced a speculative fervor, among those investors dreaming to participate in the latest hot trend. Usually, by the time an ETF has been created, any exploitable trend has already been exploited. In other words, the low-hanging profit fruits have already been picked, making long-term excess returns tougher to achieve.

There is rarely a scarcity of short-term fears. Currently, concerns vary between Federal Reserve monetary policy, political legislation,  Middle East terrorism, foreign exchange rates, inflation, and other fear-induced issues du jour. Markets may be overbought in the short-run, and/or an unforeseen issue may derail the current bull market advance. However, for investors who can put on their long-term thinking caps and understand the concept of time arbitrage, opportunistically buying oversold ideas and selling over-hyped ones should lead to significant profits.

investment-questions-border

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing had no direct position in  any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

December 17, 2016 at 10:14 am Leave a comment

The Fallibility of Tangibility

touching-the-water-wall-1435501

Why do so many star athletes end up going bankrupt? Rather than building a low-cost, tax-efficient, diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds that could help generate significant income and compounded wealth over the long-term (yawn…boring), many investors succumb to the allure of over-exposing themselves to costly, illiquid, tangible assets, while assuming disproportionate risk.

After all, it’s much more exciting to brag about the purchase of a car wash, apartment building or luxury condo than it is to whip out a brokerage statement and show a friend a bond fund earning a respectable 4% yield.

Many real estate investors in my Southern California backyard (epicenter of the 2008-2009 Financial Crisis) have experienced both ruin and riches over the last few decades. The appeal and pitfalls associated with owning tangible assets like real estate are particularly exemplified with professional athletes (see also Hidden Train Wreck). Consider the fate suffered by these following individuals:

  • Mike TysonFamous boxer Mike Tyson tore through $300 million on multiple homes, cars, jewels and pet tigers before filing for bankruptcy in 2003.
  • Julius ErvingHall of Fame NBA player Julius “Dr. J” Erving went financially belly-up in 2010 after his Celebrity Golf Club International was pushed into foreclosure. Dr. J. was also forced to auction off coveted NBA memorabilia (including championship uniforms, trophies, and rings) along with foreclosing on his personal $2 million, 6,600-square foot Utah home.
  • Mark BrunellPro Bowl quarterback Mark Brunell was estimated to have earned over $50 million during his career. Due to failed real estate ventures and business loans, Brunell filed for bankruptcy in 2010.
  • Evander Holyfield: Heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield burned through a mountain of money estimated at $230 million, including a 235-acre Utah estate, which had 109 rooms and included at least one monthly electric bill of $17,000.

Caveat Emptor

Inclusion of real estate as part of a diversified portfolio makes all the sense in the world – this is exactly what we do for clients at Sidoxia. But unfortunately, many investors mistake the tangibility of real estate with “lower risk,” even though levered real estate is arguably more volatile than the stock market – evidenced by the volatility in publicly traded REIT share prices. For example, the Dow Jones SPDR REIT (RWR) declined by -78% from its 2007 high to its 2009 low versus the S&P 500 SPDR (SPY) drop of -57% over the comparable period. Private real estate investors are generally immune from the heart-pumping price volatility rampant in the public markets because they are not bombarded with daily, real-time, second-by-second pricing data over flashing red and green colored screens.

Without experiencing the emotional daily price swings, many real estate investors ignore the risks and costs associated with real estate, even when those risks often exceed those of traditional investments (e.g., stocks and bonds). Here are some of the important factors these real estate investors overlook:

Leverage: Many real estate investors don’t appreciate that the fact that 100% of a 10% investment (90% borrowed) can be wiped out completely (i.e., lose -100%), if the value of a property drops a mere -10%. Real estate owners found this lesson out the hard way during the last housing downturn and recession.

Illiquidity: Unlike a stock and bond, which merely takes a click of a mouse, buying/selling real estate can take weeks, if not months, to complete. If a seller needs access to liquidity, they may be forced to sell at unattractively low, fire-sale prices. Pricing transparency is opaque due to the variability and volume of transactions, although online services offered by Zillow Group Inc. (Z).

