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Two Portfolios. Pick One.

Friday, August 29th, 2014

I’m going to show you two portfolios — I’m not initially going to tell you much about either one, but then you can consider which one you might like better.  Here’s portfolio A:

LOSERS_9447_image002

And here is portfolio B:

WINNERS_3286_image002

There is one obvious difference in the two portfolios: portfolio B has gone up more than portfolio A in the past year.  But the hidden story is that portfolio A’s stocks have had price returns of -85% or worse over the past four years, whereas portfolio B’s stocks have has price returns of 1000% or better.  They are the only stocks with current market caps of over $100 million that meet those criteria.

Now, which one would you choose, if you had to hold one portfolio for the next year? The next four years?

Oddly, the right answer might be portfolio A.  Currently, I am reading through a book called Deep Value, which I will review in a week or two, and they cite in Chapter 5 some research by Thaler and De Bondt which indicates that portfolios that have gone through extreme failure tend to outperform portfolios that have gone through extreme success.

Though the momentum anomaly (weak as it has been recently) usually favors portfolios with stronger price momentum, the relationship breaks down over longer periods of time, and more severe moves, where mean-reversion tends to take over.  One thing that I can tell looking at the two portfolios — the expectations are a lot, lot higher for portfolio B than portfolio A.  Things only have to stop getting worse for there to some positive price action there.

Sometimes I like to run a screen for stocks have done badly over the last four years, but have begun to outperform over the last year.  This can point out areas that are still ignored by most of the market, but where trend may have shifted.  I’ll post that screen after my software has its weekly update on Saturday.  Until then.

PS — as an aside, it will be fun to review the relative performance of these portfolios.

On Returns-Based Style Analysis

Saturday, July 26th, 2014

Sometime in the next few weeks, I am going to dig into my pre-2003 [pre-RealMoney] files and see if there is anything there to share with readers.  Most of my best stories I have already told in my various series.  The one I will tell tonight I don’t think I have told.

In 1994, we had a problem at Provident Mutual’s Pension Division.  Our main external equity manager was having a very lousy year as value managers that focused on absolute yield were getting taken to the cleaners.  This was after a few years of poor performance — the joke was, given the great performance of the past, “Hey, can you develop the 19-year track record?”  (The last 5 years as a group were horrid, but the previous 14 were great.)

Aside: there aren’t many absolute yield managers in equities today.  Back when dividend yields were higher, and corporate bond yields were higher, both absolute and relative yield managers flourished as interest rates and dividend yields crested in the early 1980s, and the stocks paying high dividends got bid up as interest rates fell, much as the same thing happened to zero coupon and other noncallable long duration bonds.

The process started with a call from a manager of managers who proposed that we start up “multiple manger funds,” where we would be the manager of managers.

This offered several advantages:

  • It offered us an easy out with our long-held failing manager, because we are not firing them, just making them a portion of the assets in the value fund.
  • It would make eliminating them easier in a second step, with less PR damage.
  • It would make us look like we were taking action and control in a new way for our clients. (They loved it.)
  • As it was, we did a good job selecting managers, and the funds performed well.
  • We could negotiate lower fees with the managers,
  • It gave us a great marketing story.
  • Our margins and growth improved.

I was critical to the process, being the only member of the team with investment expertise.  Everyone else was a marketer or the divisional head.  (I take that back, one member of the marketing area was genuinely sharp with investments.)  After we chose the managers, I set the allocations.

Now onto tonight’s topic (what a long intro): At the beginning of our relationship with the manager of managers, they did a traditional holdings-based analysis of how a manager managed assets.  About one year into the process, they introduced returns-based style analysis.

Though the Wikipedia article just cited has a bevy of errors, it will still give you a flavor for what it is.  Let me give my own explanation:

It takes a lot of effort and wisdom to look at quarterly portfolio snapshots and analyze what a manager is doing.  You almost have to be as wise as the manager himself to analyze it, but many fund analysts developed the skill.

But returns-based style analysis offered the holy grail: we can understand what the manager is doing simply by comparing the returns of the manager versus returns on  variety of asset indexes, using constrained multiple regression.

The idea was this: the returns of a manager are equal to his alpha versus a composite index that best fits his performance.  Since we were dealing with long-only managers, the weights on the index components could not be negative.

The practical upshot to the manager of mangers was: “Whoopee!  We can analyze every manager under the sun just by looking at their return patterns.  No more time-consuming work.”

After the first meeting with the manager of managers, I expressed my doubts, and asked for a special meeting with their quants.  A week later, I had a meeting with a few members of their staff, of which one was the quant, a nice lady 10 years my junior, who I felt sorry for.  She started her presentation at a very basic level, and asked “Do you have any questions?”  I asked, “Isn’t this just an quadratic optimization problem where you are choosing weights on the convex hull?”  She paused, and said, “Oh, so you *do* understand this.”  The meeting ended son after that — we agreed on the math, and in math, there is no magic.

But that placed me on the warpath; I genuinely felt the advice we were getting had declined in value.  I wrote a 16-page report to our manager explaining why returns-based style analysis was inferior.

  • There is no way to correctly estimate error bounds, because of nonlinear constraints.  (Note: two years later, I guy came up with an approximate way to do it in an article in the Financial Analysts Journal.  I called him, and we had a great talk.  That said, approximate is approximate, and I haven’t seen any adopt it.)
  • Because many of the indexes are highly correlated with each other, small differences in manager returns make a huge difference in the weight calculated for each index.
  • If a manager is changing investments because he senses a factor like market cap size or valuation is cheap, it will get interpreted as a change in his index, and will not come out as alpha, but as beta.
  • If I don’t believe that the CAPM and MPT are valid, why should I believe this monstrosity?
  • And more… I hope I find my 16-page paper in my files.

After six more months we terminated the manager of managers, and hired a better one.

  • Lower fees
  • Lower fees from managers (they had greater bargaining power)
  • We reduced our fees to clients
  • Better marketing name
  • Holdings based manager analysis

After that, things were much better, and we continued to grow.

My years at Provident Mutual were exceedingly fruitful — this was just one of many areas where my efforts paid off well.

All that said, there is no way to fix returns-based style analysis.  It is a bogus concept and needs to be abandoned.  Those who use it do not grasp the limits of econometrics, and are Sorcerer’s apprentices.

PS — Need I mention that the originator of the idea, Bill Sharpe, is not all that sharp with econometrics?  He’s a bright guy, but it is not his strong suit.

PPS — there are not many actuaries with a background in econometrics.  That is why I have written this.

A Bond Manager Thinks about the Equity Premium

Saturday, May 31st, 2014

One of the things that annoys me about the concept of the equity premium is that it is an academic creation that does not grasp the structures of the markets.  Send the academics to be bond and equity portfolio managers for a time, and maybe we would get a better theory than Modern Portfolio Theory [MPT].

