Posts tagged ‘Burton Malkiel’

China: The Trade of the Century?

So it goes, Britain was the country of the 19th century, the United States was the country of the 20th century, and China will be the country of the 21st century. Is investment in China hype or reality? Here are some points in China’s favor:

  • Large Labor Force: With a  population exceeding 1.3 billion people, China has plenty of labor available to expand GDP (Gross Domestic Product).
  •  No Nonsense Government: An authoritarian government has its advantages. While pornography (see article) and unrest may be problems, infrastructure projects are not.
  • Education: Chinese culture values education. As a result, China is slowly shifting away from its roots as the globe’s manufacturing and piracy capital. Intellectual property is appreciated more now that China is becoming a leader in emerging technology areas, such as solar power.
  • Trade Surplus & Currency Reserves: Must be nice to have trade surpluses and massive currency reserves (~$2.3 trillion). This is what happens when you are in a position to export more than you import.
  • Manageable Debt: China’s Debt/GDP ratio is less than 25%. You can compare that to the U.S. at around 100% and Japan at over 200%. Disciplined fiscal management provides the Chinese government with more options in dealing with the global slowdown (e.g., stimulus).
  • Long Runway of Growth (Read More):  China’s long runway of growth has allowed it, and should continue to allow it, to grow at above average growth rates – in the 3rd quarter of 2009 the Chinese economy grew at a very healthy +8.9% rate.

With all these positives, it’s no wonder China is the darling of the world. Given the constructive outlook, how can investors take advantage of the Far East opportunity in China?  Our good friend at Investing Caffeine (figuratively speaking), Burton Malkiel (Princeton Professor of Economics and Chief Investment Officer at AlphaShares), is bullish about China and is sharing his preferred participation method…an all-cap China exchange traded fund (ticker: YAO)  – Read more about Malkiel and Active vs. Passive Investing (12/8/09 Post).

Just how bullish is Professor Malkiel?

I think China will continue to have the highest growth rate of any major country in the world, and within 20 years, China will be the world’s leading economic power.”


And he puts his money where his mouth is. Last year the professor shared his Chinese exposure in his personal portfolio:

“My portfolio is probably 20 percent Chinese, and that includes not only indices but also individual companies.”


Risks: The Price to Play

Professor Malkiel is not blindly diving into China – he researched the markets for years before taking the plunge. In an article from last year (From Wall Street to the Great Wall), he highlighted some of the inherent risks:

1) Foreign Neighbors:  China continues to have tense, although cordial, relations with some of its neighbors like Taiwan and Japan. Their dealings are stable now, but the future is uncertain.

2) Social Unrest: An uneven distribution of income can lead to serious social unrest, especially in the rural parts of the country. If the government can’t keep the economy humming along, those left behind may fight back.

3) Environmental Degradation: China is building nuclear, wind, and solar projects at a frenetic pace, but China is also the globe’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases (relies on dirty coal for 70% of its energy), according to CNN. If China becomes an irresponsible power hog, there could be damaging effects to the economy.

4) Corruption: This continues to be a problem, but Malkiel points out the case of Zheng Xiaoyu, a former director of China’s FDA (Food and Drug Administration) equivalent. In 2007, he was executed after being found guilty of taking bribes.

5) Banking System:  Malkiel notes that China continues to have a fragile banking system with a lot of bad loans. Due to political reasons, certain government owned entities may receive risky loans in the name of creating jobs – even if it means keeping unhealthy zombie banks alive.

Trading Strategies:

Beyond investing in AlphaShare ETFs (YAO), Malkiel advocates considering the other options, such as the “A”, “H”, and “N” shares. Unfortunately, the more inefficient “A” shares, which trade in Shanghai and Shenzen, are largely unavailable to investors outside of China. However, the “H” shares and “N” shares are available to international investors. “H” shares are listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and the listed companies follow globally accepted accounting principles. The “N” shares come from companies registering with the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) and trade either on the NYSE (New York Stock Exchange) or NASDAQ exchanges.

 Lastly, Malkiel knows he is not the only investor to pick-up on the China growth story. Multinationals are investing heavily in China, and these domestically based companies can serve as indirect investment vehicles to benefit from the attractive fundamentals as well.

Professor Malkiel calls China the “growth story of the world.” Simple math shows us that this Asian juggernaut (the third largest country in the world by GDP) will soon pass Japan in the number two position and the U.S. is likely only a few decades ahead after that.  Having explored and studied China firsthand, I concur with many of Malkiels conclusions, which opens the possibility that China could reasonably be the top country (and top trade) of the 21st century?

