Posts tagged ‘valuation’

Sleeping and Napping Through Bubbles

We have lived through many investment bubbles in our history, and unfortunately, most investors sleep through the early wealth-creating inflation stages. Typically, the average investor wakes up later to a hot idea once every man, woman, and child have identified the clear trend…right as the bubble is about burst. Sadly, the masses do a great job of identifying financial bubbles at the end of a cycle, but have a tougher time realizing the catastrophic consequences of exiting a tired winner. Or as strategist Jim Stack states, “Bubbles, for the most part, are invisible to those trapped inside the bubble.” The challenge of recognizing bubbles explains why they are more easily classified as bubbles after a colossal collapse occurs. For those speculators chasing a precise exit point on a bubblicious investment, they may be better served by waiting for the prick of the bubble, then take a decade long nap before revisiting the fallen angel investment idea.

Even for the minority of pundits and investors who are able to accurately identify these financial bubbles in advance, a much smaller number of these professionals are actually able to pinpoint when the bubble will burst. Take for example Alan Greenspan, the ex-Federal Reserve Chairman from 1987 to 2006. He managed to correctly identify the technology bubble in late-1996 when he delivered his infamous “irrational exuberance” speech, which questioned the high valuation of the frothy, tech-driven stock market. The only problem with Greenspan’s speech was his timing was massively off. Stated differently, Greenspan was three years premature in calling out the pricking of the bubble, as the NASDAQ index subsequently proceeded to more than triple from early 1997 to early 2000 (the index exploded from about 1,300 to over 5,000).

One of the reasons bubbles are so difficult to time during their later stages is because the deflation period occurs so quickly. As renowned value investor Howard Marks fittingly notes, “The air always goes out a lot faster than it went in.”

Bubbles, Bubbles, Everywhere

Financial bubbles do not occur every day, but thanks to the psychological forces of investor greed and fear, bubbles do occur more often than one might think. As a matter of fact, famed investor Jeremy Grantham claims to have identified 28 bubbles in various global markets since 1920. Definitions vary, but Webster’s Dictionary defines a financial bubble as the following:

A state of booming economic activity (as in a stock market) that often ends in a sudden collapse.

 

Although there is no numerical definition of what defines a bubble or collapse, the financial crisis of 2008 – 2009, which was fueled by a housing and real estate bubble, is the freshest example in most people minds.  However, bubbles go back much further in time – here are a few memorable ones:

Dutch Tulip-Mania: Fear and greed have been ubiquitous since the dawn of mankind, and those emotions even translate over to the buying and selling of tulips. Believe it or not, some 400 years ago in the 1630s, individual Dutch tulip bulbs were selling for the same prices as homes ($61,700 on an inflation-adjusted basis). This bubble ended like all bubbles, as you can see from the chart below.

Source: The Stock Market Crash.net

British Railroad Mania: In the mid-1840s, hundreds of companies applied to build railways in Britain. Like all bubbles, speculators entered the arena, and the majority of companies went under or got gobbled up by larger railway companies.

Roaring 20s: Here in the U.S., the Roaring 1920s eventually led to the great Wall Street Crash of 1929, which finally led to a nearly -90% plunge in the Dow Jones Industrial stock index over a relatively short timeframe. Leverage and speculation were contributors to this bust, which resulted in the Great Depression.

Nifty Fifty: The so-called Nifty Fifty stocks were a concentrated set of glamor stocks or “Blue Chips” that investors and traders piled into. The group of stocks included household names like Avon (AVP), McDonald’s (MCD), Polaroid, Xerox (XRX), IBM and Disney (DIS). At the time, the Nifty Fifty were considered “one-decision” stocks that investors could buy and hold forever. Regrettably, numerous of these hefty priced stocks (many above a 50 P/E) came crashing down about 90% during the 1973-74 period.

Japan’s Nikkei: The Japanese Nikkei 225 index traded at an eye popping Price-Earnings (P/E) ratio of about 60x right before the eventual collapse. The value of the Nikkei index increased over 450% in the eight years leading up to the peak in 1989 (from 6,850 in October 1982 to a peak of 38,957 in December 1989).

Source: Thechartstore.com

The Tech Bubble: We all know how the technology bubble of the late 1990s ended, and it wasn’t pretty. PE ratios above 100 for tech stocks was the norm (see table below), as compared to an overall PE of the S&P 500 index today of about 14x.

Source: Wall Street Journal – March 14, 2000

The Next Bubble

What is/are the next investment bubble(s)? Nobody knows for sure, but readers of Investing Caffeine know that long-term bonds are one fertile area. Given the generational low in yields and rates, and the 35-year bull run in bond prices, it can be difficult to justify heavy allocations of inflation losing bonds for long time-horizon investors. Commercial real estate and Silicon Valley unicorns could be other potential over-heated areas. However, as we discussed earlier, identifying and timing bubble bursts is extremely challenging. Nevertheless, the great thing about long-term investing is that probabilities and valuations ultimately do matter, and therefore a diversified portfolio skewed away from extreme valuations and speculative sectors will pay handsome dividends over the long-run.

