Posts tagged ‘Bitcoin’

Will Santa Leave a Lump of Coal?

As we enter the last month of the year, the holiday season is kicking into full gear, decorations are popping up everywhere, and the burning question arises, “Will Santa Claus bring gifts for stock market investors, or will he leave a lump of coal in their stockings?”

It was a bumpy sleigh ride last month, but we ultimately entered December in a festive mood with joyful monthly gains of +1.7% in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and +1.8% in the S&P 500. There have been some naughty and nice factors leading to some turbulent but modest gains in 2018. For the first 11 months of the year, the Dow has rejoiced with a +3.3% advance, and the S&P 500 has celebrated a rise of +3.2% – and these results exclude additional dividends of approximately 2%.

Despite the monthly gains, not everything has been sugar plums. President Trump has been repeatedly sparring with the Federal Reserve Chairman, Jerome Powell, treating him more like the Grinch due to his stingy interest rate increases than Santa. As stockholders have contemplated the future path of interest rates, the major stock indexes temporarily slipped into negative territory for the year, until Mr. Powell gave stock and bond investors an early Christmas present last week by signaling interest rates are “just below” the nebulous neutral target. The dovish comment implied we are closer to the end of the economy-slowing rate-hike cycle than we are to the beginning.

Trade has also contributed to the recent spike in stock market volatility, despite the fresh establishment of the trade agreement reached between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada (USMCA – U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement), a.k.a., NAFTA 2.0. Despite the positive progress with our Mexican and Canadian neighbors, uncertainty surrounding our country’s trade relations with China has been challenging due to multiple factors including, Chinese theft of American intellectual property, cyber-attacks, forced technology transfer, agricultural trade, and other crucial issues. Fortunately, optimism for a substantive agreement between the world’s two super-powers advanced this weekend at the summit of the Group of 20 nations in Argentina, when a truce was reached to delay an additional $200 billion in tariffs for 90 days, while the two countries further negotiate in an attempt to finalize a comprehensive trade pact.

Source:  Financial Times

Economic Tailwinds

Besides positive developments on the interest rate and trade fronts, the economy has benefited from tailwinds in some other important areas, such as the following:

Low Unemployment: The economy keeps adding jobs at a healthy clip with the unemployment rate reaching a 48-year low of 3.7%.

Source: Calculated Risk

Rising Consumer Confidence: Although there was a slight downtick in the November Consumer Confidence reading, you can see the rising long-term, 10-year trend has been on a clear upward trajectory.

Source: Chad Moutray

Solid Economic Growth: As the chart below indicates, the last two quarters of economic growth, measured by GDP (Gross Domestic Product), have been running at multi-year highs. Forecasts for the 4th quarter currently stand at a respectable mid-2% range.

Source: BEA

Uncertain Weather Forecast

Although the majority of economic data may have observers presently singing “Joy to the World,” the uncertain political weather forecast could require Rudolph’s red-nose assistance to navigate the foggy climate. The mid-term elections have created a split Congress with the Republicans holding a majority in the Senate, and the Democrats gaining control of the House of Representatives. As we learned in the last presidential term, gridlock is not necessarily a bad thing (see also, Who Said Gridlock is Bad?). For instance, a lack of government control can place more power in the hands of the private sector. Political ambiguity also surrounds the timing and outcome of Robert Mueller’s Special Counsel investigation into potential Russian interference and collusion, however as I have continually reminded followers, there are more important factors than politics as it relates to the performance of the stock market (see also, Markets Fly as Media Noise Goes By).

From an economic standpoint, some speculative areas have been pricked – for example the decline in FAANG stocks or the burst of the Bitcoin bubble as the price has declined from roughly $19,000 from its peak to roughly $4000 today (see chart below).

Source: Coindesk

On the housing front, unit sales of new and existing homes have not been immune to the rising interest rate policies of the Federal Reserve. Nevertheless, as you can witness below, housing prices remain at all-time record high prices, according to the recent Case-Shiller data.

