contrarian investing

More Lessons from Moneyball

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Michael Lewis’s book Moneyball turned 16 over the summer. In 2015, we wrote about the contrarian lessons we noticed in the Moneyball movement. The Oakland A’s won by using data to make roster decisions, favoring things like on-base percentage over batting average. Then, after the rest of the league adopted the A’s process, the 2015 World Series champion Royals won by bucking the trend and not following along.

We’ve found another lesson within Moneyball that applies to us—and you. Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane rarely watched the product he helped put on the field to see how it performed. This may seem unusual (who wouldn’t want to watch baseball as part of their job?), but Beane had his reasons.

In a 2014 interview for the Men in Blazers podcast, Beane explained that he didn’t watch games because he did not want to do something about it in the heat of the moment. “When I watch a game, I get a visceral reaction to something that happens—which is probably not a good idea when you’re the boss, when you can actually pick up the phone and do something.”

Beane continued by saying doing something “probably isn’t logical and rational based on some temporary experience you just felt in a game.” This has meaning to us.

We all know that the market goes up and down, and we don’t find watching the ticker each second of the day to be helpful. Like Beane, we’ve strategically built our portfolios for performance over the long term (no guarantees), and we’re willing to ignore a hiccup from a star on occasion.

Like Beane, we can remove ourselves and our initial emotions from the equation. Then we can focus on only the moves to better our “team” and its goals in the big picture.

Clients, if you’d like to talk about this, or anything else, please email us or call.


Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

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

The Anti-Buffett

© Can Stock Photo / Leaf

We had back-to-back conversations recently with clients who are big fans of Warren Buffett. Oddly, they seem to dislike the application of his principles to their portfolios. It is a good illustration of why Buffett’s success has endured, in our opinion. His ideas are easy to understand, hard to do.

Consider these quotations, investor first, then Buffett in bold.

“This stock has done nothing but go down since I bought it. I want to sell.”
I love it when stocks I like go down, then I can buy more at a better price.

“That company is in the news all the time with problems. I don’t think we should buy it.”
The troubles everyone knows about are already in the stock price.

“Everyone I know is afraid of this market, so I’m thinking of getting out.”
Be greedy when others are fearful.

“This stock is doing great, it’s gone up a lot since we bought it.”
Watch the company, not the stock.

These conversations are noteworthy because they are rare. The tagline on our digital archives, ‘for the best clients in the whole world,’ reflects our high esteem for you.

Clients, if you would like to talk to us about this or anything else, please email us or call.


Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

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

Make Believe

© Can Stock Photo / nameinfame

It’s good fun to watch small children at play, using their imagination – they might be pirates or princesses, or serving imaginary meals, or having conversations with stuffed animals.

What is not good fun are financial types who pretend that so-called “market-linked” products actually provide exposure to real investment market returns. Often, a formula used to determine returns pays only a fraction of percentage gains, puts a maximum limit on returns, and ignores the effect of dividends. That’s investing only in the same sense that talking to a teddy bear is actual conversation*.

There is another common form of make-believe in the investment world. Some pretend that one might sharply limit the ups-and-downs in an account, yet still reap stock market returns, through some special strategy or tactic. Our view is that this is pandering. Long term investing is about willingness to accept a certain amount of risk in pursuit of getting paid.

Both of these fantasies play on the natural human desire for stability. But lower volatility may come at a cost of lower returns or higher costs. By the time the investor figures out there is either less stability than expected, or lower returns, a lot of freight may have been paid. Skip the make-believe, keep it real.

Clients, not everyone agrees with us – we hold contrarian views. If you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us 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.

Rule #2

© Can Stock Photo / ragsac

We often talk about our three fundamental principles of investing. Rule #2 is ‘Buy the best bargains.’ This is our intent, but we must act on what we know, which is incomplete. Our crystal ball does not actually work; we do not know the future. No guarantees.

The best bargain is likely to be unpopular – or else it might not be a bargain. We often buy into sectors that are down sharply from much higher levels, years before. The crowd is almost never rushing into shares that have declined 50 or 80% over a period of years.

This matches up nicely with our contrarian philosophy, doing our own thinking, going our own way. In fact, we believe that profit potential lives in the gap between the consensus expectation and the unfolding reality. We think there is an edge in finding a lonely, but correct, position.