Many traders continue to daydream as they chase performance through speculative investment bubbles, looking to squeeze the last ounce of an easily identifiable trend.  As the lead investment manager at Sidoxia Capital Management, I spend less time sucking the last puff out of a cigarette, and spend more time opportunistically devoting resources to valuation-sensitive growth trends.  As demonstrated with historical examples, following the popular trend du jour eventually leads to financial ruin and nightmares. Avoiding bubbles and pursuing fairly priced growth prospects is the way to achieve investment prosperity…and provide sweet dreams.

investment-questions-border

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), MCD, DIS and are short TLT, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct positions in AVP, XRX, IBM,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.

November 26, 2016 at 9:09 am 3 comments

Brexit-Schmexit

British Flag FreeImage1

Do you remember the panic-inducing headlines related to PIIGS, Crimea, Ebola, Cyprus, and the Flash Crash? Probably not. But if you do remember, these false alarms have likely been relegated to the financial memory graveyard, along with the many other sensationalist news events that have been killed off in the post-financial crisis era. Time will tell whether Brexit dies off or becomes a resurrected concern, like the repeating fears of a China slowdown or Greek collapse. Regardless, as the S&P 500 stock index reaches new all-time record highs, investors are currently shrug off the noise while muttering, “Brexit-Schmexit.”

Individuals have tried to use scary headlines as a timing tool to consistently time market corrections for all of recorded history. Unfortunately, emotional, knee-jerk reactions to alarming news stories rarely is the best strategy. Famed fund manager Peter Lynch said it best when he noted,

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

 

Having invested for some 25 years, experience has taught me not only is conventional wisdom often wrong, but it also is frequently an accurate contrarian indicator. In other words, frightening news often should be an indicator to buy…not sell. Case in point is the U.K. European Union referendum. The Brexit referendum “Leave” vote caught virtually everyone by surprise, but the rebound in stock prices to new record highs may be even more surprising to most observers. However, for investors following the key factors of interest rates, profits, valuation, and sentiment (see also Don’t Be a Fool, Follow the Stool), may not be shocked by the positive price action.

  • Interest Rates: For starters, you don’t have to be a genius to realize that stocks become more attractive when there is a scarcity of investment alternatives. When there are an estimated $13 trillion of negative interest rate bonds, a layman can quickly understand a 2%, 3%, or 4% dividend yield offered on certain stocks (and funds) can represent a much more attractive opportunity. With interest rates at record lows (see chart below), the overall dividend yield of stocks has provided a floor for stock prices and has limited the depth and duration of sell-offs and corrections.
Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

  • Profits: Corporate profits are near record highs but have been sluggish due to several factors, including the negative impact of the strong dollar on multinational exports; the depressing effect of declining interest rates on the banking sector’s net interest profit margins; the general decline in oil and commodity prices; and general lethargic economic growth overall in international markets (emerging and developed economies). Encouragingly, a stabilization in the value of the U.S. dollar, along with a rebound in energy prices augurs well for a potential shift back to earnings growth in the coming quarters.
  • Valuation: On a valuation basis, the Price/Earnings ratio of the stock market is about 10-15% above historical averages (see chart below). The average S&P 500 stock price trades around 19x’s the value of trailing twelve-month earnings. However, in the context of all-time record low-interest rates, a premium valuation is well deserved, especially for those companies paying a dividend and growing their bottom line.
Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

  • Sentiment: Since the Great Financial Crisis / Recession, there has been about $1.5 trillion in equity investments that have been pulled out of U.S. equity mutual funds. This statistic is a clear sign of the extreme risk aversion and pervasive pessimism. Despite money flowing out of equity funds, corporations have bolstered the upward trajectory in stock prices with hundreds of billions in corporate stock buybacks and trillions in mergers & acquisition transactions. With all the universal jitteriness, I like to remind investors of Warren Buffett’s credo, “Buy fear, and sell greed.”

Brexit-Schmexit NOT Brexit-Panic

Despite the risk aversion in the marketplace, stock prices in the U.S. continue to grind higher to record levels. The stock market is currently communicating interest rates, profits, valuation, and sentiment are more important factors to price direction than are Brexit and other geopolitical concerns.

