Posts tagged ‘Meredith Whitney’

Predictions – A Fool’s Errand

Making bold predictions is a fool’s errand. I think Yogi Berra summed it up best when he spoke about the challenges of making predictions:

“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

 

While making predictions might seem like a pleasurable endeavor, the reality is nobody has been able to consistently predict the future (remember the 2012 Mayan Doomsday?), besides perhaps palm readers and Nostradamus. The typical observed pattern consists of a group of well-known forecasters bunched in a herd coupled with a few extreme outliers who try to make a big splash and draw attention to themselves. Due to the law of large numbers, a few of these extreme outlier forecasters eventually strike gold and become Wall Street darlings…until their next forecasts fail miserably.

Like a broken clock, these radical forecasters can be right twice per day but are wrong most of the time. Here are a few examples:

Peter Schiff: The former stockbroker and President of Euro Pacific Capital has been peddling doom for decades (see Emperor Schiff Has No Clothes). You can get a sense of his impartial perspective via Schiff’s reading list (The Real Crash: America’s Coming Bankruptcy, Financial Armageddon, Conquer the Crash, Crash Proof – America’s Great Depression, The Biggest Con: How the Government is Fleecing You, Manias Panics and Crashes, Meltdown, Greenspan’s Bubbles, The Dollar Crisis, America’s Bubble Economy, and other doom-instilled titles.

Meredith Whitney: She made an incredible bearish call on Citigroup Inc. (C) during the fall of 2007, alongside her accurate call of Citi’s dividend suspension. Unfortunately, her subsequent bearish calls on the municipal market and the stock market were completely wrong (see also Meredith Whitney’s Cloudy Crystal Ball).

John Mauldin: This former print shop professional turned perma-bear investment strategist has built a living incorrectly calling for a stock market crash. Like perma-bears before him, he will eventually be right when the next recession hits, but unfortunately, the massive appreciation will have been missed. Any eventual temporary setback will likely pale in comparison to the lost gains from being out of the market. I profiled the false forecaster in my article, The Man Who Cries Bear.

Nouriel Roubini: This renowned New York University economist and professor is better known as “Dr. Doom” and as one of the people who predicted the housing bubble and 2008-2009 financial crisis. Like most of the perma-bears who preceded him, Dr. Doom remained too doom-ful as the stock market more than tripled from the 2009 lows (see also Pinning Down Roubini).

Alan Greenspan: The graveyard of erroneous forecasters is so large that a proper summary would require multiple books. However, a few more of my favorites include Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan’s infamous “Irrational Exuberance” speech in 1996 when he warned of a technology bubble. Although directionally correct, the NASDAQ index proceeded to more than triple in value (from about 1,300 to over 5,000) over the next three years. – today the NASDAQ is hovering around 6,100.

Robert Merton & Myron Scholes: As I chronicled in Investing Caffeine (see When Genius Failed), another doozy is the story of the Long Term Capital Management hedge fund, which was run in tandem with Nobel Prize winning economists, Robert Merton and Myron Scholes. What started as $1.3 billion fund in early 1994 managed to peak at around $140 billion before eventually crumbling to a capital level of less than $1 billion. Regrettably, becoming a Nobel Prize winner doesn’t make you a great predictor.

Words From the Wise

Rather than paying attention to crazy predictions by academics, economists, and strategists who in many cases have never invested a penny of outside investor money, ordinary investors would be better served by listening to steely investment veterans or proven prediction practitioners like Billy Beane (minority owner of the Oakland Athletics and subject of Michael Lewis’s book, Moneyball), who stated the following:

“The crime is not being unable to predict something. The crime is thinking that you are able to predict something.”

 

Other great quotes regarding the art of predictions, include these ones:

“I can’t recall ever once having seen the name of a market timer on Forbes‘ annual list of the richest people in the world. If it were truly possible to predict corrections, you’d think somebody would have made billions by doing it.”

-Peter Lynch

“Many more investors claim the ability to foresee the market’s direction than actually possess the ability. (I myself have not met a single one.) Those of us who know that we cannot accurately forecast security prices are well advised to consider value investing, a safe and successful strategy in all investment environments.”

–Seth Klarman

 “No matter how much research you do, you can neither predict nor control the future.”

John Templeton

 “Stop trying to predict the direction of the stock market, the economy or the elections.”

–Warren Buffett

“In the business world, the rearview mirror is always clearer than the windshield.”

–Warren Buffett

In the global financial markets, Wall Street is littered with strategists and economists who have flamed out after brief bouts of fame. Celebrated author Mark Twain captured the essence of speculation when he properly identified, “There are two times in a man’s life when he should not speculate: when he can’t afford it and when he can.” Instead of attempting to predict the future, investors will avoid a fool’s errand by simply seizing opportunities as they present themselves in an ever-changing world.

