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A Survey on Trading/Investing

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

I received a survey in the mail on Trading/Investing.  I felt that if I was going to answer it, I may as well do it for my readers.  Here goes:

 

1) How long have you been trading?

I’ve been investing for my own account for 25 years.  During that time, I’ve done a lot of different things:

  • Played around with closed-end funds, and shorted overvalued companies 1989-1993
  • Value investing for myself 1993-98, with a lot of microcap value thrown in.  (Weird stuff, and very illiquid.)
  • Created multiple manager funds for group pension business 1995-1998 — got to interview many of the best managers at that time.
  • Set investment policies for a some major life insurers 1993-2003
  • For major life insurers — Mortgage bond manager 1998-2001, Corporate bond manager 2001-2003, Investment risk manager 1993-2003.
  • Small deal arbitrage for myself 1998-2000
  • Settled on my current value investing strategy, as expressed by my eight rules 2000-2014
  • Buy side analyst for a financials only hedge fund 2003-2007.  Managed the firm’s profit sharing and endowment monies using my value investing strategy.
  • Started my RIA in 2011, to offer clients my value strategy — they get a clone of what I own in my value strategy.  I am my largest client, and I eat my own cooking.

2) What style of trading / investing do you practice (technically driven, fundamental, systematic, a combination etc)?

Mostly fundamental.  Most of my trading is governed by these rules:

Rebalance the portfolio whenever a stock gets more than 20% away from its target weight. Run a largely equal-weighted portfolio because it is genuinely difficult to tell what idea is the best. Keep about 30-40 names for diversification purposes.

I tend to resist momentum in the intermediate term.  From my era of hiring managers, those that used this technique said it added 1-3% to performance.  I think that’s about right.

Make changes to the portfolio 3-4 times per year. Evaluate the replacement candidates as a group against the current portfolio. New additions must be better than the median idea currently in the portfolio. Companies leaving the portfolio must be below the median idea currently in the portfolio.

I limit changes to the portfolio, because it takes time for investment ideas to play out.  I turn over the portfolio at a ~30% rate.  I try to be as businesslike as possible when I sell a company and buy another.  Investors can be very good at evaluating whether a company or group of companies, is better than another company or group of companies.  What is harder is asking, “Would I rather hold cash than this company?”

3) How do you feel when a trade goes against you?

Good.  I get to buy a little more at a lower price, after I check my investment thesis, which if it does not check out, I sell the whole thing.  For the few trades that do badly for a long time — 20 of them over the last 25 years, of course it hurts, but the gains far outweigh the losses, so I ignore those, except to memorialize why the failure happened, and feed that back into my investing processes.  Every time I have lost badly, it was because I violated at least one of my rules.

4) How do you feel when a trade goes for you?

I like it, but I let my rules govern my trading.  Everything is done by rules; there is almost no discretion in my trading.

5) How have these feelings changed over your trading career?  (Can you recall how you originally used to feel and elaborate on how this has changed over time?)

When I was 20-25 years younger, every move in the markets would make me excited.  By the mid-90s, I got my emotions under control.  I learned to focus on eliminating risk on the front end, so that I would have fewer problems on the back end.

6) Do you have any practices that you do away from the trading screen to help you mentally and emotionally handle trading? (e.g. meditation, yoga, running, Tai Chi, kicking the dog, hitting the bottle etc)

I pray to Jesus Christ every day, but that is not a means to handle trading.  I ask Him to guide my decisions, and that I would do my investing to glorify Him.

Because I use my rules, there is little, if any, stress over trading.  My processes are designed to take my emotion out of my infrequent buying and selling.

7) Have you always done this? 

I’ve done this for the last 14 years.  Prior to that, I was experimenting and developing my methods.

My time managing bond assets for life insurers taught me a lot about trading 1998-2003.  I traded over $10 Billion in bonds over that short window of time.  I was far more active as a bond manager, because it was simpler to ascertain when value-enhancing trades could be done.  That fed into my value investing processes, which are designed to mimic the way a bond trader would look at stocks.

8) If not, how have you learnt to deal with the feelings that come up when trading?

Look, first, it’s only money.  If you don’t take some significant losses during your life, you probably aren’t taking enough risk.

