Opinion

No Picture

2018 Outlook

I’ve been meaning to post an outlook for 2018, but I kept putting it off.  Between the holidays, a sick kid, and my belief that calendar year outlooks are dumb, procrastination has been beating my will to write.  No more!  Here are my predictions for 2018: If you have been investing for 10+ years, your 10 year return number is going to look a ton better at the end of 2018 Donald Trump is going to collaborate with Democrats going into the mid-term elections Bitcoin and crypto-assets will rally hard, then have a huge correction at year-end To be honest, those second two predictions are garbage.  The first one, however, is the stealth story of the year. Ten Year Returns If you’ve been investing for over ten years, your ten year return number is going to burst higher.  Why?  The S&P 500 lost 37% in 2008 and that year is…


ESG

Doing Good While (Hopefully) Doing Well

Each year, BlackRock’s Chairman and CEO, Larry Fink, writes a letter to CEOs of “leading companies” in which BlackRock’s clients are shareholders.  Last year’s letter encouraged long-term thinking in the context of a world that is increasingly focused on short-term volatility.  This year’s letter strikes a similar tone, but goes a step further in mentioning environmental, social, and governance (ESG) matters as factors CEOs should be considering in their long-term strategies.  Socially responsible investing (SRI) is gaining traction among investors.  Is this just kumbaya investing or is it for serious investors, too?  Why would anyone do this?  On the other hand, why would anyone NOT do this? The Basics ESG and SRI are sometimes used interchangeably, but they are different.  SRI is the broad overarching investment thesis of the movement.  ESG filters this mandate through three lenses, environmental, social, and governance.  SRI is open to personal interpretation just like the…


cheating

Are You More Likely to Cheat with Bitcoin?

I recently spoke with a client who wanted to know what could go wrong with bitcoin.  We talked about bitcoin and the monetary system (not a risk now, but who knows in the future) as well as black market applications (greenbacks work just as well or better here).  The question stuck with me, though.  What could go wrong?  I remembered attending a session at an IMCA (now the Investments & Wealth Institute) conference with Dan Ariely and something clicked.  Ariely’s research suggests that the further we get from money, the higher the likelihood that we will cheat. Check out his TED talk here.  He performed an experiment where subjects were given a limited amount of time to complete a number of math problems and would get paid based on the number of problems they completed.  Subjects who handed in their papers got an average of 4 problems correct. Lots of…


gummis

Bears, Beats, Bitcoin

In honor of my favorite vignette from The Office… Question:  What kind of bear is best? ‘Tis the season for market predictions (and forgetting last year’s predictions).  The optimists predict low single digit returns for equities.  The bears predict bear things.  Which means no one expects even decent stock market returns.  Now more than ever it makes sense to hold a portfolio that doesn’t require you to predict the future to be successful. Bears Eat Beets Schwab’s Jeffrey Kleintop points out that while stocks have gone up every month this year, so have earnings. Battlestar Galactica Bitcoin is going bananas yet again.  Charlie Bilello has tracked bitcoin sentiment via Twitter polls at major milestones which is fascinating.  He also occasionally marks bitcoin’s “market cap” (or whatever you want to call it) which has hit $214 billion.  OMG!  That’s more than Home Depot!!! Calm down, Apple’s cash hoard is around $270…


No Picture

My Favorite Posts This Week

I try to share good posts via Twitter.  A bunch of people were writing solid stuff this week:   A Little Knowledge is Dangerous – Nick Maggiulli – Surprising stat about survival rates for people lost in the wild.  Kids six and under have a surprisingly high survival rate while one of the lowest is for kids seven to twelve.  Younger kids follow their instincts.  Older kids overthink and panic.  This maps over to investing in that knowing a little bit can lead to devastating over-confidence. Is Robert Shiller Right that Passive Investing is Dangerous? – Cullen Roche, Chicken Farmer – This is a sensible layout of one argument in the active/passive debate, pointing out that the sides often aren’t even debating the same points. How to Deal with Market Moving News – Ben Carlson – Binary thinking and single variable analysis are killers to long-term portfolio success. Backtested Strategies:…


Bitcoin Mine

Moar Bitcoin!

