Posts tagged ‘valuation’

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

Netflix: Burn It and They Will Come

Baseball Field Morgue

In the successful, but fictional movie, Fields of Dreams, an Iowa farmer played by actor Kevin Costner is told by voices to build a field for baseball playing ghosts. After the baseball diamond is completed, the team of Chicago White Sox ghosts, including Shoeless Joe Jackson, come to play.

Well, in the case of the internet streaming giant Netflix Inc (NFLX), instead of chasing ghosts, the company continues to chase the ghosts of profitability. Netflix’s share price has already soared +63% this year as the company continues to burn hundreds of millions in cash, while aggressively building out its international streaming footprint. Unlike Kevin Costner, Netflix investors are likely to eventually get spooked by the by the stratospheric valuation and bleeding cash.

At Sidoxia, we may be a dying breed, but our primary focus is on finding market leading franchises that are growing cash flows at reasonable valuations. In sticking with my nostalgic movie quoting, I believe as Cuba Gooding Jr. does in the classic movie, Jerry Maguire, “Show me the money!” Unfortunately for Netflix, right now the only money to be shown is the money getting burned.

Burn It and They Will Come

Money Burning

In a little over three years, Netflix has burned over -$350 million in cash, added $2 billion in debt, and spent approximately -$11 billion on streaming content (about -$4.6 billion alone in the last 12 months). As the hemorrhaging of cash accelerates (-$163 million in the recent quarter), investors with valuation dementia have bid up Netflix shares to a head-scratching 350x’s estimated earnings this year and a still mind-boggling valuation of 158x’s 2016 Wall Street earnings estimates of $3.53 per share. Of course the questionable valuation built on accounting smoke and mirrors looks even more absurd, if you base it on free cash flow…because Netflix has none. What makes the Netflix story even scarier is that on top of the rising $2.4 billion in debt anchored on their balance sheet, Netflix also has commitments to purchase an additional $9.8 billion in streaming content in the coming years.

For the time being, investors are enamored with Netflix’s growing revenues and subscribers. I’ve seen this movie before (no pun intended), in the late 1990s when investors would buy growth with reckless neglect of valuation. For those of you who missed it, the ending wasn’t pretty. What’s causing the financial stress at Netflix? It’s fairly simple. Beyond the spending like drunken sailors on U.S. television and movie content (third party and original), the company is expanding aggressively internationally.

The open check book writing began in 2010 when Netflix started their international expansion in Canada. Since then, the company has launched their service in Latin America, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Finland, Denmark, Sweden Norway, Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Australia, and New Zealand.

With all this international expansion behind Netflix, investors should surely be able to breathe a sigh of relief by now…right? Wrong. David Wells, Netflix’s CFO had this to say in the company’s recent investor conference call. Not only have international losses worsened by 86% in the recent quarter, “You should expect those losses to trend upward and into 2016.” Excellent, so the horrific losses should only deteriorate for another year or so…yay.

While Netflix is burning hundreds of millions in cash, the well documented streaming competition is only getting worse. This begs the question, what is Netflix’s real competitive advantage? I certainly don’t believe it is the company’s ability to borrow billions of dollars and write billions in content checks – we are seeing plenty of competitors repeating the same activity. Here is a partial list of the ever-expanding streaming and cord-cutting competitive offerings:

  • Amazon Prime Instant Video (AMZN)
  • Apple TV (AAPL)
  • Hulu
  • Sony Vue
  • HBO Now
  • Sling TV (through Dish Network – DISH)
  • CBS Streaming
  • YouTube (GOOG)
  • Nickelodeon Streaming

Sadly for Netflix, this more challenging competitive environment is creating a content bidding war, which is squeezing Netflix’s margins. But wait, say the Netflix bulls. I should focus my attention on the company’s expanding domestic streaming margins. This is true, if you carelessly ignore the accounting gimmicks that Netflix CFO David Wells freely acknowledges. On the recent investor call, here is Wells’s description of the company’s expense diversion trickery by geography:

“So by growing faster internationally, and putting that [content expense] allocation more towards international, it’s going to provide some relief to those global originals, and the global projects that we do have, that are allocated to the U.S.”