Second, investing takes time.  I hold my positions three years on average, and the longest positions have been there for 5-10 years.  A tree in my backyard won’t grow any faster if I worry about it.  The same is true of my stocks.  I review them quarterly.  Between those times, I try to muffle the nose, aside from rebalancing trades which resist the market.

9) Can you describe a time in your trading life which really rammed home the point that so much of trading comes down to psychological factors?

As a value investor, I don’t worry much about trading.  In 2000 & 2008, I did detailed studies of my trading.  In 2000, I found that many of my best trades stemmed from getting the industry right.  In 2008, I found that my top 11 gains paid for all of my losses, 2000-2008.  That was with a 70/30 win/loss ratio, and 180-190 stocks held over the period.

10) If you could give aspiring traders one piece of advice about emotionally handling the market what would it be?

If we are talking traders, it would be this: start out each morning looking at the disasters of the day, and then wait for volume to climax, and price to nadir.  Wait about 5-10 minutes, and then buy.  Close out the trade within a week, maybe at the end of that day.

That said, I would encourage traders become investors.  There is too much competition at the short time horizons of the market, and not so much over 3+ year periods.  Study the greats: Graham, Buffett, Munger, Klarman, Price, Heine, Neff, Soros, Dalio, and many others.  Learn to recognize long-term value, and wait for it to be realized.  There are no barriers of entry to trading.  Long-term value investing has natural barriers to entry, because it is work, and as such, few do it.

I don’t worry about my stock portfolio.  Because my time horizon is long, day-to-day fluctuations don’t mean much.  That makes me free to research ideas that can benefit me and my investors in the future.  That’s a great place to be.

Closing

“Richard Chignell of Embrace The Trend asked me to take part in his Pro’s Process series.  Here are the first couple of answers and for the whole thing please read it here: www.embracethetrend.com“.

Industry Ranks May 2014

Sunday, May 11th, 2014

Industry Ranks 6_1521_image002

My main industry model is illustrated in the graphic. Green industries are cold. Red industries are hot. If you like to play momentum, look at the red zone, and ask the question, “Where are trends under-discounted?” Price momentum tends to persist, but look for areas where it might be even better in the near term.

If you are a value player, look at the green zone, and ask where trends are over-discounted. Yes, things are bad, but are they all that bad? Perhaps the is room for mean reversion.

My candidates from both categories are in the column labeled “Dig through.”

You might notice that I have no industries from the red zone. That is because the market is so high. I only want to play in cold industries. They won’t get so badly hit in a decline, and they might have some positive surprises.

If you use any of this, choose what you use off of your own trading style. If you trade frequently, stay in the red zone. Trading infrequently, play in the green zone — don’t look for momentum, look for mean reversion. I generally play in the green zone because I hold stocks for 3 years on average.

Whatever you do, be consistent in your methods regarding momentum/mean-reversion, and only change methods if your current method is working well.

Huh? Why change if things are working well? I’m not saying to change if things are working well. I’m saying don’t change if things are working badly. Price momentum and mean-reversion are cyclical, and we tend to make changes at the worst possible moments, just before the pattern changes. Maximum pain drives changes for most people, which is why average investors don’t make much money.

Maximum pleasure when things are going right leaves investors fat, dumb, and happy — no one thinks of changing then. This is why a disciplined approach that forces changes on a portfolio is useful, as I do 3-4 times a year. It forces me to be bloodless and sell stocks with less potential for those with more potential over the next 1-5 years.

I like some technology stocks here, some industrials, some retail stocks, particularly those that are strongly capitalized.

I’m looking for undervalued industries. I’m not saying that there is always a bull market out there, and I will find it for you. But there are places that are relatively better, and I have done relatively well in finding them.

At present, I am trying to be defensive. I don’t have a lot of faith in the market as a whole, so I am biased toward the green zone, looking for mean-reversion, rather than momentum persisting. The red zone is pretty cyclical at present. I will be very happy hanging out in dull stocks for a while.

That said, some dull companies are fetching some pricey valuations these days, particularly those with above average dividends. This is an overbought area of the market, and it is just a matter of time before the flight to relative safety reverses.