Here is the first thing that is wrong with MPT — it doesn’t understand the bond market.  The best estimate of what bonds will return over time is the current yield less expected losses from defaults and optionality.  Hold a bond to its maturity, and the standard deviation of returns is low, over the full time horizon.

Thinking about bonds in the current environment, virtually nothing is earned with high-quality short-dated debt.  The yield curve is still relatively steep, as people expect the economy and lending to pick up.

Think for a moment. what is a longer asset, a corporate bond, or the stock of the same company?  The stock is the longer asset, because the cash flows of the business in question potentially stretch far longer than the maturity of the corporate debt, at least in most cases.

Also think, in a bad scenario, where insolvency is possible, who has the better claim: the equity or the unsecured debt?  The unsecured debt, of course.

Longer assets in general possess more risk and should carry higher yields to induce people to take those risks.  Inverted yield curves are exceptions.  Also in general, longer corporate bonds have higher spreads over Treasuries most of the time, than shorter corporate bonds.

The one significant advantage that equities have over corporate bonds is that of control.  Increases in earnings go to the stockholders.  Buyouts go to the stockholders.  Bondholders get paid off at best.

That said, in the losing scenario, bondholders get back 40% of par on average, while stockholders get little if anything.

I believe that the equity of a company needs to be priced to return more than the longest unsecured debt or preferred stock of the company.

Thus when I think about MPT, I think they are positing an asset-liability mismatch, comparing T-bills versus a long asset, common stocks.  The comparison should be broken down into several spreads:

  • T-bills vs T-notes/bonds of the longest maturity issued by companies like them.
  • Corporate bond yields minus Treasury yields at the same maturity.
  • The earnings yield of the stock minus the corporate bond yield.

This takes apart the seemingly simple MPT calculation, revealing the complexity within, helping to explain why beta doesn’t work.  It embeds an asset-liability mismatch.  Stocks are long term, T-bills are not.  There is no reason why their returns should be considered together, without a model of yield curve spreads, corporate spreads, and equity financing spreads.

That’s a sketch of the correct model, now who wants to try to build it out?

An Alternative to the Efficient Markets Hypothesis

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

I read an article today, The Fallibility of the Efficient Market Theory: A New Paradigm  Good article, made me look through a major article cited: An Institutional Theory of Momentum and Reversal.

The former article explains in basic terms what the authors have illustrated.  The latter article, provides all of the complex math.  I get 50%+ of  it, and I think it is right.  This explains value, momentum, and mean-reversion, the largest anomalies that trouble the Efficient Markets Hypothesis.

This article deserves more attention from quants and academics.  The only thing that troubles me about it is that they assume a normal distribution for security returns.

Have a read, and for those that can understand the math, if you disagree with it, let me know.

An Idea for When the Market is High

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

Last night I was at the Towson University International Markets Summit.  I’m grateful to the students for inviting me, as it is an honor.  During the presentation, I mentioned the book “Accounting for Value” by Stephen Penman.  I reviewed the book two years ago.  A great book, and one that should lead readers to modify their views on value investing.

But one aspect of the book was easy to implement, he cited his paper that you can read here, Returns to Buying Earnings and Book Value: Accounting for Growth and Risk.  Buy the stocks that are the cheapest as measured by the highest quintiles of book value to price, and trailing twelve month earnings per share to price.

I ran this analysis for all US-traded stocks with over $100 million of market capitalization.  Here are the results:

CompanyTickerIndustryCountryB/PE/P
Petrobras Argentina SA ADRPZE0606 – Oil & Gas – IntegratedArgentina

1.26

7.95

Pampa Energia S.A. (ADR)PAM1203 – Electric UtilitiesArgentina

0.83

11.41

OMV AG (ADR)OMVKY0609 – Oil & Gas OperationsAustria

1.13

11.33

Validus Holdings, Ltd.VR0709 – Insurance (Life)Bermuda

1

13.3

Everest Re Group LtdRE0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)Bermuda

0.88

15.35

Maiden Holdings, Ltd.MHLD0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)Bermuda

0.93

10.11

Montpelier Re Holdings Ltd.MRH0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)Bermuda

0.99

11.83

Axis Capital Holdings LimitedAXS0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)Bermuda

1.01

13.2

Platinum Underwriters HoldingsPTP0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)Bermuda

1.02

11.25

White Mountains Insurance GrouWTM0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)Bermuda

1.07

8.49

Aspen Insurance Holdings LimitAHL0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)Bermuda

1.12

9.61

Assured Guaranty Ltd.AGO0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)Bermuda

1.18

18.59

Partnerre LtdPRE0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)Bermuda

1.23

10.75

Argo Group International HoldiAGII0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)Bermuda

1.27

11.55

Endurance Specialty Holdings LENH0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)Bermuda

1.31

12.55

Gerdau SA (ADR)GGB0121 – Iron & SteelBrazil

1.32

6.84

Gafisa SA (ADR)GFA0215 – Construction ServicesBrazil

2.04

15.52

Petroleo Brasileiro PetrobrasPBR0606 – Oil & Gas – IntegratedBrazil

1.67

13.2

Telefonica Brasil SA (ADR)VIV0915 – Communications ServicesBrazil

0.85

7.58

Companhia de Saneamento BasicoSBS1209 – Water UtilitiesBrazil

0.89

8.57

Endeavour Silver CorpEXK0118 – Gold & SilverCanada

0.89

9.9

Teck Resources Ltd (USA)TCK0124 – Metal MiningCanada

1.33

6.84

TransGlobe Energy CorporationTGA0609 – Oil & Gas OperationsCanada

0.85

10.03

Granite Real Estate InvestmentGRP.U0933 – Real Estate OperationsCanada

0.87

7.53

Brookfield Office Properties IBPO0933 – Real Estate OperationsCanada

1.08

10.08

Boardwalk REIT (USA)BOWFF0933 – Real Estate OperationsCanada

1.14

11.54

Greenlight Capital Re, Ltd.GLRE0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)Cayman Islands

