Investing

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Certain Predictions

I’m tired of hearing the predictions. The people who were certain Brexit would fail were certain Trump couldn’t get elected President.  These same people are certain of how the market will move going forward.  Paul Krugman pulled the fire alarm the night of the election when market futures were down huge saying the market would never recover.  Citigroup and Goldman Sachs predicted the possibility of every scenario except the one that happened (a market rally post-election). These folks wear their authority like a crown and revel in lording it over the masses.  Perhaps once upon a time this authority derived from real, actionable knowledge, but today that crown has been pawned in exchange for pageviews, CNBC appearances, and perfect hindsight.  They are desperate for your cash, but even more desperate for your attention.  There is a fear underlying the headlines.  It is not fear of political change or market turmoil….


Donald Trump

Donald Trump is President-elect of the United States of America.  This election reminded me of the Brexit vote across the pond earlier this year.  An entrenched power bloc assumed it had already won, but woke up the day after the election to a powerful reminder of the world outside of their ivory towers.  I voted and I hope you did, too. So What Does Donald Trump Mean For The Markets? It means the uncertainty over who will be President is over.  No kidding, right?  It is cliche by now, but the market does hate uncertainty and knowing who will be in the White House allows companies to eliminate a variable from their business calculus.  You don’t need to be a genius to navigate your portfolio through an election cycle; you need patience and informed optimism.  Even smart people screw up and overreact to short-term blips.  Nobel laureate Paul Krugman of the New…


Pick Good Funds

Pick Good Funds

The Wall Street Journal and the financial community have been abuzz about passive investing.  I wrote about settling for average and outrunning a bear via active management previously.  The newest argument for choosing active management over passive is that investors should choose ‘good’ managers, not average or bad managers. Why didn’t anyone think of that before?  Choosing a good manager sounds like common sense, but really this is an attempted rebuttal of the fact that benchmarks outperform 70-80% of actively managed funds.  Capital Group (parent company of American Funds) even published a scorecard in a sort of homage to S&P’s SPIVA report that touts the performance of ‘good’ funds.  Tim Armour, chairman of Capital Group, asks why an investor would buy Blockbuster stock in the early 2000s when they could have bought Netflix – the assumption being that a good manager would have bought Netflix while an index would have been forced…


Passive Investing

Active Versus Passive in a Down Market

The Wall Street Journal has been publishing articles about passive investing recently.  Many of these articles look like they are pro-passive, but are written by active management shops looking to damn passive with faint praise.  My last post addressed the ‘settle for average returns’ fallacy.  The second argument I often see in support of active management is that it outperforms in down markets. I’m not sold on the data behind this assertion, but let’s assume it’s true and active managers outperform during down markets.  Maybe they aren’t completely invested and hold cash or maybe they just pick the stocks that don’t go down as much.  Whatever the secret, CONGRATULATIONS!  YOU BEAT THE MARKET DURING DOWNTURNS!!! Now you just need to know when the next downturn starts and ends so you can go active at the right time.  That’s where the argument starts to break down.  It’s difficult/impossible to predict what…


Why Settle for Average?

With the recent flood of Wall Street Journal articles about passive investing, now is a good time to review the space.  Money is pouring into firms like Vanguard and iShares, the leaders in the indexing revolution.  Investors are seeing that despite perennial declarations of a “stock-picker’s market”, active managers consistently trail their benchmarks and charge large fees for the privilege of doing so.   You’ll see below that I am an advocate of passive investing, but only when it’s done correctly.  There are plenty of opportunities to use passive incorrectly or to get ripped off by a non-fiduciary product seller. What is passive?  A passive investment is just a rules-based strategy.  Technically, there should be a corresponding index.  For example, if the rule is to weight the investment based on the number of vowels in the company’s name, there should be a high-vowel index that the strategy would use as a…


Eight Years Ago

Eight years ago, we were in the midst of financial crisis.  Warren Buffett penned an op-ed in the New York Times encouraging investors to “Buy American, I Am”.  So did you buy American?  Too many investors were scrambling to do the opposite. On the front page of the New York Times from that day is a big picture of Joe the Plumber and a chart of oil prices shooting up to $140/barrel and then down to $70.  Inside, economist Paul Krugman lambasted the Federal Reserve and predicted a nasty, brutish, and long economic slump.  Who in their right mind would buy stocks in that environment? The S&P 500 fell another 30%, hitting bottom on March 9th, 2009.  Had Warren Buffett lost his touch?  No.  Since October 17, 2008, the S&P 500 has gained over 150% (over 13%, annualized).  The S&P 500 is up over 250% (over 18%, annualized) since the…


The Angels’ Share

As a whisky (whiskey here in the States) matures, it loses about 2% of its volume to evaporation each year.  Distilleries call this The Angels’ Share.  They fill oak casks with a precious liquid knowing that each year part of their hard work will simply disappear.  I can’t help but think of the angels’ share when I look at expense ratios.  An investor sets aside a certain amount of money, let’s say $100,000.  They pay a money manager to invest that money – I’ll use the S&P 500 as an example.  When the investor looks at their statement, they should see that their investment returned the same amount as the index, less whatever the expense was, right?  Looking at the annualized returns, yes, that’s approximately right.  Looking at actual dollars, we see something different.  A portion of the returns evaporates, escaping the pockets of both investor and money manager. This chart…


The Bull and the Swan

Preparing for the swan, it’s possible to miss out on the bull.  In my monthly commentary for Fairway, I asked “What does a 20% gain feel like?”  Spoiler alert: it feels like right now.  The S&P 500 is up about 20% since the bottom in February.  However, no sales people were calling my office 6 months ago to pitch me on how to make the most of the next 20%+ market move to the upside.  Pitches were framed entirely around disaster scenarios or worse… a sideways market (heaven forbid investing turn boring).  The financial product industry has spent the last 7 years pitching products to survive the next Black Swan event (or more accurately, to beat the previous Black Swan), but what happens when the next Black Swan turns out to be a Bull? What is a Black Swan, anyway?  It’s an unexpected event as outlined in Nicholas Taleb’s book…


Fed Minutes

On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve released the minutes from its latest meeting.  The minutes of these meetings are basically a form letter now with the Fed relaying its thoughts on the economy and rates via tweaks in the vocabulary used.  Changing “modestly strong” to “strong” can move markets.  There is a cottage industry of folks who live to parse the Fed minutes.  There are hedge funds using computer algorithms to receive, read, and trade on the Fed minutes faster than it takes you to hit reload on the Federal Reserve’s website.  They are obviously a big deal. Here’s what the Fed minutes mean to you: Nothing. Should you be scrambling to reposition your portfolio ahead of the next Fed meeting?  No.  Should you be scrambling to reposition your portfolio in reaction to a Fed meeting?  No. The great Federal Reserve word hunt is the latest in a long line of…


The Tyranny of the Calendar

We are all beholden to the tyranny of the calendar.  Monthly or quarterly account statements tie a nice bow on a period of time, but can lend false significance to a time period’s returns. If you’ve got a brokerage account or 401(k), you probably got a statement ending on 6/30/2016.  As of the quarter end, the S&P 500 was up 3.99% over the past 12 months and 12.09% annualized over the past 5 years (77.02% cumulative). What if we look at the same performance, but ending a month later on 7/31/2016?  As of the end of July, the S&P 500 was up 5.61% over the previous 12 months and 13.37% over the past 5 years (87.36% cumulative).  What a difference a month can make! If statements were cut on 8/5/2016 we’d see an even bigger leap.  As of Friday, the S&P 500 was up 6.29% over the last 12 months and 15.18% over the past 5 years…