The Red Zone has a Lot of Financials; be wary of those. I have been paring back my reinsurers, but I have been adding to P&C insurers. What I find fascinating about the red momentum zone now, is that it is loaded with cyclical companies.

In the green zone, I picked almost all of the industries. If the companies are sufficiently well-capitalized, and the valuation is low, it can still be an rewarding place to do due diligence.

Will cyclical companies continue to do well? Will the economy continue to limp along, or might it be better or worse?

But what would the model suggest?

Ah, there I have something for you, and so long as Value Line does not object, I will provide that for you. I looked for companies in the industries listed, but in the top 5 of 9 balance sheet safety categories, and with returns estimated over 12%/year over the next 3-5 years. The latter category does the value/growth tradeoff automatically. I don’t care if returns come from mean reversion or growth.

But anyway, as a bonus here are the names that are candidates for purchase given this screen. Remember, this is a launching pad for due diligence, not hot names to buy.

I’ve tightened my criteria a little because the number of stocks passing last quarter’s screen was much higher, which was likely an artifact of earnings expectations rolling forward another year.

Anyway, enjoy the list of purchase candidates — I know that I will:

Industry Ranks 6_19997_image002

Full Disclosure: long SYMC

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

Industry Ranks February 2014

Sunday, February 9th, 2014

Industry Ranks 6_1521_image002

My main industry model is illustrated in the graphic. Green industries are cold. Red industries are hot. If you like to play momentum, look at the red zone, and ask the question, “Where are trends under-discounted?” Price momentum tends to persist, but look for areas where it might be even better in the near term.

If you are a value player, look at the green zone, and ask where trends are over-discounted. Yes, things are bad, but are they all that bad? Perhaps the is room for mean reversion.

My candidates from both categories are in the column labeled “Dig through.”

You might notice that  I have no industries from the red zone. That is because the market is so high. I only want to play in cold industries. They won’t get so badly hit in a decline, and they might have some positive surprises.

If you use any of this, choose what you use off of your own trading style. If you trade frequently, stay in the red zone. Trading infrequently, play in the green zone — don’t look for momentum, look for mean reversion. I generally play in the green zone because I hold stocks for 3 years on average.

Whatever you do, be consistent in your methods regarding momentum/mean-reversion, and only change methods if your current method is working well.

Huh? Why change if things are working well? I’m not saying to change if things are working well. I’m saying don’t change if things are working badly. Price momentum and mean-reversion are cyclical, and we tend to make changes at the worst possible moments, just before the pattern changes. Maximum pain drives changes for most people, which is why average investors don’t make much money.

Maximum pleasure when things are going right leaves investors fat, dumb, and happy — no one thinks of changing then. This is why a disciplined approach that forces changes on a portfolio is useful, as I do 3-4 times a year. It forces me to be bloodless and sell stocks with less potential for those with more potential over the next 1-5 years.

I like some technology stocks here, some industrials, some consumer stocks, particularly those that are strongly capitalized.

I’m looking for undervalued industries. I’m not saying that there is always a bull market out there, and I will find it for you. But there are places that are relatively better, and I have done relatively well in finding them.

At present, I am trying to be defensive. I don’t have a lot of faith in the market as a whole, so I am biased toward the green zone, looking for mean-reversion, rather than momentum persisting. The red zone is pretty cyclical at present. I will be very happy hanging out in dull stocks for a while.

That said, some dull companies are fetching some pricey valuations these days, particularly those with above average dividends. This is an overbought area of the market, and it is just a matter of time before the flight to relative safety reverses.

The Red Zone has a Lot of Financials; be wary of those. I have been paring back my insurers, but I have been adding to P&C reinsurers.  What I find fascinating about the red momentum zone now, is that it is loaded with cyclical companies.

In the green zone, I picked almost all of the industries. If the companies are sufficiently well-capitalized, and the valuation is low, it can still be an rewarding place to do due diligence.

Will cyclical companies continue to do well?  Will the economy continue to limp along, or might it be better or worse?

But what would the model suggest?