0.9

19.45

Sinopec Shanghai PetrochemicalSHI0103 – Chemical ManufacturingChina

1.52

11

Yongye International, IncYONG0103 – Chemical ManufacturingChina

1.65

43.36

China XD Plastics Co LtdCXDC0109 – Containters & PackagingChina

1.13

22.71

Lihua International IncLIWA0127 – Misc. Fabricated ProductsChina

2.31

41.21

Xinyuan Real Estate Co., Ltd.XIN0215 – Construction ServicesChina

5.22

42.83

China Automotive Systems, Inc.CAAS0415 – Auto & Truck PartsChina

0.99

11.04

China Petroleum & Chemical CorSNP0609 – Oil & Gas OperationsChina

0.87

10.11

Concord Medical Services HldgCCM0806 – Healthcare FacilitiesChina

3.06

12.45

China Telecom Corporation LimiCHA0915 – Communications ServicesChina

1.17

7.03

Xueda Education Group (ADR)XUE0969 – SchoolsChina

0.84

6.63

Changyou.Com Ltd (ADR)CYOU1018 – Computer ServicesChina

1.23

20.92

Nam Tai Electronics, Inc.NTE1024 – Electronic Instruments & ControlsChina

1.11

21.58

Jinpan International LimitedJST1024 – Electronic Instruments & ControlsChina

1.7

13.36

Semiconductor Manufacturing InSMI1033 – SemiconductorsChina

0.96

8.06

China Eastern Airlines Corp. LCEA1106 – AirlineChina

1.05

12.11

China Southern Airlines Co LtdZNH1106 – AirlineChina

1.7

13.19

Guangshen Railway Co. Ltd (ADRGSH1112 – RailroadsChina

1.34

6.64

Axa SA (ADR)AXAHY0709 – Insurance (Life)France

1.19

9.46

Volkswagen AG (ADR)VLKAY0412 – Auto & Truck ManufacturersGermany

0.94

9.73

Allianz SE (ADR)AZSEY0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)Germany

0.92

11.08

E.ON SE (ADR)EONGY1203 – Electric UtilitiesGermany

1.28

8.17

National Bank of Greece (ADR)NBG0727 – Regional BanksGreece

2

131.03

Capital Product Partners L.P.CPLP1118 – Water TransportationGreece

0.83

10.36

Safe Bulkers, Inc.SB1118 – Water TransportationGreece

0.83

11.99

StealthGas Inc.GASS1118 – Water TransportationGreece

1.32

9.08

Navios Maritime Holdings Inc.NM1118 – Water TransportationGreece

1.32

13.4

Sun Hung Kai Properties LimiteSUHJY0215 – Construction ServicesHong Kong

1.44

15.22

Hysan Development Company LimiHYSNY0215 – Construction ServicesHong Kong

1.66

20.18

Tai Cheung Holdings Ltd (ADR)TAICY0215 – Construction ServicesHong Kong

2.11

34.38

Le Gaga Holdings Ltd ADRGAGA0509 – CropsHong Kong

1.55

14.63

Bank of East Asia Ltd. (ADR),BKEAY0727 – Regional BanksHong Kong

0.85

8.78

Iao Kun Group Holding Co LtdIKGH0912 – Casinos & GamingHong Kong

1.36

12.89

Cheung Kong (Holdings) LimitedCHEUY0933 – Real Estate OperationsHong Kong

1.16

11.07

Seaspan CorporationSSW1118 – Water TransportationHong Kong

1.05

15.2

Magyar Telekom Tavkozlesi NyrtMYTAY0915 – Communications ServicesHungary

1.34

6.66

XL Group plcXL0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)Ireland

1.12

11.72

Fly Leasing Ltd(ADR)FLY0939 – Rental & LeasingIreland

1.3

17.39

Ellomay Capital Ltd.ELLO1033 – SemiconductorsIsrael

0.93

10.95

FUJIFILM Holdings Corp. (ADR)FUJIY0112 – Fabricated Plastic & RubberJapan

1.55

6.64

Kobe Steel, Ltd. (ADR)KBSTY0121 – Iron & SteelJapan

1.47

14.7

Mitsui & Co Ltd (ADR)MITSY0218 – Misc. Capital GoodsJapan

1.33

13.26

Wacoal Holdings Corporation (AWACLY0403 – Apparel/AccessoriesJapan

1.45

7.14

Toyota Motor Corp (ADR)TM0412 – Auto & Truck ManufacturersJapan

0.82

10.5

Honda Motor Co Ltd (ADR)HMC0412 – Auto & Truck ManufacturersJapan

0.92

7.61

Nissan Motor Co., Ltd. (ADR)NSANY0412 – Auto & Truck ManufacturersJapan

1.11

10.04

Nomura Holdings, Inc. (ADR)NMR0718 – Investment ServicesJapan

1.09

10.18

Mizuho Financial Group Inc. (AMFG0727 – Regional BanksJapan

1.13

14.9

Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Grp,SMFG0727 – Regional BanksJapan

1.28

16.67

Mitsubishi UFJ Financial GroupMTU0727 – Regional BanksJapan

1.53

13.67

Nippon Telegraph & Telephone CNTT0915 – Communications ServicesJapan

1.39

8.93

ORIX Corporation (ADR)IX0939 – Rental & LeasingJapan

0.98

7.59

Ternium S.A. (ADR)TX0121 – Iron & SteelLuxembourg

0.89

7.61

ING Groep NV (ADR)ING0709 – Insurance (Life)Netherlands

1.14

9.46

VimpelCom Ltd (ADR)VIP0915 – Communications ServicesNetherlands

0.93

13.67

ASM International NV (ADR)ASMI1033 – SemiconductorsNetherlands

1.01

74.95

Petroleum Geo-Services ASA (ADPGSVY0612 – Oil Well Services & EquipmentNorway

0.81

9.85

Banco Latinoamericano Comerc EBLX0727 – Regional BanksPanama

0.85

8.39

Compania de Minas BuenaventuraBVN0118 – Gold & SilverPeru

1.18

10.05

OFG BancorpOFG0727 – Regional BanksPuerto Rico

0.93

11.04

Popular IncBPOP0727 – Regional BanksPuerto Rico

1.52

19.77

Triple-S Management Corp.GTS0806 – Healthcare FacilitiesPuerto Rico

1.79

12.52

LUKOIL (ADR)LUKOY0606 – Oil & Gas – IntegratedRussian Federation

1.91

19.08

China Yuchai International LimCYD0218 – Misc. Capital GoodsSingapore

1.2

15.34

Net 1 UEPS Technologies IncUEPS0703 – Consumer Financial ServicesSouth Africa

0.91

6.79

POSCO (ADR)PKX0121 – Iron & SteelSouth Korea

1.72

6.97

Shinhan Financial Group Co., LSHG0727 – Regional BanksSouth Korea

1.24

8.42

Woori Finance Holdings Co., LtWF0727 – Regional BanksSouth Korea

1.91

9.86

SK Telecom Co., Ltd. (ADR)SKM0915 – Communications ServicesSouth Korea

0.89

11.87

Repsol SA (ADR)REPYY0606 – Oil & Gas – IntegratedSpain

1.06

7.93

Transocean LTDRIG0612 – Oil Well Services & EquipmentSwitzerland

1.14

9.54

ACE LimitedACE0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)Switzerland

0.84

10.92

Allied World Assurance Co HoldAWH0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)Switzerland

