No respite for the American oil patch and its investors.
Yes, it is that magical week leading up to Christmas and the subsequent low volume push into the new year. It is "magic time" as hopes are high that "Santa Claus" will come to WallStreet. "Ignoring valuation – ignoring risk – is a recipe for disappointment and is the thing that is most likely to lead investors to ruin"
"It’s hard to say what the right price is for a commodity like oil . . . and thus when the price is too high or too low. Was it too high at $100-plus, an unsustainable blip? History says no: it was there for 43 consecutive months through this past August. And if it wasn’t too high then, isn’t it laughably low today? The answer is that you just can’t say. Ditto for whether the response of the price of oil to the changes in fundamentals has been appropriate, excessive or insufficient. And if you can’t be confident about what the right price is, then you can’t be definite about financial decisions regarding oil." - Howard Marks
As an investor, it is simply your job to step away from your "emotions" for a moment and look objectively at the market around you. Is it currently dominated by "greed" or "fear?" Your long-term returns will depend greatly not only on how you answer that question, but to manage the inherent risk. “The investor’s chief problem – and even his worst enemy – is likely to be himself.” - Benjamin Graham
Day after day, the status-quo hugging, momentum-chasing talking heads that infest the world of investing will pile their clients' money into 'what is working' with little regard for 'value', risk (as defined by Howard Marks), or business uncertainty. Precious metals are sliding so 'sell' anything related to the precious metals industry. Biotech and software are surging so buy it all with both hands and feet... However, as the following two charts from Harvard Business Review suggest that strategy is in fact the absolute 'riskiest' approach to managing money as they break down the most (and least) uncertain industries in America.
In the past, they were early, but they were right.
"It is a bad sign for the market when all the bears give up. If no-one is left to be converted, it usually means no-one is left to buy.” The extraordinarily low level of "bearish" outlooks combined with extreme levels of complacency within the financial markets has historically been a "poor cocktail" for future investment success.
History teaches clear lessons about how this episode will end – namely with a decline that wipes out years and years of prior market returns. The fact that few investors – in aggregate – will get out is simply a matter of arithmetic and equilibrium. The best that investors can hope for is that someone else will be found to hold the bag, but that requires success at what I’ll call the Exit Rule for Bubbles: you only get out if you panic before everyone else does. Look at it as a game of musical chairs with a progressively contracting number of greater fools.
Volatility is the academic's choice for defining and measuring risk; but Oaktree Capital's Howard Marks warns Bloomberg TV's Stephanie Ruhle that "while volatility is quantifiable and machinable... it falls far short as 'the' definition of investment risk." In fact, he berates, "I don't think most investors fear volatility. In fact, I've never heard anyone say, 'The prospective return isn't high enough to warrant bearing all that volatility.' What they fear is the possibility of permanent loss." With $91 billion under management, perhaps it's worth listening to (and reading) his perspective: "In brief, if riskier investments could be counted on to produce higher returns, they wouldn’t be riskier. Misplaced reliance on the benefits of risk bearing has led investors to some very unpleasant surprises."
This past week has seen the market repeatedly attempt new "all-time" highs only to be found wanting. There has been plenty of headline data for the "bulls" to feast on from the ECB announcing a program to buy bonds, surging ISM data and improvement in productivity. However, the underlying data has kept the "bears" in the game with new orders and employment showing weakness, unit labor costs shrinking and the realization that the ECB's plans are likely be ineffectual.
The current elevation in asset prices is clearly beginning to reach levels of exuberance particularly in high yield "junk" bonds (and small caps). This time, like every other time before, will eventually end the same. However, while this time "is not different" in terms of outcome, the fundamental level from which the eventual "reversion to the mean" occurs will likely surprise most of the mainstream "bullish" clergy. Take a step back from the media, and Wall Street commentary, for a moment and make an honest assessment of the financial markets today. If your job is to "bet" when the "odds" of winning are in our favor, then exactly how "strong" is the fundamental hand you are currently betting on? (and are you willing toi bet your retirement on it?)
Cognitive biases are an anathema to portfolio management as it impairs our ability to remain emotionally disconnected from our money. As history all too clearly shows, investors always do the "opposite" of what they should when it comes to investing their own money. They "buy high" as the emotion of "greed" overtakes logic and "sell low" as "fear" impairs the decision making process. Here are 5 of the most insidious biases that will keep you from achieving your long term investment goals. As individuals, we are investing our hard earned "savings" into the Wall Street casino. Our job is to "bet" when the "odds" of winning are in our favor. With interest rates at abnormally low levels, inflation rising, economic data continuing the "muddle" through and the Federal Reserve extracting their support; exactly how "strong" is that hand you are betting on?
Echoing Charlie Munger, Oaktree's Howard Marks warns today's institutional and retail investors that "everything that’s important in investing is counterintuitive, and everything that’s obvious is wrong." These words seem critically important at a time when the world and his pet rabbit is a self-proclaimed stock-picking export. Be "uncomfortably idiosyncratic," Marks advises, noting thaty most great investments begin in discomfort as "non-conformists don’t enjoy the warmth that comes with being at the center of the herd." Dare to be different is his message, "dare to be wrong," or as Charlie Munger told him, "it’s not supposed to be easy. Anyone who finds it easy is stupid." While Marks philosophically adds that "being too far ahead of your time is indistinguishable from being wrong," he warns the lulled masses that "you can’t take the same actions as everyone else and expect to outperform."
The market has had a rough start of the year flipping between positive and negative year-to-date returns. However, despite all of the recent turmoil from an emerging markets scare, concerns over how soon the Fed will start to hike interest rates and signs of deterioration in the underlying technical foundations of the market, investors remain extremely optimistic about their investments. It is, of course, at these times that investors should start to become more cautious about the risk they undertake. Unfortunately, the "greed factor," combined with the ever bullish Wall Street "buy and hold so I can charge you a fee" advice, often deafens the voice of common sense. "Not surprisingly, lessons learned in 2008 were only learned temporarily. These are the inevitable cycles of greed and fear, of peaks and troughs."