Categories
Investing

Vacant Homes and the Bank of Mom & Dad

Fact 1: According to the OECD, there are millions of vacant homes around the world. Houses sit empty while prices appreciate aggressively and are in dangerous bubble territory in some places, like Toronto.

Fact 2: As a proportion of the housing stock, Japan has the highest rate of vacant homes. In North America, over 11% of homes in the US and 8% in Canada are vacant. That’s 15.6 million and 1.3 million empty homes respectively. While there’s some debate over the method used to obtain these estimates, if even remotely accurate they signify that a lack of housing stock isn’t necessarily the primary driver behind rising real estate prices. It appears like speculators are hoarding homes like people hoarded toilet paper in March 2020.

Fact 3: So how does anyone afford to buy a house in cities experiencing intense real estate price appreciation? Many get help from the bank of mom and dad. In Toronto, for example, about 25% of first time home buyers receive an average of $175,000 from their parents. Similarly, in Vancouver (second chart) 23% of first time home buyers receive an average of $210,000 from their parents.

While the parental instinct to support their children is understandable, home ownership is increasingly becoming dependent on familial wealth, exacerbating societal wealth inequality.

Categories
Investing

Bottoms, Bulls and BlackRock

Fact 1: Corporate insiders have historically had a knack for buying near market bottoms.

Fact 2: Investor bullishness has declined during 2021. However, sentiment has recently recovered.

Fact 3: Over the past decade, small cap tech stocks have underperformed small cap cyclicals. Technology leadership has clearly been limited to big cap indices.

Fact 4: A sign of a liquidity trap, deposits have grown massively since the start of the pandemic, hitting $4.5 trillion. Of course, this additional savings hasn’t accrued to everyone, as many people continue to live paycheck to paycheck.

Fact 5: The post-shutdown experience was supposed to be one of massive economic recovery. Instead, Q3 GDP estimates have been trending down since the summer, with current estimates as low as <1%. Meanwhile inflation is spiking. Stagflation anyone?

Fact 6: During the pandemic, BlackRock’s AUM has quietly reached almost $10 trillion.

Categories
Investing

5 Facts Every Investor Must See

The world right now is overrun by opinions and people talking their book. What we as investors, decision makers, concerned citizens need instead are facts. Facts to form our own opinions.

To help you do this, I share facts in visual form: charts. My hope is to provide you with quick, digestible hits to provoke further thought so you can form your own opinions.

Charts and graphs are the most efficient and effective way to convey large amounts of information. Consider a simple 10yr chart of monthly stock prices, for example. That simple line enables you to absorb 240 intersecting data points (time and price), plus information on volatility and trends (implying the 10yr performance of company earnings).

All this from a 2 second look at a chart.


Fact 1: Cryptocurrencies consume the same amount of electricity as Sweden.

Fact 2: Loan loss provisions at banks are being released, providing a tailwind to earnings.

Fact 3: Electricity is being rationed across China, due to fuel shortages.

Fact 4: China’s dollar junk bond yields kiss 20%, suggesting serious market stress.

Fact 5: Ongoing supply chain shortages are due to a combination of strong demand and weak supply.

Categories
Investing

Bonds for the Long Run?

If you look up Professor Jeremy Siegel’s work you’ll find one thing: He firmly believes that stocks are the best long-term asset class.

In 1994, Seigel published a classic book that helped shape his investing view and asset allocation decisions for millions investors around the world. “Stocks for the Long Run: The Definitive Guide to Financial Market Returns and Long-Term Investment Strategies” continues to be a top-selling investment book. His conclusions are based on stock market data going back about 200 years.

New research has compiled stock market data going back to 1793, adjusts for some erroneous methodologies and reaches a different conclusion – one that contradicts Siegel’s long-standing belief that stocks are the preferred asset class over the long run.

…both common stocks and long bonds are risk assets, capable of outperforming or underperforming over any human time horizon.

Edward F. McQuarrie, Professor Emeritus, Santa Clara University, presents these findings in a recent paper called “New Lessons from Market History: Sometimes Bonds Win“.

