Month: January 2017

The Big Payoff from Automobile Evolution

© Can Stock Photo / esperanzacarlos

Clients know we’ve been investing in different facets of the auto business for years. It is a vital industry. People need to go places, after all—to school, work, and play. The more we research, the more interesting the future becomes.

Here are some of the surprising things we have learned:

Going a mile in an electric vehicle, or a hybrid in electric mode, costs only three cents. Gasoline takes a dime. The seven cent difference adds up to $175 billion dollars annually in the US. 1

The idea of ‘autonomous vehicles’ or self-driving cars seems fantastic today. Rapid advances in radar, other forms of sensors, artificial intelligence, and communications are making the technology a reality. We will see it, at least in some form, in some places, in the not-too-distant future.

Engineers project that autonomous vehicles will experience a 90%-to-95% reduction in accidents compared to human-driven vehicles. We thought about what this could mean, and ran the numbers. Across the whole country, this means thirty thousand fewer traffic fatalities per year. Two million injuries would be avoided. In economic terms, $135 billion in property and human damage would be prevented every year, if the accident rate were reduced 90%.2

In a related development, the cost of solar electricity is falling about 10% per year3. This makes sense, because solar power is a technology and the price of technology tends to fall year by year. So the cost advantage of electric propulsion may grow even larger.

With these compelling economic factors, it is easy to forget that the price of electric vehicles is not yet low enough to be competitive with internal combustion engines. But as a client reminded us recently, “Wide screen televisions used to cost $12,000, too.” As volumes go up, prices will come down. We know how this works.

The benefits we’ve cited above amount to thousands of dollars per year, per household. This doesn’t count the time we might gain from not having to drive, or the significant health advantages from reduced vehicle emissions.

The prospects for a healthier, wealthier society are exciting. Change usually creates winners and losers. You know we will be studying these issues intensely and watching closely. Please call if you have questions or comments about how this may affect you.

1Calculated from US Department of Transportation figures

2National Transportation Safety Board statistics

3Farmer, J. Doyne & Lafond, Francois. How predictable is technological progress? Research Policy, 2016. Volume 45, Issue 3.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

A 1-2-3 Approach to Investing

© Can Stock Photo / dexns

At times we feel embarrassed to be learning so much at a mature age. But we are grateful for the energy to attempt to improve what we are doing. Here we discuss developments in our portfolio management theory and practice.

One. Recently we figured out that one of our investment themes may benefit from a 1% position in a more speculative holding than we usually want to own. (By that we mean that 1% of a client portfolio could be invested in this company.) While failure could cost a dollar per dollar invested, success might return multiple dollars back, in our opinion.

We believe this makes sense because success might come at the expense of our other holdings. So one investment may serve to offset losses in another. No guarantees, of course.

We also realized that the 1% idea might help us in another way. Value investors have trouble buying exciting growth companies that have yet to develop large earnings, or dividends, or book value. But taking a smaller position in companies with solid prospects for growth can more easily be justified than buying a more sizable position. Perhaps this will let us participate with more comfort in the ownership of faster-growing companies.

Two. The next portfolio development came from our research into the biotech industry. The biopharmaceuticals each have their own specialties, and new products in various stages of development. Based on current earnings and prospects for growth, we wanted to gain exposure. It was too difficult to choose one over another, even among the larger and established companies. So we decided to buy 2% positions in each of four large players.

Three. We reduced our core position size from 5% to 3% for mainstream holdings. After 2015 we became interested in avoiding excessive portfolio volatility. Owning smaller pieces of more companies lets us be more diversified. We will also have more flexibility to let potential successful companies grow into larger fractions of the portfolio over time.

We are excited about the evolution in our thinking about the best ways to put portfolios together. Combined with the development of our trading protocols, we hope to put money to work faster than ever before—and in new ways. We still research carefully and come to conclusions only after thought and study, of course.