Full Malkiel Article: From Wall Street to the Great Wall – Investment Opportunities in China

Read More Regarding YAO

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, like FXI, at the time of publishing. 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 9, 2009 at 1:45 am 4 comments

Passive vs. Active Investing: Darts, Monkeys & Pros

Bob Turner is founder of Turner Investments and a manager of several funds at the investment company. In a recent article he reintroduces the all-important, longstanding debate of active management (“hands-on”) versus passive management (“hands off”) approaches to investing.

Mr. Turner makes some good arguments for the active management camp, however some feel differently – take for example Burton Malkiel. The Princeton professor theorizes in his book A Random Walk Down Wall Street that “a blindfolded monkey throwing darts at a newspaper’s stock page could select a portfolio that would do just as well as one carefully selected by experts.” In fact, The Wall Street Journal manages an Investment Dartboard contest that stacks up amateur investors’ picks against the pros’ and random stock picks selected by randomly thrown darts. In many instances, the dartboard picks outperform the professionals.

Given the controversy, who’s right…the darts, monkeys, or pros? Distinguishing between the different categorizations can be difficult, but we will take a stab nevertheless.

Arguments for Active Management

Turner contends, active management outperforms in periods of high volatility and he believes the industry will be entering such a phase:

“Active managers historically have tended to perform best in a market in which the performance of individual stocks varies widely.”

He also acknowledges that not all active managers outperform and admits there are periods where passive management will do better:

“The reason why most active investors fail to outperform is because they in fact constitute most of the market. Even in the best of times, not all active managers can hope to outperform…The business of picking stocks is to some degree a zero-sum game; the results achieved by the best managers will be offset at least somewhat by the subpar performance of other managers.”

Buttressing his argument for active management, Turner references data from Advisor Perspectives showing an inconclusive percentage (40.5%-67.8%) of the actively managed funds trailing the passively managed indexes from 2000 to 2008.

The Case for Passive Management

Turner cites one specific study to support his active management cause. However, my experience gleaned from the vast amounts of academic and industry data point to approximately 75% of active managers underperforming their passively managed indexes, over longer periods of time. Notably, a recent study conducted by Standard & Poor’s SPIVA division (S&P Indices Versus Active Funds) discovered the following conclusions over the five year market cycle from 2004 to 2008:

  • S&P 500 outperformed 71.9% of actively managed large cap funds;
  • S&P MidCap 400 outperformed 79.1% of mid cap funds;
  • S&P SmallCap 600 outperformed 85.5% of small cap funds.

Read more about  the dirty secrets shrinking your portfolio.

According to the Vanguard Group and the Investment Company Institute, about 25% of institutional assets and about 12% of individual investors’ assets are currently indexed (passive strategies).  If you doubt the popularity of passive investment strategies, then look no further than the growth of Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs – see chart), index funds, or Vanguard Groups more than $1 trillion dollars in assets under management.

Although I am a firm believer in passive investing, one of its shortcomings is mean reversion. This is the idea that upward or downward moving trends tend to revert back to an average or normal level over time. Active investing can take advantage of mean reversion, conversely passive investing cannot. Indexes can get very top-heavy in weightings of outperforming sectors or industries, meaning theoretically you could be buying larger and larger shares of an index in overpriced glamour stocks on the verge of collapse.  We experienced these lopsided index weightings through the technology bubbles in the late 1990s and financials in 2008. Some strategies may be better than other over the long run, but every strategy, even passive investing, has its own unique set of deficiencies and risks.

Professional Sports and Investing

As I discuss in my book, there are similarities that can be drawn between professional sports and investing with respect to active vs. passive management. Like the scarce number of .300 hitters in baseball, I believe there are a select few investment managers who can consistently outperform the market. In 2007, did a study that showed there were only 22 active career .300 hitters in Major League Baseball. I recognize in the investing world there can be a larger role for “luck,” which is difficult, if not impossible, to measure (luck won’t help me much in hitting a 100 mile per hour fastball thrown by Nolan Ryan). Nonetheless, in the professional sports arena, there are some Hall of Famers (prospects) that have proved they could (can) consistently outperform their peers for extended durations of time.

Experience is another distinction I would highlight in comparing sports and investing. Unlike sports, in the investment world I believe there is a positive correlation between age and ability. The more experience an investor gains, generally the better long-term return achieved. Like many professions, the more experience you gain, the more valuable you become. Unfortunately, in many sports, ability deteriorates and muscles atrophy over time.

