investment principles

Steering the Herd

© Can Stock Photo / carla720

One of our core investment principles is to “avoid the stampede.” If you read this site regularly you have heard us say this over and over again, but we think it bears repeating.

As part of our work we talk to many product representatives who want a slice of our business. There are countless product providers out there competing for our attention, and your money. There are limited amounts of both to go around, so inevitably most of the wholesalers that talk to us are going to be disappointed. However, we still like talking to them as they do us a vital service: they tell us which way the stampede is going.

We are contrarians by nature. When we hear someone tell us that a lot of people are buying something, our instinct is not to line up alongside them. When a lot of people tell us that a lot of people are buying the same thing—our instinct is to run far, far away.

Lately, what we are hearing from the product wholesalers is that everyone is piling into exotic alternative investments. Everyone is looking for exciting new products that are not correlated to stock market returns, and boy, are the product providers ever ready to sell it to them.

We live in uncertain times, and it is understandable to be spooked at some of the troubling headlines we see. We understand the desire to seek safety. But, we believe that safety is not to be found from following the herd. Omaha is famous for its stockyards and slaughterhouses; we know that when the cattle are all getting steered together, it rarely ends well for the cattle.

We know there are always uncertainties with the economy and the markets. But the sales pitches we hear for everything non-correlated to stocks makes us feel a lot more secure in our traditional equity investment philosophy. There may come a time when the herd starts stampeding back towards equities and it will be time for us to look elsewhere. For now, though, our equity focus puts us in lonely company when it comes to wholesalers—and that is just how we like it.

If you want to talk about any market trends or sales pitches you may have noticed, please feel free to 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.

Why Not Both?

© Can Stock Photo / stockcreations

We keep reading a curious idea promoted by some in the financial industry. It goes like this: “Managing investor behavior is the key task for advisors, not managing investments.”

That framework assumes there is a choice between one or the other. There are two flaws in the assumption. It does not have to be an either-or deal. And some fraction of people don’t require babysitters for their natural investment behavior, which is effective.

We believe in BOTH of these roles. It may be true that raw human nature is generally counterproductive to sound investing. (Behavioral economists tend to think so.) Our theory and experience says that the attitudes and behavior of individuals can be deliberately shaped to their benefit—and ours.

What may apply as a general principle to all people does not necessarily apply to you as an individual. You have free will. And we believe people can learn.

So we spend a great deal of time and effort talking to you, and communicating about the mindsets and strategies and tactics we believe are effective. But that is only part of the job.

Legendary investor Charlie Munger said, “We wouldn’t be so rich if other people weren’t wrong so often.” By avoiding stampedes in the market, we may sidestep a poor situation that others are getting into. And by seeking the best bargains, we are looking for holdings that others may be wrong about.

In other words, two of our fundamental principles about investment management are founded in a belief that investment selection matters because people are often wrong. We see investor behavior as a creator of opportunities for our clients—not a problem to be managed. Clients, we keep saying you are special: this is why. We believe your investment behavior is exemplary.

Knowing what you own and why you own it, operating in accordance with sound principles and strategy, makes it easier to behave effectively. These things reinforce each other.

Manage behavior, or manage investments? It isn’t either-or—we need to pay attention to both. Clients, if you would like to discuss this at greater length, 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.

Flexible Tactics, Timeless Values

© Can Stock Photo / happyalex

In business, the things that change draw a lot of energy. New technology, new ways of doing things, and new ideas grab our attention. The new offers the promise of competitive advantage.

Less attention goes to the things that never change. The timeless things can compound over long periods. Successful enterprises may need to harness both the new and the timeless. At 228 Main, we need both to serve you well.

For example, Amazon is one of the most dynamic companies in the world. The growth and evolution of the company has been astonishing. Yet founder Jeff Bezos focuses most closely on the things that never change.

According to Bezos, his customers want low prices, vast selection, and fast delivery. They wanted those things twenty years ago, and they will want those same things twenty years from now. When you invest in meeting unchanging needs, the returns may roll in for many years.

Writer and thinker Morgan Housel wrote that every sustainable business relies on one or more timeless features. We believe the key features you would like us to deliver include close human interaction, confidence and trust, and transparency. (Transparency in this context means ‘what you see is what you get.’)

We have previously noted that 21st century communications allow us to be radically transparent and to connect more closely. When we improve our processes for research and trading and portfolio analysis, we generate more time to work with you one on one. Our sense is that all these things together may increase your confidence in us.

Amazon continuously improves methods and tactics to deliver on its timeless strategy. We seek to do the same. Clients, if you would like to offer your perspective (or discuss 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 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.

Amazon, Leibman Financial Services and LPL Financial are not affiliated.

Our Three Principles, or Postmodern Portfolio Theory

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / nahlik

We recently wrote about the conventional investment wisdom, as embodied in Modern Portfolio Theory. No surprise here: we don’t like it. The pie charts, talk of asset classes and correlation…it is all wonderful until it isn’t. Our alternative approach relies on three fundamental principles. We believe they apply in every season.

Our first principle, avoid stampedes in the markets, is based on our understanding that the stampede is usually going the wrong way. There was a stampede into tech stocks in 1999, which ended badly. There was a stampede into real estate in the early 2000’s, which ended badly. There was a stampede into commodities after that, which ended badly. In short, major peaks are usually accompanied by a stampede of money that drives prices to extremes.

