cyclical investments

Selling Out Is a One-Way Ticket

As we know, the markets go up and down. It’s just part of the deal! But sometimes the peaks and drops can get a little intense, so it’s worth revisiting this reality once in a while. 

The most mindful long-term investors are usually less alarmed by the bumps along the way. They know what they’ve got is basically a lifetime pass on a rollercoaster. But it’s the ride to greater potential returns, so they can keep the thrills in perspective. 

What would the alternative be, in our rollercoaster example? If you get spooked on a big drop, there’s no abandoning your seat. “Please keep your hands, arms, feet, and legs inside the vehicle while on this ride,” the announcement cautions. 

It’s best to stay in your seat, your best chance to get to the end of the ride in one piece. 

As long-term investors, we know that we can afford to let each cycle just run its course. Jumping off the ride partway through sets us up for more trouble and more work than it would ever be worth: how would we know when it’s best to jump back on? How do we know that we’ll be able to jump safely? 

We hope this is context enough to allow us to be blunt with you: long-term investing is a ticket for the whole ride, whatever that may mean. 

Selling out? Selling out is a one-way ticket out of our shop. 

Your resources are your business. Where you park your wealth is your decision, completely, and each one of us needs to do what is best for them. 

But we choose to keep at it for those who are thinking about the long haul. We believe it’s the most effective approach to a lifetime of financial wellbeing—and whatever legacy might stretch beyond your lifetime! 

Clients, we strive to communicate our values and intentions clearly. Do you need to clarify anything with us? Call or write, anytime. 

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The Joy of Ownership


The old fashioned equity culture is about owning shares in companies believed to be durable, and holding them through the ups and downs. Often, these might include the familiar names you see on the products in your cupboard or medicine cabinet, or around your home or office.

An ownership share in a blue chip company may fluctuate in value, but a share is a share. The long term growth in the American economy has generally been reflected in its companies. Of course, there are no guarantees about what the future may hold.

More than a decade ago, in the financial crisis that began in 2008, we noticed something different about people who knew the companies they owned. Compared to those who owned investment products consisting of scores or hundreds of holdings, owners seemed to understand that they held shares of ownership in actual businesses. While the value of the shares might fluctuate, a hundred shares generally remains a hundred shares.

If you have this understanding, it may help you maintain a long term perspective, and hold on through the temporary price declines associated with recessions or market corrections. People with indirect holdings by way of products managed by people far away may not feel the same connection to their investments.

We are not suggesting that one strategy is more profitable than the other, only that greater clarity about one’s holdings may be helpful.

It makes sense to use the right tool for the job. There are some investment exposures which are best obtained by something other than direct share ownership. But all things being equal, we prefer to have shares in actual companies, not investment products made out of many underlying holdings.

Clients, if you would like to talk about the joy of ownership or anything else, please email us or call.

20% – 30% – 40% Off!

© Can Stock Photo / PaulMatthew

Some say the seeds of future gains are planted in the downturns. The future is always uncertain, but the past is not: we know many investments can be owned for less money today than last month or last year.

As we go about our work, we are seeking three kinds of bargains.

  • Great companies available at good prices.
  • Cyclical companies at low points in their cycle.
  • The best bargains in the investment universe, wherever they are.

Often, the companies we most admire seem expensive. We know farmers that are always excited to talk about buying their favorite iconic tractor maker. We hear the same thing from parents about the entertainment conglomerate that makes the movies and runs the theme parks their children enjoy. Downturns sometimes reduce stock prices to attractive levels.

Everyone knows that recessions usually hurt company revenues and profits. We are thinking how the inevitable recovery might improve revenues and profits. That long view improves our appetite for temporarily depressed cyclical companies.

Some of our favorite past bargains have come from the sector politely known as “high yield bonds.” (You and I can use a more descriptive term, junk bonds.) From time to time, at rare intervals over the past twenty years, we have found something we believed to be investable hiding in the junk pile. Times might be ripe for that again.

