Posts tagged ‘Warren Buffett’

Munger: Buffett’s Wingman & the Art of Stock Picking

Simon had Garfunkel, Batman had Robin, Hall had Oates, Dr. Evil had Mini Me, Sonny had Cher, and Malone had Stockton. In the investing world, Buffett has Munger. Charlie Munger is one of the most successful and famous wingmen of all-time –  evidenced by Berkshire Hathaway Corporation’s (BRKA/B) outperformance of the S&P 500 index by approximately +624% from 1977 – 2009, according to MarketWatch. Munger not only provides critical insights to his legendary billionaire boss, Warren Buffett, but he was also Chairman of Berkshire’s insurance subsidiary, Wesco Financial Corporation from 1984 until 2011. The magic of this dynamic duo began when they met at a dinner party 58 years ago (1959).

In an article he published in 2006, the magnificent Munger describes the “Art of Stock Picking” in a thorough review about the secrets of equity investing. We’ll now explore some of the 93-year-old’s sage advice and wisdom.

Model Building

Charlie Munger believes an individual needs a solid general education before becoming a successful investor, and in order to do that one needs to study and understand multiple “models.”

“You’ve got to have models in your head. And you’ve got to array your experience both vicarious and direct on this latticework of models. You may have noticed students who just try to remember and pound back what is remembered. Well, they fail in school and in life. You’ve got to hang experience on a latticework of models in your head.”

 

Although Munger indicates there are 80 or 90 important models, the examples he provides include mathematics, accounting, biology, physiology, psychology, and microeconomics.

Advantages of Scale

Great businesses in many cases enjoy the benefits of scale, and Munger devotes a good amount of time to this subject. Scale advantages can be realized through advertising, information, psychological “social proofing,” and structural factors.

The newspaper industry is an example of a structural scale business in which a “winner takes all” phenomenon applies. Munger aptly points out, “There’s practically no city left in the U.S., aside from a few very big ones, where there’s more than one daily newspaper.”

General Electric Co. (GE) is another example of a company that uses scale to its advantage. Jack Welch, the former General Electric CEO, learned an early lesson. If the GE division is not large enough to be a leader in a particular industry, then they should exit. Or as Welch put it, “To hell with it. We’re either going to be # 1 or #2 in every field we’re in or we’re going to be out. I don’t care how many people I have to fire and what I have to sell. We’re going to be #1 or #2 or out.”

Bigger Not Always Better

Scale comes with its advantages, but if not managed correctly, size can weigh on a company like an anchor. Munger highlights the tendency of large corporations to become “big, fat, dumb, unmotivated bureaucracies.” An implicit corruption also leads to “layers of management and associated costs that nobody needs. Then, while people are justifying all these layers, it takes forever to get anything done. They’re too slow to make decisions and nimbler people run circles around them.”

Becoming too large can also create group-think, or what Munger calls “Pavlovian Association.” Munger goes onto add, “If people tell you what you really don’t want to hear what’s unpleasant there’s an almost automatic reaction of antipathy…You can get severe malfunction in the high ranks of business. And of course, if you’re investing, it can make a lot of difference.”

Technology: Benefit or Burden?

Munger recognizes that technology lowers costs for companies, but the important question that many managers fail to ask themselves is whether the benefits from technology investments accrue to the company or to the customer? Munger summed it up here:

“There are all kinds of wonderful new inventions that give you nothing as owners except the opportunity to spend a lot more money in a business that’s still going to be lousy. The money still won’t come to you. All of the advantages from great improvements are going to flow through to the customers.”

 

Buffett and Munger realized this lesson early on when productivity improvements gained from technology investments in the textile business all went to the buyers.

Surfing the Wave

When looking for good businesses, Munger and Buffett are looking to “surf” waves or trends that will generate healthy returns for an extended period of time. “When a surfer gets up and catches the wave and just stays there, he can go a long, long time. But if he gets off the wave, he becomes mired in shallows,” states Munger. He notes that it’s the “early bird,” or company that identifies a big trend before others that enjoys the spoils. Examples Munger uses to illustrate this point are Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), Intel Corp. (INTC), and National Cash Register from the old days.

