market timing

Security Selection Doesn’t Matter—or Does It?

© Can Stock Photo / alexh

One of the staples of conventional investing wisdom is asset allocation—the choosing of broad market sectors, determines investment outcomes. Supposedly, the selection of individual securities within each sector barely matters.

We will explain where the flaw is after a little history. The theory dates back to 1986 when the Financial Analysts Journal published a paper, ‘Determinants of Portfolio Performance.’ The authors concluded that asset allocation explained 93.6% of the variation in portfolio quarterly returns.

Since then, others have concluded that as much as 100% of returns are explained by asset allocation, that security selection doesn’t matter at all.

This version of reality is convenient for some financial planners, who are thereby relieved of the work of actually researching securities and managing portfolios based on that research. If it doesn’t matter what you own, only the category, you simply need to choose your pie chart of sectors and buy stuff to fill it up!

Here is the flaw: all securities are owned all the time, by someone. If you look at the aggregate of all investors (or many investors), security selection appears not to matter. But the individual does not own all securities – and the specific selection of what he or she does own has a huge impact on outcomes.

Investor A buys a security for $100, sells it later for $25 to Investor B. Investor B holds it while it recovers to $100. One has a 75% loss, the other a 300% gain. Security selection matters. In the aggregate, the security started at $100 and ended at $100. But that leaves out the loss for one and the gain for another.

One of Warren Buffett’s earliest investors put $15,000 in, back in the 1950s. Today his name is on the home of the symphony orchestra in Omaha, a beautiful performing arts facility he donated to the community. Security selection matters.

We offer no guarantees about the outcome of our work. But we believe the selection of individual securities is the biggest factor in those outcomes. If you would like to discuss this topic or anything else at greater length, 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.

Investing involves risk, including possible loss of principal.

Asset allocation does not ensure a profit or protect against a loss.

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

Sell That Dog!

© Can Stock Photo / artshotphoto

Sometimes the world changes, we notice, and take action in your portfolios. An attractive opportunity may arise, or some issue may develop with a holding we already own. This is the story of a problem that developed, and how we handled it.

For several years we had owned shares in a certain class of telephone companies. Smaller landline carriers, generally serving less-populous areas, offered very high dividend yields. We believed there was a gap between perception and reality from which we could profit.

You see, everyone knew that landlines were in decline as consumers switched to cell phones only. This trend was particularly pronounced among younger households. But we knew that consumer landlines were a small part of the revenues of these companies. Most of the business came from data lines for businesses and high-speed internet access for consumers.

We were happy to own the shares and collect the dividends, believing that growth in the growing parts of the companies might offset shrinkage in the shrinking parts.

An amazing thing happened in 2016. For the first time ever, the number of homes connected by wire to the internet declined. People began to rely more on their smart phones and pad-type devices to connect. Some no longer needed or wanted a computer connected to the internet anymore. This was not what we expected.

We realized the ramifications for our holdings: the part of the business that was supposed to be growing was now shrinking! If revenues declined, dividend cuts would not be far behind. There seemed to be no chance for these companies to preserve value for shareowners.

Fortunately we had been cutting back these holdings for some time to make room for opportunities in high yield bonds. But we concluded that we had better divest the rest. We got rid of the rest of the holdings in all discretionary accounts in a single day of trading.

As we reviewed market sectors recently, we could not help but notice that the two former main telephone holdings were down year to date by more than 35%. Thank goodness we sold out.

Clients, nobody is perfect. The markets have a way of humbling everyone. We do think we improve our chances with wide-ranging research, study and thought. If you would like to discuss these ideas or any other pertinent topic, 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.

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

High yield/junk bonds (grade BB or below) are not investment grade securities, and are subject to higher interest rate, credit, and liquidity risks than those graded BBB and above. They generally should be part of a diversified portfolio for sophisticated investors.

A 10% Correction is Coming!

canstockphoto2807017

There is an amazing thing about the performance of the stock market this year. Looking at the S&P 500 Stock Index, it has hardly dipped more than a few percent from its peaks. There has been a little wiggling, but far less than usual.