Source: Calculated Risk

I like to point out to my investors there is never a shortage of things to worry about. Even when the economy is Jingle Bell Rocking, the issues of inflation and Fed policy inevitably begin to creep into investor psyches. While prognosticators and talking heads will continue trying to forecast whether Santa Claus will place presents or coal into investors’ stockings this season, at Sidoxia we understand predictions are a fool’s errand. Regardless of Santa’s generosity (or lack thereof), we continue to find attractive opportunities for our investors, as we look to balance the risk and rewards presented to us during both stable and volatile periods.

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (December 3, 2018). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions and 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 3, 2018 at 5:58 pm Leave a comment

‘Tis the Season for Giving

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (December 1, 2017). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

Holiday season is in full swing, and that means it’s the primetime period for giving. The stock market has provided its fair share of giving to investors in the form of a +2.7% monthly return in the S&P 500 index (up +18% in 2017). For long-term investors, stocks have been the gift that keeps on giving. As we approach the 10-year anniversary of the 2008 Financial Crisis, stocks have returned +68% from the October 2007 peak and roughly +297% from the March 2009 low. If you include the contributions of dividends over the last decade, these numbers look even more charitable.

Compared to stocks, however, bonds have acted more like a stingy Ebenezer Scrooge than a generous Mother Theresa. For the year, the iShares Core Aggregate bond ETF (AGG) has returned a meager +1%, excluding dividends. Contributing to the lackluster bond results has been the Federal Reserve’s miserly monetary policy, which will soon be managed under new leadership. In fact, earlier this week, Jerome Powell began Congressional confirmation hearings as part of the process to replace the current Fed chair, Janet Yellen. As the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose for the 8th consecutive month to 24,272 (the longest winning streak for the stock index in 20 years), investors managed to take comfort in Powell’s commentary because he communicated a steady continuation of Yellen’s plan to slowly reverse stimulative policies (i.e., raise interest rate targets and bleed off assets from the Fed’s balance sheet).

Because the pace of the Federal Funds interest rate hikes have occurred glacially from unprecedented low levels (0%), the resulting change in bond prices has been relatively meager thus far in 2017. In that same deliberate vein, the Fed is meeting in just a few weeks, with the expectation of inching the Federal Funds rate higher by 0.25% to a target level of 1.5%. If confirmed, Powell plans to also chip away at the Fed’s gigantic $4.5 trillion balance sheet over time, which will slowly suck asset-supporting liquidity out of financial markets.

Economy Driving Stocks and Interest Rates Higher

Presents don’t grow on trees and stock prices also don’t generally grow without some fundamental underpinnings. With the holidays here, consumers need money to fulfill the demanding requests of gift-receiving individuals, and a healthy economy is the perfect prescription to cure consumers’ empty wallet and purse sickness.

Besides the Federal Reserve signaling strength by increasing interest rates, how do we know the economy is on firm footing? While economic growth may not be expanding at a barn-burning rate, there still are plenty of indications the economy keeps chugging along. Here are a few economic bright spots to highlight:

  • Accelerating GDP Growth: As you can see from the chart below, broad economic growth, as measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP), accelerated to a very respectable +3.3% growth rate during the third quarter of 2017 (the fastest percentage gain in three years). These GDP calculations are notoriously volatile figures, nevertheless, the recent results are encouraging, especially considering these third quarter statistics include the dampening effects of Hurricane Harvey and Irma.

Source: Bloomberg

  • Recovering Housing Market: The housing market may not have rebounded as quickly and sharply as the U.S. stock market since the Financial Crisis, but as the chart below shows, new home sales have been on a steady climb since 2011. What’s more, a historically low level of housing inventory should support the continued growth in home prices and home sales for the foreseeable future. The confidence instilled from rising home equity values should also further encourage consumers’ cash and credit card spending habits.

Source: Calculated Risk

  • Healthy Employment Gains: Growth in the U.S. coupled with global synchronous economic expansion in Europe, Asia, and South America have given rise to stronger corporate profits and increased job hiring. The graph highlighted below confirms the 4.1% unemployment rate is the lowest in 17 years, and puts the current rate more than 50% below the last peak of 10.0% hit in 2009.

