Posts tagged ‘dividend yield’

Brain or Machine? Investing Holy Grail

Source: Photobucket

Paul Meehl was a versatile academic who held numerous faculty positions, covering the diverse disciplines of psychology, law, psychiatry, neurology, and yes, even philosophy. The crux of his research was focused on how well clinical analysis fared versus statistical analysis. Or in other words, he looked to answer the controversial question, “What is a better predictor of outcomes, a brain or an equation?” His conclusion was straightforward – mechanical methods using quantitative measures are much more efficient than the professional judgments of humans in coming to more accurate predictions.

Those who have read my book, How I Managed $20,000,000,000.00 by Age 32 know where I stand on this topic – I firmly believe successful investing requires a healthy balance between both art and science (i.e., “brain and equation”). A trader who only relies on intuition and his gut to make all of his/her decisions is likely to fall on their face. On the other hand, a quantitative engineer’s sole dependence on a robotic multi-factor model to make trades is likely to fail too. My skepticism is adequately outlined in my Butter in Bangladesh article, which describes how irrational statistical games can be misleading and overused.

As much as I would like to attribute all of my investment success to my brain, the emotion-controlling power of numbers has played an important role in my investment accomplishments as well. The power of numbers simply cannot be ignored. More than 50 years after Paul Meehl’s seminal research was published, about two hundred studies comparing brain power versus statistical power have shown that machines beat brains in predictive accuracy in the majority of cases. Even when expert judgments have won over formulas, human consistency and reliability have muddied the accuracy of predictions.

Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winner in Economics, highlights another important decision making researcher, Robyn Dawes. What Dawes discovers in her research is that the fancy and complex multiple regression methods used in conventional software adds little to no value in the predictive decision-making process. Kahneman describes Dawes’s findings more specifically here:

“A formula that combines these predictors with equal weights is likely to be just as accurate in predicting new cases as the multiple-regression formula…Formulas that assign equal weights to all the predictors are often superior, because they are not affected by accidents of sampling…It is possible to develop useful algorithms without any prior statistical research. Simple equally weighted formulas based on existing statistics or on common sense are often very good predictors of significant outcomes.”

 

The results of Dawes’s classic research have significant application to the field of stock picking. As a matter of fact, this type of research has had a significant impact on Sidoxia’s stock selection process.

How Sweet It Is!

                       

In the emotional roller-coaster equity markets we’ve experienced over the last decade or two, overreliance on gut-driven sentiments in the investment process has left masses of casualties in the wake of losses. If you doubt the destructive after-effects on investors’ psyches, then I urge you to check out my Fund Flow Paradox article that shows the debilitating effects of volatility on investors’ behavior.

In order to more objectively exploit investment opportunities, the Sidoxia Capital Management investment team has successfully formed and utilized our own proprietary quantitative tool. The results were so sweet, we decided to call it SHGR (pronounced “S-U-G-A-R”), or Sidoxia Holy Grail Ranking.

My close to two decades of experience at William O’Neil & Co., Nicholas Applegate, American Century Investments, and now Sidoxia Capital Management has allowed me to build a firm foundation of growth investing competency – however understanding growth alone is not sufficient to succeed. In fact, growth investing can be hazardous to your investment health if not kept properly in check with other key factors.

Here are some of the key factors in our Sidoxia SHGR ranking system:

Valuation:

  • Free cash flow yield
  • Price/earnings ratio
  • PEG ratio
  • Dividend yield

Quality:

  • Financials: Profit margin trends; balance sheet leverage
  • Management Team: Track record; capital stewardship
  • Market Share: Industry position; runway for growth

Contrarian Sentiment Indicators:

  • Analyst ratings
  • Short interest

Growth:

  • Earnings growth
  • Sales growth

Our proprietary SHGR ranking system not only allows us to prioritize our asset allocation on existing stock holdings, but it also serves as an efficient tool to screen new ideas for client portfolio additions. Most importantly, having a quantitative model like Sidoxia’s Holy Grail Ranking system allows investors to objectively implement a disciplined investment process, whether there is a presidential election, Fiscal Cliff, international fiscal crisis, slowing growth in China, and/or uncertain tax legislation. At Sidoxia we have managed to create a Holy Grail machine, but like other quantitative tools it cannot replace the artistic powers of the brain.

investment-questions-border

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.

