A CONSEQUENTIAL, MARKET-MOVING EVENT IS IMMINENT

There is one clear and present danger for stocks in the week ahead: the first presidential debate on Monday, September 26 (9 pm EST). Hillary and Donald will face off in an event that rivals the hoopla around Ali and Frazier. Many experts expect TV ratings to top the all-time high of the 2015 Super Bowl, which had 114 million viewers. With Trump now virtually tied with Clinton in many national polls and even ahead in several key battleground states, the fallout on stock prices from the debates could be profound.

Here’s how professional investors are handicapping the binary outcomes from this event: If Trump is the definitive winner of the debate, there could be financial bedlam the next day.

That is not a statement of political preference. The fact is that investors abhor uncertainty, and The Donald brings an almost unprecedented supply of incertitude to the table if elected. Not only does he not have a political history upon which to base an expectation of his future presidential decisions, but the man is known for publicly switching positions on a subject within a single sentence.

Also, many (on both the left and right) consider the potential for global geopolitical turmoil with a Trump presidency to be high, since one of Trump’s main appeals to his supporters is his contempt for other nations and making America “strong again.” During the Republican primaries, he even boasted, “I love war, in a certain way.” Even if Trump is not a trigger-happy Commander-in-Chief, the increased possibility of that risk will bring uncertainty to markets.

On the other hand, Clinton is considered to be a known commodity and “more of the same old politics” by her detractors. After all, she has been in the public eye for a quarter of a century. For these reasons, it is likely that investor uncertainty associated with a Clinton presidency is quite low, and stocks will not be any more affected by a Clinton presidency than any other presidency (except Trump).

Because of the unprecedented TV viewership expected and the potential for virtually anything to happen, the Sept. 26 debate will be an event that many experts believe will determine the outcome of November’s election. While many voters have already made their decision, many others have not and Monday night’s debate will be critical for the two candidates.

With voters having low expectations for him, many experts say that all Trump needs to do to win the debate is to keep his head on his shoulders and act “semi-presidential.” On the other hand, Clinton is a policy wonk and knows the government inside and out. Compared to Trump, voters standards for her presentation are quite high.

An enormous number of investors, both professional and nonprofessional, will pay close attention to the debate and will use the Tuesday’s market open to begin discounting the future certainty/uncertainty of a Clinton/Trump presidency. On a fundamental basis, stocks are extremely overvalued; the S&P 500 is at its second highest, non-recession P/E level since its creation. Also, as discussed above, stocks are at a critical technical tipping point. With a “Bearish Rising Wedge” above and “Triple Bullish Support” below, the tension is palpable.

Should Trump clearly win the debate, we could see a significant sell-off beginning on Tuesday. Depending on how long this selloff continues, it might provide a distinct opportunity to purchase stocks at a discount, which is our specialty. Should Clinton clearly win the debate, we may see a powerful relief rally. There may have never been a more important TV event in the history of America than Monday night’s debate. In many ways, the future of America depends on it – and the near-term future of the stocks might also.

BAD NEWS = GOOD NEWS, YET AGAIN

(This is an excerpt from a recent Value Alert Newsletter, 11/8/2015)

When it comes to stock prices, how much do the anticipated movements of central banks matter when compared to the fundamentals of publicly traded corporations?

Did it matter that in Caterpillar’s (CAT) recent conference call with investors, it disclosed that 2016 revenue would collapse by 5% across all of its market segments? Did investors worry about 3M’s (MMM) intention to reduce its global workforce by 1500 positions because of lousy earnings? No way. Investors now expect substantial financial rewards for taking a risk when central planners engage in what is clearly blatant price manipulation.

Ironically, declines in revenue and earnings from companies like Caterpillar and 3M only confirms the weakness in the global economy, which investors now take as good news. Weaker results increase the likelihood that central banks will step up their stimulus measures.

So does central bank stimulus and low rates make that big of a difference? Just how powerful is the combination of quantitative easing (QE), zero-percent rate policy and even negative-percent rate policy? Omnipotent.

