Posts tagged ‘debt ceiling debate’

Surviving a Series of Unfortunate Events

Disaster

My children grew up reading a Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket’s (the pseudonym for Daniel Handler). The award winning 13 book series began at the turn of the century (1999) with the Bad Beginning and seven years later, Handler ended the stories with The End (2006). The books chronicle the stories of three orphaned children (Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire) who experience increasingly terrible events after the alleged death of their parents and burning of their house by a man named Count Olaf.

Crime, violence and hardships not only occur in novels, but also in real life. Stock market investors are no strangers to unfortunate events either. Within the last five years alone, investors have endured an endless stream of bad news, including the following:

  • Flash Crash
  • Debt Ceiling Debate
  • U.S. Debt Downgrade
  • European Recession
  • Arab Spring
  • Potential Greek Exit from EU
  • Uncertain U.S. Presidential Elections
  • Sequestration
  • Cyprus Financial Crisis
  • Tax Increases
  • Fed Talks of Stimulus Tapering
  • Syrian Civil War / Military Threat
  • Gov. Shutdown 
  •  Obamacare Rollout Glitches
  •  Iranian Nuclear Threat

This is only a partial list, but wow, this never ending crises list sounds pretty ominous, right? I wonder how stocks have fared amidst this horrendous avalanche of negative headlines? The short answer is stocks are up a whopping +170% since the March 2009 lows as measured by the S&P 500 index, and would be significantly higher once accounting for reinvested dividends. A bit higher return than your CD, money market, or savings account rate.

CLICK TO ENLARGE

SP500 History 2009-2013

As you can see from the chart above, the gargantuan returns achieved over this period have not occurred without some volatility. Investors have consumed massive quantities of Tums during the five highlighted corrections (averaging -13%) to counteract all the heartburn. As I’ve written in the past, with higher risk comes higher rewards. Those investors who cannot stomach the volatility shouldn’t go cold turkey on stocks though, but rather diversify their holdings and reduce the portfolio equity allocation to a more palatable level.

Doubting Thomases

Many people I bump into remain “Doubting Thomases” as it relates to the stock market recovery and they expect an imminent crash. Certainly, the rocket-like trajectory of the last year (and five years) is not sustainable, and historically stocks correct significantly twice a decade – equal to the number of recessions occurring each decade. There is no denying that this economic recovery has been the slowest since World War II, but could this be good news? From the half-full glass lens, a slower recovery may actually equate to a longer recovery.

Just like skeptical investors, business executives have been slow to hire and slow to accelerate spending as well. Typically business cycles come to an end when overinvestment happens – recall the 2000 tech bubble and 2007 housing bubble. There may be pockets of investment bubbles (e.g., Twitter Inc [TWTR] and other money-losing speculative stocks), but as you can see from the chart below, corporate profits have skyrocketed and are at record highs. It should therefore come as no surprise that record profits have coincided with record stock prices (see also It’s the Earnings Stupid)

SP500 Earnings 2003-2014

Over the period of 2003-2013 stock prices largely followed the slope of earnings, and excluding the enormous losses in the banking sector, non-financial stocks suffered much less.

History is on Your Side

If you are in the camp that says this last five years has been an anomaly, history may beg to differ. Over the last 50 years we have experienced wars, assassinations, currency crises, banking crises, terrorist attacks, recessions, SARs, mad cow disease, military engagements, tax hikes, Fed rate hikes, and yes, even political gridlock. As the chart below shows, the stock market is volatile over the short-run, but quite resilient and lucrative over the long-run (+6,863% over 49 years). In fact, from January 1960 to October 2013 the S&P 500 index has catapulted +14,658%, including reinvested dividends (Source: DQYDJ.net).

SP500 History 1960-2008

Rather than getting caught up in the political or CNBC headline du jour, investors will be better served by creating a customized, long-term diversified portfolio that can meet long-standing goals and objectives. If you don’t have the discipline, interest, or time to properly create a personalized investment plan, then find an independent investment advisor like Sidoxia Capital Management (www.Sidoxia.com), so you can experience a series of fortunate (not unfortunate) events.

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 TWTR, 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. Chart construction done by Kevin D. Weaver.

