Posts tagged ‘financial crisis’

The Dirty Little Stock Market Secret

Shhhh…don’t tell anyone, I have a dirty little secret. Are you ready? Are you sure? The world is not going to end…really.

Despite lingering trade concerns (see Trump Hits China with Tariffs on $200 Billion in Goods), Elon Musk being sued by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for tweeting his controversial intentions to take Tesla Inc. (TSLA) private, and Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, facing scandalous sexual assault allegations when he was in high school, life goes on. In the face of these heated headlines, stocks still managed to rise to another record in September (see Another Month, Another Record). For the month, the Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed +1.9% (+7.0% for 2018), the S&P 500 notched a +0.4% gain (+9.0% for 2018), while the hot, tech-laden NASDAQ index cooled modestly by -0.8% after a scorching +17.5% gain for the year.

If the world were indeed in the process of ending and we were looking down into the abyss of another severe recession, we most likely would not see the following tangible and objective facts occurring in our economy.

  • New Revamped NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) 2.0 trade deal between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada was finalized (new deal is called United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement).
  • Leading Economic Indicators are at a record high (a predictive statistic that historically falls before recessionary periods – in gray)

Source: Yardeni.com

  • Unemployment Rate of 3.9% is near a record low
  • Small Business Optimism is near record highs
  • Consumer Confidence is near record highs

Source: Scott Grannis

  • Corporate Profits are at record highs
  • Interest Rates remain at historically low levels despite the Federal Reserve’s actions to slowly migrate their interest rate target higher
  • Economic Growth (GDP) accelerating to +4.2% growth rate in the recent quarter

Source: Scott Grannis

Are we closer to a recession with the stock market potentially falling 20-30% in value? As I have written on numerous occasions, so-called pundits have been falsely forecasting recessions over the last decade, for as long as this bull market has been alive (see Professional Double-Dip Guesses are “Probably” Wrong).

Why so much investor angst as stock prices continue to chug along to record levels?  One reason is investors are used to historically experiencing a recession approximately twice a decade on average, and we have yet to suffer one since the Great Recession around 10 years ago. While the mantra “we are due” for a recession might be a true statement, the fact also remains that this economic recovery has been the slowest since World War II, which logically could argue for a longer expansionary period.

What also holds true is that corporate profits already experienced a significant “profit recession” during this economic cycle, post the 2008-2009 financial crisis. More specifically, S&P 500 operating profits declined for seven consecutive quarters from December 2014 through June 2016. The largest contributors to the 2014-2016 profit recession were collapsing oil and commodity prices, coupled with a rapid appreciation in the value of the U.S. dollar, which made our exports more expensive and squeezed multinational corporation profits. The stock market eventually digested these profit-crimping headwinds and resumed its ascent to record levels, but not before the S&P 500 remained flat to down for about a year and a half (2014-2016).

Doom-and-gloom, in conjunction with toxic politics, continue to reign supreme over the airwaves. If you want in on a beneficial dirty little secret, you and your investments would be best served by ignoring all of the media noise and realizing the world is not going to end any time soon.

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (October 1, 2018). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

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

October 2, 2018 at 11:08 am Leave a comment

The Scary Blip

I hated it when my mom reminded me when I was a younger, but now that I’ve survived into middle-aged adulthood, I will give you the same medicine she gave me:

“I told you so.”

As I cautioned in last month’s newsletter, “It’s important for investors to remember this pace of gains cannot be sustainable forever.” I added that there were a whole bunch of scenarios for stock prices to go down or “stock prices could simply go down due to profit-taking.”

