3 Things You Should Always Ask a Financial Adviser

The following first appeared on Kiplinger’s as 3 Things You Should Always Ask a Financial Adviser.

Your choice of financial adviser might be the single most important decision you ever make, short of your spouse or maybe your doctor.

While you might not be putting your life in his or her hands, per se, you’re certainly putting your financial future at risk. A good adviser can help you protect the savings you’ve spent a lifetime building, and – with good planning and maybe a little luck from a healthy stock market – grow it into a proper nest egg.

But how do you choose?

Let’s take a look at some traits you’ll want to look for, as well as three questions you’ll want to ask any prospective candidate.
What you want in a financial adviser

An older adviser with a little gray in their hair might instinctively seem safer, but ideally you don’t want an adviser that will kick the bucket before you do. However, going with a younger adviser introduces greater uncertainty as they will generally have a shorter track record.

Likewise, educational pedigree matters … but not as much as you might think. You can assume that an adviser with an Ivy League degree is highly intelligent and motivated, and those are qualities you want to see. But these same characteristics can make for lousy investment returns if they mean the adviser is overconfident. Investing is a game in which discipline, patience and humility generally matter more than raw brains and ambition.

As Warren Buffett famously said, “Investing is not a game where the guy with the 160 IQ beats the guy with the 130 IQ.”

Yes, you want your adviser to be smart. But don’t be overly swayed by fancy degrees.

To finish reading the article, please see 3 Things You Should Always Ask a Financial Adviser.

This article first appeared on Sizemore Insights as 3 Things You Should Always Ask a Financial Adviser

Is Value Dead?

Value investing has historically been a winning strategy… but it’s been a rough couple of years.

So… is value dead? Should we all just buy the S&P 500 and be done?

The rumors of value’s death have been greatly exaggerated. Larry Swedroe wrote am excellent piece on the subject this month, Don’t Give Up On the Value Factor, and I’m going to publish a few excerpts below.

As the director of research for Buckingham Strategic Wealth and The BAM Alliance, I’ve been getting lots of questions about whether the value premium still exists. Today I’ll share my thoughts on that issue. I’ll begin by explaining why I have been receiving such inquiries.

Recency bias – the tendency to give too much weight to recent experience and ignore long-term historical evidence – underlies many common investor mistakes. It’s particularly dangerous because it causes investors to buy after periods of strong performance (when valuations are high and expected returns low) and sell after periods of poor performance (when valuations are low and expected returns high).

A great example of the recency problem involves the performance of value stocks (another good example would be the performance of emerging market stocks). Using factor data from Dimensional Fund Advisors (DFA), for the 10 years from 2007 through 2017, the value premium (the annual average difference in returns between value stocks and growth stocks) was -2.3%. Value stocks’ cumulative underperformance for the period was 23%. Results of this sort often lead to selling.

Charles here. Other than perhaps overconfidence, recency bias is probably the most dangerous cognitive bias for the vast majority of investors. Investors look at the recent past and draw the conclusion that this is “normal” and representative of what they should expect going forward. This is why otherwise sane people do crazy things like buy tech stocks in 1998, Florida homes in 2005 or Bitcoin in late 2017.

Investors who know their financial history understand that this type of what we might call “regime change” is to be expected. In fact, even though the value premium has been quite large and persistent over the long term, it’s been highly volatile. According to DFA data, the annual standard deviation of the premium, at 12.9%, is 2.6-times the size of the 4.8% annual premium itself (for the period 1927 through 2017).

As further evidence, the value premium has been negative in 37% of years since 1926. Even over five- and 10-year periods, it has been negative 22% and 14% of the time, respectively. Thus, periods of underperformance, such as the one we’ve seen recently, should not come as any surprise. Rather, they should be anticipated, because periods of underperformance occur in every risky asset class and factor. The only thing we don’t know is when they will pop up.

 

 

Well said.

After a period like the past ten years, it’s easy to draw the conclusion that value is dead. But investors drew the same conclusion in 1999… and they were dead wrong.

As a case in point, see Julian Robertson’s last letter to investors.

 

 

This article first appeared on Sizemore Insights as Is Value Dead?