November 16, 2013 at 10:52 pm 4 comments

Confessions of a Bond Hater

Source: stock.xchng

Source: stock.xchng

Hi my name is Wade, and I’m a bond hater. Generally, the first step in addressing any type of personal problem is admitting you actually have a problem. While I am not proud of being a bond hater, I have been called many worse things during my life. But as we have learned from the George Zimmerman / Trayvon Martin case, not every situation is clear-cut, whether we are talking about social issues or bond investing. For starters, let me be clear to everyone, including all my detractors, that I do not hate all bonds. In fact, my Sidoxia clients own many types of fixed income securities. What I do hate however are low yielding, long duration bonds.

Duration…huh? Most people understand what “low yielding” means, when it comes to bonds (i.e., low interest, low coupon, low return, etc.), but when the word duration is uttered, the conversation is usually accompanied by a blank stare. The word “duration” may sound like a fancy word, but in reality it is a fairly simple concept. Essentially, high-duration bonds are those fixed income securities with the highest sensitivity to changes in interest rates, meaning these bonds will go down most in price as interest rates rise.

When it comes to equity markets, many investors understand the concept of high beta stocks, which can be used to further explain duration. There are many complicated definitions for beta, but the basic principle explains why high-beta stock prices generally go up the most during bull markets, and go down the most during bear markets. In plain terms, high beta equals high octane.

If we switch the subject back to bonds, long duration equals high octane too. Or stated differently, long duration bond prices generally go down the most during bear markets and go up the most during bull markets. For years, grasping the risk of a bond bear market caused by rising rates has been difficult for many investors to comprehend, especially after witnessing a three-decade long Federal Funds tailwind taking the rates from about 20% to about 0% (see Fed Fatigue Setting In). 

The recent interest rate spike that coincided with the Federal Reserve’s Ben Bernanke’s comments on QE3 bond purchase tapering has caught the attention of bond addicts. Nobody knows for certain whether this short-term bond price decline is the start of an extended bear market in bonds, but mathematics would dictate that there is only really one direction for interest rates to go…and that is up. It is true that rates could remain low for an indefinite period of time, but neither scenario of flat to down rates is a great outcome for bond holders.

Fixes to Fixed-Income Failings

Even though I may be a “bond hater” of low yield, high duration bonds, currently I still understand the critical importance and necessity of a fixed income portfolio for not only retirees, but also for the diversification benefits needed by a broader set of investors. So how does a bond hater reconcile investing in bonds? Easy. Rather than focusing on lower yielding, longer duration bonds, I invest more client assets in shorter duration and/or higher yielding bonds. If you harbor similar beliefs as I do, and believe there will be an upward bias to the trajectory of long-term interest rates, then there are two routes to go. Investors can either get compensated with a higher yield to counter the increased interest rate risk, and/or they can shorten duration of bond holdings to minimize capital losses.

Worth noting, there is an alternative strategy for low yielding, long duration bond lovers. In order to minimize interest rate risk, these bond lovers may accept sub-optimal yields and hold bonds to maturity. This strategy may be associated with short-term price volatility, but if the bond issuer does not default, at least the bond investor will get the full principal at maturity to help relieve the pain of meager yields.

Now that you’ve survived all this bond babbling, let me cut to the chase and explain a few ways Sidoxia is taking advantage of the recent interest rate volatility for our clients:

Floating Rate Bonds: Duration of these bonds is by definition low, or near zero, because as interest rates rise, coupons/interest payments are advantageously reset for investors at higher rates. So if interest rates jump from 2% to 3%, the investor will receive +50% higher periodic payments.

Inflation Protection Bonds: These bonds come in long and short duration flavors, but if interest rates/inflation rise higher than expected, investors will be compensated with higher periodic coupons and principal payments.

Shorter Duration: One definition of duration is the weighted average of time until a bond’s fixed cash flows are received. A way of shortening the duration of your bond portfolio is through the purchase of shorter maturity bonds (e.g., buying 3-year bonds rather than 30-year bonds).

High Yield Bonds: Investing in the high yield bond category is not limited to domestic junk bond purchases, but higher yields can also be earned by investing in international and/or emerging market bonds.

Investment Grade Corporate Bonds: Similar to high yield bonds, investment grade bonds offer the potential of capital appreciation via credit improvement. For instance, credit rating upgrades can provide gains to help offset price declines caused by rising interest rates.

Despite my bond hater status, the recent taper tantrum and interest rate spike, highlight some advantages bonds have over stocks. Even though prices declined, bonds by and large still have lower volatility than stocks; provide a steady stream of income; and provide diversification benefits.