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.

May 20, 2017 at 10:46 pm 2 comments

Historical Trampoline Cycles of Fear & Greed

What goes up, eventually comes down, and what goes down, eventually comes up. Like an adolescent jumping on a trampoline, emotions in the financial markets jump sky high before crashing down to earth…and then the process repeats itself. The underlying reasons behind every market gyration are different, but the emotions of fear and greed are similar. Since 1919, there have been 29 recessions, and 29 recoveries (pretty good recovery batting average). Over that 92 year period we have also witnessed the Dow Jones Industrial Average go from around 100 in 1919 to over 12,300 today – not too shabby.

The blood curdling panic experienced in 2008 and early 2009 has turned to ordinary fear among retail investors – although the doubling of the equity markets from two years ago has instilled a good dosage of animal spirits into professional traders and speculators. When trillions of low yielding cash and Treasuries ultimately come barreling into equity markets, thereby extending equity valuations, then I will become extra nervous. Until then, plenty of opportunities still exist – there just is not nearly as much low-hanging fruit as two years ago.

More of the Same

To make the point that “the more things change, the more things stay the same,” you can go all the way back to 1932 and read the words of Dean Witter – I also wrote about the history of panic in the 1970s (see Rhyming History).

Even some 80 years ago, Witter was keenly aware of the doomsday bears:

“People are deterred from buying good stocks and bonds now only because of an unwarranted terror…All sorts of bugaboos are paraded to destroy the last vestige of confidence. Stories of disaster which are incredible and untrue are told to foolish and credulous listeners, who appear willing to believe the worst.”

 

The bugaboo purveyors I called out in 2009 included Peter Schiff, Nouriel Roubini, Meredith Whitney, and Jimmy Rogers. I’m not sure who the next genius du jour(s) will be, but I am confident they will be prominently paraded over the media airwaves.

Cherry Price for Consensus

As firmer signs of an economic recovery finally take hold, investors slowly regain confidence about investing in risky assets. The only problem is that prices have skyrocketed!  Witter captures this dynamic beautifully back in 1932:

“Some people say that they wish to await a clearer view of the future. When the future is again clear the present bargains will no longer be available. Does anyone think that present prices will continue when confidence has been fully restored? Such bargains exist only because of terror and distress.”

 

Herd Gets Slaughtered

History proves over and over again…the general investing public suffers the consequences of following the herd of fear and greed. Or as Witter states:

“It is easy to run with the crowd. The path of least resistance is to join in the wailings that are now so popular. The constructive policy, however, is to maintain your courage and your optimism, to have faith in the ultimate future of your country and to proclaim your faith and to recommend the purchase of good bonds and good stocks, which are inordinately depreciated.”

 

In the short-run, markets move up and down in an unpredictable fashion, like an irresponsible teenager jumping on a trampoline. In the long-run, investors can do themselves a favor by ignoring the masses, and sticking to a disciplined, systematic investment approach that includes controlled valuation metrics and contrarian sentiment factors. That way, you won’t fall off the investment trampoline and permanently break your portfolio.

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.

February 18, 2011 at 1:36 am Leave a comment

Getting off the Market Timing Treadmill

Most investors have been stuck on the financial treadmill of the 2000s and have nothing to show for it, other than battle scars from the 2008-2009 financial crisis. A lot of running, sweating, and jumping has produced effectively no results.  Most media outlets continue to focus on the “lost decade” (see other Lost Decade story) in which investors have earned nothing in the equity markets. After a decade of excess in the 1990s should the majority of investors be surprised? Investing is no different than dieting and exercise – those topics are easy to understand but difficult to execute.

Where are the Billionaire Market Timers?

The financial industry oversimplifies investing and sells market timing as an effortless path to riches – even in tough times. In the search of the financial Holy Grail, the industry constantly crams new software bells and whistles and so-called “can’t lose” strategies down the throats of individual investors. Sadly, there is no miracle system, wonder algorithm, or get rich scheme that can sustainably last the test of time. Sure, a minority of speculators can get lucky and make money by following a risky strategy in the short-run, but as the global economic disaster caused by LTCM (Long Term Capital Management) taught us, even certain successful trading strategies or computer algorithms can stop working in a heartbeat and lead to a widespread bloodbath.

Are you still a believer in market timing? If so, then where are all the billionaire market timers? Famed growth manager, Peter Lynch astutely noted:

“I can’t recall ever once having seen the name of a market timer on Forbes‘ annual list of the richest people in the world. If it were truly possible to predict corrections, you’d think somebody would have made billions by doing it.”

Certainly, there are some hedge fund managers that have hit home runs with amazing market calls, but time will be the arbiter in determining whether they can stay on top.

