market trends

Four Trends for Fall, 2018

© Can Stock Photo / Elenathewise

The gap between consensus expectations and reality as it unfolds is where we think profit potential lives. This is why we put so much effort into studying trends, and the ramifications for investors.

One year ago, we wrote about four trends. The next energy revolution (solar + batteries), long range prospects for the world’s most populous democracy, the airline industry, and rising interest rates continue to play roles in our thoughts and portfolios.

Other ideas are also in play.

1. Thinking about the next few years, our highest conviction idea is inflation will exceed consensus expectations. Some of the ways we act on this belief may provide some counterweight to other portfolio holdings, since inflation hurts some industries while it helps others.

2. As the economic expansion lengthens toward record territory, the desire to extend our lifespan tends to be insensitive to the business cycle. Biopharmaceutical companies, working on cures for everything from Alzheimers to various forms of cancer, seem attractively priced.

3. The trend toward rising interest rates, noted last year, may have an effect on weaker and more leveraged companies. We are looking to avoid the second-order and third-order effects that higher rates may have on some borrowers.

4. US stocks have become popular relative to international equities, with dramatic outperformance over the past decade. At some point the trend changes, and better value usually wins out.

One of the difficult things about being contrarian–going against the crowd–is that we sometimes look silly. When everybody else is having more success in the short run while we search for bargains, it can be tough. But that is what we do. We’re excited about the continuing evolution of your holdings as the future unfolds.

We can offer no guarantees except that we will continue to put our best effort into the endeavor. Clients, if you have any questions or comments or insights to add, 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 economic forecasts set forth in this material may not develop as predicted and there can be no guarantee that strategies promoted will be successful.

 

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.

Gradually And Then Suddenly

canstockphoto11234988.jpg

In the novel The Sun Also Rises, author Ernest Hemingway gives us an insight into an interesting mechanism. One character asks another how his bankruptcy happened. The reply? “Two ways. Gradually and then suddenly.”

It seems to us that many things in the economy and markets happen the same two ways. Prices rise slowly at first, then gain momentum. Or a market stalls and declines slowly for a time, then falls swiftly. Or business activity, at the bottom of a recession, begins to tick higher, almost imperceptibly, until it takes off.

And in our own affairs, we see the same situation. We talked recently with a client in her middle 70’s, who noted she now had higher income than at any point in her working years. Compounding builds wealth only gradually for a long time, then (it seems) suddenly.

(People who are liquidating investment balances with overly large withdrawals see the same thing, in reverse. Balances decline gradually, then suddenly.)

An important part of our work is helping people visualize those inflection points for trends that are nearly imperceptible at first. When we first begin to save a small amount each payday, it is hard to see the fortune that might emerge over time. And when markets seem to be just slogging through the mud month after month, positive changes are tough to imagine. Our role is to help people see how this works.

The same mechanism applies to our work in researching investments. For example, there are sectors that have done well in recent years, with abundant liquidity in a period with easy monetary policy. But we have seen this movie before: liquidity dries up gradually, then suddenly. This specific issue is on our radar.

The challenge is that investment prices and economic indicators have a lot of volatility in the normal course of events, most of it meaningless. Most years, the major stock market indices rise about half of all days and fall about half of all days. Not everything is a trend happening gradually at first, then suddenly. Some of it is just noise. We work hard to sort it out.

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. 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.

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

No Free Lunch

© Can Stock Photo / 279photo

From time to time, we meet people who are devoted to avoiding the worst selloffs in the market. When there are so many simple statistical tools available to keep track of the trend, they say, it makes no sense to stay in the market when the trend is against you.

For example, by selling out when the major stock market indices dip below their 200 day moving averages, and buying back only when they climb back above, one could have avoided significant damage in the worst downturns.

The problem is, one could also have avoided some really sharp recoveries from low levels. And in any lengthy test of these mechanical rules, generally they would have cost money to implement.

The key question is, what fraction of your total returns would you be willing to give up in order to get a smoother ride along the way? Would it be OK to have 30% less money after twenty years? 20% less? 40% less?

Our point is, there is a cost to the human preference for stability. There is no free lunch. The trend-following systems that save you from damage also tend to water down your results over the long term.

We believe we get paid to endure volatility. Living with the ups and downs when so few are willing to do it…that’s what we do. We seek to understand what fraction of your money can be invested for the long term, without regard to volatility—and invest for you on that basis.