There are different categories of bargains. The best bargain might be a cyclical investment at the low point in its cycle – homebuilders in recession, for example. Or a wonderful, durable blue chip company available at a temporarily low price because of some short-term issue. Or a deeply discounted bond in a stressed company that we figure is trading below liquidation value. No guarantees, as we said!

Our approach is not the only one. Some believe in buying only when an investment is already in a clear up-trend. Others want to own the things that are on the magazine covers, the ones everyone is talking about. For better or worse, we do our best to stick to our convictions. (And sometimes they are better, and sometimes they are worse.)

The value style, our philosophy, is right for us. Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us 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.

A Better Topic Than “The Market”

© Can Stock Photo / Pedxer

Everybody talks about it; it raises a lot of questions. Is the market too high? Where will it go next? Is it due for a fall? How will the economy affect it? (Or politics, or world affairs, or astrology?)

Many people seem to be referring to a major market average or index when they talk about the market. But the investment universe is far broader than those. The individual pieces may have little to do with what is happening with the major averages.

  • For example, even when the averages are near all time highs, stocks in some industries or companies may be half or less of their own highs from years ago.
  • The United States is not the only advanced economy in the world with a stock market. Some overseas markets have done very little for a decade, and are not close to high points.
  • Certain holdings have shown a tendency to go the opposite direction from the major averages.
  • Even with in the US stock market, some holdings appear to be bargains even when highflyers have gone off the charts.

Instead of asking those questions about “the market,” we think it makes more sense to always be asking these questions:

  • Where are the best bargains in the investment universe? We should be looking at them.
  • Where are the stampedes? We should avoid them.
  • Is there a way to secure reliable income in today’s environment?

This is a way to bring the focus to something useful, in our opinion. Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.© Can Stock Photo / Pedxer

To Everything There is a Season

© Can Stock Photo / jordache

After a long and snowy winter, spring has finally arrived in Nebraska, and it is wasting no time. The weather may be nicer, but the sudden thaw and ensuing floods have turned much of our state into a disaster zone.

While tragic, this was a long time coming. Most folks saw how much snow had accumulated through March and knew that it would be trouble when the weather warmed up. We all know how the cycle of the seasons work, and it should be no surprise that winter is followed by spring.

The markets, like the seasons, are cyclical. After a certain point, a bull market turns into a bear market, and vice versa. Summer turns into winter; winter turns into spring. But investor behavior can sometimes overlook this important fact.

Imagine if someone looked around at how cold and snowy it was at the beginning of the month and said “There’s even more snow than there was last month! At this rate there will be two feet of snow on the ground by May!” Obviously, they would sound quite foolish.

But is this really any different than investors who, late in a market rally, say “The market is higher than ever! At this rate it will be even higher in a few months!”

We know how market cycles work. Like the weather, we are not able to predict exactly when the turning point will come. But we know that it will happen eventually, and as contrarians the stronger the trend is the harder we expect the turning point will be.

Sometimes we temporarily look foolish—a bubble may persist for years after we expect it to burst. The fellow predicting snow in May probably would have felt vindicated by how much snow got dumped on us the first half of March, after all. We would rather miss out in the short term than miss a key turn in the markets altogether, though.

To everything there is a season: a time to buy, a time to sell. Clients, if you want to talk about the markets (or the weather), please email us 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.

Stock investing involves risk including loss of principal.

The economic forecasts set forth in this material may not develop as predicted and there can be no guarantee that strategies promoted will be successful.

Hit ’em Where They Ain’t

© Can Stock Photo / dehooks

Investors can learn a lot from Willie Keeler, one of the smallest major league baseball players in history. Wee Willie stood 5’4” and weighed 140 pounds.

Playing from 1892 to 1910, Willie was a prolific hitter, with a batting average of .345 over that long career. He explained his success with words that have become part of baseball lore:

“Keep your eye on the ball, and hit ‘em where they ain’t.”

We believe it makes sense to strive to understand investment opportunities, researching companies, trends, and economic developments to try to gain an edge. This is what it means to “keep your eye on the ball.”

As contrarians, we seek to avoid stampedes. If the crowd is there, we probably want to be somewhere else. As Warren Buffett once said, “be greedy when others are fearful, and fearful when others are greedy.” Isn’t this the investment version of “hit ‘em where they ain’t?”

It would be interesting to know whether Wee Willie Keeler did any investing. Did his investing philosophy match his baseball hitting philosophy?