And that is exactly what we saw. From the peak achieved in late January, stock prices quickly dropped by -12% at the low in early February, with little-to-no explanation other than a vague blame-game on rising interest rates – the 2018 yield on the 10-Year Treasury Note rose from 2.4% to 2.9%. This explanation holds little water if you take into account interest rates on the 10-Year increased from roughly 1.5% to 3.0% in 2013 (“Taper Tantrum”), yet stock prices still rose +20%. The good news, at least for now, is the stock correction has been contained or mitigated. A significant chunk of the latest double-digit loss has been recovered, resulting in stock prices declining by a more manageable -3.9% for the month. Despite the monthly loss, the subsequent rebound in late February has still left investors with a gain of 1.5% for 2018. Not too shabby, especially considering this modest return comes on the heels of a heroic +19.4% gain in 2017.

As you can see at from the 22-year stock market chart below for the S&P 500, the brief but painful drop was merely a scary blip in the long-term scheme of things.

Whenever the market drops significantly over a short period of time, as it did this month, conspiracy theories usually come out of the woodwork in an attempt to explain the unexplainable. When human behavior is involved, rationalizing a true root cause can be very challenging, to say the least. It is certainly possible that technical factors contributed to the pace and scale of the recent decline, as has been the case in the past. Currently no smoking gun or fat finger has been discovered, however some pundits are arguing the popular usage of leveraged ETFs (Exchange Traded Funds) has contributed to the accelerated downdraft last month. Leveraged ETFs are special, extra-volatile trading funds that will move at amplified degrees – you can think of them as speculative trading vehicles on steroids. The low-cost nature, diversification benefits, and ability for traders to speculate on market swings and sector movements have led to an explosion in ETF assets to an estimated $4.6 trillion.

Regardless of the cause for the market drop, long-term investors have experienced these types of crashes in the past. Do you remember the 2010 Flash Crash (down -17%) or the October 1987 Crash (-23% one-day drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average index)? Technology, or the lack thereof (circuit breakers), helped contribute to these past crashes. Since 1987, the networking and trading technologies have definitely become much more sophisticated, but so have the traders and their strategies.

Another risk I highlighted last month, which remains true today, is the potential for the new Federal Reserve chief, Jerome Powell, to institute a too aggressive monetary policy. During his recent testimony and answers to Congress, Powell dismissed the risks of an imminent recession. He blamed past recessions on previous Fed Chairmen who over enthusiastically increased interest rate targets too quickly. Powell’s comments should provide comfort to nervous investors. Regardless of short-term inflation fears, common sense dictates Powell will not want to crater the economy and his legacy by slamming the economic brakes via excessive rate hikes early during his Fed chief tenure.

Tax Cuts = Profit Gains

Despite the heightened volatility experienced in February, I remain fairly constructive on the equity investment outlook overall. The recently passed tax legislation (Tax Cuts and Job Act of 2017) has had an undeniably positive impact on corporate profits (see chart below of record profit forecasts – blue line). More specifically, approximately 75% of corporations (S&P 500 companies) have reported better-than-expected results for the past quarter ending December 31st. On an aggregate basis, quarterly profits have also risen an impressive +15% compared to last year. When you marry these stellar earnings results with the latest correction in stock prices, historically this combination of factors has proven to be a positive omen for investors.

Source: Dr. Ed’s Blog

Despite the rosy profit projections and recent economic strength, there is always an endless debate regarding the future direction of the economy and interest rates. This economic cycle is no different. When fundamentals are strong, stories of spiking inflation and overly aggressive interest rate hikes by the Fed rule the media airwaves. On the other hand, when fundamentals deteriorate or slow down, fears of a 2008-2009 financial crisis enter the zeitgeist. The same tug-of-war fundamental debate exists today. The stimulative impacts of tax cuts on corporate profits are undeniable, but investors remain anxious that the negative inflationary side-effects from a potential overheating economy could outweigh the positive economic momentum of a near full-employment economy gaining steam.