1

11.73

United Microelectronics Corp (UMC1033 – SemiconductorsTaiwan

1.3

8.02

Silicon Motion Technology CorpSIMO1033 – SemiconductorsTaiwan

1.96

19.74

BP plc (ADR)BP0606 – Oil & Gas – IntegratedUnited Kingdom

0.85

15.1

Noble Corporation PLCNE0612 – Oil Well Services & EquipmentUnited Kingdom

1.08

10.05

Subsea 7 SA (ADR)SUBCY0612 – Oil Well Services & EquipmentUnited Kingdom

1.09

7.02

ENSCO PLCESV0612 – Oil Well Services & EquipmentUnited Kingdom

1.11

12.2

Rowan Companies PLCRDC0612 – Oil Well Services & EquipmentUnited Kingdom

1.3

6.71

HSBC Holdings plc (ADR)HSBC0727 – Regional BanksUnited Kingdom

0.94

8.09

Vodafone Group Plc (ADR)VOD0915 – Communications ServicesUnited Kingdom

1.47

31.68

J Sainsbury plc (ADR)JSAIY0957 – Retail (Grocery)United Kingdom

0.96

10.57

Global Ship Lease, Inc.GSL1118 – Water TransportationUnited Kingdom

2.11

16.62

Cliffs Natural Resources IncCLF0124 – Metal MiningUnited States

1.87

12.76

M.D.C. Holdings, Inc.MDC0215 – Construction ServicesUnited States

0.91

23.28

M/I Homes IncMHO0215 – Construction ServicesUnited States

0.92

27.21

URS CorpURS0215 – Construction ServicesUnited States

1.16

7.02

Mestek, Inc.MCCK0218 – Misc. Capital GoodsUnited States

0.98

11.53

General Motors CompanyGM0412 – Auto & Truck ManufacturersUnited States

0.83

7.98

Rocky Brands IncRCKY0418 – FootwearUnited States

1.21

6.82

Johnson Outdoors Inc.JOUT0430 – Recreational ProductsUnited States

0.87

7.83

LeapFrog Enterprises, Inc.LF0430 – Recreational ProductsUnited States

0.89

17.58

Yasheng GroupHERB0509 – CropsUnited States

11.77

70.4

Seaboard CorporationSEB0515 – Food ProcessingUnited States

0.82

6.77

John B. Sanfilippo & Son, Inc.JBSS0515 – Food ProcessingUnited States

0.84

8.55

Omega Protein CorporationOME0515 – Food ProcessingUnited States

1.01

12.24

Ennis, Inc.EBF0518 – Office SuppliesUnited States

0.92

8.43

ACCO Brands CorporationACCO0518 – Office SuppliesUnited States

1.01

11.07

Universal CorpUVV0524 – TobaccoUnited States

0.93

10.8

Hess Corp.HES0609 – Oil & Gas OperationsUnited States

0.86

12.86

Approach Resources Inc.AREX0609 – Oil & Gas OperationsUnited States

0.93

9.48

Equal Energy Ltd. (USA)EQU0609 – Oil & Gas OperationsUnited States

0.96

9.38

Sandridge Mississippian TrustSDT0609 – Oil & Gas OperationsUnited States

1.49

63.59

PHI Inc.PHII0612 – Oil Well Services & EquipmentUnited States

0.85

8.96

Medallion Financial CorpTAXI0703 – Consumer Financial ServicesUnited States

0.94

9.13

CIT Group Inc.CIT0703 – Consumer Financial ServicesUnited States

0.96

7.26

Goldman Sachs Group IncGS0703 – Consumer Financial ServicesUnited States

0.97

10.16

Ellington Financial LLCEFC0703 – Consumer Financial ServicesUnited States

1.04

13.7

Walter Investment Management CWAC0703 – Consumer Financial ServicesUnited States

1.11

23.94

Chimera Investment CorporationCIM0703 – Consumer Financial ServicesUnited States

1.12

11.58

PHH CorporationPHH0703 – Consumer Financial ServicesUnited States

1.19

9.68

EZCORP IncEZPW0703 – Consumer Financial ServicesUnited States

1.58

7.55

WellPoint IncWLP0706 – Insurance (Accident & Health)United States

0.89

9.52

Employers Holdings, Inc.EIG0706 – Insurance (Accident & Health)United States

0.93

10.46

Reinsurance Group of America IRGA0706 – Insurance (Accident & Health)United States

1.08

7.49

American Equity Investment LifAEL0709 – Insurance (Life)United States

0.86

16.77

Protective Life Corp.PL0709 – Insurance (Life)United States

0.92

9.76

FBL Financial GroupFFG0709 – Insurance (Life)United States

0.96

9.73

Unum GroupUNM0709 – Insurance (Life)United States

0.98

9.55

Assurant, Inc.AIZ0709 – Insurance (Life)United States

1

9.67

Lincoln National CorporationLNC0709 – Insurance (Life)United States

1.07

9.76

Symetra Financial CorporationSYA0709 – Insurance (Life)United States

1.23

8.64

CNO Financial Group IncCNO0709 – Insurance (Life)United States

1.29

12.39

Imperial Holdings, Inc.IFT0709 – Insurance (Life)United States

1.38

37.03

National Western Life InsurancNWLI0709 – Insurance (Life)United States

1.63

10.85

Genworth Financial IncGNW0709 – Insurance (Life)United States

1.72

6.87

Fortegra Financial CorpFRF0712 – Insurance (Miscellaneous)United States

1.28

8.18

Allstate Corporation, TheALL0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)United States

0.82

8.75

HCC Insurance Holdings, Inc.HCC0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)United States

0.82

8.92

State Auto Financial CorpSTFC0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)United States

0.83

6.92

Stewart Information Services CSTC0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)United States

0.83

7.96

Safety Insurance Group, Inc.SAFT0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)United States

0.84

7.39

Investors Title CompanyITIC0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)United States

0.86

9.85

First American Financial CorpFAF0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)United States

0.87

6.75

American Financial Group IncAFG0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)United States

0.87

9.15

ProAssurance CorporationPRA0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)United States

0.87

10.86

Old Republic International CorORI0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)United States

0.88

10.53

Selective Insurance GroupSIGI0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)United States

0.9

8.51

Horace Mann Educators CorporatHMN0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)United States

0.91

9.6

Kemper CorpKMPR0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)United States

0.95

9.64

Baldwin & Lyons IncBWINB0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)United States

0.98

9.42

Hanover Insurance Group, Inc.,THG0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)United States

0.99

9.44

Alleghany CorporationY0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)United States

1.01

9.15

EMC Insurance Group Inc.EMCI0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)United States

1.02

9.88

United Fire Group, Inc.UFCS0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)United States

