Posts tagged ‘obesity’

Get Out of Stocks!*

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Get out of stocks!* Why the asterisk mark (*)? The short answer is there is a certain population of people who are looking at alluring record equity prices, but are better off not touching stocks – I like to call these individuals the “sideliners”. The sideliners are a group of investors who may have owned stocks during the 2006-2008 timeframe, but due to the subsequent recession, capitulated out of stocks into gold, cash, and/or bonds.

The risk for the sideliners getting back into stocks now is straightforward. Sideliners have a history of being too emotional (see Controlling the Investment Lizard Brain), which leads to disastrous financial decisions. So, even if stocks outperform in the coming months and years, the sideliners will most likely be slow in getting back in, and wrongfully knee-jerk sell at the hint of an accelerated taper, rate-hike, or geopolitical sneeze. Rather than chase a stock market at all-time record highs, the sideliners would be better served by clipping coupons, saving, and/or finish that bunker digging project.

The fact is, if you can’t stomach a -20% decline in the stock market, you shouldn’t be investing in stocks. In a recent presentation, Barry Ritholtz, editor of The Big Picture and CIO of Ritholtz Wealth Management, beautifully displayed the 20 times over the last 85 years that the stocks have declined -20% or more (see chart below). This equates to a large decline every four or so years.

20 Percent Corrections 1928 - 2008

Strategist Dr. Ed Yardeni hammers home a similar point over a shorter duration (2008-2014) by also highlighting the inherent volatility of stocks (see chart below).

Corrections 2008-2014

Stated differently, if you can’t handle the heat in the stock kitchen, it’s probably best to keep out.

It’s a Balancing Act

For the rest of us, the vast majority of investors, the question should not be whether to get out of stocks, it should revolve around what percentage of your portfolio allocation should remain in stocks. Despite record low yields and record high bond prices (see Bubblicious Bonds and Weak Competition, it is perfectly rational for a Baby-Boomer or retiree to periodically ring their stock-profit cash register, and reallocate more dollars toward bonds. Even if you forget about the 30%+ stock return achieved last year and the ~6% return this year, becoming more conservative in (or near) retirement with a larger bond allocation still makes sense.  For some of our clients, buying and holding individual bonds until maturity reduces the risky outcome associated with a potential of interest rates spiking.

With all of that said, our current stance at Sidoxia doesn’t mean stocks don’t offer good value today (see Buy in May). For those readers who have followed Investing Caffeine for a while, they will understand I have been relatively sanguine about the prospects of equities for some time, even through a host of scary periods. Whether it was my attack of bears Peter Schiff, Nouriel Roubini, or John Mauldin in 2009-2010, or optimistic articles written during the summer crash of 2011 when the S&P 500 index declined -22% (see Stocks Get No Respect or Rubber Band Stretching), our positioning did not waver. However, as stock values have virtually tripled in value from the 2009 lows, more recently I have consistently stated the game has gotten a lot tougher with the low-hanging fruit having already been picked (earnings have recovered from the recession and P/E multiples have expanded). In other words, the trajectory of the last five years is unsustainable.

Fortunately for us, at Sidoxia we’re not hostage to the upward or downward direction of a narrow universe of large cap U.S. domestic stock market indices. We can scour the globe across geographies and capital structure. What does that mean? That means we are investing client assets (and my personal assets) into innovative companies covering various growth themes (robotics, alternative energy, mobile devices, nanotechnology, oil sands, electric cars, medical devices, e-commerce, 3-D printing, smart grid, obesity, globalization, and others) along with various other asset classes and capital structures, including real estate, MLPs, municipal bonds, commodities, emerging markets, high-yield, preferred securities, convertible bonds, private equity, floating rate bonds, and TIPs as well. Therefore, if various markets are imploding, we have the nimble ability to mitigate or avoid that volatility by identifying appropriate individual companies and alternative asset classes.

Irrespective of my shaky short-term forecasting abilities, I am confident people will continue to ask me my opinion about the direction of the stock market. My best advice remains to get out of stocks*…for the “sideliners”. However, the asterisk still signifies there are plenty of opportunities for attractive returns to be had for the rest of us investors, as long as you can stomach the inevitable volatility.

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold long positions in 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 7, 2014 at 9:40 pm 3 comments

USA Inc.: Buy, Hold or Sell?