Source: Calculated Risk

Turbo Tax Time

Adding fuel to the confidence fire is the prospect of the president signing the TCJA (Tax Cuts and Jobs Act). At the time this article went to press, Congress was still feverishly attempting to vote on the most significant tax-code changes since 1986. Republicans by-and-large all want tax reform and tax cut legislation, but the party’s narrow majority in the House and Senate leaves little wiggle room for disagreement. Whether compromises can be met in the coming days/weeks will determine whether a surprise holiday package will be delivered this year or postponed by the Grinch.

Unresolved components of the tax legislation include, the feasibility of cutting the corporate tax rate from 35% to 20%; the deductibility of state and local income taxes (SALT); the potential implementation of a tax cut limit “trigger”, if forecasted economic growth is not achieved; the potential repeal of the estate tax (a.k.a., “death tax”); mortgage interest deductibility; potential repeal of the Obamacare individual mandate; the palatability of legislation expanding deficits by $1 trillion+; debates over the distribution of tax cuts across various taxpayer income brackets; and other exciting proposals that will heighten accountants’ job security, if the TCJA is instituted.

Bitcoin Bubble?

If you have recently spent any time at the watercooler or at a cocktail party, you probably have not been able to escape the question of whether the digital blockchain currency, Bitcoin, is an opportunity of a lifetime or a vehicle to crush your financial dreams to pieces (see Bitcoin primer).

Let’s start with the facts: Bitcoin’s value traded below $1,000 at the beginning of this year and hit $11,000 this week before settling around $10,000 at month’s end (see chart below). In addition, blogger Josh Brown points out the scary reality that “Bitcoin has already crashed by -80% on five separate occasions over the last few years.” Suffice it to say, transacting in a currency that repeatedly loses 80% of its value can pose some challenges.

Source: CoinMarketCap.com  

Bubbles are not a new phenomenon. Not only have I lived through numerous bubbles, but I have also written on the topic (see also Sleeping and Napping through Bubbles). I find the Dutch Tulip Bulb Mania that lasted from 1634 – 1637 to be the most fascinating financial bubble of all (see chart below). At the peak of the euphoria, individual Dutch tulip bulbs were selling for the same prices as homes ($61,700 on an inflation-adjusted basis), and one historical account states 12 acres of land were offered for a single tulip bulb.

Forecasting the next peak of any speculative bubble is a fool’s errand in my mind, so I choose to sit on the sidelines instead. While I may be highly skeptical of the ethereal value placed on Bitcoin and other speculative markets (i.e. ICOs – Initial Coin Offerings), I fully accept the benefits of the digital blockchain payment technology and also acknowledge Bitcoin’s value could more than double from here. However, without any tangible or intellectual process of valuing the asset, history may eventually place Bitcoin in the same garbage heap as the 1630 tulips.

For some of you out there, if you are anything like me, your digestion system is still recovering from the massive quantities of food consumed over the Thanksgiving holiday. However, when it comes to your personal finances, digesting record-breaking stock performance, shifting Federal Reserve monetary policy, tax legislation, and volatile digital currencies can cause just as much heartburn. In the spirit of “giving”, if you are having difficulty in chewing through all the cryptic economic and political noise, “give” yourself a break by contacting an experienced, independent, professional advisor. That’s definitely a gift you deserve!

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), 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 2, 2017 at 6:30 am Leave a comment

The Buyback Bonanza Boost

Trampoline 2

With the S&P 500 off -1% from its all-time record high, many bears have continued to wait for and talk about a looming crash. For the naysayers, the main focus has been on the distorted monetary policies instituted by the Federal Reserve, but as I pointed out in Fed Fatigue is Setting In, QE and tapering talk are not the end-all, be-all of global financial markets. One need not look further than the dozen or so countries listed in the FT that have bond yields below the abnormally low yields we are experiencing in the U.S. (10-Year Treasury +2.75%).

