Posts tagged ‘Peter Lynch’

Organizing Your Investment Basket

basket

With the Easter bunny relaxing after a busy holiday, kids from all over are given the task of organizing the candy and money collected during their hunts. Investors are also constantly reminded that their portfolio eggs should not be solely placed in one basket either. Instead, investors are told to diversify their investments across a whole host of asset classes, geographies, styles, and sizes. In other words, this means investors should be spreading their money across commodity, real estate, international, emerging market, value, growth, small-cap, and large-cap investments. As Jason Zweig, journalist from a the Wall Street Journal points out, much of the diversification benefits can be achieved with relatively small change in the position count of a portfolio:

“As many studies have shown, at least 40% of the variability in returns can be reduced by moving from a single company to 20. Once a portfolio contains 20 or 30 stocks, adding more does little to damp the fluctuations in wealth over time.”

 

But wait. Going from one banking stock to 20 banking stocks is not going to provide you with the proper diversification you want or need. Rather, what is as important as investing across asset class, geography, style, and size, is to follow the individual stock strategies of guru Peter Lynch. In order to put his performance into perspective, Lynch’s Fidelity Magellan fund averaged +29% per year from 1977 – 1990 – almost doubling the return of the S&P 500 index for that period.

More specifically, to achieve these heroic returns, Lynch divided the stocks in his fund into the following categories:

Slow Growers: This group of stocks wasn’t Lynch’s favorite because these companies typically operate in mature industries with limited expansion opportunities. For these single-digit EPS growers, Lynch focused more on identifying high dividend-paying stocks that were trading at attractive valuations. In particular, he paid attention to a dividend-adjusted PEG ratio (Price-to-Earnings Growth). A utility company would be an example of a “Slow Grower.”

Stalwarts: These are large established companies that still have the ability to achieve +10% to +12% annual earnings growth regardless of the economic cycle. Lynch liked these stocks especially during recessions and downturns. Valuations are still very important for Stalwarts, and many of them pay dividends. An investor may not realize a “home run” with respect to returns, but a +30% to 50% return over a few years is not out of the question, if selected correctly. Former examples of “Stalwarts” include Coca Cola (KO) and Procter & Gamble (PG).

Fast Growers: This categorization applies to small aggressive firms averaging about +20% to +25% annual earnings growth. While “Fast Growers” offer the most price appreciation potential, these stocks also offer the most risk, especially once growth/momentum slows. If timed correctly, as Lynch adeptly achieved, these stocks can increase multi-fold in value. The great thing about these “Fast Growers” is they don’t have to reside in fast growth industries. Lynch actually preferred market share gainers in legacy industries.

Cyclicals: These companies tend to see their sales and profits rise and fall with the overall economic cycle. The hyper-sensitivity to economic fluctuations makes the timing on these stocks extremely tricky, leading to losses and tears – especially if you get in too late or get out too late. To emphasize his point, Lynch states, “Cyclicals are like blackjack: stay in the game too long and it’s bound to take all your profit.” The other mistake inexperienced investors make is mistaking a “Cyclical” company as a “Stalwart” at the peak of a cycle. Examples of cyclical industries include airline, auto, steel, travel, and chemical industries.

Turnarounds: Lynch calls these stocks, “No Growers,” and they primarily of consist of situations like bail-outs, spin-offs, and restructurings. Unlike cyclical stocks, “Turnarounds” are usually least sensitive to the overall market. Even though these stocks are beaten down or depressed, they are enormously risky. Chyrysler, during the 1980s, was an example of a favorable Lynch turnaround.

Asset Plays: Overlooked or underappreciated assets such as real estate, oil reserves, patented drugs, and/or cash on the balance sheet are all examples of “Asset Plays” that Lynch would consider. Patience is paramount with these types of investments because it may take considerable time for the market to recognize such concealed assets.

Worth noting is that not all stocks remain in the same Lynch category. Apple Inc. (AAPL) is an example of a “Fast Grower” that has migrated to “Stalwart” or “Slow Grower” status, therefore items such as valuation and capital deployment (dividends and share buyback) become more important.

Peter Lynch’s heroic track record speaks for itself. Traditional diversification methods of spreading your eggs across various asset class baskets is useful, but this approach can be enhanced by identifying worthy candidates across Lynch’s six specific stock categories. Hunting for these winners is something Lynch and the Easter bunny could both agree upon.

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) and AAPL, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in KO, PG, Chrysler, Fidelity Magellan, 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.

April 7, 2013 at 12:24 am Leave a comment

Twinkie Investing – Sweet but Unhealthy

Source: Photobucket

It’s a sad day indeed in our history when the architect of the Twinkies masterpiece cream-filled sponge cakes (Hostess Brands) has been forced to close operations and begin bankruptcy liquidation proceedings. Food snobs may question the nutritional value of the artery-clogging delights, but there is no mistaking the instant pleasure provided to millions of stomachs over the 80+ years of the Twinkies dynasty. Most consumers understand that a healthy version of an organic Twinkie will not be found on the shelves of a local Whole Foods Market (WFM) store anytime soon. The reason people choose to consume these 150-calorie packages of baker bliss is due to the short-term ingestion joy, not the vitamin content (see Nutritional Facts below). Most people agree the sugar high gained from devouring half a box of Twinkies outweighs the long-term nourishing benefits reaped by eating a steamed serving of alfalfa sprouts.

