Quiz!

Which are conditions that are all necessary for not thinking about small expenses?

  1. Your income covers your expenses.
  2. You are withdrawing less than 3% or 4% of your portfolio, every year.
  3. You are relaxed about your financial position, and have no concerns with investment volatility or surprise expenses when things go wrong.
  4. You feel that you are using your money in a way that maximizes your happiness.

Sweat the Small Stuff

You can skip this article if all of the following are true:

  1. Your total annual spending equals less than 3% or 4% of your stock portfolio, depending on its allocation. Make sure to include infrequent items such as car upgrades, roof replacements, uncovered medical expenses, and a long stay in a nursing home. You can deduct amounts covered by guaranteed lifelong income such as social security payments, pensions or inflation-adjusted annuities.
  2. You are relaxed about your financial position, and have no concerns with investment volatility or surprise expenses when things go wrong.
  3. You feel that you are using your money in a way that maximizes your happiness.

Since I still have your attention, this article may help increase your happiness. You probably know that big financial decisions have a meaningful impact on your finances. Buying a large house, boat or a private jet will have substantial impact given the initial price and high maintenance costs. Having a high paying job, or two sources of income for a household can have a big positive impact.

As you work on getting the big picture right, you may follow the advice “don’t sweat the small stuff”. Indeed, you don’t need to sweat the small annoyances in life, but you may benefit from sweating the small expenses, especially the recurring ones. Here are examples.

  1. Subscriptions that you don’t utilize significantly. This could be cable TV with many channels, various software & apps, credit cards with annual fees and infrequently visited clubs.
  2. Infrequently used appliances that consume energy and require maintenance, including various refrigerators, lights, and computer systems.
  3. More employees than necessary, including nannies for older children, cooks and various maintenance staff.
  4. Eating out in expensive restaurants that you don’t appreciate in line with the cost.

The list above is a random sample of expenses. The list of expenses that can be reduced without a significant impact on your happiness is personal. You have to go through your expenses and find out what doesn’t makes you happy in line with the cost. One person may greatly appreciate a nice restaurant, while another may take great pleasure in having plenty of choices for TV programs.

Quiz Answer

Which are conditions that are all necessary for not thinking about small expenses?

  1. Your income covers your expenses.
  2. You are withdrawing less than 3% or 4% of your portfolio, every year. [Correct Answer, but read below]
  3. You are relaxed about your financial position, and have no concerns with investment volatility or surprise expenses when things go wrong. [Correct Answer]
  4. You feel that you are using your money in a way that maximizes your happiness. [Correct Answer]

Explanations:

  1. Jobs can come and go, bonuses can be reduced, and businesses can have fluctuating revenues. Income from work typically provides only temporary security.
  2. It is true that you need to withdraw less than 3% or 4% of your portfolio annually, but there is a much stronger condition – the 3% or 4% should be your total spending, ignoring income from work. Also, this applies to a stock portfolio. Bonds don’t grow fast enough to support lifelong withdrawals at 3% or 4%, growing with inflation.
  3. Even if you are at a sustainable withdrawal rate from your portfolio, if you are stressed with volatility or surprise expenses, you should build your resources to the point of a relaxed financial life.
  4. If you are sustainable financially (explanation #2) & relaxed about finances, but feel constrained, and are not happy with what money can buy you, you can be careful with your small expenses to free up money for other spending that may improve your happiness.
Disclosures Including Backtested Performance Data

Quiz!

What is the most useful measure of a person’s financial health?

  1. Net worth (total assets minus total liabilities).
  2. Income.
  3. Annual savings: income minus expenses.
  4. Spending rate from stock portfolio: total annual spending divided by the value of the stock portfolio.
  5. Spending rate from liquid assets: total annual spending divided by the value of all liquid assets (e.g. stocks, bonds & cash).
  6. Withdrawal rate from stock portfolio: annual withdrawals from the stock portfolio divided by its value.
  7. Withdrawal rate from liquid assets: annual withdrawals from all liquid assets divided by their total value.