 

January 15, 2017 at 5:06 pm 1 comment

F.U.D. and Dividend Shock Absorbers

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As the existential question remains open on whether Greece will remain a functioning entity within the eurozone, investor anxiety and manic behavior continues to be the norm. Rampant fear seems very counterintuitive for a stock market that has more than tripled in value from early 2009 with the S&P 500 index only sitting -3% below all-time record highs. Common sense would dictate that euphoric investor appetites have contributed to years of new record highs in the U.S. stock market, but that isn’t the case now. Rather, the enormous appreciation experienced in recent years can be better explained by the trillions of dollars directed towards buoyant share buybacks and mergers.

With a bull market still briskly running into its sixth year, where can we find the evidence for all this anxiety? Well, if you don’t believe all the nail biting concerns you hear from friends, family members, and co-workers about a Grexit (Greek exit from the euro), Chinese stock market bubble, Puerto Rico collapse, and/or impending Fed rate hike, then here are a few confirming data points.

For starters, let’s take a look at the record $8 trillion of cash being stuffed under the mattress at near 0% rates in savings deposits (see chart below). The unbelievable 15% annual growth rate in cash hoarding since the turn of the century is even scarier once you consider the massive value destruction from the eroding impact of inflation and the colossal opportunity costs lost from gains and yields in alternative investments.

Savings Deposits 2015

Next, you can witness the irrational risk averse behavior of investors piling into low (and negative) yielding bonds. Case in point are the 10-year yields in developing countries like Germany, Japan, and the U.S. (see chart below).

10-Yr Yields 2015

The 25-year downward trend in rates is a very scary development for yield-hungry investors. The picture doesn’t look much prettier once you realize the compensation for holding a 30-year bond (currently +3.2%)  is only +0.8% more than holding the same Treasury bond for 10 years (now +2.4%). Yes, it is true that sluggish global growth and tame inflation is keeping a lid on interest rates, but these trends highlight once again that F.U.D. (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) has more to do with the perceived flight to safety and high bond prices (low bond yields).

In addition, the -$57 billion in outflows out of U.S. equity funds this year is further evidence that F.U.D. is out in full force. As I’ve noted on repeated occasions, when the tide turns on a sustained multi-year basis and investors dive head first into stocks, this will be proof that the bull market is long in the tooth and conservatism should be the default posture.

Dividend Shock Absorbers

There are always plenty of scary headlines that tempt investors to bail out of their investments. Today those alarming headlines span from Greece and China to Puerto Rico and the Federal Reserve. When the winds of fear, uncertainty, and doubt are fiercely swirling, it’s important to remember that any investment strategy should be constructed in a diversified manner that meshes with your time horizon and risk tolerance.

Consistent with maintaining a diversified portfolio, owning reliable dividend paying stocks is an important component of investment strategy, especially during volatile periods like we are experiencing currently. Sure, I still love to own high octane, non-dividend growth stocks in my personal and client portfolios, but owning stocks with a healthy stream of dividends serve as shock absorbers in bumpy markets with periodic surprise potholes.

As I’ve note before, bond issuers don’t call up investors and raise periodic coupon payments out of the kindness of their hearts, but stock issuers can and do raise dividends (see chart below). Most people don’t realize it, but over the last 100 years, dividends have accounted for approximately 40% of stocks’ total return as measured by the S&P 500.

Source: BuyUpside.com

Source: BuyUpside.com

Markets will continue to move up and down on the news du jour, but dividends overall remain fairly steady. In the worst financial crisis in a generation, dividends dipped temporarily, but as I explain in a previous article (The Gift that Keeps on Giving), dividends have been on a fairly consistent 6% growth trajectory over the last two decades. With corporate dividend payout ratios well below long term historical averages of 50%, companies still have plenty of room to maintain (and grow) dividends – even if the economy and corporate profits slow.

Don’t succumb to all the F.U.D., and if you feel yourself beginning to fall into that trap, re-evaluate your portfolio to make sure your diversified portfolio has some shock absorbers in the form of dividend paying stocks. That way your portfolio can handle those unexpected financial potholes that repeatedly pop up.

Investment Questions Border

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs) and SPY, 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 ICContact page.