Much like dieting, investing involves the trade-offs between short-term impulses and long-term choices. Unfortunately, the majority of investors choose to react to and consume short-term news stories, very much like the impulse Twinkie gorging, rather than objectively deciphering durable trends that can lead to outsized gains. Day trading and speculating on the headline du jour are often more exciting than investing, but these emotional decisions usually end up being costlier to investors over the long-run.  Politically, we face the same challenges as Washington weighs the simple, short-term decisions of kicking the fiscal debt and deficits down the road, versus facing the more demanding, long-term path of dealing with these challenges.

With controversial subjects like the fiscal cliff, entitlement reform, taxation, defense spending, and gay marriage blasting over our airwaves and blanketing newspapers, no wonder individuals are defaulting to reactionary moves. As you can see from the chart below, the desire for a knee jerk investment response has only increased over the last 70 years. The average holding period for equity mutual funds has gone from about 5 years (20% turnover) in the mid 1960s to significantly less than 1 year (> 100% turnover) in the recent decade. Advancements in technology have lowered the damaging costs of transacting, but the increased frequency, coupled with other costs (impact, spread, emotional, etc.), have been shown to be detrimental over time, according to John Bogle at the Vanguard Group.

Source: John Bogle (Vanguard Group)

During volatile periods, like this post-election period, it is always helpful to turn to the advice of sage investors, who have successfully managed through all types of unpredictable periods. Rather than listening to the talking heads on TV and radio, or reading the headline of the day, investors would be better served by following the advice of great long-term investors like these:

 “In the short run the market is a voting machine. In the long run it’s a weighing machine.” -Benjamin Graham (Famed value investor)

“Excessive short-termism results in permanent destruction of wealth, or at least permanent transfer of wealth.” -Jack Gray (Grantham, Mayo, Van Otterloo)

“The stock market serves as a relocation center at which money is moved from the active to the patient.” – Warren Buffett (Berkshire Hathaway)

 “It was never my thinking that made big money for me. It always was my sitting.” – Jesse Livermore (Famed trader)

“The farther you can lengthen your time horizon in the investment process, the better off you will be.”- David Nelson (Legg Mason)

 “The growth stock theory of investing requires patience, but is less stressful than trading, generally has less risk, and reduces brokerage commissions and income taxes.” T. Rowe Price (Famed Growth Investor)

 “Time arbitrage just means exploiting the fact that most investors…tend to have very short-term time horizons.” -Bill Miller (Famed value investor)

“Long term is not a popular time-horizon for today’s hedge fund short-term mentality. Every wiggle is interpreted as a new secular trend.” -Don Hays (Hays Advisory – Investor/Strategist)

A legendary growth investor who had a major impact on how I shaped my investment philosophy is Peter Lynch. Mr. Lynch averaged a +29% return per year from 1977-1990. If you would have invested $10,000 in his Magellan fund on the first day he took the helm, you would have earned $280,000 by the day he retired 13 years later. Here’s what he has to say on the topic of long-term investing:

 “Your ultimate success or failure will depend on your ability to ignore the worries of the world long enough to allow your investments to succeed.”

“Far more money has been lost by investors preparing for corrections, or trying to anticipate corrections, than has been lost in corrections themselves.”

 “My best stocks performed in the 3rd year, 4th year, 5th year, not in the 3rd week or 4th week.”

 “The key to making money in stocks is not to get scared out of them.” 

“Worrying about the stock market 14 minutes per year is 12 minutes too many.”

It is important to remember that we have been through wars, assassinations, banking crises, currency crises, terrorist attacks, mad-cow disease, swine flu, recessions, and more. Through it all, our country and financial markets most have managed to survive in decent shape. Hostess and its iconic Twinkies brand may be gone for now, but removing these indulgent impulse items from your diet may be as beneficial as eliminating detrimental short-term investing urges.

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 WFM, BRKA/B, LM, TROW or 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.

November 18, 2012 at 9:38 pm 1 comment

Sifting Through the Earnings Rubble

An earthquake of second quarter earnings results have rocked the markets (better than expected earnings but sluggish revenues), and now investors are left to sift through the rubble. With thousands of these earnings reports rolling in (and many more in the coming weeks), identifying the key investment trends across sectors, industries, and geographies can be a challenging responsibility. If this was an easy duty, I wouldn’t have a job! Fortunately, having a disciplined process to sort through the avalanche of quarterly results can assist you in discovering both potential threats and opportunities.

But first things first: You will need some type of reliable screening tool in order to filter find exceptional stocks. According to Reuters, there are currently more than 46,000 stocks in existence globally. Manually going through this universe one stock at a time is not physically or mentally feasible for any human to accomplish, over any reasonable amount of time. I use several paid-service screening tools, but there are plenty of adequate free services available online as well.

Investing with the 2-Sided Coin

 

As Warren Buffett says, “Value and growth are two sides of the same coin.” Having a disciplined screening process in place is the first step in finding those companies that reflect the optimal mix between growth and value. I am willing to pay an elevated price (i.e., higher P/E ratio) for a company with a superior growth profile, but I want a more attractive value (i.e., cheaper price) for slower growth companies. I am fairly agnostic between the mix of the growth/value weighting dynamics, as long as the risk-reward ratio is in my favor.

