Posts tagged ‘Dean Witter’

Uncertainty: Love It or Hate It?

Source: Photobucket

Source: Photobucket

Uncertainty is like a fin you see cutting through the water – many people are uncertain whether the fin sticking out of the water is a great white shark or a dolphin? Uncertainty generates fear, and fear often produces paralysis. This financially unproductive phenomenon has also reared its ugly fin in the investment world, which has led to low-yield apathy, and desensitization to both interest rate and inflation risks.

The mass exodus out of stocks into bonds worked well for the very few that timed an early 2008 exit out of equities, but since early 2009, the performance of stocks has handily trounced bonds (the S&P has outperformed the bond market (BND) by almost 100% since the beginning of March 2009, if you exclude dividends and interest). While the cozy comfort of bonds has suited investors over the last five years, a rude awakening awaits the bond-heavy masses when the uncertain economic clouds surrounding us eventually lift.

The Certainty of Uncertainty

What do we know about uncertainty? Well for starters, we know that uncertainty cannot be avoided. Or as former Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin stated so aptly, “Nothing is certain – except uncertainty.”

Why in the world would one of the world’s richest and most successful investors like Warren Buffett embrace uncertainty by imploring investors to “buy fear, and sell greed?” How can Buffett’s statement be valid when the mantra we continually hear spewed over the airwaves is that “investors hate uncertainty and love clarity?” The short answer is that clarity is costly (i.e., investors are forced to pay a cherry price for certainty). Dean Witter, the founder of his namesake brokerage firm in 1924, addressed the issue of certainty in these shrewd comments he made some 78 years ago, right before the end of worst bear market in history:

“Some people say they want to wait for a clearer view of the future. But when the future is again clear, the present bargains will have vanished.”

 

Undoubtedly, some investors hate uncertainty, but I think there needs to be a distinction between good investors and bad investors. Don Hays, the strategist at Hays Advisory, straightforwardly notes, “Good investors love uncertainty.”

When everything is clear to everyone, including the novice investing cab driver and hairdresser, like in the late 1990s technology bubble, the actual risk is in fact far greater than the perceived risk. Or as Morgan Housel from Motley Fool sarcastically points out, “Someone remind me when economic uncertainty didn’t exist. 2000? 2007?”

What’s There to Worry About?

I’ve heard financial bears argue a lot of things, but I haven’t heard any make the case there is little uncertainty currently. I’ll let you be the judge by listing these following issues I read and listen to on a daily basis:

  • Fiscal cliff induced recession risks
  • Syria’s potential use of chemical weapons
  • Iran’s destabilizing nuclear program
  • North Korean missile tests by questionable new regime
  • Potential Greek debt default and exit from the eurozone
  • QE3 (Quantitative Easing) and looming inflation and asset bubble(s)
  • Higher taxes
  • Lower entitlements
  • Fear of the collapse in the U.S. dollar’s value
  • Rigged Wall Street game
  • Excessive Dodd-Frank financial regulation
  • Obamacare
  • High Frequency Trading / Flash Crash
  • Unsustainably growing healthcare costs
  • Exploding college tuition rates
  • Global warming and superstorms
  • Etc.
  • Etc.
  • Etc.

I could go on for another page or two, but I think you get the gist. While I freely admit there is much less uncertainty than we experienced in the 2008-2009 timeframe, investors’ still remain very cautious. The trillions of dollars hemorrhaging out of stocks into bonds helps make my case fairly clear.

As investors plan for a future entitlement-light world, nobody can confidently count on Social Security and Medicare to help fund our umbrella-drink-filled vacations and senior tour golf outings. Today, the risk of parking your life savings in low-rate wealth destroying investment vehicles should be a major concern for all long-term investors. As I continually remind Investing Caffeine readers, bonds have a place in all portfolios, especially for income dependent retirees. However, any truly diversified portfolio will have exposure to equities, as long as the allocation in the investment plan meshes with the individual’s risk tolerance and liquidity needs.

Given all the uncertain floating fins lurking in the economic background, what would I tell investors to do with their hard-earned money? I simply defer to my pal (figuratively speaking), Warren Buffett, who recently said in a Charlie Rose interview, “Overwhelmingly, for people that can invest over time, equities are the best place to put their money.” For the vast majority of investors who should have an investment time horizon of more than 10 years, that is a question I can answer with certainty.

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) including BND, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct positions 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 9, 2012 at 1:37 am 4 comments

Historical Trampoline Cycles of Fear & Greed

What goes up, eventually comes down, and what goes down, eventually comes up. Like an adolescent jumping on a trampoline, emotions in the financial markets jump sky high before crashing down to earth…and then the process repeats itself. The underlying reasons behind every market gyration are different, but the emotions of fear and greed are similar. Since 1919, there have been 29 recessions, and 29 recoveries (pretty good recovery batting average). Over that 92 year period we have also witnessed the Dow Jones Industrial Average go from around 100 in 1919 to over 12,300 today – not too shabby.

The blood curdling panic experienced in 2008 and early 2009 has turned to ordinary fear among retail investors – although the doubling of the equity markets from two years ago has instilled a good dosage of animal spirits into professional traders and speculators. When trillions of low yielding cash and Treasuries ultimately come barreling into equity markets, thereby extending equity valuations, then I will become extra nervous. Until then, plenty of opportunities still exist – there just is not nearly as much low-hanging fruit as two years ago.