Today on Straight Talk Money: All About Warren Buffett

I joined Peggy Tuck this morning on Straight Talk Money. Given that Berkshire Hathaway just had its annual meeting, we have Buffett on the brain. We discuss the Warren Buffett’s career and a few things you might not know about the Oracle.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

This article first appeared on Sizemore Insights as Today on Straight Talk Money: All About Warren Buffett

Keeping Perspective: Julian Robertson’s Last Letter to Investors

Growth stocks — and specifically large-cap tech stocks led by the FAANGs — have utterly crushed value stocks of late. It’s been the dominant theme of the past five years. Even the first quarter of 2018, which saw Facebook engulfed in a privacy scandal, saw growth outperform value.

SectorBenchmarkQtr. Return
Large-Cap GrowthS&P 500 Growth1.58%
Large-Cap StocksS&P 500-1.22%
InternationalMSCI EAFE Index-2.19%
UtilitiesS&P 500 Utilities-3.30%
Large-Cap ValueS&P 500 Value-4.16%
Real Estate Investment TrustsS&P U.S. REIT Index-9.16%
Master Limited PartnershipsAlerian MLP Index-11.22

Value stocks in general underperformed, and the cheapest of the cheap — master limited partnerships — got utterly obliterated.

So, is value investing dead?

Before you start digging its grave, consider the experience of Julian Robertson, one of the greatest money managers in history and the godfather of the modern hedge fund industry. Robertson produced an amazing track record of 32% compounded annual returns for nearly two decades in the 1980s and 1990s, crushing the S&P 500 and virtually all of his competitors. But the late 1990s tech bubble tripped him up, and he had two disappointing years in 1998 and 1999.

Facing client redemptions, Robertson opted to shut down his fund altogether. His parting words to investors are telling.

The following is the Julian Robertson’s final letter to his investors, dated March 30, 2000, written as he was in the process of shutting down Tiger Management:

In May of 1980, Thorpe McKenzie and I started the Tiger funds with total capital of $8.8 million. Eighteen years later, the $8.8 million had grown to $21 billion, an increase of over 259,000 percent. Our compound rate of return to partners during this period after all fees was 31.7 percent. No one had a better record.

Since August of 1998, the Tiger funds have stumbled badly and Tiger investors have voted strongly with their pocketbooks, understandably so. During that period, Tiger investors withdrew some $7.7 billion of funds. The result of the demise of value investing and investor withdrawals has been financial erosion, stressful to us all. And there is no real indication that a quick end is in sight.

And what do I mean by, “there is no quick end in sight?” What is “end” the end of? “End” is the end of the bear market in value stocks. It is the recognition that equities with cash-on-cash returns of 15 to 25 percent, regardless of their short-term market performance, are great investments. “End” in this case means a beginning by investors overall to put aside momentum and potential short-term gain in highly speculative stocks to take the more assured, yet still historically high returns available in out-of-favor equities.

There is a lot of talk now about the New Economy (meaning Internet, technology and telecom). Certainly, the Internet is changing the world and the advances from biotechnology will be equally amazing. Technology and telecommunications bring us opportunities none of us have dreamed of.

“Avoid the Old Economy and invest in the New and forget about price,” proclaim the pundits. And in truth, that has been the way to invest over the last eighteen months.

As you have heard me say on many occasions, the key to Tiger’s success over the years has been a steady commitment to buying the best stocks and shorting the worst. In a rational environment, this strategy functions well. But in an irrational market, where earnings and price considerations take a back seat to mouse clicks and momentum, such logic, as we have learned, does not count for much.

The current technology, Internet and telecom craze, fueled by the performance desires of investors, money managers and even financial buyers, is unwittingly creating a Ponzi pyramid destined for collapse. The tragedy is, however, that the only way to generate short-term performance in the current environment is to buy these stocks. That makes the process self-perpetuating until the pyramid eventually collapses under its own excess. [Charles here. Sound familiar? Fear of trailing the benchmark has led managers to pile into the FAANGs.]

I have great faith though that, “this, too, will pass.” We have seen manic periods like this before and I remain confident that despite the current disfavor in which it is held, value investing remains the best course. There is just too much reward in certain mundane, Old Economy stocks to ignore. This is not the first time that value stocks have taken a licking. Many of the great value investors produced terrible returns from 1970 to 1975 and from 1980 to 1981 but then they came back in spades.

