Posts tagged ‘Pimco’

Rates Dance their Way to a Floor

The globe is awash in debt, deficits are exploding, and the Euro is about to collapse…right? Well, then why in the heck are six countries out of the G-7 seeing their 10-year sovereign debt trade at 2.5% or lower on a consistent downward long-term trajectory? What’s more, three of the six countries witnessing their rates plummet are from Europe, despite pundits continually calling for the demise of the eurozone.

Here is a snapshot of 10-year sovereign debt yields for the majority of the G-7 countries over the last few decades:

Source: TradingEconomics.com

The sole G-7 member missing from the bond yield charts above? Italy. Although Italy’s deficits are not massive (Italy actually has a smaller deficit than U.S. as % of GDP: 3.9% in 2011), its Debt/GDP ratio has been large and rising (see chart below):

Source: TradingEconomics.com

As the globe has plodded through the financial crisis of 2008-2009, investors have flocked to the perceived stability of these larger developed countries’ bonds, even if they are merely better homes in a bad neighborhood right now. PIMCO likes to call these popular sovereign bonds, “cleaner dirty shirts.” Buying sovereign debt from these less dirty shirt countries, without sensitivity to price or yield, has been a lucrative trade that has worked consistently for quite some time. Now, however, with sovereign bond yields rapidly approaching 0%, it becomes mathematically impossible to fall lower than the bottom rate floor that developed countries are standing on.

Bond bears have been wrong about the timing of the inevitable bond price reversal, myself included, but the bulls are skating on thinner and thinner ice as rates continue moving lower. The bears may prolong their bragging rights if interest rates continue downward, or persist at these lower levels for extended periods of time. Eventually the “buy the dips” mentality dies, as we so poignantly experienced in 2000 when the technology dips turned into outright collapse.

The Flies in the Bond Binging Ointment

As long as equities remain in a trading range, the “risk-off” bond binging arguments will continue holding water. If corporate earnings remain elevated and stock buybacks carry on, the pain of deflating real returns will eventually become too unbearable for investors. As the insidious rising prices of energy, healthcare, food, leisure, and general costs keep eating away everyone’s purchasing power, even the skeptics will become more impatient with the paltry returns they are currently earning. Earning negative real returns in Treasuries, CDs, money market accounts, and other conservative investments, is not going to help millions of Americans meet their future financial goals. Due to the laundry list of global economic concerns, large swaths of investors are still running and hiding, but this is not a sustainable strategy longer term. The danger from these so-called “safe,” low-yielding asset classes is actually riskier than the perceived risk, in my view.

With that said, I’ve consistently held there are a subset of investors, including a significant number of my Sidoxia Capital Management clients, who are in the later stage of retirement and have a rational need for capital preservation and income generating assets (albeit low yielding). For this investor segment, portfolio construction is not executed due to an opportunistic urge of chasing potential outsized rates of return, but more-so out of necessity. Shorter time horizons eliminate the prudence of additional equity exposure because of the extra associated volatility. Unfortunately, many of the 76 million Baby Boomers will statistically live another 20 – 30 years based on actuarial life expectations and under-save, so the risks of being too conservative can dramatically outweigh the risks of increasing equity exposure. This is all stated in the context of stocks paying a higher yield than long-term Treasuries – the first time in a generation.

Short-term risks and uncertainties remain high, with Greek election outcomes unknown; a U.S. Presidential election in flux; and an impending domestic fiscal cliff that needs to be addressed. But with interest rates accelerating towards 0% and investors’ fright-filled buying of pricey, low-yielding asset classes, many of these risks are already factored into current valuations. As it turns out, the pain of panic can be more detrimental than being stuck in over-priced assets, driven by rates dancing near an absolute floor.

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.

June 10, 2012 at 9:25 pm 1 comment

Playing Whack-A-Mole with the Pros

Source: Flickr

Deciphering the ups and the downs of the financial markets is a lot like playing a game of Whack-A-Mole. First the market is up 300 points, then down 300 points. Next Greece and Europe are going down the drain, and then Germany and the ECB (European Central Bank) are here to save the day. The daily data points are a rapid moving target, and if history continues to serve as a guide (see History Often Rhymes with the Future), the bobbing consensus views of pundits will continue to get hammered by investors’ mallets.