Since I firmly believe that stock prices follow the long-term trajectory of earnings and cash flows, I fully understand the outsized appreciation opportunities that can arise from the “earnings elite” – the cream of the crop companies that are able to sustain abnormally high earnings growth. Or put in baseball terms, you can realize plenty of singles and doubles by finding attractively priced growth companies, but as Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver says, “You win many more games by hitting a three-run homer than you do with sacrifice bunts.” The same principles apply in stock picking. Legendary growth investor Peter Lynch (see also Inside the Brain of an Investing Genius) is famous for saying, “You don’t need a lot of good hits every day. All you need is two to three goods stocks a decade.”

Some past successful Sidoxia Capital Management examples that highlight the tradeoff between growth and value include Wal-Mart stores (WMT) and Amazon.com (AMZN). Significant returns can be achieved from slower, mature growth companies like Wal-Mart if purchased at the right prices, but multi-bagger home-run returns (i.e., more than doubling) require high octane growth from the likes of global internet platform companies. Multi-bagger returns from companies like Amazon, Apple Inc. (AAPL), and others are difficult to find and hold in a portfolio for years, but if you can find a few, these winners can cure a lot of your underperforming sins.

Defining Growth

Fancy software may allow you to isolate those companies registering superior growth in sales, earnings, and cash flows, but finding the fastest growing companies can be the most straightforward part. The analytical heavy-lifting goes into effect once an investor is forced to determine how sustainable that growth actually is, while simultaneously determining which valuation metrics are most appropriate in determining fair value. Some companies will experience short-term bursts of growth from a single large contract; from acquisitions; and/or from one-time asset sale gains. Generally speaking, this type of growth is less valuable than growth achieved by innovative products, service, and marketing.

The sustainability of growth will also be shaped by the type of industry a company operates in along with the level of financial leverage carried. For instance, in certain volatile, cyclical industries, sequential growth (e.g. the change in results over the last three months) is the more relevant metric. However for most companies that I screen, I am looking to spot the unique companies that are growing at the healthiest clip on a year-over-year basis. These recent three month results are weighed against the comparable numbers a year ago. This approach to analyzing growth removes seasonality from the equation and helps identify those unique companies capable of growing irrespective of economic cycles.

Given that we are a little more than half way through Q2 earnings results, there is still plenty of time to find those companies reporting upside fundamental earnings surprises, while also locating those quality companies unfairly punished for transitory events. Now’s the time to sift through the earnings rubble to find the remaining buried stock gems.

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 and WMT, AMZN, AAPL, 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.

July 29, 2012 at 12:32 am Leave a comment

Sidoxia’s Investor Hall of Fame

Investing Caffeine has profiled many great investors over the months and years, so I thought now would be a great time to compile a “Hall of Fame” summarizing some of the greatest of all-time. Nothing can replace experience, but learning from the greats can only improve your investing results – I’ve benefitted firsthand and so have Sidoxia’s clients. Here is a partial list from the Pantheon of investing greats along with links to the complete articles (special thanks to Kevin Weaver for helping compile):

Phillip Fisher –  Author of the must-read classic Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits, he enrolled in college at age 15 and started graduate school at Stanford a few years later, before he dropped out and started his own investment firm in 1931. “If the job has been correctly done when a common stock is purchased, the time to sell it is – almost never.” Not every investment idea made the cut, however he is known to have bought Motorola (MOT) stock in 1955 and held it until his death in 2004 for a massive gain. (READ COMPLETE ARTICLE)

Peter Lynch – Lynch graduated from Boston College in 1965 and earned a Master of Business Administration from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in 1968.   Lynch’s Magellan fund averaged +29% per year from 1977 – 1990 (almost doubling the return of the S&P 500). In 1977, the obscure Magellan Fund started with about $20 million, and by his retirement the fund grew to approximately $14 billion (700x’s larger). Magellan  outperformed 99.5% of all other funds, according to Barron’s. (READ COMPLETE ARTICLE)

William O’Neil –  After graduating from Southern Methodist University, O’Neil started his career as a stock broker. Soon thereafter, at the ripe young age of 30, O’Neil purchased a seat on the New York Stock Exchange and started his own company, William O’Neil + Co. Incorporated. Following the creation of his firm, O’Neil went on to pioneer the field of computerized investment databases. He used his unique proprietary data as a foundation to unveil his next entrepreneurial baby, Investor’s Business Daily, in 1984. (READ COMPLETE ARTICLE)

Sir John Templeton – After Yale and Oxford, Templeton moved onto Wall Street, borrowed $10,000 to purchase more than 100 stocks trading at less than $1 per share (34 of the companies were in bankruptcy). Only four of the investments became worthless and Templeton made a boatload of money. Templeton bought an investment firm in 1940, leading to the Templeton Growth Fund in 1954. A $10,000 investment made at the fund’s 1954 inception would have compounded into $2 million in 1992 (translating into a +14.5% annual return). (READ COMPLETE ARTICLE)

Charles Ellis –  He has authored 12 books, founded institutional consulting firm Greenwich Associates, a degree from Yale, an MBA from Harvard, and a PhD from New York University. A director at the Vanguard Group and Investment Committee chair at Yale, Ellis details that many more investors and speculators lose than win. Following his philosophy will not only help increase the odds of your portfolio winning, but will also limit your losses in sleep hours. (READ COMPLETE ARTICLE)