Although there are many who believe a freefall is coming, much like a trampoline, a naturally occurring financial mechanism has provided a relentless bid to boost stock prices higher…a buyback bonanza! How significant have corporate stock repurchases been to spring prices higher? Jason Zweig, in his Intelligent Investor column, wrote the following:

In the Russell 3000, a broad U.S. stock index, repurchased $567.6 billion worth of their own shares—a 21% increase over 2012, calculates Rob Leiphart, an analyst at Birinyi Associates, a research firm in Westport, Conn. That brings total buybacks since the beginning of 2005 to $4.21 trillion—or nearly one-fifth of the total value of all U.S. stocks today.

 

To further put this gargantuan buyback bonanza into perspective, a recent Fox Business article described it this way:

Companies spent an estimated $477 billion on share buybacks last year. That’s enough to buy every NFL team 12 times over, run the federal government for 50 days or host the next nine Olympic Games with several billion left to spare. This year, companies are expected to ramp up buybacks by 35%, according to Goldman Sachs.

 

The bears continue to scream, while purple in the face, that the Fed’s QE and zero interest rate program (ZIRP) shenanigans are artificially propping up stock prices. The narrative then states the tapering and inevitable Fed Funds rate reversal will cause the market to come crashing down. While there is some truth behind this commentary, history reminds us that not all rate rising cycles end in bloodshed (see 1994 Bond Repeat or Stock Defeat?). Even if you believe in Armageddon, this rate reversal scenario is unlikely to happen until mid-2015 or beyond.

And for those worshipping the actions of Ms. Yellen at the Fed altar, believe it or not, there are other factors besides monetary policy that cause stock prices to go up or down. In addition to stock buybacks, there are dynamics such as record corporate profits, rising dividends, expanding earnings, reasonable valuations, improving international economies, and other factors that have contributed to this robust bull market.

At the end of the day, as I have continued to argue for some time, money goes where it is treated best – and generally that is not in savings accounts earning 0.003%. There is no reason to be a perma-bull, and I have freely acknowledged the expansion of froth in areas such as social media, biotech, Bitcoin and other areas. Regardless, there is, and will always be areas of speculation, in bull and bear markets (e.g., gold in the 2008-2009 period).

Magical Math

Investing involves a mixture of art and science, but with a few exceptions (i.e., fraud), numbers do not lie, and using math when investing is a good place to start. A simple but powerful mathematical formula instituted at Sidoxia Capital Management is the “Free Cash Flow Yield”, which is a metric we integrate into our proprietary SHGR (a.k.a.,“Sugar”) quantitative model (see Investing Holy Grail).

Free Cash Flow Graphic

Quite simply, Free Cash Flow (FCF) is computed by taking the excess cash generated by a company after ALL expenses/expenditures (marketing, payroll, R&D, CAPEX, etc.) over a trailing twelve month period (TTM), then dividing that figure by the total equity value of a company (Market Capitalization). Mechanically, FCF is calculated by taking “Cash Flow from Operations” and subtracting “Capital Expenditures” – both figures can be found on the Cash Flow Statement.  The Free Cash Flow ratio may sound complicated, but straightforwardly this is the leftover cash generated by a business that can be used for share buybacks, dividends, acquisitions, investments, debt pay-down, and/or placed in a banking account to pile up.

The great thing about FCF yields is that this ratio (%) can be compared across asset classes. For example, I can compare the FCF yield of Apple Inc – AAPL (+9.5%) versus a 10-Year Treasury (+2.75%), 1-year CD (+0.85%), Tesla Motors – TSLA (0.0%), Netflix, Inc – NFLX (-0.001%), or Twitter, Inc – TWTR (-0.003%). For growth and capital intensive companies, I can make adjustments to this calculation. However, what you quickly realize is that even if you assume massive growth in the coming years (i.e., $100s of millions in FCF), the prices for many of these momentum stocks are still astronomical.