Large profits will be collected by those investors that can identify and surf those rare large waves. Unfortunately, taking advantage of these rare circumstances becomes tougher and tougher for larger investors like Berkshire. If you’re an elephant trying to surf a wave, you need to find larger and larger waves, and even then, due to your size, you will be unable to surf as long as small investors.

Circle of Competence

Circle of competence is not a new subject discussed by Buffett and Munger, but it is always worth reviewing.  Here’s how Munger describes the concept:

“You have to figure out what your own aptitudes are. If you play games where other people have the aptitudes and you don’t, you’re going to lose. And that’s as close to certain as any prediction that you can make. You have to figure out where you’ve got an edge. And you’ve got to play within your own circle of competence.”

 

For Munger and Buffett, sticking to their circle of competence means staying away from high-technology companies, although more recently they have expanded this view to include International Business Machines (IBM), which they are now a large investor.

Market Efficiency or Lack Thereof

Munger acknowledges that financial markets are quite difficult to beat. Since the markets are “partly efficient and partly inefficient,” he believes there is a minority of individuals who can outperform the markets. To expand on this idea, he compares stock investing to the pari-mutuel system at the racetrack, which despite the odds stacked against the bettor (17% in fees going to the racetrack), there are a few individuals who can still make decent money.

The transactional costs are much lower for stocks, but success for an investor still requires discipline and patience. As Munger declares, “The way to win is to work, work, work, work and hope to have a few insights.”

Winning the Game – 10 Insights / 20 Punches

As the previous section implies, outperformance requires patience and a discriminating eye, which has allowed Berkshire to create the bulk of its wealth from a relatively small number of investment insights. Here’s Munger’s explanation on this matter:

“How many insights do you need? Well, I’d argue: that you don’t need many in a lifetime. If you look at Berkshire Hathaway and all of its accumulated billions, the top ten insights account for most of it….I don’t mean to say that [Warren] only had ten insights. I’m just saying, that most of the money came from ten insights.”

 

Chasing performance, trading too much, being too timid, and paying too high a price are not recipes for success. Independent thought accompanied with selective, bold decisions is the way to go. Munger’s solution to these problems is to provide investors with a Buffett 20-punch ticket:

“I could improve your ultimate financial welfare by giving you a ticket with only 20 slots in it so that you had 20 punches ‑ representing all the investments that you got to make in a lifetime. And once you’d punched through the card, you couldn’t make any more investments at all.”

 

The great thing about Munger and Buffett’s advice is that it is digestible by the masses. Like dieting, investing can be very simple to understand, but difficult to execute, and legends like these always remind us of the important investing basics. Even though Charlie Munger may be slowing down a tad at 93-years-old, Warren Buffett and investors everywhere are blessed to have this wingman around spreading his knowledge about investing and the art of stock picking.

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, BRKA/B, GE, MSFT, INTC, IBM but at the time of this 3/12/17 updated publishing, SCM had no direct position in National Cash Register, 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 12, 2017 at 7:32 pm Leave a comment

March Madness or Retirement Sadness?

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This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (March 1, 2017). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

“March Madness” begins in a few weeks with a start of the 68-team NCAA college basketball tournament, but there has also been plenty of other economic and political madness going on in the background. As it relates to the stock market, the Dow Jones Industrial Average index reached a new, all-time record high last month, exceeding the psychologically prominent level of 20,000 (closing the month at 20,812). For the month, the Dow rose an impressive +4.8%, and since November’s presidential election it catapulted an even more remarkable +13.5%.

Despite our 45th president just completing his first State of the Union address to the nation, American voters remain sharply divided across political lines, and that bias is not likely to change any time soon. Fortunately, as I’ve written on numerous occasions (see Politics & Your Money), politics have no long-term impact on your finances and retirement. Sure, in the short-run, legislative policies can create winners and losers across particular companies and industries, but history is firmly on your side if you consider the positive track record of stocks over the last couple of centuries. As the chart below demonstrates, over the last 150 years or so, stock performance is roughly the same across parties (up +11% annually), whether you identify with a red elephant or a blue donkey.

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Nevertheless, political rants flooding our Facebook news feeds can confuse investors and scare people into inaction. Pervasive fake news stories regarding the supposed policy benefits and shortcomings of immigration, tax reform, terrorism, entitlements, foreign policy, and economic issues often result in heightened misperception and anxiety.