Costs: For real estate buyer, the list of costs can be long: appraisal fee, origination fee, pre-paid interest, pre-paid insurance, flood certification fee, tax servicing fee, credit report fee, bank processing fee, recording fee, notary fee, and title insurance. And once an investment property is officially purchased, there are costs such as property management fees, property taxes, association dues, landscaping fees and the opportunity costs of filling vacancies when there is tenant turnover. And this analysis neglects the hefty commission expenses, which generally run 5-6% and split between the buying and selling agent. Add all these costs up, and you can understand the dollars can become significant.

Concentration Risk: It’s perfectly fine to own a levered, cyclical asset in a broadly diversified portfolio for long-term investors, but owning $1.3 million of real estate in a $1.5 million total portfolio does not qualify as diversified. If a portfolio is real estate heavy, hopefully the real estate assets are at least diversified across geographies and real estate type (e.g., residential / commercial / multi-family / industrial / retail mall / mortgages / etc).

Stocks Abhorred, Gold & Real Estate Adored

With the downdraft in the stock market that started in late August, a recent survey conducted by CNBC showed how increased volatility has caused wealthy investors to sour on the stock market. More specifically, the All-America Survey, conducted by Hart-McInturff, polled 800 wealthy Americans at the beginning of October. Unsurprisingly, many investors automatically correlate temporary weakness in stocks to a lagging economy. In fact, 32% of respondents believed the U.S. economy would get worse, a 6% increase from the last poll in June, and the highest level of economic pessimism since the government shutdown in 2013 (as it turned out, this was a very good time to buy stocks). These gloom and doom views manifested themselves in skeptical views of stocks as well. Overall, 46% of the public felt it is a bad time to invest in stocks, representing a 12% gain from the last survey.

With investor appetites tainted for stocks, hunger for real state has risen. Actually, real estate was the top investment choice by a large margin, selected by 39% percent of the investors polled. Real estate has steadily gained in popularity since the depths of the recession in 2008. Jockeying for second place have been stocks and gold with the shiny metal edging out stocks by a score of 25% to 21%, respectively.

Successful long-term investors like Warren Buffett understand the best returns are earned by going against the grain. As Buffett said, “Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful,” and we know stock investors are fearful. Along those same lines, Bill Miller, the man who beat the S&P 500 index for 15 consecutive years (1991 – 2005), believes now is a perfect time to buy stocks. Investing in real estate is not a bad idea in the context of a diversified portfolio, but investors should not forget the fallibility of tangibility.

investment-questions-border

www.Sidoxia.com 

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs) including SPY, but at the time of publishing, SCM had no direct position in Z, RWR,  or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

October 17, 2015 at 9:59 pm Leave a comment

Equity Quicksand or Bond Cliff?

The markets are rigged, the Knight Capital Group (KCG) robots are going wild, and the cheating bankers are manipulating Libor. I guess you might as well pack it in…right? Well, maybe not. While mayhem continues, equity markets stubbornly grind higher. As we stand here today, the S&P 500 is up approximately +12% in 2012 and the NASDAQ market index has gained about +16%? Not bad when you consider 15 countries are offering negative yields on their bonds…that’s right, investors are paying to lose money by holding pieces of paper until maturity. As crazy as buying technology companies in the late 1990s  for 100x’s or 200x’s earnings sounds today, just think how absurd negative yields will sound a decade from now? For heaven’s sake, buying a gun and stuffing money under the mattress is a cheaper savings proposition.

Priced In, Or Not Priced In, That is the Question?

So how can stocks be up in double digit percentage terms when we face an uncertain U.S. presidential election, a fiscal cliff, unsustainable borrowing costs in Spain, and S&P 500 earnings forecasts that are sinking like a buried hiker in quicksand (see chart below)?

I guess the answer to this question really depends on whether you believe all the negative news announced thus far is already priced into the stock market’s below average price-earnings (P/E) ratio of about 12x’s 2013 earnings. Or as investor Bill Miller so aptly puts it, “The question is not whether there are problems. There are always problems. The question is whether those problems are already fully discounted or not.”

Source: Crossing Wall Street

While investors skeptically debate how much bad news is already priced into stock prices, as evidenced by Bill Gross’s provocative “The Cult of Equity is Dying” article, you hear a lot less about the nosebleed prices of bonds. It’s fairly evident, at least to me, that we are quickly approaching the bond cliff. Is it possible that we can be entering a multi-decade, near-zero, Japan-like scenario? Sure, it’s possible, and I can’t refute the possibility of this extreme bear argument. However with global printing presses and monetary stimulus programs moving full steam ahead, I find it hard to believe that inflation will not eventually rear its ugly head.

