James Bond movies and the TV series Seinfeld are both classics and cultural touchstones, but the conflicts in these stories could have been resolved more quickly than they played out. Goldfinger could have just shot Bond instead of strapping him to a table under a slow-moving laser. Seinfeld episodes like The Parking Garage (the gang splits up to look for their car and hijinks ensue as they struggle to meet back up) would unravel with one small change: the cell phone.
Just because conflict could have been avoided doesn’t mean these aren’t great stories. They are great stories because of the conflict. We don’t want the murder to be solved 10 minutes into a cop drama. We want to see the struggle because that’s what we experience in the world each day.
This is why so many have been wrong-footed by the low volatility in the stock market recently. It shouldn’t be this easy. “Just” sitting in an S&P 500 index fund has felt unsatisfying. The S&P 500 hasn’t had a correction of 10% or more for over a year. We haven’t even had a drawdown of 5% in the last year. No secret underground lairs. No convoluted plot involving Art VanDeLay.
It can be tempting to poke a portfolio and tell it to do something so we can create a narrative for the movement. If we can resist that urge, though, we can be more objective and drive better outcomes. Leave the search for a plotline to the financial entertainers. After all, Seinfeld’s key was that it was a “show about nothing”. Your portfolio doesn’t need drama to be great, either.
The month of May marks the 7th anniversary of the first Bitcoin transaction, an exchange of 10,000 Bitcoins for 2 Papa Johns pizzas. Reaction to the trade at the time was mixed. There were many people who thought it was neat that someone finally bartered the digital currency for an actual item. Many people also thought the pizza seller got ripped off. While 10,000 Bitcoins was theoretically worth $41 at the time, there was almost no way to spend them outside of hooking up with a fellow enthusiast on an online forum. In 2010 the world’s entire mined Bitcoin inventory was worth about $1 million. Headlines say that if you had bought $100 of the cryptocurrency Bitcoin in 2010, it would be worth over $70 million today. Continue Reading →
Capital Group is pushing back hard against the passive investing crowd. They make the case that some basic screens (low expenses, manager investing in their own fund, etc) can reveal good managers. I agree with that. The screens I use at Fairway are kind of hilariously basic relative to the universe of modern portfolio theory statistics and Greek symbols I could choose from. You really don’t need to layer on too many filters before you get a list of a dozen or so good managers in any particular asset class. What I do take exception to is the ‘Why settle for average?‘ argument they put forward. The Capital Group folks are some of the brightest folks around and yet this is the tagline? I tackled this on my personal blog last year here and here. I also posted a direct response to the Capital Group marketing here.
No One Expects a 40% Return for the S&P 500 This Year
I defy you to find a pundit optimistic about the stock market. Is anyone predicting double digit returns? Low to mid-single digits seems to be the popular view among those shouting the loudest. Short term returns have been stellar as the S&P 500 gained almost 12% in 2016. Intermediate returns have been stellar with the S&P 500 averaging 14.65% for the last 5 years.
So we’re due for a hefty pullback, right? Let’s look at the time frame that’s important to investors.
Long term returns have actually been sub-par. The S&P 500 returned short of 7% per year over the last 10 years. The historic average is 10%. If the market is due for a correction because the short and intermediate numbers are above average, does it also have room to run to the upside over the long term?
As usual, Warren Buffett’s letter to shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway is a must-read. It is well known that he advocates low-fee indexing for most investors. As his famous bet with a hedge fund of funds manager winds down, Buffett unleashed both barrels on high-fee money managers:
“The underlying hedge-fund managers in our bet received payments from their limited partners that likely averaged a bit under the prevailing hedge-fund standard of “2 and 20,” meaning a 2% annual fixed fee, payable even when losses are huge, and 20% of profits with no clawback (if good years were followed by bad ones). Under this lopsided arrangement, a hedge fund operator’s ability to simply pile up assets under management has made many of these managers extraordinarily rich, even as their investments have performed poorly.
Still, we’re not through with fees. Remember, there were the fund-of-funds managers to be fed as well. These managers received an additional fixed amount that was usually set at 1% of assets. Then, despite the terrible overall record of the five funds-of-funds, some experienced a few good years and collected “performance” fees. Consequently, I estimate that over the nine-year period roughly 60% – gulp! – of all gains achieved by the five funds-of-funds were diverted to the two levels of managers. That was their misbegotten reward for accomplishing something far short of what their many hundreds of limited partners could have effortlessly – and with virtually no cost – achieved on their own.”
