ballast holdings

The Twenty Stock Concept: A Deep Dive

Clients, you know that our communications are you-centric: we prefer to focus on the situations, challenges, and concerns facing you. But from time to time it makes sense to talk about the tools and techniques we use to meet those issues. Let us give you some background and then introduce a strategy that’s become an important tool in portfolio reviews: the Twenty Stock Concept.

There are many ways to invest for the long haul, and we strive to participate in the growth of the economy over time. Many people’s financial objectives require the growth of capital, whether to improve their financial position, build toward retirement, or preserve purchasing power.

We manage individual stocks for people (which, by the way, is one of the services that sets our shop apart). Because we prefer to invest in the ownership of carefully chosen companies rather than buy investment products made of hundreds of holdings, it’s become more and more important for us to develop a systematic and efficient way to monitor and adjust portfolios over time.

At any given time, our Buy List includes 30 to 35 equity opportunities, which we supplement with more diversified ballast holdings. Client accounts may then wind up with even more names in them, as sometimes positions are held even after they’ve rotated off the Buy List. Doing it this way creates a lot of moving parts…

… which is where the Twenty Stock Concept comes in! This strategy helps us pare things back to only those parts of our investment philosophy that we feel are most fundamental. This list of holdings becomes the template from which we work for new portfolios and for reviews of existing portfolios.

The foundation of the Twenty Stock Concept is great companies trading at fair prices. These are usually blue-chip companies that dominate their sectors. They are our first picks, and we expect to hold them for a long time. We usually have 10 to 12 of these blue chips on our list.

To round out the list, we select what we perceive to be the best opportunities from the rest of the Buy List. These will include cyclical companies that we hope and believe we are purchasing at favorable points in the cycle. The rest of the opportunities may include other bargains from anywhere else in the investment universe.

Because the Twenty Stock Concept is a starting place, a template, not all of our holdings are fundamental enough to make the cut.

What gets left out? Our main investment approach also includes a handful of speculative growth-seeking holdings. Some of these may be smaller, unproven companies that we see explosive potential in. Others are regional or sector plays in areas that may or may not pan out. We think there is a place for these holdings—otherwise we would not have them to begin with. But some clients may not need or want the turnover and volatility they bring.

As an in-house system, the Twenty Stock Concept serves two functions for us: it allows us to provide a focused offering for those who prefer to own a smaller number of names, and it gives us a consistent approach that we makes our services available to smaller accounts than we would otherwise have the capacity to manage.

No guarantees, of course. We base our work on our opinions; no matter how carefully we do our research, sometimes the future confounds us.

But it is intensely interesting, and often rewarding. Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email or call.

Investing involves risk including loss of principal.

No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

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Change is Still Constant


We wrestled for a long time with the issue of how to build portfolios in a zero-interest environment. The crushing of interest rates distorted values in the investment markets. The old ways of thinking carried too much risk, in our opinion. (When interest rates rise, bond prices tend to fall.)

So about a year ago, we settled on the concept of ballast. This enables us to tailor portfolios to address individual preferences. Different clients can have differing portfolios, while retaining common elements that enable efficient management.

Ballast refers to holdings that might be expected to fall and rise more slowly than the overall stock market. Ballast may reduce the volatility of the overall portfolio, thereby making it easier to live with. And it may serve as a source of funds for buying bargains when the market seems to be low. We’ve been able to put this thinking into effect.

A little over a year ago, monetary policy in the U.S. shifted from zero interest to a plan to raise interest rates over time. As we foresaw, this has not been great for bond prices. But now U.S. Treasury securities actually have a little bit of a yield these days, with short term maturities recently reaching over 1% for the first time in years.1

The return of interest rates on lower volatility, short term, liquid balances makes it easier to hold cash and cash substitutes as part of a portfolio structure. As interest rates continue to normalize, returns on cash could increase.

We like the portfolio framework, shown above, that we developed a year ago. We will continue to assess clients that may be suitable for this strategy. As the economic environment changes, we will review the need to adjust the tactics used in each layer of the portfolio. Change is still constant.

We will update you soon on the trends we are seeing in our long term core investments. Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.

1Effective Federal Funds Rate. Federal Reserve Economic Data, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Accessed March 2018.

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.

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

Bonds are subject to market and interest rate risk if sold prior to maturity. Bond values will decline as interest rates rise and bonds are subject to availability and change in price.

Tactical allocation may involve more frequent buying and selling of assets and will tend to generate higher transaction cost. Investors should consider the tax consequences of moving positions more frequently.