McQuarrie summarizes his findings as follows:

When Jeremy Siegel published his Stocks for the Long Run thesis, little information was available on stocks before 1871 or bonds before 1926. But today, digital archives have made it possible to compute real total
return on stock and bond indexes back to 1793. This paper presents that new market history and compares it to Siegel’s narrative. The new historical record shows that over multi-decade periods, sometimes stocks outperformed bonds, sometimes bonds outperformed stocks, and sometimes they performed about the same. More generally, the pattern of asset returns in the modern era, as seen in the Ibbotson SBBI and other datasets that begin in 1926, emerges as distinctly different from what came before. Contrary to Siegel, the pattern of asset returns seen in the 20th century does not generalize to the 19th century. A regime perspective is introduced to make sense of the augmented historical record. It argues that both common stocks and long bonds are risk assets, capable of outperforming or underperforming over any human time horizon.

Source: New Lessons from Market History: Sometimes Bonds Win, Edward McQuarrie

For most investors, it’s not news that bonds sometimes outperform stocks. Indeed, this is why we hold bonds within a portfolio – to diversify sources of risk and return. However, for most that’s as deep as the asset allocation decision goes, and bonds – particularly Treasury bonds – are simply viewed as a safety mechanism for short periods of risk asset downside. It remains that, over the long-run, the common view is one that aligns with Siegel’s thesis that equities is the better asset class over long periods of time.

…bonds can outperform for the duration of a human lifespan. It is therefore financially dangerous to adhere to the ideology that stocks are always the better choice.

McQuarrie disagrees: Simply, he finds that there are long periods of time during which bonds outperform stocks. The particularly troubling finding is that bonds can outperform for the duration of a human lifespan. It is therefore financially dangerous to adhere to the ideology that stocks are always the better choice.

History is an important guide, but it cannot predict the future. The purpose of this research is not to identify what will outperform over the next decade. Rather, it is to shift portfolio construction from a monolithic to multi-faceted choice.

The crux of Siegel’s case for stocks is exhibited by the following chart. Looking at this alone, it is understandable that someone might conclude that stocks are the better investment. McQuarrie, however, argues that Siegel’s methodology was misleading and the reality is that stocks and bonds performed in parallel until the post-war period (second chart below). Moreover, much of the final stocks-bonds cumulative performance variance is explained by a single time period from post WWII to around 1982, with bonds subsequently resuming parallel performance. (I.e. if you re-started the chart from 1983, the stocks and bonds lines would follow a similar path.) The difference flips the investing paradigm on its head.

It is critical to understand why the results are so different.

McQuarrie’s explanation for the superiority of his bond data is as follows:

Explanation: I observe municipal bond prices from 1857 to 1897 as compiled by the Boston stockbroker, Joseph G. Martin. Siegel relied on a tertiary source, the summary table in Sidney Homer’s History of Interest Rates. Homer does not state there that the municipal bond index he had tabled represents a theoretical construction erected by Macaulay upon Martin’s compilation rather than an observed portfolio. I also adjust for the greenback price of interest paid in gold coin—a distinguishing feature of Federal and some municipal bonds between 1862 and Finally, I use an aggregate bond portfolio up to 1897, and corporate bonds after that point. Corporate bonds returned more than the government bonds used by Siegel, especially when government bond yields were depressed by tax and other privileges.

Essentially, McQuarrie used actual bond portfolio data, whereas Siegel used computed theoretical data.

McQuarrie’s data also adjusts for the striking survivorship bias found within Siegel’s stock market data:

Here most of the variation comes before the Civil War, and this deviation is readily explained: Siegel’s sources omitted the largest single stock that traded before the Panic of 1837, the 2nd Bank of the United States. At the peak before the Panic hit, the 2nd BUS accounted for almost 30% of total market capitalization. It failed spectacularly as the Panic proceeded, with shares dropping in price from $120 to $1.50, and never recovered. To duplicate this omission in the contemporary stock market, it would be necessary to drop Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Alphabet/Google, and Facebook from the S&P 500; and even these five would not account for as high a percentage of S&P 500 capitalization as did the 2nd BUS at its peak. Omission of the BUS is the single most glaring error I found in Siegel’s stock market sources. More generally, I found and corrected survivorship bias. Banks failed during panics, turnpikes and canals succumbed to railroads, and struggling railroads went bust in the 1840s and 1850s to an extent not previously understood. In short, Siegel’s sources had left out the bad parts, producing an overly rosy picture of antebellum stock returns.