Let’s take a look at recent history to see who has been the “whack-er” and whom has been the “whack-ee.” Whether it was the gloom and doom consensus view in the early 1980s (reference BusinessWeek’s 1979 front page “The Death of Equities) or the euphoric championing of tech stocks in the 1990s (see Money magazine’s March 2000 cover, “The Hottest Market Ever), the consensus view was wrong then, and is likely wrong again today.

Here are some of the fresher consensus views that have popped up and then gotten beaten down:

End of QE2The Consensus: If you rewind the clock back to June 2011 when the Federal Reserve’s $600 billion QE2 (Quantitative Easing Part II) monetary stimulus program was coming to an end, a majority of pundits expected bond prices to tank in the absence of the Fed’s Ben Bernanke’s checkbook support. Before the end of QE2, Reuters financial service surveyed 64 professionals, and a substantial majority predicted bond prices would tank and interest rates would catapult upwards.   Actual Result: The pundits were wrong and rates did not go up, they in fact went down.  As a result, bond prices screamed higher – bond values increased significantly as 10-year Treasury yields fell from 3.16% to a low of 1.72% last week.

Debt Ceiling DebateThe Consensus: Just one month later, Democrats and Republicans were playing a game of political “chicken” in the process of raising the debt ceiling to over $16 trillion. Bill Gross, bond guru and CEO of fixed income giant PIMCO, was one of the many pros who earlier this year sold Treasuries in droves because fears of bond vigilantes shredding prices of U.S. Treasury bonds .

Here was the prevalent thought process at the time:  Profligate spending by irresponsible bureaucrats in Washington if not curtailed dramatically would cascade into a disaster, which would lead to higher default risk, cancerous inflation, and exploding interest rates ala Greece. Actual Result: Once again, the pundits were proved wrong in the deciphering of their cloudy crystal balls. Interest rates did not rise, they actually fell.  As a result, bond prices screamed higher and 10-year Treasury yields dived from 2.74% to the recent low of 1.72%.

S&P Credit DowngradeThe Consensus: The S&P credit rating agency warned Washington that a failure to come to meaningful consensus on deficit and debt reduction would result in bitter consequences. Despite a $2 trillion error made by S&P, the agency kept its word and downgraded the U.S.’s long-term debt rating to AA+ from AAA. Research from JP Morgan (JPM) cautioned investors of the imminent punishment to be placed on $4 trillion in Treasury collateral, which could lead to a seizing in credit markets.  Actual Result: Rather than becoming the ugly stepchild, U.S. Treasuries became a global safe-haven for investors around the world to pile into. Not only did bond prices steadily climb (and yields decline), but the value of our currency as measured by the Dollar Index (DXY) has risen significantly since then.

Dollar Index (DXY) Source: Bloomberg

What is next? Nobody knows for certain. In the meantime, grab some cotton candy, popcorn, and a rubber mallet. There is never a shortage of confident mole-like experts popping up on TV, newspapers, blogs, and radio. So when the deafening noise about the inevitable collapse of Europe and the global economy comes roaring in, make sure you are the one holding the mallet and not the mole getting whacked on the head.

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 JPM, MHP, 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.

October 1, 2011 at 5:53 am Leave a comment

Strategist Predictions and MacGyver Credo

MacGyver: Resourceful dude with sweet mullet (Source: Photobucket).

“Only a fool is sure of anything, a wise man keeps on guessing.” – MacGyver

We have gotten to the part of the year when strategists gather for the annual dart throwing ritual of 2011 price targets. S&P projections get chucked around with the hopes of sticking – like cooked spaghetti to the wall.  MacGyver appreciates the fine art of guessing, and so do Wall Street strategists.

How the Game’s Played

You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to figure out how the Wall Street astrology game works. When in doubt, just say the market will be up +10% next year. Hmmm, why +10%?

1)      Well, first of all, these strategists work for employers who are in the business of hawking financial products and services to the masses, so if you want to generate revenues, you better attempt to line up some believers with some rosy scenarios.