Rather than playing Goldilocks with your investment portfolio by trying to figure out whether the short-term stock market is too hot or too cold, you would be better served by focusing on your long-term asset allocation, and low-cost, tax-efficient investment strategy. If you don’t believe me, you should listen to the wealthiest, most successful investor of all-time, Warren Buffett (The Oracle of Omaha), who just published his annual shareholder letter. In his widely followed letter, Buffett stated, “Performance comes, performance goes. Fees never falter.” To emphasize his point, Buffett made a 10-year, $1 million bet for charity with a high-fee hedge fund manager (Protégé Partners). As part of the bet, Buffett claimed an investment in a low-fee S&P 500 index fund would outperform a selection of high-fee, hot-shot hedge fund managers. Unsurprisingly, the low-cost index fund trounced the hedge fund managers. From 2008-2017, Buffett’s index fund averaged +8.5% per year vs. +3.0% for the hedge fund managers.

During scary blips like the one experienced recently, lessons can be learned from successful, long-term billionaire investors like Warren Buffett, but lessons can also be learned from my mother. Do yourself a favor by getting your investment portfolio in order, so my mother won’t have to say, “I told you so.”

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (March 1, 2018). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

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

March 1, 2018 at 3:08 pm Leave a comment

Head Fakes Surprise as Stocks Hit Highs

In a world of seven billion people and over 200 countries, guess what…there are a plethora of crises, masses of bad people, and plenty of lurking issues to lose sleep over.

The fear du jour may change, but as the late-great investor Sir John Templeton correctly stated:

“Bull markets are born on pessimism and they grow on skepticism, mature on optimism, and die on euphoria.”

 

And for the last decade since the 2008-2009 Financial Crisis, it’s clear to me that the stock market has climbed a lot of worry, pessimism, and skepticism. Over the last decade, here is a small sampling of wories:

With over five billion cell phones spanning the globe, fear-inspiring news headlines travel from one end of the world to the other in a blink of an eye. Fortunately for investors, the endless laundry list of crises and concerns has not broken this significant, multi-year bull market. In fact, stock prices have more than tripled since early 2009. As famed hedge fund manager Leon Cooperman noted:

“Bull markets don’t die from old age, they die from excesses.”

 

On the contrary to excesses, corporations have been slow to hire and invest due to heightened risk aversion induced by the financial crisis. Consumers have saved more and lowered personal debt levels. The Federal Reserve took unprecedented measures to stimulate the economy, but these efforts have since been reversed. The Fed has even signaled its plan to reduce its balance sheet later this year. As the expansion has aged, corporations and consumer risk aversion has abated, but evidence of excesses remains paltry.

Investors may no longer be panicked, but they remain skeptical. With each subsequent new stock market high, screams of a market top and impending recession blanket headlines. As I pointed out in my March Madness article, stocks have made new highs every year for the last five years, but continually I get asked, “Wade, don’t you think the market is overheated and it’s time to sell?”

For years, I have documented the lack of stock buying evidenced by the continued weak fund flow sales. If I could summarize investor behavior in one picture, it would look something like this:

Corrections have happened, and will continue to occur, but a more significant decline will likely happen under specific circumstances. As I point out in Half Empty, Half Full?, the time to become more cautious will be when we see a combination of the following trends occur:

  • Sharp increase in interest rates
  • Signs of a significant decline in corporate profits
  • Indications of an economic recession (e.g., an inverted yield curve)
  • Spike in stock prices to a point where valuation (prices) are at extreme levels and skeptical investor sentiment becomes euphoric

Attempting to predict a market crash is a Fool’s Errand, but more important for investors is periodically reviewing your liquidity needs, time horizon, risk tolerance, and unique circumstances, so you can optimize your asset allocation. There will be plenty more head fake surprises, but if conditions remain the same, investors should not be surprised by new stock highs.

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.

June 10, 2017 at 2:33 pm 2 comments

Marathon Market Gets a Cramp

ganador maraton-02c

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (October 1, 2015). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

“Anyone can run a hundred meters, it’s the next forty-two thousand and two hundred that count.”