As an example, let’s use the performance of Vanguard Total Stock Market Index (VTI) as it relates to the activities of central banks engaging in QE. As a specific example, in mid-December of 2012, the U.S. Federal Reserve increased its QE3 program to $85 billion per month to buy U.S. Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities. The effect on the stock market, as measured by VTI, was impressive.

All-market index (VTI) 2013-2014

VTI made an average annual return of 24% per year during 2013/2014 with QE3 underway.

VTI opened 2013 at $70.78 and closed 2014 at $104.52. That’s a 48% gain for those two years or an average of 24% return per year. Those are impressive numbers when the long-term annual market average return is closer to 7%. But what happens when the Federal Reserve removes the punch bowl of stimulus?

The US Fed stopped its QE-related asset purchases in mid-December of 2014. The 2015 performance for VTI without QE should give us a clear measure of the effect of the stimulus. VTI opened 2015 at $105.01 and closed on Friday at $107.84 following a wild ride of volatility during Aug, Sept, and Oct. That’s a gain of only 3.2% year-to-date when QE isn’t a factor affecting prices, compared to 24% per year with QE. Imagine what could happen if the Fed soon increases interest rates.

All-stock index (VTI) 2015

However, during 2015, with no QE working, VTI logged a gain of just 3.2%.

These extraordinary financial shenanigans that have carried the market to within a few percent of its all-time high continue to override what have been deteriorating economic fundamentals. Tightening financial market conditions in the form of an interest rate increase will reduce speculation, and market prices will plummet. Because of this, merely the discussion of a rise in interest rates causes the market to dive, as it did in August.

The stock market has been robust with QE in place and sideways and extremely volatile without QE. The single most important factors (sales and profits) used to determine stock valuations and forecast future prices have been in decline on a year-over-year basis since the beginning of 2014 and negative in 2015. Still, stock prices continue to remain near all-time highs based on the ‘Fed Put’ that has been in place since the Alan Greenspan era in the Federal Reserve began.

Most market historians hold former Fed Chairman Greenspan responsible for the low-interest-rate-sparked market bubble associated with the internet enthusiasm in the late 1990′s, as well as the housing-related bubble created in the mid-2000′s by super-low rates that ultimately resulted in the Financial Crisis when the Fed steadily increased rates to a level that was too high. The Federal Reserve has an undeniable history in the last 20 years of creating bubbles, and then in attempting to cool off the overvalued assets, crashing the economy and causing the financial displacement of millions of families. What is their solution to this history? Apparently, more of the same, and this time it could be a real doozy since now we have the entire world on the ‘bubble-creation program.’

AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH: EXPENSIVE PRICES + POOR FUNDAMENTALS = DISASTER

When we made the decision to use ETF’s instead of value stocks in our October 25 Value Alert newsletter, it was a decision based on practicalities. Value stocks have simply stopped working as the bull market has matured. However, we now feel that the entire market is reaching valuations that may be closing in on obscene. Here’s why…

When the October 25, 2015 newsletter (in which we lamented the overvalued conditions) was published, we commented that the S&P 500 P/E ratio was at 18.23 and the Russell 2000 P/E ratio was at 71.7. The average P/E ratio for the S&P 500 since the 1870′s has been about 15.5, so the S&P 500 was slightly elevated two weeks ago. Data for the Russell 2000 is not as readily available, but according to Russell Investments, which introduced the indices in 1984: “The average P/E of the Russell 2000 since 1998 has been approximately 17.0, vs. 13.5 during the period (from 1984 to) 1998.” Therefore, the Russell was extremely overvalued two weeks ago. But now, it has a valuation that is jaw-dropping.

In writing today’s article, I just checked in with the Wall Street Journal Market Data Center to get an update. The S&P 500 P/E ratio is now significantly higher at 23.41, and the Russell 2000 P/E ratio is at a mind-boggling 188.46. Check for yourself.

EARNINGS AND REVENUE RECESSION CONTINUES

Those incredibly high prices are accompanying declining revenues and profits, a trend that we have discussed several times in previous newsletters.