1.05

10.3

Navigators Group, Inc, TheNAVG0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)United States

1.09

7.68

Cna Financial CorpCNA0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)United States

1.1

8.15

American International Group IAIG0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)United States

1.34

12

American National Insurance CoANAT0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)United States

1.4

8.99

MBIA Inc.MBI0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)United States

1.45

10.86

FBR & CoFBRC0718 – Investment ServicesUnited States

1.03

29.21

KKR Financial Holdings LLCKFN0718 – Investment ServicesUnited States

1.05

11.24

NASDAQ OMX Group, Inc.NDAQ0718 – Investment ServicesUnited States

1.13

6.66

Piper Jaffray CompaniesPJC0718 – Investment ServicesUnited States

1.17

7.42

Primus Guaranty, Ltd.PRSG0718 – Investment ServicesUnited States

1.25

50.12

Arlington Asset Investment CorAI0718 – Investment ServicesUnited States

1.28

11.6

Oppenheimer Holdings Inc. (USAOPY0718 – Investment ServicesUnited States

1.34

6.71

CIFC CorpCIFC0718 – Investment ServicesUnited States

1.73

9.51

JPMorgan Chase & Co.JPM0724 – Money Center BanksUnited States

0.98

7.39

First National Bank AlaskaFBAK0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.81

6.61

Old National BancorpONB0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.81

7

Sandy Spring Bancorp Inc.SASR0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.81

7.28

TowneBankTOWN0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.81

7.52

Fidelity Southern CorporationLION0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.81

10.35

Central Pacific Financial CorpCPF0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.81

21.18

Cascade BancorpCACB0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.81

22.18

LCNB Corp.LCNB0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.82

6.69

S & T Bancorp IncSTBA0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.83

7.38

Great Southern Bancorp, Inc.GSBC0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.83

8.55

ESB Financial CorporationESBF0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.84

6.88

WesBanco, Inc.WSBC0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.84

7.15

Trustmark CorpTRMK0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.84

7.28

KeyCorpKEY0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.84

7.3

MidWestOne Financial Group, InMOFG0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.84

8.77

Bar Harbor BanksharesBHB0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.84

9.1

Seacoast Banking Corporation oSBCF0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.84

21.31

First Bancorp IncFNLC0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.85

7.39

Mercantile Bank Corp.MBWM0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.85

9.45

Heritage Financial Group IncHBOS0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.86

7.23

MainSource Financial Group IncMSFG0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.86

7.33

Norwood Financial CorporationNWFL0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.86

7.9

Fulton Financial CorpFULT0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.87

6.82

Pulaski Financial CorpPULB0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.88

6.85

Washington Federal Inc.WAFD0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.88

6.87

International Bancshares CorpIBOC0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.89

7.93

Lakeland Bancorp, Inc.LBAI0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.9

6.84

Northrim BanCorp, Inc.NRIM0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.9

7.67

BCB Bancorp, Inc.BCBP0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.9

7.91

ACNB CorporationACNB0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.9

8.14

Intermountain Community BancorIMCB0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.9

9.74

First Financial CorpTHFF0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.91

7.44

Farmers & Merchants Bancorp InFMAO0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.91

7.8

Southeastern Bank Financial CoSBFC0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.91

11.29

Isabella Bank CorpISBA0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.92

6.95

First Merchants CorporationFRME0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.93

6.76

Wintrust Financial CorpWTFC0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.93

7.12

First Citizens BancShares Inc.FCNCA0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.94

7.57

Firstbank CorporationFBMI0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.94

8.03

Century Bancorp, Inc.CNBKA0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.95

10.72

Central Valley Community BancoCVCY0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.96

6.62

PNC Financial Services Group IPNC0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.96

8.94

American National BankShares IAMNB0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.96

9.01

Capital One Financial Corp.COF0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.97

9.95

Provident Financial Services,PFS0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.99

6.92

NASB Financial, Inc.NASB0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.99

11

Flagstar Bancorp IncFBC0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

1.01

21.87

First Defiance FinancialFDEF0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

1.02

8.35

MidSouth Bancorp, Inc.MSL0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

1.03

6.96

C&F Financial CorpCFFI0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

1.04

13.4

First Community Bancshares IncFCBC0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

1.05

7.25

Provident Financial Holdings,PROV0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

1.05

8.78

Chemung Financial Corp.CHMG0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

1.06

6.7

Territorial Bancorp IncTBNK0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

1.08

7.23

Berkshire Hills Bancorp, Inc.BHLB0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

1.09

6.61

Regions Financial CorporationRF0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

1.09

7.73

Old Second Bancorp Inc.OSBC0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

1.1

113.32

Farmers Capital Bank CorpFFKT0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

1.14

7.7

Premier Financial Bancorp, IncPFBI0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

1.18

10.46

FIRST FINANCIAL NORTHWEST, INCFFNW0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

1.18

14.46

Intervest Bancshares CorpIBCA0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

1.19

8.37

MBT Financial Corp.MBTF0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

1.23

28.89

New Hampshire Thrift BancshareNHTB0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

1.26

7.66

MVB Financial CorpMVBF0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

1.29

10.03

Citigroup IncC0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

1.3

8.73

Susquehanna Bancshares IncSUSQ0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

1.31

8.42

QCR Holdings, Inc.QCRH0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

1.44

12.41

First Niagara Financial GroupFNFG0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

1.45

8.28

First Citizens Bancorporation,FCBN0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