Investing is a lot like running a marathon…but it’s not a sprint to the retirement finish line. The satisfaction of achieving your long-term goal can be quite rewarding, but attaining ambitious objectives does not happen overnight. Along the hilly and winding course, there can be plenty of bumps and bruises mixed in with the elation of a runner’s high. While stocks have been running at a record pace in recent years, prices have cramped up recently as evidenced by the -2.6% decline of the S&P 500 stock index last month.

But the recent correction should be placed in the proper perspective as you approach and reach retirement. Since the end of the 2008 Financial Crisis the stock market has been racing ahead at a brisk rate, as you can see from the total return performance below (excluding 2015):

2009 - 2015 SP Performance

 

Long Term SP500 1925-2015

This performance is more indicative of a triumph than a catastrophe, but if you turned on the TV, listened to the radio, or surfed the web, you may come to a more frightening conclusion.

What’s behind the recent dip? These are some of the key concerns driving the recent price volatility:

  • China: Slowing growth in China and collapse in Chinese stock market. China is suffering from a self-induced slowdown designed to mitigate corruption, prick the real estate bubble, and shift its export-driven economy to a more consumer-driven economy. These steps diminish short-term growth (albeit faster than U.S. growth), but nevertheless the measures should be constructive for longer-term growth.
  • Interest Rates: Uncertainty surrounding the timing of a 0.25% target interest rate increase by the Federal Reserve. The move from 0% to 0.25% is like walking from the hardwood floor onto the rug…hardly noticeable. The inevitable move by the Fed has been widely communicated for months, and given where interest rates are today, the move will have a negligible impact on corporate borrowing costs. Like removing a Band-Aid, the initial action may cause some pain, but should be comfortably received shortly thereafter.
  • Politics: Potential government shutdown / sequestration. The epic political saga will never end, however, as I highlighted in “Who Said Gridlock is Bad?,” political discourse in Washington has resulted in positive outcomes as it relates to our country’s fiscal situation (limited government spending and declining deficits). The government shutdown appears to have been averted for now, but it looks like we will be blanketed with brinkmanship nonsense again in a few months.
  • Biotech/Pharmaceuticals: Politics over lofty drug prices and the potential impact of future regulation on the biotech sector. Given the current Congressional balance of power, any heavy-handed Democratic proposals is likely to face rigorous Republican opposition.
  • Emerging Markets: Emerging market weakness, especially in Latin America (e.g., Brazil). These developments deserve close monitoring, but the growth in the three largest economic regions (U.S., Europe, and China) will have a much larger effect on the direction of global economic expansion.
  • Middle East: Destabilized Middle East and Syria. Terrorist extremism and cultural animosity between various Middle East populations has existed for generations. There will be no silver bullet for a peaceful solution, so baby steps and containment are critical to maintain healthy global trade activity with minimal disruptions.

Worth noting, this current list of anxieties itemized above is completely different from six months ago (remember the Greece crisis?), and the list will change again six months into the future. Investing, like any competitive challenge, does not come easy…there is always something to worry about in the land of economics and geopolitics.

Here’s what the world’s top investor Warren Buffett said a few decades ago (1994) on the topic of politics and economics:

“We will continue to ignore political and economic forecasts which are an expensive distraction for investors and businessmen. Thirty years ago, no one could have foreseen the huge expansion of the Vietnam War, wage and price controls, two oil shocks, the resignation of a president, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, a one-day drop in the Dow of 508 points, or treasury bill yields fluctuating between 2.8% and 17.4%.”

In a world of 7.3 billion people and 196 countries there will never be a shortage of fear, uncertainty, and doubt (F.U.D.) – see events chart in The Bungee Market. In an ever-increasing, globally connected world, technology and the media continually amplify molehills into mountains, thereby making the next imagined Armageddon a simple click of a mouse or swipe of a smartphone away.

Today’s concerns are valid but in the vast majority of cases the issues are completely overblown, sensationalized and over-emphasized without context. Context is an integral part to investing, but unfortunately context usually cannot be explained in a short soundbite or headline. On the flip side, F.U.D. thrives in the realm of soundbites and headlines.