Seth Klarman – President of The Baupost Group, which manages about $22 billion, he worked for famed value investors Max Heine and Michael Price of the Mutual Shares. Klarman published a classic book on investing, Margin of Safety, Risk Averse Investing Strategies for the Thoughtful Investor, which is now out of print and has fetched upwards of $1,000-2,000 per copy in used markets. From it’s 1983 inception through 2008 his Limited partnership averaged 16.5% net annually, vs. 10.1% for the S&P 500. During the “lost decade” he crushed the S&P, returning 14.8% and 15.9% for the 5 and 10-year periods vs. -2.2% and -1.4%. (READ COMPLETE ARTICLE)

George Soros – Escaping Hungary in 1947, Soros immigrated to the U.S. in 1956 and held analyst and management positions for the next 20 years.  Known as the “The man who broke the Bank of England,” he risked $10 billion against the British pound in 1992 in a risky trade and won. Soros also gained notoriety for running the Quantum Fund, which generated an average annual return of more than 30%. (READ COMPLETE ARTICLE)

Bruce Berkowitz -Bruce Berkowitz has not exactly been a household name. With his boyish looks, nasally voice, and slicked-back hair, one might mistake him for a grad student. However, his results are more than academic, which explains why this invisible giant was recently named the equity fund manager of the decade by Morningstar. The Fairholme Fund (FAIRX) fund earned a 13% annualized return over the ten-year period ending in 2009, beating the S&P 500 by an impressive 14%. (READ COMPLETE ARTICLE)

Thomas Rowe Price, Jr. – Known as the “Father of Growth Investing,” in 1937 he founded T. Rowe Price Associates (TROW) and successfully ramped up the company before the launch of the T. Rowe Price Growth Stock Fund in 1950. Expansion ensued until he made a timely sale of his company in the late 1960s. His Buy and Hold strategy proved successful. For example, in the early 1970s, Price had accumulated gains of +6,184% in Xerox (XRX), which he held for 12 years, and gains of +23,666% in Merck (MRK), which he held for 31 years. (READ COMPLETE ARTICLE)

There you have it. Keep investing and continue reading about investing legends at Investing Caffeine, and who knows, maybe you too can join Sidoxia’s Hall of Fame?!

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 and WMT, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in MOT, TROW, XRX, MRK, FAIRX, 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.

April 16, 2012 at 11:12 am 1 comment

Box Wine, Facebook and PEG Ratios

I’m no wine connoisseur, but I do know I would pay more for a bottle of Dom Pérignon champagne than I would pay for a container of Franzia box wine. In the world of stocks, the quality disparity is massive too. In order to navigate the virtually infinite number of stocks, we need to have an instrument in our toolbox that can assist us in accurately comparing stocks across the quality spectrum. Thank goodness we have the handy PEG ratio (Price/Earnings to Growth) that elegantly marries the price paid for a stock (as measured by the P/E ratio) with the relative quality of the stock (as measured by its future earnings growth rate).

Famed investor Peter Lynch (see Inside the Brain of an Investing Genius) understood the PEG concept all too well as he used this tool religiously in valuing and analyzing different companies. Given that Lynch earned a +29% annual return from 1977-1990, I’ll take his word for it that the PEG ratio is a useful tool. As highlighted by Lynch (and others), the key factor in using the PEG ratio is to identify companies that trade with a PEG ratio of less than 1. All else equal, the lower the ratio, the better potential for future price appreciation. Facebook Vs. Eastman Kodak

To illustrate the concept of how a PEG ratio can be used to compare stocks with two completely different profiles, let’s start by answering a few questions. Would a rational investor pay the same price (i.e., Price-Earnings [P/E] ratio) for a company with skyrocketing profits as they would for a company going into bankruptcy? Look no further than the lofty expected P/E multiple to be afforded to the shares of the widely anticipated Facebook (FB) initial public offering (IPO). That same rational investor is unlikely to pay the same P/E multiple for a money losing company like Eastman Kodak Co. (EKDKQ.PK) that faces product obsolescence. The contrasting values for these two companies are stark. Some pundits are projecting that Facebook shares could fetch upwards of a 100x P/E ratio, while not too long ago, Kodak was trading at a P/E ratio of 4x. Plenty of low priced stocks have outperformed expensive ones, but remember, just because a “value” stock may have a lower absolute P/E ratio in the recent past, does not mean it will be a better investment than a “growth” stock sporting a higher P/E ratio (see Fallacy of High P/Es).

Price, Earnings, and Dividends

As I’ve written in the past, a key determinant of future stock prices is future earnings growth (see It’s the Earnings Stupid). The higher the P/E multiple, the more important future earnings growth becomes. The lower the future growth, the more important valuation and dividends become.

We can look at various money-making scenarios that incorporate these factors. If my goal were to double my money in 5 years (i.e., earn a 100% return), there are numerous ways to skin the profit-making cat. Here are four examples:

1) Buy a non-dividend paying stock of a company that achieves earnings growth of 15%/year and maintains its current P/E ratio over time.

2) Buy a stock of a company that has a 5% dividend and achieves earnings growth of 11%/year and maintains its current P/E ratio over time.

3) Buy a value stock with a 5% dividend that achieves earnings growth of 5%/year and increase its P/E ratio by 10% each year.

4) Buy a non-dividend paying growth stock that achieves earnings growth of 20%/year and decreases its P/E ratio by about 5% each year.

I think you get the idea, but as you can see, in addition to earnings growth, dividends and valuation do play a significant role in how an investor can earn excess returns.

