Posts tagged ‘Legg Mason’

Mauboussin Takes the Outside View

Michael Mauboussin, Legg Mason Chief Investment Strategist and author of Think Twice, is a behavioral finance guru and in his recent book he explores the importance of seriously considering the “outside view” when making important decisions.

What is Behavioral Finance?

Behavioral finance is a branch of economics that delves into the non-numeric forces impacting a diverse set of economic and investment decisions. Often these internal and external influences can lead to sub-optimal decision making. The study of this psychology-based discipline is designed to mitigate economic errors, and if possible, improve investment decision making.

Two instrumental contributors to the field of behavioral finance are economists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. In one area of their research they demonstrated how emotional fears of loss can have a crippling effect in the decision making process. In their studies, Kahneman and Tversky showed the pain of loss is more than twice as painful as the pleasure from gain. How did they illustrate this phenomenon? Through various hypothetical gambling scenarios, they highlighted how irrational decisions are made. For example, Kahneman and Tversky conducted an experiment in which participating individuals were given the choice of starting with an initial $600 nest egg that grows by $200, or beginning with $1,000 and losing $200. Both scenarios created the exact same end point ($800), but the participants overwhelmingly selected the first option (starting with lower $600 and achieving a gain) because starting with a higher value and subsequently losing money was not as comfortable.

The impression of behavioral finance is burned into our history in the form of cyclical boom, busts, and bubbles. Most individuals are aware of the technology bubble of the late 1990s, or the more recent real estate/credit craze, however investors tend to have short memories are unaware of previous behavioral bubbles. Take the 17th century tulip mania, which witnessed Dutch citizens selling land, homes, and other assets in order to procure tulip bulbs for more than $70,000 (on an inflation-adjusted basis), according to Stock-Market-Crash.net. We can attempt to delay bubbles, but they will forever be a part of our economic fabric.

The Outside View

 Click here for Michael Mauboussin interview with Morningstar

In his book Think Twice Mauboussin takes tenets from behavioral finance and applies it to individual’s decision making process. Specifically, he encourages people to consider the “outside view” when making important decisions.

Mauboussin makes the case that our decisions are unique, but share aspects of other problems. Often individuals get trapped in their heads and internalize their own problems as part of the decision making process. Since decisions are usually made from our personal research and experiences, Mauboussin argues the end judgment is usually biased too optimistically.  Mauboussin encourages decision makers to access a larger outside reference class of diverse opinions and historical situations. Often, situations and problems encountered by an individual have happened many times before and there is a “database of humanity” that can be tapped for improved decision making purposes. By taking the “outside view,” he believes individual judgments will be tempered and a more realistic perspective can be achieved.

In his interview with Morningstar, Mauboussin provides a few historical examples in making his point. He uses a conversation with a Wall Street analyst regarding Amazon (AMZN) to illustrate. This particular analyst said he was forecasting Amazon’s revenue growth to average 25% annually for the next ten years. Mauboussin chose to penetrate the “database of humanity” and ask the analyst how many companies in history have been able to sustainably grow at these growth rates? The answer… zero or only one company in history has been able to achieve a level of growth for that long, meaning the analyst’s projection is likely too optimistic.

Mean reversion is another concept Mauboussin addresses in his book. I consider mean reversion to be one of the most powerful principles in finance. This is the idea that upward or downward moving trends tend to revert back to an average or normal level over time. In describing this occurrence he directs attention to the currently, overly pessimistic sentiment in the equity markets (see also Pessimism Porn article). At end of 1999 people were wildly optimistic about the previous decade due to the significantly above trend-line returns earned. Mean reversion kicked in and the subsequent ten years generated significantly below-average returns. Fast forward to today and now the pendulum has swung to the other end. Investors are presently overly pessimistic regarding  equity market prospects after experiencing a decade of below trend-line returns (simply look at the massive divergence in flows into bonds over stocks). Mauboussin, and I concur, come to the conclusion that equity markets are likely positioned to perform much better over the next decade relative to the last, thanks in large part to mean reversion. 

Behavioral finance acknowledges one sleek, unique formula cannot create a solution for every problem. Investing includes a range of social, cognitive and emotional factors that can contribute to suboptimal decisions. Taking an “outside view” and becoming more aware of these psychological pitfalls may mitigate errors and improve decisions.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds and AMZN, but at time of publishing had no direct positions in LM, or MORN. 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 19, 2010 at 11:30 pm 3 comments

Action Dan (Poker King) and Professional Investing

"Action Dan" wins millions in poker by skillfully mixing art with science

"Action Dan" wins millions in poker by skillfully mixing art with science

As I write in my book (How I Managed $20,000,000,000.00 by Age 32), successful investing requires skillful use of both art and science. What I find so fascinating is that the same principles apply to poker playing. Like investing, poker is also a game of skill that rewards a player who adequately understands the mathematical probabilities (science) while still able to appropriately read the behavior of his or her opponents (art). Take for example professional poker player and 1995 WSOP champ Dan Harrington. In 2003 he finished 3rd at the World Series of Poker Main Event (the Super Bowl of poker) out of a pool of 839 players. In 2004, the following year, despite the pool more than tripling to 2,576 participants, Mr. Harrington managed to finish 4th and take home a cool $1.5 million in prize money. Did luck account for this success? I think not. Odds, if left to chance, would be 1 in 25,000 for repeating this feat, according to the Economist.

