trend following

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.