The silver lining behind severe investor skepticism is the creation of additional investment opportunities. As famous investor Sir John Templeton stated regarding stock market cycles, “Bull markets are born on pessimism and they grow on skepticism, mature on optimism, and die on euphoria.” Even the most objective observers have difficulty pointing to a broad set of indicators signaling euphoria, and the recent Turkish military coup attempt and domestic gun violence incidents will not squash out the negativity. Until optimism and elation rule the day, there’s no need to worry-schworry.

investment-questions-border

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds , but at the time of publishing 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 17, 2016 at 9:54 pm Leave a comment

Avoiding Cigarette Butts

cigarette-butt-1579806

Too many investors hang their hat on investments that seem “cheap”. Unfortunately, too often something that looks like a bargain turns out to be a cigarette butt from which investors are hoping to take a last puff. As the old adage states, “you get what you pay for,” and that certainly applies to the world of investments. There are endless examples of cheap stocks getting cheaper, or in other words, stocks with low price/earnings ratios going lower. Stocks that appear cheap today, in many cases turn out to be expensive tomorrow because of deteriorating or collapsing profitability.

For instance, take Haliburton Company (HAL), an energy services company. Wall Street analysts are forecasting the Houston, Texas based oil services company to achieve 2016 EPS (earnings per share) of $0.32, down -79%. The share price currently stands at $37, so this translates into an eye-popping valuation of 128x P/E ratio, based on 2016 earnings estimates. What has effectively occurred in the HAL example is earnings have declined faster than the share price, which has caused the P/E to go higher. If you were to look at the energy sector overall, the same phenomenon is occurring with the P/E ratio standing at a whopping 97x (at the end of Q1).

These inflated P/E ratios are obviously not sustainable, so two scenarios are likely to occur:

  • The price of the P/E (numerator) will decline faster than earnings (denominator)
    •                                             AND/OR
  • The earnings of the P/E (denominator) will rise faster than the price (numerator)

Under either scenario, the current nose-bleed P/E ratio should moderate. Energy companies are doing their best to preserve profitability by cutting expenses as fast as possible, but when the product you are selling plummets about -70% in 18 months (from $100 per barrel to $30), producing profits can be challenging.

The Importance of Price (or Lack Thereof)

Similarly to the variables an investor would consider in purchasing an apartment building, “price” is supreme. With that said, “price” is not the only important variable. As famed investor Warren Buffett shrewdly notes, the quality of a company can be even more important than the price paid, especially if you are a long-term investor.

“It’s far better to buy a wonderful company at a fair price than a fair company at a wonderful price.”

 

The advantage of identifying and owning a “wonderful company” is the long-term stream of growing earnings. The trajectory of future earnings growth, more than current price, is the key driver of long-term stock performance.

Growth investor extraordinaire Peter Lynch summed it up well when he stated,

People Concentrate too much on the P, but the E really makes the difference.”

 

Albert Einstein identified the power of “compounding” as the 8th Wonder of the World, which when applied to earnings growth of a stock can create phenomenal outperformance – if held long enough. Warren Buffett emphasized the point here:

“If you aren’t willing to own a stock for ten years, don’t even think about owning it for ten minutes. Put together a portfolio of companies whose aggregate earnings march upward over the years, and so also will the portfolio’s market value.”

 

Throw Away Cigarette Butts

I have acknowledged the importance of aforementioned price, but your investment portfolio will perform much better, if you throw away the cigarette butts and focus on identifying market leading franchise that can sustain earnings growth. The lower the growth potential, the more important price becomes in the investment question. (see also Magic Quadrant)

Here are the key factors in identifying wining stocks:

  • Market Share Leaders: If you pay peanuts, you usually get monkeys. Paying a premium for the #1 or #2 player in an industry is usually the way to go. Certainly, there is plenty of money to be made by smaller innovative companies that disrupt an industry, so for these exceptions, focus should be placed on share gains – not absolute market share numbers.
  • Proven Management Team: It’s nice to own a great horse (i.e., company), but you need a good jockey as well. There have been plenty of great companies that have been run into the ground by inept managers. Evaluating management’s financial track record along with a history of their strategic decisions will give you an idea what you’re working with. Performance doesn’t happen in a vacuum, so results should be judged relative to the industry and their competitors. There are plenty of incredible managers in the energy sector, even if the falling tide is sinking all ships.
  • Large and/or Growing Markets: Spotting great companies in niche markets may be a fun hobby, but with limited potential for growth, playing in small market sandboxes can be hazardous for your investment health. On the other hand, priority #1, #2, and #3 should be finding market leaders in growth markets or locating disruptive share gainers in large markets. Finding fertile ground on long runways of growth is how investors benefit from the power of compound earnings.
  • Capital Allocation Prowess: Learning the capital allocation skillset can be demanding for executives who climb the corporate ladder from areas like marketing, operations, or engineering. Regrettably, these experiences don’t prepare them for the ultimate responsibility of distributing millions/billions of dollars. In the current low/negative interest rate environment, allocating capital to the highest return areas is more imperative than ever. Cash sitting on the balance sheet earning 0% and losing value to inflation is pure financial destruction. Conservatism is prudent, however, excessive piles of cash and overpaying for acquisitions are big red flags. Managers with a track record of organically investing in their businesses by creating moats for long-term competitive advantage are the leaders we invest in.