To the extent investors have, or should have, a longer-term time horizon, I still am advocating a stock bias to client portfolios, subject to each investor’s risk tolerance. For example, an older retired couple with a conservative target allocation of 20%/80% (equity/fixed income) may consider a 25% – 30% allocation. A shift in this direction may still meet the retirees’ income needs (especially if dividend-paying stocks are incorporated), while simultaneously acknowledging the inflation and interest rate risks impacting bond positions. It’s important to realize one size doesn’t fit all.

Higher Volatility, Higher Reward

Frequent readers of Investing Caffeine have known about my bond hating tendencies for quite some time (see my 2009 article Treasury Bubble has not Burst…Yet), but the bond baby shouldn’t be thrown out with the bath water. For those investors who thought bonds were as safe as CDs, the recent -6% drop in the iShares Aggregate Bond Index (AGG) didn’t feel comfortable for most. Although I am still an enthusiastic stock cheerleader (less so as valuation multiples expand), there has been a cost for the gargantuan outperformance of stocks since March of ’09. While stocks have outperformed bonds (S&P vs. AGG) by more than +140%, equity investors have had to endure two -10% corrections and two -20% corrections (e.g.,Flash Crash, Debt Ceiling Debate, European Financial Crisis, and Sequestration/Elections). If investors want to earn higher long-term equity returns, this desire will translate into more volatility than bonds…and more Tums.

I may still be a bond hater, and the general public remains firm stock haters, but at some point in the multi-year future, I will not be surprised to hear myself say, “Hi my name is Wade, and I am addicted to bonds.” In the mean time, Sidoxia will continue to optimize its client bond portfolios for a rising interest rate environment, while also investing in attractive equity securities and ETFs. There’s nothing to hate about that.

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 floating rate bonds/loan funds, inflation-protection funds, corporate bond ETF, high-yield bond ETFs, and other bond ETFs, but at the time of publishing, SCM had no direct position in AGG 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.

July 20, 2013 at 4:05 pm 2 comments

Vice Tightens for Those Who Missed the Pre-Party

Group of Young People at a Party Sitting on a Couch with Champagne

The stock market pre-party has come to an end. Yes, this is the part of the bash in which an exclusive group is invited to enjoy the fruits of the festivities before the mobs arrive. That’s right, unabated access to the nachos; no lines to the bathroom; and direct access to the keg. For those of us who were invited to the stock market pre-party (or crashed it on their own volition), the spoils have been quite enjoyable –   about a +128% rebound for the S&P 500 index from the bottom of 2009, and a +147% increase in the NASDAQ Composite index over the same period (excluding dividends paid on both indexes).

Although readers of Investing Caffeine have received a personal invitation to the stock market pre-party since I launched my blog  in early 2009,  many have shied away, out of fear the financial market cops may come and break-up the party.

Rather than partake in stock celebration over the last four years, many have chosen to go down the street to the bond market party. Unlike the stock market party, the fixed-income fiesta has been a “major-rager” for more than three decades. However, there are a few signs that this party has gotten out-of-control. For example, crowds of investors are lined up waiting to squeeze their way into some bond indulgence; after endless noise, neighbors are complaining and the cops are on their way to shut the party down; and PIMCO’s Bill Gross has just jumped off the roof to do a cannon-ball into the pool.

Even though the stock-market pre-party has been a blast, stock prices are still relatively cheap based on historical valuation measurements, meaning there is still plenty of time for the party to roll on. How do we know the party has just started? After five years and about a half a trillion dollars hemorrhaging out of domestic funds (see Calafia Beach Pundit), there are encouraging signs that a significant number of party-goers are beginning to arrive to the party. More specifically, as it relates to stocks, a fresh $10 billion has flowed into domestic equity mutual funds during this January (see ICI chart below). This data is notoriously volatile, and can change dramatically from month-to-month, but if this month’s activity is any indication of a changing mood, then you better hurry to the stock party before the bouncer stops letting people in.

Investment Company Institute

Source: Investment Company Institute (ICI)

Vice Begins to Tighten on Party Outsiders

Vice

Many stock market outsiders have either been squeezed into the bond market, hidden in cash, or hunkered down in a bunker with piles of gold. While some of these asset classes have done okay since early 2009, all have underperformed stocks, but none have performed worse than cash. For those doubters sitting on the equity market sidelines, the pain of the vice squeezing their portfolios has only intensified, especially as the economy and employment picture slowly improves (see chart below) and stock prices persist directionally upward. For years, fear-mongering stock skeptics have warned of an imploding dollar, exploding inflation, a run-away deficit/debt, a reckless money-printing Federal Reserve, and political gridlock. Nevertheless, none of these issues have been able to kill this equity bull market.