Your Financial Health in a Single Number

People use various numbers to measure their financial health. Let’s review some common ones, and see where they fail, through examples:

 

Measure Person 1 Person 2 Person 2 has better financial health
even though… because…
Net worth (total assets minus total liabilities) Net worth: $10M

Annual spending: $1M

Net worth: $1M

Annual spending: $50k

His net worth is x10 smaller His money can support double the years of living expenses
Income Income: $1M per year

Savings: $0 per year

Total saved: $0

Income: $100k per year

Savings: $20k per year

Total saved: $200k

Her income is x10 lower She has some financial security in case she loses her job
Annual savings Income: $1M per year

Income taxes: $400k

Annual spending: $500k Annual savings: $100k

Liquid assets: $200k stocks

Income: $100k per year

Income taxes: $20k

Annual spending: $50k

Annual savings: $30k

Liquid assets: $60k stocks

His annual savings is x3.3 smaller He is building security faster, saving 60% of annual spending vs. only 20%. His savings in stocks are also greater relative to spending.
Withdrawal rate from stock portfolio (annual withdrawals from the stock portfolio divided by its value) Expenses: $1M per year

Stocks: $1M

Annual withdrawals: $0k

Expenses: $40k per year

Stocks: $1M

Annual withdrawals: $20k

Her withdrawal rate is infinitely greater Her total spending (4%) can be sustained with no work, while the other has only 1 year of expenses saved
Spending rate from liquid assets (total annual spending divided by the value of all liquid assets) Liquid assets: $1M cash

Spending: $40k per year

Liquid assets: $1M stocks

Spending: $44k per year

His spending rate is 10% greater Stocks provide growth, and are more likely to sustain a 4.4% withdrawal rate than 4% from cash

Is there a single number that can give some indication of your financial health? Yes! It is the spending rate from your stock portfolio: total annual spending divided by the value of your stock portfolio. This assumes that the stock portfolio is diversified, and held for the long run, with no market timing, and no panic sales during stock declines. Also, you can reduce your spending measure by any amount that is guaranteed for life by an inflation-adjusted source, such as social security.

Why does this measure work?

  1. It shows progress towards financial freedom / financial security / retirement. Once your spending rate is below 3%-4%, depending on the specific portfolio allocation, the portfolio is likely to sustain the spending for as long as you live. If your spending rate is 6%-8%, you know that, between savings and investment growth, 100% increase will make you independent of work.
  2. It is not sensitive to a loss of job. It ignores income from work, that can be lost in various ways. In addition, if you want to ever be independent of the need to work, you want to measure your position assuming no income.
  3. It can withstand high inflation, given the focus on stocks.
  4. It does not suffer from liquidity concerns related to real estate, private equity and small businesses. Exception: If you have a diversified collection of properties, you can consider their income, after accounting for vacancies and repairs, if they are diverse geographically (and ideally enjoy country diversification, same as with stocks).
  5. It focuses on current health instead of potential. Even if you save a large amount every year, the saving can stop completely if you lose your job. What matters is money on hand (prior savings).

What are the implications? How can you improve your financial health?

  1. Maximize your allocation to stocks, but not beyond the point of risking getting into trouble during stock declines, either through large withdrawals, or panic sales. This requires a careful risk analysis.
  2. Keep your spending under control. A 10% reduction in spending provides an instant 10% gain in your financial health – this is powerful.
  3. Maximize your savings, either through lower spending or higher earnings. Note that higher earnings will not have any immediate impact, but the saved money from your increased earnings will build up gradually.

Quiz Answer

What is the most useful measure of a person’s financial health?

  1. Net worth (total assets minus total liabilities).
  2. Income.
  3. Annual savings: income minus expenses.
  4. Spending rate from stock portfolio: total annual spending divided by the value of the stock portfolio. [The Correct Answer]
  5. Spending rate from liquid assets: total annual spending divided by the value of all liquid assets (e.g. stocks, bonds & cash).
  6. Withdrawal rate from stock portfolio: annual withdrawals from the stock portfolio divided by its value.
  7. Withdrawal rate from liquid assets: annual withdrawals from all liquid assets divided by their total value.

