As a prelude to this review, we revisit a theme that has long informed our research: cognitive limitations in investment analysis. Reasonable minds may differ on what is or is not a good investment, but exceedingly few of those minds study or are even aware of the many ways our brains deal — automatically and without our conscious permission — with an excess of data (which certainly defines the securities markets). The shortcuts we unknowingly take amidst this onslaught of information can lead to the most unfortunate conclusions. Herein, some of our strategies for wading through the facts to address some client questions we received about inflation, U.S. debt levels, and the potential for continued corporate earnings growth. And a couple of new positions, CACI International and Science Applications International, that we believe add functional diversification to our portfolios.Read More >
2018 Quarterly Commentaries
A number of clients have been asking about inflation: are the recent numbers, 2%, benign? Encouraging? Cause for concern? Some of the answer depends on whether the reported inflation data are even real. The changes, over time, in the way that the sausage that is the Consumer Price Index is made seem, repeatedly, to have the effect of lowering it. Either way, it’s well neigh impossible to avoid earning a negative rate of return from the various bond ETFs, after taxes and inflation. We provide a brief survey.
Then there is the failure with, now, a 20-year record, of the equity ETFs to provide the expected 10% rate of return. To avoid a continuous loss of purchasing power, which adds up pretty quickly, investing has to take place differently and elsewhere.Read More >
The value of the entire stock market relative to GDP – perhaps the most fundamental valuation measure – is pretty much at an all-time high; interest rates aren’t much above their recent all-time lows; the Federal debt/GDP ratio, despite one of the lengthiest economic recoveries on record, is at a high exceeded only in the immediate aftermath of World War II. Yet, despite this traffic jam of systemic risks, and for whatever reason, investors feel sufficiently at ease that they don’t require a real interest rate above zero, or lower stock valuations, as if there financial markets rest in a comfortable equilibrium.
But one of the systemic risks to the stock market, the continued rapid expansion of large scale passive investing, rests on such a faulty – and unexamined – foundation that it might raise eyebrows upon a little reflection. A basic presumption of indexation – its use of the free-rider principle, of the price discovery function that active management provides – is that indexation’s share of float, of the shares not held by insiders, remains a minority of the available shares in the market. Not so. The definition is methodologically wrong, and in a way that can (and, we’ll suggest, has already done so) seriously distort major-company share prices.
The indexation community is likewise operating under a serious methodological error in their security weighting approach. And also in a way that can (and we’ll suggest has) seriously distort major-company share prices.
Also, a review of some additional inflation-beneficiary, non-correlated holdings in our portfolios.