While investors may feel fatigued from a strong flow of headline headwinds, financial market race participants should take a break at the water stop to also replenish themselves with a steady tailwind of positive factors, including the following:

  • Employment: The unemployment rate has been cut from a recession peak of 10.0% down to 5.1%, and the economy has been adding roughly +200,000 new monthly jobs on a fairly consistent basis. On top of that, there are a record 5.8 million job openings versus 3.7 million two years ago – a sign that the economy continues to hum along.
  • Housing/Commercial Real Estate/Mortgage Rates: Housing prices have rebounded by about +30% from the 2012 lows; Housing starts have increased by +25% in the past year and 120% in the past four years; and 30-Year Fixed mortgage interest rates sit at 3.85% – a highly stimulative level within a spitting distance from record lows.
  • Auto Sales: Surged to a post-recession record of 17.8 million units in August.
  • Interest Rates: Massively stimulative and near generational lows, even if the Fed hikes its interest rate target by 0.25% in October, December or sometime in 2016.
  • Capital Goods Orders: Up for three consecutive months.
  • Rail Shipments/Truck Tonnage: Both these metrics are rising by about 3-4%.
  • Retail Sales: Rising at a very respectable pace of 7% over the last six months.
  • Low Energy & Commodity Prices: Inflation has remained largely in check thanks to plummeting commodity prices. Low oil and gas prices are benefiting consumers in numerous ways, including the contribution to car sales, home sales, and/or debt reduction.

While the -10% dip in stock prices from mid-August might feel like a torn knee ligament, long-term investors know -10% corrections historically occur about one-time per year, on average. So, even though you may be begging for a wheelchair, the best course of action is to take a deep breath, stick to your long-term investment plan, rebalance your portfolio if necessary, and continue staying on course towards your financial finish line.

investment-questions-border

http://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 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 3, 2015 at 9:55 am Leave a comment

Sector Weightings: Another Financial Toolbox Gizmo

Tools

The ever-elusive $64,000 question of “Where does the stock market go from here?” is as popular a question today as it was a century ago. All you have to do is turn on CNBC to find an endless number of analysts, strategists, journalists, economists, and other talking heads guessing on the direction of stock prices. So many people are looking to make a quick buck or get a hot tip, but unfortunately investing is like dieting…it takes hard work and there are no simple solutions. As much as the pundits would like to make this investment game sound like a scientific certainty, in reality there is a lot of subjective art, experience, and luck that goes into successful investment outcomes. Consistent followers of Investing Caffeine understand there are a number of tools I use to guide me on the direction and level of stock prices, and three of my toolbox gizmos include the following:

  • Earnings (Stock prices positively correlated)
  • Interest Rates (Stock prices inversely correlated)
  • Sentiment (Stock prices inversely correlated)

While these and other devices (see SHGR Holy Grail) are great for guesstimating the direction of longer-term stock prices, sector weightings are also great tools for identifying both overheated and unloved segments of the market. Take an extreme example, such as the S&P 500 Technology historical sector weighting in the year 2000. As you can see from the Bespoke Investment charts, the Technology sector went from about a 5% weighting of the overall market in the early 1990s to around 36% at the 2000 peak before dropping back down to 15% after the Tech Bubble burst. If you fast forward to the 2008-2009 Financial Crisis, we saw a similar “bubblicious” phenomenon rupture in the Financial sector. During 1980 the Financial segment accounted for approximately 5% of the total S&P 500 Index market capitalization in 1980 and skyrocketed to a peak of 23% in 2007, thanks in large part to a three decade bull-run in declining interest rates coupled with financial regulators asleep at the oversight switch.