In the current earnings reporting period, nearly one-third of S&P 500 corporations have reported earnings and revenue from the third quarter. With 147 companies reporting so far, profits are down -0.6% and sales are down -2.7% from a year earlier.

151108_declining_revenues_and_earnings_smIt seems logical that several quarters of contraction in earnings and revenue would have weakened stocks. After all, if robust sales and healthy profits are the primary drivers behind price appreciation for publicly traded companies, shouldn’t diminishing sales and dwindling profits lead to price drops for publicly traded corporations?

Welcome to the bizarre world of central-bank planning, worldwide stimulus, and currency wars in a race to the bottom. Despite the plummetting fundamentals, the S&P 500 is within 2% of its all-time high and the Nasdaq 100 set a new all-time high last week. And, of course, the Russell 2000 has the highest PE ratio ever recorded!

The Problem with the Shiller CAPE

Shiller’s “CAPE” Ratio Has Been in “Overvalued” in 24 of the Last 25 Years

There has been no dearth of articles in the business press about how overvalued the market is today. Many of these articles cite the Shiller Cyclically Adjusted P/E ratio (CAPE) as evidence of the overvaluation.  This article looks a little deeper:

Since the historic mean of Shiller’s CAPE is 16.58, last week’s CAPE ratio of 27.52 is a whopping 66% above the mean. However, we’re still far below the all-time high CAPE ratio of 47.2, set intraday on Friday, March 24, 2000 – a peak day for the S&P 500, right before the dot-com bubble burst in April.

The second-highest cyclical P/E peak came in September 1929 at 32.6. The market fell nearly 90% from there, so today’s 27.52 reading seems risky. But times have changed. Since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, earnings have sustained a higher average plateau. As a result, CAPE has traded above “average” for 97% of the last 25 years, including three long, strong bull markets in 1990-2000, 2003-07, and 2009-15.

Last July, economist and Reuters columnist Anatole Kaletsky dissected CAPE in The New York Times:

“Since 1989, the S&P 500 has multiplied eightfold, while total returns, including dividends, have increased the value of an average equity investment 12-fold. But investors who followed Mr. Shiller’s methodology would have missed out on almost all these gains, since the Shiller P/E showed the stock market to be overvalued 97% of the time during this 25 years. And even during the two brief periods when the Shiller P/E was below its long-term average, in early 1990 and from November 2008 to April 2009, it never sent a clear buy signal. Instead, Mr. Shiller’s approach suggested that the valuations in 1990 and 2009 were only just below fair value, implying there was very limited upside at the beginning of bull markets in which prices multiplied fivefold from 1990 to 2000 and threefold from 2009 to 2014 (so far).

“The Shiller P/E’s predictive performance would have been just as bad in earlier decades. During the equity bull market of the 1950s and 1960s, for example, the Shiller P/E would have shown Wall Street to be overvalued for 96% of the 19-year period from early 1955 to late 1973. Only in January 1974 did the Shiller P/E move below what was then its long-run average, implying that it might finally be a ‘safe’ time to buy stocks. Straight after the Shiller P/E sent this first ‘buy signal’ in almost two decades, Wall Street crashed by 40% in 12 months.”

In addition, Deutsche Bank’s Stuart Kirk wrote, “The trouble is that the last two times the CAPE crossed 25 (in 1996 and 2003) the bull market was just getting started and ran for another four years.” In the first example, the S&P 500 went from 614 in December 1995 to 1,485 in August 2000 for a 141% rally. In the second example, the S&P 500 went from 1,038 in September 2003 to 1,520 in 2007 for a 46% gain.

Courtesy https://navellier.com

22 Biases That Will Cause You To Lose Money When Investing

Seventy-five years ago, Benjamin Graham identified the value approach to investing in the books Security Analysis and The Intelligent Investor.  In that time, the value approach created many billionaires and one mega-billionaire (Warren Buffett). However, even with its widespread adoption, the ubiquitous growth of computing power and plethora of freely available financial data, value investing continues to show significant outperformance of the market.

