Posts tagged ‘Wall Street Journal’

More Eggs in Basket May Crack Portfolio

NOT putting all your eggs in one basket makes intuitive sense to many investors. Burton Malkiel, Princeton Professor, economist, and author, summed it up succinctly, “Diversity reduces adversity.” Diversification acts like shock absorbers on a car – it smoothens out the ride on a bumpy financial road (read more on diversification). Jason Zweig, Wall Street Journal writer, acknowledges the academic findings that underpin these diversification benefits by stating the following:

“As many studies have shown, at least 40% of the variability in returns can be reduced by moving from a single company to 20. Once a portfolio contains 20 or 30 stocks, adding more does little to damp the fluctuations in wealth over time.”

 

Despite the evidence, Jason Zweig explores the conventional views on diversification more closely. 

Turning the Diversification Concept on its Head

Zweig, not satisfied with the standard thinking on the topic, decided to explore the work of Don Chance, a finance professor at the Louisiana State University business school. Professor Chance asked more than 200 students to consecutively select stocks until they each held a portfolio of 30 positions. Here are two of the main findings:

1)      Averages Hold Firm: On average, for the group of students, diversifying from a single stock to 20 reduced portfolio risk by roughly 40% – just as would be expected from the academic research.

2)      Individual Portfolios Riskier: After the first few initial stock picks, for each individual portfolio, were made from a list of large cap household names (e.g., XOM, SBUX, NKE), Professor Chance found in many instances students dramatically increased portfolio risk. These students juiced up the octane in their portfolios by venturing into much smaller, more volatile stock selections.

Deceiving Diversification

Gur Huberman, a Columbia Finance Professor also points out a tendency for investors to clump stock selections together in groups with similar risk profiles, thereby reducing diversification benefits. Diversifying from one banking stock to 20 banking stocks may actually do more damage. Statistically, Zweig points out, “Thirteen percent of the time, a 20-stock portfolio generated by computer will be riskier than a one-stock portfolio.”

Professor Chance found similar results according to Zweig:

“One in nine times, they [students] ended up with 30-stock portfolios that were riskier than the single company they had started with. For 23%, the final 30-stock basket fluctuated more than it had with only five stocks.”

 

Diversified Views on Diversification

Chance and Huberman are not the only professionals to question the benefits of diversification:

Warren Buffett: A diversification skeptic declares, “Put all your eggs in one basket and then watch that basket very carefully.” Alternatively, Buffett says, “Diversification is protection against ignorance.”

Peter Lynch: He referred to diversification as “deworsification,” especially when it came to companies diversifying into non-core businesses.

Charlie Munger: “Wide diversification, which necessarily includes investment in mediocre businesses, only guarantees ordinary results.”

Zweig’s Solution:  

“If you want to pick stocks directly, put 90% to 95% of your money in a total stock-market index fund. Put the rest in three to five stocks, at most, that you can follow closely and hold patiently. Beyond a handful, more companies may well leave you less diversified.”

 

Portfolio diversification and concentration have been issues studied for decades. As you can see, there are different viewpoints regarding the benefits. As Zweig establishes, through the research of Don Chance, putting more eggs in your basket may actually crack your portfolio, not protect it.

Read Complete WSJ Jason Zweig Article

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 time of publishing had no direct positions in XOM, SBUX, BRKA/B or NKE. 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 2, 2009 at 2:00 am 1 comment

Metamorphosis of a Bear into Bull

Picture Source: The Wall Street Journal (Mick Coulas)

Picture Source: The Wall Street Journal (Mick Coulas)

James Grant, a self-admitted, “glass half-full kind of fellow,” recently contributed a Wall Street Journal article predicting the economic recovery will be a “bit of a barn burner.” Traditionally a pessimist, he recently experienced the metamorphosis from a bear to a bull. James Grant is a multi-book author who has written for the Interest Rate Observer for more than 25 years with thoughtful observations on economics and interest rates. With a value-tilted investment philosophy, Mr. Grant prides himself as a contrarian and anti-CNBC advocate.