If you have questions or comments about how your portfolio is affected, or any other question we might help you with, please call or write.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

Stock investing involves risk including loss of principal.

Because of their narrow focus, sector investing will be subject to greater volatility than investing more broadly across many sectors and companies.

Stealthy is the Bull

© Can Stock Photo / KarSol

The broad stock market indicators like the Dow Jones Average and the S&P 500 Stock Index reached a low point in March 2009, near the end of the financial crisis. Looking back a year or four years or seven years later, hindsight showed that the crisis was potentially a great buying opportunity.

Many investors missed out on the multi-year rise, however. (Or should they be called former investors?) In real time, nobody ever knows what will happen next, particularly in the short term. And rising markets, or ‘bull markets’ as they are known, seem to have many disguises.

After a rebound begins from a long decline, inevitably some pundits label the rise with an overly colorful phrase, “dead cat bounce.” The implication is that, while there might be a bounce, it certainly won’t go very high or last very long—the market is going nowhere.

Next comes the idea that if buying has produced a slight turnaround, it is just “short-covering.” This means that speculators who profited from the drop are now booking their profits, reversing their positions. Supposedly, there are no ‘real’ buyers.

When the market persists in the upward trend, the next excuse might be that “the market got oversold.” Therefore a temporary bounce is to be expected, before the market slumps again.

Then when the next slump fails to show, pessimists start saying things like, “We can’t know we are in a new uptrend unless the market reaches new all-time highs.” Or “It has gone up too far, too fast.”

When you take a step back and look at the big picture, those poor pessimists never could get back into the stock market. They had one rationale after another to doubt the recovery; meanwhile the market went up and up.

Do not worry about the bears, however: they have a new story. “The market is too expensive.”

Fortunately, we don’t buy the whole market anyway—we seek the bargains. You can read about our current strategies in this article. If you would like to talk about your portfolio or situation, please write or call.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average is comprised of 30 stocks that are major factors in their industries and widely held by individuals and institutional investors.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index is a capitalization weighted index of 500 stocks designed to measure performance of the broad domestic economy through changes in the aggregate market value of 500 stocks representing all major industries.

Investing involves risk including loss of principal. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

Should You Spend Like You’re Rich?

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When children think about rich people the mental image might be something like Rich Uncle Pennybags from the Monopoly game: a monocled fat cat in a top hat with bulging sacks of money.

Obviously, the reality is much different. As we mature we typically develop a more realistic picture, but there is one surprising realization: it is usually much, much cheaper to be rich than to be poor. Having money enables us to live more cheaply and avoid many painful financial pitfalls.

To begin with, paying cash is often cheaper than paying with credit. If you are able to lay down cash for major purchase such as vehicles or even houses instead of having to borrow, you don’t just save on fees and interest, you may even be able to negotiate a better price. If you are funding large items on a credit card, you are likely to wind up paying many times what they are worth. If you are hard up enough that you need to turn to high risk credit in the form of payday loans, things get even worse.

There are other ways that having money allows you to stretch your money out, too. Buying quality merchandise may take more money up front, but if the alternative is buying shoddy products need to be replaced more often, you may save money in the long run by paying more up front. (Of course, care must still be taken to select your purchases carefully: higher cost does not always correlate to higher quality!)

Also, when you have a life of plenty you have the luxury of being able to shop around and wait for a better price. If you have two of everything, it is not an emergency if one breaks or gets used up. Without that surplus, you may find yourself having to go out and buy a replacement whether you like the price or not.

These habits, paying cash and shopping carefully and not being in a hurry to spend, are ones that all of us can use to help us build and maintain our own wealth.

The wonderful conundrum that some have discovered is this: the less you spend, the more wealth you accrue; the more wealth you have, the less you need to spend. Please call or write if you would like perspective or conversation about your situation.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

That’s a GREAT Question

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Recently, a client asked a very blunt question. Just in case anyone else is wondering the same thing, I would like to share the answer.