We human beings have a remarkable capacity to get used to current conditions, and expect them to persist. This could make trouble for us when the 10% market correction does eventually come around.

Long time clients know we believe that these market drops can neither be predicted nor traded profitably. Many of you call when the market does drop, seeking to invest in any bargains that appeared. We know how this works!

(Of course, we do not own ‘the market.’ Our holdings—and your account balances—sometimes deviate from the direction of the market. In 2016 we were fond of the difference. 2017 so far, the market is a little ahead of us. The point is, the market wiggles up and down, and our performance relative to the market also moves around.)

Commentator Morgan Housel recently wrote “every past market crash looks like an opportunity, but every future market crash looks like a risk.” Our experience after the 2007-2009 downturn demonstrated the first part of that statement. It is the next market crash that we must be concerned with.

Our research process is focused on finding bargains. We’ve taken steps in many portfolios to dampen volatility by changing holdings. Cash levels are generally higher, too. But none of these things will eliminate the temporary fluctuations that are an integral and necessary part of long term investing.

The market will decline. Our portfolios will decline. These declines will seem like a risk when we are going through them; we may see later that they really were an opportunity. The relative calm we’ve experience recently will give way to more volatile times—we know this, and should not be surprised by it.

We’re working to be in position to profit from opportunities that arise. Clients, if you would like to discuss your situation in greater detail, 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 indices are unmanaged and may not be invested into directly.

Investing involves risk, including possible loss of principal.

Sell in May and Go Away?

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / photocreo

One popular piece of market lore revolves around the idea that virtually all of the stock market’s cumulative gains over large chunks of the past have come between November and May. The other half of the year, from May to November, has produced little in the way of gains, on average. Hence the saying, “sell in May and go away.”

There are three challenges facing anyone who seeks to act on this supposed wisdom. The first one is, any widely expected event gets discounted by the market as it gains currency with the public. If the saying works, it will get overexposed until it stops working.

The second challenge is, the statistics on which the lore rests are averages—they say nothing about what happens in any particular year, much less about what will happen this year.

The third challenge is the most interesting of all. When one examines the results of not selling in May and never going away, one wonders what more could be desired. I (Mark Leibman) was born in May 1956, when the S&P 500 Index stood at 44. As I write this, the index is 54 times higher. This calculation of a 5,300% profit excludes dividends, which would have added considerably. This tells us how not selling in May would have worked over the past nearly sixty years.

Our purpose in writing is to help you avoid being tricked by the “Sell in May” idea into a short-sighted investment decision. There are always reasons to worry about the future, developments which alarm people, and fear mongers peddling pessimism for profit. Against the dynamism and ingenuity inherent in human endeavors, these fears and worries have yet to produce a permanent downturn in the economy or the market.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

Indices are unmanaged and cannot be invested into directly. Unmanaged index returns do not reflect fees, expenses, or sales charges. Index performance is not indicative of the performance of any investment. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

The Tactical Bubble

© Can Stock Photo / fullempty

Our long-time friends know that avoiding stampedes is one of our fundamental principles. We human beings know how to take things too far, history suggests. So we are always on the lookout for trends that may have become too popular.

A year or two ago, in the investment product market, “unconstrained bond managers” were all the rage. With interest rates near all-time low points and risk high, these magicians would own only the smart parts of the somewhat risky bond market. It turns out that all the money that poured into this idea would not fit into just the smart stuff.

We see a new trend today. Solicitations and information about investment concepts and products comes at us all day long, every day. Organizations would like us to send your money to them; human nature being what it is, they usually emphasize popular ideas, or ones that sound great. One term dominates these pitches nowadays.

You know we are contrarian—if everyone else likes something, we believe that alone is a reason to be cautious.

The trendy term is “tactical.” One of the dictionary definitions is “adroit in planning or maneuvering to accomplish a purpose.”

It is out of fashion to simply acknowledge (as we do) that the markets are volatile and fluctuate, an inherent feature that long term investors must face. The popular delusion is to pretend that a “tactical” manager can own stocks while they go up, then sell out to avoid the damage from the inevitable downturn.