Explanations: See article above. Note that the last option “withdrawal rate from liquid assets” is not addressed by the article, since it suffers from the combination of flaws of the two options above it (5 & 6).

Disclosures Including Backtested Performance Data

Quiz!

Starting in 3/2/2009, Extended-Term Component enjoyed gains while there were great concerns about the world economies. If anyone were to sell this investment for 6 months, what would be the missed gain, and what would have been the impact on the 10 year performance?

  1. 12% gain in 6 months = 1.1% lost per year over 10 years.
  2. 26% gain in 6 months = 2.3% lost per year over 10 years.
  3. 47% gain in 6 months = 3.9% lost per year over 10 years.
  4. 76% gain in 6 months = 5.8% lost per year over 10 years.
  5. 102% gain in 6 months = 7.3% lost per year over 10 years.

Don’t Worry, Climb a Wall of Worry

When stock prices go up in spite of many concerns, it is said that the stocks are climbing a wall of worry. How is it possible that stocks go up while there are many concerns? This is the result of stocks reacting to two things: (1) changes and not an absolute situation; (2) expectations and not just the current situation. A few examples:

– There was an expectation for a very low price of oil, but the price spiked by 35% in just over a month, given an expectation for limited supply and increased demand.

– There was an expectation for 4 interest rate increases in the US this year, and this expectation went down to 2.

– There were a number of stimulus actions in Europe and China.

The improved expectations did not eliminate the worries, but they presented a more positive outlook, leading to big gains in stocks.

While a climb on a wall of worry can happen at any level of valuations, it is more typical when valuations are very low, and that is when you need to pay special attention. You can expect surges from low valuations to involve a climb on a wall of worry, since deep bottoms occur due to a long list of concerns, and these concerns are typically removed gradually over months or years. Avoiding an investment when valuations are low is risky, and can result in a negative impact that can be felt for a decade or longer. A good example is the 6 months starting at 3/2/2009. During that time, Extended-Term Component gained 102%. Missing such a period would lower the 10-year performance by 7.3% per year.

Quiz Answer:

Starting in 3/2/2009, Extended-Term Component enjoyed gains while there were great concerns about the world economies. If anyone were to sell this investment for 6 months, what would be the missed gain, and what would have been the impact on the 10 year performance?

  1. 12% gain in 6 months = 1.1% lost per year over 10 years.
  2. 26% gain in 6 months = 2.3% lost per year over 10 years.
  3. 47% gain in 6 months = 3.9% lost per year over 10 years.
  4. 76% gain in 6 months = 5.8% lost per year over 10 years.
  5. 102% gain in 6 months = 7.3% lost per year over 10 years. [The Correct Answer]
Disclosures Including Backtested Performance Data

Quiz!

As of March 31, 2000, US value stocks had underperformed growth stocks by 5.61% per year for the previous 10 years. How many years did it take for value stocks to make up for these 10 years of underperformance?

  1. We are still waiting
  2. 10 years
  3. 5 years
  4. 3 years
  5. 1 year
  6. Less than 1 year

Article

By Weston Wellington, Vice President, Dimensional Fund Advisors

Value stocks underperformed growth stocks by a material margin in the US last year. However, the magnitude and duration of the recent negative value premium are not unprecedented. This column reviews a previous period when challenging performance caused many to question the benefits of value investing. The subsequent results serve as a reminder about the importance of discipline.

Measured by the difference between the Russell 1000 Growth and Russell 1000 Value indices, value stocks delivered the weakest relative performance in seven years. Moreover, as of year-end 2015, value stocks returned less than growth stocks over the past one, three, five, 10, and 13 years.