What could cause this advantage to persist when the value approach seems so established and well-worn?  The advantage persists for the same reason that existed when Graham first identified the opportunity: human beings behave irrationally.  While the tools to identify value have progressed dramatically, the human mind has not.  We are all prone to the classic (and very expensive) human biases that have been with us since our predecessors emerged from the caves.

Here are the top 22 biases that can destroy your portfolio (see how many you can personally check off):

1) Denial:  Once locked in, irrational investors hate admitting they’ve made a wrong decision. It’s an ego thing.   So they hang on to losers, even refuse to sell losers. Alternatively, it means you are not as smart as you thought.  Regardless of what it means to you, it is a losing proposition.

2) Attachment:  You fall in love with “special” stocks. You exaggerate virtues, downplay problems and then hold on too long.

3) Extremism bias:  Irrational investors have trouble assessing risk, often bet big, and lose big.  Probable events become inevitable. Unlikely events become impossible. So you are likely to miscalculate your risks.

4) Anchors:  In your mind you tend lock in price targets, like a $100 stock or Dow 18,000, then minimize any data that suggests you’re wrong.

5) Ownership bias:  Once purchased, you value what’s yours even higher, like overvaluing your home.  That blinds you to the real value, adds to your losses.

6) Herd mentality:  For all the talk about macho individuality, the truth is most investors do not think for themselves and tend to follow the crowd, or blindly track some trend.

7) Getting-even bias: You lose, then you try to break even taking extra risk, doubling-down. You get overanxious, overreact, and you lose more.

8) Small-numbers bias:  Making decisions on limited data that’s incomplete and likely exaggerated.

9) Loss aversion:  Many cautious people tend to avoid losses more than seek gains.  That fear keeps investors out of the market too long and in “safe” investments such as Treasury bonds or money market accounts.

10) Pride:  You hate selling losers, hate admitting error.

11) Risk averse:  You take too little risk after a big loss or a losing streak, get too conservative, don’t trust yourself and miss opportunities for higher returns.

12) Myopic bias:  You think recent data is more important than older information. So you may pull back after a losing streak, or ride a winning streak till you lose it.

13) Cognitive dissonance:  You filter out bad news and tend to ignore and discard new information that conflicts with your biases, preconceptions, and belief system.

14) Bandwagon:  You disregard fundamentals.  You think you understand “momentum.”  You conclude that “so many” followers cannot possibly be wrong.

15) Confirmation:  You’re not only critical of any news that contradicts your beliefs, you blindly accept any data that confirms expectations.

16) Rationalization:  You are super-logical and can marshal lots of evidence to back up whatever you first decide to buy, even if it’s based on limited logic and data.

17) Anchoring bias:  You rely too much on readily available data, just because it’s available, even when you know it could be faulty.

18) House money:  You treat winnings as if they belong to the house or casino.  Then you take bigger risks, giving it all back, and then some.

19) Disposition effect:   You tend to lock in gains and hang onto losses, selling shares in an upward-trending market, hanging onto losers too long, similar to loss aversion.

20) Outcome bias:  You judge your decisions on results rather than the context when you made the decision.   That’ll result in misleading you the next time.

21) Sunk-costs bias: You treat money already invested in a stock as more valuable than future opportunities, so you often hang on rather than sell and reinvest.

22) Perfect behavioral storm:  Separately, each bias is bad enough.  Combined, they become bubbles, set you up and wipe you out.  Either way, financial ‘experts’ can easily manipulate you into what they want, blowing bubbles and popping them without you ever knowing what’s happening … manipulating you like a mindless puppet.

OK, you probably have a rough idea of how many of these biases with which you identify.   For example, let’s say you estimate that out of this list of 22 known investors biases, you’ve irrationally made investment decisions based on just five of these bad habits and biases.  That is far more than enough to explain the times when you lost significant money while investing.  The point is that there are many, many ways in which the subconscious, emotional aspect of your human brain can trick you into making mistakes in your investment approach that cause you to lose money.