 

In other words, Wells admits shoving a lot of domestic content costs into the international segment to make domestic profit margins look better (higher).  Longer term, perhaps this allocation could make some sense, but for now I’m not convinced viewers in Luxembourg are watching Orange is the New Black and House of Cards like they are in the U.S.

Technology: Amazon Doing the Heavy Lifting

If check writing and accounting diversions aren’t a competitive advantage, does Netflix have a technology advantage? That’s tough to believe when Netflix effectively outsources all their distribution technology to Amazon.com Inc (AMZN).

Here’s how Netflix describes their technology relationship with Amazon:

“We run the vast majority of our computing on [Amazon Web Services] AWS. Given this, along with the fact that we cannot easily switch our AWS operations to another cloud provider, any disruption of or interference with our use of AWS would impact our operations and our business would be adversely impacted. While the retail side of Amazon competes with us, we do not believe that Amazon will use the AWS operation in such a manner as to gain competitive advantage against our service.”

 

Call me naïve, but something tells me Amazon could be stealing some secret pointers and best practices from Netflix’s operations and applying them to their Amazon Prime Instant Video offering. Nah, probably not. Like Netflix said, Amazon wouldn’t steal anything to gain a competitive advantage…never.

Regardless, the real question surrounding Netflix should focus on whether a $35 billion valuation should be awarded to a money losing content portal that distributes content through Amazon? For comparison purposes, Netflix is currently valued at 20% more than Viacom Inc (VIA), the owner of valuable franchises and brands like Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon, MTV, Comedy Central, BET, VH1, Spike, and more. Viacom, which was spun off from CBS 44 years ago, actually generated about $2.5 billion in cash last year and paid out about a half billion dollars in dividends. Quite a stark contrast compared to a company accelerating its cash losses.

I openly admit Netflix is a wonderful service, and I have been a loyal, longtime subscriber myself. But a good service does not necessarily equate to a good stock. And despite being short the stock, Sidoxia is actually long the company’s bonds. It’s certainly possible (and likely) Netflix’s stock will underperform from today’s nosebleed valuation, but under almost any scenario I can imagine, I have a difficult time foreseeing an outcome in which Netflix would go bankrupt by 2021. Bond investors currently agree, which explains why my Netflix bonds are trading at a 5% premium to par.

Netflix stockholders, and crazy disciples like Mark Cuban, on the other hand, may have more to worry about in the coming quarters. CEO Reed Hastings is sticking to his “burn it and they will come” strategy at all costs, but if profits and cash don’t begin to pile up quickly, then Netflix’s “Field of Dreams” will turn into a “Field of Nightmares.”

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), AAPL, GOOGL, AMZN, long Netflix bond position, long Dish Corp bond, and a short position in NFLX, but at the time of publishing, SCM had no direct position in VIA, TWX, SNE, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

April 25, 2015 at 11:42 pm Leave a comment

Why Buy at Record Highs?  Ask the Fat Turkey

 

Turkey Stuffed

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complementary newsletter (December 1, 2014). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

I’ve fulfilled my American Thanksgiving duty by gorging myself on multiple helpings of turkey, mash potatoes, and pumpkin pie. Now that I have loosened my belt a few notches, I have had time to reflect on the generous servings of stock returns this year (S&P 500 index up +11.9%), on top of the whopping +104.6% gains from previous 5 years (2009-2013).

Conventional wisdom believes the Federal Reserve has artificially inflated the stock market. Given the perceived sky-high record stock prices, many investors are biting their nails in anticipation of an impending crash. The evidence behind the nagging investor skepticism can be found in the near-record low stock ownership statistics; dismal domestic equity fund purchases; and apathetic investor survey data (see Market Champagne Sits on Ice).