An important insight about the current corporate buyback bonanza is that much of this price boost is being fueled by the colossal free cash flow generation of corporate America. Sure, some companies are borrowing through the debt markets to buy back stock, but if you were the Apple CFO sitting on $159,000,000,000 in cash earning 1%, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to sit on the cash earning nothing. It also doesn’t take a genius (or Carl Icahn) to figure out borrowing at record low rates (2.75% 10-year) while earning +10% on a stock buyback will increase shareholder value and earnings per share (EPS). More specifically, when Apple borrowed $17 billion  at interest rates ranging from 0.5% – 3.9%, a shrewd, rational human being would borrow to the max all day long at those rates, if you could earn +10% on that investment. It is true that Apple’s profitability could drop and the numerator in our FCF ratio could decrease, but with $45 billion smackers coming in every year on top of $142 billion in net cash on the balance sheet, Apple has a healthy margin of safety to make the math work.

Where the math doesn’t compute is in insanely priced deals. For example, the recent merger in which Facebook Inc (FB) paid $19 billion (1,000 x’s the estimated 2013 annual revenues) for a 50-person, money-losing company (WhatsApp) that is offering a free service, makes zero financial sense to me. Suffice it to say, the FCF yield on WhatsApp could cause Warren Buffett to have a coronary event. Yes, diamond covered countertops would be nice to have in my kitchen, but I probably wouldn’t get much of a return on that investment.

Share buybacks are not a magical elixir to endless prosperity (see Share Buybacks & Bathroom Violators), but given the record profits and record low interest rates, basic math shows that even if stock prices correct (as should be expected), the trampolining effect of this buyback bonanza will provide support to the market.

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold long positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), AAPL and a short position in NFLX, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in TSLA, TWTR, FB, Bitcoin, 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.

March 22, 2014 at 1:17 pm 1 comment

Investing, Housing, and Speculating

House Dollar Sign

We all know there was a lot of speculation going on in the housing market during 2005-2007 as risk-loving adventurists loaded up on NINJA loans (No Income, No Job, and No Assets) and subprime CDS (Credit Default Swap) securities. But there is a different kind of speculation going on now, and it isn’t tied directly to housing. Instead of buying a house with no down payment and a no interest loan, speculators are leaping into other hazardous areas of danger. Like a frog jumping from lily pad to lily pad, speculators are now hopping around onto money-chasing industries, including biotech, social media, Bitcoin, and alternative energy.

As French novelist Jean-Baptise Alphonse Karr noted, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Irrespective of the painful consequences of the bubble-bursting aftermaths, human behavior and psychology addictively succumb to the ever-seductive emotion of greed. Over the last 15 years, massive fortunes have been gained and lost while chasing frothy financial dreams in areas like technology, housing, and gold.

Most get-rich-quick dream chasers have no idea of how to invest in or value a stock, but they sure know a good story when they hear one. Chasing top performing stocks is lot like jumping off a bridge – anyone can do it, and it feels exhilarating until you hit the ground. However, there is a better way to create wealth. Despite rampant speculation, most individuals understand the principles behind buying a house, which if applied to stocks, can make you a superior investor, and assist you in avoiding dangerous, speculative investments.

Here are some valuable housing insights to improve your stock buying:

#1.) Price is the Almighty Variable: Successful real estate investors don’t make their fortunes by chasing properties that double or triple in value. Buying a rusty tool shed for $1 million makes about as much sense as Facebook paying $19 billion (1,000 x’s the estimated 2013 annual revenues) for a money-losing company, WhatsApp. Better to buy real estate when there is blood in the street. Like the stock market, housing is cyclical. Many traders believe that price patterns are more important than the actual price. If squiggly, technical price moving averages (see Technical Analysis article) make so much money for stock-renting speculators, then how come day traders haven’t used their same crossing-lines and Point & Figure software in the housing market? Yes, it’s true that the real estate transactions costs and illiquidity can be costly for real estate buyers, but 6% load fees, lockup periods, 20% hedge fund fees, and 9% margin rates haven’t stopped stock speculators either.