Sector Weightings 1

Source: Bespoke Investment

Source: Bespoke Investment

While some segment weightings are currently above and below historical averages, the chart shows there is a tendency for mean reversion to occur over time. As I’ve written in the past, while I believe the broader market can be objectively be interpreted as reasonably priced in light of record earnings, record low interest rates, and a broader skeptical investing public ( see Markets Soar and Investors Snore), I’m still finding expensive, frothy sub-sectors in areas like money losing biotech and social media companies. The reverse can be said if you examined the 2000 period – the overall stock market was overpriced at its 3/24/00 peak (P/E ratio of about ~31x), but within the S&P 500 stocks there were bargains of a lifetime if you looked outside the Tech sector. Consider many of the unloved “Old Economy” stocks that got left behind in the 1990s. Had you invested in these forgotten stocks at the peak of the 2000 market (March 24, 2000), you would have earned an equal-weighted average return of +430% (and significantly higher than that if you included dividends):

Caterpillar Inc (CAT):                        +416%

Deere & Co (DE):                                  +367%

FedEx Corp (FDX):                             +341%

Ingersoll-Rand Co (IR):                    +260%

Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT):       +811%

Three M Company (MMM):            +254%

Schlumberger Ltd (SLB):                 +158%

Union Pacific Corp (UNP):           +1,114%

Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM):               +148%

                                                  Average +430%

That +430% compares to a much more modest +36% return for the S&P 500 over the same period. What this data underscores are the perils of pure index investing and highlights the room for active investment managers like Sidoxia Capital Management to generate alpha.

There are many ways of analyzing “Where does the stock market go from here?,” but whatever methods you use, the power of examining sector weightings and mean reversion gizmos should be readily accessible in your investment toolbox.

Investment Questions Border

 

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own FDX; non-discretionary positions in DE, LMT, MMM, SLB, XOM, and a range of positions in certain exchange traded fund positions, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in CAT, IR, UNP, 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.

November 8, 2014 at 3:34 pm 1 comment

Stock Talk: The Value of Media in Finance

Man Speaking Into Microphones

I recently caught up with 50-year investment veteran Bill Kort to answer his questions regarding the media’s impact on the financial industry. After working for Kidder Peabody, A.G. Edwards, Wachovia, and Wells Fargo, Bill called it quits and decided to retire. Besides enjoying retirement with his wife, children, and grandchildren, Bill now also devotes considerable time to his blog Kort Sessions (www.KortSessions.com).

In a recent interview published on his Kort Sessions blog (KS), here’s what we discussed:

KS: Today, when you recommend a client take on, or increase equity exposure, what are the most common push-backs that you get? Have these changed in the past few years? If so, could you explain.

Wade Slome: “Given the events that have transpired over the last 15 years, I expect to receive a healthy dosage of pushback. Many investors have naturally been scarred from the 2008-2009 Financial Crisis, so convincing certain people that the 100-year flood will not occur every 100 days can be challenging. Regardless of the skepticism I receive, I feel it’s my duty to provide the best possible advice I can to existing clients and prospective clients. I can lead a horse to water, but I believe it’s not my job to force clients into a single investment option. At Sidoxia, we customize investment plans that meet clients’ risk tolerances, time horizons, and overall objectives.

With regard to sentiment changes in recent years, it is true that the tripling in equity market values since early 2009 has changed investor moods. Risk appetites have definitely increased. Nevertheless, cynicism is still rampant. Surveys done by Gallup show that stock ownership is near 15-year lows and despite stocks at or near record highs, ICI fund flow data shows money fleeing U.S. stock funds in 2014. With generational low interest rates, I see many long-term investors being too imprudently conservative. However, on the other hand, my responsibility is to also prevent other clients from taking on too much risk, especially if they have shorter investment time horizons or have limited funds in retirement.”

KS: When you speak with clients today, what are prominent worries do they have about their investments: The general level of the market, valuation, the economic backdrop, U.S. political issues or geopolitical concerns (all of the above)? Could you rank or tell me which concerns seem to be paramount.