We cannot know the answer to that. But we do know, our investing philosophy matches up very well. “Keep your eye on the ball, and hit ‘em where they ain’t.”
Clients, if you would like to talk about his or anything else, please email us 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 investing involves risk including loss of principal. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

Stocks Have No Memory

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Clients sometimes bring up their own history with a particular investment in
trying to assess it. We sometimes hear things like this:

• “It’s done nothing but go down since we bought it.”
• “This is the most boring stock ever! It just lays there.”
• “At what point do you give up on waiting for it to turn around?”

As investors, our challenge is to form an opinion about the future value of prospective investments. Broad economic trends, industry developments, and company evolution may go into the mix. Reading annual and quarterly reports, checking our research sources, and looking at pertinent news are part of our routine. We frequently have to do some arithmetic, too.

Notice something missing from our recipe? Investment price performance does not go into the stew. Track record is not a factor for us personally. If you believe in buying low, you sometimes buy things with terrible recent performance. Conversely, some of the best track records in history belong to bubbles at their peak.

We aren’t saying our approach is the right approach. There is a whole school of thought that says you should only invest in things that are already going up—trend followers. But our approach is our approach, and we are unlikely to change.

Market values depend on the consensus opinion of the rest of the world. As contrarians, we look for potential gaps between the consensus and how we believe the future may unfold. No guarantees, of course—but we aren’t going to base investment decisions on a consensus that may be flawed.

Your stocks do not know how much you paid for them, or when you purchased them. We look at companies, not stocks—and make decisions in line with what we see. Opinions change, the consensus shifts, and we wait. Sometimes we look out of step for a time, perhaps years. That’s part of being contrarian.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us 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.

 

Stock investing involves risk including loss of principal.

2019 Market Forecast

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It is that time of year. Prognosticators and pundits issue their forecasts for the year ahead. Wouldn’t it be nice to know what the future holds! Some forecasts are hedged, and don’t really say much. Our prediction is quite specific.

Many of those who have visited our offices know that we actually do have a crystal ball. It forecasts the direction of the stock market for the coming year. It does not say how far the market will go, but it always predicts the direction.

If you knew which way the stock market was going to go, could you make money investing?

Here’s the catch: our crystal ball has only been 74% accurate1. So perhaps the question should be, if you knew which way the stock market was going to go 74% of the time1, could you make money investing?

Without further ado, here is what my crystal ball says about the direction of the stock market for the year beginning January 1: it will go up.

Long-time observers will not be surprised. The crystal ball always says the market is going up. It has never predicted a down year. And checking back over the past hundred years, according to Standard & Poor’s, it has been right 74%1 of the time.

We don’t know how well its track record will hold up, but we believe this presents a favorable backdrop to buy bargains, avoid stampedes in the markets, and seek to own the orchard for the fruit crop. In other words, to keep on keeping on, following our plans and strategies.

It is tempting to include a discussion of the economy, the strengths we perceive, and the faint possibility of recession. We’ll leave that to people with more time on their hands. If your plans or planning will be evolving in the new year and require our attention, please call.

Notes and References

1. Online Data, Dr. Robert J. Shiller: http://www.econ.yale.edu/~shiller/data.htm. Accessed December 31st, 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.

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

Buy Low, Sell High

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If you watch a lot of sports journalism, sooner or later you will see someone deliver some variation on this nugget of wisdom: “If we want to win, we just have to score more points than the other team.”

In investing terms, the equivalent is “If we want to make money, we just have to buy low and sell high.” This is just math: if you sell something at a higher price than what you paid for it, you make a profit.

The “sell high” part is usually easy for most people to grasp. Sometimes someone in a hot rally may get wrapped up in watching their gains go up and up and forget to cash out before things inevitably come crashing back down. But generally taking profits is fun and comes naturally to people.

It is the “buy low” part of the equation that people tend to struggle with more. Something in the news for being popular and making money is probably not trading at a low price. Buying low often means a metaphorical dumpster dive to find the unwanted dregs of the market. It is often not pleasant or easy to put your money in something that has a reputation as an unattractive investment. But if you want to buy low, that is where you frequently need to go.

The upshot is that this makes it a lot easier to get excited about a down market. It feels good to participate in a rising market, but it can be difficult to find spots to buy in when markets are up. For a value investor, market selloffs may lead to buying opportunities.

Clients, many of you already know what we are talking about. We are in business with you for a reason—we think you are the best clients in the world. We know it is not always easy to make disciplined investing decisions. But we think you have what it takes.

If you have questions about this or any other topic, please call or email us.


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