Again, if playing the odds is the name of the game, then I think equities will be a better inflation hedge than most bonds. Certainly, not all retirees and 1%-ers should go hog-wild on equities, but the bond binging over the last four years has been incredible (see bond fund flows).

While we may sink a little lower into the equity quicksand while the European financial saga continues, and trader sentiment gains complacency (Volatility Index around 15), I’ll choose this fate over the inevitable bond cliff.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in KCG or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

August 11, 2012 at 5:07 pm Leave a comment

Time Arbitrage: Investing vs. Speculation

The clock is ticking, and for many investors that makes the allure of short-term speculation more appealing than long-term investing. Of course the definition of “long-term” is open for interpretation. For some traders, long-term can mean a week, a day, or an hour.  Fortunately, for those that understand the benefits of time arbitrage, the existence of short-term speculators creates volatility, and with volatility comes opportunity for long-term investors.

What is time arbitrage? The concept is not new and has been addressed by the likes of Louis Lowenstein, Ralph Wanger, Bill Miller, and Christopher Mayer. Essentially, time arbitrage is exploiting the benefits of moving against the herd and buying assets that are temporarily out of favor because of short-term fears, despite healthy long-term fundamentals. The reverse holds true as well. Short-term euphoria never lasts forever, and experienced investors understand that continually following the herd will eventually lead you to the slaughterhouse. Thinking independently, and going against the grain is ultimately what leads to long-term profits.

Successfully executing time arbitrage is easier said than done, but if you have a systematic, disciplined process in place that assists you in identifying panic and euphoria points, then you are well on your way to a lucrative investment career.

Winning via Long-Term Investing

Legg Mason has a great graphical representation of time arbitrage:

Source: Legg Mason Funds Management

The first key point to realize from the chart is that in the short-run it is very difficult to distinguish between gambling/speculating and true investing. In the short-run, speculators can make money just as well as anybody, and in some cases, even make more profits than long-term investors. As famed long-term investor Benjamin Graham so astutely states, “In the short run the market is a voting machine. In the long run it’s a weighing machine.” Or in other words, speculative strategies can periodically outperform in the short run (above the horizontal mean return line), while thoughtful long-term investing can underperform. 

Financial Institutions are notorious for throwing up strategies on the wall like strands of spaghetti. If some short-term outperforming products spontaneously stick, then the financial institutions often market the bejesus out of them to unsuspecting investors, until the strategies eventually fall off the wall.

Beware o’ Short-Termism

I believe Jack Gray of Grantham, Mayo, Van Otterloo got it right when he said, “Excessive short-termism results in permanent destruction of wealth, or at least permanent transfer of wealth.” What’s led to the excessive short-termism in the financial markets (see Short-Termism article)? For starters, technology and information are spreading faster than ever with the proliferation of the internet, creating a sense of urgency (often a false sense) to react or trade on that information. With more than 2 billion people online and 5 billion people operating mobile phones, no wonder investors are getting overwhelmed with a massive amount of short-term data. Next, trading costs have declined dramatically in recent decades, to the point that brokerage firms are offering free trades on various products. Lower trading costs mean less friction, which often leads to excessive and pointless, profit-reducing trading in reaction to meaningless news (i.e., “noise”).  Lastly, the genesis of ETFs (exchange traded funds) has induced a speculative fervor, among those investors dreaming to participate in the latest hot trend. Usually, by the time an ETF has been created, the cat is already out of the bag, and the low hanging profit fruits have already been picked, making long-term excess returns tougher to achieve.