Unsurprisingly, some investors with a value tilt to their portfolios are finding their patience sorely tested. We suspect at least a few will find these results sufficiently discouraging and may contemplate abandoning value stocks entirely.

Total Return for 12 Months Ending December 31, 2015

Russell 1000 Growth Index

5.67%

Russell 1000 Value Index

−3.83%

Value minus Growth

−9.49%

Before taking such a big step, let’s review a previous period when value strategies underperformed to gain some perspective.

As many growth stocks and technology-related firms soared in value in the mid- to late 1990s, value strategies delivered positive returns but fell far behind in the relative performance race. At year-end 1998, value stocks had underperformed growth stocks over the previous one, three, five, 10, 15, and 20 years. The inception of the Russell indices was January 1979, so all the available data (20 years) from the most widely followed benchmarks indicated superior performance for growth stocks. To some investors, it seemed foolish for money managers to hold “old economy” stocks like Caterpillar (−3.1% total return for 1998) while “new economy” stocks like Yahoo! Inc. appeared to be the wave of the future (743% total return for 1998).

Many value-oriented managers counseled patience, but for them the worst was yet to come. In 1999, growth stocks shone even brighter as value trailed by the largest calendar year margin in the history of the Russell indices—over 25%.

Total Return for 1999

Russell 1000 Growth Index

33.16%

Russell 1000 Value Index

7.36%

Value minus Growth

−25.80%

In the first quarter of 2000, growth stocks bolted out of the gate and streaked to a 7% return while value stocks returned only 0.48%. As of March 31, 2000, value stocks had underperformed growth stocks by 5.61% per year for the previous 10 years and by 1.49% per year since the inception of the Russell indices in 1979. A Wall Street Journal article appearing in January profiled a prominent value-oriented fund manager who regularly received angry letters and email messages; his fund shareholders ridiculed him for avoiding technology-related investments. Two months later he was replaced as portfolio manager amidst persistent shareholder redemptions.

With value stocks falling so far behind in the relative performance race, it seemed plausible that value stocks would need a lifetime to catch up, if they ever could.

It took less than a year.

By November 2000, value stocks had delivered modestly higher returns than growth stocks since index inception (21 years, 11 months). By month-end February 2001, value stocks had outperformed growth over the previous one, three, five, 10, and 20 years and since-inception periods.

The reversal was dramatic. Over the period April 2000 to November, value stocks outperformed growth stocks by 26.7% and by 39.7% from April 2000 to February 2001.

This type of result is not confined to the technology boom-and-bust experience of the late 1990s. Although less pronounced, a similar reversal took place following a lengthy period of value stock underperformance ending in December 1991.

We can find similar evidence with other premiums:

  • From January 1995 to December 1999, the annualized size premium was negative by approximately 963 basis points (bps), amounting to a cumulative total return difference of approximately 113%. Within the next 18 months, the entire cumulative difference had been made up.
  • From January 1995 to December 2001, the annualized size premium was positive by approximately 157 bps.

The moral of the story?

Prices are difficult to predict at either the individual security level or the asset class level, and dramatic changes in relative performance can take place in a short period of time.

While there is a sound economic rationale and empirical evidence to support our expectation that value stocks will outperform growth stocks and small caps will outperform large caps over longer periods, we know that value and small caps can underperform over any given period. Results from previous periods reinforce the importance of discipline in pursuing these premiums.

Quiz Answer

As of March 31, 2000, US value stocks had underperformed growth stocks by 5.61% per year for the previous 10 years. How many years did it take for value stocks to make up for these 10 years of underperformance?

  1. We are still waiting
  2. 10 years
  3. 5 years
  4. 3 years
  5. 1 year
  6. Less than 1 year [The Correct Answer]
Disclosures Including Backtested Performance Data

Quiz

Which of the following should be elements of a plan to provide lifelong income through all market cycles? (Multiple correct answers)

1. Hold a rainy day fund.

2. Maximize diversification, and include at least the following: stocks, bonds, real estate.

3. Commit to low spending relative to your assets.

4. Diversify your stock allocation across companies and countries.

5. Start a profitable business.

6. Dedicate your money to high growth investments.

7. Limit your mortgage(s).

Article

This article discusses an issue raised by the book “The High-Beta Rich” by Robert Frank, and explains how QAM’s plans address it.

