Trends in Stocks

Investing in stocks is always hard.  You are looking at data about the past but you are betting on an individual stock in the future.  In addition, there has been huge correlation among stocks and markets and the impact of currencies and central bankers (often inter-twined) has given various world markets boom and bust qualities.

In the US, there are two markets, the NASDAQ and NYSE.  NASDAQ has traditionally been more technology focused, meaning that when these stocks go up, the NASDAQ soars.   Here is a quote on “the only six stocks that matter” about the NASDAQ from the Wall Street Journal:

Six firms— Amazon.com Inc.,Google Inc.,Apple Inc.,FacebookInc.,Netflix Inc. and Gilead Sciences Inc.—now account for more than half of the $664 billion in value added this year to the NasdaqComposite Index, according to data compiled by brokerage firm JonesTrading.

Thus the bottom line is that if you don’t have these stocks in your portfolio, the overall index may be rising (and our benchmark for performance), but your own returns will be worse.  We do have some of Amazon and Facebook in portfolio 2, but not much of it overall.

Outside the USA, foreign markets have been hurt by the rising US dollar, which makes their market values lower for us here in the USA (where the dollar is our currency).  This hurts stock investments in Europe (the Euro), Canada (the Loonie), and Australia (the Australian dollar) if you are denominated in US dollars (which we are).   The dollar is up significantly vs. almost every other currency in the world with the exception of the Chinese Yuan.

The Chinese market went crazy this year, in what appears to be a major bubble, that recently started crashing and was accompanied by strong intervention from the central authorities, who went after short sellers and even stopped stocks from trading for various reasons.   At one point almost the entire Chinese stock market by valuation (over 80%) was not trading.  The rationale is that if stocks are heading down, and you can stop trading, then this gives the market participants time to stop panicking.  This type of intervention stops the market from functioning efficiently, however, and will have many other unforeseen impacts down the road.

Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activity also soared in 2015, which is a sign of bullishness and also likely a sign of a market peak.  A Wall Street Journal article recently summed it up:

Companies are merging at a pace unseen in nearly a decade. Halfway through the year, about $2.15 trillion in M&A deals or offers have been announced globally, according to Dealogic. That puts 2015 on pace to challenge the biggest year on record, 2007, when companies inked deals worth $4.3 trillion… In industries ranging from health care to technology to media, chief executives are rushing to make acquisitions, often either in anticipation of takeover moves by rivals or in response to them.

When acquisitions occur, you as a stock market investor typically want to be the “acquired” company, not the “acquirer”.  The “acquired” company receives a premium price to their current market value but the burden of “earning” that higher price falls on to the acquired company, and typically M&A does not pay off long term for most companies (as opposed to internal or “organic” growth).  While there have been many acquisitions, most notably in the health care / insurance / pharma industry which is consolidating under Obamacare, our portfolios had few of these acquired companies in the mix.

Finally, you had a decimation of the commodity indexes.  Commodities such as oil, some foodstuffs, natural gas, iron ore, copper, gold, etc… have seen their prices collapse, which in turn damages the stocks of mining companies, oil companies, and many other participants in the commodity value chain.  Per Bloomberg:

Almost all commodity markets have taken a severe beating lately. The aggregate Bloomberg Commodities Index is down 61 percent from its 2008 peak and 46 percent from the 2011 post-crisis high

These are severe reductions.  They impact entire economies particularly the Arab countries (which make all their export income in oil), Russia (many commodities), Australia and Canada.  There are large “secondary” impacts as well – reduced commodity prices hurt service demand in Canada and Australia and put their housing boom at risk.

So what does this mean for us and our portfolios?  We’ve been hurt by the commodity bust, the rise of the US dollar (on our foreign stocks), and we’ve missed some of the booming stocks because they were narrowly concentrated in a few names and some of the largest M&A was in sectors where we had few investments.

We are now going to look at some of the stocks and cull some prior to our next round of purchases which will occur in August – September as the beneficiaries of the various portfolios head off to school for the year, and will tie new purchases (of the cash) with additional investments that will be made soon.