Wade Slome: “In this 24-hour news cycle society we live in, an avalanche of real-time data gets crammed down our throats daily through our smartphones and Twitter-Facebook pages. As a result, the overwhelming barrage of news gets disseminated instantaneously, which in turn spreads fear like wildfire by word of mouth. In this type of environment it comes as no surprise to me that the general public is on edge. Every molehill is made into a mountain by media outlets for a simple reason…fear sells! Before the internet 20 years ago, virtually no one could find the location of Cyprus, Syria, Ukraine, or Gaza on a map – now we have Google and Wikipedia to show us or the Twitter feed scrolling at the bottom of our television sets reminds us. As far as concerns go, it’s tough to rank which ones are paramount. One day it’s the elections or Iran, and then the other day it’s the stock market crashing or the Ebola virus. Eventually the emotional pendulum will swing from fear and pessimism to optimism and euphoria, it always does. Like a lot of different professions, one of best strengths to have as an investment manager is the experience in knowing what noise to filter out and the ability to identify the relevant factors that drive outperformance.”

KS: Could you share the short-form responses that you might give to your clients when addressing the aforementioned issues.

Wade Slome: “The best advice I can give investors is to ignore the headlines. This principle is just as true today as it was a century or two ago. Mark Twain famously said, “If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed.  If you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed.” This is obviously presented a little tongue-in-cheek, but the main point being is headlines should not drive your investment decisions. It’s perfectly fine to be informed about the economy and politics, but people must realize the stock market often moves independently and in contrarian directions to prevailing media stories. Rather than emotionally react to news flow, it is much more important to create an objective, long-term investment plan that takes advantage of market noise, hype, and volatility.”

KS: Finally, this is a little bit of a leading question that I hope you might run with. Do you find any useful purpose being served by the financial, general or political media that might aid an individual’s investment process?

Wade Slome: “In my view of the financial markets, there are a few underlying principles that drive stock prices over the long-term, and they include such basic factors as earnings, valuations, interest rates, and market psychology. What I would objectively try to argue is that the financial, general, or political media have little to no impact on the first three factors and only modest influence on the last one (market psychology). Part of the reason I have been so constructive on the markets on my Investing Caffeine blog over the last five years is because all these factors have generally pointed in the right direction. I will become nervous when earnings decline, valuations get stretched, interest rates spike, and/or psychology turns euphoric. Right now, I don’t think we are seeing any of that occurring.

With that said, I do believe there are exceptions to the rule that the “media is evil.” If you have the time, interest, and patience to stagger through the endless desert of financial media, you can find a few rare flowers. Although I do consume mass amounts of media, 99% of it ends up in the trash or ignored. I do my best to reserve my media consumption to those successful investors who have lived through multiple market cycles and have a winning track record to back it up. It is possible to find sage investment bloggers; Warren Buffett interviews on CNBC; or newspaper interviews of thriving venture capitalists, if you properly dine on a healthy media diet. Unfortunately there is a lot of junk food financial content out in media land. What should generally be avoided at all costs are rants from economists, journalists, analysts, commentators, and talking heads. No matter how eloquent or articulate they may sound, the vast majority of the people you see on television have not invested a professional dime in their careers, so all you are getting from them are worthless, vacillating opinions. I choose to stick to commentary from the tried and true investment veterans.”

Bill, thanks again for the thoughtful interview questions, and continued success with your Kort Sessions blog!

www.Sidoxia.com

Investment Questions Border

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own GOOG/GOOGL, and a range of positions in certain exchange traded fund positions, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in TWTR, FB, WFC, 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.

August 23, 2014 at 6:57 pm Leave a comment

Floating Hedge Fund on Ice Thawing Out

These days, pundits continue to talk about how the same financial crisis plaguing Greece and its fellow PIIGS partners (Portugal, Ireland, Italy & Spain) is about to plow through the eurozone and then ultimately the remaining global economy with no mercy. If all the focus is being placed on a diminutive, calamari-eating, Ouzo-drinking society like Greece, whose economy matches the size of Maryland, then why not evaluate an even more miniscule, PIIGS prequel country…Iceland.

