asymmetric returns

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.

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.