Ah, there I have something for you, and so long as Value Line does not object, I will provide that for you. I looked for companies in the industries listed, but in the top 5 of 9 balance sheet safety categories, and with returns estimated over 12%/year over the next 3-5 years. The latter category does the value/growth tradeoff automatically. I don’t care if returns come from mean reversion or growth.

But anyway, as a bonus here are the names that are candidates for purchase given this screen. Remember, this is a launching pad for due diligence, not hot names to buy.

I’ve loosened my criteria a little because the market is so high, but I figure I will toss out lot when I do my quarterly evaluation of the companies that I hold for clients and me.

Industry Ranks 6_19997_image002

On Investment Ideas, Redux

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

Would I disclose proprietary ideas of mine?  I’ve done it before.  Why would I do it?  Because it would take a lot to make the ideas usable.  Remember my commentary from when I was a bond manager: I was far more open with my brokers than most managers, but I never gave them the critical bits.

So a reader asked me:

Any chance you could expand on what quantitative metrics you are using to compare potential investments? Could you also name a few of the 77 13fs you track? Thanks

I will go above and beyond here.  You will get the names of all 78 — here they are:

  • Abrams
  • Akre
  • Altai
  • Ancient Art
  • Appaloosa
  • Atlantic
  • Bares
  • Baupost
  • Blue Ridge
  • Brave Warrior
  • Bridgewater
  • BRK
  • Capital Growth
  • Centaur
  • Centerbridge
  • Chieftain
  • Chou
  • Coatue
  • Dodge & Cox
  • Dreman
  • Eagle Capital
  • Eagle Value
  • Edinburgh
  • Fairfax
  • Farallon
  • Fiduciary
  • Force
  • FPA
  • Gates
  • Glenview
  • Goldentree
  • Greenhaven
  • Greenlight
  • H Partners
  • Hawkshaw
  • Hayman
  • Hodges
  • Hound
  • Hovde
  • Icahn
  • Intl Value
  • Invesco
  • Jana
  • JAT
  • Jensen
  • Joho
  • Lane Five
  • Leucadia
  • Lone Pine
  • M3F
  • Markel
  • Matrix
  • Maverick
  • MHR
  • Montag
  • MSD
  • Pabrai
  • Parnassus
  • Passport
  • Pennant
  • Perry
  • Pershing Square
  • Pickens
  • Price
  • Sageview
  • Scout
  • Soros
  • Southeastern
  • SQ Advisors
  • Third Point
  • Tiger Global
  • Tweedy Browne
  • ValueAct
  • Viking Global
  • Weitz
  • West Coast
  • Wintergreen
  • Yacktman

What I won’t tell you is what I do with their data, because it is different from what most do.  But you can play with it.

Then you asked about factors.  Here are my factors:

  • Price change over the last year
  • Price change over the last three years
  • Insider buying
  • Price-to-earnings, both current and forward
  • Price-to-book
  • Price-to-sales
  • Price-to-free cash flow
  • Price-to-sales
  • Dividend yield
  • Neglect (Market cap / Trading volume)
  • Net Operating Assets
  • Stock price volatility over the last three years
  • Asset growth over the last three years
  • Sales growth over the last three years
  • Quality (gross margins / assets)

Now that I have “bared all,” I haven’t really bared all, because there is a lot that goes into the preparation and analysis of the data that can’t be grasped from what I have revealed here.  To go into that would take more time than I can spend.  That’s one reason why as a corporate bond manager, I would share more data with my brokers than most would do, because I knew that the last 20% that I reserved was the real gold.  That I would not share.

Beyond that, there are my industry rotation models, which I share 4-6x per year, and then my qualitative reasoning, which makes me reject a lot of ideas that pass my quantitative screens.

That’s what I do.  It’s not perfect, and my qualitative reasoning has its faults as well.  I encourage you to develop your own theories of value, as Ken Fisher encouraged me to do back in early 2000.  Develop your edge, with knowledge that you have that few others do.  I’ll give you an example.

I understand most areas in insurance.  I don’t get everything right, but it does give me an edge, because insurance accounting and competition is a “black box” to most investors.  Insurance has been one of the best performing industries over time, but many avoid it because of its complexity and stodginess.