Sage Speak on Market Timing

If you don’t believe me about market timing, then listen to what knowledgeable investors and thought leaders have to say on the subject. Larry Swedroe, a principal at Buckingham Asset Management, compiled a list including the following quotes:

  • Warren Buffett (Investor extraordinaire):  “We continue to make more money when snoring than when active.”  He adds, “The only value of stock forecasters is to make fortune-tellers look good.”
  • Jason Zweig (Columnist):  “Whenever some analyst seems to know what he’s talking about, remember that pigs will fly before he’ll ever release a full list of his past forecasts, including the bloopers.” (See also Peter Schiff and Meredith Whitney stories)
  • Bernard Baruch (Financier): “Only liars manage to always be out during bad times and in during good times.”
  • Jonathan Clements (Columnist): “What to do when the market goes down? Read the opinions of the investment gurus who are quoted in the WSJ. And, as you read, laugh. We all know that the pundits can’t predict short-term market movements. Yet there they are, desperately trying to sound intelligent when they really haven’t got a clue.”
  • David L. Babson (Investment Manager): “It must be apparent to intelligent investors that if anyone possessed the ability to do so [forecast the immediate trend of stock prices] consistently and accurately he would become a billionaire so quickly he would not find it necessary to sell his stock market guesses to the general public.”
  • Peter Lynch (Retired Growth Manager): “Far more money has been lost by investors preparing for corrections, or trying to anticipate corrections, than has been lost in corrections themselves.”

Market Timing Road Rules

Rather than make guesses regarding the direction of the market, here are some investment rules to follow:

  • Rule #1: Do not attempt to market time. Statistically it is a certainty that a minority of the millions of investors can time the market in the short-run – the problem is that very few, if any, can time the market for sustainable periods of time.  Don’t try to be the hero, because often you will become the goat.
  • Rule #2: Patiently make good investments, regardless of the economic conditions. It is best to assume the market will go nowhere and invest accordingly. Paying attention to a hot or cold economy leads to investors chasing their tails. Good investments should outperform in the long-run, regardless of the macroeconomic environment.
  • Rule #3: Diversify. In the midst of the crisis, diversification didn’t cure simultaneous drops in most asset classes, however ownership of government Treasuries, cash, and certain commodities provided a cushion from the economic blows. Longer-term, the benefits of diversification become more apparent – it makes absolute sense to spread your risk around.

In some respects, there is always an aspect of timing to investing, but as referenced by some of the intelligent professionals previously, the driving force behind an investment decision should not be, “I think the market is going up,” or “I think the market is going down” – those thought processes are recipes for disaster. I strongly believe an investment process that includes patience, discipline, diversification, valuation sensitivity, and low-cost/ tax-efficient products and strategies will get you off the financial treadmill and move you closer to reaching your financial goals.

Read the Full Larry Swedroe Story

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at time of publishing had no direct positions in BRKA or any other security mentioned. 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 21, 2010 at 11:30 pm 9 comments

Extrapolation: Dangers of Mixing Cyclical & Secular

One of the toughest jobs in making investment decisions is determining whether changes in profit growth rates are due to cyclical trends or secular trends. The growth of technology and the advent of the internet have not only accelerated the pace of information exchange, but these advancements have also led to the explosion of information (read more).

Drowning in too much information can make the most basic decisions confusing. One of the dreaded by-products of “information overload” is extrapolation. When faced with making a difficult or time consuming decision, many investors choose the path of least resistance, which is to fall back on our good friend…extrapolation.

Rather than taking the time of gathering the appropriate data, exploring both sides of an argument, and having objective information guide educated decisions, many investors open their drawers and grab their trusty ruler. The magic ruler is a wonderful straight-edged tool that can coherently connect any two data points. The beauty of the wooden instrument is the never-ending ability to bolt on a simple convenient story on why a short-term trend will persist forever (upwards or downwards).

We saw it firsthand as the world got sucked down the drain of the global financial crisis. Throughout 2008 bearish pundits like Nouriel Roubini, Peter Schiff, Meredith Whitney, and Jimmy Rogers came out of the woodwork (read more about Pessimism Porn) comparing the environment to the Great Depression and calling for economic collapse. Needless to say, equity markets rebounded significantly in 2009. The vicious rally was not strong enough, nor has the economic data turned adequately rosy for the bears to pack up their bags and hibernate. To be fair, the panicked moods have subsided for “Happy Abby” (Abby Joseph Cohen – Goldman Sachs strategist) to make a few short cameos on CNBC (read more), but we are far from the euphoric heights of the late ‘90s.

I think recent comments by John Authers, columnist at The Financial Times, captures the essence of the current sour mood despite the economic and equity market rebounds:

“Last year’s rebound was, most likely, a bear market bounce. The central hypothesis remains intact. On balance of probabilities, the rally since March has been a (very big) rally within a bear market, and the downward move is a (not so big) correction to that rally. There is no new reason to fear we will revisit the lows of 2009, but every reason to believe that stocks are still fundamentally mired in a bear market.”