Size Matters

Experience alone will not make you a better investor. Some investors are born with an innate gift or intellect that propels them ahead of the pack. However, most great investors eventually get cursed by their own success thanks to accumulating assets. Warren Buffet knows the consequences of managing large amounts of dollars, “gravity always wins.”  Having managed a $20 billion fund, I fully appreciate the challenges of investing larger sums of money. Managing a smaller fund is similar to navigating a speed boat – not too difficult to maneuver and fairly easy to dodge obstacles. Managing heftier pools of money can be like captaining a supertanker, but unfortunately the same rapid u-turn expectations of the speedboat remain. Managing large amounts of capital can be crippling, and that’s why captaining a supertanker requires the proper foresight and experience.

Room for All

As I’ve stated before, I believe the market is efficient in the long run, but can be terribly inefficient in the short-run, especially when the behavioral aspects of emotion (fear and greed) take over. The “wait for me, I want to play too” greed from the late 1990s technology craze and the credit-based economic collapse of 2008-2009 are further examples of inefficient situations that can be exploited by active managers. However, due to multiple fees, transaction costs, taxes, not to mention the short-term performance/compensation pressures to perform, I believe the odds are stacked against the active managers. For those experienced managers that have played the game for a long period and have a track record of success, I feel active management can play a role.

At Sidoxia Capital Management, I choose to create investment portfolios that blend a mixture of passive and active investment strategies. Although my hedge fund has outperformed the S&P 500 in 2009, that fact does not necessarily mean it’s the appropriate sole approach for all clients. As Warren Buffet states, investors should stick to their “circle of competence” so they can confidently invest in what they know.  That’s why I generally stick to the areas of my expertise when I’m actively investing in stocks, and fill in the remainder of client portfolios with transparent, low-cost, tax-efficient equity and fixed income products (i.e., Exchange Traded Funds).

Even though the actively managed Turner Funds appear to have a mixed-bag of performance numbers relative to passively managed strategies, I appreciate Bob Turner’s article for addressing this important issue.  I’m sure the debate will never fully be resolved. In the meantime, my client portfolios will aim to mix the best of both worlds within active and passive management strategies in the eternal quest of outwitting the darts, monkeys, and other pros.

Read the full Bob Turner article on

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds but had no direct position in stocks mentioned 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 8, 2009 at 1:45 am 5 comments

Religious Pursuit of Stock Knowledge (Top 5 Books)

Feed Your Brain

Feed Your Brain

In this stress-filled society dominated with endless amounts of information, and where the masses chase instant gratification, it is difficult to find the time, energy, and focus to curl up to a good book. But in life, knowledge acquisition requires more than a quick keyboard dance on, or a fleeting skim of a Wikipedia passage. Mastering a subject requires in-depth, nuanced analysis, and books are ideal vehicles used to achieve this aim.
When it comes to the topic of equity investing, it feels as though there are an infinite number of books scattered on the investment menu. Investing in many ways is like religion – there are so many different styles to choose from, even if many of them strive for the same or similar goals. Therefore, I believe if investors are fine-tuning or shopping for an investment philosophy, it makes sense to explore a cross-section of investment styles/religions.
In my view, successful equity investing integrates a balanced mix of “art” and “science.” Too much emphasis on either aspect can be detrimental to investors’ financial health. Although understanding the science takes time, training and patience, generally a committed student can learn the nuts and bolts of investing by mastering the key financial equations, ratios, and concepts. However, becoming a fluent investment artist requires the adept understanding and prediction of human behavior – no easy task. 
Having logged thousands of hours and decades of years, my blood shot eyes and finance-soaked brain came up with a balanced mix of “art” and “science” in what I call my, “Top 5 Stock Book Starter Kit”:

A Random Walk Down Wall Street by Burton Malkiel
A great foundational investment book that tackles the major internal and external factors impacting our complex financial markets.

Beating the Street by Peter Lynch
A “Hall-of-Famer” growth investor, Lynch successfully managed the Fidelity Magellan Fund from 1977 to 1990 and averaged a +29% annual return. This book provides countless pearls of wisdom for both the seasoned pro and the bushy-tailed novice.

The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham
When Warren Buffet pronounces this, “By far the best book on investing ever written,” people should pay attention. Graham is considered by many to be the father of “value” investing.

Reminiscences of a Stock Operator by Edwin Lefevre
This book profiles the life and times of early 20th century trader Jesse Livermore, commonly believed to be the greatest trader of all-time. Livermore provides a view into the “fast money” approach that contrasts the traditional “growth” and “value” investment styles.

Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits by Phil Fisher
A Wall Street legend that explains the key factors of superior stock returns.

There you go…upon completion, you will have officially become a stock guru!

May 27, 2009 at 3:34 am Leave a comment

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