Posts tagged ‘investing strategies’

Don’t Be a Fool, Follow the Stool

stool

It’s the holiday season and with another year coming to an end, it’s also time for a wide range of religious celebrations to take place. Investing is a lot like religion too. Just like there are a countless number of religions, there are also a countless number of investing styles, whether you are talking about Value investing, Growth, Quantitative, Technical, Momentum, Merger-Arbitrage, GARP (Growth At a Reasonable Price), or a multitude of other derivative types. But regardless of the style followed, most professional managers believe their style is the sole answer to lead followers to financial nirvana. While I may not share the same view (I believe there are many ways to skin the stock market cat), each investing discipline (or religion) will have its own unique core tenets that drive expectations for future returns (outcomes).

As it relates to my firm, Sidoxia Capital Management, our investment process is premised on four key tenets. Much like the four legs of a stool, the following principles provide the foundation for our beliefs and outlook on the mid-to-long-term direction of the stock market:

  • Profits
  • Interest Rates
  • Sentiment
  • Valuations

Why are these the key components that drive stock market returns? Let’s dig a little deeper to clarify the importance of these factors:

Profits: Over the long-run there is a very significant correlation between stock prices and profits (see also It’s the Earnings, Stupid). I’m not the only one preaching this religious belief, investment legends Peter Lynch and William O’Neil think the same. In answer to a question by Dell Computer’s CEO Michael Dell about its stock price, Lynch famously responded , “If your earnings are higher in five years, your stock will be higher.” The same idea works with the overall stock market. As I recently wrote (see Why Buy at Record Highs? Ask the Fat Turkey), with corporate profits at all-time record highs, it should come as no surprise that stock prices are near all-time record highs. Regardless of the absolute level of profits, it’s also very important to have a feel for whether earnings are accelerating or decelerating, because investors will pay a different price based on this dynamic.

Interest Rates: When embarrassingly low CD interest rates of 0.08% are being offered on $10,000 deposits at Bank of America, do you think stocks look more or less attractive? It’s obviously a rhetorical question, because I can earn 20x more just by collecting the dividends from the S&P 500 index. Now in 1980 when the Federal Funds rate was set at 20.0% and investors could earn 16.0% on CDs, guess what? Stocks were logging their lowest valuation levels in decades (approximately 8x P/E ratio vs 17x today). The interest rate chart from Scott Grannis below highlights the near generational low interest rates we are currently experiencing.

10 yr treas

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Sentiment: As I wrote in my Sentiment Indicators: Reading the Tea Leaves article, there are plenty of sentiment indicators (e.g., AAII Surveys, VIX Fear Gauge, Breadth Indicators, NYSE Bulls %, Put-Call Ratio, Volume), which traditionally are good contrarian indicators for the future direction of stock prices. When sentiment is too bullish (optimistic), it is often a good time to sell or trim, and when sentiment is too bearish (pessimistic), it is often good to buy. With that said, in addition to many of these short-term sentiment indicators, I realize that actions speak louder than words, therefore I like to also see the flows of funds into and out of stocks/bonds to gauge sentiment (see also Market Champagne Sits on Ice).

Valuations: As Fred Hickey, the lead editor of the High Tech Strategist noted, “Valuations do matter in the stock market, just as good pitching matters in baseball.” The most often quoted valuation metric is the Price/Earnings multiple or PE ratio. In other words, this ratio compares the price you would pay for an annual stream of profits. This can be tricky to determine because there are virtually an infinite number of factors that can impact the numerator and denominator. Currently P/E valuations are near historical averages (see below) – not nearly as cheap as 1980 and not nearly as expensive as 2000. If I only had one metric to choose, this would be a good place to start because the previous three legs of the stool feed into valuation calculations. In addition to P/E, at Sidoxia one of our other favorite metrics is Free-Cash-Flow Yield (annual cash generation after all expenses and expenditures divided by a company’s value). Earnings can be manipulated much easier than cold hard cash in our view.

500 pe

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Nobody, myself and Warren Buffett included, can consistently predict what the stock market will do in the short-run. Buffett freely admits it. However, investing is a game of probabilities, and if you use the four tenets of profits, interest rates, sentiment, and valuations to drive your long-term investing decisions, your chances for future financial success will increase dramatically. This framework is just as relevant today as it is when studying the 1929 Crash, the 1989 Japan Bubble, or the 2008-2009 Financial Crisis. If your goal is to not become an investing fool, I highly encourage you to follow the legs of the Sidoxia stool.