#2). Cash is King: It doesn’t take a genius to purchase a rental property – I know because practically half the people I know in Southern California own rental properties. For example, if I buy a rental property for $1 million cash, is it a good purchase? Well, it depends on how much after-tax cash I can collect by renting it out? If I can only net $3,000 per month (3.6% annualized return), and be responsible for replacing roofs, fixing toilets, and evicting tenants, then perhaps I would be better off by collecting 6.5% from a low-cost, tax-efficient exchange traded real estate fund, without having to suffer from all the headaches that physical real estate investing brings. Forecasting future asset price appreciation is tougher, but the point is, understanding the underlying cash flow dynamics of a company is just as important as it is for housing purchases.

#3). Debt/Leverage Cuts in Both Directions: Adding debt (or leverage) to a housing or stock investment can be fantastic if prices go up, and disastrous if prices go down. Putting a 20% down payment on a $1 million house works out wonderfully, if the price of the house increases to $1.2 million. My $200,000 down payment is now worth $400,000, or up +100%. The same math works in reverse. If the price of the home drops to $800,000, then my $200,000 down payment is now worth $0, or down -100% (ouch). Margin debt on an equity brokerage account works in a similar fashion, but usually a 50% down payment is needed (less risky than real estate). That’s why I always chuckle when many real estate investors tell me they steer clear of stocks because they are “too risky”.

#4). Growth Matters: If you buy a home for $1 million, is it likely to be worth more if you add a kitchen, tennis court, swimming pull, third floor, and putting green? In short, the answer is yes. The same principle applies to stocks. All else equal, if a company based in Los Angeles, establishes new offices in New York, London, Beijing, and Rio de Janeiro, and then acquires a profitable competitor at a discounted price, chances are the company will be much more valuable after the additions. The key concept here is that asset values are not static. Asset valuations are impacted in both directions, whether we are talking about positive growth opportunities or negative disruptions.

Overall, speculatively chasing performance is tempting, but if you don’t want your financial foundation to crumble, then build your successful investment future by sticking to the fundamentals and financial basics.

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold long positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct discretionary position in FB, Bitcoin, 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.

March 15, 2014 at 10:00 am 1 comment

Market Expands and So Does Sidoxia’s Team

  

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complementary newsletter (March 3, 2014). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

After a brief pause at the beginning of the year, the stock market built on the tremendous gains of 2013 (S&P 500 up +30%) by reaching record highs again in February by expanding another +4.3% for the month. My investment management and financial planning firm, Sidoxia Capital Mangement, LLC, has been expanding as well. Just this last month, we added a key investment and financial planning professional (Keith C. Bong, CFA, CPA Press Release) with more than 25 years of experience in the fields.

The Record Setting Advance Continues

Now entering the sixth year of this record setting bull market, many investors and pundits have been surprised by the strength and duration of the advance. At the nadir of the financial crisis, the stock market reached a multi-year low of 666 on March 9, 2009. For comparison purposes, the S&P 500 recently closed at 1,845, almost tripling in value since the crisis lows. Pessimists and skeptics, who locked in losses during the crisis plunge, have watched the explosive gains while sitting on their hands. While I freely admit, the low-hanging fruit has been picked, many of the doubters are still calling for a collapse as “troubling news continues to pour in from all over the planet.” However, what the naysayers neglect to acknowledge is the fact that S&P 500 reported profits, the lifeblood of bull markets, have also tripled in value. Despite what the bears say, not everything is a speculative house of cards.

