Tag Archives: wisdom

Market And Investing Wisdoms For 2020

Last week, I posted our 2020 Outlook, which focused on the futility of trying to predict the future and the understanding of the current market risks headed into the next decade:

“The reality is that we can’t control outcomes. The most we can do is influence the probability of certain outcomes through the management of risks, and investing based on probabilities, rather than possibilities, which is important to capital preservation and investment success over time.

So, as we head into 2020, here is a short-list of the things we are either currently hedging portfolios against, or will potentially need to:

  1. China fails to comply with the terms of the “Phase One” trade deal, which reignites the trade war.
  2. Earnings growth fails to recover, and valuations finally become a concern for the markets.
  3. Corporate profits, which have been essentially flat since 2014, deteriorate due to slower economic growth both domestically and globally.
  4. Excessively high consumer confidence converges with low levels of CEO Confidence as employment begins to weaken.
  5. Interest rates rise, which trips up heavily leveraged consumers and corporations.
  6. Investors become concerned about excess valuations.
  7. A credit-related event causes a market liquidity crunch. (Convent-Lite, Leveraged Loans, BBB-rated downgrades all pose a potential threat)
  8. The Fed’s “repo-crisis” continues to grow and turns out to be something much more significant.
  9. Similar to 2016, a shocking election result.”

However, while the media looks to every headline as a reason to buy stocks, the reality is investing is about both the buying and the selling.

As an investor, advisor, or portfolio manager, it is important to become divorced from day-to-day headlines, and focus on the investment process and risk management of portfolios. A good place to start is by looking at the wisdom of other successful investors and learning from their experience.

These wisdoms were born out of years of mistakes, miscalculations and trial-and-error. Of course, what made them all successful was the ability to learn from their mistakes and capitalize on that knowledge in the future. Experience is an expensive commodity to acquire which is why it is always cheaper to learn from the mistakes of others. 


12 Market Wisdoms From Gerald Loeb

1. The most important single factor in shaping security markets is public psychology.

2. To make money in the stock market you either have to be ahead of the crowd or very sure they are going in the same direction for some time to come.

3. Accepting losses is the most important single investment device to insure safety of capital.

4. The difference between the investor who year in and year out procures for himself a final net profit, and the one who is usually in the red, is not entirely a question of superior selection of stocks or superior timing. Rather, it is also a case of knowing how to capitalize successes and curtail failures.

5. One useful fact to remember is that the most important indications are made in the early stages of a broad market move. Nine times out of ten the leaders of an advance are the stocks that make new highs ahead of the averages.

6. There is a saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” One might paraphrase this by saying a profit is worth more than endless alibis or explanations. . . prices and trends are really the best and simplest “indicators” you can find.

7. Profits can be made safely only when the opportunity is available and not just because they happen to be desired or needed.

8. Willingness and ability to hold funds uninvested while awaiting real opportunities is a key to success in the battle for investment survival.-

9. In addition to many other contributing factors of inflation or deflation, a very great factor is the psychological. The fact that people think prices are going to advance or decline very much contributes to their movement, and the very momentum of the trend itself tends to perpetuate itself.

10. Most people, especially investors, try to get a certain percentage return, and actually secure a minus yield when properly calculated over the years. Speculators risk less and have a better chance of getting something, in my opinion.

11. I feel all relevant factors, important and otherwise, are registered in the market’s behavior, and, in addition, the action of the market itself can be expected under most circumstances to stimulate buying or selling in a manner consistent enough to allow reasonably accurate forecasting of news in advance of its actual occurrence.

12. You don’t need analysts in a bull market, and you don’t want them in a bear market


Jesse Livermore’s Trading Rules Written in 1940

1. Nothing new ever occurs in the business of speculating or investing in securities and commodities.

2. Money cannot consistently be made trading every day or every week during the year.

3. Don’t trust your own opinion and back your judgment until the action of the market itself confirms your opinion.

4. Markets are never wrong – opinions often are.

5. The real money made in speculating has been in commitments showing in profit right from the start.

6. At long as a stock is acting right, and the market is right, do not be in a hurry to take profits.

7. One should never permit speculative ventures to run into investments.

8. The money lost by speculation alone is small compared with the gigantic sums lost by so-called investors who have let their investments ride.

9. Never buy a stock because it has had a big decline from its previous high.

10. Never sell a stock because it seems high-priced.

11. I become a buyer as soon as a stock makes a new high on its movement after having had a normal reaction.

12. Never average losses.

13. The human side of every person is the greatest enemy of the average investor or speculator.

14. Wishful thinking must be banished.

15. Big movements take time to develop.

16. It is not good to be too curious about all the reasons behind price movements.

17. It is much easier to watch a few than many.

18. If you cannot make money out of the leading active issues, you are not going to make money out of the stock market as a whole.