More of the Same

To make the point that “the more things change, the more things stay the same,” you can go all the way back to 1932 and read the words of Dean Witter – I also wrote about the history of panic in the 1970s (see Rhyming History).

Even some 80 years ago, Witter was keenly aware of the doomsday bears:

“People are deterred from buying good stocks and bonds now only because of an unwarranted terror…All sorts of bugaboos are paraded to destroy the last vestige of confidence. Stories of disaster which are incredible and untrue are told to foolish and credulous listeners, who appear willing to believe the worst.”

 

The bugaboo purveyors I called out in 2009 included Peter Schiff, Nouriel Roubini, Meredith Whitney, and Jimmy Rogers. I’m not sure who the next genius du jour(s) will be, but I am confident they will be prominently paraded over the media airwaves.

Cherry Price for Consensus

As firmer signs of an economic recovery finally take hold, investors slowly regain confidence about investing in risky assets. The only problem is that prices have skyrocketed!  Witter captures this dynamic beautifully back in 1932:

“Some people say that they wish to await a clearer view of the future. When the future is again clear the present bargains will no longer be available. Does anyone think that present prices will continue when confidence has been fully restored? Such bargains exist only because of terror and distress.”

 

Herd Gets Slaughtered

History proves over and over again…the general investing public suffers the consequences of following the herd of fear and greed. Or as Witter states:

“It is easy to run with the crowd. The path of least resistance is to join in the wailings that are now so popular. The constructive policy, however, is to maintain your courage and your optimism, to have faith in the ultimate future of your country and to proclaim your faith and to recommend the purchase of good bonds and good stocks, which are inordinately depreciated.”

 

In the short-run, markets move up and down in an unpredictable fashion, like an irresponsible teenager jumping on a trampoline. In the long-run, investors can do themselves a favor by ignoring the masses, and sticking to a disciplined, systematic investment approach that includes controlled valuation metrics and contrarian sentiment factors. That way, you won’t fall off the investment trampoline and permanently break your portfolio.

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 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.

February 18, 2011 at 1:36 am Leave a comment

History Never Repeats Itself, But It Often Rhymes

Mark Twain

As Mark Twain said, “History never repeats itself, but it often rhymes.” There are many bear markets with which to compare the current financial crisis we are working through. By studying the past we can understand the repeated mistakes of others (caused by fear and greed), and avoid making similar emotional errors.

 Do you want an example? Here you go:

“Today there are thoughtful, experienced, respected economists, bankers, investors and businessmen who can give you well-reasoned, logical, documented arguments why this bear market is different; why this time the economic problems are different; why this time things are going to get worse — and hence, why this is not a good time to invest in common stocks, even though they may appear low.”
– Jim Fullerton, former chairman of the Capital Group of the American Funds (written  November 7, 1974)

 

Although the quote above seems appropriate for 2009, it actually is reflective of the bearish mood felt in most bear markets. We have been through wars, assassinations, banking crises, currency crises, terrorist attacks, mad-cow disease, swine flu, and yes, even recessions. And through it all, most have managed to survive in decent shape. Let’s take a deeper look.

1973-1974 Case Study:

For those of you familiar with this period, recall the prevailing circumstances:

  • Exiting Vietnam War
  • Undergoing a recession
  • 9% unemployment
  • Arab Oil Embargo
  • Watergate: Presidential resignation
  • Collapse of the Nifty Fifty stocks
  • Rising inflation

Not too rosy a scenario, yet here’s what happened:

S&P 500 Price (12/1974): 69

S&P 500 Price (8/2009): 1,021

That is a whopping +1,380% increase, excluding dividends.

What Investors Should Do:

  1. Avoid Knee-Jerk Reactions to Media Reports: Whether it’s radio, television, newspapers, or now blogs, the headlines should not emotionally control your investment decisions. Historically, media venues are lousy at identifying changes in price direction. Reporters are excellent at telling you what is happening or what just happened – not what is going to happen.
  2. Save and Invest: Regardless of the market direction, entitlements like Medicare and social security are under stress, and life expectancies are increasing (despite the sad state of our healthcare system), therefore investing is even more important today than ever.
  3. Create a Systematic, Disciplined Investment Plan: I recommend a plan that takes advantage of passive, low-cost, tax-efficient investment strategies (e.g. exchange-traded and index funds) across a diversified portfolio. Rather than capitulating in response to market volatility, have a systematic process that can rebalance periodically to take advantage of these circumstances.

For DIY-ers (Do-It-Yourselfers), I suggest opening a low-cost discount brokerage account and research firms like Vanguard Group, iShares, or Select Sector SPDRs. If you choose to outsource to a professional advisor, I recommend interviewing several fee-only* advisers – focusing on experience, investment philosophy, and potential compensation conflicts of interest.

If you believe, like some economists, CEOs, and investors, we have suffered through the worst of the current “Great Recession” and you are sitting on the sidelines, then it might make sense to heed the following advice: “Some people say they want to wait for a clearer view of the future. But when the future is again clear, the present bargains will have vanished.” Dean Witter made those comments 77 years ago – a few weeks before the end of worst bear market in history. The market has bounced quite a bit since March of this year, but if history is on our side, there might be more room to go.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

*For disclosure purposes: Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP is President & Founder of Sidoxia Capital Management, LLC, a fee-only investment adviser based in Newport Beach, California.

September 16, 2009 at 4:00 am 10 comments


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