Late to the Party Because of Uncertainty

Although the stock party has lasted five years thus far, individuals have only begun buying for about one year (see ICI fund flows data in Here Comes the Dumb Money) – about +$28 billion of new money in 2013 and another +$12 billion so far this year (ICI data through February 19th). After approximately six years and -$600 billion in stock sales (2007-2012), it’s no wonder investors have been slow to reverse course. Adding to the angst, investors have been bombarded with an endless stream of political and economic concerns on a daily basis, leading to the late arrival of most individuals to the stock investing party. While it’s true that more people have joined the party in recent months, floods of investors are still waiting outside in the cold. Here are a few reasons for the tardiness:

  • Geopolitical Concerns: Most recently it was Syria, Iran, and Argentina that got short-term traders chewing their fingernails…now it’s the Ukraine. Just yesterday, I had to spend about 10 minutes locating the Ukranian province of Crimea on a map. For those who have not been keeping track, after days of civil unrest that left some 75 protesters dead, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych fled the capital city of Kiev and agreed with opposition leaders to reduce his powers and hold early presidential elections later this year. For context, in 1954, the former Soviet Union leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred Crimea from the Russian Soviet republic to Ukraine on the basis of economic ties that were closer with Kiev than with Moscow. Prior to that transfer, Russia seized Crimea from the declining Ottoman Empire in the 18th century. Fast forward to today, and fresh off a successful Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Russian President Vladimir Putin hasn’t been happy about the citizen uprising in neighboring Ukraine, so he has decided to flex his muscles and move Russian troops into Crimea. The situation is very fluid and the U.S., along with other global leaders, are crying foul. Time will tell if this situation escalates into a military conflict like the 2008 Georgia-Russia crisis, or if cooler heads prevail.   
Source: WSJ – Russia rationalizing military involvement based on large percentage of Russian Crimeans.
  • Fed Policy ConcernsFederal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen gave her inaugural address last month before Congress, where she signaled continuity in policy with former Fed Chair Ben Bernanke. Indications remain strong that the reduction of bond buying stimulus (i.e., “tapering”) will continue in the months ahead, despite mixed economic results. The “Polar Vortex” occurring on the East Coast, coupled with a record draught on the West Coast contributed to the recent reduction of Q4-2013 GDP growth figures, which were revised lower to +2.4% growth (from +3.2%). 
  • Domestic Politics: In a sharply politically divided country like the U.S., is there ever a complete hugs & kisses consensus? In short, “no”. How can there be 100% agreement when sharply divisive issues like Obamacare, immigration, tax reform, entitlements, budgets, and foreign affairs are always in flux? Layer on a Congressional midterm election this November and you have a recipe for uncertainty. 

Because of all this uncertainty, there are still literally trillions of dollars in cash sitting on the sidelines, waiting to come join the fun. But uncertainty is a relative term because there is always doubt surrounding geopolitics, economics, and Washington D.C. Sentiment moves like a pendulum from fear to greed. Eventually panic/fear sways back the other direction as business/consumer confidence overshadow the deep scarred emotions of 2008-09. As the stock markets have grinded to record highs, fear and skepticism have slowly begun to erode.

Sidoxia Uncertainty

Speaking of uncertainty, I too encountered many doubters and skeptics when I started my firm, Sidoxia Capital Management, LLC in early 2008. Great timing, I thought at the time, as our economy entered the worst recession and financial crisis in a generation and the walls of our nation’s financial system were caving in.

With virtually no company assets or revenues at the time, this was the backdrop as I embarked on my entrepreneurial journey. Seemingly secure investment banking pillars like Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, which each had been around for more than a century, crumbled within the blink of an eye. As bailouts were occurring left and right, in conjunction with recurring multi-hundred point collapses in the Dow Jones Industrial index, cynics would repeatedly ask me, “Wade it’s great that you have a lot of experience, but how are you going to gain clients?” It was a fair and reasonable question at the time, but perseverance and hard work have allowed Sidoxia to beat the odds. Publishing several books, conducting numerous media appearances, and gaining thousands of social media followers (InvestingCaffeine.com) hasn’t hurt in building Sidoxia’s brand either. 

After achieving record growth in the first five years of the firm, Sidoxia more than doubled its assets under management again in 2013. More important than all of the previously mentioned achievements has been our ability to service our clients with a disciplined, customized process that has demonstrated strong long-term results and helped solidify our valued relationships.