Many so-called “value” investors solely use price as a crutch. Anyone can print out a list of cheap stocks based on Price-to-Earnings, Enterprise Value/EBITDA, or Price/Cash Flow, but much of the heavy lifting occurs in determining the future trajectory of earnings and cash flows. Taking that last puff from that cheap, value stock cigarette butt may seem temporarily satisfying, but investing into too many value traps may lead you gasping for air and force you to change your stock analysis habits.

investment-questions-border

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing had no direct position in HAL 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.

 

April 9, 2016 at 5:32 pm Leave a comment

Chasing Headlines

Chasing FreeImages

It’s been an amazing start to the year. First the market cratered on slowing China economic concerns, domestic recessionary fears, deteriorating oil prices, and negative interest rates abroad. In response to all these worries (and others), stocks dove more than -11% (S&P 500 Index) in January, before settling down. Subsequently, the market has made a screaming recovery, in part due to dovish monetary policy comments (i.e., reduction in forecasted interest rate hikes) and diminished anxiety over a potential global collapse. Month-to-date stocks are up an impressive +5.4%, and year-to-date equities are flattish, or down less than -1%.

With an endless amount of information flowing across our smart phones and computers, it becomes quite easy and tempting to chase news headlines, just like a hyper dog chasing a car. But even once an investor catches up (or reacts) to a headline, there’s confusion around how to profit from the fleeting information. First of all, every plugged-in hedge fund and institutional investor has likely already traded on the stale information you received. Second of all, rarely is the data relevant to the long-term cash generating capabilities of the company or economy. And lastly, the news is more often than not, instantly factored into the stock price. Chasing news headlines only eaves individual investors holding the bag of performance-shattering transactions costs, taxes, and worn-out pricing.

The heightened volatility in late 2015 and early 2016 hasn’t however prevented investors and so-called pundits from attempting to time the market. Any battle-tested investment veteran knows it’s virtually impossible to consistently time the market (see also Market Timing Treadmill), but this fact hasn’t prevented speculators from attempting the feat nonetheless. Famed investment guru, Peter Lynch, who earned an average +29% annual return from 1977-1990, summed it up well when he stated the following:

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

 

The Important Factors

As I’ve written many times in the past, the keys to long-term stock performance are not knee-jerk reactions to headlines, but rather these following crucial factors (see also Don’t Be a Fool, Follow the Stool):

  • Profits
  • Interest Rates
  • Sentiment
  • Valuations

On the profit growth front, corporate income has been pressured by numerous headwinds over the last few years, including an export-shattering increase in the value of the U.S. dollar and a profit-squeezing collapse in energy sector earnings. As you can see from the chart below, the value of the U.S. dollar increased by about 25% from mid-2014 to early-2015, in part because of diverging global central bank policies (more hawkish U.S. Fed vs. more dovish ECB/international central banks). Since that spike, the dollar has settled into a broad range (95 – 100), and the former forceful headwind have now turned into modest tailwinds. This trend is important because an estimated 35-40% of corporate profits are derived from international operations.

Adding insult to injury, the roughly greater than -70% decline in forward energy earnings over the last 18 months has caused a significant hit to overall S&P 500 profits. The tide appears to be finally turning (or at least stabilizing) however, as we’ve seen oil prices rebound by about +30% this year from the lows in January. If these aforementioned trends persist, profit pressures in 2016 are likely to abate significantly, and may actually become additive to growth.

U.S. Dollar 3-26-16

Source: Barchart.com

Profits are important, but so are interest rates. While incessant talk about the path of future Fed policy continues to blanket the airwaves (see also Fed Fatigue), absent a rapid increase in interest rates (say 300-400 basis points), interest rates remain unambiguously positive for equity markets, providing a floor for the oft-repeated volatility in financial markets. As long as stocks are providing higher yields than many bonds, and depositors are earning 0% (or negative rates) on their checking accounts, stocks may remain unloved, but not forgotten.

And speaking of unloved, the sentiment for stocks remains sour. One need look no further than the quarter-billion dollars in hemorrhaging outflows out of U.S. equity funds (see ICI Long-Term Mutual Fund Flows) since 2014. This deep underlying skepticism serves as a positive contrarian indicator for future equity prices. Right now, very few individual investors are swimming in the pool – the time to get out of the stock market pool is when everyone is jumping in.