Punxsutawney Phil practices accurate ambiguity. The vast majority of the time, he sees his shadow. This portends 6 more weeks of winter, generally lining up with the Spring Equinox. What a great strategy. Winter usually lasts 6 more weeks so predict 6 more weeks of winter and most of the time you’ll be right. He does not predict exact temperatures or exactly when it will turn warm.
Contrast this with the investment world. The market generally goes up, but we seek out experts to comfort us with false precision. How much screen time is wasted discussing resistance levels, Dow 20,000, or predicting the S&P 500’s earnings? If you’re a long-term investor, none of this matters. What matters is that the market goes up over time. Like the changing of the seasons, the market has its ups and downs, but the harder you try to pinpoint these changes, the more likely you are to wind up wearing cargo shorts in the snow. Continue Reading →
We’ve witnessed the peaceful exchange of power in the most powerful country on the planet. Now, how do we create a “Trump Portfolio” of only the best, really the greatest, everybody says so securities? Does it make sense to overweight small cap manufacturing stocks that might benefit from a strong dollar or perhaps bank stocks to take advantage of rising rates?
Here’s a better question: What’s more important, the person in the White House or the person who owns the portfolio? It doesn’t make sense to put Grandma in volatile small cap stocks if what she really needs is income. Likewise, it wouldn’t be prudent for a 20-something to move everything to cash because they don’t agree with the President’s politics. I hope you already knew this, but there is no optimal “Trump Portfolio”. Rather than rebuilding their portfolio every time the winds change in Washington, D.C., investors should build around their personal needs and goals.\
The stock market started the year on the wrong foot with a 10% drawdown. It was the worst start to a calendar year ever and prompted knee-jerk reactions such as the RBS note for their clients to “sell everything”. At the end of June, the UK held a referendum on whether to withdraw from the European Union. “Bremain” was the clear leader heading into the election as “Brexit” was viewed as dangerous and sure to drop the markets into a tailspin. Brexit won. There was an election here in the United States which also had a surprise outcome. All three of these events were supposed to be harbingers of disaster. Instead, stocks went on a tear as the S&P 500 gained 12%. The city of Cleveland also got in on the action. The Cleveland Indians lost a heartbreaking World Series, but UFC, minor league hockey, and NBA championships were all brought home to the greatest location in the nation, defying experts every step of the way.
The S&P 500 has been up for 8 consecutive calendar years (kind of – 2015 was negative if you don’t count dividends), but like my dad says, “It ain’t the years, it’s the mileage.” Since the market bottom in March of 2009, the S&P 500 has experienced a cumulative 287% return. For some perspective, it gained 450% from 1991-1999 so our current bull market has not climbed “too far, too fast” as some may argue. There is an old Wall Street saying that the market takes the elevator down and the stairs back up. Maybe it should be revised as we’ve been strolling up a ramp for the last 8 years. Looking back, it can seem like the recovery has been a gentle walk, but this slow stroll hasn’t been without its hiccups. During the recovery we’ve had 4 corrections (10% or greater drawdown). Each of these was supposed to be the end of the bull market so congratulations if you didn’t get scared out of your allocations.
The S&P 500 is up over 3% since the election. I hesitate to call this a “Trump Rally”, especially as the election looms so large in recent memory. For now, it seems prudent to recognize that the election has brought with it a reduction in uncertainty and a sigh of relief that the contentious campaign season has come to an end. While the media is distracted by every shiny object the President-elect waves in front of them, they are missing a bigger story. The Federal Reserve is expected to raise rates in December which would send ripples through multiple markets. What would a rate spike look like? We don’t have to go very far to find out. We just had one.
No matter your political leaning, you likely didn’t expect Donald Trump to win the election last week. Most of the “experts” (the pollsters, the pundits, the media) sure didn’t see it coming, Hillary Clinton seemed a lock. Nor did you likely expect the stock market would rally in the days after his win. Again, the “experts” (the Wall Street analysts, the talking heads on CNBC, even yours truly) warned that a Trump victory would likely lead to an immediate sell-off, due to the surprise and uncertainty such a win would cause. Yet the Dow rallied over 4% in the three days after the election. In a recent Bloomberg survey, not one of 65 Wall Street analysts predicted 10-year Treasuries would rise about 2% by year-end. Yet the 10-Year rate now sits at nearly 2.25%.