If the U.S. was a company, would you buy, hold, or sell the stock? A voluminous report put out last year by Mary Meeker sought to answer that very question. Since we’re in the thick of the presidential elections, why not review the important financial state of our great nation.

For those of you who may not know who she is, Mary Meeker is the well-known partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, who is also affectionately known as the “Queen of Internet.” Apparently, beyond her renowned expertise in analyzing and valuing tech companies and start-ups, she also has the knack of dissecting government statistics and distilling wonky numbers down to understandable terms for the masses. “Distilling” may be a generous term, given the massive size of her 460-page report, USA Inc., but nevertheless, I am going to attempt to synthesize this gargantuan report even further.

As a visual learner, I think some key cherry-picked slides from her report will help put our multi-trillion debts and deficits in context, so here goes…

The Scope of the Problem

If one spends a few hundred billion dollars here, and a few hundred billion dollars there, before you know it, a trillion dollars will have piled up. Currently our government has run $1 trillion+ budget deficits for three years, and the estimated deficit is for another trillion dollar deficit this fiscal year. If you have ever wondered how many football fields it takes to fill with a trillion dollars of cash, then today is your lucky day. The answer: 217 football fields.

Financial Statements: The Health Thermometer

In order to determine the relative health of USA Inc., Meeker created financial statements for our country, starting with the income statement. As you can see from the chart below, unfortunately USA Inc.’s expenses have been significantly larger than its revenues, creating a “discouraging” trend of negative cash flows (deficits). An entity that takes in $2.2 trillion in revenue and spends $3.5 trillion, cannot sustainably continue this trend for long, before significant financial problems arise. The largest contributing factor to our country’s losses (deficits) has been the exploding costs of entitlements, including Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

As the pie chart shows, the major categories of entitlements comprise a whopping 58% of USA Inc.’s 2010 total expenditures.

Trillion dollar deficits have been the norm over the last three years.

Why Entitlement Spending is a Problem

Why are entitlements such a massive problem? The plain and simple answer to why entitlements are a major issue is that government expenditures are growing too fast. You can’t have expenses growing significantly faster than revenues for 45 years and expect to be in happy financial place.

Another reason for the abysmal spending record is due to politicians horrendous forecasting abilities. Future promises are made by politicians to garner votes today, and when they make overly rosy estimates about the costs of those promises, future generations are left holding the underfunded bag. Meeker points out that when Medicare was instituted in 1966, total future spending  of $110 billion turned out to be about 10x more expensive (see chart below) than originally planned…ouch!

No Defense for Defense

Trillion dollar deficits and debts can’t be solely blamed on entitlements, but $700 billion in annual defense expenditures is not exactly chump change. The inopportune timing of the financial crisis in 2008-2009 didn’t help either, while two unfunded wars were being fought. Even if you strip out the wars, defense spending is still obscenely high. Given our poor state of financial affairs, we cannot afford to be the globe’s babysitter (see Impoverished Global Babysitter). Legacy Cold War spending on obsolete ground warfare needs to be reprioritized to 21st Century threats (i.e. focus on unmanned drones and coordinated intelligence). When a government spends more than the top 25 countries combined (see chart below), that country can certainly find some defense fat to trim.

Demographic Headwinds

The out-of-control gluttonous government spending is a threat to our national security, and although I wish I could say time alone will heal our fiscal wounds, unfortunately the opposite is true. Time is our enemy because the ticking demographic time bomb is about to explode, unless government acts to solve our spending problems. For starters, Americans are living longer, which means entitlement spending has accelerated faster than revenues collected, and life expectancy consistently continues to rise. As you can see below, life expectancy has outpaced Social Security age adjustments by +23% over a 74 year period.

Another self inflicted problem contributing to our colossal health care costs is the obesity epidemic. Over an 18 year period, the rate of obesity more than doubled to 32%. Individuals can and should shoulder more of the burden for these belt-busting costs, and government should spend more on prevention and education in this area. Bad drivers pay higher premiums for their auto insurance, so why not have bad eaters pay higher premiums? Genetics certainly can play a role in obesity, but so to do eating habits. The same accountability principle should be applied to smokers who overly burden our healthcare system too.

The USA spends more on healthcare than all OECD countries combined and 3x the OECD per capita average, yet as you can see from the chart below, the USA is not getting a life expectancy bang for its buck. The argument that the U.S. has the best healthcare in the world may be true in some instances, but the overall data doesn’t support that assertion.