Historically, wealthy families were more immune to market cycles than the general population. The book shows that starting in 1982, the income of the top 1% earners became more volatile than the income of the overall population. While they enjoyed high growth, their income declined further during economic downturns. This is due to more of their income depending on volatile investments, including leveraged real estate, individual companies and concentrated stock investments.

The book presents stories of people that amassed substantial wealth, and later lost most or all of it. A common strategy to avoid losing it all, is to hold some money in stable investments. While this solves one problem, it introduces another one – it slows down the overall growth, which increases the risk of outliving your money.

Is there a solution that lets you enjoy the high growth without taking excessive risks?

Such a solution exists in certain cases. Here is a list of goals with details of how to achieve them:

1. Having your money last: Dedicate your money to high growth investments – stocks of profitable companies that are priced low (value stocks).

2. Recover from declines: Diversify across thousands of stocks in many countries.

3. Provide stable income through the declines: Commit to low spending relative to your assets, with a clear trend towards 3%-4%.

The beauty of this solution is that it doesn’t require lifelong financial sacrifices. What it does require is:

1. Disciplined spending, even as you see your savings reach high levels, or when your income is much higher than 3%-4% of your savings. Lack of this discipline is a big reason some wealthy people get into trouble during downturns.

2. Strength in the face of downturns, and commitment to the investment plan.

3. Permanent diversification at all times; avoiding the temptation to put a substantial portion of the money in a single company or real estate investment.

Does the list of these requirements seem too easy to follow? During over 11 years of service, QAM learned that many people find these requirements to be very difficult to adhere to. If you are able to adhere to them, you have a good chance at sustaining lifelong (and multigenerational) growing income. In addition, successive downturns are likely to become easier to handle, if you limit the growth in spending.

Quiz Answer

Which of the following are key elements of a plan to provide lifelong income through all market cycle? (Multiple correct answers.)

1. Hold a rainy day fund. Sometimes correct: A rainy day fund, such as 3-6 months of living expenses in cash, is necessary for surviving declines early in your saving years, especially if you have low job security. Once you build meaningful savings, the benefit of such an allocation gradually becomes outweighed by the benefit of maximizing the growth of your investments, for lifelong income.

2. Maximize diversification, and include at least the following: stocks, bonds, real estate. Incorrect: While maximal diversification helps survive declines, including slower growing investments hurts the necessary growth for lifelong income that grows with inflation.

3. Commit to low spending relative to your assets. Correct: This is a key element. There are a number of benefits to low spending relative to your assets: (1) It helps handle declines combined with lack of work without depleting your money; (2) It helps build your savings faster, to provide the nest egg needed for lifelong income.

4. Diversify your stock allocation across companies and countries. Correct: Diversification helps avoid total loss during declines.

5. Start a profitable business. Sometimes correct: Running a business combines pay from work and profits of the business ownership. As a small business, it has the potential of outperforming stock investments. The benefit of higher growth comes at a price of liquidity constraints and the risk of a total loss. Therefore, for the goal of lifelong income, it is best to limit your investment in your business to a small portion of your savings.

6. Dedicate your money to high growth investments. Correct: As long as you stick with high-growth investments, diversification provides a benefit of higher low points during declines, without the price of hurting your average returns.

7. Limit your mortgage(s). Usually incorrect, but read further: Real estate with no (or limited) mortgages tends to grow more slowly than diversified stocks, and is less liquid. If you are going to limit your mortgage for any reason (can’t qualify for high mortgage, short-term risk is too high, don’t like volatile investments along with the mortgage obligation), you are better off investing in diversified stocks instead of owning a home, for the purpose of lifelong income. There are non-financial benefits to owning your home, which may lead to accepting a lower mortgage along with less optimal lifelong income.