More important than reading Facebook political rants, watching March Madness basketball, or drinking green beer on St. Patrick’s Day, is saving money for retirement. While some of these diversions can be temporarily satisfying and entertaining, lost in the daily shuffle is the retirement epidemic quietly lurking in the background. Managing money makes people nervous even though it is an essential part of life. Retirement planning is critical because a mountain of the 76 million Baby Boomers born between 1946 – 1964 have already reached retirement age and are not ready (see chart below).

eld-pop-growth

The critical problem is most Americans are ill-prepared financially for retirement, and many of them run the risk of outliving their savings. A recent study conducted by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) shows that nearly half of families have no retirement account savings at all. The findings go on to highlight that the median U.S. family only has $5,000 in savings (see also Getting to Your Number). Even after considering my tight-fisted habits, that kind of money wouldn’t be enough cash for me to survive on.

Saving and investing have never been more important. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that government entitlements like Social Security and Medicare are at risk for millions of Americans. While I am definitely not sounding the alarm for current retirees who have secure benefits, there are millions of others whose retirement benefits are in jeopardy.

Missing the 20,000 Point Boat? Dow 100,000

Making matters worse, saving and investing has never been more challenging. If you thought handling all of life’s responsibilities was tough enough already, try the impossible task of interpreting the avalanche of instantaneous political and economic headlines pouring over our electronic devices at lighting speed.

Knee-jerk reactions to headlines might give investors a false sense of security, but the near-impossibility of consistently timing the stock market has not stopped people from attempting to do so. For example, recently I have been bombarded with the same question, “Wade, don’t you think the stock market is overpriced now that we have eclipsed 20,000?” The short answer is “no,” given the current factors (see Don’t Be a Fool). Thankfully, I’m not alone in this response. Warren Buffett, the wealthiest billionaire investor on the planet, answered the same question this week after investing $20,000,000,000 more in stocks post the election:

“People talk about 20,000 being high. Well, I remember when it hit 200 and that was supposedly high….You know, you’re going to see a Dow [in your lifetime] that certainly approaches 100,000 and that doesn’t require any miracles, that just requires the American system continuing to function pretty much as it has.”

Like a deer in headlights, many Americans have been scared into complacency. To their detriment, many savers have sat silently on the sidelines earning near-0% returns on their savings, while the stock market has reached new all-time record highs. While Dow 20,000 might be new news for some, the reality is new all-time record highs have repeatedly been achieved in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and now 2017 (see chart below).

record-highs

While I am not advocating for all people to throw their entire savings into stocks, it is vitally important for individuals to construct diversified portfolios across a wide range of asset classes, subject to each person’s unique objectives, constraints, risk tolerance, and time horizon. The risk of outliving your savings is real, so if you need assistance, seek out an experienced professional. March Madness may be here, but don’t get distracted. Make investing a priority, so your daily madness doesn’t turn into retirement sadness.

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 FB and certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), 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.

March 4, 2017 at 11:04 am Leave a comment

Uncertainty: A Love-Hate Relationship

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An often over-quoted saying is “The stock market hates uncertainty.” However, the wealthiest investor of all-time has a different perspective about uncertainty:

“The future is never clear. You pay a very high price in the stock market for a cheery consensus. Uncertainty is the friend of the buyer of long-term values.”

-Warren Buffett

Buffett understands the benefits of long-term compounding and the beauty of buying fear and selling greed. Unfortunately, CNBC and every other media outlet do not carry the words “long-term” in their vernacular. Peddling F.U.D. (fear, uncertainty, doubt) equates to eyeballs and clicks, which equates to more advertising dollars. With the volatility index trading at fear-rich Brexit levels above 20, traders are certainly long on F.U.D. Time will tell whether the elections will increase or decrease F.U.D., but unless there is a contested election a la 2000 (Bush-Gore), there will be one less election to worry about and investors can then go back to normal worrying and political bashing.