And lastly, valuations remain very much in line with historical averages (approximatqely 17x 2016 projected earnings), especially considering the generational low in interest rates. Bears continue to point to the elevated CAPE ratio, which has been a disastrous indicator the last seven years (and longer), as a reason to remain cautious. The ironic part is that valuations are virtually guaranteed to improve a few years from now as we roll off the artificially depressed years of 2008-2010.

When you add it all up, zero (or negative) interest rates, combined with the other key factors of profits, sentiment, and valuations, equities remain an important and attractive part of a diversified long-term portfolio. Your objectives, time horizon, and risk tolerance will always drive the proportion of your equity allocation. Nevertheless, some bond exposure is essential to smooth out volatility. Regardless of your investment strategy, chasing headlines, like a dog chasing a car, serves no purpose other than leaving you with a tired, unproductive investment portfolio.

investment-questions-border

www.Sidoxia.com

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 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.

March 26, 2016 at 12:29 pm Leave a comment

Winning the Loser’s Game

During periods of heightened volatility like those recently experienced, it’s easy to get caught up in the emotional heat of the moment. I find time is better spent returning to essential investing fundamentals, like the ones I read in the investment classic by Charles Ellis, Winning the Loser’s Game“WTLG”.  To put my enthusiasm in perspective, WTLG has even achieved the elite and privileged distinction of making the distinguished “Recommended Reading” list of Investing Caffeine (located along the right-side of the page). Wow…now I know you are really impressed.

The Man, The Myth, the Ellis

For those not familiar with Charley Ellis, he has a long, storied investment career. Not only has he authored 12 books, including compilations on Goldman Sachs (GS) and Capital Group, but his professional career dates back prior to 1972, when he founded institutional consulting firm Greenwich Associates. Besides earning a college degree from Yale University, and an MBA from Harvard Business School, he also garnered a PhD from New York University. Ellis also is a director at the Vanguard Group and served as Investment Committee chair at Yale University along investment great David Swensen (read also Super Swensen) from 1992 – 2008.

With this tremendous investment experience come tremendous insights. The original book, which was published in 1998, is already worth its weight in gold (even at $1,384 per ounce), but the fifth edition of WTLG is even more valuable because it has been updated with Ellis’s perspectives on the 2008-2009 financial crisis.

Because the breadth of topics covered is so vast and indispensable, I will break the WTLG review into a few parts for digestibility. I will start off with the these hand-picked nuggets:

Defining the “Loser’s Game”

Here is how Charles Ellis describes the investment “loser’s game”:

“For professional investors,  “the ‘money game’ we call investment management evolved in recent decades from a winner’s game to a loser’s game because a basic change has occurred in the investment environment: The market came to be dominated in the 1970s and 1980s by the very institutions that were striving to win by outperforming the market. No longer is the active investment manager competing with cautious custodians or amateurs who are out of touch with the market. Now he or she competes with other hardworking investment experts in a loser’s game where the secret to winning is to lose less than others lose.”

 

Underperformance by Active Managers

Readers that have followed Investing Caffeine for a while understand how I feel about passive (low-cost do-nothing strategy) and active management (portfolio managers constantly buying and selling) – read Darts, Monkeys & Pros.  Ellis’s views are not a whole lot different than mine – here is what he has to say while not holding back any punches:

“The basic assumption that most institutional investors can outperform the market is false. The institutions are the market. They cannot, as a group, outperform themselves. In fact, given the cost of active management – fees, commissions, market impact of big transactions, and so forth-85 percent of investment managers have and will continue over the long term to underperform the overall market.”

He goes on to say individuals do even worse, especially those that day trade, which he calls a “sucker’s game.”

Exceptions to the Rule

Ellis’s bias towards passive management is clear because “over the long term 85 percent of active managers fall short of the market. And it’s nearly impossible to figure out ahead of time which managers will make it into the top 15 percent.” He does, however, acknowledge there is a minority of professionals that can beat the market by making fewer mistakes or taking advantage of others’ mistakes. Ellis advocates a slow approach to investing, which bases “decisions on research with a long-term focus that will catch other investors obsessing about the short term and cavitating – producing bubbles.” This is the strategy and approach I aim to achieve.

Gaining an Unfair Competitive Advantage

According to Ellis, there are four ways to gain an unfair competitive advantage in the investment world:

1)      Physical Approach: Beat others by carrying heavier brief cases and working longer hours.

2)      Intellectual Approach: Outperform by thinking more deeply and further out in the future.

3)      Calm-Rational Approach: Ellis describes this path to success as “benign neglect” – a method that beats the others by ignoring both favorable and adverse market conditions, which may lead to suboptimal decisions.

4)      Join ‘em Approach: The easiest way to beat active managers is to invest through index funds. If you can’t beat index funds, then join ‘em.