Behind the hard to understand earnings volatility, there is sometimes a generally profitable franchise that will make decent money in the long run.  But few get that, and that is an “edge” of mine.  Develop your own edge.

That’s all for now.  Invest wisely, and be wary, because the market for risk assets is high, and what if the Fed stops supporting it?  Make sure your portfolio has a margin of safety.

Industry Ranks November 2013

Friday, November 1st, 2013

Industry Ranks 6_1521_image002

 

My main industry model is illustrated in the graphic. Green industries are cold. Red industries are hot. If you like to play momentum, look at the red zone, and ask the question, “Where are trends under-discounted?” Price momentum tends to persist, but look for areas where it might be even better in the near term.

If you are a value player, look at the green zone, and ask where trends are over-discounted. Yes, things are bad, but are they all that bad? Perhaps the is room for mean reversion.

My candidates from both categories are in the column labeled “Dig through.”

You might notice that  I have no industries from the red zone. That is because the market is so high. I only want to play in cold industries. They won’t get so badly hit in a decline, and they might have some positive surprises.

If you use any of this, choose what you use off of your own trading style. If you trade frequently, stay in the red zone. Trading infrequently, play in the green zone — don’t look for momentum, look for mean reversion. I generally play in the green zone because I hold stocks for 3 years on average.

Whatever you do, be consistent in your methods regarding momentum/mean-reversion, and only change methods if your current method is working well.

Huh? Why change if things are working well? I’m not saying to change if things are working well. I’m saying don’t change if things are working badly. Price momentum and mean-reversion are cyclical, and we tend to make changes at the worst possible moments, just before the pattern changes. Maximum pain drives changes for most people, which is why average investors don’t make much money.

Maximum pleasure when things are going right leaves investors fat, dumb, and happy — no one thinks of changing then. This is why a disciplined approach that forces changes on a portfolio is useful, as I do 3-4 times a year. It forces me to be bloodless and sell stocks with less potential for those with more potential over the next 1-5 years.

I like some technology stocks here, some industrials, some consumer stocks, particularly those that are strongly capitalized.

I’m looking for undervalued industries. I’m not saying that there is always a bull market out there, and I will find it for you. But there are places that are relatively better, and I have done relatively well in finding them.

At present, I am trying to be defensive. I don’t have a lot of faith in the market as a whole, so I am biased toward the green zone, looking for mean-reversion, rather than momentum persisting. The red zone is pretty cyclical at present. I will be very happy hanging out in dull stocks for a while.

That said, some dull companies are fetching some pricey valuations these days, particularly those with above average dividends. This is an overbought area of the market, and it is just a matter of time before the flight to relative safety reverses.

The Red Zone has a Lot of Financials; be wary of those. I have been paring back my insurers, but I have been adding to P&C reinsurers.  What I find fascinating about the red momentum zone now, is that it is loaded with cyclical companies.

In the green zone, I picked almost all of the industries. If the companies are sufficiently well-capitalized, and the valuation is low, it can still be an rewarding place to do due diligence.

Will cyclical companies continue to do well?  Will the economy continue to limp along, or might it be better or worse?

But what would the model suggest?

Ah, there I have something for you, and so long as Value Line does not object, I will provide that for you. I looked for companies in the industries listed, but in the top 5 of 9 balance sheet safety categories, and with returns estimated over 12%/year over the next 3-5 years. The latter category does the value/growth tradeoff automatically. I don’t care if returns come from mean reversion or growth.

But anyway, as a bonus here are the names that are candidates for purchase given this screen. Remember, this is a launching pad for due diligence, not hot names to buy.

I’ve loosened my criteria a little because the market is so high, but I figure I will toss out lot when I do my quarterly evaluation of the companies that I hold for clients and me.

Industry Ranks 6_19997_image002

Full Disclosure: Long SYMC, DOX

A Different Look at Industry Attractiveness

Saturday, August 24th, 2013

While doing some work today, I ran across this resource from Morningstar. Morningstar values stocks by projecting the free cash flows of the companies, and discounting those free cash at a rate that reflects the riskiness of the company.  Free cash flows are the amount of cash you can take from a corporation over a period, an leave it equally well off as it was at the beginning of the period.  Some analysts summarize it as:

  • Earnings then add back
  • Interest, Taxation, Depreciation, Amortization, and subtract
  • Maintenance Capital Expenditure

When you see firms talk about their non-GAAP earnings, this is what some are trying to approximate, showing the true earnings power of the assets.