In the short-run, random volatility and luck can make the average investor look like Warren Buffett, but because of the efficiency of the market, that same average investor will look like a schmuck over the long-run. Legg Mason Funds Management put out an incredible chart that I believe so elegantly captures the incoherent and meaningless, short-term noise that the media attempts to interpret daily. What appears like outperformance in the short-run may merely be the lucky performance of a reckless speculator.

Source: Legg Mason Funds Management

Source: Legg Mason Funds Management

Dan Harrington, and so many other talented professionals know this fact all too well when an inexperienced “donkey” over-bets a clearly inferior hand, only to nail an inside-straight card on the “river” (last card of the round) out of pure luck – thereby knocking out a superior professional player. Over the long-run these out-of-control players end up losing all their money and professionals relish the opportunity of playing against them.

Talk to professionals and ask them what the biggest mistake new players make? The predominate answer:  novices simply play too many hands. In the world of investing, the same can be said for excessive trading. Commissions, transactions costs, taxes and most importantly, ill-timed, emotionally driven trades lead the average investor to significantly underperform. I’ve referenced it before, and I’ll reference it again, John Bogle’s 1984-2002 study shows the significant drag the aforementioned costs have on professionals’ performance, and especially the average fund investor that underperformed the passive (a.k.a., “Do Nothing” strategy) S&P 500 return by more than a whopping 10% annually!

Vanguard Bogle Study

I consider myself an above average player, and I’ve won a few small tournaments, but match me up against a professional like “Action Dan” Harrington and I’ll get destroyed in the long-run. Investing, like professional poker, can lead to excess returns with the proper integration of patience and a disciplined systematic approach. I strongly believe that all great long-term investors successfully implement a strategy that marries the art and science aspects of investing.  Don’t hold your breath if you expect to see me on ESPN, it may be a while before you see me at the Final Table with Dan Harrington at the World Series of Poker.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, and at the time of publishing had no direct positions in LM, DIS, or BRKA/B. 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.

September 17, 2009 at 4:00 am 3 comments

Bill Miller: Revenge of the Dunce?

Dunce Trimmed

Bill Miller’s Legg Mason Value Trust Fund (LMVTX) was down more than -55% in 2008 and many people considered him the industry dunce – due in part to his heavily concentrated stock positions and stubborn belief of holding onto his sinking “Financial” picks. Unfortunately this stance cratered results to abysmal depths – earning his fund the infamous Morningstar 1-Star Rating. But let’s not forget Mr. Miller did not become stupid over night. From 1991 through 2005 he beat the S&P 500 every year before hitting a rough patch in 2006-2008. His previous 15 year streak was the equivalent of me hitting .400 off Randy Johnson – very few, if any, can replicate. So, is the dunce back? Thus far in 2009, his fund is up about 25% through July 26th, handily trouncing the S&P 500 by more than 14% (Morningstar). Miller remains bullish on his outlook for financial markets although he caveats his prediction with three endogenous risks:

“Rising interest rates, a sharp rise in commodity prices (especially oil), and policy errors.”

 

Miller also brings up a topic I have brought up on numerous occasions in my monthly newsletter, which is that investors are sitting on piles of low earning cash:

“Assets in money market funds recently exceeded those in general equity funds for the first time in over 15 years. In contrast, at the market peak in October 2007, assets in equity funds were more than 3x greater than the assets in money market funds. The return on this mountain of cash rounds to zero, which is good when stocks and bonds are falling, but far from optimal when they are rising. Although I expect credit spreads and risk aversion to remain well above the averages of the past decade, there is plenty of room for them to narrow and for equities to move higher as this cash gradually moves out the curve in search of better returns.”
Smart guy, but could use a little help in the hair style department.

Smart guy, but could use a little help in the hair style department.

The average investor is late to both coming and going from the game. Don Hays, Strategist at Hays Advisory Services, notes, “We believe all good news at the top, and we doubt and disbelieve any good news at the bottom.” I think Bill concurs when he states the following:

“The psychological cycle goes something like this: first it is said the fiscal and monetary stimuli are not sufficient and won’t work. When the markets start up and the economic forecasts begin to be revised up — where we are now — the refrain is that it is only an inventory restocking and once it is over the economy will stall or we may even have a double dip. Once the economy begins to improve, the worry is that profits will not recover enough to justify stock prices. When profits recover, it is said that the recovery will be jobless; and when the jobs start being created, the fear is that this will not be sustained.”

 

Miller also makes some thoughtful points on the attractiveness of the financial sector, pointing to the disappearance of many competitors, appealing valuations, and rising pre-provision earnings. On the topic of inflation, Miller remains unworried about prices spiking up. He argues, logically, that rising unemployment and excess capacity will keep a lid on prices. True, however, with exploding debt levels and deficits, coupled with the insatiable appetites of emerging markets for commodities, not to mention spiraling healthcare prices, I believe inflation concerns may be here sooner than anticipated. Let’s not forget the stagflation experienced in the 1970s.

Read the Whole Bill Miller Newsletter Here

Bill Miller is still in a deep hole that he dug for himself, but I would not count this dunce out. Mean reversion is one of the most powerful principles of finance and if you ride Bill Miller’s coat-tails on any continued rebound, it could be a prosperous, memorable ride.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

July 28, 2009 at 4:15 am 7 comments


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