Disclosures Including Backtested Performance Data

Quiz!

What is the financially optimal way to handle stock dividends for a retiree?

  1. Automatically reinvest the dividends and sell from the principal for income.
  2. Keep the dividends in cash and use them for income.

Look for the answer below and read this month’s article for a discussion.

Article

In recent years, it has become tougher to automatically reinvestment dividends. Despite this difficulty, it is still beneficial.

What is the difficulty with automatically reinvesting dividends? When reinvesting dividends (as with any other “buy” trade), there is a 61-day window (30 days before and after the reinvestment) in which selling and recognizing tax-losses is disallowed. This is called the “Wash Sale Rule”, and is established to prevent people from selling and buying for the pure sake of getting a tax deduction. Complying with the wash sale rule, requires knowing the date of upcoming dividends at least 31 days in advance, to avoid sales in that window.

How has it become more difficult to automatically reinvest dividends? Brokers & custodians are required to report the cost basis of mutual fund purchases on form 1099-B, in order to shed light on wash sales, and discourage them. By not reinvesting dividends, you reduce the number of buys, including the number of wash-sale windows, and retain more freedom to sell without violating the wash sale rule.

What are the benefits of reinvesting dividends?

1. Full participation in gains: Reinvested dividends never stay in cash, allowing you to get the investment returns at all times, and avoid missing returns while money sits in cash. For every 1% that you avoid keeping in cash in the account, and instead keep in an investment that averages 10% per year, you get a benefit of 0.1% per year (1% of 10%). This is a material portion of the investment performance.

2. Tax deduction: When there is a need for cash (e.g. retirement income) or a rebalance, you can sell the most appealing mutual fund shares (outside the 61-day wash-sale window), allowing to realize tax losses.

How can you avoid wash sales? To avoid wash sales, you need to be strategic, and sell away from the time of dividend reinvestments. Dividends are often given quarterly. After excluding the month before and after the dividend, you are left with one month per quarter to sell while realizing tax losses. One strategy is to sell once per quarter (whether for rebalancing or for withdrawals). If you need cash throughout the quarter, you can choose between keeping it on margin (borrowed against the brokerage account) if the amount is small, or selling in advance for large amounts.

Quiz Answer:

What is the financially optimal way to handle stock dividends for a retiree?

  1. Automatically reinvest the dividends and sell from the principal for income.  [The Correct Answer]
  2. Keep the dividends in cash and use them for income.

Explanation:  While keeping the dividends in cash is the easiest thing to do mechanically, there are many benefits to reinvesting them. The article above explains the benefits.

Disclosures Including Backtested Performance Data

At a time where saving money is more valuable than usual, a local client shared ideas for watching TV cheaply:

  • Free Network Broadcasts: For access to the major networks (CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX) and live television broadcasts, purchase an HD antenna.  I bought the 35 mile range model from amazon Amazon.com: AmazonBasics Ultra-Thin Indoor HDTV Antenna – 25 Mile Range: Electronics and it provides me with access to SD and LA broadcasts. ($35 – one time)
  • TV Shows, Movies on Demand over Internet: For access to thousands of movies and shows on demand, Netflix (Cost:$8.99/mo for HD), Amazon Prime ($99/year), and Hulu ($7.99/mo) offer excellent options.  Netflix and Amazon offer deeper catalogs with no ads.  Hulu has current shows with ads.  I currently only do Amazon Prime as it’s the best value with their Unlimited 2 Day Shipping, Music Streaming, and Photo Storage included. Netflix and Hulu offer the flexibility to activate for a month and cancel at any time.
  • Sports: NFL, MLB, and NBA all offer season packages that allow you to watch all games on demand, on any connected device.  I only subscribe to the NFL Gamepass package ($99/year) which has the downside of not providing live broadcasts. This is not an issue for me since I can almost never carve out 3 hours in the middle of the day to watch a game.  The functionality is ideal as all On-demand games are replayed with no commercials and there is even a “condensed” version that cuts out the video between plays, allowing you to watch a game in approximately 30 minutes.
  • Sling TV: For those that want access to major networks such as ESPN, FX, AMC, they can subscribe to slingTV ($20/month) which provides live coverage of these networks previously only available through satellite and cable vendors.  They also offer the benefit of subscribing and cancelling the service by the month.
  • Connected TV Devices: Most new tv’s have web-enabled “Smart TV” hardware and software built in.  If a TV does not, all of these apps are accessible via an Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Google Chrome, or connecting your PC to your TV.
Disclosures Including Backtested Performance Data