The Rubber Hits the Road

The problem is easy to identify: Government spending going out the door is running faster than the revenues coming in via taxes. The solution is easy to identify too: Politicians need to cut spending, increase taxes, and/or do a combination of the two options. Like dieting, the solutions are easy to identify but difficult to execute.

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit – Scott Grannis

Almost everyone wants the government to spend less, but at the same time nobody wants their benefits cut. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Citing two different studies, Meeker shows how 80% of Americans want a balanced budget as a national priority, but only 12% are willing to cut spending on Medicare and Social Security.

The rubber will hit the road in the next few months when politicians in a post-presidential election period will be forced to face these difficult “Fiscal Cliff” choices – $700 billion+ in tax hikes and spending increases that  jeopardize the current recovery and our fiscal future.

Source: PIMCO

As market maven Mary Meeker recognizes, our fiscal situation is quite “discouraging”. With that said, although USA Inc. may have earned a current “Sell” rating, Meeker acknowledges that our country can become a positive turnaround situation. If voters actively push politicians to making difficult but necessary financial decisions to lower deficits and debt, investors around the globe will be ready to “Buy” USA Inc.’s stock.

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 positions 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 20, 2012 at 4:20 pm 1 comment

Mozilo and Healthcare Tan Tax to the Rescue?

Ideological trains came crashing together as the battle for comprehensive healthcare reform resulted in the whole enchilada approach of the Democrats winning over the baby-step approach advocated by the Republicans.  Thank goodness there is a savior to remedy the hefty $940 billion costs of the national healthcare plan…Angelo Mozilo. Not only will this mortgage tycoon (former CEO of Countrywide – the largest U.S. mortgage lender at one time) have his fat-cat wallet to fund multiple new healthcare taxes on the wealthy, but the government will also be collecting a new 10% tanning tax on all Mr. Mozilo’s bronzing sessions. Perhaps the CBO (Congressional Budget Office) healthcare reform cost saving estimates ($138 billion in the first decade) may come in even better than anticipated?

20,000,000 Tanning Sessions to Health

The public shouldn’t shed a tear for the real estate pain Mr. Mozilo endured – he still managed to stash a nice pile of dough before the mortgage walls came tumbling down on him. Given Mr. Mozilo’s timely sale of about $300 million in Countrywide stock before  the share price cratered, coupled with the $23.8 million retirement fund and roughly $21 million in deferred compensation (Minyanville.com), Mr. Mozilo should have enough money to cover about 20,000,000 tanning sessions by my calculation. That sounds like a rather large number, but I expect Mr. Mozilo will shrewdly negotiate a bulk discount for the sessions, even if the government disapproves of the asssociated lost tax revenues.

However, one major potential hurdle for Mozilo may be finding the adequate time for tanning. If the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) is successful in prosecuting him on the alleged securities fraud and insider trading charges, then he may need to petition for a tanning bed in the prison gym.

Unintended Beach-going Consequences

Although we all condemn the harmful side effects of skin cancer from sunbathing, let’s not completely dismiss some of the advantages, including the benefits of Vitamin D production. Other cited ailments benefitting from sunlight exposure include, eczema, arthritis, psoriasis, acne, season affective disorder, and depression. One of the worse afflictions suffered by beach-goers (male and female alike) is the tragic “pastiness” condition. One of the severe unintended consequences of President Obama’s tanning tax may indeed be the extreme ridicule unleashed on light skinned beach bums that are unable to afford the tanning tax (see photo below).

Toss the Drumstick

On a more serious note, I get the fact that the government wants to raise a substantial amount of money to cover an extensive healthcare bill like this one – either through taxes and/or cost cuts.  However, I think there are other areas in the healthcare food chain that need to climb higher in the national debate. Although, I’m OK with the tanning tax, I strongly believe there is more fertile ground in attacking obesity (see article on the Economics and Consequences of Obesity) and other costlier areas of treatment. The amount of money spent on managing obesity, and associated ailments, trounces the expenditures directed towards cancer by more than $50 billion by some estimates.  Dated data shows we are spending more than $100 billion dollars on obesity-related healthcare costs. One study estimates obesity costs in the United States will reach $344 billion by 2018.

Bolstering the severity of the condition, the CDC (Center of Disease Control) noted the following:

“More than one third of U.S. adults—more than 72 million people—and 16% of U.S. children are obese. Since 1980, obesity rates for adults have doubled and rates for children have tripled. Obesity rates among all groups in society—irrespective of age, sex, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, education level, or geographic region—have increased markedly.”