Few probably realize that Siegel’s data contains such biases – especially when it’s standard practice to adjust accordingly. For example, modern fund performance evaluation, like Morningstar’s SPIVA reports, always account for survivorship bias. To read that Siegel excluded failed companies in his analysis is material. To be fair, however, this survivorship bias exists in many historical analyses as it is an embedded feature within index data.

Let’s not make hasty conclusions and throw out all of Siegel’s conclusions. Stocks do outperform bonds during a meaningful range of time periods and scenarios. Stocks are still a core component to an investing portfolio. McQuarrie’s analysis simply illustrates that the probabilities have shifted away from stocks’ favour. This is an important consideration for professional asset allocators and Joe Smith saving for retirement.

Using McQuarrie’s new data, the table below shows the odds of stocks outperforming bonds across a range of rolling 1, 5, 10, 20, 30 and 50 year periods. The odds remain in stocks’ favour across all rolling periods between 1793-2019, and those odds increase with the length of period. However, it is critical to observe that these results are time-period sensitive. The pre-war experience is markedly different, especially prior to the US Civil War.

Modern-day assurances that stocks always outperform over the long run are based on post-war data (1943-2019). In contrast, the full history shows there’s a 32% chance that someone investing in stocks over 30 years – a lifetime of investing – would underperform bonds.

Why did stocks outperform during the post-war years?

During that period, the US dominated the world with military and economic hegemony acting as the global arbiter and enforcer of transnational trade and globalization, creating a ‘peace dividend’ for risk assets around the world. As that power fades, it’s quite possible the structural forces that created that environment will someday no longer exist.

The following chart shows something similar to the table above, focusing on rolling 10yr performance differentials between stocks and bonds. Again, it is apparent that stocks can underperform for life-altering periods of time.

How bad can stock market returns get?

If one asset goes up by 20% and the other by 10%, the second asset underperformed but still provided a decent return. Unfortunately, history shows that the stock market can provide dismal returns for very long periods of time.

The table below shows the worst 20, 30 and 50 year real total returns for stocks. The results show that stocks can perform poorly in both relative and absolute terms over investing lifetimes.

Real total returns

The standardization of time periods in the previous chart, however, doesn’t show the true extent of weak stock market performance potential over long periods of time. One only has to go back to the 13 year period ending 2013 to have witnessed one of the worst periods ever for US stocks. The table below shows the worst six periods for US stocks.

The implications for asset allocation decisions are immense, yet intuitive: Don’t rely on history alone to guide asset allocation decisions.

Investors must look at the prevailing environment to determine how to construct portfolios, understanding that long-term performance characteristics can change. Perhaps the most challenging part of this effort is understanding the relative variability of stocks and bonds, as illustrated by long-run correlations. Correlations change markedly over time, so the idea that one simply dumps a portion of a wealth into bonds with the purpose of creating a portfolio ballast is wrong. Stocks don’t always outperform and bonds don’t always move opposite to stocks. This is strikingly apparent (but shockingly rarely discussed) during the recent Covid-19 market crash, when US Treasuries (using TLT as a proxy) declined by almost 10% from March 1st to March 8th, while US stocks simultaneously declined by 8.8%. US Treasuries soon recovered and rallied as stocks continued to plunge, but this relative performance aberration – when the correlation between stocks and risk-free assets moved to 1 – is an example of how historical relationships can and do change. It is a critically important example of how expectations based on long histories can be false.

Will bonds outperform stocks? Are bonds still a good tool for diversifying portfolios?

Without spending considerable amounts of time and effort deciphering the current economic regime and its implications on forward asset prices, a more pragmatic approach to asset allocation might be to ensure broad representation across assets that have fundamentally different risk exposures. Stocks are probably still good to hold for the long run. Probably so are bonds (both corporate and a variety of sovereign). But it’s entirely possible that neither will perform as you expect.

Categories
Investing Life Wealth

Investing, Hope and Climate Catastrophe

There was a time when an HIV+ diagnosis was a death sentence.

Not anymore.

According to Elizabeth Ranes, RN, “life expectancy for a person infected with HIV now extends to 70 years of age. That’s a remarkable improvement from the early days of HIV, when many men succumbed to the disease in their 30s.”