As I have noted on multiple occasions, from a stock market standpoint, whomever wins (Republican or Democrat) should have no bearing on the performance of the stock market over the medium term as long as there remains gridlock in Washington (see also Fall is Here: Change is Near). Most Americans despise political inactivity, but if like many investors you believe in fiscal discipline, then you prefer fighting over spending, and generally, the more gridlock, the less spending.

In other words, fiscal discipline is likely to win IF there is a split Congress (House & Senate) or if the winning presidential party loses both the Senate and the House. For what it’s worth, Nate Silver, the guy who accurately predicted all 50 states in the 2012 presidential election is currently predicting gridlock (i.e., a split Congress), but the presidential and Congressional polls have been generally tightening across the board. For now, with just three days left before the election, investors have chosen to shoot now, and ask questions later, as evidenced by the 420 point decline in the Dow Jones Industrial Average during the first half of the 4th quarter.

My crystal ball is just as foggy as anybody else’s, and increased volatility in the short-run should come as no surprise to anyone. As in any volatile investment environment, during periods of turbulence, you should compile your shopping list to opportunistically purchase securities selling at a discount. There is no reason to be a hero, but you should prudently deploy cash or readjust your asset allocation, if there is a significant sell-off in risky assets. The same principle works in reverse. If for some unlikely reason, there is a post Brexit-like snapback, one should consider trimming or selling overbought positions.

The main point in periods like these is to let objective reasoning drive your decisions (or lack of decisions), rather than emotions. There has always been a love-hate relationship with uncertainty for traders and investors alike. If you are doing your job correctly, long-term investors should relish F.U.D. because as the saying goes, “This too shall pass.”

investment-questions-border

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

www.Sidoxia.com

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  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 5, 2016 at 6:11 pm Leave a comment

Waiting for the Fat Pitch

baseballfreeimages

Fall is here and the leaves are beginning to change, which means it’s baseball playoffs time and the World Series is quickly approaching. Investing in some respects is similar to baseball because they both require discipline and patience. One investing legend who embodies those characteristics is Warren Buffett, and he has repeatedly spoken about Ted Williams and waiting for the “fat pitch.”

John Huber, over at BHI, did a great job summarizing Ted Williams’ hitting philosophy here:

“Ted Williams was famous for “waiting for the fat pitch”. He would only look to swing at pitches in the part of the strike zone where he knew he had a higher probability of getting a hit. There were parts of his strike zone where he batted .230 and there were other parts of the strike zone where he batted .400. He knew that if he waited for a pitch over the heart of the plate and didn’t swing at pitches in the .230 part of the strike zone—even though they were strikes—he would improve his odds of getting a hit and increase his overall batting average.”

 

ted-williams

This lesson of patience and discipline is critical for your investment portfolio. Too many people speculate by chasing a hot tip or good stock story, or on the flip side, panic by selling based upon transitory negative news headlines. Today, we see risk aversion happening on steroids. Consider there is over $8 trillion sitting in savings accounts earning effectively nothing – the equivalent of stuffing money under the mattress (see also Invest or Die). In other words, investors are paying extremely high prices (chasing) for safer (less volatile) securities – bonds and cash, while equities are yielding a much higher rate as measured by the earnings yield of the S&P 500 (S&P operating profits / index value). Scott Grannis at Calafia Beach Pundit calls this dynamic the equity risk premium (chart below).

Source: Scott Grannis

Source: Scott Grannis

As you can see from the chart, ever since the financial crisis occurred, stocks have been compensating investors at significantly higher levels (almost 4% currently) than the yields on 10-Year Treasury Notes, a phenomenon not experienced for the previous three decades.

When will this equity premium revert back towards the mean? There are number of factors that could correct this disparity.

1). The economy enters recession and profits decline to a point at which bonds offer a more compelling risk-reward ratio than stocks.

2). Interest rates rise (bond prices decline) to a point at which bonds offer a more compelling risk-reward ratio than stocks.

3). Investors bid stocks significantly higher to a point at which bonds offer a more compelling risk-reward ratio than stocks.

Most people are worried about scenario #1, but there is plenty objective data that splashes cold water on that view. Consider the unemployment rate has been chopped in half since 2009 with about 15 million jobs added; corporate profits are at/near record highs; auto sales are at/near record highs; home sales continue on an improving trajectory; and the yield curve remains positive, among other factors. If you absorb that information, it clearly doesn’t resemble a recessionary environment, but that doesn’t prevent  people from worrying.