Current Environment

Markets have transitioned from sheer panic (what Grant calls the “bomb shelter”) to a manageable utter fear – meaning a lot of investors still have cash stuffed under the mattress in low yielding money market and CD (Certificates of Deposit) accounts. This bed cash will ultimately act as dry powder to ignite the market higher, should earnings and macroeconomic variables continue to improve. Despite the approximate 60% index bounce from the March 2009 lows, the S&P 500 still remains more than 30% below the late 2007 highs.

Glass Half Empty Crowd

Skeptics of the market advance generally fall into one of the following buckets:

1)      Armageddon is coming, just wait. Our country is choking on too much debt.

2)      The stock market advance is merely a bear market rally within a secular bear market.

3)      Rally fueled by temporary stimulus, which once it dries up will lead to another recession and bear market.

4)      Earnings results that are coming in better than expected are merely coming from unsustainable cost-cutting.

Grant’s Rose-Colored Glasses

James Grant has a different view of the unfolding recovery in light of historical cycle patterns:

“Growth snapped back following the depressions of 1893-94, 1907-08, 1920-21 and 1929-33. If ugly downturns made for torpid recoveries, as today’s economists suggest, the economic history of this country would have to be rewritten.”

 

Consistent with Mr. Grant’s views, Michael T. Darda, chief economist of MKM Partners stated “The most important determinant of the strength of an economy recovery is the depth of the downturn that preceded it. There are no exceptions to this rule, including the 1929-1939 period.” Grant goes on to compare the current recession with the 1981-82 variety:

“[During] the first three months of 1982, real GDP shrank at an annual rate of 6.4%, matching the steepest drop of the current recession, which was registered in the first quarter of 2009. Yet the Reagan recovery, starting in the first quarter of 1983, rushed along at quarterly growth rates (expressed as annual rates of change) over the next six quarters of 5.1%, 9.3%, 8.1%, 8.5%, 8.0% and 7.1%. Not until the third quarter of 1984 did real quarterly GDP growth drop below 5%.”

 

Further support for a stronger than anticipated recovery is provided via data supplied by the Economic Cycle Research Institute:

“The institute’s long leading index of the U.S. economy, along with supporting sub-indices, are making 26-year highs and point to the strongest bounce-back since 1983. A second nonconformist, the previously cited Mr. Darda, notes that the last time a recession ravaged the labor market as badly as this one has, the years were 1957-58 —after which, payrolls climbed by a hefty 4.5% in the first year of an ensuing 24-month expansion.”

 

Mr. Grant does not promise as large a recovery implied by Mr. Darda, but historical standards point in that direction, especially when you factor in vast pools of cash and cautious prognosticators and economists such as Ben Bernanke, Warren Buffett, and Paul Volcker. These financial “giants” have not deterred Mr. Grant’s metamorphosis from a bear to a bull.

Click Here to Read Full Grant WSJ Article

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

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

September 21, 2009 at 4:00 am 1 comment

Stock Market Nirvana: Butter in Bangladesh

Butter

Hallelulah to Jason Zweig at The Wall Street Journal for tackling the subject of data mining through his interview with David Leinweber, author of Nerds on Wall Street. All this talk about Goldman Sachs, High Frequency Trading (HFT) and quantitative models is making my head spin and distorting the true value of data modeling. Quantitative modeling should serve as a handy device in your tool-box, not a robotic “black box” solely relied on for buy and sell recommendations. As the article points out, all types of sites and trading platforms are hawking their proprietary tools and models du jour.

The problem with many of these models, even for the ones that work, is that financial market behavior and factors are constantly changing. Therefore any strategy exploiting outsized profits will eventually be discovered by other financial vultures and exploited away. As Mr. Leinweber points out, these models become meaningless if the data is sliced and diced to form manipulated relationships and predictive advice that make no sense.

Butter in Bangladesh: To drive home the shortcomings of data mining, Leinweber uses a powerful example in his book, Nerds on Wall Street, of butter production in Bangladesh. In searching for the most absurd data possible to explain the returns of the S&P 500 index, Leinweiber discovered that butter production in Bangladesh was an excellent predictor of stock market returns, explaining 75% of the variation of historical returns. The Wall Street Journal goes onto add:

By tossing in U.S. cheese production and the total population of sheep in both Bangladesh and the U.S., Mr. Leinweber was able to “predict” past U.S. stock returns with 99% accuracy.