Someone diagnosed with HIV in 1989 would have little to look forward to, and no need for retirement planning at all. Anyone with any savings would spend it all, as most had no heirs and many were isolated from their families.

However, as diagnosis and treatments quickly improved during the 1990s, a subset of HIV patients started to outlive their wealth. This subset had planned for the worst, but unexpectedly benefited from new treatments. This new hope was a mixed blessing, as many of these people were now penniless.

Today, a growing number of teenagers are increasingly hopeless about the future. Instead of a disease, a convergence of global warming, resource shortages, political extremism and wealth disparity is painting a bleak picture.

Guidance counselors and therapists have commented on a growing number of young people seeking help amid existential gloom. Like it or not, agree or disagree, Greta Thunberg is the poster child for global teenage grief, anger and hopelessness.

The thread below illustrates what’s going on:

I know people love to hate on Greta, but remember she is a child. The value she provides might not necessarily be her arguments. Rather, the fact she is expressing her worry is what we need to take away. She is a barometer for the psychology of a growing portion of tomorrow’s leaders.

As I’ve explained by looking at the AIDS epidemic, when people lose hope they adjust their behaviours. They live like they have no future.

What does that mean for teenagers today?

And what if they are wrong?

Let me tell you a secret. When I was a teenager I had little hope for my future. I’m not entirely sure why. Perhaps I received no encouragement or help. Maybe I had pessimistic tendencies. I definitely had no path in front of me.

So I behaved like I had no future. I did many stupid things. Luckily I snapped out of it and doubled-down on forging my own path. But I could have easily gone the other way and simply continued to be a burden to those around me. Or worse.

What happens when a big segment of the population feels this way for similar reason, thus reinforcing their belief? They certainly won’t be thinking about retirement savings. More likely, they’ll be drop-outs, criminals and pot-heads. Not all. But more than under normal circumstances.

Maybe they’ll be proven right in the end. Maybe there is no future. But if they’re wrong, they’re basically cornering themselves into a pretty shitty life. In the end, it becomes a self fulfilling prophesy.

I’m not blind to the problems we face, but I think it’s important to maintain some hope. We each have our ways. Acceptance, action, religion.

We must continue saving and investing like we have a future. Perhaps the nature of those investments and the way we budget for risk change. We need to broaden our definition beyond financial instruments and invest in skills, resiliency and self sufficiency. We also need to plan for a greater number of contingencies and develop a better understanding of ‘risk’.

As we’ve learned during the AIDS crisis, simply dropping the ball to sulk on the sidelines won’t do anyone any good.

Categories
Investing

Not All Stocks Rise When Markets are Up

Did you know that during any given year when the market is rising, up to 42% of stocks may simultaneously be declining?

Simply being ‘in the market’ during an up year doesn’t guarantee positive performance. Some years are worse than others, but history shows stock-pickers can easily lose money despite being right about market direction.

The chart below demonstrates this phenomenon over the past 20 years. The blue bar shows calendar year performance for all positive years dating back to 2002. The red line shows the % of stocks that were negative during the same year.

Lesson: unless you have the golden touch, it’s best to tap into market gains by building exposure to a broad basket of stocks. The easiest and cheapest way to achieve that is by using a low cost index fund.

Categories
Investing Wealth

The Case for Deflation

Inflation is a hot topic right now. Understandably so, as prices for a range of commodities (lumber, copper, etc.) have risen substantially over the past several months.

Chart: Google Search Trends for ‘Inflation’ in the United States

Raw materials price pressures are now showing up in consumer prices with CPI rising 4.2% year over year ending April 2021. This level of CPI has not been seen since the early days of the 2008 global financial crisis.

However, it is becoming increasingly clear that this inflationary burst is temporary. The conditions simply don’t exist to support long term inflation, like that seen during the 1970s.

There are several reasons.

1) Milton Friedman once said that “inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon”. I’d argue that he is only half right. Central banks can increase the money supply all they want, but to have an inflationary effect the velocity of money must remain stable or rise. Real world experience clearly shows that money velocity is not constant and tends to have an inverse relationship with the level of a country’s indebtedness. And as you all know, we are drowning in debt right now.

It is becoming increasingly clear that this inflationary burst is temporary. The conditions simply don’t exist to support long term inflation, like that seen during the 1970s.