There is never a shortage of short-term fears, and today the 2008-09 financial crisis; “Flash Crash”; debt downgrade; European calamity; upcoming presidential elections; expiring tax cuts; and structural debts/deficits are but a few of the fear issues du jour in investors’ minds. Markets may be overbought in the short-run, and a current or unforeseen issue may derail the massive bounce from early 2009. For investors who can put on their long-term thinking caps and understand the concept of time arbitrage, buying oversold ideas and selling over-hyped ones will lead to profitable usage of investment time.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in any security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

March 25, 2012 at 6:09 pm Leave a comment

Winning the Stock Rock Turning Game

There are a few similarities between dieting and investing. There are no shortcuts or panaceas to achieving success in either endeavor – they both require plain old hard work.  Any winning investment process will have some sort of mechanism(s) to generate new stock ideas, whether done quantitatively through a screening process or more subjectively through other avenues (e.g., conferences, journals, investor contacts, field research, or Investing Caffeine – ha).  As many investors would agree, discovering remarkable stock picks is no effortless undertaking. A lot of meaningless rocks need to be turned before a gem can be found, especially in an age of information overload. I believe investing guru Peter Lynch said it best:

“I always thought if you looked at ten companies, you’d find one that’s interesting, if you’d look at 20, you’d find two, or if you look at hundred you’ll find ten. The person that turns over the most rocks wins the game.”

 

Depending on the duration of your investment time horizon, stock gems can be more abundant in certain time periods relative to others. The shorter the timeframe, the more important timing becomes. Looking at a few major turning points illustrates my point. Although hindsight is 20/20, it is clear now (and for a minority of investors 11 years ago) that the pickings were slim in March 2000 and virtually endless in March 2009 –practically anything purchased then went up in price.

Investing is not a game of certainty, because if it was certain, everyone would be sipping umbrella drinks on their personal islands. Since investing involves a great deal of uncertainty, the name of the game is stacking probabilities in your favor. If you have a repeatable process, you should be able to outperform the markets in the long-run. In the short-run, a good process can have a bad outcome, and a bad process can have a good outcome.

Macro vs. Bottom-Up

Gaining a rough sense of the macro picture can increase the probabilities of success, but more importantly I believe a bottom-up approach (i.e., flipping over lots of stock rocks) is a better approach to raising odds in your favor. The recent volatility and pullback in the market has left a sour taste in investors’ mouths, but great opportunities still abound. That’s the thing about great stocks, they never disappear in bear markets and they eventually flourish – more often when a bull market returns.

Characterizing the macro game as difficult is stating the obvious. Although there are only about two recessions every decade, if you watch CNBC or read the paper, there are probably about 20 or 30 recessions predicted every 10 years. Very few, if any, can profitably time the scarce number of actual recessions, but many lose tons of money from the dozens of false alarms. You’re much better off by following Lynch’s credo: “Assume the market is going nowhere and invest accordingly.”

Land Mine or Gold Mine?

Not everyone believes in the painstaking process of fundamental analysis, but I in fact come from the COFC (Church of Fundamental Research), which firmly believes fundamental research is absolutely necessary in determining whether an investment is a land mine or a gold mine. Others believe that a quantitative black box (see Butter in Bangladesh), or technical analysis (see Astrology or Lob Wedge) can do the trick as a substitute. These strategies may be easier to implement, but as well-known money manager Bill Miller indicated, “This is not a business where ignorance is an asset; the more you work at it, the better you ought to be, other things equal.”

By doing your investment homework on companies, not only will you gain better knowledge of your investment, but you will better understanding of the company. Regardless of your process, I’m convinced any worthwhile strategy requires conviction. If you have loose roots of interest in a stock, the wind will blow you all over the place, and ultimately rip the roots of your flimsy thesis out of the foundation. I contend that most lazy and simplistic processes, such as buying off tips, chasing winners, or letting computers buy stocks might create short-term profits, but these methods do not engender conviction and will eventually lead speculators to the poor house. If simple short-cuts worked so well, I think the secret would have gotten out to the masses by now. Rather than trading off of tips or questionable technical indicators, Peter Lynch advises investors to do their homework and “buy what you know.”

There is no single way of making money in the stock market, but I’m convinced any worthwhile process incorporates a process of pulling weeds and watering new flowers. But to generate a continuous flow of new stock idea gems, which are necessary to win in the investment game, you will need to turn over a lot of stock rocks.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Performance data from Morningstar.com. Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in any security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

June 23, 2011 at 11:14 pm 1 comment

Ken Heebner: Dr. Adrenaline

Is the market making you feel a little lost, down, or disconnected?  Then perhaps what you need is a prescription of adrenaline in the form of some CGM Focus Fund shares (CGMFX). Ken Heebner has captained the CGM Focus Fund since its 1997 inception. This hyper-volatile fund is not for the faint of heart. The concentrated fund holds a narrow portfolio (often 20-30 positions), which is managed with a very itchy trigger-finger. The eye-popping 363% turnover last year is proof of Heebner’s rapid fire approach, which equates to an average stock holding period of around three months. Although “Dr. Adrenaline” has earned the top Morningstar ranking for his Focus Fund on a 10-year basis (annualized +11.8% vs. +2.1% S&P 500 – Morningstar 6/9/11), Heebner is dead last on a 3-year basis (annualized -19.9% vs. +.4% S&P 500).