2)      History is on the strategists’ side. Equity markets move up about 70% of the time, so why not make an optimistic bet. Data from Crestmont Research and Roger Ibbotson support the average return over the last 100 years or so has averaged approximately +10% (with a lot of peaks and valleys). Obviously, that hasn’t been the case over the last decade. The PIMCO bond brothers of Bill Gross and Mohamed El-Erian blame the “New Normal” environment despite recently raising their 2011 GDP forecasts to a “Less Sluggish New Normal.” More likely, the decade of the 2000s is more like theOld Normal of boom-busts like we experienced in the 1930s and 1970s.

3)      The other cardinal rule to be followed religiously: Forecasts made by any Wall Street type need to be made in tight packs like a herd. There is comfort in numbers, and why in the world would someone risk embarrassment or career risk. Fat paychecks abound for these strategists and hugging consensus views is OK, as long as a logical story can be patched together in explaining it.

With all this discussion about +10% average stock market returns, guess what type of returns this year’s Barron’s strategist survey is forecasting? You guessed it…+10% – what a shocker! Let’s hope this guess is more accurate than Barron’s +10% strategist return forecast for 2008 (S&P 500 was actually down -38.5% in 2008). Strategists don’t always get it wrong – the sanguine +12% outlook for 2010 is basically spot on with a few days left in the year. The sanguine 2002 outlook of +13%, however, was about -35% too sanguine (S&P plummeted about -23% that year).

Although most strategists feign absolute knowledge and precision, history shows these projections rarely prove accurate. Like predicting weather, guessers may get the long-term climate forecast fairly close, but the short-term estimates are generally pure speculation. In my book, 12 months is very short-term. Famed investor and author Charles Ellis captures the challenge of market forecasts:

“Predicting the stock market roughly is not hard, but predicting it accurately is truly impossible.”

 

I ascribe to the Peter Lynch view that speculating about the direction of the market is futile:

“If you spend more than 13 minutes analyzing economic and market forecasts, you’ve wasted 10 minutes.”

 

Kass Gets Hall Pass

Even though I may relish in flogging strategists, I provide certain professionals a hall pass under the following conditions:

  • The educated guesser is putting real, hard-earned money behind their assertions.
  • The guesses do not hug a tightly-knit herd.
  • Guesses are made transparent and guessers make themselves accountable for bold statements.
  • Those making guesses freely admit to the fallibility of making non-consensus suppositions.

One man whom embodies these principles is famed hedge fund manager Doug Kass, whom I have written about on several occasions (read more). Not only are Kass’s 2011 predictions provocative, they are also entertaining. His self proclaimed 40% batting average in 2010 may be a little higher than reality, but I will let you be the judge of his 2010 calls on the dollar, gold, Fed actions, Iran, Goldman Sachs, utilities, Warren Buffett, mutual funds, short-selling, New York Yankees, and more (read full 2010 Kass list).

The herd of strategists may continue having trouble making accurate market forecasts in the future, but perhaps resourcefully adding some duct tape and a Swiss Army knife to their repertoire like MacGyver will help improve accuracy. If not, rest assured, the strategists will sleep well making their +10% forecasts while continuing to collect big fat paychecks.

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 security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

December 29, 2010 at 1:56 am Leave a comment

Winning Coaches Telling Players to Quit

How would you feel if your coach told you not only are you going to lose, but you should quit and join the other team? Effectively, that is what Loomis Sayles bond legend Dan Fuss (read Fuss Making a Fuss), and fellow colleagues Margie Patel (Wells Fargo Advantage Funds), and Anthony Crescenzi (PIMCO) had to say about the chances of bonds winning at the recent Advisors’ Money Show.

This is what Fuss said regarding “statistically cheap” equities:

“I’ve never seen it this good in half a century.”

 

Patel went on to add:

“By any measure you want to look at, free cash flow, dividend yield, P/E ratio – stocks look relatively cheap for the level of interest rates.” Stock offer a  “once-in-a-decade opportunity to buy and make some real capital appreciation.”

 

Crescenzi included the following comments about stocks:

“Valuations are not risky…P/E ratios have been fine for a decade, in part because of the two shocks that drove investors away from equities and compressed P/E ratios.”

 

Bonds Dynasty Coming to End

The bond team has been winning for three decades (see Bubblicious Bonds), but its players are getting tired and old. Crescenzi concedes the “30-year journey on rates is near its ending point” and that “we are at the end of the duration tailwind.” Even though it is fairly apparent to some that the golden bond era is coming to a close, there are ways for the bond team to draft new players to manage duration (interest rate/price sensitivity) and protect oneself against inflation (read Drowning TIPS).