The markets have had volatile spells, but year by year results have been positive since 2009 in the major averages1. We know that sooner or later, unpleasant times are going to come around.

Our principles may hope to offer some cover from overvalued markets. Avoiding stampedes and seeking the best bargains may or may not limit the damage—we have a mixed record, and no guarantees. With the uncertainties of the markets, and the impossibility of knowing the future, it is comforting to have principles by which to operate.

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

1Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, S&P Dow Jones Indices. Retrieved May 21st, 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 indices are unmanaged and may not be invested into directly.

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.

All investing involves risk including loss of principal.

It Works Until It Doesn’t

© Can Stock Photo / joebelanger

Money poured into tech stocks in the late 1990s. Then it went into residential real estate in the middle 2000s. No wonder: prices marched higher, year after year—until they didn’t.

We humans usually believe that recent trends will continue. When friends and neighbors and coworkers are getting in on the action, it is easy to join them.

A powerful narrative that seems to be creating a lot of wealth is hard to resist. “We have entered a new era.” “This time is different.” “You can’t lose money in real estate.”

Popularity pushes values farther and farther away from the underlying economics, and a reversal usually follows. The bubble pops; a great number of people are surprised. Some end up with losses instead of the gains they felt sure about making.

Our analysis suggests that a new kind of bubble is upon us. The zero interest rate policy or ZIRP of the Federal Reserve Board for most of the past decade led to a scramble for yield. This moved the valuation on many kinds of investments that pay income into very rich territory, in our opinion.

For example, we were recently pitched on a “cash substitute” with a 5% yield, in a supposedly liquid form. Sounds great, right? Perhaps too good to be true.

Indeed, when we took the proposition apart, we found it was made largely out of corporate bonds in financially weak companies—junk bonds, in other words. To make matters worse, the manager pursued opportunities in a thinly-traded part of the market—odd lots, small amounts of each bond that are unattractive to other buyers.

This idea will work until it doesn’t. When the next economic slowdown creates cracks in the theory, investors who believed they owned a “cash substitute” may be sensitive about losses of any size. As they cash out, the manager may be forced to sell into a market with even fewer buyers.

The silver lining for us is that dislocations bring opportunities. Prices overshoot in both directions. One of our roles is to try to spot these anomalies, and figure out which ones are attractive opportunities for you. (We have no guarantees of success in this.)

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. 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.

All investing, including stocks, involves risk including loss of principal.

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

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.

 

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.

Stealthy is the Bull

© Can Stock Photo / KarSol

The broad stock market indicators like the Dow Jones Average and the S&P 500 Stock Index reached a low point in March 2009, near the end of the financial crisis. Looking back a year or four years or seven years later, hindsight showed that the crisis was potentially a great buying opportunity.

Many investors missed out on the multi-year rise, however. (Or should they be called former investors?) In real time, nobody ever knows what will happen next, particularly in the short term. And rising markets, or ‘bull markets’ as they are known, seem to have many disguises.

After a rebound begins from a long decline, inevitably some pundits label the rise with an overly colorful phrase, “dead cat bounce.” The implication is that, while there might be a bounce, it certainly won’t go very high or last very long—the market is going nowhere.

Next comes the idea that if buying has produced a slight turnaround, it is just “short-covering.” This means that speculators who profited from the drop are now booking their profits, reversing their positions. Supposedly, there are no ‘real’ buyers.

When the market persists in the upward trend, the next excuse might be that “the market got oversold.” Therefore a temporary bounce is to be expected, before the market slumps again.

Then when the next slump fails to show, pessimists start saying things like, “We can’t know we are in a new uptrend unless the market reaches new all-time highs.” Or “It has gone up too far, too fast.”

When you take a step back and look at the big picture, those poor pessimists never could get back into the stock market. They had one rationale after another to doubt the recovery; meanwhile the market went up and up.

Do not worry about the bears, however: they have a new story. “The market is too expensive.”

Fortunately, we don’t buy the whole market anyway—we seek the bargains. You can read about our current strategies in this article. If you would like to talk about your portfolio or situation, please write 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.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average is comprised of 30 stocks that are major factors in their industries and widely held by individuals and institutional investors.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index is a capitalization weighted index of 500 stocks designed to measure performance of the broad domestic economy through changes in the aggregate market value of 500 stocks representing all major industries.

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

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.