Quiz!

When a diversified stock portfolio has low valuations, as measured by Price/Book, which of the following is most likely?

  1. Investors are pessimistic about the investment, which could lead to poor performance.
  2. Investors are pessimistic about the investment, which could lead to unusually high performance.
  3. Investors are optimistic about the investment, which could lead to poor performance.
  4. Investors are optimistic about the investment, which could lead to unusually high performance.

Look for the answer below and read this month’s article for a discussion.

Article

Extended-Term Component, one of two stock portfolios offered by Quality Asset Management, exhibits high volatility along with high average returns. In recent years, the portfolio went through a slow period. At this point, it would be nice to have some indication of where we stand. There is one measure that is very helpful – the Price/Book (P/B), or price of the companies relative to their book value, or liquidation value. When breaking the timeline of returns to up and down periods, we observe a strong relationship between the returns in the upcoming period and the Price/Book at the start of the period (see charts below). Specifically, down periods started with a Price/Book of 1.38 to 2.04, while up periods started with a Price/Book of 0.69 to 0.75.

There is nice logic to this behavior. A Price/Book below 1, indicates that people are paying for the company less than its value by the books – a very low price. This is usually the result of very negative sentiment. Once the pessimism wanes, people go back to wanting to pay a premium for the companies relative to their book values. This leads to gains beyond the growth in the book values of the companies, explaining the dramatic gains of 84% to 580%, that were experienced in past up periods.

Up Periods for Extended-Term Component
Period Begin Period End Starting P/B Annualized Gain Total Gain
02-1999 12-1999 0.69 105% 84%
03-2003 10-2007 0.75 52% 580%
11-2008 04-2011 0.71 62% 214%
Down Periods for Extended-Term Component
Period Begin Period End Starting P/B Annualized Gain Total Gain
12-1999 03-2003 1.45 -14% -39%
10-2007 11-2008 2.04 -66% -68%
04-2011 07-2015 1.38 -8% -31%

Today, the P/B is equivalent to 0.79 (after adjusting for the profitability bias), close to the range that started the big up periods in the past. While the future can bring lower valuations or longer down periods, the data is strong enough to give some optimism for an up period in upcoming months or years. If we experience declines from this point, I would expect the gains to be greater.

Quiz Answer:

When a diversified stock portfolio has low valuations, as measured by Price/Book, which of the following is most likely?

  1. Investors are pessimistic about the investment, which could lead to poor performance.
  2. Investors are pessimistic about the investment, which could lead to unusually high performance. [The Correct Answer]
  3. Investors are optimistic about the investment, which could lead to poor performance.
  4. Investors are optimistic about the investment, which could lead to unusually high performance.

Explanation: A low Price/Book means that the price of the investment is low relative to the company’s book value. Investors are usually willing to pay a low price because they are pessimistic about the investment. Once the sentiment improves, investors are willing to pay more than the book value. This leads to unusually high performance, because the price goes up by compounding the price gains relative to the book value with the growth in the book value.