The difficulty is predicting when this change will occur and in this regard, I have no advantage. What I do know is that there is no point in subjecting our investors to risk in a market which I frankly do not understand. Consequently, after thorough consideration, I have decided to return all capital to our investors, effectively bringing down the curtain on the Tiger funds. We have already largely liquefied the portfolio and plan to return assets as outlined in the attached plan.

No one wishes more than I that I had taken this course earlier. Regardless, it has been an enjoyable and rewarding 20 years. The triumphs have by no means been totally diminished by the recent setbacks. Since inception, an investment in Tiger has grown 85-fold net of fees; more than three time the average of the S&P 500 and five-and-a-half times that of the Morgan Stanley Capital International World Index. The best part by far has been the opportunity to work closely with a unique cadre of co-workers and investors.

For every minute of it, the good times and the bad, the victories and the defeats, I speak for myself and a multitude of Tiger’s past and present who thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

Charles here. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Value will have its day in the sun again, and that day is likely here with the FAANGs finally starting to break down.

Had Robertson held on a little longer, he would have been vindicated and likely would have made a killing. Consider the outperformance of value over growth in the years between the tech bust and the Great Recession:

 

So, don’t abandon value investing just yet. If history is any guide, it’s set to leave growth in the dust.

 

 

This article first appeared on Sizemore Insights as Keeping Perspective: Julian Robertson’s Last Letter to Investors

Finance Blogger Wisdom: What’s a Reasonable Estimate for Portfolio Returns Going Forward?

Tadas Viskanta, editor of the excellent finanical blog Abnormal Returns, asked a group of financial bloggers the following question:

Assume you are advising a pension fund, endowment or foundation. What is a reasonable long-term expectation for real returns for a well-diversified portfolio?

The answered varied, but it seems like the consensus was somewhere in the ballpark of 2%-3%, though some had estimates of 5% or better.

This was my response:

We all know the standard answer: stocks “always” return 7% to 10% per year. But while that might be true over a 20-30-year time horizon, the reality can be very different over shorter time horizons.

At today’s valuations, the S&P 500 is priced to actually lose 2%-3% per year over the next eight years. That estimate is based on historical CAPE valuations, which have limitations (including the failure to take into account differences in interest rates over time). So, let’s assume the CAPE is being unduly bearish given today’s yields and that stock returns end up being 5% better than the CAPE suggests. We’re still looking at returns of 2%-3%.

That’s roughly in line with with the yields you can achieve on a high-quality bond portfolio. So, core assets should return something in the ballpark of 2%-3% per year over the next 8-10 years. Overseas (and particularly emerging market) stocks might do significantly better than that, and commodities might enjoy a good decade starting at today’s prices. So, a diversified portfolio that included emerging-market stocks and commodities might post respectable returns. But a standard 60/40 portfolio is unlikely to return better than about 3% over the next 8-10 years.

There were some very solid, very thoughtful responses from several financial bloggers I respect and follow.  To read the other answers, see Finance blogger wisdom: real returns.

 

 

This article first appeared on Sizemore Insights as Finance Blogger Wisdom: What’s a Reasonable Estimate for Portfolio Returns Going Forward?

Emerging Markets Set to Take the Lead?

The following is an excerpt from Best ETFs for 2018: iShares Emerging Markets Dividend ETF Is Still in the Race.

If there is a dominant theme in the Best ETFs for 2018 contest, it would seem to be “Go America!” and specifically “Go American tech!”

The Market Vectors Semiconductor ETF (SMH) is leading the pack, up 7%, and four of the top five places are all held by ETFs specializing in tech or biotech.

But we still have a long way to go in 2018, and tech is starting to show signs of breaking down as we finish out the quarter. I expect my pick – the iShares Emerging Markets Dividend ETF (DVYE) to ultimately take the crown.

The U.S. market has been the undisputed winner of the post-2008 bull market. Since March 2009, the SPDR S&P 500 ETF (SPY) is up about 240%. The iShares MSCI EAFE ETF (EFA) and the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF (EEM) — popular proxies for developed foreign markets and emerging markets, respectively — are up 111% and 142% over the same period.

