The Nature of a Nervous Bull

Cast your bread upon the waters,
For you will find it after many days.
2 Give a serving to seven, and also to eight,
For you do not know what evil will be on the earth.
3 If the clouds are full of rain,
They empty themselves upon the earth;
And if a tree falls to the south or the north,
In the place where the tree falls, there it shall lie.
4 He who observes the wind will not sow,
And he who regards the clouds will not reap.
5 As you do not know what is the way of the wind,[a]
Or how the bones grow in the womb of her who is with child,
So you do not know the works of God who makes everything.
6 In the morning sow your seed,
And in the evening do not withhold your hand;
For you do not know which will prosper,
Either this or that,
Or whether both alike will be good. [Eccelesiates 11:1-6, NKJV, copyright Thomas Nelson]

The point of Ecclesiastes 11:1-6 is that the farmer in Spring, much as he might be hungry, and want to eat his seed corn, instead has to cast his seed into the muddy soil, perhaps planting 7 or 8 crops, because he doesn’t know what the future may bring. If he looks at the sky, wondering if it will rain enough, or whether the winds might ruin the crops, he will never get a crop in Summer or Fall.

That’s the way that I view investing. You always have to have something going on. You can’t leave the market entirely, because it’s really tough to tell what the market might give you. Typically, across my entire set of investments I run with about 70% equity investments, and the rest cash, bonds, and the little hovel that I live in. Private equity is a modest chunk of my equity holdings, so public equities are about 60% of what I own. Domestic public equities are about 45%.

I don’t think of that as particularly bullish or bearish. Even with public equities trading at high price-to-sales ratios, my portfolio doesn’t trade at high ratios of sales, cash flow, earnings, or book value. Together with industry selection, modest valuations provide some support against bear markets.

My tendency will be if the market moves lower from here to layer in slowly using my rebalancing discipline. That’s what I did in my worst period 6/2002-9/2002, and the stocks that I held at the end were ideally positioned for the turn in the market.

So, I never get very bullish, or bearish. I see the troubles in the markets, and I avoid most problem areas, such as in housing-related areas, but I continue to plug along, doing what I do best — trying to pick good stocks and industries (and occasionally, countries.)