July 11, 2015 at 11:33 pm Leave a comment

Here Comes the Great Rotation…Finally?

Carousel FreeImage

For decades interest rates have continually gravitated to zero like flies attracted to stink. For a split second in 2013, as long-term U.S. Treasury rates about doubled from 1.5% to 3.0% before reversing, it appeared the declining rate cycle could finally be broken. At the time, pundits of all types were calling for the “great rotation” out of bonds into stocks. Half of this forecast came to fruition as stocks grinded to record highs in 2014, but even I the big stock bull admittedly did not expect interest rates on 10-year Switzerland bonds to turn negative (see also Draghi QE Beer Goggles), especially after U.S. quantitative easing (QE) came to an end.

With rates already at a generational low, how could anyone be expected to accept a measly 0.3% annual return for a whole decade? Well, that’s exactly what’s happening in massive developed markets like Germany and Japan. While investors and retirees are painted into a corner by being forced to accept near-0% interest payments, savvy corporate borrowers are taking advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity. Take for example the recently unprecedented $1.35 billion Switzerland bond issuance by Apple Inc. (AAPL), which included a tranche of bonds maturing in 2024 that yielded a paltry 0.25%.

With bonds offering lower and lower yield possibilities for investors of all stripes, at Sidoxia we are still finding plenty of opportunities in stocks, especially in high dividend-paying equity investments. In the U.S., the average S&P 500 stock is yielding approximately the same as the 10-Year Treasury Note (2.0%), but in other parts of the world, equity markets such as the following are offering significantly higher yields:

  • iShares MSCI Australia (Yield 5.0% – EWA)
  • Europe FTSE Europe (Yield: 4.6% – VGK)
  • Market Vectors Russia (Yield 4.6% – RSX)
  • iShares MSCI Brazil (Yield 4.0% – EWZ)
  • iShares MSCI Sweden (Yield 3.8% – EWD)
  • iShares MSCI Malaysia (Yield 3.8% – EWM)
  • iShares MSCI Singapore (Yield 3.4% – EWS)
  • iShares China (Yield 2.5% – FXI)

A New “Great Rotation” in 2015?

If you look at the 2014 ICI (Investment Company Institute) fund flow data, it becomes clear the great rotation out of bonds into U.S. stocks has not occurred. More specifically, despite the S&P 500 index reaching new record highs, -$60 billion flowed out of U.S. stock funds last year, and about +$44 billion flowed into all bond funds. Could the “great rotation” out of bonds into stocks finally happen in 2015? Certainly, this scenario is a possibility, but given the barren bond yield environment, perhaps the new “great rotation” in 2015 will be out of domestic equities into higher yielding international equity markets. In addition to the higher international market yields listed above, many of these foreign markets are priced more attractively (i.e., lower Price-Earnings (P/E) ratios) as you can see from the chart below created by strategist Dr. Ed Yardeni.

Source: Ed Yardeni - Dr. Ed's Blog

Source: Ed Yardeni – Dr. Ed’s Blog

Obviously, any asset shifting scenario is not mutually exclusive, and there could be a combination of investor reallocations made in 2015. It’s possible that previously unloved emerging markets and international developed markets could receive new investor capital from several areas.

With defensive sectors like utilities (up +25%) and healthcare (up +24%) leading the U.S. sector higher last year, it’s evident to me that “skepticism” remains the operative word in investors’ minds and there is no clear evidence of widespread euphoria hitting the U.S. stock market. Valuations as measured by trailing P/E ratios have objectively moved above historical averages, however this has occurred within the context of all-time record low interest rates and inflation. If you take into account the near-0% interest rate environment into your calculus, current stock prices (P/E ratios) are well within historical norms (see also The Rule of 20 Can Make You Plenty), which still leaves room for expansion.

If some of the half-glass full economic waters spill into the half-glass empty emerging markets/international markets, conceivably the eagerly anticipated “great rotation” out of bonds into U.S. stocks may also flow into even more attractively valued foreign equity opportunities.