19. The leaders of today may not be the leaders of two years from now.

20. Do not become completely bearish or bullish on the whole market because one stock in some particular group has plainly reversed its course from the general trend.

21. Few people ever make money on tips. Beware of inside information. If there was easy money lying around, no one would be forcing it into your pocket.


Bernard Baruch’s 10 Investing Rules

1. Don’t speculate unless you can make it a full-time job.

2. Beware of barbers, beauticians, waiters — of anyone — bringing gifts of “inside” information or “tips.”

3. Before you buy a security, find out everything you can about the company, its management and competitors, its earnings and possibilities for growth.

4. Don’t try to buy at the bottom and sell at the top. This can’t be done — except by liars.

5. Learn how to take your losses quickly and cleanly. Don’t expect to be right all the time. If you have made a mistake, cut your losses as quickly as possible.

6. Don’t buy too many different securities. Better have only a few investments which can be watched.

7. Make a periodic reappraisal of all your investments to see whether changing developments have altered their prospects.

8. Study your tax position to know when you can sell to greatest advantage.

9. Always keep a good part of your capital in a cash reserve. Never invest all your funds.

10. Don’t try to be a jack of all investments. Stick to the field you know best.


 James P. Arthur Huprich’s Market Truisms And Axioms

1. Commandment #1: “Thou Shall Not Trade Against the Trend.”

2. Portfolios heavy with underperforming stocks rarely outperform the stock market!

3. There is nothing new on Wall Street. There can’t be because speculation is as old as the hills. Whatever happens in the stock market today has happened before and will happen again, mostly due to human nature.

4. Sell when you can, not when you have to.

5. Bulls make money, bears make money, and “pigs” get slaughtered.

6. We can’t control the stock market. The very best we can do is to try to understand what the stock market is trying to tell us.

7. Understanding mass psychology is just as important as understanding fundamentals and economics.

8. Learn to take losses quickly, don’t expect to be right all the time, and learn from your mistakes.

9. Don’t think you can consistently buy at the bottom or sell at the top. This can rarely be consistently done.

10. When trading, remain objective. Don’t have a preconceived idea or prejudice. Said another way, “the great names in Trading all have the same trait: An ability to shift on a dime when the shifting time comes.”

11. Any dead fish can go with the flow. Yet, it takes a strong fish to swim against the flow. In other words, what seems “hard” at the time is usually, over time, right.

12. Even the best looking chart can fall apart for no apparent reason. Thus, never fall in love with a position but instead remain vigilant in managing risk and expectations. Use volume as a confirming guidepost.

13. When trading, if a stock doesn’t perform as expected within a short time period, either close it out or tighten your stop-loss point.

14. As long as a stock is acting right and the market is “in-gear,” don’t be in a hurry to take a profit on the whole positions. Scale out instead.

15. Never let a profitable trade turn into a loss, and never let an initial trading position turn into a long-term one because it is at a loss.

16. Don’t buy a stock simply because it has had a big decline from its high and is now a “better value;” wait for the market to recognize “value” first.

17. Don’t average trading losses, meaning don’t put “good” money after “bad.” Adding to a losing position will lead to ruin. Ask the Nobel Laureates of Long-Term Capital Management.

18. Human emotion is a big enemy of the average investor and trader. Be patient and unemotional. There are periods where traders don’t need to trade.

19. Wishful thinking can be detrimental to your financial wealth.

20. Don’t make investment or trading decisions based on tips. Tips are something you leave for good service.

21. Where there is smoke, there is fire, or there is never just one cockroach: In other words, bad news is usually not a one-time event, more usually follows.

22. Realize that a loss in the stock market is part of the investment process. The key is not letting it turn into a big one as this could devastate a portfolio.

23. Said another way, “It’s not the ones that you sell that keep going up that matter. It’s the one that you don’t sell that keeps going down that does.”

24. Your odds of success improve when you buy stocks when the technical pattern confirms the fundamental opinion.

25. As many participants have come to realize from 1999 to 2010, during which the S&P 500 has made no upside progress, you can lose money even in the “best companies” if your timing is wrong. Yet, if the technical pattern dictates, you can make money on a short-term basis even in stocks that have a “mixed” fundamental opinion.

26. To the best of your ability, try to keep your priorities in line. Don’t let the “greed factor” that Wall Street can generate outweigh other just as important areas of your life. Balance the physical, mental, spiritual, relational, and financial needs of life.

27. Technical analysis is a windsock, not a crystal ball. It is a skill that improves with experience and study. Always be a student, there is always someone smarter than you!