 

I realize the importance of a copper tone tan can have on the lives of millions of Americans, and I also recognize the tanning tax is just a small blip in the growing 2,200 healthcare bill signed into law. Nonetheless, the spotlight of the healthcare debate needs to focus on the highest cost silos (i.e., obesity). Otherwise, I’m not completely sure whether all of Angelo’s taxed tanning sessions will be enough to cover our country’s immense healthcare costs?

Related Article: Bill Maher Chearleads No Profit Healthcare

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 the time of publishing had no direct positions in BAC or any security 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 24, 2010 at 1:25 am Leave a comment

The Economics and Consequences of Obesity

‘Tis the season to consume a lot of calories, and my tighter fitting, post turkey-day trousers can attest to that fact. Healthcare reform is front and center in the national debate, as well, and the rising epidemic of obesity should play a significant role in the discussion. Why is this issue so important? According to female financial guru, Suze Orman, we are already spending $57 billion more on obesity than cancer. Obesity-related health care costs totaled about $117 billion in 2000, according to the CDC (Center of Disease Control). One study on obesity estimates the problem will cost the United States $344 billion in health costs by 2018.

Although it may be an uncomfortable issue to talk about, this matter has had a direct personal impact on my family, making the problem all the more tangible to me. Regardless of the function of genetics or what lifestyle choices are made, the negative consequences are indisputable.

Take a look at the table of negative outcomes provided by the CDC:

 

These consequences obviously take a large toll on the individuals, but they also have a massive impact on our healthcare system. And the CDC has the data to backup the severity of this intensifying problem:

“More than one third of U.S. adults—more than 72 million people—and 16% of U.S. children are obese. Since 1980, obesity rates for adults have doubled and rates for children have tripled. Obesity rates among all groups in society—irrespective of age, sex, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, education level, or geographic region—have increased markedly.”

 

Before solutions can be created, the root problems need to be addressed. One of the factors contributing to increased incidence of obesity is our unhealthy dietary habits (myself included). A chart from the New York Times highlights the economic impact of our food choices has been impacted by inflation trends. Over the last 30 years, unhealthy foods (beer, butter, and soda) have become much cheaper than healthy foods (fresh fruits and vegetables), on a relative basis (see chart below). Making a trip to fast food chains has not only become more convenient, but the practice has also become more affordable.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (NY Times)

With our work lives stretched even further and stress levels rising, the picture below highlights the relationship between obesity (as measured by the Body Mass Index) and minutes spent per day eating. Our unhealthy, indoor, sedentary lifestyles take away from our healthy eating habits as well. The U.S. is the country with the highest percentage of individuals who are obese and the country that spends the third fewest minutes per day eating (eating more fast food). Seems like a fairly tight correlation.

Data Source: OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development)

Solutions?

Education / Government: Educational support through cooperation with the government is necessary to spread the word regarding the consequences of obesity. Incentives also need to be integrated into our healthcare system so individuals can responsibly attack obesity head-on.

Behavioral Modification: Healthier diet and exercise lifestyles need to be evangelized. Implementation of economic incentives can possibly improve behavior by lowering insurance premiums in exchange for better health compliance. 

Medications: Research needs to continue so innovative medications can help prevent and control obesity. Arena Pharmaceuticals (ARNA), VIVUS (VVUS), and Orexigen Therapeutics (OREX) are  in the late stages in an attempt of getting their obesity drugs approved by the FDA. There is tremendous profit potential if the proper mix of efficacy and safety can be proven, however the detection of side-effects can potentially derail adoption and approval.

Surgery: Advancements have been introduced through medical technologies as well. Allergan’s (AGN) Lap-Band device is an example of an FDA approved device that effectively wraps around the stomach like a rubber-band to control excessive eating urges.

Obviously this is not an easy problem to deal with, as evidenced by the skyrocketing numbers. Many face inherent genetic hurdles in conquering diabetes, while others may have other health issues that contribute to overweight problems.

With the holidays upon us, I still plan on responsibly splurging on occasion, but I’m praying I will have the discipline to mix in some veggies and a run around the block with my eggnog and turkey leg. In the meantime, perhaps I’ll help support the economy by running to the mall and burning some holiday calories by doing some shopping!

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds and AGN, but at time of publishing had no direct positions in ARNA, VVUS, or OREX. 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 1, 2009 at 2:00 am 3 comments


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