Equities on the other hand have had a massive losing streak relative to bonds, especially over the last decade. The equity team had over-priced player positions that exceeded their salary cap and the old market leaders became tired and old. Nothing energizes a new team better than new blood and new talent at a much more attractive price, which leaves room in the salary cap to get the quality players to win. There is always a possibility that bonds will outperform in the short-run despite sky-high prices, and the introduction of any material, detrimental exogenous variable (large country bailout, terrorist attack, etc.) could extend bonds’ outperformance. Regardless, investors will find it difficult to dispute the relative attractiveness of equities relative to prices a decade ago (read Marathon Investing: Genesis of Cheap Stocks). 

As I have repeated in the past, bonds and cash are essential in any portfolio, but excessively gorging on a buffet of bonds for breakfast, lunch, and dinner can be hazardous for your long-term financial health. Maximizing the bang for your investment buck means not neglecting volatile equity opportunities due to disproportionate conservatism and scary economic media headlines.

There are bond coaches and teams that believe the winning streak will continue despite the 30-year duration of victories. Fear, especially in this environment, is often used as a tactic to sell bonds. Conflicts of interest may cloud the advice of these bond coaches, but the successful experienced coaches like Dan Fuss, Margie Patel, Anthony Crescenzi are the ones to listen to – even if they tell you to quit their team and join a different one.

Read Full Advisor Perspectives Article

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 (including TIP), but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

December 5, 2010 at 11:25 pm 1 comment

PIMCO – The Downhill Marathon Machine

How would you like to run a marathon? How about a marathon that is prearranged all downhill? How about a downhill marathon with the wind at your back? How about a downhill marathon with the wind at your back in a wheelchair? Effectively, that is what a 30-year bull market has meant for PIMCO (Pacific Investment Management Co.) and the “New Normal” brothers (Co-Chairman Bill Gross and Mohamed El-Erian) who are commanding the bond behemoth (read also New Normal is Old Normal). Bill Gross can appreciate a thing or two about running marathons since he once ran six marathons in six consecutive days.

This perseverance also assisted Gross in co-founding PIMCO in 1971 with $12 million in assets under management. Since then, the company has managed to add five more zeroes to that figure (today assets exceed $1.2 trillion). In the first 10 years of the company’s existence, as interest rates were climbing, PIMCO managed to layer on a relatively thin amount of assets (approximately $1 billion). But with the tailwind of declining rates throughout the 1980s, PIMCO’s growth began to accelerate, thereby facilitating the addition of more than $25 billion in assets during the decade.  

The PIMCO Machine

For the time-being, PIMCO can do no wrong. As the endless list of media commentators and journalists bow to kiss the feet of the immortal bond kings, the blinded reporters seem to forget the old time-tested Wall Street maxim:

“Never confuse genius with a bull market.”

The gargantuan multi-decade move in interest rates, the fuel used to drive bond prices to the moon, might have something to do with the company’s success too? PIMCO is not exactly selling ice to the Eskimos – many investors are scooping up PIMCO’s bond products as they wait in their bunkers for Armageddon to arrive. Thanks to former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker (appointed in 1979), the runaway inflation of the early 1980s was tamed by hikes he made in the key benchmark Federal Funds Rate (the targeted rate that banks lend to each other). From a peak of around 20% in 1980-1981 the Fed Funds rate has plummeted to effectively 0% today with the most recent assistance coming from current Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke.

Although these west-coast beach loving bond gurus are not the sole beneficiary in this “bond bubble” (see Bubblicious Bonds story), PIMCO has separated itself from the competition with its shrewd world-class marketing capabilities. A day can hardly go by without seeing one of the bond brothers on CNBC or Bloomberg, spouting on about interest rates, inflation, and global bond markets. As PIMCO has been stepping on fruit in the process of collecting the low-hanging fruit, the firm has not been shy about talking its own book. Subtlety is not a strength of El-Erian – here’s what he had to pimp to the USA Today a few months ago as bond prices were continuing to inflate: “Simply put, investors should own less equities, more bonds, more global investments, more cash and more dry ammunition.”