Turkey-lovers are in a great position to understand the predicted stock crash expected by many of the naysayers. As you can see from the chart below, the size of turkeys over the last 50+ years has reached a record weight – and therefore record prices per turkey:

Source: The Atlantic

Source: The Atlantic

Does a record size in turkeys mean turkey meat prices are doomed for an imminent price collapse? Absolutely not. A key reason turkey prices have hit record levels is because Thanksgiving stomachs have been buying fatter and fatter turkeys every year. The same phenomenon is happening in the stock market. The reason stock prices have continued to move higher and higher is because profits have grown fatter and fatter every year (see chart below). Profits in corporate America have never been higher. CEOs are sitting on trillions of dollars of cash, and providing stock-investors with growing plump dividends (see also The Gift that Keeps on Giving), $100s of billions in shareholder friendly stock buybacks, while increasingly taking leftover profits to invest in growth initiatives (e.g., technology investments, international expansion, and job hiring).

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit 

Despite record turkey prices, I will make the bold prediction that hungry Americans will continue to buy turkey. More important than the overall price paid per turkey, the statistic that consumers should be paying more attention to is the turkey price paid per pound. Based on that more relevant metric, the data on turkey prices is less conclusive. In fact, turkey prices are estimated to be -13% cheaper this year on a per pound basis compared to last year ($1.58/lb vs. $1.82/lb).

The equivalent price per pound metric in the stock market is called the Price-Earnings (P/E) ratio, which is the price paid by a stock investor per $1 of profits (or earnings). Today that P/E ratio sits at approximately 17.5x. As you can see from the chart below, the current P/E ratio is reasonably near historical averages experienced over the last 50+ years. While, all else equal, anyone would prefer paying a lower price per pound (or price per $1 in earnings), any objective person looking at the current P/E ratio would have difficulty concluding recent stock prices are in “bubble” territory.

However, investor doubters who have missed the record bull run in stock market prices over the last five years (+210% since early 2009) have clung to a distorted, overpriced measurement called the CAPE or Shiller P/E ratio. Readers of my Investing Caffeine blog or newsletters know why this metric is misleading and inaccurate (see also Shiller CAPE Peaches Smell).

Don’t Be an Ostrich

denial

While prices of stocks arguably remain reasonably priced for many Baby Boomers and retirees, the conclusion should not be to gorge 100% of investment portfolios into stocks. Quite the contrary. Everyone’s situation is unique, and every investor should customize a globally diversified portfolio beyond just stocks, including areas like fixed income, real estate, alternative investments, and commodities. But the exposures don’t stop there, because in order to truly have the diversified shock absorbers in your portfolio necessary for a bumpy long-term ride, investors need exposure to other areas. Such areas should include international and emerging market geographies; a diverse set of styles (e.g., Value, Growth, Blue Chip dividend-payers); and a healthy ownership across small, medium, and large equities. The same principles apply to your bond portfolio. Steps need to be taken to control credit risk and interest rate risk in a globally diversified fashion, while also providing adequate income (yield) in an environment of generationally low interest rates.

While I’ve spent a decent amount of time talking about eating fat turkeys, don’t let your investment portfolio become stuffed. The year-end time period is always a good time, after recovering from a food coma, to proactively review your investments. While most non-vegetarians love eating turkey, don’t be an investment ostrich with your head in the sand – now is the time to take actions into your own hands and make sure your investments are properly allocated.

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 a range of positions in certain exchange traded fund positions, 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 1, 2014 at 1:49 pm Leave a comment

Hunting for Tennis Balls and Dead Cats

Tennis Cat Pic

When it comes to gravity, people understand what goes up, must come down. But the reverse is not always true for stocks. What goes down, does not necessarily need to come back up. Since the 2008-09 financial crisis there have been a large group of multi-billion dollar behemoth stocks that have defied gravity, but over the last few months, many of these highfliers have come back to earth. Despite the pause in some of these major technology, consumer, and internet stocks, the overall stock market appears relatively calm. In fact, the Dow Jones Industrials index is currently sitting at all-time record highs and the S&P 500 index is hovering around -1% from its peak. But below the surface, there is a large undercurrent resulting in an enormous rotation out of pricier momentum and growth stocks into more defensive and yield-heavy sectors of the market, like utilities and real estate.