The Case for Stocks

Investor time horizon plays a large role on asset allocation, but time is on investors’ side for long-term equity investors:

“That’s why in the long term, the risks are clearly lowest for stocks, but in the short term, the risks are just as clearly highest for stocks.”

Expanding on that point, Ellis points out the following:

“Any funds that will stay invested for 10 years or longer should be in stocks. Any funds that will be invested for less than two to three years should be in “cash” or money market instruments.”

While many people may feel stock investing is dead, but Ellis points out that equities should return more in the long-run:

“There must be a higher rate of return on stocks to persuade investors to accept risks of equity investing.”

 

The Power of Regression to the Mean

Investors do more damage to performance by chasing winners and punishing losers because they lose the powerful benefits of “regression to the mean.” Ellis describes this tendency for behavior to move toward an average as “a persistently powerful phenomenon in physics and sociology – and in investing.” He goes on to add, good investors know “that the farther current events are away from the mean at the center of the bell curve, the stronger the forces of reversion, or regression, to the mean, are pulling the current data toward the center.”

The Power of Compounding

For a 75 year period (roughly 1925 – 2000) analyzed by Ellis, he determines $1 invested in stocks would have grown to $105.96, if dividends were not reinvested. If, however, dividends are reinvested, the power of compounding kicks in significantly. For the same 75 year period, the equivalent $1 would have grown to $2,591.79 – almost 25x’s more than the other method (see also Penny Saved is Billion Earned).

Ellis throws in another compounding example:

“Remember that if investments increase by 7 percent per annum after income tax, they will double every 10 years, so $1 million can become $1 billion in 100 years (before adjusting for inflation).”

 

The Lessons of History

As philosopher George Santayana stated – “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Details of every market are different, but as Ellis notes, “The major characteristics of markets are remarkably similar over time.”

Ellis appreciates the importance of history plays in analyzing the markets:

“The more you study market history, the better; the more you know about how securities markets have behaved in the past, the more you’ll understand their true nature and how they probably will behave in the future. Such an understanding enables us to live rationally with markets that would otherwise seem wholly irrational.”

 

Home Sweet International Home

Although Ellis’s recommendation to diversify internationally is not controversial, his allocation recommendation regarding “full diversification” is a bit more provocative:

“For Americans, this would mean about half our portfolios would be invested outside the United States.”

This seems high by traditional standards, but considering our country’s shrinking share of global GDP (Gross Domestic Product), along with our relatively small share of the globe’s population (about 5% of the world’s total), the 50% percentage doesn’t seem as high at first blush.

Beware the Broker

This is not new territory for me (see Financial Sharks, Fees/Exploitation, and Credential Shell Game), and Ellis warns investors on industry sales practices:

“Those oh so caring and helpful salespeople make their money by convincing you to change funds. Friendly as they may be, they may be no friend to your long-term investment success.”

Unlike a lot of other investing books, which cover a few aspects to investing, Winning the Loser’s Game covers a gamut of crucial investment lessons in a straightforward, understandable fashion. A lot of people play the investing game, but as Charles Ellis details, many more investors and speculators lose than win. For any investor, from amateur to professional, reading Ellis’s Winning the Loser’s Game and following his philosophy will not only help increase the odds of your portfolio winning, but will also limit your losses in sleep hours.

investment-questions-border

http://www.Sidoxia.com

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 position in GS, 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 16, 2016 at 3:15 am 1 comment

10 Ways to Destroy Your Portfolio

With the increased frequency of heightened volatility, investing has never been as challenging as it is today. However, the importance of investing has never been more crucial either, due to rising life expectancies, corrosive effects of inflation, and the uncertainty surrounding the sustainability of  government programs like Social Security, Medicare, and pensions.

If you are not wasting enough money from our structurally flawed and loosely regulated investment industry that is inundated with conflicts of interest, here are 10 additional ways to destroy your investment portfolio:

#1. Watch and React to Sensationalist News Stories: Typically, strategists and pundits do a wonderful job of parroting the consensus du jour. With the advent of the internet, and 24/7 news cycles, it is difficult to not get caught up in the daily vicissitudes. However, the accuracy of the so-called media experts is no better than weather forecasters’ accuracy in predicting the weather three Saturdays from now at 10:23 a.m. Investors would be better served by listening to and learning from successful, seasoned veterans (see Investing Caffeine Profiles).

#2. Invest for the Short-Term and Attempt Market Timing: Investing is a marathon, and not a sprint, yet countless investors have the arrogance to believe they can time the market. A few get lucky and time the proper entry point, but the same investors often fail to time the appropriate exit point. The process works similarly in reverse, which hammers home the idea that you can be 200% wrong when you are constantly switching your portfolio positions.