But with that outperformance has come major overvaluation. The U.S. market is the most expensive major market in world based on the cyclically adjusted price/earnings ratio, or “CAPE” (only tiny Denmark and Ireland are more expensive). The U.S. market trades at a CAPE of 31 … which is the level it reached in late 1997, in the midst of the dot com bubble.

Meanwhile, emerging markets are downright cheap. As a sector, emerging markets trade at a CAPE of less than 18, and many individual countries are even cheaper. Brazil trades at a CAPE of 14, and Russia 7.

To continue reading, please see Best ETFs for 2018: iShares Emerging Markets Dividend ETF Is Still in the Race.

This article first appeared on Sizemore Insights as Emerging Markets Set to Take the Lead?

Someone Fat Finger an MLP Trade?

Interesting price action in MLPs today. Some Twitter banter:

ETE and EPD both ended down on the day, along with most of the rest of the market. But it was a wild ride!

This article first appeared on Sizemore Insights as Someone Fat Finger an MLP Trade?

Are the FANGs Holding Up a Weak Market?

Data as of 3/26/2018. Past performance no guarantee of future results.

It remains to be seen whether the market is in the midst of a garden-variety 10% correction or if this is the start of a deeper bear market. But it does seem like this market is being held aloft buy a small handful of large-cap tech stocks: the infamous FAANGs.

Let’s play with the numbers a little.

The S&P 500 cratered in early February but quickly rebounded, recouping about two thirds of its loss. And when the market rolled over again this month on trade fears, it stopped short of hitting new lows.

Data as of 3/26/2018. Past performance no guarantee of future results.

But stripping out tech and telecom stocks, we see a different picture. the S&P ex-Technology and Telecom Services Index fell in lockstep with the S&P 500, but the recovery was less robust. It recovered a little over half the prior losses. And when stocks dropped again in March, the ex-Tech and Telco fell to new lows.

Data as of 3/26/2018. Past performance no guarantee of future results.

Now, let me be clear that this is by NO means a thorough analysis. This is a superficial first scan, and I plan to dig deeper this week.

Furthermore, the data as presented here doesn’t specifically isolate the impact of the FAANGs. The S&P 500 ex-Technology and Telecom Services index actually includes one of the FAANGs — high flier Amazon.com (AMZN) — which makes its performance look better than it should. It also excludes stodgy old telecoms like AT&T (T) and Verizon (VZ), both of which have gotten obliterated this year as interest rates have risen… and which didn’t participate at all in the rally earlier this month. Excluding telco also makes the ex-tech index look better than it should.

I’ll dig deeper into the data later to build a true S&P 500 ex-FAANGs index, but this initial look would suggest that the this market is indeed narrow, being held aloft by Big Tech. That’s worrisome… and it makes me believe that more pain could be coming.

Disclosures: No positions in the stocks mentioned.

This article first appeared on Sizemore Insights as Are the FANGs Holding Up a Weak Market?

Review: Skin in the Game

It’s morally wrong to enjoy the benefits of something while leaving others to accept all the risks.

This is the central theme of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s latest work, Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life, a book that should be required reading for anyone in public office or in any position of authority or influence. And by “position of authority or influence,” I’m not speaking only of politicians or journalists. I would include everyone from the town doctor to the b-list celebrity with a large Twitter following.

The concept of skin in the game can be best understood by what Taleb calls the “Silver Rule,” or the flip side of the Golden Rule to do unto others as you would have them do unto you: Don’t do onto others what you wouldn’t want them to do to you. Don’t expose others to harm unless you are also directly or indirectly exposed.

As an example of what that looks like in the real world, consider ObamaCare. Our leaders passed legislation that caused a massive spike in the cost of health insurance — doing real harm to tens of millions of Americans — while accepting none of the risk. Congressmen don’t buy their health insurance on an ObamaCare exchange and are given — at taxpayer expense — vastly superior health plans.

Or, as Taleb has pointed out in the past, consider the Iraq War and the various Western interventionisms in the Arab world. Our leaders might have been less interested in regime change if, like the kings of ancient times, they had to lead the army from the front.

Skin is less structured and less technical than Taleb’s previous books and will be far easier to digest for a non-financial reader. It feels less like a book and more like a long, animated chat with Mr. Taleb in a cafe over several strong cups of coffee.