To expose this concealed trend I have highlighted a group of 20 stocks below, valued at close to half a trillion dollars. Over the last 12 months, this selective group of technology, consumer, and internet stocks have lost over -$200,000,000,000 from their peak values. Here’s a look at the highlighted stocks:

Tennis Ball Dead Cat FINAL 5-14

With respect to all the punished stocks, the dilemma for investors amidst this depreciating price carnage is how to profitably hunt for the bouncing tennis balls while avoiding the dead cat bounces. By hunting bouncing tennis balls, I am referring to the identification of those companies that have crashed from indiscriminate selling, even though the companies’ positive business fundamentals remain fully intact. The so-called dead cats reflect those overpriced companies that lack the earnings power or trajectory to support a rebounding stock price. Like a cat falling from a high-rise building, there may exist a possibility of a small rebound, but for many severely broken momentum stocks, minor bounces are often short-lived.

For long-term investors, much of the recent rotation is healthy. Some of the froth I’ve been writing about in the biotech, internet, and technology has been mitigated. As a result, in many instances, outrageous or rich stock valuations have now become fairly priced or attractive.

Profiting from Collapses

Many investors do not realize that some of the greatest stocks of all-time have suffered multiple -50% drops before subsequently doubling, tripling, quadrupling or better. History provides many rebounding tennis ball examples, but let’s take a brief look at the Apple Inc. (AAPL) chart from 1980 – 2005 to drive home the point:

Apple 1980 - 2005

As you can see, there were at least five occasions when the stock got chopped in half (or worse) over the selected timeframe and another five occasions when the stock doubled (or better), including a +935% explosion in the 1997–2000 period, and a +503% advance from 2002–2005 when shares reached $45. The numbers get kookier when you consider Apple’s share price eventually reached $700 and closed early last week above $600.

These feast and famine patterns can be discovered for virtually all of the greatest all-time stocks. The massive volatility explains why it’s so difficult to stick with theses long-term winners. A more recent example of a tennis ball bounce would be Facebook Inc (FB). The -58% % plummet from its $42 IPO peak has been well-documented, and despite the more recent -21% pullback, the stock is still up +223% from its $18 lows.

On the flip side, an example of a dead cat bounce would include Cisco Systems Inc (CSCO). After the bursting of the 2000 technology bubble, Cisco has never fully recovered from its $82 peak value. There have been many fits and starts, including some periods of 50% declines and 100% gains, but due to excessive valuations in the late 1990s and changing competitive trends, Cisco still sits at $23 today (see chart below).

Slide1

It is important to remember that just because a stock goes down -50% in value doesn’t mean that it’s going to double or triple in value in the future. Price momentum can drive a stock in the short run, but in the long run, the important variables to track closely are cash flows and earnings (see It’s the Earnings, Stupid) . The level and direction of these factors ultimately correlate best with the ultimate fair value of stock prices. Therefore, if you are fishing in the growth or momentum stock pond, make sure to do your homework after a stock price collapses. It’s imperative that you carefully hunt down rebounding tennis balls and avoid the dead cat bounces.

 

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold long positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), AMZN, long NFLX bond, short NFLX stock, short LULU, and long CSCO (in a non-discretionary account), but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in TWTR, GRPN, YELP, ATHN, AVP, P, LNKD, BBY, ZNGA, WDAY, WFM, N, SSYS, JDSU, COH, CRM, FB or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

May 11, 2014 at 12:23 am 1 comment

The Treadmill Market – Jogging in Place

Treadmill

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complementary newsletter (April 1, 2014). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

After the stock market raced ahead to about a +30% gain last year, it became clear this meteoric trend was not sustainable into perpetuity. Correct investing should be treated more like a marathon than a sprint. After dashing ahead by more than +100% over the last handful of years, 2014 stock prices took a breather by spending the first quarter jogging in place. Like a runner on the treadmill, year-to-date returns equated to a -0.7% for the Dow Jones Industrial Average index, and +1.3% for the S&P index. Digesting the large gains from previous years, despite making no discernable forward progress this quarter, is a healthy exercise that builds long-term portfolio endurance. As far as I’m concerned, nothing in life worthwhile comes easy, and the first three months of the year have demonstrated this principle.