Lynch’s Adjusted PEG

Peter Lynch added a slight twist to the traditional PEG analysis by accounting for the role of dividends in the denominator of the PEG equation:

PEG (adjusted by Lynch) = PE Ratio/(Earnings Growth Rate + Dividend Yield)

This “adjusted PEG” ratio makes intuitive sense under various perspectives. For starters, if two different companies both had a PEG ratio of 0.8, but one of the two stocks paid a 3% dividend, Lynch’s adjusted PEG would register in at a more attractive level of 0.6 for the dividend paying stock.

Looked at under a different lens, let’s suppose there are two lemonade stands that IPO their stocks at the same time, and both companies use the exact same business model. Moreover, let us assume the following:

• Lemonade stand #1 has a P/E of 14x and growth rate of 15%.

• Lemonade stand #2 has a P/E of 12x and growth rate of 8%, but it also pays a dividend of 3%.

Given this information, which one of the two lemonade stands would you invest in? Many investors see the lower P/E of Lemonade stand #2, coupled with a nice dividend, as the more attractive opportunity of the two. But as we can see from Lynch’s “adjusted PEG” ratio, Lemonade stand #1 actually has the lower, more attractive value (.9 or 14/15 vs 1.1 or 12/(8+3)).

This analysis may be delving into the weeds a bit, but this framework is critical nonetheless. Valuation and earnings projections should be essential components of any investment decision, and with record low interest rates, dividend yields are playing a much more important role in the investment selection process. Regardless of your purchase decision thought process, whether deciding between Dom Perignon and box wine, or Facebook and Kodak shares, having the PEG ratio at your disposal should help you make wise and lucrative decisions.

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 FB, EKDKQ.PK, 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.

February 18, 2012 at 9:39 pm 8 comments

Sweating Your Way to Investment Success

Source: StopSweatyArmpits.com

There are many ways to make money in the financial markets, but if this was such an easy endeavor, then everybody would be trading while drinking umbrella drinks on their private islands. I mean with all the bright blinking lights, talking baby day traders, and software bells and whistles, how difficult could it actually be? 

Unfortunately, financial markets have a way of driving grown men (and women) to tears, usually when confidence is at or near a peak. The best investors leave their emotions at the door and follow a systematic disciplined process. Investing can be a meat grinder, but the good news is one does not need to have a 90% success rate to make it lucrative. Take it from Peter Lynch, who averaged a +29% return per year while managing the Magellan Fund at Fidelity Investments from 1977-1990. “If you’re terrific in this business you’re right six times out of 10,” says Lynch. 

Sweating Way to Success

If investing is so tough, then what is the recipe for investment success? As the saying goes, money management requires 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. Or as strategist and long-time investor Don Hays notes, “You are only right on your stock purchases and sales when you are sweating.” Buying what’s working and selling what’s not, doesn’t require a lot of thinking or sweating (see Riding the Wave), just basic pattern recognition. Universally loved stocks may enjoy the inertia of upward momentum, but when the music stops for the Wall Street darlings, investors rarely can hit the escape button fast enough. Cutting corners and taking short-cuts may work in the short-run, but usually ends badly.

Real profits are made through unique insights that have not been fully discovered by market participants, or in other words, distancing oneself from the herd. Typically this means investing in reasonably priced companies with significant growth prospects, or cheap out-of-favor investments. Like dieting, this is easy to understand, but difficult to execute. Pulling the trigger on unanimously hated investments or purchasing seemingly expensive growth stocks requires a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. Eating doughnuts won’t generate the conviction necessary to justify the valuation and excess expected return for analyzed securities.

Times Have Changed

Investing in stocks is difficult enough with equity fund flows hemorrhaging out of investor accounts like the asset class is going out of style (See ICI data via The Reformed Broker). Stocks’ popularity haven’t been helped by the heightened volatility, as evidenced by the multi-year trend in the schizophrenic  volatility index (VIX) –  escalated by the “Flash Crash,” U.S. debt ceiling debate, and European financial crisis. Globalization, which has been accelerated by technology, has only increased correlations between domestic market and international markets. As we have recently experienced, the European tail can wag the U.S. dog for long periods of time. In decades past,  concerns over economic activity in Iceland, Dubai, and Greece may not even make the back pages of The Wall Street Journal. Today, news travels at the speed of a “Tweet” for every Angela Merkel  – Nicolas Sarkozy breakfast meeting or Chinese currency adjustment, and eventually results in a sprawling front page headline.   

The equity investing game may be more difficult today, but investing for retirement has never been more important. Stuffing money under the mattress in Treasuries, money market accounts, CDs, or other conservative investments may feel good in the short run, but will likely not cover inflation associated with rising fuel, food, healthcare, and leisure costs. Regardless of your investment strategy, if your goal is to earn excess returns, you may want to check the moistness of your armpits – successful long-term investing requires a lot of sweat.

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 ETFC, VXX, 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.

January 15, 2012 at 5:08 pm 3 comments

Winning the Stock Rock Turning Game

There are a few similarities between dieting and investing. There are no shortcuts or panaceas to achieving success in either endeavor – they both require plain old hard work.  Any winning investment process will have some sort of mechanism(s) to generate new stock ideas, whether done quantitatively through a screening process or more subjectively through other avenues (e.g., conferences, journals, investor contacts, field research, or Investing Caffeine – ha).  As many investors would agree, discovering remarkable stock picks is no effortless undertaking. A lot of meaningless rocks need to be turned before a gem can be found, especially in an age of information overload. I believe investing guru Peter Lynch said it best:

“I always thought if you looked at ten companies, you’d find one that’s interesting, if you’d look at 20, you’d find two, or if you look at hundred you’ll find ten. The person that turns over the most rocks wins the game.”