The relationship between indebtedness and money velocity is clear in the following chart. As the level of indebtedness of the US economy started to significantly rise in 2008, money velocity declined. Ultimately, money velocity plummeted to new lows during the Covid-19 crisis and has yet to recover, despite an improving economy.

Effectively, what this means is that new money entering the system (generally to fund new debt) is simply tucked away, mitigating any inflationary effects of monetary expansion.

This phenomenon is also illustrated by the declining marginal economic benefit created by new debt. The economic impact of additional debt today is much lower than it was in decades past. Therefore much more money needs to enter the economic system to have the same impacts it did in the past. Of course, more new money means more debt. By now you’ve probably noticed this is a vicious cycle.

2) The current inflationary pulse was triggered by the partial paralysis of the global supply chain. Exports out of low-cost producing countries grinded to a halt, forcing Western countries to purchase from more expensive domestic suppliers or compete over dwindling supply.

As vaccines are delivered the mechanisms for global trade – offshore manufacturing + shipping – can resume. Imports into the US are already back to pre-pandemic peaks and it’s only a matter of time until renewed competition from cheaper sources pushes prices down.

3) Labour productivity tends to rise coming out of recessions. Higher productivity offsets higher wages, thus putting a cap on unit labour costs that can flow into prices. I believe this phenomenon will be even stronger as we exit the pandemic.

The nearly immediate and widespread adoption of new software and methods of working have compressed a decade’s worth of productivity gains into the present. Not only that, but companies that maintain a remote workforce can benefit from labour cost arbitrage across geographic regions. Over the long run, both of these advances will keep a lid on unit labour costs. This is disinflationary.

4) Population growth in the US continues to be very weak and will be for the foreseeable future. 20-something year olds simply can’t afford to have kids. Or they are choosing not to bring new people into the world for ethical reasons.

The point is that forward demand driven by new consumers entering their prime spending years continues to decline. When demand declines prices fall.

While nobody can predict the future, one can use data and hard evidence to create a guide. Evidence suggests that those calling for a shift in the economic regime – from disinflationary to inflationary – could be wrong. I believe, as a diversified investor, it is important to prepare for the possibility that the pundits are wrong.

While I won’t know if I’m right or wrong until some point in the future, it appears that the bond market might agree with my thesis, as the yield on the 10yr has flatlined since March 2021.

Categories
Investing

Dennis Gartman’s 22 Rules of Trading

Note: These ‘rules’ are for the active trader. Not for the normal person looking to build a retirement nest egg while working a full time job. For most of us – including the financially well-educated – the best strategy is to buy and hold low cost index ETFs.

1. Never, under any circumstance add to a losing position…. ever! Nothing more need be said; to do otherwise will eventually and absolutely lead to ruin!

2. Trade like a mercenary guerrilla. We must fight on the winning side and be willing to change sides readily when one side has gained the upper hand.

3. Capital comes in two varieties: Mental and that which is in your pocket or account. Of the two types of capital, the mental is the more important and expensive of the two. Holding to losing positions costs measurable sums of actual capital, but it costs immeasurable sums of mental capital.

4. The objective is not to buy low and sell high, but to buy high and to sell higher. We can never know what price is “low.” Nor can we know what price is “high.” Always remember that sugar once fell from $1.25/lb to 2 cent/lb and seemed “cheap” many times along the way.

5. In bull markets we can only be long or neutral, and in bear markets we can only be short or neutral. That may seem self-evident; it is not, and it is a lesson learned too late by far too many.

6. “Markets can remain illogical longer than you or I can remain solvent,” according to our good friend, Dr. A. Gary Shilling. Illogic often reigns and markets are enormously inefficient despite what the academics believe.

7. Sell markets that show the greatest weakness, and buy those that show the greatest strength. Metaphorically, when bearish, throw your rocks into the wettest paper sack, for they break most readily. In bull markets, we need to ride upon the strongest winds… they shall carry us higher than shall lesser ones.

8. Try to trade the first day of a gap, for gaps usually indicate violent new action. We have come to respect “gaps” in our nearly thirty years of watching markets; when they happen (especially in stocks) they are usually very important.

9. Trading runs in cycles: some good; most bad. Trade large and aggressively when trading well; trade small and modestly when trading poorly. In “good times,” even errors are profitable; in “bad times” even the most well researched trades go awry. This is the nature of trading; accept it.