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Overall Themes Impacting Stocks during November – December 2014

There has been a lot of activity in the stock market recently. Rather than put this on the top of every post I am going to summarize and then refer to these themes within each individual portfolio update. Here are some of themes that have hit many of the stocks:

– crude oil prices crashed – the price of crude has gone from $90 – $100 / barrel to $60 and under. This impacts oil and gas related stocks in a negative way. It also has some positive effects on goods that (poorer) consumers spend more on, companies like Wal-Mart
– the US dollar rose – many foreign currencies fell against the rising US dollar. This hits all of these ADR’s since they fall when the dollar rises and vice versa. The amount of the impact depends on their currency’s particular performance vs. the US dollar
– geopolitical risks – stocks in Russia and some other hard hit areas have fallen very hard. We don’t have many of these in our portfolio
– tech continues to rise – among all of these items we have had a rally in some US stocks, particularly tech stocks and some other sectors
– dividend yields are valued – since interest rates are low and continue to fall (measured by yields on US treasuries), companies that pay out income (dividends) are (mostly) well valued by the market. Note that it is unusual for dividend yields to be this high relative to US Treasury yields

The question is – are these short term themes or long term themes, or somewhere in the middle? If oil prices have gone down, do you sell now, at their lower valued state? Or will they come back over some (reasonable) period of time.

Sign of a New Peak for Stocks?

Back in the woeful years of the dot.com boom and bust I worked for a company with a dubious distinction. The value of that company in the stock market was less than the value of the cash we had on our books. What the market was essentially saying is that the sum total of all our efforts as employees was NEGATIVE – we would be worth more if we just shut down immediately and gave back the cash to investors. The fate of that company, of course, was to go bankrupt.

Today there are some other major signs of froth in the market. Yahoo is a classic web / advertising / technology stock with a solid market capitalization of $40 billion. Yahoo’s CEO, Marissa Mayer, was a Google alumni and has been receiving a lot of press for her intelligence and drive to change the company, as well as her good looks.

Screen Shot 2014-09-20 at 8.43.59 AMHowever, all is not as it seems.  The primary value for Yahoo isn’t its online advertising, email, or users – it is the stakes that they amassed in the hot Chinese e commerce company Alibaba (NYSE: BABA) and also Yahoo Japan.  In fact, the value of Yahoo is less than the value of these stakes, which are approximately $45B, partially due to the reason listed in this Bloomberg article:

While the market value is large for Yahoo’s Asian assets, that doesn’t necessarily reflect the value available to investors and the company because of taxes, said Ben Schachter, an analyst at Macquarie Securities USA Inc. Yahoo, which would have made $8.3 billion by selling Alibaba shares at the IPO, only reaped around $5.1 billion after taxes.

Taxes are ‘‘one of the big issues,” Schachter said.

While it is true that $45B in investment value isn’t worth $45B because of the after-tax implications, it certainly implies that the market isn’t valuing Yahoo at very much at all.  It is also possible that the market thinks that Alibaba is over-valued at its current price of near $100 (after a huge run-up from its IPO price of $68, another huge sign of froth in the market) but the two stocks will generally track closely together now.  Yahoo is sort of a broken “tracking stock” for this value.

Another sign of froth is “spec companies”.  Spec companies are stocks of companies that are created “from scratch” and their value is based on the promise of management to do certain things in the future with money contributed or raised from investors.  Generally you can’t create a spec company – you need to take over an existing listing and then you promise returns to investors who in turn value your company.  Brazil was on a tear earlier in the decade and a flamboyant billionaire created a company OSX whose IPO in 2010 was discussed here:

(Reuters) – OSX Brasil (OSXB3.SA) slashed its initial public offering as investors balked at paying a high price for a start-up company with no revenue.

This too recently came to an end as the company OSX filed for bankruptcy protection, but the ability of a firm to launch a start up planning to build a port and various oil and other assets and receive a high valuation should raise eyebrows.  Like many other similar plans this one ends up in dust with a recent bankruptcy filing.

I don’t have any sort of unique forward looking view on stocks but the eye-popping valuation and initial one-day jump of Alibaba and other signs have been correlated with declines in the stock market in the past.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Stock Selections for 2014 and Diversification

Every year we select stocks right about the time when the summer ends and the kids go back to high school or college.  Doing this at the end of the summer gives them time to earn their $500 for the match and sets up a consistent annual pattern for how we make incremental investments.

Due to Stop Loss orders and other sales there is additional money that we need to put back into more stocks.  Many of the beneficiaries will have to make more selections.