I  thoroughly enjoyed Skin in the Game and that I strongly recommend it. But if you are new to Taleb’s work, you shouldn’t start with this book. It will make more sense and you’ll get more out of it if you’re already familiar with Taleb’s core ideas: the role of randomness in life, naive empiricism, black swans (low-probability but high-impact events), fragility vs. antifragility, etc.)

I recommend you start by reading his first book, Fooled by Randomness, particularly if you have a background in finance or trading. I first read it in 2002, and there are precious few books that have had more of an influence on me.

But if you are familiar with Taleb and generally like his work, you’ll find Skin in the Game to be a worthwhile addition to your library. It has that peculiar cocktail of  logical reasoning, historical perspective, statistical rigor and good old-fashioned street smarts that Taleb is known to mix.

Before I sign off, I’d like to end with a quote of Taleb’s that made me smile… because it is something that I myself have done. If you’re going to start a business, you should put your name on the door. As Taleb puts it, “products or companies that bear the owner’s name convey very valuable messages. They are shouting they have something to lose. Eponymy indicates both a commitment to the company and a confidence in the product.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Kudos to Mr. Taleb on another solid work, and I look forward to the next one.

See also:

The Bed of Procrustes

Antifragile

This article first appeared on Sizemore Insights as Review: Skin in the Game

Oddball Dividend Stocks With Big Yields

 

Copyright Wintertwined

The following is an excerpt from 5 “Oddball” Dividend Stocks With Big Yields, originally published on Kiplinger’s.

It’s not the easiest market out there for income investors. With bond yields being depressed for so many years (and still extremely low by any historical standard) investors have scoured the globe for yield, which has pushed the yields on many traditional income investments – namely, bonds and dividend stocks – to levels far too low to be taken seriously.

Even after rising over the past several months, the yield on the 10-year Treasury is still only 2.9%, and the 30-year Treasury yields all of 3.2%. (Don’t spend that all in one place!) The utility sector, which many investors have been using as a bond substitute, yields only 3.4%. Yields on real estate investment trusts (REITs) are almost competitive at 4.4%, but only when you consider the low-yield competition.

Bond yields have been rising since September, due in part to expectations of greater economic growth and the inflation that generally comes with it. This has put pressure on all income-focused stocks. This little yield spike might not be over just yet, either – especially if inflation creeps higher this year.

Even if bond yields top out today and start to drift lower rather than higher, yields just aren’t high enough in most traditional income sectors to be worthwhile. So today, we’re going to cast the net a little wider. We’re going to take a look at five quirky dividend stocks that are a little out of the mainstream. Our goal is to secure high yields while also allowing for fast enough dividend growth to stay in front of inflation.

The GEO Group

Few companies are as quirky – or have quite the pariah status – as The GEO Group (GEO). GEO is a private operator of prisons that is organized as a real estate investment trust, or REIT.

Yes, it’s a prison REIT.

Prison overcrowding has been a problem for years. It seems that while getting tough on crime is popular with voters, paying the bill to build expensive new prisons is not.

This is about as far from a feel-good stock as you can get. It ranks alongside tobacco stocks on the scale of political incorrectness. The sheer ugliness of its business partially explains why it sports such a high dividend yield at well above 8%.

It’s also worth noting that this stock is riskier than everything else on this list. The U.S. is slowly moving in the direction of legalization of soft drugs like marijuana. While full legalization at the federal level isn’t yet on the horizon, you have to consider that a significant potential risk to GEO’s business model. Roughly half of all prisoners in federal prisons are there on drug-related convictions. At the state level, that number is about 16%.

GEO likely would survive drug legalization, as the privatization of public services is part of a bigger trend for cash-strapped governments. But it would definitely slow the REIT’s growth and it would seriously raise questions of dividend sustainability.

Furthermore, prison properties have very little resale value. You can turn an old warehouse into a trendy urban apartment building. But a prison? That’s a tougher sell.

So again, GEO is a riskier pick. But with a yield of more than 8%, you’re at least getting paid well to accept that risk.

To read the rest of the article, please see  5 “Oddball” Dividend Stocks With Big Yields,

This article first appeared on Sizemore Insights as Oddball Dividend Stocks With Big Yields