James Montier’s 7 Immutable Laws Of Investing

1. Always insist on a margin of safety

2. This time is never different

3. Be patient and wait for the fat pitch

4. Be contrarian

5. Risk is the permanent loss of capital, never a number

6. Be leery of leverage

7. Never invest in something you don’t understand

The Wisdom of Peter Fisher

“In recent years, numerous major central banks announced objectives of achieving more rapid rates of inflation as strategies for fostering higher standards of living. All of them have failed to achieve their objectives.” – Jerry Jordan, former Cleveland Federal Reserve Bank President

In March 2017, former Treasury and Federal Reserve (Fed) official, Peter R. Fisher, delivered a speech at the Grant’s Interest Rate Observer Spring Conference entitled Undoing Extraordinary Monetary Policy. It is one of the most insightful and compelling assessments of the Fed’s post-financial crisis policy actions available.

Now a professor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, Fisher is a true insider with experience in the government and private sector that affords him unique insight. Given the recent policy “pivot” by Chairman Powell and all members of the Fed, Fisher’s comments from two years ago take on fresh relevance worth revisiting.

In the past, when Fed leadership discussed normalizing the Fed’s post-crisis policy actions, they exuded confidence that it can and will be done smoothly and without any implications for the economy or markets. Specifically, in a Washington Post article from 2010, Bernanke stated, “We have made all necessary preparations, and we are confident that we have the tools to unwind these policies at the appropriate time.” More recently, Janet Yellen and others have echoed those sentiments. Current Fed Chairman Jerome Powell, tasked with normalizing policy, appears to be finding out differently.

Define “Normal”

Taking a step back, there are important issues at stake if the Fed truly wants to unshackle the market economy from the influences of extreme monetary policy and the harm it may be causing. To normalize policy, the Fed first needs to explicitly define “normal.”

For instance:

  • The Fed should take steps to raise interest rates to what is considered “normal” levels. Normal can be characterized as a Federal Funds target rate in line with the average of the past 30 years or it might be a level that reflects sufficient “dry powder” were the Fed to need that policy tool in a future economic slowdown.
  • The Fed should reduce the size of their balance sheet. In this case, normal under reasonable logic would be the size of the balance sheet before the financial crisis either in absolute terms or as a percentage of nominal gross domestic production (GDP). Despite some reductions, it is not close on either count.

The Fed consistently feeds investors’ guessing games about what they deem appropriate. There appears to be little rigor, debate, or transparency about the substance of those decisions. Neither Ben Bernanke nor Janet Yellen offered details about how they would accurately characterize “normal” in either context. The reason for this seems obvious enough. If they were to establish reasonable parameters that defined normal levels in either case, they would be held accountable for differences from their prescribed benchmarks. It might force them to take actions that, while productive and proper in the long-run, may be disruptive to the financial markets in the short run. How inconvenient.

In most instances, normal is defined as something that conforms to a standard or that which has been common under historical experience. Begin by looking at the Fed Funds target rate. A Fed Funds rate of 0.0% for seven years is not normal, nor is the current rate range of 2.25-2.50%.

As illustrated in the chart below, in each of the past three recessions dating back to 1989, the Fed cut the fed funds rate by an average of 5.83%. In that context, and now resting at less than half the average historical pre-recession level, a Fed Funds rate of 2.25-2.50% is clearly abnormal and of greater concern, insufficient to combat a downturn.

Interest rates should mimic the structural growth rate of the economy. As we have illustrated in prior analysis and articles, particularly Wicksell’s Elegant Model, using a 7-year cycle for economic growth reflective of historical expansions, that time-frame should offer a reasonable proxy for “structural” economic growth. The issue of greater concern is that, contrary to the statement above, structural growth appears to be imitating the level of interest rates meaning the more the Fed suppresses interest rates, the more growth languishes.

Next, let’s look at the Fed balance sheet. Quantitative tightening began in late 2017 gradually increasing as the Fed allowed their securities bought during QE to mature without replacing them. As shown in the blue shaded area in the chart below, QT reduced the Fed balance sheet by about $500 billion, but it remains absurdly high at nearly $4.0 trillion. As a percentage of GDP, it has dropped from a peak of 25.3% to 19%. Before the point at which QE was initiated in September 2008, the size of the Fed balance sheet was roughly $900 billion or 6% of nominal GDP and was in a tight range around that level for decades. Now, with the Fed halting any further reductions in the balance sheet, are we to assume 20% of GDP to be a normal level? If so, what is the basis for that conclusion?

The bottom line: simple analysis, straight-forward logic, and common sense dictate that monetary policy remains abnormal.

Fisher helps us understand why the Fed is so hesitant to normalize policy, despite their outward confidence in being able to do so.

Second-Order Effects

As Fisher stated in his remarks at the conference, The challenge of normalizing policy will be to undo bad habits that have developed in how monetary policy is explained and understood.” This is a powerfully important statement highlighting second-order effects. He continues, “…the Fed will have to walk back from their early assurances that the “exit would be easy.” Prophetic indeed.