Diversification and the Number of Stocks in Each Portfolio

As the portfolios get bigger, we also try to pick fewer stocks and put more money into each individual stock.  As a rule of thumb you have a “diversified” portfolio if you have about ten or so stocks equally weighted.  This only applies if the stocks themselves are diversified, however, across industries and countries.  Since most of the portfolios have stocks concentrated in a few sectors or countries, my “rule of thumb” is to try to go up to 15-20 stocks to get additional diversification.  At that point if we are buying newer stocks, I will recommend making larger single purchases and we can bring up the average value of stocks in the portfolio.

For example, Portfolio one, which has been growing for almost 13 years, has 17 stocks and about $34,000, with $2000 cash on hand.  Thus of the $32,000 invested in stocks, the “average” balance would be just under $2000 per stock.  While that is true, we still have a few closer to the $1200 mark and some that are larger than $2000.  New purchases will be made in excess of $1500 and as there are sales we will try to keep the portfolio at 20 or less stocks, and even 15 or so is probably about right.

Portfolio Two is also at a level where we have begun consolidating and buying in larger blocks, with 15 stocks, $22,000 invested in stocks, and about $3000 in cash.  Going forward we will also be buying in larger lots of $1500 / each and consolidating through stop loss orders and the like.

The other portfolios, three through six, are still at a level where it makes sense to make smaller purchases to get beyond the 10 or so stocks in the portfolio so that if there is a big drop in a single stock it won’t totally dent the portfolio.

Stock Selection for 2014 – Where to Look?

I follow the markets in general due to my line of work in finance and am aware of most sector trends.  I have some knowledge of foreign markets and macro economic trends but less so the further you move away from the USA.

I use Google stock screeners to look for stocks in the US and abroad, by looking at stocks with certain market caps (above $1B) and with other characteristics like price performance and dividend yield.  Much of the time I am looking for negative performance (i.e. stocks that have declined 0 – 25% over the last 12 months) because I believe that some portion of the portfolio should be tied to “regression to the mean” (i.e. what’s down comes back up) and some on growth stocks.

For foreign stocks I look at those that trade ADR’s in the US, generally on the bigger exchanges (NYSE or NASDAQ).  I usually don’t buy ADR’s on the “pink sheets” or OTC markets, although Siemens recently moved away from US accounting and consequently was de-listed from NYSE and picked up on the OTC markets, so I ended up buying one, anyways.  I don’t think it will trade that much differently than on NYSE but this is something to watch.

I have a lot of friends in the markets and ask them about stocks or types of areas that they find interesting.  Sometimes they laugh at me and tell me everything is overvalued but I usually can get some good ideas.

Barrons and some of the online sources also have interesting information, although I would never just buy something based on a single article.  No one should just buy based on something that they’ve seen on the Internet or based on a “tip”.

The standard boiler-plate warning is to “read the financials”.  This is true, although slogging through 10-k and annual reports with footnotes can be mind numbing.  They have to make so many disclosures of potential risks and there are reams of footnotes and much of this doesn’t directly impact the stock price.  On the other hand, I will look at their power point presentations available that the company makes to investors on quarterly calls or conferences where the company actually tries to explain “in english” what their strategies are and why their company is strong (which indirectly goes to valuation).  I also will look at various analyst reports on stocks, although once again this is more about sentiment in the market than any particular insight since those reports are often notoriously un-correlated with investor success.

In the end I thing through all this information, pick a bunch of stocks to watch for a while, and then cull this down to my list.  Sometimes I even re-recommend stocks’ I’ve previously had on the list, since many of the beneficiaries don’t pick them (if there are 8 stocks on the list often they only take 2).

Valuation

Valuation is difficult right now with the markets hitting new highs.  For an individual, I wouldn’t recommend putting all of your money into stocks (especially individual stocks) like I do in this portfolio.  However, this money is different than a standard “nest egg” in that it is an investing vehicle for kids where they put in some money with additional money added that is designed to teach them about saving, investing, and the stock market.  It is “real” money and they either win or lose depending on what happens in the market, just like real life.  These lessons are sound and something that they will take with them through their whole life going forward.

While the portfolios have benefitted from rising values, they will now be putting money to work on new stocks with high valuations.  This cannot be avoided.  We will do our best to consider valuation with our new investments, and put in “stop loss” orders on stocks that are getting either too frothy or when we don’t necessarily want to ride all the way down if we’ve had big gains.  With this model, however, we do eventually put all the money back to work on new stocks, so overall valuation is always an issue.  This is a real-life investing lesson for all.

Timing of the List and Selections.

