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3rd Quarter 2017 Commentary

Conference Call Replay

In presentations to various sophisticated investment professionals, one of the most surprising revelations has been that many have far less knowledge about the systemic risks embedded in the broader markets than do our clients. While they are increasingly aware of well-respected investors voicing increasing discomfort with various structural excesses, such as the national debt, they are not cognizant of the very real and specific threats posed to them or their clients.

Unfortunately, the odds just shifted for the worse. A far greater threat has arisen: of technological disruption from outside the major indexes, with the potential to be destructive to large sectors within the indexes, in particular the Financials and Information Technology. This is the emergence of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. The potential disruption to the status quo is sufficiently great, in our view, that all investors should, at the least, be exposed to this topic. It merits serious discussion.

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2nd Quarter 2017 Commentary

Conference Call Replay

It’s always nice to pay a lower fee for the same product. Who wouldn’t? But what if it’s not the same? The Nasdaq 100 ETF (QQQ) fact sheet says it is filled with growth companies and only trades at 22x earnings, the same as the S&P 500. They don’t tell you that they exclude any companies with losses. They don’t describe how they effectively eliminate the impact of companies with very P/E ratios, through a rather abstruse formula known as the Weighted Average Harmonic Mean. In the absence of having an MBA or statistical degree, if you calculated the P/E ratio of the Nasdaq 100 the way you know how, by simply averaging the P/E ratios of the 91 profitable companies, then the P/E is over 40x. It’s One Thing to Not Know, It’s Another to Be Told What Isn’t So.
As with every quarterly commentary, we’ll review just how indexed products that purport to be low volatility or low risk or provide exposure to a given country or industry actually are not or do not. You don’t get something for nothing, particularly on Wall Street.

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1st Quarter 2017 Commentary

Conference Call Replay

In past reviews, we’ve titillated you with some of the more startling and story-worthy examples of the distortions caused by the indexation vortex. We have chosen far flung examples in order to direct one’s attention, through all the noise of conflicting information from the financial news media, toward the bubble conditions that ETFs have wrought. But, because those examples have been drawn from more marginal sectors on the market, many of you might have wondered whether they are relevant to their portfolios. So, in this quarter’s letter, we go mainstream, to see what’s going on in the most basic portfolio building blocks, the bread and butter asset classes: first, the S&P 500 itself, and then a typical mainstream growth fund and a mainstream value fund that an everyman or everywoman would use. The kind of fund that is relevant.

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4th Quarter 2016 Commentary

Conference Call Replay

This past year was interesting on so many more fronts than 2015. And this coming year could be more interesting still. In 2016, the financial markets saw all sorts of records and precedents – and not in a good way. We have been taking some time to prepare our client portfolios for advantage. Advantage hinges on the ability to make opportunistic investments, to take what the market gives, not what it doesn’t. Opportunism has a field of play when prices have declined. Sometimes they decline suddenly, other times slowly, sometimes the whole market together, other times just pieces of it. But entry to that field of opportunity itself hinges on having sufficient liquidity; without liquidity, the opportunities are just an idea of what might have been.

Money flows into ETFs and similar funds have not only pushed up the prices of the major index-centric companies, but also created an artificial downdraft among the thousands of non-indexation securities. That is where the companies with less systemic risk will be found. There will be more in the way of idiosyncratic investments with the opportunity for true optionality. Perhaps our portfolios will have to have fewer, but more selective securities with perhaps larger weightings in those companies with truly discounted valuations and a truly superior business position.

So, the watch words are preparedness, and sobriety. Dr. Louis Pasteur said, “fortune favors the well-prepared mind.”

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Market Observations

Our musings on the current markets: valuation anomalies, capital flow trends, and the risks and opportunities facing investors.
Under the Hood Index Series
Predictive Attribute Series
The Yield Famine
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Asia Opportunity Commentary

Our outlook on the Asia markets, including macroeconomic events and valuation commentary.
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