Posts tagged ‘politicians’

The Political Art of Investment Commentators

There are approximately 2 billion people surfing the internet globally and over 150 million bloggers (source: blogpulse.com) spewing their thoughts out into cyberspace. Throw in economists, strategists, columnists, and the talking heads on television, and you can sleep comfortably knowing there will never be a shortage of opinions for investors to sift through. The real question regarding the infinite number of ideas floating around from the “market commentators” is how useful or harmful is all this information? These diverse points of view, like guns, can be useful or dangerous – depending on an investor’s experience and knowledge level. Deciphering the nuances and variances of investment opinions can be very challenging for an untrained investing eye or ear. While there are plenty of diamonds in the rough to be discovered in the investment advice buffet, there are also a plethora of landmines and booby traps that could explode investment portfolios – especially if these volatile opinions are not handled with care.

No Credentials Required

Unlike dentists, lawyers, accountants, or doctors, becoming a market commentator requires little more than a pulse. All a writer, squawker, or blogger really needs is an internet connection, a keyboard, and something interesting or provocative to talk about. Are any credentials required to blast toxic gibberish to the millions among the masses? Unfortunately there are no qualifications required…scary thought indeed.

In order to successfully navigate the choppy investment opinion waters, investors need to be self-aware enough to answer the following key questions:

• What is your investment time horizon?
• What is your risk tolerance? (see also Sleeping like a Baby)

With these answers in hand, you can now begin to evaluate the credibility and track record of the market commentators and match your personal time horizon and risk profile appropriately. Ideally, investors would seek out prudent long-term counsel, but in this instant gratification society we live in, immediate fear and greed sells advertisements and attracts viewers. Even if media producers and editors of all stripes believed focusing on multi-year time horizons is most beneficial for investors, some serious challenges arise. The brutal reality is that concentrating on the lackluster long-term does not generate a lot of advertisement revenue or traffic. The topics of dollar-cost averaging, asset allocation, diversification, and rebalancing are about as exciting as watching an infomercial marathon (OK, actually this is quite funny) or paint dry. More interesting than the sleepy, uninspiring topics of long-term value creation are stories about terrorist threats, DSK sex scandals, Bernie Madoff Ponzi schemes, currency crises, hacking misconduct, bailouts, tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, 50-day moving averages…OK, you get the idea.

Focus on Long-Term and Do Not Succumb to Short-Termism

Regrettably, there is a massive disconnect between the nano-second time horizons of market commentators and the time horizons of most investors. Moreover, this short-termism dispersed instantaneously via Facebook, Google (GOOG), Twitter, and traditional media channels, has sadly infected the psyches and investment habits of ordinary investors. If you don’t believe me, then check out some of the John Bogle’s work, which shows how dramatically investors underperform the benchmark thanks to emotionally charged reactions (see Fees, Exploitation, and Confusion Hammer Investors).

Although myopic short-termism is not the solution, extending time horizons too long does no good for investors either. As economist John Maynard Keynes astutely noted, “In the long run we are all dead.” But surely bloggers and pundits alike could provide perspectives in multiple year timeframes, rather than in multiple hours. Investors would be served best by turning off the TV, PC, or cell phone, and using the resulting free time to read a good book about the virtues of patient investing from successful long-term investors. Stuffing cash under the mattress, parking it in a 0.5% CD, or panicking into sub-2% Treasuries probably is not going to get the job done for your whole portfolio when inflation, longer life expectancies, and the unsustainable trajectory of entitlements destroy the value of your hard-earned nest egg.

Investment Commentators Look into Politician Mirror

Heading into a heated election year with volatility reaching historic heights in the financial markets, both politicians and investment commentators have garnered a great deal of the media spotlight. With the recent heightened interest in the two fields, some common characteristics between politicians and investment commentators have surfaced. Here are some of the similarities:

  • Politicians have a short-term incentives to get re-elected and not get fired, even if there is an inherent conflict with the long-term interest of their constituents; Investment commentators have a short-term incentives to follow the herd and not get fired, even if there is an inherent conflict with the long-term interest of their constituents;
  • Many politicians have extreme views that conflict with peers because blandness does not get votes; Many investment commentators have extreme views that conflict with peers because blandness does not get votes;
  • Many politicians lack practical experience that could benefit their followers, but the politicians have the gift of charisma to mask their inexperience; Many investment commentators lack practical experience that could benefit their followers, but the commentators have the gift of charisma to mask their inexperience;

Investing has never been so difficult, and also has never been so important, which behooves investors to carefully consider portfolio actions taken based on a very volatile and inconsistent opinions from a group of bloggers, economists, strategists, columnists, and various other media commentators. Investors are bombarded with an avalanche of ever-changing daily data, much of which is irrelevant and should be ignored by long-term investors. As you weigh the precious value of your political votes in the upcoming election season, I urge you to back the candidates that represent your long-term interests. With regard to the financial markets, I also urge you to back the investment commentators that support your long-term interests – the success of your financial future depends on it.

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 Facebook, Twitter, 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

September 10, 2011 at 9:34 am 1 comment

Plumbers & Cops: Can the Debt Ceiling be Fixed?