The client lives a couple states away. He was originally referred by a good friend of his, a person we’ve known for a very long time. We had been conversing about a notable investment success of the past year. I detailed the millions of dollars in gains across our whole client list, and then he asked the question.

“So with your ability to find opportunities like that, why are you talking to me?”

Great question. It gets right to the core of my being.

Obviously, it isn’t the money. I could run a hedge fund, or work on investments in an ivory tower somewhere on behalf of investors I never met and did not know. Instead of working with clients every day, I could have managed the people who talk to clients or managed the people who managed the people who talked to clients.

The fact is, back when I was still in my twenties I knew my ultimate aim was to find a group of clients to whom I could deliver sophisticated investment advice, for our mutual benefit. More than twenty years ago I started Leibman Financial Services to attain that goal. The lives I had touched in my previous, more wide ranging career affirmed the course I set.

The widow who was able to retire within weeks of our first meeting, and own her first home a couple years later—my work was key to giving her the confidence to act. I had a positive impact on her life. Nothing else in my career had ever gratified me as that did. Twenty years ago, a handful of experiences like that inspired me.

Now, our business is organized to maximize gratification from work like that. It might be for retired school teachers or truck drivers or business owners or big-company execs or bankers—we serve a niche market of the mind, not some narrow demographic.

This driving force, by the way, also explains why I persevere in my work despite other challenges we face—and why I want to work to age 92. My passion has provided us the material things we need in life—my bills are paid. Now it is about piling up the psychic rewards my work provides. THAT’S why I’m talking to you.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

Freedom to Decide vs Freedom to Debate

© Can Stock Photo / JohnKwan

One definition of ‘discretion’ is freedom to decide what should be done. 95% of our investment advisory clients have granted us discretion to trade individual securities on their behalf, for their benefit, in line with their objectives.

In 2016 this privilege was key to making bond purchases, which had to be done on a bulk basis. In other words, one large purchase in the market was divided among scores of our client accounts. The issue is that we cannot talk to eighty or a hundred clients in a short enough time frame to place a bulk order.

The logistics can be daunting. When we learn that a bulk purchase has been negotiated, then we must make sales that same day in all affected accounts to raise the money to pay for the bonds.

Fortunately, we developed a rules-based framework that enabled us to handle all the work on a timely basis. In late 2016 we used the same concept to develop a protocol for trading stocks. This new method is astoundingly effective.

On one day, we placed more than five hundred individual stock trades. We had concluded that a sector we owned was going to have a lot of trouble maintaining revenues and profits and needed to be sold. At the same time, we were excited about the bargains we had found elsewhere in the market. (You can read more about our strategies here.)

We have a high duty to advisory clients, whose situations and accounts we must monitor over time. Even with our new-found efficiencies, we have less and less time for commission-based brokerage business. Because we lack freedom to decide, we only have freedom to debate.

By that we mean to place calls, discuss potential investments, argue or not, and perhaps obtain permission to make a trade in exchange for a commission. The ‘freedom to debate’ part of our business is under $10 million and shrinking. The ‘freedom to decide’ piece is approaching $50 million and growing.

We are committed to our three key activities: talking to you, researching investments, and managing portfolios. We can do the most good for the most people if we have freedom to decide. This is why we ask you for that privilege and obligation. If you have any questions about this, or any other aspect of your situation, please call or write.


In a fee-based account clients pay a quarterly fee, based on the level of assets in the account. In deciding to pay a fee rather than commissions, clients should understand that the fee may be higher than a commission alternative during periods of lower trading. Advisory fees are in addition to the internal expenses charged by mutual funds and other investment company securities. Clients should periodically re-evaluate whether the use of an asset-based fee continues to be appropriate in servicing their needs.