The Journey from First to Worst

How does a manager go from first to worst? Well, given the fund’s “go anywhere” mandate, Heebner became a hero when he shorted technology and internet stocks in 2000 and 2001during the bubble burst (yes, that’s correct, the Focus Fund has the ability to short securities as well). Simultaneously, Heebner went long the homebuilders and watched the massive appreciation transpire as the real estate bubble inflated. This clever maneuvering earned the fund a whopping +54% return in 2000 and an encore +47% advance in 2001, while the S&P 500 index plummeted -9% and -12%, respectively.

While Heebner captured the inflection of the tech bubble bursting, he has fared less well through the financial crisis and recovery of 2008-2011. After riding the commodities boom in 2007, on the way to an +80% killing, Heebner overstayed his welcome at the trough. Not only did his commodity stocks tank, he prematurely piled into financials and insurance companies (e.g., BAC, C, WFC, HIG). Like many other managers, Heebner underestimated the severity and scope of the financial crisis and he and his investors suffered the consequences (underperformed the S&P 500 by -11% in 2008 and -16% in 2009).

This is what Heebner had to say about the housing market in late 2007:

“It’s a narrow sector. Globally the US housing market is not that important. I think it may flatten out our retail sales and our economy may go sidewise, but I don’t think that’s going to derail this global economy.”

 

That forecast didn’t really pan out as expected and this year hasn’t exactly gotten off to a rosy start either. The fund is already down -12% in 2011, trailing the S&P 500 by an overwhelming -15% margin.

Behind the Brains

The grey-haired, 70-year-old Heebner has accumulated a lot of real world schooling before starting CGM (Capital Growth Management) in 1990. Heebner started his career as an economist with A & H Kroeger in 1965, before he decided to get his feet wet in money management as a portfolio manager at Scudder, Stevens & Clark, as well as Loomis Sayles & Co.

Heebner does not follow your ordinary run of the mill investment strategy. As the antithesis of a traditional value investor, Heebner typically buys stocks that have already appreciated in price. He is looking for stocks with a “pattern of earnings development in excess of consensus.”  Or as Heebner clarifies, “I try and find a situation where the development of the fundamentals is going to be more positive than other investors are experiencing.” When investing in the fund, Heebner combines fundamental analysis with an overlay of a top-down macroeconomic assessment.

At last check in April, Heebner was still optimistic about the prospects for equities, despite the outlook for inflation:

“I ran money from 1976 to 1980. The inflation rate went from 6 to 15. There was a lot of money to be made.”

 

In inflationary environments, Heebner advocates finding companies with earnings growth profiles that will expand faster than the compression in price-earnings ratios.

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Heebner Not Alone

Ken Heebner is certainly not the only hot-shot manager in history to suffer a cold-spell. After setting records and beating the S&P 500 index for 15 consecutive years, Bill Miller has found his fund (Legg Mason Capital Management Value Fund – LMVTX) firmly in the bottom decile of his peer group on a 1-year, 3-year, 5-year, and 10-year basis (see also Revenge of the Dunce). Moreover, Morningstar’s fund manager of the decade, Bruce Berkowitz of the Fairholme Fund (FAIRX), has also recently been hit by the performance ugly stick (see also The Invisible Giant), albeit less bad than Heebner and Miller.

When all is said and done, the flexibility afforded to Ken Heebner in managing the CGM Focus Fund has served long-term investors very well – if they were not prematurely spooked out the investments due to volatility. For those not invested in the CGM Focus Fund, or for those bored individuals looking for rollercoaster returns, Dr. Heebner may have just the adrenaline prescription you were looking for…a healthy dosage of CGM Focus Fund shares!

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Performance data from Morningstar.com. Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in CGMFX, LMVTX, FAIRX, BAC, C, WFC, HIG, MORN, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

June 9, 2011 at 11:52 pm Leave a comment

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