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 a range of positions, including BAC and certain exchange traded fund positions, 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.

December 13, 2014 at 10:00 am 10 comments

Passive vs. Active Investing: Darts, Monkeys & Pros

Bob Turner is founder of Turner Investments and a manager of several funds at the investment company. In a recent article he reintroduces the all-important, longstanding debate of active management (“hands-on”) versus passive management (“hands off”) approaches to investing. Mr. Turner makes some good arguments for the active management camp, however some feel differently – take for example Burton Malkiel. The Princeton professor theorizes in his book A Random Walk Down Wall Street that “a blindfolded monkey throwing darts at a newspaper’s stock page could select a portfolio that would do just as well as one carefully selected by experts.” In fact, The Wall Street Journal manages an Investment Dartboard contest that stacks up amateur investors’ picks against the pros’ and random stock picks selected by randomly thrown darts. In many instances, the dartboard picks outperform the professionals. Given the controversy, who’s right…the darts, monkeys, or pros? Distinguishing between the different categorizations can be difficult, but we will take a stab nevertheless.

Arguments for Active Management

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

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

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

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

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

The Case for Passive Management

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

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

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

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

Professional Sports and Investing

As I discuss in my book, there are similarities that can be drawn between professional sports and investing with respect to active vs. passive management. Like the scarce number of .300 hitters in baseball, I believe there are a select few investment managers who can consistently outperform the market. In 2007, AssociatedContent.com did a study that showed there were only 22 active career .300 hitters in Major League Baseball. I recognize in the investing world there can be a larger role for “luck,” which is difficult, if not impossible, to measure (luck won’t help me much in hitting a 100 mile per hour fastball thrown by Nolan Ryan). Nonetheless, in the professional sports arena, there are some Hall of Famers (prospects) that have proved they could (can) consistently outperform their peers for extended durations of time. Experience is another distinction I would highlight in comparing sports and investing. Unlike sports, in the investment world I believe there is a positive correlation between age and ability. The more experience an investor gains, generally the better long-term return achieved. Like many professions, the more experience you gain, the more valuable you become. Unfortunately, in many sports, ability deteriorates and muscles atrophy over time.

Size Matters

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

Room for All

As I’ve stated before, I believe the market is efficient in the long run, but can be terribly inefficient in the short-run, especially when the behavioral aspects of emotion (fear and greed) take over. The “wait for me, I want to play too” greed from the late 1990s technology craze and the credit-based economic collapse of 2008-2009 are further examples of inefficient situations that can be exploited by active managers. However, due to multiple fees, transaction costs, taxes, not to mention the short-term performance/compensation pressures to perform, I believe the odds are stacked against the active managers. For those experienced managers that have played the game for a long period and have a track record of success, I feel active management can play a role. At Sidoxia Capital Management, I choose to create investment portfolios that blend a mixture of passive and active investment strategies. Although my hedge fund has outperformed the S&P 500 in 4 of the last 5 years, that fact does not necessarily mean it’s the appropriate sole approach for all clients. As Warren Buffet states, investors should stick to their “circle of competence” so they can confidently invest in what they know.  That’s why I generally stick to the areas of my expertise when I’m actively investing in stocks, and fill in the remainder of client portfolios with transparent, low-cost, tax-efficient equity and fixed income products (i.e., Exchange Traded Funds). Even though the actively managed Turner Funds appear to have a mixed-bag of performance numbers relative to passively managed strategies, I appreciate Bob Turner’s article for addressing this important issue.  I’m sure the debate will never fully be resolved. In the meantime, my client portfolios will aim to mix the best of both worlds within active and passive management strategies in the eternal quest of outwitting the darts, monkeys, and other pros.

Read the full Bob Turner article on Morningstar.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

 

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

March 29, 2014 at 3:19 pm 4 comments

Fence-Sitting: The Elusive Art of More Data and Pullbacks

Fence Sitting Cowboys

The world of financial markets is full of fence-sitters, especially in the professional realm. Why? Well, for starters, fence-sitting provides the luxury of never being wrong. If fence-squatting observers do nothing and provide no opinions, then they cannot by definition be wrong or mistaken. Why should a professional put their neck out for an economic, sector, or investment specific forecast, if there is a potential of looking stupid or losing a job?