The “easy” part of getting rates and the balance sheet back to “normal” is now proving to be not so easy. What the Fed did not account for when they unleashed unprecedented policy was the habits and behaviors among governments, corporations, households, and investors. Modifying these behaviors will come at a debilitating cost.

Think of it like this: Nobody starts smoking cigarettes with a goal of smoking two packs a day for 30 years, but once introduced, it is difficult to stop. Furthermore, trying to stop smoking can be very painful and expensive. NOT stopping is medically and scientifically proven to be even more so.

Fisher goes on to explain in real-world terms how two households are impacted in an environment of extraordinary policy actions. One household possesses savings; the other does not. Consider their traditional liabilities such as mortgage and auto loans, “but also their future consumption expenditures, their liability to feed and clothe themselves in the future.” The family with savings may feel wealthier from gains in their invested savings and retirement accounts as a result of extraordinary policies pushing financial markets higher, but they also must endure an increase in the cost of living. In the final analysis, they end up where they started. “They may… perceive a wealth effect but, ultimately, there is only a wealth illusion.”

As for the family without savings, they had no investments to go up in value, so there is no wealth effect. This means that their cost of living rose and, wages largely stagnant, it occurred without any form of a commensurate rise in income. That can only mean their standard of living dropped. As Fisher states, given extraordinary policy imposed, “There was no wealth effect, not even a wealth illusion, just a cruel hoax.” He further adds, “…the next time you hear that the net-wealth of American households is at an all-time high, do spend a minute thinking about the present value of the unrecorded future consumption expenditures, particularly of households with no savings.”

What is remarkable about Fisher’s analysis is contrasting it with the statements of Fed officials who say they are acting in the best interest of all U.S. citizens. Quoting from George Orwell’s Animal Farm, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

A man can easily drown crossing a stream that is on average 3 feet deep. Household wealth as a macro measure of monetary policy success in a period when wealth inequality is at such extremes perfectly illustrates this imperfection. As Fisher states, “Out of both humility and self-preservation, let’s hope the Fed finds a way to stop targeting the level of wealth.”

Linear Extrapolation

Fisher also addresses the issue of Fed forward guidance stating, “Implicit in forward guidance…is the idea that dampening short-term market uncertainty and volatility is a good thing. But removing uncertainty from our capital markets is not, in my view, an unambiguous blessing.”

Forward guidance, whereby the Fed provides expectations about future policy, targets an optimal level of volatility without being clear about what “optimal” means. How does the Fed know what is optimal? As we have stated before, a market made up of millions of buyers and sellers is a much better arbiter of prices, value, and the resulting volatility than is the small group of unelected officials at the Fed. Yet, they do indeed falsely portray an understanding of “optimal” by managing the prices of interest rates but theirs is a guess no better than yours or mine. Based upon their economic track record, we would argue their guess is far worse.

Fisher goes on to reference John Maynard Keynes on the subject of extrapolative expectations which is commonly used as a basis for asset pricing. Referring to it as the “conventional valuation” in his book The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, Keynes said this reflects investors’ assumptions “that the existing state of affairs will continue indefinitely, except in so far as we have specific reasons to expect a change.” Connecting those dots, Fisher states that “forward guidance is the process through which the Fed – through its more explicit influence on the expected rate of interest – becomes the much more explicit owner of the “conventional valuation” of asset prices… the Fed now has a heightened responsibility and sensitivity to asset pricing.

That conclusion is critically important and clarifies the behavior we see coming out of the Eccles Building. In becoming the “explicit owner” of valuations in the stock market, the Fed now must adhere to a pattern of decisions and actions that will ultimately support the prices of risky assets under all circumstances. Far from rigorous scrutiny of doubts and assumptions, the Fed fails in every way to apply the scientific method of analyzing their actions before and after they take them. So desperate are they to manage the expectations of the public, their current posture leaves no latitude for uncertainty. As Fisher further points out, the last time we saw evidence of a similar stance was in 2007 when the Fed rejected the possibility of a nation-wide decline in house prices.

Summary

Fisher fittingly sums up by restating the point he made at the beginning:

“…the Fed and other central banks appear to have avoided being candid about the uncertainty (of extraordinary monetary policies) in order to maintain their credibility. But this is backwards. They cannot regain their credibility unless they are candid about the uncertainty and how they confront it.”

The power of Fisher’s perspectives is in his candor. Now at a time when the Fed is proving him correct on every count, it is worthwhile to refresh our memories. We would encourage investors to read the transcript in full. Given the clarity of the insights he shares, summarized here, their importance cannot be overstated.

Undoing Extraordinary Monetary Policy