Regarding scenario #2, rising rates are an eventuality, but an absence of meaningful inflation, coupled with sluggish global growth are likely to keep a lid on interest rates for some time. Any casual observer would realize that interest rates have been on a downward trend for more than 35 years (see also Fall is Here: Change is Near). Even with a potential second rate increase in a decade initiated by the Fed this upcoming December, the long-term downward trend in rates will likely remain intact.

While the media likes to focus on the half-glass full scenarios (#1 & #2), very little time has been expended on the possibility of scenario #3, which contemplates a rise in stock prices to erase the discount in stock prices relative to bond prices (i.e., elevated equity risk premium).

While many people are ignoring the probability of scenario #3 occurring, like a disciplined hitter in baseball, successful investing requires patience while you wait for your fat investment pitch.

investment-questions-border

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

www.Sidoxia.com

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

October 22, 2016 at 8:00 am 1 comment

The Sky is Falling?

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Investors reacted like the sky was falling on Friday. Commentators mostly blamed the -400 point decline in the Dow on heightened probabilities for a September rate hike by Janet Yellen and her fellow Federal Reserve colleagues. Geopolitical concerns over a crazy dictator in North Korea with nuclear weapons were identified as contributing factors to frazzled nerves.

The real question should be, “Are these stories complete noise, or should I pay close attention?” For the vast majority of times, the response to questions like these should be “yes”, the media headlines are mere distractions and you should simply ignore them. During the last rate hike cycle from mid-2004 to mid-2006, guess how many times the Fed raised rates? Seventeen times! And over those 17 rate hikes, stocks managed to respectably rise over 11%.

So far this cycle, Yellen and the Fed have raised interest rates one time, and the one and only hike was the first increase in a decade. Given all this data, does it really make sense to run in a panic to a bunker or cave? Whether the Fed increases rates by 0.25% during September or Decemberis completely irrelevant.

If we look at the current situation from a slightly different angle, you can quickly realize that making critical investment decisions based on short-term Federal Reserve actions would be foolish. Would you buy or sell a house based solely on this month’s Fed policy? For most, the answer is an emphatic “no”. The same response should hold true for stocks as well. The real reason anyone should consider buying any type of asset, including stocks, is because you believe you are paying a fair or discounted price for a stream of adequate future cash flows (distributions) and/or price appreciation in the asset value over the long-term.

The problem today for many investors is “short-termism.” This is what Jack Gray of Grantham, Mayo, Van Otterloo and Company had to say on the subject, “Excessive short-termism results in permanent destruction of wealth, or at least permanent transfer of wealth.” I couldn’t agree more.

Many people like to speculate or trade stocks like they are gambling in Las Vegas. One day, when the market is up, they buy. And the other day, when the market is down, they sell. However, those same people don’t wildly speculate with short-term decision-making when they buy larger ticket items like a lawn-mower, couch, refrigerator, car, or a house. They rationally buy with the intention of owning for years.

Yes, it’s true appliances, vehicles, and homes have utility characteristics different from other assets, but stocks have unique utility characteristics too. You can’t place leftovers, drive inside, or sit on a stock, but the long-term earnings and dividend growth of a diversified stock portfolio provides plenty of distinctive income and/or retirement utility benefits to a long-term investor.

You don’t have to believe me – just listen to investing greats like Warren Buffett:

“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.”

 

The common sense test can also shed some light on the subject. If short-term trading, based on the temperature of headlines, was indeed a lucrative strategy, then the wealthiest traders in the world would be littered all over the Forbes 100 list. There are many reasons that is not the case.

Even though the Volatility Index (aka, “Fear Gauge” – VIX) spiked +40% in a single day, that does not necessarily mean stock investors are out of the woods yet. We saw similar volatility occur last August and during January and June of this year. At the same time, there is no need to purchase a helmet and run to a bunker…the sky is not falling.

Other related article: Invest with a Telescope…Not a Microscope 

investment-questions-border

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

www.Sidoxia.com

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

September 10, 2016 at 12:00 pm 1 comment

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

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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

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