For many, the consequences of possibly being wrong feel so horrendous that participants choose instead to sit on the non-committal fence. In most cases, the fence posts on any financial issue or investment align along the comfort of consensus thinking. Unfortunately, consensus thinking has a limited shelf life, because the views held by the majority are constantly changing. Repeatedly modifying personal opinions to match consensus views may prevent the bruising of egos, however, this naïve strategy can be destructive to long-term returns. Here are a few examples:

2000

Consensus ViewNew Normal tech stocks will continue explosive growth; Consensus Outcome: Wrong; Investor Net Result: Losses and/or Lost Profits.                                                                         

2006

Consensus View: Home prices will rise forever and leverage is beautiful; Consensus Outcome: Wrong; Investor Net Result: Losses and/or Lost Profits.

2010

Consensus View: Greece and European collapse to cause a double-dip global recession; Consensus Outcome: Wrong; Investor Net Result: Losses and/or Lost Profits.

2011 

Consensus View: U.S. credit downgrade will be bad for Treasuries and rates; Consensus Outcome: Wrong; Investor Net Result: Losses and/or Lost Profits.

2012

Consensus View: Uncertainty surrounding election bad for equities; Consensus Outcome: Wrong; Investor Net Result: Losses and/or Lost Profits.

2012

Consensus View: China’s slowing growth and real estate bubble expected to cause a global double-dip recession; Consensus Outcome: Wrong; Investor Net Result: Losses and/or Lost Profits.

2012

Consensus View: Impending fiscal cliff bad for equities; Consensus Outcome: Wrong; Investor Net Result: Losses and/or Lost Profits.

2013 

Consensus View: Debt ceiling debate bad for equities; Consensus Outcome: ???; Investor Net Result: ???.

2013

Consensus View: Looming sequestration bad for equities; Consensus Outcome: ???; Investor Net Result: ???.

In recent years the market has continued to climb a wall of worry, but will this year be different? We shall soon see.

Placing the concern du jour aside, if consensus fears coalesce around a specific upcoming event, chances are that particular issue is already factored into existing expectations and price structures. Therefore, rather than wasting personal “worry” bandwidth on those fears, investor anxiety should be dedicated to less prevalent but potentially more impactful unknown concerns. Or if you need clarification about the unknowns to worry about, perhaps Donald Rumsfeld can clarify the situation by highlighting the risk of “unknown unknowns”:

I Love Data and Pullbacks!

When faced with apprehension or uncertainty, many fence-sitting investors revert to wanting more data or waiting for a better price. For example, I often hear, “I love stock XYZ, but I want to wait for the earnings to come out,” or analyst day, or share buyback announcement, or merger closing, or restructuring, etc., etc., etc. For strategists and economists, they are famished for the next critically irrelevant weekly jobless claims number, Federal Reserve policy minutes, ISM monthly manufacturing data, or latest consumer confidence figure.

More data for fence sitters is not sufficient. I often listen to stock-pickers say, “I love XYZ stock, but not at the current $52.50 price, but I’ll back up the truck at $51.50!” Okay, so you’re telling me that you think the stock is worth +40% more, but you want to litigate the purchase price over $1?!

Sadly, there is a cost for all this fence-sitting: a) if good news comes out, investment prices catapult higher and the investor is stuck with a pricier investment; b) if bad news comes out, that long-awaited price pullback is usually not acted upon because fundamentals have now deteriorated; or c) in many cases the price grinds higher before the long-awaited jewel of information is disseminated. The net result is further fence-sitting paralysis, which paradoxically is not helped by more information or a price pullback.

The other reason fence-sitters say or do nothing is because articulating a gloomy thesis simply sounds smarter. For instance, saying “The reason I’m on the sidelines is because we are in a secular bear market due to the debasement of our currency as a result of inflationary Fed monetary policies,” sounds smarter and more compelling than “Stocks are cheap and are already factoring in a lot of negativity.”

Investing is an unbelievably challenging endeavor, but for those fence-sitters with an insatiable appetite for more data and elusive pullbacks, I humbly point out, there is an infinite amount of information that regenerates itself daily. In addition, there is nothing wrong with having a disciplined valuation process in place, but if your best investment ideas are predicated on a minor pullback, then enjoy watching your returns wither away…as you sit on your cozy fence.

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 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 11, 2013 at 10:31 pm 1 comment


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