They project the free cash flows in three phases:

  • Phase 1, the analyst projects the next five years
  • Phase 3, every company is the same, growing at the same rate with no competitive advantage
  • Phase 2 grades from Phase 1 to Phase 3, with wide moat companies having a transition period of 20 years, narrow moat companies 15 years, and “no moat” companies a lesser amount.

What does Morningstar use for its free cash flow discount rates?  They started with CAPM, and moved to something more simple, where companies are divided into four buckets, with rates of 8, 10, 12, and 14%.  I’m no fan of CAPM, but it would be a lot smarter to have a system that reflected:

  • the bond yields of the companies, if any, and
  • the relative riskiness of the enterprise without reference to the market as a whole.  The implied volatility of the stock could play a role.

At the end, Morningstar calculates the ratio of the current market price to the discounted value of the free cash flows per share.  If it is greater than one, is is overvalued.  If it less than one, undervalued.

Morningstar does the calculation company by company, but then aggregates the results by super sector, sector, industry, aize of moat, fair value uncertainty, and equity index.

What I particularly found interesting were the aggregations by industry.  I decided to look at the industries that  were overvalued and undervalued by at least 15%.  Here they are:

Undervalued

  • Aluminum
  • Asian Banks
  • Coal
  • Gold
  • Latin American Banks
  • Pollution & Treatment Controls
  • Steel

Overvalued

  • Auto & Truck Dealerships
  • Auto Parts
  • Broadcasting – Radio
  • Business Services
  • Computer Systems
  • Electronics Distribution
  • Financial Exchanges
  • Footwear & Accessories
  • Home Furnishings & Fixtures
  • Insurance Brokers
  • Internet Content & Information
  • Long-Term Care Facilities
  • Luxury Goods
  • Marketing Services
  • Medical Distribution
  • Regional US Banks
  • Regulated Gas Utilities
  • REIT – Hotel & Motel
  • Scientific & Technical Instruments
  • Semiconductor Memory
  • Solar
  • Trucking

Morningstar as 147 industries, of which only two did not have fair value estimates.  Seven industries were undervalued (5%), 22 industries were undervalued (15%).  The undervalued industries were mostly cyclical in nature, while the overvalued industries were not, supporting the idea of this Wall Street Journal article, which argues that cyclical stocks are looking relatively cheap.  It is possible to overpay for certainty, just as it is possible to overlever companies with reliable cash flow.

At this point you might be asking, “Okay, this is nice, but what companies does this imply I should buy or sell?”  Can’t tell you for sure, but I can show you this.  This table is interesting enough, but what you can get are the companies behind each industry group if you click on them.  Note that Morningstar is global in its orientation, so many of the companies that it uses are not US-domiciled.  Some may have nonsponsored ADRs that trade infrequently.

My main point is that you can look at the underlying companies of each industry for buy or sell ideas of of their own discount or premium to fair value.  Morningstar’s fair value analysis is not perfect, but it is a straw blowing in the  wind, and is adequate for some relative value judgments.

Industry Ranks August 2013

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

Industry Ranks 6_1521_image002

My main industry model is illustrated in the graphic. Green industries are cold. Red industries are hot. If you like to play momentum, look at the red zone, and ask the question, “Where are trends under-discounted?” Price momentum tends to persist, but look for areas where it might be even better in the near term.

If you are a value player, look at the green zone, and ask where trends are over-discounted. Yes, things are bad, but are they all that bad? Perhaps the is room for mean reversion.

My candidates from both categories are in the column labeled “Dig through.”

You might notice that this time, I have no industries from the red zone.  That is because the market is so high.  I only want to play in cold industries.  They won’t get so badly hit in a decline, and they might have some positive surprises.

If you use any of this, choose what you use off of your own trading style. If you trade frequently, stay in the red zone. Trading infrequently, play in the green zone — don’t look for momentum, look for mean reversion.  I generally play in the green zone because I hold stocks for 3 years on average.