Investment Questions Border

 

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in AAPL and certain exchange traded funds (ETFs) including VGK, EWZ, FXI,  but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in EWA, RSX, EWD, EWM, EWS, and 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 15, 2015 at 9:18 pm Leave a comment

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

Christmas Present Wrapped in Gold and Silver

There have been numerous factors contributing to this bull market, even in the face of a slew of daunting and exhausting headlines. Contributing to the advance has been a steady stream of rising earnings; a flood of price buoying stock buybacks; and the all-important gift of growing dividends that keep on giving. Bonds have benefited to a lesser extent than stocks over the last five years in part because bonds lack the gift of rising dividend payouts. Life would be grander for bondholders, if the issuers had the heart to share generous news like this:

“Good day Mr. & Mrs. Jones. As your bond issuer, we value our mutually beneficial relationship so much that we would like to reward you as a bond investor. In addition to the 2.5% we are paying you now, we have decided to increase your annual payments by 6% per year for the next 20 years. In other words, we will increase your $2,500 in annual interest payments to over $8,000 per year. But wait…there’s more! You are such great people, we are going to increase the value of your initial $100,000 investment to $450,000.”

 

Does this sound too good to be true? Well, it’s not…sort of. However, the scenario is absolutely true, if you invested $100,000 in S&P 500 stocks during 1993 and held that investment until today. Unfortunately, the gift giving conversation above would be unattainable and the furthest from the truth, if you invested $100,000 into bonds. Today, if you decided to invest $100,000 in 20-year government bonds paying 2.5%, your $2,500 in annual payments will never increase over the next two decades. What’s more, by 2034 your initial principal of $100,000 won’t increase by a penny, while inflation slowly but surely crushes your investment’s purchasing power.

To illustrate the magical power of dividend compounding at a 6% CAGR, here is a chart of the S&P 500 dividend stream over the 21-year period of 1993 – 2014:

SP500 Dividends 1993-2014

The trend of increasing dividends doesn’t appear to be slowing either. Here is a table showing the number of S&P 500 companies increasing their dividend payouts:

COUNT OF DIVIDEND ACTIONS YEAR-TO-DATE INCREASING THEIR DIVIDEND
2014 YTD 292
2013 366
2012 333
2011 320
2010 243
2009 151

Source: Standard and Poor’s

As I mentioned before, while dividends have more than tripled over the last twenty years, stock prices have gone up even more – appreciating about 4.5x’s (see chart below):

SP500 1993-2014 Chart

With aging demographics increasing retirement income needs, it comes as no surprise to me that the percentage of S&P 500 companies paying dividends has increased from 71% (351 companies) in 2001 to 84% (423 companies) at the end of Q3 – 2014. Interestingly, all 30 members of the Dow Jones Industrial Average currently pay a dividend. If you broaden out the perspective to all S&P Dow Jones Indices, you will discover the strength of dividends is particularly evident over the last 12 months. During this period, dividends increased by a whopping +27%, or $55 billion.

This trend in increasing dividends can also be seen through the lens of the dividend payout ratio. It is true that over longer timeframes the dividend payout ratio has been coming down (see Dividend Floodgates Widen) because of share buyback tax efficiency. Nevertheless, more recently the dividend payout ratio has drifted upwards to a range of about 32% of profits since 2011 (see chart below):

Source: FactSet

Source: FactSet

There’s no disputing the benefit of rising stock dividends. Baby Boomers, retirees, and other long-term investors are increasingly reaping the rewards of these dividend gifts that keep on giving.

Other Investing Caffeine articles on dividends:

Dividends: From Sapling to Abundant Fruit Tree

Dividend Floodgates Widen

Investment Questions Border

 

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

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

October 25, 2014 at 10:05 am 2 comments

Bond-Choking Central Banks Expand Investment Menu

iStock_000005933551XSmallMenu

Central banks around the globe are choking on low-yielding bonds, and as result are now expanding their investment menu beyond Treasuries into equities. Expansionary monetary policies purchasing short-term, low-rate bonds means that central banks have been gobbling up securities on their balance sheets that are earning next to nothing. To counteract the bond-induced indigestion of the central banks, many of them are considering increasing their equity purchasing strategies. How can you blame them? With the 10-year U.S. Treasury notes yielding 1.66%; 10-year German bonds eking out 1.21%; and 10-year Japanese Government Bonds (JGBs) paying a paltry 0.59%, it’s no wonder central banks are looking for better alternatives.