 

Depending on the duration of your investment time horizon, stock gems can be more abundant in certain time periods relative to others. The shorter the timeframe, the more important timing becomes. Looking at a few major turning points illustrates my point. Although hindsight is 20/20, it is clear now (and for a minority of investors 11 years ago) that the pickings were slim in March 2000 and virtually endless in March 2009 –practically anything purchased then went up in price.

Investing is not a game of certainty, because if it was certain, everyone would be sipping umbrella drinks on their personal islands. Since investing involves a great deal of uncertainty, the name of the game is stacking probabilities in your favor. If you have a repeatable process, you should be able to outperform the markets in the long-run. In the short-run, a good process can have a bad outcome, and a bad process can have a good outcome.

Macro vs. Bottom-Up

Gaining a rough sense of the macro picture can increase the probabilities of success, but more importantly I believe a bottom-up approach (i.e., flipping over lots of stock rocks) is a better approach to raising odds in your favor. The recent volatility and pullback in the market has left a sour taste in investors’ mouths, but great opportunities still abound. That’s the thing about great stocks, they never disappear in bear markets and they eventually flourish – more often when a bull market returns.

Characterizing the macro game as difficult is stating the obvious. Although there are only about two recessions every decade, if you watch CNBC or read the paper, there are probably about 20 or 30 recessions predicted every 10 years. Very few, if any, can profitably time the scarce number of actual recessions, but many lose tons of money from the dozens of false alarms. You’re much better off by following Lynch’s credo: “Assume the market is going nowhere and invest accordingly.”

Land Mine or Gold Mine?

Not everyone believes in the painstaking process of fundamental analysis, but I in fact come from the COFC (Church of Fundamental Research), which firmly believes fundamental research is absolutely necessary in determining whether an investment is a land mine or a gold mine. Others believe that a quantitative black box (see Butter in Bangladesh), or technical analysis (see Astrology or Lob Wedge) can do the trick as a substitute. These strategies may be easier to implement, but as well-known money manager Bill Miller indicated, “This is not a business where ignorance is an asset; the more you work at it, the better you ought to be, other things equal.”

By doing your investment homework on companies, not only will you gain better knowledge of your investment, but you will better understanding of the company. Regardless of your process, I’m convinced any worthwhile strategy requires conviction. If you have loose roots of interest in a stock, the wind will blow you all over the place, and ultimately rip the roots of your flimsy thesis out of the foundation. I contend that most lazy and simplistic processes, such as buying off tips, chasing winners, or letting computers buy stocks might create short-term profits, but these methods do not engender conviction and will eventually lead speculators to the poor house. If simple short-cuts worked so well, I think the secret would have gotten out to the masses by now. Rather than trading off of tips or questionable technical indicators, Peter Lynch advises investors to do their homework and “buy what you know.”

There is no single way of making money in the stock market, but I’m convinced any worthwhile process incorporates a process of pulling weeds and watering new flowers. But to generate a continuous flow of new stock idea gems, which are necessary to win in the investment game, you will need to turn over a lot of stock rocks.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Performance data from Morningstar.com. 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 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 23, 2011 at 11:14 pm 1 comment

Snoozing Your Way to Investment Prosperity

When it comes to investing, do you trade like Jim Cramer on Red Bull – grinding your teeth to every tick or news headline? With the advent of the internet, an unrelenting, real-time avalanche of news items spreads like a furious plague – just ask Anthony Weiner.    As fear and greed incessantly permeate the web, and day-trading systems and software are increasingly peddled as profit elixirs, investors are getting itchier and itchier trading fingers. Just consider that investment holding periods have plummeted from approximately 10 years around the time of World War II to 8 months today (see GMO chart below). Certainly, the reduction in trading costs along with the ever-proliferating trend of technology advancements (see Buggy Whip Déjà Vu) is a contributor to the price of trading, but the ADHD-effect of information overload cannot be underestimated (see The Age of Information Overload).

Source: GMO (James Montier)

But fear not, there is a prescription for those addicted, nail-biting day-traders who endlessly pound away on their keyboards with bloody hangnails. The remedy is a healthy dosage of long-term growth investing in quality companies and sustainably expanding trends. I know this is blasphemy in the era of “de-risking” (see It’s All Greek to Me), short-term “risk controls” (i.e. panicking at bottoms and chasing performance), and “benchmark hugging,” but I believe T. Rowe Price had it right:

“The growth stock theory of investing requires patience, but is less stressful than trading, generally has less risk, and reduces brokerage commissions and income taxes.”

This assessment makes intuitive sense to me, but how can one invest for the long-term when there are structural deficits, inflation, decelerating GDP growth, international nuclear catastrophes, escalated gasoline prices, and Greek debt concerns? There are always concerns, and if there none, then you should in fact be concerned (e.g., when investors piled into equities during the “New Economy” right before the bubble burst in 2000). In order to gain perspective, consider what happened at other points in history when our country was involved in war; came out of recession; faced high employment; experienced Middle East supply fears; battled banking problems; handled political scandals; and dealt with rising inflation trends. One comparably bleak period was the 1974 bear market.