Whatever you do, be consistent in your methods regarding momentum/mean-reversion, and only change methods if your current method is working well.

Huh? Why change if things are working well? I’m not saying to change if things are working well. I’m saying don’t change if things are working badly. Price momentum and mean-reversion are cyclical, and we tend to make changes at the worst possible moments, just before the pattern changes. Maximum pain drives changes for most people, which is why average investors don’t make much money.

Maximum pleasure when things are going right leaves investors fat, dumb, and happy — no one thinks of changing then. This is why a disciplined approach that forces changes on a portfolio is useful, as I do 3-4 times a year. It forces me to be bloodless and sell stocks with less potential for those with more potential over the next 1-5 years.

I like some technology names here, some telecom related, some basic materials names, particularly those that are strongly capitalized.

I’m looking for undervalued industries. I’m not saying that there is always a bull market out there, and I will find it for you. But there are places that are relatively better, and I have done relatively well in finding them.

At present, I am trying to be defensive. I don’t have a lot of faith in the market as a whole, so I am biased toward the green zone, looking for mean-reversion, rather than momentum persisting. The red zone is pretty cyclical at present. I will be very happy hanging out in dull stocks for a while.

That said, some dull companies are fetching some pricey valuations these days, particularly those with above average dividends.  This is an overbought area of the market, and it is just a matter of time before the flight to relative safety reverses.

The Red Zone has a Lot of Financials; be wary of those.  I’m considering paring back my insurers.

What I find fascinating about the red momentum zone now, is that it is loaded with noncyclical companies. That said, it has been recently noted in a few places how cyclicals are trading at a discount to noncyclicals at present.

In the green zone, I picked most of the industries. If the companies are sufficiently well-capitalized, and the valuation is low, it can still be an rewarding place to do due diligence.

That said, it is tough when noncyclical companies are relatively expensive to cyclicals in a weak economy. Choose your poison: high valuations, or growth that may disappoint.

But what would the model suggest?

Ah, there I have something for you, and so long as Value Line does not object, I will provide that for you. I looked for companies in the industries listed, but in the top 5 of 9 balance sheet safety categories, an with returns estimated over 15%/year over the next 3-5 years. The latter category does the value/growth tradeoff automatically. I don’t care if returns come from mean reversion or growth.

But anyway, as a bonus here are the names that are candidates for purchase given this screen. Remember, this is a launching pad for due diligence, not hot names to buy.

I’ve loosened my criteria a little because the market is so high, but I figure I will toss out  lot when i do my quarterly evaluation of the companies that I hold for clients and me.

 

 

 

Industry Ranks 6_19997_image002

The Rules, Part XLV

Saturday, July 20th, 2013

Market rents are typically fixed in size.  When a strategy to exploit a particular market inefficiency gets too big, returns to the rent disappear, or even go negative prospectively, even if they appear exceedingly productive retrospectively.

If you have read me for any decent amount of time, you know I am big on economic and financial cycles, and how they can’t be eliminated.  There are two groups that think the cycles can be eliminated:

  • Politicians and Central Bankers who think they can create permanent prosperity, when all they really create is an increase in overall debt.
  • Efficient market theorists who think there are no strategies that beat the market.

It is the second group that I am dealing with this evening.  Market strategies trend.  If we have had outperformance from value investing this year,  the odds are good that we will have it next year, unless it has gone on for too many years (5+).

Ideas in investing tend to streak, get overinvested, then die.  This is one reason why I don’t believe articles about the death of various investment concepts.  We need to think about investment ecologically.  There are no permanently valid investment factors to beat the market.  There are many investment factors that beat the market over time, but not while many are pursuing them.  Imitation drives returns, and then over-imitation kills them.

That means we should be wary when a strategy has been working too well for too long.  It also means we should be skeptical when any strategy with a strong thesis behind it is declared “dead.”  That may be the very time to consider it, or maybe wait a year or two.  Many strategies are forgotten; after a time of failure it is time to remember them.