More specifically, the Bank of Japan (BOJ) is planning to pump $1.4 trillion into its economy over the next two years to encourage some inflation through open-ended asset purchases. Earlier this month, the BOJ said it has a goal of more than doubling equity related exchange traded funds (ETFs) by the end of 2014. According to Business Insider, the BOJ is currently holding $14.1 billion in equity ETFs with an objective to reach $35.3 billion in 2014.

I can only imagine how stock market bears feel about this developing trend when they have already blamed central banks’ quantitative easing initiatives as the artificial support mechanism for stock prices (see also The Central Bank Dog Ate my Homework).

While expanded equity purchases could break the backs of bond bulls and stock naysayers, some smart people agree that this strategy makes sense. Take Jim O’Neill, the chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, who is retiring next week. Here’s what he has to say about expanded central bank stock purchases:

“Frankly, it makes a huge amount of sense in a world of floating exchange rates and such incredible opportunity, why should central banks keep so much money in very short term, liquid things when they’re not going to ever need it? To help their future returns for their citizens, why would they not invest in equity?”

 

How big is this shift towards equities? The Royal Bank of Scotland conducted a survey of 60 central banks that have about $6.7 trillion in reserves. There were 13% of the central banks already invested in equities, and almost 25% of them said they are or will be invested in equities within the next five years.

While I may agree that stocks generally are a more attractive asset class than bubblicious bonds right now, I may draw the line once the Fed starts buying houses, gasoline, and groceries for all Americans. Until then, dividend yields remain higher than Treasury yields, and the earnings yields (earnings/price) on stocks will remain more attractive than bond yields. Once stocks gain more in price and/or bonds sell off significantly, it will be a more appropriate time to reassess the investment opportunity set. A further stock rise or bond selloff are both possible scenarios, but until then, central banks will continue to look to place its money where it is treated best.

The central bank menu has been largely limited to low-yielding, overpriced government bonds, but the appetite for new menu items has heightened.  Stocks may be an enticing new option for central banks, but let’s hope they delay buying houses, gasoline, and groceries.

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 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.

April 28, 2013 at 11:31 am Leave a comment

Investing Holy Grail: Brain or Machine?

Source: Photobucket

Paul Meehl was a versatile academic who held numerous faculty positions, covering the diverse disciplines of psychology, law, psychiatry, neurology, and yes, even philosophy. The crux of his research was focused on how well clinical analysis fared versus statistical analysis. Or in other words, he looked to answer the controversial question, “What is a better predictor of outcomes, a brain or an equation?” His conclusion was straightforward – mechanical methods using quantitative measures are much more efficient than the professional judgments of humans in coming to more accurate predictions.

Those who have read my book, How I Managed $20,000,000,000.00 by Age 32 know where I stand on this topic – I firmly believe successful investing requires a healthy balance between both art and science (i.e., “brain and equation”). A trader who only relies on intuition and his gut to make all of his/her decisions is likely to fall on their face. On the other hand, a quantitative engineer’s sole dependence on a robotic multi-factor model to make trades is likely to fail too. My skepticism is adequately outlined in my Butter in Bangladesh article, which describes how irrational statistical games can be misleading and overused.

As much as I would like to attribute all of my investment success to my brain, the emotion-controlling power of numbers has played an important role in my investment accomplishments as well. The power of numbers simply cannot be ignored. More than 50 years after Paul Meehl’s seminal research was published, about two hundred studies comparing brain power versus statistical power have shown that machines beat brains in predictive accuracy in the majority of cases. Even when expert judgments have won over formulas, human consistency and reliability have muddied the accuracy of predictions.

Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winner in Economics, highlights another important decision making researcher, Robyn Dawes. What Dawes discovers in her research is that the fancy and complex multiple regression methods used in conventional software adds little to no value in the predictive decision-making process. Kahneman describes Dawes’s findings more specifically here:

“A formula that combines these predictors with equal weights is likely to be just as accurate in predicting new cases as the multiple-regression formula…Formulas that assign equal weights to all the predictors are often superior, because they are not affected by accidents of sampling…It is possible to develop useful algorithms without any prior statistical research. Simple equally weighted formulas based on existing statistics or on common sense are often very good predictors of significant outcomes.”