1.5

9.95

Farmers & Merchants Bank (LongFMBL0909 – Business ServicesUnited States

0.98

8.05

Kelly Services, Inc.KELYA0909 – Business ServicesUnited States

1.02

7.21

Lakes Entertainment, Inc.LACO0912 – Casinos & GamingUnited States

1.01

14.29

Black Box CorporationBBOX0915 – Communications ServicesUnited States

1.38

7.36

Iridium Communications Inc.IRDM0915 – Communications ServicesUnited States

1.72

10.16

Courier CorporationCRRC0927 – Printing & PublishingUnited States

0.86

6.72

CSS Industries IncCSS0927 – Printing & PublishingUnited States

1.08

7.53

Blackstone Mortgage Trust IncBXMT0933 – Real Estate OperationsUnited States

0.87

145.18

New York Mortgage Trust IncNYMT0933 – Real Estate OperationsUnited States

0.88

14.44

PennyMac Mortgage Investment TPMT0933 – Real Estate OperationsUnited States

0.89

13.15

Starwood Property Trust, Inc.STWD0933 – Real Estate OperationsUnited States

0.94

7.84

Capstead Mortgage CorporationCMO0933 – Real Estate OperationsUnited States

0.99

7.31

Dynex Capital IncDX0933 – Real Estate OperationsUnited States

1.02

12.82

Two Harbors Investment CorpTWO0933 – Real Estate OperationsUnited States

1.04

16.24

American Capital Agency Corp.AGNC0933 – Real Estate OperationsUnited States

1.05

14.81

Apollo Commercial Real Est. FiARI0933 – Real Estate OperationsUnited States

1.09

7.4

MFA Financial, Inc.MFA0933 – Real Estate OperationsUnited States

1.09

9.89

Anworth Mortgage Asset CorporaANH0933 – Real Estate OperationsUnited States

1.1

9.07

Resource Capital Corp.RSO0933 – Real Estate OperationsUnited States

1.16

9.91

Rent-A-Center IncRCII0939 – Rental & LeasingUnited States

0.97

8.84

Willis Lease Finance CorporatiWLFC0939 – Rental & LeasingUnited States

1.31

9.51

Biglari Holdings IncBH0942 – RestaurantsUnited States

0.83

23.81

Rick’s Cabaret Int’l, IncRICK0942 – RestaurantsUnited States

0.92

8.66

PCM IncPCMI0948 – Retail (Catalog & Mail Order)United States

1.09

7.11

Trans World Entertainment CorpTWMC0963 – Retail (Specialty Non-Apparel)United States

1.68

7.37

TravelCenters of America LLCTA0963 – Retail (Specialty Non-Apparel)United States

1.76

7.55

Tech Data CorpTECD0966 – Retail (Technology)United States

0.87

7.43

hhgregg, Inc.HGG0966 – Retail (Technology)United States

1.32

6.67

Ingram Micro Inc.IM1015 – Computer PeripheralsUnited States

0.84

6.68

Key Tronic CorporationKTCC1015 – Computer PeripheralsUnited States

0.93

9.42

Xerox CorpXRX1018 – Computer ServicesUnited States

0.89

8.31

VOXX International CorpVOXX1024 – Electronic Instruments & ControlsUnited States

1.57

10.96

OmniVision Technologies, Inc.OVTI1033 – SemiconductorsUnited States

0.91

8.46

Benchmark Electronics, Inc.BHE1033 – SemiconductorsUnited States

1

9

JetBlue Airways CorporationJBLU1106 – AirlineUnited States

0.85

6.84

Republic Airways Holdings Inc.RJET1106 – AirlineUnited States

1.42

12.1

SkyWest, Inc.SKYW1106 – AirlineUnited States

2.19

8.93

Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings,AAWW1109 – Misc. TransportationUnited States

1.49

10.44

International Shipholding CorpISH1118 – Water TransportationUnited States

1.67

7.41

Gas Natural IncEGAS1206 – Natural Gas UtilitiesUnited States

0.89

6.75

What are my surprises here?

  • My but there are a lot of foreign companies in this list, far more as a percentage than the 3575 total companies I started with.  It seems that foreign companies are cheap.
  • Now, that said, accounting standards are tighter in the US than elsewhere, and particularly, be careful on Chinese companies.  Many of them are scams.
  • There are a lot of financial companies listed.  I would note that earnings quality for financial companies is often poor, so don’t go “hog wild” buying financial companies.

All that said, this could be a good list for starting due diligence, and I will use at least some of this in my next selection of companies for my clients.

What’s that, you say?  Do I and my clients own any of these firms?  Yes we do.  Of the 38 stocks in my portfolio, 11 of them pass this screen, and here is the summary:

Full Disclosure: Long ENH, SNP, GTS, LUKOY, BP, ESV, RGA, AIZ, NWLI, IM, XRX

On Approximate Valuation Methods

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

The growth of corporations is always constrained by something.  The trick is figuring out what the “something” is.  Tonight, I am here to simplify it for you.

Financial businesses that are regulated

We value these via book value or tangible book value.  Capital levels constrain business growth, so look at the return on equity to help modify what the proper valuation level should be.  Book value and return on equity are what govern.

Non-financial businesses that are regulated, such as utilities 

Look to the rate base that the regulators use.  Book value might be a good substitute, but look to see how companies might invest to increase their “rate base.”  Market Cap as a ratio to what the regulators allow profits on would be ideal.

Unregulated businesses that are mature

These are governed by sales per share, calculating the price-to-sales ratio.  In general, it is wise to buy these when the P/S ratios are low, and sell them when they are high.

Unregulated businesses that are not mature

This is the complex part of valuation, but in this case the PEG Ratio makes sense.  Companies that grow their earnings rapidly can justify high P/E multiples, but in general they need to grow earnings more rapidly than their P/E ratio expressed in percentage terms.

I don’t invest in many immature businesses, so this is not so relevant to me.  I look for places where businesses are neglected, and I buy, while selling businesses that are more then fully valued.

Summary

Think about compounding.   Ask what will best compound the growth of your capital.  I suspect that it will resemble what I have written here.  Focus on compounding and ignore Modern Portfolio Theory.  Compounding is real business.  MPT is fakery from men who could not build a business.

I’m Not in This for Love

Friday, April 11th, 2014

Much as I appreciate those who like what I write at this blog, I don’t write to be loved.  I don’t write to be hated, either.  I am sensitive to what people think of me, but not to the degree that it changes what I write.

I may have nonconsensus views on:

  • The Federal Reserve
  • Gold
  • Social Security & Medicare (and their cousins around the globe)
  • The current Bull Market in Stocks and Corporate Bonds
  • Long Treasuries
  • and more…..

But I write what I write to disclose the truth.  I am an active equity manager, but I encourage people to use passive investing via index funds, unless they can find a manager who can reliably obtain outperformance.

I don’t blog for economic advantage.  If I wanted to do that, I could channel a wide variety of ideas on investing that are popular, but I know are marginal at best in terms of effectiveness.

Some friends of mine have told me, “Why don’t you write about companies that you own, or companies that look attractive to you?”

I’ve been burned by doing that.  For every ten that you get right, you get the same response from every one you get wrong.  As with most of the web, the complainers dominate.  That’s why I don’t trot out many individual stock ideas.  It’s not that I don’t have them, but I only share them as a group, not as a single idea, most of the time.

Summary

I’m here to tell the truth, even if it cuts against my own short-term economic interests.  Most of the time, I adjust my portfolio so that it is ready for everything, but sometimes I delay, because I know that changes in the market usually happen slowly.

I do not write to be popular.  I write to change the consensus, unlikely as that will be.  Finance is a perverse area of life where fear and greed take over.  And with academics, they have these lame models that are fit for Vulcans (maybe) but not humans (and certainly not Ferengi).

We need new models that reflect the fear-greed cycle, and make valuation a significant input in risk assessments.

I’m not in this for love; I only want to change the way that we view investment decisions.

On Fat Tails

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

I’m reading an investment book that is arguing for market timing.  I’m not impressed with the line of argumentation so far.  I just finished a chapter where the authors pointed out that security price movements are more volatile that the normal distribution would admit.