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

But for those willing and able investors to enter the stock party today, one must realize this party will only get riskier over time.  As we exit the pre-party and enter into the main event, you never know who may join the party, including some uninvited guests who may steal money, get sick on the carpet, participate in illegal activities, and/or ruin the fun by clashing with guests. We have already been forced to deal with some of these uninvited guests in recent years, including the “flash crash,” debt ceiling debate, European financial crisis, fiscal cliff, and lastly, sequestration is about to arrive as well (right after parking his car).

New investors can still objectively join the current equity party, but it is necessary to still be cognizant of not over-staying your welcome. However, for those party-pooping doubters who already missed the pre-party, the vice will continue to tighten, leaving stock cynics paralyzed as they watch additional missed opportunities enjoyed by the rest of us.

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 SCM had no direct position in HLF, Japanese ETFs,  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.

February 9, 2013 at 11:38 pm 6 comments

The Pleasure/Pain Principle

The financial crisis of 2008-2009 was painful, not to mention the Flash Crash of 2010; the Debt Ceiling / Credit Downgrade of 2011; and the never-ending European saga. Needless to say, these and other events have caused pain akin to burning one’s hand on the stove. This unpleasant effect has rubbed off on investors.

Admitting one has a problem is half the battle of conquering a challenge.  A key challenge for many investors is understanding the crippling effects fear can have on personal investment decisions. While there are certainly investors who constantly see financial markets through rose-colored glasses (my glasses I argue are only slightly tinted), Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman and his partner Amos Tversky understand the pain of losses can be twice as painful as the pleasure experienced through gains (see diagram below).

Source: Investopedia

Said a little differently, faced with sure gain, most investors are risk-averse, but faced with sure loss, investors prefer risk-taking. Don’t believe me? Well, let’s take a look at some of Kahneman and Tversky’s behavioral finance work on what they called “Prospect Theory” (1979) – the analysis of decisions made under various risk scenarios.

In one specific experiment, Kahneman and Tversky presented groups of subjects with a number of problems. One group of subjects was presented with this problem:

Problem #1: In addition to whatever you own, you have been given $1,000. You are now asked to choose between:

A. A sure gain of $500

B. A 50% change to gain $1,000 and a 50% chance to gain nothing.

Another group of subjects was presented with this problem:

Problem #2:  In addition to whatever you own, you have been given $2,000. You are now asked to choose between:

A. A sure loss of $500

B. A 50% chance to lose $1,000 and a 50% chance to lose nothing.

In the first group, 84% of the respondents chose A and in the second group, 69% of the respondents chose B. Both problems are identical in terms of the net cash outcomes ($1,500 for Answer A, and 50% chance of $1,000 or $2,000 for Answer B). Nonetheless, due the different “loss phrasing” in each question, Answer A sounds more appealing in Question #1, and Answer B sounds more appealing in Question #2. The results are irrational, but investors have been known to be illogical too.

In practical trading terms, the application of “Prospect Theory” often manifests itself via the pain principle. Due to loss aversion, investors tend to cash in gains too early and fail to allow their winning stocks to run higher for a long enough period.

The framing of the Kahneman and Tversky’s questions is no different than the framing of political and economic issues by the various media outlets (see Pessimism Porn). Fear can generate advertising revenue and fear can also push investors into paralysis (see the equity fund flow data in Fund Flows Paradox).

Greed can sell in the financial markets too. The main sources of financial market greed have been primarily limited to bonds, cash, and gold. If you caught those trends early enough, you are happy as a clam, but like most things in life, nothing lasts forever. The same principle applies to financial markets, and over time, capital in today’s winners will slowly transition into today’s losers (i.e., tomorrow’s winners).

A healthy amount of fear is healthy, but correctly understanding the dynamics of the “Pleasure/Pain Principle” can turn those fearful tears into profitable pleasure.

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 (including fixed income ETFs), but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in GLD, 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.

May 12, 2012 at 6:13 pm Leave a comment


Receive Investing Caffeine blog posts by email.

Join 1,817 other followers

Meet Wade Slome, CFA, CFP®

More on Sidoxia Services

Recognition

Top Financial Advisor Blogs And Bloggers – Rankings From Nerd’s Eye View | Kitces.com

Wade on Twitter…

Share this blog

Bookmark and Share

Subscribe to Blog RSS

Monthly Archives