#3. Blindly Invest Without Knowing Fees: Like a dripping faucet, fees, transaction costs, taxes, and other charges may not be noticeable in the short-run, but combined, these portfolio expenses can be devastating in the long-run. Whether you or your broker/advisor knowingly or unknowingly is churning your account, the practice should be immediately halted. Passive investment products and strategies like ETFs (Exchange Traded Funds), index funds, and low turnover (long time horizon / tax-efficient) investing strategies are the way to go for investors.

#4. Use Technical Analysis as a Primary Strategy: Warren Buffett openly recognizes the problem with technical analysis as evidenced by his statement, “I realized technical analysis didn’t work when I turned the charts upside down and didn’t get a different answer.” Legendary fund manager Peter Lynch adds, “Charts are great for predicting the past.” Most indicators are about as helpful as astrology, but in rare instances some facets can serve as a useful device (like a Lob Wedge in golf).

#5. Panic-Sell out of Fear & Panic-Buy out of Greed: Emotions can devastate portfolio returns when investors’ trading activity follows the herd in good times and bad. As the old saying goes, “The herd is lead to the slaughterhouse.” Gary Helms rightly identifies the role that overconfidence plays when ininvesting when he states,”If you have a great thought and write it down, it will look stupid 10 hours later.” The best investment returns are earned by traveling down the less followed path. Or as Rob Arnott describes, “In investing, what is comfortable is rarely profitable.” Get a broad range of opinions and continually test your investment thesis to make sure peer pressure is not driving key investment decisions.

#6. Ignore Valuation and Yield: Valuation is like good pitching in baseball…very important. Valuation may not cause all of your investments to win, but this factor should be an integral part of your investment process. Successful investors think about valuation similarly to skilled sports handicappers. Steven Crist summed it up beautifully when he said, “There are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ horses, just correctly or incorrectly priced ones.” The same principle applies to investments. Dividends and yields should not be overlooked – these elements are an essential part of an investor’s long-run total return.

#7. Buy and Forget: “Buy-and-hold” is good for stocks that go up in price, and bad for stocks that go flat or decline in value. Wow, how deeply profound. As I have written in the past, there are always reasons of why you should not invest for the long-term and instead sell your position, such as: 1) new competition; 2) cost pressures; 3) slowing growth; 4) management change; 5) excessive valuation; 6) change in industry regulation; 7) slowing economy; 8 ) loss of market share; 9) product obsolescence; 10) etc, etc, etc. You get the idea.

#8. Over-Concentrate Your Portfolio: If you own a top-heavy portfolio with large weightings, sleeping at night can be challenging, and also force average investors to make bad decisions at the wrong times (i.e., buy high and sell low). While over-concentration can be risky, over-diversification can eat away at performance as well – owning a 100 different mutual funds is costly and inefficient.

#9. Stuff Money Under Your Mattress: With interest rates at the lowest levels in a generation, stuffing money under the mattress in the form of CDs (Certificates of Deposit), money market accounts, and low-yielding Treasuries that are earning next to nothing is counter-productive for many investors. Compounding this problem is inflation, a silent killer that will quietly disintegrate your hard earned investment portfolio. In other words, a penny saved inefficiently will lead to a penny depreciating rapidly.

#10. Forget Your Mistakes: Investing is difficult enough without naively repeating the same mistakes. As Albert Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.” Mistakes will be made and it behooves investors to document them and learn from them. Brushing your mistakes under the carpet may make you temporarily feel better emotionally, but will not help your financial returns.

As the year approaches a close, do yourself a favor and evaluate whether you are committing any of these damaging habits. Investing is tough enough already, without adding further ways of destroying your portfolio.

investment-questions-border

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.

December 6, 2015 at 12:52 pm 17 comments

The Art of Catching Falling Knives

Knife Falling FreeImages

“In the middle of every difficulty lies an opportunity.”  ~Albert Einstein

It was a painful week for bullish investors in the stock market as evidenced by the -1,018 point drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, equivalent to approximately a -6% decline. The S&P 500 index did not fare any better, and the loss for the tech-heavy NASDAQ index was down closer to -7% for the week.

The media is attributing much of the short-term weakness to a triple Chinese whammy of factors: 1) Currency devaluation of the Yuan; 2) Weaker Chinese manufacturing data registering in at the lowest level in over six years; and 3) A collapsing Chinese stock market.

As the second largest economy on the planet, developments in China should not be ignored, however these dynamics should be put in the proper context. With respect to China’s currency devaluation, Scott Grannis at Calafia Beach Pundit puts the foreign exchange developments in proper perspective. If you consider the devaluation of the Yuan by -4%, this change only reverses a small fraction of the Chinese currency appreciation that has taken place over the last decade (see chart below). Grannis rightfully points out the -25% collapse in the value of the euro relative to the U.S. dollar is much more significant than the minor move in the Yuan.  Moreover, although the move by the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) makes America’s exports to China less cost competitive, this move by Chinese bankers is designed to address exactly what investors are majorly concern about – slowing growth in Asia.