Let’s take a look at how that bear market compared to the current environment:

Then (1974)                                                    Now (2011)

End of Vietnam War                        End of Iraq War (battles in Afghanistan and Libya)
Exiting recession                              Exiting recession
9% Unemployment                          9% Unemployment
Arab Oil Embargo                            Arab Spring and Israeli-Palestinian tensions
Watergate political scandal            Anthony Weiner political scandal
Franklin National Bank failure       Banking system bailout
Rising inflation trends                     Rising inflation trends

We can debate the comparability of events and degree of pessimism, but suffice it to say the outlook was not very rosy 37 years ago, nor is it today. History never repeats itself, but it does tend to rhyme. Although attitudes were dour four decades ago, the Dow Jones exploded from 627 in late 1974 to 12,004 today. I’m not calling for another near 20-fold increase in prices over the next 37 years, but a small fraction of that improvement would put a smile on equity investors’ faces. Jim Fullerton, the former chairman of the Capital Group of the American Funds understood pundits’ skepticism during times of opportunity when he wrote the following in November 1974:

“Today there are thoughtful, experienced, respected economists, bankers, investors and businessmen who can give you well-reasoned, logical, documented arguments why this bear market is different; why this time the economic problems are different; why this time things are going to get worse — and hence, why this is not a good time to invest in common stocks, even though they may appear low.”

Rather than getting glued to the TV horror story headline du jour, perhaps investors should take some of the sage advice provided by investment Hall of Famer, Peter Lynch (Lynch averaged a +29% annual return from 1977-1990 while at Fidelity Investments). Rather than try to time the market, he told investors to “assume the market is going nowhere and invest accordingly.” And Lynch offered these additional words of wisdom to the many anxious investors who fret about macroeconomics and timing corrections:

•    “It’s lovely to know when there’s recession. I don’t remember anybody predicting 1982 we’re going to have 14 percent inflation, 12 percent unemployment, a 20 percent prime rate, you know, the worst recession since the Depression. I don’t remember any of that being predicted. It just happened. It was there. It was ugly. And I don’t remember anybody telling me about it. So I don’t worry about any of that stuff. I’ve always said if you spend 13 minutes a year on economics, you’ve wasted 10 minutes.”
•    “Far more money has been lost by investors preparing for corrections, or trying to anticipate corrections, than has been lost in corrections themselves.”
•    “Whatever method you use to pick stocks or stock mutual funds, your ultimate success or failure will depend on your ability to ignore the worries of the world long enough to allow your investments to succeed.”

Real money is not made by following the crowd. Real money is made by buying quality companies and securities at attractive prices. The prescription to generating above-average profits is finding those quality market leaders (or sustainable trends) that can compound earnings growth for multiple years, not chasing every up-tick and panicking out of every down-tick. Following these doctor’s orders will lead to a strong assured mind and a healthy financial portfolio – key factors allowing you to peacefully snooze to investment prosperity.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Performance data from Morningstar.com. 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 TROW, 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 18, 2011 at 6:29 pm 1 comment

End of the World Put on Ice

Our 3.5 billion year old planet has received a temporary reprieve, at least until the next Mayan Armageddon destroys the world in 2012. Sex, money, and doom sell and Arnold, Oprah, and the Rapture have not disappointed in generating their fair share of advertising revenue clicks.

With 2 billion people connected to the internet and 5 billion people attached to a cell phone, every sneeze, burp, and fart around the world makes daily headline news. The globalization cat is out of the bag, and this phenomenon will only accelerate in the years to come. In 1861 the Pony Express took ten days to deliver a message from New York to San Francisco, and today it takes a few seconds to deliver a message across the world over Twitter or Facebook.

The equity markets have more than doubled from the March 2009 lows and even previous, ardent bulls have turned cautious. Case in point, James Grant from the Interest Rate Observer who was “bullish on the prospects for unscripted strength in business activity” (see Metamorphosis of Bear into Bull) now sees the market as “rich” and asserts “nothing is actually cheap.” Grant rubs salt into the wounds by predicting inflation to spike to 10% (read more).

Layer on multiple wars, Middle East/North African turmoil, gasoline prices, high unemployment, mudslinging presidential election, uninspiring economic growth, and you have a large pessimistic poop pie to sink your teeth into. Bearish sentiment, as calculated by the AAII Sentiment Survey, is at a nine-month high and currently bears outweigh bulls by more than 50%.

The Fear Factor

I think Cullen Roche at Pragmatic Capitalism beautifully encapsulates the comforting blanket of fear that is permeating among the masses through his piece titled, “In Remembrance of Fear”:

“The bottom line is, stay scared.  Do not let yourself feel confident, happy or wealthy.  You are scared, poor and miserable.  You should stay that way.  You owe it to yourself.  The media says so.  And more importantly, there are old rich white men who need to sell books and if you’re not scared by them you’ll never buy their books.  So, do yourself a favor.  Buy their books and services and stay scared.  You deserve it.”

Here is Cullen’s prescription for dealing with all the doom and gloom:

“Associate with people who are more scared than you.  That way, you can all sit in bunkers and talk about the end of days and how screwed we all are.  Think about how much better that will make you feel.  Misery loves company.  Do it.”