I will get these items selected in the next couple of weeks and start working with everyone on investing.  The kids need to get me a check and the money gets deposited and then they need to make the selection.  Everyone comes to the selection in different ways and it can be tough for them to make a decision about real money with real consequences.  But this is real life and decisions need to be made, which is a lesson in and of itself.  I want to get this done before they start going back to school by the middle or end of August.

The other thing that I have to do before then is update all the portfolios with the latest prices and valuations and dividends, as well as buys’ and sells’.  This also takes me a while because I comb through the statements and do it by hand as well as in excel.  Maybe someday I will farm out this process or create a system but for now I am doing it manually.  Maybe this is a 2015 project.  At least with google finance I can see the portfolios daily without doing much work and this is a big help for monitoring moves.

 

Stock Selection Analysis for 2013

Here are the stocks I am considering for the 2013 selections. I will get this list down to six stocks for the beneficiaries to choose from. The best and simplest way to get updated statistics and simplified financial ratios on these stocks is to go to Yahoo! Finance at this link or http://finance.yahoo.com and type in the ticker symbol, then hit “key statistics” on the left under company information.

I have 8 here instead of 6 because some portfolios might need more than 2 stocks because we have some other sales on companies that we’ve given up or sold previously and / or cash accrued from dividends.

US companies are very hard to pick from right now because in general there has been a run-up in the market and valuations are very high. As a result we are focusing on stocks that have not gone up a lot recently or even may have declined but have the potential to rise in value.

Foreign Companies:

SSW (Seaspan) – $21 / share, $1B market cap, 5.8% dividend yield (52 week range $14-$23) Hong Kong Exchange, $4B of debt. Seaspan charts container ships and owns a fleet mainly moving goods from China through to North America. They have a very high dividend and appear to be reasonably well run, with a newer fleet.

YNDX (Yandex) – $33 / share, $11B market cap, no dividend (52 week range $20-$34) Russian Exchange, little or no debt. Yandex runs most of the Russian internet search, advertising and email businesses. The Russian internet sector is surprisingly modern and well run and (relatively) free of government interference (so far). The price has come up recently.

INFY (Infosys) – $47 / share, $27B market cap, 2% dividend yield (52 week range $38-$55) Indian Exchange, no debt. Infosys is a major outsourcer and international company, who stand to benefit from the falling Indian currency since they mainly earn their revenues in dollars and Euros but pay out the majority of their costs in local Indian currency to staff. More information – Here is a summary of their business from their corporate web site.

IBA (Industrias Bachoco) – $40 / share, $2B market cap, 1.4% dividend yield (52 week range $21-$43) Mexican Exchange, $180M debt. Mexican poultry processor, one of the largest chicken companies in the world.

US Companies:

CLF (Cliffs Natural Resources) – $22 / share, $3B market cap, 2.6% dividend yield (52 week range $15-$46), $3B debt. Cliffs is an iron ore and coal mining company with operations in the US, Canada and Australia. The company has been hit hard with the recent decrease in steel production and this has been incorporated into the stock price and it is a good entry point to get into this market. Competitors have also been hit hard and have other operating and country specific difficulties.

DVN (Devon Energy) – $58 / share, $23B market cap, 1.5% dividend yield (52 week range $50-$63), $10B debt. Devon has US and Canadian resources for drilling oil and natural gas. Their stock has come down recently but they seem disciplined as far as investments and have a focus on raising their enterprise value

GRPN (Groupon)- $10 / share, $7B market cap, no dividend (52 week range $3-$11), no debt. Groupon is an internet shopping company with discounts that rose immensely but then fell and their CEO departed. They made a big run up in 2013 already.

YHOO (Yahoo!) – $27 / share, $27B market cap, no dividend (52 week range $14-$29), no debt. Yahoo! is one of the most trafficked web sites in the world and owns significant stakes in valuable overseas web companies in Asia. I am optimistic about their new CEO Meyer from Google. Their stock has had a big run up but still seems to be a solid company for the long term if aggressively managed.

PM (Philip Morris International) $85 / share, $138B market cap, 4% dividend yield (52 week range $82-$96), $25B debt. PMI sells cigarettes world-wide (non US). There are less headwinds selling cigarettes world wide then there are in the USA.

Buy And Hold Works… Sometimes

For these trust funds we work to link stock selections with long-term thinking. These portfolios start when the beneficiary is 11 or so years old so they have a long time horizon.