A Few Party Animals Getting Reckless at the Stock Party

Success for Sidoxia or any investor has not come easy over the last six years. As I wrote in a Series of Unfortunate Events, we’ve had to navigate our clients’ investment assets through the following events and more:

  •   Flash Crash
  •   Debt Ceiling Debates-Brinksmanship
  •   U.S. Debt Downgrade
  •   European Recession
  •   Arab Spring – Tunisia, Libya, Egypt
  •   Greek Crisis and Potential Exit from EU
  •   Uncertain U.S. Presidential Elections
  •   Sequestration
  •   Cyprus Financial Crisis
  •   Income Tax Hikes
  •   Federal Reserve Tapering
  •   Syrian Civil War / Military Threat
  •   Government Shutdown 
  •   Obamacare & Its Glitches
  •   Iranian Nuclear Threat
  •   Argentinian Currency Collapse
  •   Polar Vortex
  •   Ukrainian Instability

It is no small feat that stock markets have made new records in the face of these daunting concerns. But simply ignoring scary headlines won’t earn you an investing trophy. Successful investing also requires controlling temptation and greed. At a celebratory bash, there are always irresponsible party animals, just like there are always reckless speculators gambling in the financial markets. It certainly is possible to party responsibly without getting crazy during festivities and still have fun. Even though the majority of investors currently are behaving well, as substantiated by the reasonable P/E ratio being paid (15x’s estimated 2014 profits) there are a few foolish players. Pockets of speculative fervor can be found in several areas of the financial markets. Here are a few:

  • Bitcoin Breakdown: The world’s largest Bitcoin exchanged filed for bankruptcy after it lost 750,000 Bitcoin units, worth about $477,000,000, based on current exchange rates. The popularity of this speculative virtual currency seems eerily similar to the great Dutch Tulip-Mania of the 1630s.
  • Biotech Bliss: Ignorance is a bliss, and apparently so is buying biotech stocks. There’s no need to speculate on gold or Bitcoins when you can invest in the Biotechnology Index (BTK), which has already advanced +21% this year on top of a 51% gain in 2013. Over the last 5+ years, the index has more than quadrupled.
  • Facebook Folly: WhatsApp with Facebook Inc’s (FB) $19 billion acquisition of the cellphone texting company? CEO Mark Zuckerberg is claiming he got a bargain by paying almost 1,000x’s the estimated annual revenue of WhatsApp ($20 million). When only a fraction of the 450 million users are paying for the service, I’m OK going out on a limb and calling this deal kooky.
  • High Ticket Tesla: Tesla Motors Inc (TSLA) has become a cult stock. The company has a price tag of $30 billion despite burning $7 million in cash last year. The announcement of a $4-5 billion battery “Gigafactory” added to the company’s recent hype. To put things into perspective, General Motors (GM) has revenues 75x’s larger than Tesla and GM generated over $5 billion in 2013 free cash flow. Nevertheless, GM is only valued at 1.9x’s the market value of Tesla…head scratch.
  • Social Media Silliness: Maybe not quite as wacky as the $19 billion price tag paid for WhatsApp, but the $30 billion value placed on Twitter Inc (TWTR) for a company that burned $30 million of cash in their most recent financial report is silly too. Yelp Inc (YELP) is another multi-billion valued company that is losing money. I love all these services, but great services don’t always make great stocks. Investors from the dot-com era vividly remember what happened to those overvalued stocks once the bubble burst.

Fear and greed are omnipresent, and some of these speculative areas may continue to appreciate in value. However, controlling or ignoring the powerful emotions of fear and greed will help you in achieving your financial goals. As the markets (and Sidoxia’s team) expand, our disciplined investment process should allow us to objectively identify attractive investment opportunities without succumbing to the pitfalls of panic-selling or performance-chasing.

Other Recent Investing Caffeine Articles:

Retirement Epidemic: Poison Now or Later?

NASDAQ and the R&D-Tech Revolution

Stock Market: Shrewd Bet or Stupid Gamble?

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), but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in FB, TWTR, YELP, TSLA, BTK, 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.

March 3, 2014 at 11:34 am Leave a comment


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