This is a well known result, or at least it should be well-known.  What I hope to contribute to the discussion is why the tails are fat, and skewed negatively.  There is a famous saying in investments:

Cut your losses, and let your winners run

I regard this saying as vapid, because I have had so many investments where the price action was bad initially, but ended up being incredible investments.  I have also had companies stumble after prior gains, and persevere for greater gains.  Intelligent asset management does not react to the past, but analyzes future prospects, and looks at current margin of safety.

But imagine a situation where many parties have their plans, and they are all similar.  I’ll give a few examples:

  • Institutional investors decide in 1986 to follow the momentum, but be ready to sell if the momentum breaks.  They want upside, but want to protect the downside.
  • Japan was a total momentum market up through 1989, and the reverse thereafter.  Loose monetary policy was an aspect of that, as was a loss of fear, warrant speculation, etc.
  • Those investing in hot emerging markets in the mid-90s did not recognize valuations getting stretched, and the inability of the countries to maintain stimulative policies amid falling currencies.
  • The guys at LTCM were geniuses until they weren’t.  They had no idea of the risks they were taking.  They did not have an ecological view of investing.  Essentially, they thought liquidity was free, until the jaws of the trap snapped shut, and they died.  Taking a concentrated position is a risk, because the investing typically pushes up the price.  When you are so big in a position that you are affecting the market price, that is a bad place to be for two reasons: 1) if you sell, you drive down the price for future sales, and 2) you no longer know what the fair price would be if you weren’t there.
  • Aside from that with LTCM, their brokers mimicked their trades, accentuating the boom-bust, but the brokers had risk control desks that forced them to sell out losing trades, which further hurt LTCM.
  • Think about residential mortgage bonds in 1994.  So many players thought that they had mastered the modeling of prepayment risk only to find amid a Fed tightening cycle that many wanted to limit their interest rate risk as rates skyrocketed, fueling a self-reinforcing panic.
  • Consider tech stocks 1998-2000.  Momentum ran until the sheer weight of valuations, together with insolvencies, crushed the market as a whole, and tech stocks more.  Think of European financial institutions getting forced by regulators to kick out US stocks in September 2002, putting in the bottom.  Regulators almost always act too late, and exacerbate crises, but they should do that, because worse things would happen if they didn’t.  (Later = bigger crisis, Earlier = Some Type II errors, regulating where it was not needed).
  • Finally, consider the housing/banking crisis in the US 2005-2009.  People bought homes with a lot of debt financing, and short-dated debt financing.  Banks levered up to provide the financing.  Shallow credit analysis allowed banks to take on far more risk than they imagined.  It all ended in a trail of tears, with many personal, and not enough corporate bankruptcies, with the taxpayers footing the bill.

In each of these cases, you have correlated human behavior.  The greed of investors gives way to fear.

Now if you are thinking about Modern Portfolio Theory, where market players have perfect knowledge, this doesn’t make sense.  These crises should not happen.  But they happen all too regularly, and I will explain why.

Men are not greedy as much as they are envious.  This leads to mimicking behavior when things are going well.  Those not currently playing want a piece of the action, and so they imitate.

Modern Portfolio Theory implicitly assumes that market players don’t react to the actions of other market players, but that is false.  Most market players don’t think; they mimic.

That is what leads to fat tails, because when people move as a herd, you get dramatic price moves.  Because fear is a greater motivator than envy, that is why the big downward moves are almost always greater than the big upward moves.

Add into that the credit cycle, because gains on credit-sensitive bonds are small, but losses are huge when they occur.  The distribution of outcomes has a long left tail.

The main point here is that price movements are non-normal because market players act as a group.  Their behavior is correlated  on the downside, and to a lesser extent on the upside.

Among other things, this means Modern Portfolio Theory is wrong, and needs to be severely modified, or abandoned.  It also means that we need to watch the credit cycle, and speculative activity to get a sense of how committed the hot money is to risk assets.  Hot money follows trends.  Cold money estimates likely returns over a market cycle, and invests in the best ideas when they are out of favor.

I don’t think timing the market is easy.  I do think that fundamental investors have to look at whether they have a lot of opportunities, or few, and vary their safe assets opposite to opportunities.

So beware the fat tails — we haven’t had a lot of volatility recently.  Maybe we are due.

Traveling with David

Friday, October 25th, 2013

Sometimes I over-commit my time.  That’s been the last few days.  Recently I went to visit a friend who had lost his job at a large company, to look over his severance papers, and advise him.  He is older, a “minority,” and only been with the firm 5-6 years.

Severance agreements have gotten a lot tighter since the two that I have personally experienced.  Corporations dangle some compensation to eliminate possible future legal costs.  I pointed out to my friend the most likely reasons he might sue, but added two things:

  • The company has a large number of sharp lawyers, so you had better have an open-and-shut case.
  • We’re Christians, so we don’t go to court over small matters.

But what impressed me in reading the agreement was how airtight it was — can’t sue over Federal, State, Local, or common law offenses, or anything else.  Which made me think about another thing… the connection between entrance and exit doors.

In investing, people are more wiling to invest if they can have their money back at any time.  With employment, it is the same — employers are more willing to employ if they can fire people for any reason.

Every protection for those employed makes it harder for those without work to be employed.  This also forces jobs to go underground — if advertising them publicly subjects them to regulation, then the good jobs will be filled via “word-of-mouth.”

This takes me back to the early days of the Reagan Administration.  They deregulated a lot of things, and the economy grew far more rapidly.  We could do the same now, starting with labor and healthcare.

My friend may do fine, but the things that “protected” him at his last job now hinder him in seeking another job.  Better to eliminate the protections, and let people compete based on skill and assiduousness.

Part Two

Then I was a judge in a financial analysis competition at a local college.  The analysis involved a stock that faced a large investment decision, larger than the current enterprise value of the junk-rated company.  Should the hedge fund buy, sell short, or do nothing with the stock?  The simple part of the case study was working through the intricacies of the discounted cash flow model, together with changes to the assumptions about cash flows and the weighted average cost of capital.

What I found interesting was the lack of attention to:

  • Details of the case study — did you even read it?
  • Common sense — we are sorry, but a stock can’t lose 113%.  Perhaps you would like to tell us to short the bonds?
  • Limitations of complex techniques in finance.  Yes, there’s many nifty formulas available to you, but do you understand what they really mean, and what limitations they imply?  When are they not valid?
  • What markets can and can’t do.  No, you can’t do an public issuance of junk debt at the level of current debt.  You can’t do an issuance longer than ten years.  You can’t do one that is really big without changing market pricing (and the answers from the case study had this wrong as well).  Same applies to large secondary IPOs for equity.