 

The results of Dawes’s classic research have significant application to the field of stock picking. As a matter of fact, this type of research has had a significant impact on Sidoxia’s stock selection process.

How Sweet It Is!

                       

In the emotional roller-coaster equity markets we’ve experienced over the last decade or two, overreliance on gut-driven sentiments in the investment process has left masses of casualties in the wake of losses. If you doubt the destructive after-effects on investors’ psyches, then I urge you to check out my Fund Flow Paradox article that shows the debilitating effects of volatility on investors’ behavior.

In order to more objectively exploit investment opportunities, the Sidoxia Capital Management investment  team has successfully formed and utilized our own proprietary quantitative tool. The results were so sweet, we decided to call it SHGR (pronounced “S-U-G-A-R”), or Sidoxia Holy Grail Ranking.

My close to two decades of experience at William O’Neil & Co., Nicholas Applegate, American Century Investments, and now Sidoxia Capital Management has allowed me to build a firm foundation of growth investing competency – however understanding growth alone is not sufficient to succeed. In fact, growth investing can be hazardous to your investment health if not kept properly in check with other key factors.

Here are some of the key factors in our Sidoxia SHGR ranking system:

Valuation:

  • Free cash flow yield
  • Price/earnings ratio
  • PEG ratio
  • Dividend yield

Quality:

  • Financials: Profit margin trends; balance sheet leverage
  • Management Team: Track record; capital stewardship
  • Market Share: Industry position; runway for growth

Contrarian Sentiment Indicators:

  • Analyst ratings
  • Short interest

Growth:

  • Earnings growth
  • Sales growth

Our proprietary SHGR ranking system not only allows us to prioritize our asset allocation on existing stock holdings, but it also serves as an efficient tool to screen new ideas for client portfolio additions. Most importantly, having a quantitative model like Sidoxia’s Holy Grail Ranking system allows investors to objectively implement a disciplined investment process, whether there is a presidential election, Fiscal Cliff, international fiscal crisis, slowing growth in China, and/or uncertain tax legislation. At Sidoxia we have managed to create a Holy Grail machine, but like other quantitative tools it cannot replace the artistic powers of the brain.

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.

 

July 15, 2012 at 12:12 pm Leave a comment

The European Dog Ate My Homework

I never thought my daily routine would be dominated by checking European markets before our domestic open, but these days it is appearing like the European tail is wagging the global dog. Tracking Spanish bond yields from the Tesoro Publico and the Italia Borsa index is currently having a larger bearing on my portfolio than U.S. fundamentals. When explaining short term performance to others, I feel a little like an elementary school student making an excuse that my dog ate my homework.

Although the multi-year European saga has gone on for years, this too shall pass. What’s more, despite the bailouts of Portugal, Ireland, and Greece in recent years, the resilient U.S. economy has recorded 11 consecutive quarters of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) growth and added more than 4 million jobs, albeit at a less than desirable pace.

Could it get worse? Certainly. Will it get worse before it gets better? Probably. Is worsening European fundamentals and a potential Greek eurozone exit already factored into current stock prices? Possibly. The truth of the matter is that nobody knows the answers to these questions with certainty. At this point, the probability of an unknown or unexpected event in a different geography is more likely to be the cause of our economic downfall than a worsening European crisis. As sage investor and strategist Don Hays aptly points out, “When everyone is concerned about a problem, that problem is solved.” That may be overstating the truth a bit, but I do believe the issues absent from current headlines are the matters we should be most concerned about.

The European financial crisis may drag on for a while longer, but nothing lasts forever. Years from now, worries about the PIIGS countries (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Spain) will switch to others, like the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China) or other worry geography du jour. The issues of greatest damage in 2008-2009, like Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, AIG, CDS (credit default swaps), and subprime mortgages, didn’t dominate the headlines for years like the European crisis stories of today. As compared to Europe’s problems, these prior pains felt like Band Aids being quickly ripped off.

Correlation Conundrum

Eventually European worries will be put on the backburner, but until some other boogeyman dominates the daily headlines, our financial markets will continue to correlate tightly with European security prices. How does one fight these tight correlations? For starters, the correlations will not stay tight forever. If an investor can survive through the valley of strong security association, then the benefits will eventually accrue.