Yuan vs Dollar 2015

Although the weak Chinese manufacturing data is disconcerting, this data is nothing new – the same manufacturing data has been very choppy over the last four years. On the last China issue relating to its stock market, investors should be reminded that despite the massive decline in the Shanghai Composite, the index is still up by more than +50% versus a year ago (see chart below)

Shanghai Composite 8-2015

Fear the Falling Knife?

Given the fresh carnage in the U.S. and foreign markets, is now the time for investors to attempt to catch a falling knife? Catching knives for a living can be a dangerous profession, and many investors – professionals and amateurs alike – have lost financial fingers and blood by attempting to prematurely purchase plummeting securities. Rather than trying to time the market, which is nearly impossible to do consistently, it’s more important to have a disciplined, unemotional investing framework in place.

Hall of Fame investor Peter Lynch sarcastically highlighted the difficulty in timing the market, “I can’t recall ever once having seen the name of a market timer on Forbes‘ annual list of the richest people in the world. If it were truly possible to predict corrections, you’d think somebody would have made billions by doing it.”

Readers of my blog, Investing Caffeine understand I am a bottom-up investor when it comes to individual security selection with the help of our proprietary S.H.G.R. model, but those individual investment decisions are made within Sidoxia’s broader, four-pronged macro framework (see also Don’t be a Fool, Follow the Stool). As a reminder, driving our global views are the following four factors: a) Profits; b) Interest rates; c) Sentiment; and Valuations. Currently, two of the four indicators are flashing green (Interest rates and Sentiment), and the other two are neutral (Profits and Valuations).

  • Profits (Neutral): Profits are at record highs, but a strong dollar, weak energy sector, and sluggish growth internationally have slowed the trajectory of earnings.
  • Valuation (Neutral): At an overall P/E of about 18x’s profits for the S&P 500, current valuations are near historical averages. For CAPE investors who have missed the tripling in stock prices, you can reference prior discussions (see CAPE Smells Like BS). I could make the case that stocks are very attractive with a 6% earnings yield (inverse P/E ratio) compared to a 2% 10—Year Treasury bond, but I’ll take off my rose-colored glasses.
  • Interest Rates (Positive): Rates are at unambiguously low levels, which, all else equal, is a clear-cut positive for all cash generating asset classes, including stocks. With an unmistakably “dovish” Federal Reserve in place, whether the 0.25% interest rate hike comes next month, or next year will have little bearing on the current shape of the yield curve. Chairman Yellen has made it clear the trajectory of rate increases will be very gradual, so it will take a major shift in economic trends to move this factor into Neutral or Negative territory.
  • Sentiment (Positive): Following the investment herd can be very dangerous for your financial health. We saw that in spades during the late-1990s in the technology industry and also during the mid-2000s in the housing sector. As Warren Buffett says, it is best to “buy fear and sell greed” – last week we saw a lot of fear.

In addition to the immense outflows out of stock funds (see also Great Rotation) , panic was clearly evident in the market last week as shown by the Volatility Index (VIX), a.k.a., the “Fear Gauge.” In general, volatility over the last five years has been on a declining trend, however every 6-12 months, some macro concern inevitably rears its ugly head and volatility spikes higher. With the VIX exploding higher by an amazing +118% last week to a level of 28.03, it is proof positive how quickly sentiment can change in the stock market.

Not much in the investing world works exactly like science, but buying stocks during previous fear spikes, when the VIX level exceeds 20, has been a very lucrative strategy. As you can see from the chart below, there have been numerous occasions over the last five years when the over-20 level has been breached, which has coincided with temporary stock declines in the range of -8%  to -22%. However, had you held onto stocks, without adding to them, you would have earned an +84% return (excluding dividends) in the S&P 500 index. Absent the 2011 period, when investors were simultaneously digesting a debt downgrade, deep European recession, and domestic political fireworks surrounding a debt ceiling, these periods of elevated volatility have been relatively short-lived.

Whether this will be the absolute best time to buy stocks is tough to say. Stocks are falling like knives, and in many instances prices have been sliced by more than -10%, -20%, or -30%. It’s time to compile your shopping list, because valuations in many areas are becoming more compelling and eventually gravity will run its full course. That’s when your strategy needs to shift from avoiding the falling knives to finding the bouncing tennis balls…excuse me while I grab my tennis racket.

Investment Questions Border

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs) including emerging market/Chinese ETFs, 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.

August 22, 2015 at 7:40 pm Leave a comment

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