That’s right, the same Iceland that just four years ago people were calling a “hedge fund on ice.” You know, that frozen island that had more foreign depositors investing in their banks than people living in the country. Before Icelandic banks became more than 75% of the overall stock market, and Gordon Gekko became the country’s patron saint, Iceland was more known for fishing. The fishing industry accounted for about half of Iceland’s exports, and the next largest money maker may have been Bjork, the country’s famed and quirky female singer.

In looking back at the financial crisis of 2008-2009, as it turned out, Iceland served as a canary in the global debt binging coal mine. In order to attract the masses of depositors to Icelandic banks, these financial institutions offered outrageous, unsustainable interest rates to yield-starved customers. How did the Icelandic bankers offer such high rates? Well of course, it was those can’t-lose American subprime mortgages that were offering what seemed like irresistibly high yields. Of course, what seemed like a dream at the time, eventually turned into a nightmare once the scheme unraveled. Ultimately, it became crystal clear that the subprime borrowers could not pay the outrageous rates, especially after rates unknowingly reset to untenable levels for many borrowers.

At the peak of the crisis, the Icelandic banks were holding amounts of debt exceeding six times the Icelandic GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and these lenders suffered more than $100 billion in losses. One of the Icelandic banks was even funding a large condominium project in my neighboring Southern California city of Beverly Hills. When the excrement hit the fan after Lehman Brothers went bankrupt, it didn’t take long for Iceland’s stock market to collapse by more than -95%; Iceland’s Krona to crumple; and eventually the trigger of Iceland’s multi-billion bailout by numerous constituents, including the IMF (International Monetary Fund).

Bitter Medicine First, Improvement Next

Today, four years after the subprime implosion and Lehman debacle, the hedge fund on ice known as Iceland is beginning to thaw, and their economic picture is looking much brighter (see charts below). GDP growth is the highest it has been in four years (4.5% recently); the stock market has catapulted upwards (almost doubling from the lows); and the Iceland unemployment rate has declined from over 9% a few years ago to about 7% today.

Source: Trading Economics

Source: Trading Economics

Re-jiggering a phony economy with a faulty facade cannot be repaired overnight. However, now that the banking system has been allowed to clear out its excesses, Iceland can move forward. One tailwind behind the economy has been Iceland’s weaker currency, which has led to a +17% increase in foreign tourist nights at Icelandic hotels through April this year. What’s more, tourist traffic at Iceland’s airport hit a record in May. Iceland has taken its bitter medicine, adjusted, and is currently reaping some of the rewards.

Although the detrimental effects of austerity experienced by the economies and banks of Greece, Spain, and Italy crowd out most of today’s headlines, Iceland is not the only country to make painful changes to its fiscal ways and then taste the sweetness of progress. Let’s not forget the Guinness drinking Irish. Ireland, like Greece, Portugal, and Spain received a bailout, but Ireland’s banking system was arguably worse off than Spain’s, yet Ireland has seen its borrowing costs on its 10-year bond decrease dramatically from 9.2% at the beginning of 2011 to about 7.4% this month (still high, but moving in the right direction). The same can be said for the United States. Our banks were up against the ropes, but after some recapitalization, tighter oversight, and stricter lending standards, our banks have gotten back on track and have helped assist our economy grow for 11 consecutive quarters (albeit at uninspiring growth rates).

The austerity versus growth debate will no doubt continue to circulate through media circles. In my view, these arguments are too simplistic and one dimensional. Every country has its unique culture and distinct challenges, but even countries with massive financial excesses can steer themselves back to a path of growth. A floating hedge fund on ice to the north of us has proven that fact to us, as we witness brighter days beginning to thaw Iceland’s chilly economy to expansion again.

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 Lehman Brothers, Guinness, 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.

June 24, 2012 at 10:42 pm 2 comments

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