Investing involves risks including the possible loss of capital. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

Ask Your Advisor if Asymmetric Returns Are Right For You

© Can Stock Photo / ivelinradkov

Those who know us best have probably noticed one of our investment tendencies. We lean toward those opportunities where we perceive a high probability they will work out over time. One of the hallmarks of our method is seeking bargain valuations . Quite often, these are in boring but essential industries.

One of our major current themes is the evolution of the automobile. It takes 3 cents worth of electricity to go a mile in an electric car or a hybrid in electric mode. But it takes 10 cents worth of gasoline. The seven cent difference figures out to $175 billion per year in the US1. The change won’t happen overnight, but the economics will only get more compelling over time.

Large global auto manufacturers appear to be trading at bargain prices. One of them has sold hundreds of thousands of hybrids. Another is launching the first all-electric vehicle priced at mass-market prices. Sophisticated suppliers that are bringing new things to the manufacturers also figure into our strategy. These companies are attractive, based on our traditional research methods.

There are other players, however, that do not fit our usual specifications. Silicon Valley is full of disruptive visionaries trying to turn the auto industry upside down. Maybe they are geniuses, and maybe they are nutcases. But if an upstart company can capture 3% of the new vehicle market over the next few years, the payoff may be considerable—or, they could go broke in the face of their many challenges.

A dollar invested could be lost—or could turn into many dollars. There are no guarantees here: this is more speculation than investment. This is what is meant by “asymmetric returns.” It probably won’t work out to where you could make only a dollar or lose a dollar—the potential gain and the potential loss would be symmetrical in that case.

One might consider a small investment in an upstart as a hedge on our other holdings—a way to cover all the bases. We’re not going to change our core investment philosophy. Speculative investments are not appropriate for all accounts, and they will never replace the timeless principles that shape the vast majority of our portfolios. This is an evolution in our thinking and methods and we thought we ought to keep you informed. If you would like to discuss these ideas or other parts of your situation, please write or call.

1. Figures derived from US Department of Transportation statistics and the American Petroleum Institute.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

Value investments can perform differently from the market as a whole. They can remain undervalued by the market for long periods of time. Investments mentioned may not be suitable for all investors.

The Longest Journey, Part Three

© Can Stock Photo / d_c_symonds

Our client W is the one who came the farthest to become an effective investor. When he began, he had all the poor investing habits that untrained human nature bestows. He learned three huge lessons along the way. Because his journey has meant so much to his financial security, we are profiling his story in this series of three posts.

W learned that popular but over-priced assets are dangerous in the Tech Wreck of 2000. Many others learned the wrong lesson, to their detriment—they came out believing that ‘the stock market is dangerous.’

After the 2007 market peak in the financial crisis, W learned that fear about short term action did not need to be acted upon—that one could take the long view. He stayed in position to recover, instead of selling out at a bad time. And he learned to keep the long view in mind, instead of getting rattled by temporary declines.

Our work played a large role in these first two lessons. The third one, W learned on his own.

Within a year of retiring, a decision that his employer made for him in the tough times, W realized that all of his pre-retirement fuss and worry about having enough money had been a big waste of energy. W loved having control of his time, for time is what life is made of.

What hit W is that money is not the scarce resource one should be most concerned about. Time is the limiting factor. Living life became so important to W that time well spent became the source of his greatest fulfillment.

Understand that W had done a nice job of planning. He earned and saved enough for financial success. But when he began to focus on life, money became less important. He was able to disassociate from temporary downturns, and not worry about them.

Recently we reviewed our understanding of this long journey with W. He agreed with the notion that the three lessons were crucial to where he ended up. But he also made an interesting observation:

“The great conundrum is that once you stop worrying about money, it is much easier to have more of it.”

W learned along the way, and continues to learn. The lessons he learned were valuable to him, and have been valuable to others. If you would like to talk about your journey, please write or call.

Part One Part Two


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

This is a hypothetical situation based on real life examples. Names and circumstances have been changed. To determine which investments or strategies may be appropriate for you, consult your financial advisor prior to investing.