If selling a tide of fear resulted in a continual funnel of new customers into your net, wouldn’t you do the same thing? Fearing people into bonds is something El-Erian is good at:  “In the New Normal you are more worried about the return of your capital, not return on your capital.” Beyond alarm, accuracy is a trivial matter, as long as you can scare people into your doomsday way of thinking. The fact Bill Gross’s infamous Dow 5,000 call never came close to fruition is not a concern – even if the forecast overlapped with the worst crisis in seven decades.

Mohamed Speak

Mohamed El-Erian is a fresher face to the PIMCO scene and will be tougher to pin down on his forecasts. He arrived at the company in early 2008 after shuffling over from Harvard’s endowment fund. El-Erian has a gift for cryptically speaking in an enigmatic language that could only make former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan proud. Like many economists, El-Erian laces his commentary with many caveats, hedges, and generalities – concrete predictions are not a strength of his. Here are a few of my favorite El-Erian obscurities:

  • “ongoing paradigm shift”
  • “endogenous liquidity”
  • “tail hedging”
  • “deglobalization”
  • “post-realignment”
  • “socialization losses”

Excuse me while I grab my shovel – stuff is starting to pile up here.

Don’t get me wrong…plenty of my client portfolios hold bonds, with some senior retiree portfolios carrying upwards of 80% in fixed income securities. This positioning is more a function of necessity rather than preference, and requires much more creative hand-holding in managing interest-rate risk (duration), yield, and credit risk. At the margin, unloved equities, including high dividend paying Blue Chip stocks, provide a much better risk-adjusted return for those investors that have the risk tolerance and time-horizon threshold to absorb higher volatility.

PIMCO has traveled along a long prosperous road over the last 30 years with the benefit of a historic  decline in interest rates. While PIMCO may have coasted downhill in a wheelchair for the last few decades, this behemoth may be forced to crawl uphill on its hands and knees for the next few decades, as interest rates inevitably rise. Now that is a “New Normal” scenario Bill Gross and Mohamed El-Erian have not forecasted.

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 PIMCO/Allianz, 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.

October 25, 2010 at 1:29 am 12 comments

Changing of the Guard

Over previous decades, there has been a continual battle between the merits of active versus passive management. Passive management being what I like to call the “do nothing” strategy, in which a basket of securities is purchased, and the underlying positions remain largely static. For all intents and purposes, the passive management strategy is controlled by a computer. Rather than solely using a computer, active management pays professionals six or seven figures to fly around to conferences, interview executive management teams, and apply their secret sauce tactics. Unlike passive managers, active managers do their best to determine which winning securities to buy and which losing ones to sell in their mutual funds and hedge funds.

Caught in the middle of this multi-decade war between passive and active management are Vanguard Group (founded in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania in 1975 by John Bogle) and Fidelity Investments (founded in 1946 in Boston, Massachusetts by Edward C. Johnson II).  Currently John Bogle and Vanguard’s passive philosophy is winning the war. A changing of the guard, similar to the daily ceremony witnessed in front of Buckingham Palace is happening today in the mutual fund industry. Specifically, Vanguard, the company spearheading passive investing, has passed Fidelity Investments as the largest mutual fund company according to assets under management. Before 2010, Fidelity topped the list of largest firms every year since 1988, when it passed the then previous leader, Merrill Lynch & Co (BAC).

As of July 2010, Vanguard stands at the top of the mutual fund hill, managing $1.31 trillion versus Fidelity’s $1.24 trillion. Vanguard is sufficiently diversified if one considers its largest fund, the Vanguard Total stock Market Index Fund (VITSX), sits at around $127 billion in assets. The picture looks worse for Fidelity, if you also account for the $113 billion in additional ETF assets (Exchange Traded Funds) Vanguard manages – Fidelity is relatively absent in the ETF segment (State Street). Once famous active funds, such as Fidelity Magellan (now managed by Harry Lange – FMAGX) have underperformed the market over the last ten years causing peak assets of $110 billion in 2000 to decline to around $22 billion today. The $68 billion Fidelity Contrafund (FCNTX), managed by Will Danhoff, has not grown sufficiently to offset Magellan’s (and other funds) declines.