Part of this stems from the biases of institutional investors.  They think that their winnowing down of the investable universe through screening will always produce a good crop of candidates in which to invest.  But that’s not true.  Talented investors think more broadly, and are willing to consider investments that don’t fit within common screens.

The thing is: strategies go in cycles.  They are born at a time when no one loves them.  They gain currency from the good returns of those who adopt them, leading to a frenzy where many adopt the strategy, and returns are great, but now companies that fit the strategy are overvalued.  The process goes into the reverse gear where the strategy is garbage, until enough parties abandon it and the prices of stocks that would be a part of the strategy are attractive.

So when you hear:

  • Value is dead
  • Growth is dead
  • Large caps are dead
  • Small caps are dead (rare)
  • Momentum is dead
  • Low volatility is dead.
  • Quality is dead.
  • Low Quality is dead.
  • XXX industry or sector is dead.

Be skeptical, and begin edging into companies that you like in the “doomed” strategy.  Make sure they have strong balance sheets and competitive positions.  That will protect you if the trend persists.

One more note: this doesn’t work in reverse.  A strategy that has been working for a little while will likely streak.  Resist the trend when it is old, not when it is young.

Finally, remember: there are only tendencies, not laws: markets exist to surprise you.  There are theories that work in the market over time, but they do not work year after year, the results come in lumps, unlike the projections of the financial planners.

And I close by saying to all of my readers — is this not how the market works?  There is momentum, but it sometimes fails dramatically.  Ideas streak, and then collapse far faster.  I say be aware of what has been rewarded and what has not.  Sell stuff that has been rewarded too long, and that which has been recently trashed.  Buy the stuff that has come into favor, and strong companies that have been unduly trashed.

Distinguishing Alpha from Noise

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

I read a paper today that I thought was pretty interesting — A Consultant’s Perspective on Distinguishing Alpha from Noise. [8 pages PDF]  I have been on both sides of the table in my life.  I have hired managers, and I have tried to sell my equity management services.

In general, managers that thought would offer value would venture off the beaten path.  They might own some well-known names, but they would own far more that would make me say, “Who is that?”  The companies would be less known because they are smaller, foreign, have a control investor, etc.

Those portfolios would look a lot different than an index fund.  They would be more concentrated by sector, industry and company.  They would have a process that analyzes what the market is misvaluing, whether by sector, industry, or company.  They would stick to their discipline through thick and thin, realizing that all anomalies in the market go in and out of favor.

The process would specify what anomalies of the market, or what information advantages the fund would attempt to exploit.  But once you specify that, you stick to that as your strategy.  There is no room for tossing an asset in “because it looks good.”

There is a balance in good strategies that allows for minor modifications around core principles.  All good strategies have to adapt, but there has to be a strategic core from which the strategy will never vary.  Absent that core, the strategy will give in to fear and greed — buying high and selling low.

Quoting from the paper:

I am amazed at all the managers that make an assertion of the type “In the long run X always wins”, where X could be dividend yield, earnings growth, quality of management, a quantitative factor or mix of factors, etc., yet are unable cite a reason why X should be systematically under-priced by the market.

My view is twofold.  There are some ugly situations involving financial stress that most investors don’t want to take on.  There are also less glamorous companies that few want to buy.  Those can be excellent investments.  My second point is tougher to make, but industries go in and out of favor.  So do market factors.  Buy that which is safe, and out-of-favor.

Now, for managers, I would recommend keeping a trading journal, where you record why you think your investment hypothesis will succeed.  If your investments succeed for reasons that you specified in advance, that is an indication of skill.  There is a lot of what is called “luck” in investing.  If you are beating the market, and it is not for reasons that you specified in advance, you do not have skill, you have luck, and luck strongly tends to mean revert.

My view comes down to this: I like to see a long track record of outperformance, an unusual portfolio, and a strategy that convinces me that you have discipline, and a constructive way of finding undervalued assets.   Absent that, I will probably think that you are a pretender than an outperformer.  There are always some that outperform for a short time, and then underperform as the underlying economics shift.  Markets are volatile enough that there are always some with three-year track records that are stunning, and very lucky.

Separating luck from skill — that is the toughest aspect of investing.  But it is needed because there are so many investment managers touting skill, and what do they really offer?

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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