With that, there are times that it is wise to sell. If you believe that a stock has been part of a huge run-up and gains are not sustainable, you should sell. We sold a number of stocks in 2007 when valuations were insanely high (such as China Mobile (CHL), which peaked near $100 in 2007-8 and now is settled back in around $50 / share) and many of them have not recovered back to those levels. Unfortunately, we re-invested the proceeds into new stocks which promptly went down with the rest of the market but it still was the right thing to do.

On the other hand, some stocks seem to get permanently impaired or on a downward spiral from which they never recovered. We bought Nokia (NOK) and then sold at a loss – and the stock has kept dropping since, damaged by their dismal position in the smart phone market. We also did the same with Cemex (CX) which also had a high near $40 in the 2007-8 time frame but has settled to around $10 / share.

It is hard to know when to capitulate, and when to hold on to wait for the rebound. Urban Outfitters (URBN) was selected because it had low debt and seemed well run – until they had a bad earnings report and the stock tanked. We held onto it for over a year after it had lost about a third of its value, and then a lot of their top management resigned. Yet recently it came back and is now above its original purchase price. Other stocks that we waited on until they came back include Comcast (CMSCA) and Ebay (EBAY). On the other hand, we are still waiting for recovery on Canon (CAJ), Riverbed (RVBD), WYNN, Exelon (EXC), and Alcoa (AA). I am bullish EXC in the long term as well as RVBD; I think there is hope for CAJ because they are well run; and watching WYNN and AA.

Difficult (short-term) Time for Stocks

The markets have been selling off lately. Since these portfolios are a mix of US and non-US companies there aren’t “simple” indexes that I can use to compare them. But in general, the US markets which by various measures had been up in the 10-20% range are mostly back down to where they were in the beginning of the year and European and Asian markets are about the same or mostly worse.

These portfolios are meant to be long equity-only vehicles for young individuals with a very long time horizon in front of them (50+ years). They are “part” of a total portfolio and meant for a specific purpose; no one should just put all their wealth into a long-only stock fund.

Thus based on these elements I am loathe to do specific buys and sells based on total market conditions, because you are often selling off one stock for another stock with similar characteristics. Our markets today have very high “correlation”, meaning that almost all of the stocks tend to go up or down on a single day, especially when big market events occur. Correlation has been increasing over the years, meaning that even if you have a diversified fund (a rule of thumb is that you have 10 or more instruments that aren’t similar to one another) that doesn’t necessarily “save” you if they all move together.

The nature of the stock markets have been changing in the eleven years since I started this effort with Portfolio One, right around 9/11. There are many trends, but here are the key ones in my opinion:

  • Rise in international markets – international markets have always been important, even to US-centric investors, but today they are even more critical.  A stock market is fundamentally about “growth”, and most of the real growth is occurring off US shores.  Thus to not invest internationally, even with all their structural differences from the US market and other risks, is to miss out on the future
  • Reduction in IPO’s – the number of companies listed on exchanges has fallen as the number of IPO’s hasn’t kept pace with companies being acquired either by other companies or “going private”.  Also the IPO’s are later (see FB) meaning that a lot of the “upside” is gone when they launch, or there often is no upside at all if they are being sold out of a private equity fund (they already captured that)
  • Focus on Dividends – some of the dividend focus is due to favorable tax treatment (the limits on double taxation of dividends) and their 15% rate rather than as ordinary income and some is due to the gradual dawning on more investors that a substantial part of the total return is due to dividends and not just share price appreciation (unrealized)
  • Increased government intervention – in order to understand markets today you need to anticipate government moves to a greater degree than in the past.  Our large banks might never have survived the 2008 crisis without government intervention, and today they exist.  Will the government let them survive the next crisis, or will equity holders be wiped out like their were for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac or Lehman?  Now you need to anticipate government reaction
  • Increasing Currency gyrations – for many years we had currency stability but we may be entering an era of less stability, especially in the key currencies the dollar, Euro, pound, yuan, etc…  This has many effects on competitiveness and immediate valuations
  • Low interest rates – a low interest rate policy has many effects on the market.  It depresses interest earnings (which impacts some equities) but also makes equities more attractive relative to debt instruments, especially when the chance of default rises.
  • The rise of Chinese stocks – while the US market went (mostly) moribund a whole host of Chinese companies came onto US exchanges or were accessible to US investors.  A lot of the “froth” and potential “boiler room” activities went into those stocks instead of US stocks

Here at Trust Funds for Kids we try to look at the long time horizon and make decisions accordingly.  This doesn’t mean that short term gyrations aren’t painful, as well.