 

Just as overly pessimistic bearishness can cloud judgment, so too can rose colored glasses. Chief economist at the National Association of Realtors, David Lereah, is an example of how biased bullishness can cloud reasoning too. Among the many comments that made Lereah a lightning rod, in July 2006 he noted the real estate “market is stabilizing” and followed up six months later by claiming, “It appears we have established a bottom.”

Extrapolation is a fun, easy tool, but at some point the simple laws of economics must kick into gear. Supply and demand generally do not rise and fall in a linear fashion in perpetuity. As the saying goes, “The herd is often led to the slaughterhouse.” Rather, I argue mean- reversion is a much more powerful tool than extrapolation for investors (read more).  

The country faces many critical problems that cannot be ignored and politicians need to show leadership in addressing them. I encourage and remind people that we have survived through multiple  wars, assassinations, currency crises, banking crises, SARS, mad cow, swine flu, widening deficits, recessions, and even political gridlock. So next time someone tells you the world is coming to the end, or a stock is going to the moon, do yourself a favor by putting away the ruler and aggregating the relevant data on both sides of an argument before jumping to hasty conclusions.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at time of publishing had no direct positions in LM, or GS. 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 5, 2010 at 12:01 am Leave a comment

Meredith Whitney’s Cloudy Crystal Ball

Meredith Whitney, prominent banking analyst at her self-named advisory group, should have worn a bib to protect her from the adoring drool supplied by Maria Bartiromo in a recent CNBC interview. Ms. Whitney has quickly become a banking rock star during this “Great Recession” period.  She was right at a critical juncture, and as a result she was thrust into the limelight. Much like Abby Joseph Cohen, the perma-bull Goldman Sachs strategist who gained notoriety in the late 1990s, Whitney (the perma-banking bear) will continue having difficulty living up to the lofty expectations demanded of her.

Despite the accolades, Whitney’s crystal ball has gotten cloudy in 2009. I suppose accuracy is not very important, judging by her bottom-half 2007 ranking (year of her major Citigroup call) in recommendation performance and 48%-ile ranking in the first half of 2008. Analysts, much like reporters, can avoid looking dumb by reporting the news du jour and by following the herd. Whitney has followed this formula with her continuous bearishness on the financial sector, excluding a brief but late upgrade of Goldman Sachs in July. Not only was her analysis tardy (Goldman’s stock tripled from the 2009 bottom), but her call has also underperformed the S&P 500 index since the upgrade.

Incoherent Inconsistencies

Like a bobbing and weaving wrestler (her husband John Layfield is a retired staged professional wrestler from the WWE), Whitney tries to concoct a completely mind-boggling narrative to explain her forecasts this year in the CNBC interview with Maria Bartiromo:

11/18/09 (XLF Price $14.60): “For the year, I have been at least ‘cover your shorts, go long.’ I haven’t been this bearish in a year.” (See Maria Bartiromo Interview)  

Hmm, really? Are you kidding me? Wait a second…is this the same “go long” Meredith Whitney that expressed the following?

3/17/09: (XLF: 8.55 then, 14.60 now +71% ex-dividends): “These big banks are sitting on loans that were underwritten with bad math, and the stocks are going to go down…these stocks are uninvestable.”

(Fast forward to minute 8:20 for quote above)

2/4/09 (XLF: 8.97 then, 14.60 now +63% ex-dividends): “Investors should not even consider owning banks on an equity basis” (Click here and fast forward to minute 8:10 for quote).

The schizophrenic accounting of her postures are all the more confusing given her stance that the sector was “fairly valued” in October, according to the CNBC Bartiromo interview.

Don’t get me wrong, she made an incredible bearish call on Citigroup in the fall of 2007 and was expecting blood in the streets until a massive rebound in 2009 surprised her. Investors need to be wary of prognosticators that get thrust into the limelight (see Peter Schiff article) for a single prediction. The law of large numbers virtually guarantees a new breed of extreme forecasters will be rotated into the spotlight any time there is a major shift in the market direction. I choose to follow the footsteps of Warren Buffett and stay away from the game of market timing and market forecasts. I believe James Grant from the Interest Rate Observer states it best:

“The very best investors don’t even try to forecast the future. Rather, they seize such opportunities as the present affords them.”

 

Meredith Whitney may be a bright banking analyst and perhaps she’ll ultimately be proven right regarding the downward banking stock price trajectories, but like all bold forecasters she must live by the crystal ball, and die by the crystal ball.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and its clients own certain exchange traded funds (including VFH), but currently have no direct positions in C, GS, or XLF. 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 23, 2009 at 2:00 am 13 comments


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