What’s the solution?  In the words of Warren Buffet, America’s value investor extraordinaire, “An investor will succeed by coupling good business judgement with an ability to insulate his thoughts and behavior from the super-contagious emotions that swirl about the marketplace.”

IntelligentValue.com provides you with business judgment based on 30+ years of equity analysis and portfolio management, insulating you from mistakes rooted in the biases listed above.   We’ll provide detailed stock selection based on quantitative analysis that identifies the best investment opportunities and combine that with rules-based market-risk analysis to avoid the worst return-destroying drawdowns.

Get a Free15-day Trial and a 100% Satisfaction Guarantee at IntellgientValue.com/subscribe.htm (please check to see if memberships are currently available).

The Market Is In a Steady, Upward Trend Channel

The volatility in September and October 2014 brought out the usual ‘the end is near’ crowd calling for a collapse of the bull market.  However, our technical analysis of the market shows that the rally that began in early 2009 is on sound footing and stable.  In this article, we’ll demonstrate that the rally is in a healthy uptrend as well as a clear, rules-based signal to know then the rally is over.

While IntelligentValue.com is devoted to value investing, it is our opinion that technical analysis (TA) – as an adjunct to value analysis – dramatically improves returns in the context of modern equity markets.  We have a substantial amount of empirical evidence, including ten years of market-tromping portfolio performance in IntelligentValue.com with 100%+ annual returns for our two model portfolios that back up that opinion.

Generally speaking, the vast majority of value investors do not give credence to technical analysis.  Most well-known value investors follow the mantra of buying a stock when it is significantly undervalued, then holding it until that value is realized, no matter how long it takes.  For example, Warren Buffet says his favorite holding time is “forever.”

However, today that attitude towards technical analysis is becoming antiquated.  The broad acceptance of the Internet and widespread availability of TA websites for individual investors, as well as  a plethora of TA-based algorithmic hedge-funds and TA-oriented computerized trading centers have inherently turbo-charged the accuracy of technical analysis.

As a result of the internet, there is a massive quantum factor of additional individuals utilizing TA in their investing today than there was even a half-dozen years ago.  The consequence is that investing decisions based on TA are more accurate than ever.

After all, the ‘market’ is simply the collective decisions of many millions of individuals (and computers).  As more follow technical analysis and are using it in their stock purchase and sale decisions, the more those TA techniques become applied to individual stocks and the broad market.  If, for example, the majority of savvy investors believe the market will consolidate at a 50-day moving average, then typically it does just that, regardless of value or news considerations.

We mentioned computers a moment ago.  There is also an enormous effect on the market from computerized trading algorithms, many of which use TA is a cornerstone.  As a result of today’s wide acceptance and use, technical analysis has almost become a ‘self-fulfilling prophesy.’

For this reason, as well as a simple fact that it truly works, IntelligentValue.com uses technical analysis as an adjunct to our fundamental value approach.  Please notice that we emphasized the word adjunct, which means that TA is an enhancement to, not a driver-of our returns.  Fundamental value investing the driver of our returns, but TA goes a long way toward optimizing entry points and minimizing drawdowns.

USING TECHNICAL ANALYSIS IN LONG-TERM INVESTING

It could reasonably be said that the majority of people using technical analysis are short-term traders.  In fact, if you go to a technical-analysis website (Stockcharts.com has a free area), almost all of the default settings on the various indicators apply short-term settings to daily charts.   However, those same technical principles that work on trades using daily, hourly, or even shorter settings also work with weekly and monthly charts.

Since we rebalance our portfolios each weekend for IntelligentValue.com, we base our market timing system on weekly charts.  We publish the results of that rebalance, with analysis of the stocks in our portfolios each Saturday/Sunday. We have found that an intermediate-term investing approach is, by far, the optimum for maximum performance. We are not buy-and-hold value investors, because we cannot achieve the incredible returns we do by holding for extensive periods of time.