 

For some money managers, the satirical stab Leinweber was making with the ridiculous analysis was lost in translation –  after the results were introduced Leinweber had multiple people request his dairy-sheep model. “A distressing number of people don’t get that it was a joke,” Leinweber sighed.

Super Bowl Crystal Ball: Leinweber is not the first person to discover the illogical use of meaningless factors in quantitative models. Industry observers have noticed stocks tend to perform well in years the old National Football league team wins the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, this year we had two “old” NFL teams play each other (Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals). Oops, I guess we need to readjust those models again.

NFL Data mining

Other bizarre studies have been done linking stock market performance to the number of nine-year-olds living in the U.S. and another linking positive stock market returns to smog reduction.

Data Mining Avoidance Rules:

1)    Sniff Test: The data results have to make sense.  Correlation between variables does not necessarily equate to causation.

2)    Cut Data into Slices: By dividing the data into pieces, you can see how robust the relationships are across the whole data set.

3)    Account for Costs: The results may look wonderful, but the model creator must verify the inclusion of all trading costs, fees, and taxes to increase confidence results will work in the real world.

4)    Let Data Brew: What looks good on paper might not work in real life. “If a strategy’s worthwhile,” Mr. Leinweber says, “then it’ll still be worthwhile in six months or a year.”

Not everyone has a PhD in statistics, however you don’t need one to skeptically ask tough questions. Doing so will help avoid the buried land mines in many quantitative models. Happy butter churning…

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

Read Full WSJ Article Here

See WSJ Video Interview Here

August 11, 2009 at 4:00 am 5 comments

Ooops…Siegel Data Questioned

crash shell egg

 Professor Jeremy Siegel is well-known in large part due to his famed book, “Stocks for the Long Run,” which Siegel uses as a foundation for his assertion that stocks have dramatically outperformed bonds since 1802. Siegel has four versions of his book, but the basic conclusion is that stocks have averaged about a 7% annual return (approximately 10% after accounting for inflation) versus around 4% for bonds, over a two hundred plus year timeframe. One problem – the validity of 69 years of the data (1802 – 1870) are now being questioned.

Siegel

Any Utopian study or mathematical model is only as valuable as the data that goes into it. “Garbage in” will result in “garbage out.” According to a Wall Street Journal article (Does Stock-Market Data Really Go Back 200 Years?) written by Jason Zweig, the index data used by Siegel was too narrow on an industry basis and involved too few stocks (e.g., primarily banks, insurance and transportation stocks).  In addition, the reliability of the conclusions is being second guessed because the data used by Professor Siegel starting back as far as 1802 were compiled decades ago by two separate economists, Walter Buckingham Smith and Arthur Harrison Cole.

According to Zweig, another area of concern is the fluctuating dividend yield used by Professor Siegel:

In an article published in 1992, he estimated the average annual dividend yield from 1802-1870 at 5.0%. Two years later in his book, it had grown to 6.4% — raising the average annual return in the early years from 5.7% to 7.0% after inflation. Why does that matter? By using the higher number for the earlier period, Prof. Siegel appears to have raised his estimate of the rate of return for the entire period by about half a percentage point annually.

 

I’m sure Professor Siegel has a rebuttal to all these accusations, but we’ll just have to wait and see how credible the response is. Maybe Siegel’s next book will be entitled, “Bonds for the Long Run”?

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.

July 21, 2009 at 4:00 am 2 comments

The China Vacuum, Sucking Up Assets

That's not Hoover making that sucking noise - it's China

That's not Hoover making that sucking noise - it's China

Shhh, if you listen hard enough you can hear a faint sucking sound coming from the other side of the Pacific Ocean. In the midst of the greatest economic collapse since the Great Depression, China is rolling around the globe sucking up international assets as if it were a Hoover vacuum cleaner. As a member of the current account and budget surplus club, China is enjoying the membership privileges. Evidence is apparent in several forms.