The ceiling is leaking, but it’s unclear whether it will be repaired? Rather than fix the seeping fiscal problem, Democrats and Republicans have stared at the leaky ceiling and periodically applied debt ceiling patches every year or two by raising the limit. Nanosecond debt ceiling coverage has reached a nauseating level, but this issue has been escalating for many months. Last fall, politicians feared their long-term disregard of fiscally responsible policies could lead to a massive collapse in the financial ceiling protecting us, so the President called in the bipartisan plumbers of Alan Simpson & Erskine Bowles to fix the leak. The commission swiftly identified the problems and came up with a deep, thoughtful plan of action. Unfortunately, their recommendations were abruptly dismissed and Washington fell back into neglect mode, choosing instead to bicker like immature teenagers. The result: poisonous name calling and finger pointing that has placed Washington politicians one notch above Cuba’s Fidel Castro, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the list of the world’s most hated leaders. Strategist Ed Yardeni captured the disappointment of American voters when he mockingly states, “The clowns in Washington are making people cry rather than laugh.”

Although despair is in the air and the outlook is dour, our government can redeem itself with the simple passage of a debt ceiling increase, coupled with credible spending reduction legislation (and possibly “revenue enhancers” – you gotta  love the tax euphimism).

The Elephant in the Room

Our country’s spending problems is nothing new, but the 2008-2009 financial crisis merely amplified and highlighted the severity of the problem. The evidence is indisputable – we are spending beyond our means:

Source: scottgrannis.blogspot.com

If the federal spending to GDP chart is not convincing enough, then review the following graph:

Source: blog.yardeni.com – A graph a first grader could understand.

You don’t need to be a brain surgeon or rocket scientist to realize government expenditures are massively outpacing revenues (tax receipts). Expenditures need to be dramatically reduced, revenues increased, and/or a combination thereof. Applying for a new credit card with a limit to spend more isn’t going to work anymore – the lenders reviewing those upcoming credit applications will straightforwardly deny the applications or laugh at us as they gouge us with prohibitively high borrowing costs. The end result will be the evaporation of entitlement programs as we know them today (including Medicare and Social Security). For reference of exploding borrowing costs, please see Greek interest rate chart below. The mathematical equation for the Greek financial crisis (and potentially the U.S.) is amazingly straightforward…Loony Spending + Looney Politicians = Loony Interest Rates.

Source: Bloomberg.com via Wikipedia.com

To illustrate my point further, imagine the government owning a home with a mortgage payment tied to a 2.5% interest rate (a tremendously low, average borrowing cost for the U.S. today). Now visualize the U.S. going bankrupt, which would then force foreign and domestic lenders to double or triple the rates charged on the mortgage payment (in order to compensate the lenders for heightened U.S. default risk). Global investors, including the Chinese, are pointing a gun at our head, and if a political blind eye on spending continues, our foreign brethren who have provided us with extremely generous low priced loans will not be bashful about pulling the high borrowing cost trigger. The ballooning mortgage payments resulting from a default would then break an already unsustainably crippling budget, and the government would therefore be placed in a position of painfully slashing spending. Too extreme a shift towards austerity could spin a presently wobbling economy into chaos. That’s precisely the situation we face under a no-action Congressional default (i.e., no fix by August 2nd or shortly thereafter).  To date, the Chinese have collected their payments from us with a nervous smile, but if the U.S. can’t make some fiscally responsible choices, our Asian Pacific pals will be back soon with a baseball bat to collect.

The Cops to the Rescue

Any parent knows disciplining teenagers doesn’t always work out as planned. With fiscally irresponsible spending habits and debt load piling up to the ceiling, politicians are stealing the prospects of a brighter future from upcoming generations. The good news is that if the politicians do not listen to the parental voter cries for fiscal sanity, the capital market cops will enforce justice for the criminal negligence and financial thievery going on in Washington. Ed Yardeni calls these capital market enforcers the “bond vigilantes.” If you want proof of lackadaisical and stubborn politicians responding expeditiously to capital market cops, please hearken back to September 2008 when Congress caved into the $700 billion TARP legislation, right after the Dow Jones Industrial average plummeted 777 points in a single day.

Who exactly are these cops? These cops come in the shape of hedge funds, sovereign wealth funds, pension funds, endowments, mutual funds, and other institutional investors that shift their dollars to the geographies where their money is treated best. If there is a perceived, heightened risk of the United States defaulting on promised debt payments, then global investors will simply take their dollar-denominated investments, sell them, and then convert them into currencies/investments of more conscientious countries like Australia or Switzerland.

Assisting the capital market cops in disciplining the unruly teenagers are the credit rating agencies. S&P (Standard and Poor’s) and Moody’s (MCO) have been watching the slow-motion train wreck develop and they are threatening to downgrade the U.S.’ AAA credit rating. Republicans and Democrats may not speak the same language, but the common word in both of their vocabularies is “reelection,” which at some point will effect a reaction due to voter and investor anxiety.

Nobody wants to see our nation’s pipes burst from excessive debt and spending, and if the political plumbers can repair the very obvious and fixable fiscal problems, we can move on to more important challenges. It’s best we fix our problems by ourselves…before the cops arrive and arrest the culprits for gross negligence.

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 MCO, 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.

July 30, 2011 at 2:41 pm 2 comments


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