As I’ve written in the past (see Series of Unfortunate Events), there is never a shortage of issues to worry about. The first few months of 2014 have been no exception. Vladimir Putin’s strong armed military backed takeover of Crimea, coupled with the Federal Reserve’s unwinding $30 billion of the $85 billion of its “Quantitative Easing” bond buying program (i.e. tapering) have contributed to investors’ nervousness. When the “Fairy Godmother of the Bull Market,” Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, hinted at potentially raising interest rates in about 12 months, the mood soured further.

The unseasonably cold winter back east (a.k.a., Polar Vortex) has caused some additional jitters due to the dampening effects on economic conditions. More specifically, economic growth as measured by GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is expected to come in around a meager +2.0% rate during the first quarter of 2014, before picking up later in the year.

And if that isn’t enough, best-selling author Michael Lewis, whose books include Money Ball, The Blind Side, and Liar’s Poker, just came out on national television and sparked a debate with his controversial statement that the “stock market is rigged.” (read and listen more here)

Runners High

But as always, not everything is gloom and doom. Offsetting the temporary price fatigue, resilient record corporate profits have supported the surprising market stamina. Like a runner’s high, corporations are feeling elated about historically elevated profit margins. As you can see from the chart below, the reason it’s prudent for most to have some U.S. equity exposure is due to the clear, upward multi-decade trend of U.S. corporate earnings.

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit (gray areas are recessions)  

Source: Calafia Beach Plundit (gray areas are recessions)

While the skeptics wait for these game-ending dynamics to take root, core economic fundamentals in areas like these remain strong:I didn’t invent the idea of profits impacting the stock market, but the concept is simple: stock prices generally follow earnings over long periods of time (see It’s the Earnings, Stupid). In other words, as profits accelerate, so do stock prices – and the opposite holds true (decelerating earnings leads to price declines). This direct relationship normally holds over the long-run as long as the following conditions are not in place: 1) valuations are stretched; 2) a recession is imminent; and/or 3) interest rates are spiking.  Fortunately for long-term investors, there is no compelling evidence of these factors currently in place.

Employment Adrenaline

The employment outlook received a boost of adrenaline last month. Despite the slight upward nudge in the unemployment rate to 6.7%, total nonfarm payroll jobs increased by +175,000 in February versus a +129,000 gain in January and an +84,000 gain in December. Not only was last month’s increase better than expectations, but the net figures calculated over the previous two months were also revised higher by +25,000 jobs. As you can see below, the improvement since 2009 has been fairly steady, but as the current rate flirts with the Fed’s 6.5% target, Chair Yellen has decided to remove the quantitative objective. The rising number of discouraged workers (i.e., voluntarily opt-out of job searching) and part-timers has distorted the numbers, rendering arbitrary numeric targets less useful.

Housing Holding Strong

In the face of the severe winter weather, the feisty housing market remains near multi-year highs as shown in the 5-month moving average housing start figure below. With the spring selling season upon us, we should be able to better gauge the impact of cold weather and higher mortgage rates on the housing market.

Even though stock market investors found themselves jogging in place during the first quarter of the year, long-term investors are building up endurance as corporate profits and the economy continue to consistently grow in the background. Successful investors must realize stock prices cannot sustainably sprint for long periods of time without eventually hitting a wall and collapsing. Those who recognize investing as a marathon sport, rather than a mad dash, will be able to jump off the treadmill and ultimately reach their financial finish line.

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold long positions in certain exchange traded funds (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.

April 5, 2014 at 12:02 am Leave a comment

Investing, Housing, and Speculating

House Dollar Sign

We all know there was a lot of speculation going on in the housing market during 2005-2007 as risk-loving adventurists loaded up on NINJA loans (No Income, No Job, and No Assets) and subprime CDS (Credit Default Swap) securities. But there is a different kind of speculation going on now, and it isn’t tied directly to housing. Instead of buying a house with no down payment and a no interest loan, speculators are leaping into other hazardous areas of danger. Like a frog jumping from lily pad to lily pad, speculators are now hopping around onto money-chasing industries, including biotech, social media, Bitcoin, and alternative energy.