It is a great story. Unfortunately, as a wise person noted a very long time ago, “They do not ring a bell at the top.” Is a 1% decline the first step of a 20% bear market? Or is it just the typical volatility that jerks the market around every week or month? No one ever knows.

The risk is that a small decline shakes the tactical investor out of the market, right before it turns around and makes new highs.

We have no issue in being ‘adroit in maneuvering.’ We think our work over the past couple of years shows that we are, hopefully, more adroit than ever. But it stretches credulity to believe that vast amounts of money can all be adroit at the same time.

Investors who have been fooled into believing that volatility can be sharply reduced or eliminated with no adverse effects on performance are likely to be disappointed. We are studying the potential impact if and when the “tactical” fad unwinds. Clients, if you would like to discuss this or any other matter, please email us or call.


Stock investing involves risk including loss of principal.

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.

Securities and advisory services offered through LPL Financial, a Registered Investment Advisor, Member FINRA/SIPC.

Sell in May and Go Away?

One popular piece of market lore revolves around the idea that virtually all of the stock market’s cumulative gains over large chunks of the past have come between November and May. The other half of the year, from May to November, has produced little in the way of gains, on average. Hence the saying, “sell in May and go away.”

There are three challenges facing anyone who seeks to act on this supposed wisdom. The first one is, any widely expected event gets discounted by the market as it gains currency with the public. If the saying works, it will get overexposed until it stops working© Can Stock Photo Inc. / photocreo.

The second challenge is, the statistics on which the lore rests are averages—they say nothing about what happens in any particular year, much less about what will happen this year.

The third challenge is the most interesting of all. When one examines the results of not selling in May and never going away, one wonders what more could be desired. I (Mark Leibman) was born in May 1956, when the S&P 500 Index stood at 44. As I write this, the index is 47 times higher. This calculation of a 4,600% profit excludes dividends, which would have added considerably. This tells us how not selling in May would have worked over the past nearly sixty years.

Our purpose in writing is to help you avoid being tricked by the “Sell in May” idea into a short-sighted investment decision. There are always reasons to worry about the future, developments which alarm people, and fear mongers peddling pessimism for profit. Against the dynamism and ingenuity inherent in human endeavors, these fears and worries have yet to produce a permanent downturn in the economy or the market.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

Indices are unmanaged and cannot be invested into directly. Unmanaged index returns do not reflect fees, expenses, or sales charges. Index performance is not indicative of the performance of any investment. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Broken Clocks and Market Timing

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / Pshenichka

The first quarter of 2016 is drawing to a close, and as of this writing the S&P 500 Index is roughly where it was at the start of the year, hovering a meager half a percent under the December 31 close of 2043.94 after having peaked half a percent higher earlier last week.

One might conclude that it has been a very boring three months for the stock market—we’ve spent 90 days to get back to where we started from. But we’ve had quite a rollercoaster in-between. In the first half of the quarter the S&P dropped about 10%, only to have an equally dramatic bounce back.

We had some calls from worried clients after that drop. (Not many, though—we know our clients, and they know us and our philosophy.) We would certainly like to take credit for having righted the ship and reversing the decline. But the truth of the matter is that there is a lot of random noise in market movements. We believe that we may be able to capitalize on long-term market trends; we do not pretend to be able to predict what the market will do day to day or month to month.

We do know that every once in a while there will be a short-lived 10% correction in the market, so we don’t believe in panicking when the markets take a dip. But we don’t know when, or how long, or how deep a periodic correction will be.

They say that even a broken clock is right twice a day. Market timing often feels the same. Even if you have a deeply held conviction that a market is due for a move, you may have to wait an unpleasantly long time before you turn out to be right. In hindsight market moves seem obvious, and it is tempting to look back and curse having missed the opportunity to sell at a top or buy in at a bottom. But at the time, nobody knew that they were at the top or the bottom. If we could accurately predict when the top or bottom would hit, we wouldn’t be here dispensing financial advice. We’d be sitting on a beach somewhere in the tropics, having rum runners dispensed to us.

Maybe someday we’ll get a better crystal ball that can make those predictions. Until then, we’ll just settle for getting rich the slow way and leave market timing to the gamblers and bookies.


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