Now is the time. We are studying and thinking and researching to make the most of it.

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

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.

Bargain Hiding in Plain Sight

© Can Stock Photo / mrivserg

Imagine a product that has these uses1:
• Vital part of every home and building.
• Goes into every vehicle; hybrids and electrics use up to four times more.2
• Needed for manufacture, installation and use of solar panels and wind turbines.
• Key requirement in making batteries.

One might imagine that demand for this product will rise in coming years, as technology changes our power grid and transportation, and the world continues to modernize.

Now consider the supply side. It takes billions of dollars and four years or more to create a new production facility. The industry that produces it went through a depression as prices for the product got cut in half from 2011 to 20163. Revenues disappeared, losses mounted, spending got slashed. New projects were cancelled.

Rising demand, constricted supply: we know how this works. Prices will rise, revenues and earnings for producers will go up, stock prices may follow. No guarantees, of course, and the timing is always uncertain.

The product is COPPER. There is no replacement for it. The question we face as investors is, can we get involved on a favorable basis?

We know companies that produce a lot of copper, along with other resources. Their stocks are traded on the New York Stock Exchange. The valuation on their shares seems compelling. A dollar of profit in one trades for a third less than that of the average stock; the other one carries a two-thirds discount. One is trading at one-third of its all-time peak a few years back, the other is discounted even more.

Both stocks have been about twice as volatile as the average stock. (This is measured by a statistic called ‘beta.’) We don’t care. Downside volatility is wonderful if you are trying to buy bargains. But owners should be prepared for the roller-coaster.

Clients, we are telling you this story for a reason. When you hear that ‘the market is too high’ or things are at some unsustainable peak, remember that at 228 Main, we are pounding the table and jumping up and down about the bargains we are finding. If you would like to discuss this or anything else at greater length, please email us or call.

1The World Copper Factbook 2014, International Copper Study Group

2The Electric Vehicle Market and Copper Demand, International Copper Alliance

3Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

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.

Investing involves risk, including possible loss of principal.

The fast price swings in commodities and currencies will result in significant volatility in an investor’s holdings.

The Rear View Mirror and the Windshield


Nobody we know would drive down the highway with eyes glued firmly to the rear-view mirror. The mirror tells us only where we’ve been. The windshield, on the other hand, gives us information about the road ahead.

Yet an investment method popular with many financial representatives and firms relies on a combination of rear view imagery and elaborate statistical calculations. Years of data about the behavior of different investment sectors is fed into a computer program, which spits out the optimal proportions for ownership of every sector. It is said to deliver hopes of the best returns for a given level of volatility.

We see three flaws with this method, called Modern Portfolio Theory or MPT.

The future will not be like the past. MPT is really just high definition, computer-assisted hindsight. It tells you what would have worked up to now, by looking only into the rear-view mirror. Many financial crises provoke a lot of disappointment in people with MPT portfolios.

Our behavior changes with our experiences, thereby changing the future. It was thought going into the 2007-2009 financial crisis that mortgages were safe investments because people always paid them first, even if they couldn’t pay other bills. In reality, auto loans outperformed while mortgages went unpaid. Consequently, the next crisis may well feature large losses in auto loans as too much capital has poured into this ‘safer’ category. MPT cannot see these kinds of dynamics.

People attribute more certainty to MPT computer output because it calculates portfolio holdings and potential variation in account value out to two decimal places. They forget that these are estimates. Adding detail to what is basically a guess does not make it more accurate.

Clients, you have heard us talk about our three principles over and over again. They help us assess the economic and investment landscape. They give us a way to think about how the future might unfold. Although we have no guarantees to offer, or even assurances that our methods are better, at least we are trying to look out the windshield—instead of focusing on the rear-view mirror!

We would rather figure out how to live with volatility and aim for higher returns instead of pretend that focusing on the rear-view mirror will save us grief in the future. If you would like to discuss your situation in more detail, please email us or call the shop.

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

Investing involves risk, including possible loss of principal.