As French novelist Jean-Baptise Alphonse Karr noted, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Irrespective of the painful consequences of the bubble-bursting aftermaths, human behavior and psychology addictively succumb to the ever-seductive emotion of greed. Over the last 15 years, massive fortunes have been gained and lost while chasing frothy financial dreams in areas like technology, housing, and gold.

Most get-rich-quick dream chasers have no idea of how to invest in or value a stock, but they sure know a good story when they hear one. Chasing top performing stocks is lot like jumping off a bridge – anyone can do it, and it feels exhilarating until you hit the ground. However, there is a better way to create wealth. Despite rampant speculation, most individuals understand the principles behind buying a house, which if applied to stocks, can make you a superior investor, and assist you in avoiding dangerous, speculative investments.

Here are some valuable housing insights to improve your stock buying:

#1.) Price is the Almighty Variable: Successful real estate investors don’t make their fortunes by chasing properties that double or triple in value. Buying a rusty tool shed for $1 million makes about as much sense as Facebook paying $19 billion (1,000 x’s the estimated 2013 annual revenues) for a money-losing company, WhatsApp. Better to buy real estate when there is blood in the street. Like the stock market, housing is cyclical. Many traders believe that price patterns are more important than the actual price. If squiggly, technical price moving averages (see Technical Analysis article) make so much money for stock-renting speculators, then how come day traders haven’t used their same crossing-lines and Point & Figure software in the housing market? Yes, it’s true that the real estate transactions costs and illiquidity can be costly for real estate buyers, but 6% load fees, lockup periods, 20% hedge fund fees, and 9% margin rates haven’t stopped stock speculators either.

#2). Cash is King: It doesn’t take a genius to purchase a rental property – I know because practically half the people I know in Southern California own rental properties. For example, if I buy a rental property for $1 million cash, is it a good purchase? Well, it depends on how much after-tax cash I can collect by renting it out? If I can only net $3,000 per month (3.6% annualized return), and be responsible for replacing roofs, fixing toilets, and evicting tenants, then perhaps I would be better off by collecting 6.5% from a low-cost, tax-efficient exchange traded real estate fund, without having to suffer from all the headaches that physical real estate investing brings. Forecasting future asset price appreciation is tougher, but the point is, understanding the underlying cash flow dynamics of a company is just as important as it is for housing purchases.

#3). Debt/Leverage Cuts in Both Directions: Adding debt (or leverage) to a housing or stock investment can be fantastic if prices go up, and disastrous if prices go down. Putting a 20% down payment on a $1 million house works out wonderfully, if the price of the house increases to $1.2 million. My $200,000 down payment is now worth $400,000, or up +100%. The same math works in reverse. If the price of the home drops to $800,000, then my $200,000 down payment is now worth $0, or down -100% (ouch). Margin debt on an equity brokerage account works in a similar fashion, but usually a 50% down payment is needed (less risky than real estate). That’s why I always chuckle when many real estate investors tell me they steer clear of stocks because they are “too risky”.

#4). Growth Matters: If you buy a home for $1 million, is it likely to be worth more if you add a kitchen, tennis court, swimming pull, third floor, and putting green? In short, the answer is yes. The same principle applies to stocks. All else equal, if a company based in Los Angeles, establishes new offices in New York, London, Beijing, and Rio de Janeiro, and then acquires a profitable competitor at a discounted price, chances are the company will be much more valuable after the additions. The key concept here is that asset values are not static. Asset valuations are impacted in both directions, whether we are talking about positive growth opportunities or negative disruptions.

Overall, speculatively chasing performance is tempting, but if you don’t want your financial foundation to crumble, then build your successful investment future by sticking to the fundamentals and financial basics.

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

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

March 15, 2014 at 10:00 am 1 comment

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