Although the benefits from diversification may disappear in the short-run, they should not be fully forgotten. Bonds, cash, and precious metals (i.e., gold) proved to be great portfolio diversifiers in 2008 and early 2009. Commodities, inflation protection, floating rate bonds, real estate, and alternative investments, are a few asset classes that will help diversify portfolios. Risk is defined in many circles as volatility (i.e., standard deviation) and combining disparate asset classes can lower volatility. But risk, defined as the potential of experiencing permanent losses, can also be controlled by focusing on valuation. By in large, large cap dividend paying stocks have struggled for more than a decade, despite equity dividend yields for the S&P 500 exceeding 10-year Treasury yields (the first time in more than 50 years). Investing in large companies with strong balance sheets and attractive growth prospects is another strategy of lowering portfolio risk.

Politics & Winston Churchill

Some factors however are out of shareholders hands, such as politics. As we know from last year’s debt ceiling melee and credit downgrade debacle, getting things done in Washington is very challenging. If you think achieving consensus in one country is difficult, imagine what it’s like in herding 17 countries? That’s the facts of life we are dealing with in the eurozone right now.

Although I am optimistic something will eventually get done, I consider myself a frustrated optimist. I am frustrated because of the gridlock, but optimistic because these problems are not rocket science.  Rather these challenges are concepts my first grade child could understand:

• Expenses are running higher than revenues. You must cut expenses, increase revenues, or a combination thereof.

• Adding debt can support growth, but can lead to inflation. Cutting debt can hinder growth, but leads to a more sustainable fiscal state of wellbeing.

Relieving all the excess global leverage is a long, tortuous process. We saw firsthand here in the U.S. what happened to the U.S. real estate market and associated financial institutions when irresponsible debt consumption took place. Fortunately, corporations and consumers adjusted their all-you-can-eat debt buffet habits by going on a diet. As a matter of fact, corporations today are holding records amounts of cash and debt service loads for consumers has been reduced to levels not seen in decades (see chart below). Unlike governments, luckily CEOs and individuals do not need Congressional approval to adapt to a world of reality – they can simply adjust spending habits.

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit (Scott Grannis)

Governments, on the other hand, generally do need legislative approval to adjust spending habits. Regrettably, cutting the benefits of your constituents is not a real popular political strategy for accumulating votes or brownie points. If you don’t believe me, see what voters are doing to their leaders in Europe. Nicolas Sarkozy is the latest European leader to be booted from office due to austerity backlash and economic frustration. No less than nine European leaders have been cast aside since the financial crisis began.

The fate for U.S. politicians is less clear as we enter into a heated presidential election over the next six months. We do however know how the mid-term Congressional elections fared for the incumbents…not all sunshine and roses. Until elections are completed, we are resigned to the continued mind-numbing political gridlock, with no tangible resolutions to the trillion dollar deficits and gargantuan debt load. Obviously, most citizens would prefer a forward looking strategic plan from politicians (rather than a reactive one), but there are no signs that this will happen anytime soon…in either party.

Realistically though, tough decisions made by politicians only occur during crises, and if this slow-motion train wreck continues along this same path, then at least we have something to look forward to – forced resolution. We are seeing this firsthand in Greece. The “bond vigilantes” (see Plumbers & Cops) and responsible parents (i.e., Germany) have given Greece two options:

1.) Fix your financial problems and receive assistance; or

2.) Leave the EU (return to the Drachma currency) and figure your problems out yourself.

Panic has a way of forcing action, and we are approaching that “when push comes to shove” moment very quickly. I believe the Europeans are currently taking a note from our strategic playbook, which basically is the spaghetti approach – throw lots of things up on the wall and see what sticks. Or as Winston Churchill stated, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.”

There is no question, the European sovereign debt issue is a complete mess, and there are no clear paths to a quick solution. Until voters force politicians into making tough unpopular decisions, or leaders come together with forward looking answers, the default position will be to keep kicking the fiscal can issues down the road. In the absence of political leadership, eventually the crisis will naturally force tough decisions to be made. Until then, I will go on explaining to others how the European dog ate my homework.

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 commodities, inflation protection, floating rate bonds, real estate, dividend, and alternative investment ETFs), but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in AIG, JNJ, Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, 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 27, 2012 at 7:47 pm 1 comment

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