The Proof is in the Pudding

Some in the industry defend the merits of active management, and through some clever cherry-picking and data mining come to the conclusion that passive investing is overrated. If you believe that money goes where it is treated best, then the proof in the pudding suggests active management is the discipline actually suffering the beating (see Darts, Monkeys & Pros). The differences among the active-passive war of ideals have become even more apparent during the heart of the financial crisis. Since the beginning of 2008 through August 2010, Morningstar shows $301 billion in assets hemorrhaging from actively managed U.S. equity funds, while passive equity-index funds have soaked up $113 billion of inflows.

On a firm-specific basis, InvestmentNews substantiated Vanguard’s gains with the following figures:

In the 10 years ended Dec. 31, Vanguard’s stock and bond funds attracted $440 billion, compared with $101 billion for Fidelity, Morningstar estimates. This year through August, Vanguard pulled in $49 billion while Fidelity had withdrawals of $2.8 billion, according to the research firm.

Vanguard is gaining share on the bond side of the house too:

Vanguard also benefited from the popularity of bond funds. From Jan. 1, 2008, through Aug. 31, 2010, the company’s fixed- income portfolios pulled in $134 billion while Fidelity’s attracted $33 billion (InvestmentNews).

Vanguard is not the only one taking share away from Fidelity. Fido is also getting pinched by my neighbor PIMCO (Pacific Investment Management Company), the $1.1 trillion assets under management fixed income powerhouse based in Newport Beach, California. Bond guru Bill Gross leads the $248 billion Pimco Total Return Fund (PTTAX), which has helped the firm bring in $54 billion in assets thus far in 2010.

Passive Investing Winning but Game Not Over

Even with the market share gains of Vanguard and passive investing, active management assets still dwarf the assets controlled by “do-nothing” products. According to the Vanguard Group and the Investment Company Institute, about 25% of institutional assets and about 12% of individual investors’ assets are currently indexed (2009). The analysis gets a little more muddied once you add ETFs to the mix.

Passive investing may be winning the game of share gains, but is it winning the performance game? The academic research has been very one-sided in favor of passive investing ever since Burton Malkiel came out with his book, A Random Walk Down Wall Street. More recently, a study came out in June 2010 by Standard & Poor’s Indices Versus Active Funds (SPIVA) division showing more than 75% of active fixed income managers underperforming their index on a five-year basis. From an equity standpoint, SPIVA confirmed that more than 60% domestic equity funds and more than 84% international equity funds underperformed their benchmark on a five-year basis. InvestmentNews provides some challenging data to active-management superiority, however it is unclear whether survivorship bias, asset-weighting, style drift, and other factors result in apples being compared to oranges. SPIVA notes the complexity over the last three years has increased due to 20% of domestic equity funds, 13% of international equity funds, and 12% of fixed income funds liquidating or merging.

Regardless of the data, investors are voting with their dollars and happily accepting the superior performance, while at the same time paying less in fees. The positive aspects associated with passive investment products, such as index funds and ETFs, are not only offering superior performance like a Ferrari, but that enhanced quality also comes at the low price equivalent of a Hyundai. On a dollar-adjusted basis, stock-index funds charge an average of 29 cents per $100, compared with 95 cents for active funds (almost a 70% discount), according to research firm Lipper. For example, Vanguard’s passive VITSX fund charges clients as little as 6 cents for every $100 invested (Morningstar).

There has indeed been a changing of the market share guard and Fidelity may also be losing the debate over active versus passive management, but you do not need to shed a tear for them. Fidelity is not going to the poorhouse and will not be filing for Chapter 11 anytime soon. Last year Fidelity reported $11.5 billion in revenue and $2.5 billion in operating income. Those Fidelity profits should be more than enough to cover the demoted guard’s job retraining program and retirement plan benefits.

Read the Complete InvestmentNews Article

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 VITSX, PTTAX, BAC, FCNTX, FMAGX, 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.

October 3, 2010 at 11:18 pm 3 comments

The New Abnormal – Now and Then

Mohamed El-Erian, bond manager and CEO of PIMCO (Pacific Investment Management Company, LLC) is known for patenting the terms “New Normal,” a period of slower growth, and subdued stock and bond market returns. Devin Leonard, a reporter from BusinessWeek, is probably closer to the truth when he describes our current financial situation as the “New Abnormal.” Accepting El-Erian description is tougher for me to accept than Leonard’s. Calling this economic environment the New Normal is like calling Fat Albert, “fat.” When roughly 15 million people are out of work, not receiving a steady paycheck, am I suppose to be surprised that consumer spending and confidence is sluggish?