After my last post about Bitcoin, I got a lot of, “So… Bitcoin?”  No one has a concrete opinion on this thing except the evangelists, but everyone wants to discuss it.  Skeptics seem more concerned about staying in their lane than dragging down crypto – they don’t understand it, they don’t need it, and maybe it smells a bit fishy to them. I think crypto is an elegant solution in search of a problem and I am constantly reminded of the early internet.  We didn’t see the use of the internet at first, but today it’s a basic utility.  Here’s how I’m looking at Bitcoin right now. What is the Purpose? It’s a way to store wealth.  This is particularly handy if your centralized currency authority is devaluing/confiscating.  With fewer institutions between transacting parties (basically just the network), Bitcoin is a fast and cheap way to send money to someone…


Bitcoin

I Changed My Mind On Bitcoin

I changed my mind on Bitcoin a few weeks ago.  A bunch of smart people had made public comments on it, generating buzz.  I was going to write up a short summary for our investment team with pros and cons, ultimately concluding that Bitcoin was garbage.  But then I did some research. I read this Letter to Jamie Dimon which is the best tutorial on crypto-currencies (maybe more accurately crypto-assets) out there. I got sucked in to Patrick O’Shaughnessy’s Hash Power podcast series and have listened to it twice now. I’m convinced that Bitcoin is a real thing that has value.  Is it worth $7,500?  I have no idea and neither does anyone else.  Crypto-assets are an uncharted territory, basically a new paradigm along the lines of the invention of the internet.  Like the internet’s early days, nobody knows where the value lies yet.  The hip thing to say now…


Congrats

Tone Deaf on ETFs

A couple of major announcements in the Exchange Traded Fund (ETF) world last week: State Street announced that they slashed the expense ratios on a ton of their ETFs and TD Ameritrade added a ton of ETFs to their ‘no-commission’ platform.  At first glance, this is great news.  Cheaper beta is available to more investors.  However, this is actually tone-deaf and a transparent money grab.  Hopefully, investors will show that they know better. Huh? State Street’s fee reductions are late in arriving.  Vanguard and iShares have been eating State Street’s lunch for years, in large part due to lower expenses.  Will investors flock to State Street now that it is the low-cost provider?  Perhaps the dumb ones will.  Investors who have money with Vanguard or iShares likely have huge gains.  Selling these positions to save a couple of basis points would be penny wise and pound foolish. While it is…


Harvard

Update on Everyone’s Favorite $37 Billion Hedge Fund

It’s Harvard.  The $37 billion hedge fund is Harvard. More specifically, I’m referencing Harvard’s endowment.  When Harvard announced yet another management change last year, I was skeptical.  It seemed to me that Jane Mendillo inherited a mess created by an intellectual mercenary (who left his next employer under undesirable circumstances as well).  This began a management carousel ending with N.P. “Narv” Narvekar most recently taking over as CEO of the Harvard Management Company (HMC).  Reading the latest endowment report, I think Narv might be able to turn this thing around.  He is looking to improve HMC’s culture, structure, and incentives. The Changes Culture is difficult to change in any setting, especially after so much turnover in management.  Narvekar wants to build a singular team rather than insular tribes.  Getting buy-in from people who have seen several leaders come and go will not be easy.  Narvekar does have an advantage in…


Second Grade

For William’s First Day of Second Grade

Today’s post is a departure from the norm of investment news and snark.  I’m going to share a bit about my son, William, and ask you to spend a minute of your day to think about his cause. William was born in 2010 with Autosomal Recessive Polycystic Kidney Disease, or ARPKD.  We spent his first days with him in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).  He was in a plastic box and a machine was helping him breathe.  These were critical days.  We couldn’t hold our son.  He was cradled by a tangle of tubes and monitoring cables.  Most of all, the sounds will stick with me.  The beepbeepbeepBOOP alert of his pulsox unit, the inflating of the blood pressure cuff every 15 minutes, and assorted klaxons and pings haunt me.  You wonder if this alert is the big one.  What’s wrong?  And we were powerless to do anything, wondering if…