All is Not Lost

While inflation and gasoline price concerns weigh significantly on economic growth expectations, some companies are taking advantage of record low interest rates. Take for example, Google Inc.’s (GOOG) recent $3 billion bond offerings split evenly across three-year, five-year, and ten-year notes with an average interest rate of 2.3%. Although Google has languished relative to the market over the last year, the market blessed the internet giant with the next best thing to free money by pricing the deal like a AAA-rated credit. Cash-heavy companies have been able to issue low cost debt at a frantic pace for accretive EPS shareholder-friendly activities, such as acquisitions, share buybacks, and organic growth initiatives. Cash rich balance sheets have afforded companies the ability to offer shareholders a steady diet of dividend increases too.

While there is no question high oil prices have put a wet towel over consumer spending, the largest component of corporate check books is labor costs, which accounts for roughly two-thirds of corporate spending. With unemployment rate at 9.0%, this is one area with no inflation pressure as far as the eye can see.  Money losing companies that go bankrupt lay-off employees, while profitable companies with stable input costs (labor) will hire more – and that’s exactly what we’re seeing today. Despite all the economic slowing and collapse anxiety, S&P 500 operating earnings, as of last week, are estimated to rise +17% in 2011. Healthy corporations coupled with a growing, deleveraged workforce will have to carry the burden of growth, as deficit and debt direction will ultimately act as a drag on economic growth in the immediate and intermediate future.

Fear and pessimism sell news, and technology is only accelerating the proliferation of this trend. The good news is that you have another 18 months until the next apocalypse on December 21, 2012 is expected to destroy the human race. Rather than attempting to time the market, I urge you to follow the advice of famed investor Peter Lynch who says, “Assume the market is going nowhere and invest accordingly.” For all the others addicted to “pessimism porn,” I’ll let you get back to constructing your bunker.

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 and GOOG, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in Twitter, Facebook, 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.

May 22, 2011 at 11:55 pm Leave a comment

Killing Patients to Investment Prosperity

All investors are optimistic, every time they open up a position, but just like surgeons, sometimes the outcome doesn’t turn out as well as initially anticipated. When it comes to investing, I think this old Hindu proverb puts things into perspective:

“No physician is really good before he has killed one or two patients.”

 

So too, an investor does not become really good until he kills off some investment positions. But like surgeons, investors also have to understand the most important aspect of tragic events is learning from them. In many cases, unexpected outcomes are out of our control and cannot be prevented. This conclusion, in and of itself, can provide valuable insights. But on many occasions, there are procedures, processes, and facts that were missed or botched, and learning from those mistakes can prove invaluable when it comes to refining the process in the future – in order to further minimize the probability of a tragic outcome.

My Personal Killers

Professionally, I have killed some stocks in my career too, or they have killed me, depending on how you look at the situation.  How did these heartrending incidents occur? There are several categories that my slaughtered stocks fell under:

  • Roll-Up, Throw-Up: Several of my investment mistakes have been tied to roll-up or acquisition-reliant growth stories, where the allure of rapid growth shielded the underlying weak fundamentals of the core businesses. Buying growth is easier to create versus organically producing growth. Those companies addicted to growth by acquisition eventually experience the consequences firsthand when the game ends (i.e., the quality of deals usually deteriorates and/or the prices paid for the acquisitions become excessive).
  • Technology Kool-Aid: Another example is the Kool-Aid I drank, during the technology bubble days, related to a “story” stock – Webvan, a grocery delivery concept. How could mixing Domino’s pizza delivery (DZP) with Wal-Mart’s (WMT) low-priced goods not work? I’m just lazy enough to demand a service like that. Well, after spending hundreds of millions of dollars and never reaching the scale necessary to cover the razor thin profit margins, Webvan folded up shop and went bankrupt. But don’t give up hope yet, Amazon (AMZN) is refocusing its attention on the grocery space (mostly non-perishables now) and could become the dominant food delivery retailer.
  • Penny Stocks = Dollars Lost: Almost every seasoned investor carries at least one “penny stock” horror story.  Unfortunately for me, my biotech miracle stock, Saliva Diagnostics (SALV), did not take off to the moon and provide an early retirement opportunity as planned. On the surface it sounded brilliant. Spit in a cup and Saliva Diagnostic’s proprietary test would determine whether patients were infected with the HIV virus. With millions of HIV/AIDS patients spread around the world, the profit potential behind ‘Saliva’ seemed virtually limitless. The technology unfortunately did not quite pan out, and spit turned into tears.

The Misfortune Silver Lining

These stock tragedies are no fun, but I am not alone. Fortunately for me, and other professionals, there is a nine-lives feline element to investing. One does not need to be right all the time to outperform the indices. “If you’re terrific in this business you’re right 6 times out of 10 – I’ve had stocks go from $11 to 7 cents (American Intl Airways),” admitted investment guru Peter Lynch. Growth stock investing expert, Phil Fisher, added: “Fortunately the long-range profits earned from really good common stocks should more than balance the losses from a normal percentage of such mistakes.”

Warren Buffett takes a more light-hearted approach when he describes investment mistakes: “If you were a golfer and you had a hole in one on every hole, the game wouldn’t be any fun. At least that’s my explanation of why I keep hitting them in the rough.”

Some investors purposely forget traumatic investment experiences, but explicitly sweeping the event under the rug will do more harm than good. So the next time you suffer a horrendous stock price decline, do your best to log the event and learn from the situation. That way, when the patient (stock) has been killed (destroyed), you will become a better, more prosperous doctor (investor).

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, WMT, and AMZN but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in DZP, Webvan, Saliva Diagnostics, American intl Airways, 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.

March 11, 2011 at 1:38 am Leave a comment

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