Rather than a New Normal, I believe we are in the midst of an “Old Normal.” Unemployment reached 10.8% in 1982, and we recovered quite nicely, thank you, (the Dow Jones Industrial has climbed from a level about 800 in early 1982 to over 11,000 earlier in 2010). Sure, our economy carries its own distinct problems, but so did the economy of the early 1980s. For example:

  • Inflation in the U.S. reached 14% in 1982 (core inflation today is < 1%) ;
  • The Prime Rate exceeded 20%;
  • Mexico experienced a major debt default;
  • Wars broke out between the U.K./Falklands & Iran/Iraq;
  • Chrysler got bailed out;
  • Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was assassinated;
  • Hyperinflation spread throughout South America (e.g., Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil)

As I’ve mentioned before, in recent decades we’ve survived wars, assassinations, currency crises, banking crises, Mad Cow disease, SARS, Bird Flu, and yes, even recessions – about two every decade on average. “We’ve had 11 recessions since World War II and we’ve had a perfect score — 11 recoveries,” famed investor Peter Lynch highlighted last year. Media squawkers and industry pundits constantly want you to believe “this time is different.” Economic cycles have an odd way of recurring, or as Mark Twain astutely noted, “History never repeats itself, but it often rhymes.” I agree.

Certainly, each recession and bear market is going to have its own unique contributing factors, and right now we’re saddled with excessive debt (government and consumers), real  estate is still  in a lot of pain, and unemployment remains stubbornly high (9.5% in June). Offsetting these challenges is a global economy powered by 6 billion hungry consumers with an appetite of achieving a standard of living rivaling ours. Underpinning the surge in developing market growth is the expansion of democratic rule and an ever-sprawling extension of the technology revolution. In 1900, there were about 10 countries practicing democracy versus about 120 today. These political advancements, coupled with the internet, are flattening the world in a way that is creating both new competition and opportunities. The rising tide of emerging market demand for our leading edge technologies not only has the potential of elevating foreigners’ standard of living, but pushing our living standards higher as well.

With the United States economy representing roughly 25% of the globe’s total Gross Domestic Product (~5% of the global population), simple mathematics virtually assures emerging markets will continue to eat more of the global economic pie. In fact, many economists believe China will pass the U.S. over the next 15 years. As long as the pie grows, and the absolute size (not percentage) of our economy grows, we should be happy as a clam as our developing country brethren soak up more of our value-added goods and services.

On a shorter term basis, Leonard profiles several abnormal characteristics practiced by consumers. Here’s what he has to say about the “New Abnormal”:

“The new abnormal has given rise to a nation of schizophrenic consumers. They splurge on high-end discretionary items and cut back on brand-name toothpaste and shampoo. Companies like Apple, whose net income jumped 94 percent in its last quarter, and Starbucks, which is enjoying a 61 percent increase in operating income over the same time frame, are thriving. Mercedes-Benz is having a record sales year; deliveries of new vehicles in the U.S. rose 25 percent in the first six months of 2010. Lexus and BMW were also up. Though luxury-goods manufacturers like Hermýs [sic] and Burberry are looking primarily to Asia for growth, their recent earnings reports suggest stabilization and even modest improvement in the U.S.”

Beyond the fray of high-end products, the masses have found reasons to also splurge at the nation’s largest mall (The Mall of America), home to a massive amusement park and a 1.2 million gallon aquarium. So far this year, the mall has experienced a +9% increase in sales.

So while El-Erian calls for a “New Normal” to continue in the years to come, what might actually be happening is a return to an “Old Normal” with ordinary cyclical peaks and valleys. If this isn’t true, perhaps we will all revert to a “New Abnormal” mindset described by Devin Leonard. If so, I will see you at the Mercedes dealership in my Burberry suit, with $3 latte in hand.

Read Devin Leonard’s Complete New Abnormal Article

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 AAPL, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in Mercedes, BMW, Burberry, Hermy’s, SBUX,  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.

August 4, 2010 at 12:12 am 7 comments

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