Posts tagged ‘reflexivity’

The Pain of Diversification

Pressure

The oft-quoted tenet that diversification should be the cornerstone of any investment strategy has come under assault in the third quarter. As you can see from the chart below, investors could run, but they couldn’t hide. The Large Cap Growth category was the major exception, thanks in large part to Apple Inc.’s (AAPL) +8% appreciation. More specifically, seven out of the nine Russell Investments style boxes were in negative territory for the three month period. The benefits of diversification look even worse, if you consider other large asset classes and sectors such as the Gold/Gold Miners were down about -14% (GDX/GLD); Energy -9% (XLE); Europe-EAFE -6% (EFA); Utilities -5% (XLU); and Emerging Markets -4% (EEM).

*Results are for Q3 – 2014 (Source: Vanguard Group, Inc. & Russell Investments)

*Results are for Q3 – 2014 (Source: Vanguard Group, Inc. & Russell Investments)

On the surface, everything looks peachy keen with all three major indices posting positive Q3 appreciation of +1.3% for the Dow, +0.6% for S&P 500, and +1.9% for the NASDAQ. It’s true that over the long-run diversification acts like shock absorbers for economic potholes and speed bumps, but in the short-run, all investors can hit a stretch of rough road in which shock absorbers may seem like they are missing. Over the long-run, you can’t live without diversification shocks because your financial car will eventually breakdown and the ride will become unbearable.

What has caused all this underlying underperformance over the last month and a half? The headlines and concerns change daily, but the -5% to -6% pullback in the market has catapulted the Volatility Index (VIX or “Fear Gauge”) by +85%. The surge can be attributed to any or all of the following: a slowing Chinese economy, stagnant eurozone, ISIS in Iraq, bombings in Syria, end of Quantitative Easing (QE), impending interest rate hikes, mid-term elections, Hong Kong protests, proposed tax inversion changes, security hacks, rising U.S. dollar, PIMCO’s Bill Gross departure, and a half dozen other concerns.

In general, pullbacks and corrections are healthy because shares get transferred out of weak hands into stronger hands. However, one risk associated with these 100 day floods (see also 100-Year Flood ≠ 100-Day Flood) is that a chain reaction of perceptions can eventually become reality. Or in other words, due to the ever-changing laundry list of concerns, confidence in the recovery can get shaken, which in turn impacts CEO’s confidence in spending, and ultimately trickles down to employees, consumers, and the broader economy. In that same vein, George Soros, the legendary arbitrageur and hedge fund manager, has famously written about his law of reflexivity (see also Reflexivity Tail Wags Dog). Reflexivity is based on the premise that financial markets continually trend towards disequilibrium, which is evidenced by repeated boom and bust cycles.

While, at Sidoxia, we’re still finding more equity opportunities amidst these volatile markets, what this environment shows us is conventional wisdom is rarely correct. Going into this year, the consensus view regarding interest rates was the economy is improving, and the tapering of QE would cause interest rates to go significantly higher. Instead, the yield on the 10-Year Treasury Note has gone down significantly from 3.0% to 2.3%. The performance contrast can be especially seen with small cap stocks being down-10% for the year and the overall Bond Market (BND) is up +3.1% (and closer to +5% if you include interest payments). Despite interest rates fluctuating near generational lows with paltry yields, the power of diversification has proved its value.

While there are multiple dynamics transpiring around the financial markets, the losses across most equity categories and asset classes during Q3 have been bloody. Nonetheless, investing across the broad bond market and certain large cap stock segments is evidence that diversification is a valuable time-tested principle. Times like these highlight the necessity of diversification gain to offset the current equity pain.

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Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in AAPL, BND, and certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in EEM, GDX, GLD, EFA, XLE, XLU, 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 11, 2014 at 8:55 am Leave a comment

Soros & Reflexivity: The Tail Wagging the Dog

Billionaire investor George Soros, who is also Chairman of Soros Fund Management and author of The Crash of 2008¸ is well known for his theory on reflexivity, which broadly covers political, social, financial, and economic systems. Soros built upon this concept (see also Soros Super Bubble), which was influenced by philosopher Karl Popper. With all the fear and greed rippling through global geographies as diverse as Iceland, California, Dubai, and Greece, now is an ideal time to visit Soros’s famous reflexivity theory, which may allow us to put the recent chaos in context. With the recent swoon in the market, despite domestic indicators trending positively, a fair question to ask is whether the dog is wagging the tail or the tail wagging the dog?

The Definition of Reflexivity

Simply stated, reflexivity can be explained as the circular relationship that exists between cause and effect. Modern financial theory teaches you these lessons: 1) Financial markets are efficient; 2) Information flows freely; 3) Investors make rational decisions; and 4) Markets eventually migrate towards equilibrium. Reflexivity challenges these premises with the claims that people make irrational and biased decisions with incomplete information, while the markets trend toward disequilibrium, evidenced by repeated boom and bust cycles.

Let’s use the housing market as an example of reflexivity. By looking at the housing bubble in the U.S., we can shed some light on the theory of reflexivity. Americans initial buying love affair with homes pushed prices of houses up, which led to higher valuations of loans on the books of banks, which allowed the banks to lend more money to buyers, which meant more home buying and pushed prices up even higher. To make matters worse, even the government joined the game by adding incentives for people who could not afford homes. As you can see, the actions and decisions of an observer can have a direct impact on other observers and the system itself, thereby creating a spiraling upward (or downward) effect.

Now What?

Now, the reflexivity tail that is wagging the dog is Europe…specifically Greece. The bear case goes as follows: the Greek financial crisis will brew into a stinky contagion, eventually spreading to Spain and Italy, thus hammering shut a U.S. export market. The double dip recession in the U.S. will not only exacerbate the pricking of the Chinese real estate bubble, but also topple all other global economies into ruin.

Certainly, the excessive sovereign debt levels across the globe have grown like cancer. Fortunately, we have identified the problem and politicians are being forced by voters to address the fiscal problems. More importantly, capital flows are an unbiased arbiter of economic policies. Over time – not in the short-run necessarily – capital will move to where it is treated best. Meaning those countries that harness responsible debt loads, institute pro-business growth policies, remove unsustainable and insolvent entitlements, and incentivize education and innovation will be the countries that earn the honor of holding their fair share of vital capital. If the politicians don’t make the correct decisions, the hemorrhaging of capital to foreigners and the painfully high unemployment levels will force Washington into making the tough but right decisions (usually in the middle of a crisis).

Reflexivity, as it pertains to financial markets, has been a concept the 79 year old George Soros has passionately espoused since his 1987 book, The Alchemy of Finance. Perhaps a better understanding of reflexivity will help us better take advantage of the tail wagging disequilibriums experienced in the current financial markets. Time will tell how long this disequilibrium will last.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

*DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct positions in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

May 26, 2010 at 1:21 am 1 comment


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