10. To trade successfully, think like a fundamentalist; trade like a technician. It is imperative that we understand the fundamentals driving a trade, but also that we understand the market’s technicals. When we do, then, and only then, can we or should we, trade.

11. Respect “outside reversals” after extended bull or bear runs. Reversal days on the charts signal the final exhaustion of the bullish or bearish forces that drove the market previously. Respect them, and respect even more “weekly” and “monthly,” reversals.

12. Keep your technical systems simple. Complicated systems breed confusion; simplicity breeds elegance.

13. Respect and embrace the very normal 50-62% retracements that take prices back to major trends. If a trade is missed, wait patiently for the market to retrace. Far more often than not, retracements happen… just as we are about to give up hope that they shall not.

14. An understanding of mass psychology is often more important than an understanding of economics. Markets are driven by human beings making human errors and also making super-human insights.

15. Establish initial positions on strength in bull markets and on weakness in bear markets. The first “addition” should also be added on strength as the market shows the trend to be working. Henceforth, subsequent additions are to be added on retracements.

16. Bear markets are more violent than are bull markets and so also are their retracements.

17. Be patient with winning trades; be enormously impatient with losing trades. Remember it is quite possible to make large sums trading/investing if we are “right” only 30% of the time, as long as our losses are small and our profits are large.

18. The market is the sum total of the wisdom … and the ignorance…of all of those who deal in it; and we dare not argue with the market’s wisdom. If we learn nothing more than this we’ve learned much indeed.

19. Do more of that which is working and less of that which is not: If a market is strong, buy more; if a market is weak, sell more. New highs are to be bought; new lows sold.

20. The hard trade is the right trade: If it is easy to sell, don’t; and if it is easy to buy, don’t. Do the trade that is hard to do and that which the crowd finds objectionable. Peter Steidelmeyer taught us this twenty five years ago and it holds truer now than then.

21. There is never one cockroach! This is the “winning” new rule submitted by our friend, Tom Powell.

22. All rules are meant to be broken: The trick is knowing when… and how infrequently this rule may be invoked!

Categories
Income Investing Investing

Stock Market Performance During the Great Depression

Many people point to the US stock market performance after the 1929 crash as evidence that stocks can go nowhere for decades.

The argument usually points to the chart below, which shows the Dow Jones Industrial Average failing to retake its August 1929 peak until November 1954. In other words, people make the argument that someone investing in US stocks at the 1929 peak would have had to wait until November 1954 just to break even.

This is false.

The above chart shows the commonly used Dow Jones Industrial Average – an index based on price-returns.

What people completely miss is that investors would have received dividend payments during this entire period. Below, I adjust market returns to include dividends.

According to the calculation below, when including reinvested dividends, an investment at the 1929 peak would have returned on average 5.58% per year ending November 1954. That’s equivalent to a cumulative total return of just under 300%.

While it’s true that the buy-and-hold investor would have ridden a financial rollercoaster along the way, even the worst market timer would have done OK if they simply invested a lump sum and did nothing.

Source: DQYDJ

Of course, it took time for dividends to compensate for price declines. It wasn’t until 1945 that investors started to experience a positive total return. That’s still a long time to wait – and still implicit evidence that stock markets can take a long time to recover.

However, the stagnation narrative is significantly undermined, as this shows it took far less than a quarter-century for the worst market timer to break even.

The above examples show a worst case scenario – someone who’s only decision was to invest at the peak of a stock market bubble and then sit on their hands. This isn’t a realistic scenario for most of us.

Most people invest periodically (i.e. not all at once) as they stash away savings over time. So the more realistic illustration would show how someone performed if they started investing in 1929 and added to their investment over time.

The following chart shows the portfolio value for someone who spread their investment over a 40 month period, starting at the end of 1929. In this example, the person invests a total of $20,000. As you can see, their account is positive (i.e. above $20,000) from the end of 1933 onward.

This more realistic scenario again shows the myth of secular stock market stagnation narrative is largely misleading.

Data from Robert Shiller
Categories
Investing

Peter Lynch: 75 Years of WISDOM in One Speech

If you can’t explain to a 10 year old why you own a stock, you shouldn’t own it.

You can’t forecast the future.

And more common sense investing gems.