Disclosures Including Backtested Performance Data

While there are many factors that make a good investment advisor, expected performance is a central one. Many choose an advisor that had good performance in recent years. While easy to evaluate, it can lead them to a choice that is even worse than a random selection, since there is often a negative correlation between the past 5-year returns and the next 5-year returns (relative to a benchmark or the long-term average). Here are some steps for a more educated evaluation of performance:

  1. Repeatable performance: Identify repeatable factors, for example (for stocks): US/developed/emerging markets, size, value/growth, profitability.
  2. Statistically Significant Horizons: Evaluate at least 30 years for stocks, and longer for bonds, to get statistical significance. Since most investment vehicles and advisors didn’t operate for this long, you usually have to depend on simulated data, using indexes in the same categories. While not perfectly accurate, it is far better than using statistically insignificant data from the past 5 or 10 years.
  3. Deduct Fees: Deduct the advisor’s fees from any performance presented to you (both live & simulated), if not done already.
  4. Discipline: Check the track record of the advisor’s discipline, by asking about changes to the allocations that were later reverted. Reverted changes are often a sign of market timing, and often (but not always) result in buying high and selling low. Make sure to ask how the advisor behaved at extreme points (the peak of 10/2007 and the bottom of 3/2009 are great examples). In some cases the advisor’s behavior can hurt the returns by more than a number of other factors combined.
  5. Risk Analysis: Just like discipline, a portfolio that is too risky may work on paper, but fail in real life. There is no investment that is 100% safe under all circumstances (picture a 100% short-term government bond allocation subject to retirement withdrawals at times of high inflation). A good advisor would structure your plan to protect you from the highest risks, leading to a high likelihood of success, given your goals and needs.
Disclosures Including Backtested Performance Data

It is well established that value stocks (stocks with low price/book value, or price relative to the company’s liquidation value) earn a higher return than the general market. The effect is very meaningful – at least 2% excess annualized return. It was tested through long time periods, retested through new periods, and retested in many different countries (out of sample testing). It is also logical – if the price is low relative to the value of the company assets, it has room to grow to reach the valuations (P/B) of other companies.

So, why doesn’t everyone focus on owning them? Value stocks tend to be less known and less glamorous. They often have low price relative to their book value as a result of poor recent returns. People like to see that the stock “proved itself” before investing in it. They also like to imitate others’ success. To make matters much worse, value stocks don’t always do better. They can do worse for long stretches of 5+ years. I have seen people think logically about investments, and stick through tough periods. But, as the period gets longer, they lose faith in the long-term success.

A strong example from recent years is Emerging Markets Value. This asset class suffered in multiple ways – both emerging markets and value suffered poor performance for the past 5 years. To add insult to injury, the more known US market had unusually high returns. This led people to think that the US is a better investment and to sell from emerging markets to buy US investments.

US stocks reached high valuations (P/B), and emerging markets reached low valuations (P/B). The relative valuations between the S&P 500 and emerging markets value almost doubled in the past 5 years. Your emerging markets investments would not reach the S&P 500’s P/B, until they approximately triple in value – that is about 200% gain. An observation of the past 30 years of emerging markets value returns (partly simulated), shows how surges emerge from low valuations. Here are distinct 12-month periods with ~100% gains in this timeframe:

Period starting at

12-month return

11/1988

83%

2/1991

100%

9/1998

120%

4/2003

97%

3/2009

117%

These returns occurred approximately every 6 years. The value premium is greatest when having big gains that stem from low valuations. For example, in the recent 2009 surge, emerging markets value outperformed the general emerging markets by more than 20%.

What is the logic for these surges? As explained above, the past selling results in poor performance, leading for more people to sell, and propagates the poor returns. This is a snowball that can go on for a while. As valuations reach very low points, any bit of marginally good news can lead to a surge – whether it is a reduction in interest rates, government spending, or economic results that are not bad enough to justify the very low valuations.

Your strong value tilt means that you buy the unloved companies that people sell. When people are completely desperate and lose all faith in these companies, you buy low, and when the turnaround comes, you reap the greatest benefits – life changing benefits. This focus on value stocks is one big thing you have in common with Warren Buffett, one of the greatest investors of all times.

Disclosures Including Backtested Performance Data