Most recently, Chinese state oil and gas company, Sinopec (China Petrochemical Corporation) has bid close to $7 billion for Addax Petroleum, an oil explorer with significant energy assets in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq.

Another deal, newly announced not too long ago, occurred on our own soil when another Chinese company (Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Co.) made a bid for the ailing Hummer unit of bankrupt General Motors. Just as we have begun exporting our obesity to China through McDonald’s and KFC, now we are sharing our lovely gas guzzling habits.

In May, The Wall Street Journal reported the following:

Chinese companies and banks have also agreed to a string of credit and oil supply deals worth more than US$40 billion with countries such as Brazil, Russia and Kazakhstan, in line with efforts to secure its energy supply.

 

Beyond the oil markets, China is also hungry for other hard assets. The failed $20 billion investment in Chinalco (Aluminum Corporation of China) by Rio Tinto garnered a lot of press. But other deals are making headlines too.  Metallurgical Corp. of China Ltd. (MCC) is planning a $5.15 billion thermal coal project in Queensland state, Australia in conjunction with Waratah Coal Pty Ltd. China has a voracious appetite for coal -its coal imports are estimated to surpass 50 million tons in 2009.

Cash is king, especially in crises like we are experiencing now, however we want to be careful that we don’t give away the farm out of desperation. Making tough decisions to preserve assets, like cutting expenditures and expenses, is a better strategy versus making fire sale disposals of crown jewels.  Becoming energy independent and investing in environmentally sustaining technologies will serve our long term economic interests better as well.

 If we’re not careful, that active Chinese Hoover vacuum cleaner is going to come over to our home turf and suck up more than just our loose change.

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, RTP and was short MCD, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in YUM, Sinopec (China Petrochemical Corporation), Addax Petroleum, Chinalco (Aluminum Corporation of China), Metallurgical Corp. of China Ltd. (MCC),Waratah Coal Pty Ltd 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.

July 17, 2009 at 4:05 am 5 comments

Leveraged ETFs…Too Much Adrenaline?

Do we really need extra levered ETF risk?

Do we really need extra levered ETF risk?

Isn’t the market volatile enough without leverage? I believe the vast majority of individuals have plenty of adrenaline in their daily investment lives without the necessity of exotic inverse ETFs (Exchange Traded Funds) or other leveraged investment vehicles. FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority), the largest regulating body overseeing U.S. securities firms feels much the same way. Many of these ETFs seek to earn a daily return double or triple a designated index – the inverse instruments strive to mirror the return in the opposite direction.

Read WSJ Article (FINRA Urges Caution on Leveraged Funds)

No doubt, many exchange traded funds have some key advantages over actively managed mutual funds such as lower costs, tax efficiency, and improved liquidity; however most investors have no business in trading these crazy leveraged gimmicks. For example, I wouldn’t recommend average investors speculating in the Direxion 3X Inverse Financial Bull (FAS) ETF, which was down more than 95% in its first four months of existence. Do yourself a favor and heed the advice of stuntmen that advise, “Please, do not try this at home.”

FINRA conveyed this sentiment in a recent notice:

“While such products may be useful in some sophisticated trading strategies, they are highly complex financial instruments that are typically designed to achieve their stated objectives on a daily basis. Due to effects of compounding, their performance over longer periods of time can differ significantly from their stated daily objective.”

 

The Wall Street Journal article goes on to show a return example of how three different funds performed (vanilla index fund, double long fund, double inverse fund) under alternating positive and negative +/-10% day scenarios.  After 60 days of alternating up +10% and down -10% on an initial investment of $100, the index fund ended at a value of $40.47 while the double inverse funds finished worth a meager $2.54 each. The example proves that the correlation between the leveraged ETF and the underlying target index can vary dramatically when invested for longer periods than a day.

These levered products make for excellent brokerage and trading software commercials, but rather than getting sucked in to talking baby traders and fast moving graphics, the average day trader or casual investor would be better served by bungee jumping or sky diving to get their adrenaline fix.

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

July 15, 2009 at 4:00 am Leave a comment


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