Our second principle, seek the best bargains, lets us sort “the market” into its pieces. The three major asset classes are stocks, bonds, and cash alternatives. Cash and its alternatives currently earn practically zero-point-nothing interest rates; bonds are barely better. Diving one level deeper into stocks, we find that some sectors and industries are expensive and others appear to be bargains.

Our third principle is to seek to own the orchard for the fruit crop. Portfolio income is an important component of total returns, and those among us who rely on our portfolios to buy groceries surely understand the importance of cash income. As noted above, interest rates remain very close to zero—we do not believe that bonds or cash alternatives are a good way to generate income these days. But we are currently enjoying generous dividends from many companies in the bargain sectors, including the oil and natural resource companies. Other holdings purchased in past years continue to pay regular dividends, from pipelines to telecom to auto stocks.

We must note that, in actual practice, these principles require patience. One should always know where needed cash and necessary income will come from. Please see our post ‘The Fruits of Investment (link)’ for a fuller treatment of the three principles in action.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. We suggest that you discuss your specific situation with your financial advisor prior to investing. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

There is no guarantee that a diversified portfolio will enhance overall returns or outperform a non-diversified portfolio. Diversification does not protect against market risk.

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

Behavioral Economics and The Price of Stability

Stone wall with gold letters spelling out STABILITYThe first theory of economists was that human beings act rationally. When they realized they needed a new theory, the field of Behavioral Economics was born.

One of the key findings of Behavioral Economics is that the pain of a loss is twice as great as the pleasure of a corresponding gain. Rationally speaking, if you earn $5 it should feel just as satisfying as if you earned $10 and then lost $5 of that—but we still feel the sting of the loss harder, even though the outcome is the same.

If people weigh these two otherwise identical outcomes differently, when it comes time to invest they will wind up paying more for $5 earned in stable investments than they would for $5 earned in volatile investments. There is no shortage of expensive products designed to pander to this tendency by selling the promise of stability at a premium.

The necessary conclusion we see—the one nobody else seems to—is that if the price of stability is too high, the potential rewards for enduring volatility must be larger than they otherwise should be.

These concepts shape our work, our strategies, and our tactics. “The pain of a loss” is determined by one’s mindset, training, and understanding. Many great investors (and many of our clients) feel no pain over short-term losses. Some are even gleeful at the chance to buy securities at bargain prices. One of our roles is to help you develop more productive and effective attitudes about investing, and we believe that by training yourself out of irrational pain over short-term volatility you can perform better in the long run.


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

The illustration is hypothetical and is not representative of any specific investment. Your results may vary.

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

Is the Market Too High? A Principled View

We follow three guiding principles in our work. Avoid stampedes in the markets, find what we believe to be the biggest bargains, and seek to “own the orchard for the fruit crop.” (The orchard analogy for income-producing securities is apt, since neither crops nor dividends are guaranteed.) In this letter, we will explore how these principles apply to one question that seems to be quite common these days. The question is whether the stock market is simply “too high,” based on the move up from the panic lows of 2009.

Our first principle, avoid stampedes in the markets, is based on our understanding that the stampede is usually going the wrong way. There was a stampede into tech stocks in 1999, which ended badly. There was a stampede into real estate in the early 2000’s, which ended badly. There was a stampede into commodities after that, which ended badly. In short, major peaks are usually accompanied by a stampede of money that drives prices to extremes. Our observation is that there has been no stampede into stocks yet, no overwhelming volume of money driving prices to ridiculous levels.

Our second principle, seek the best bargains, lets us sort “the market” into its pieces. The three major asset classes are stocks, bonds, and cash alternatives. Cash and its alternatives currently earn zero-point-nothing interest rates; bonds are barely better. Diving one level deeper into stocks, we find that some sectors and industries are expensive and others appear to be bargains. For example, natural resources in most forms have seen falling prices for several years. Oil is about one-third of the 2008 price; copper is near a decade-low; the price of iron ore has been falling for four years. So stocks in the largest global natural resource companies are as low as one-third or one-fourth of the peak prices of a few years ago.

As a counterbalance to natural resource companies, we have found potential bargains among companies that benefit from low energy and resource prices: selected automakers and suppliers, airlines, trucking companies, and manufacturers. While “the market” may or may not be too high, these companies certainly do not appear to be too high.

Our third principle is to seek to own the orchard for the fruit crop. Portfolio income is an important component of total returns, and those among us who rely on our portfolios to buy groceries surely understand the importance of cash income. As noted above, interest rates remain very close to zero—we do not believe that bonds or cash alternatives are a good way to generate income these days. But we are currently enjoying generous dividends from many companies in the bargain sectors, including the oil and natural resource companies. Other holdings purchased in past years continue to pay regular dividends, from pipelines to telecom to auto stocks.

Summing up, this study of our principles leads us to say “the market” is not too high, particularly the sectors we currently own. No guarantees, of course, and past performance is no guarantee of future returns.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. We suggest that you discuss your specific situation with your financial advisor prior to investing. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

Stock investing involves risk including loss of principal.

The payment of dividends is not guaranteed. Companies may reduce or eliminate the payment of dividends at any given time.

Investing in real estate involves special risks such as potential illiquidity and may not be suitable for all investors.

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

Precious metal investing involves greater fluctuation and potential for losses.

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.

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

No strategy assures success or protects against loss.