Now, I know these are students.  They can’t know what an experienced market professional does.  To their credit, they dug up many bits of useful data that the case study did not contemplate.  But the case study itself should have noted these things, and to that degree I fault Darden for writing up a subpar case study.

The main thing I would say again to the students is to ignore the academic models with their false certainty, and try to understand the qualitative aspects of the business, out of which the quantitative modeling will grow.

When we were done, each of the judges gave comments to the students.  I started off with, “Sorry for being such a hard-nose.”  I got a decent laugh from the students, and then explained to them what I have said to you.

Part Three

That evening I went to a talk by CareFirst on the PPACA/Obamacare.  It was a genuinely useful 20-minute presentation, with one annoying thing: all of the pictures in the slide deck were of healthy smiling people.  If you are healthy, you will pay more, unless you are really poor.  A realistic presentation would have had people that are stoic, sad, or crying, if they are healthy and not poor.

The best part of what CareFirst gave me was premium rates for PPACA.  The lowest level plan would increase my premiums by 50%, and would increase the areas in which I would have to pay.  More expensive in every way.

It is only an affordable care act to those who were previously uninsurable; to those who were insurable it is a tax on your health and income.  In 2016, we will rip it out by its roots, and have people pay for healthcare directly, with no tax deduction for employer-provided healthcare.  That will reduce healthcare spending, and shrink healthcare to a more reasonable part of the economy.

If you want healthcare to be affordable, get the government out of it in entire.

Part Four

Dr. Kathryn Crecelius spoke to the Baltimore CFA Society on Thursday.  She is the Chief Investment Officer of my alma mater, The Johns Hopkins University.  She talked to us about endowment investing.  Very common sense stuff, very well said, and much like you would hear from me.  I found myself nodding through the whole talk.  It was all very much like my last piece on endowment investing.  I learned a lot, which makes me happy, because I always like to learn.

My travels are done for a while.  I like that too, because being home is a happy place.

 

A New Look at Endowment Investing

Saturday, October 5th, 2013

I’ve written at least two significant pieces on endowment investing:

Recently, Cathleen M. Rittereiser, Founder of Uncorrelated, LLC, reached out to me to show me her whitepaper on endowment investing, The Portfolio Whiteboard Project.  This was partially in response to Matthew Klein’s excellent article, Time to Ditch the Yale Endowment Model. which came to conclusions similar to my articles above.

The Portfolio Whiteboard Project, which seeks to take a fresh look at endowment investing came to some good conclusions.  If you are interested, it is worth a read.  The remainder of this piece expresses ways that I think their views could be sharpened.  Here goes:

1) Don’t Think in Terms of Time Horizon, but Time Horizons

2008-9 proved that liquidity matters.  The time horizon of an endowment has two elements: the need to fund operations over your short-term planning horizon, and the need to grow the purchasing power of the endowment.

Choose a length of time over which you think you have a full market cycle, with a boom and a bust.  I like 10 years, but that might be too long for many.   As I said in Managing Illiquid Assets:

For a pension plan or endowment, forecast needed withdrawals over the next ten years, and calculate the present value at a conservative discount rate, no higher than 1% above the ten-year Treasury yield.  Invest that much in short to intermediate bond investments.  You can invest the rest in illiquid assets, because most illiquid assets become liquid over ten years.

I include all risk assets in illiquid assets here.  The question of illiquid vs liquid assets comes down to whether you are getting compensated for giving up the ability to easily sell.  There should be an expected premium return for illiquid assets, or else, invest in liquid risk assets, and wait for the day where there is a return advantage to illiquidity.

2) Look to the Underlying Drivers of Value

Hedge funds aren’t magic.  They are just limited partnerships that invest.  Look through the LPs to the actual investments.  It is those actual investments that will drive value, not the form in which they are held.  Get as granular as you can.  Ask: what is the margin of safety in these endeavors?  What is the likely return under bad and moderate conditions?

3) Ignore Correlations

It is far more important to focus on margin of safety than to look at diversification benefits.  Correlation coefficients on returns are not generally stable.  Do not assume any correlation benefits from risky investments.  Far better to segment your assets into risky and safe, and then choose the best assets in each bucket.

4) On Leverage & Insurance

Unless they are mispriced, borrowing money or getting insurance does not add value.  Same for all derivatives, but as we know from the “Big Short,” there are times when the market is horribly wrong.

Away from that, institutional investors are not much different from retail — they borrow at the wrong time (greed), and purchase insurance at the wrong time (fear).

5) Mark-to-Market Losses Might Matter

Mark-to-Market losses only don’t matter if endowments don’t face a call on liquidity when assets are depressed.

6) Insource Assets

The best firms I have worked for built up internal expertise, rather than outsource everything.  The idea is to start small, and slow build up local expertise, which makes you wiser with relationships that you have outsourced.  As you gain experience, insource more.

7) Thematic Investing is Usually Growth Investing

Avoid looking at themes.  Unless you are the first on the scene, themes are expensive.  Rather, look at margin of safety.  Look for businesses where you can’t lose much, and you might get good gains.

8) Look to the Underlying Value of the Business, or Asset Class

Cash flows are what matter.  Look at he likely internal rate of return on all of your investments, and the worst case scenario.  Buy cheap assets with a margin of safety, and don’t look further than that.  Buying safe assets cheap overcomes all diversification advantages.

Those are my differences on what was otherwise a good paper.  I can summarize it like this: Think like a smart businessman, and ignore academic theories on investing.

Disclaimer


David Merkel is an investment professional, and like every investment professional, he makes mistakes. David encourages you to do your own independent "due diligence" on any idea that he talks about, because he could be wrong. Nothing written here, at RealMoney, Wall Street All-Stars, or anywhere else David may write is an invitation to buy or sell any particular security; at most, David is handing out educated guesses as to what the markets may do. David is fond of saying, "The markets always find a new way to make a fool out of you," and so he encourages caution in investing. Risk control wins the game in the long run, not bold moves. Even the best strategies of the past fail, sometimes spectacularly, when you least expect it. David is not immune to that, so please understand that any past success of his will be probably be followed by failures.


Also, though David runs Aleph Investments, LLC, this blog is not a part of that business. This blog exists to educate investors, and give something back. It is not intended as advertisement for Aleph Investments; David is not soliciting business through it. When David, or a client of David's has an interest in a security mentioned, full disclosure will be given, as has been past practice for all that David does on the web. Disclosure is the breakfast of champions.


Additionally, David may occasionally write about accounting, actuarial, insurance, and tax topics, but nothing written here, at RealMoney, or anywhere else is meant to be formal "advice" in those areas. Consult a reputable professional in those areas to get personal, tailored advice that meets the specialized needs that David can have no knowledge of.

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