We utilize technical indicators to minimize market-related drawdowns, but we are not short-term trading the market. We modify the standard settings of technical indicators to make our entry/exit system investment-oriented instead of trading-oriented. For example, for one technical indicator we use that normally has a standard setting of 20 days, we use a setting of 500 days.

With a weekly rebalance and modified technical indicators, since 2004 we have an average of 1.4 market-risk-related closed positions per year. We hold our stocks an average of 3.6 months and both our portfolios generate long-term annual returns greater than 100%.

We find that technical analysis, when used as an adjunct to a fundamental value investing approach, substantially turbo-charges our performance.  Returns increase by a factor of 300-500% over a system with no consideration of technical entry and exit points and no market timing.

For example, a well-designed value approach without TA may yield 20-40% per annum, but with carefully-crafted TA-based entry and exit points added to take advantage of long-term market volatility, annual returns can reach 150% or more (our DEEP VALUE Portfolio has a long-term annual return of 185%).

WE’RE NOT EVEN CLOSE TO A MARKET COLLAPSE

Many of the pundits who appear in the media continue to forecast a collapse of the U.S. stock market.  The most recent calls for calamity came in the late-September/early-October downturn. While these self-appointed ‘experts’ have been predicting it for years, it just isn’t happening.

The fear that still grips experts and mainstream investors alike following the 2008 crash has caused many to lose money by staying out of the market or even shorting it. This fear has affected both individual and professional investors and is the motivation behind the speculative disaster prophesies. It does not take much at all for the market boo-birds to come out calling for another crash.

A LOGICAL APPROACH FOR DETERMINING WHEN TO EXIT THE MARKET

In the section below, we have charted the small-capitalization Russell 2000 index and the large-cap S&P 500 since the September 2008/March 2009 lows. (NOTE: We use the Russell 2000 small-cap index, with substantial minimum volume requirements for liquidity, as the stock universe for our DEEP VALUE Portfolio.   We use the Russell 1000 mid/large-cap index as the stock universe for our RELATIVE VALUE Portfolio).

As you can see from the charts of these indices below, prices are well within an upward-sloping Trend Channel that we have plotted for the last six years. The channel for each chart has a Primary Trend Line (blue dotted line in the center) with a multitude of touch points (highlighted in yellow) beginning with the 2008/2009 lows and continuing through last week.

There is a parallel Support Line (green dotted line) below the blue Primary Trend Line that runs from the 2008/2009 lows to the present.   For the small-cap Russell 2000, this Support Line is touched at the early October 2014 low.  For the S&P 500, the last time this index touched the green Support Line was in late 2013.   It has stayed above the blue Primary Trend Line for the last year.  For this reason, we believe that this index may be overdue for a correction down to the green Support Line.

We have also plotted a parallel Resistance Line (red dotted line) that runs above the blue Primary Trend Line in both charts.  This line designates the upper resistance to price gains.   The last time the small-cap Russell 2000 touched this line was March 2014.  It has been working its way lower to the green Support Line throughout 2014 and finally reached that level in October 2014.  For this reason, we believe that small-cap stocks may be due for outsized performance gains compared to large-cap stocks.

We show two charts below, one of small-cap stocks (Russell 2000 in Chart 1) and one of large-cap stocks (S&P 500 in Chart 2). Both categories of stocks are well within these precise six-year Trend Channels, and neither index is threatening to break out of those channels to the downside.

CHART 1: RUSSELL 2000 (SMALL-CAP) SIX-YEAR TREND CHANNEL

Russell 2000 Six Year Trend Channel

CHART 1 (click to enlarge): The Russell 2000 index is in a steady uptrend since the 2008/2009 market lows. The touches of the Primary Trend Line with the index have yellow highlights. This chart shows that the rally is healthy.  Chart courtesy of StockCharts.com.


CHART 2: S&P 500 (LARGE-CAP) SIX-YEAR TREND CHANNEL

CHART 2: The S&P 500 index is also in a steady uptrend since the 2008/2009 market lows. Notice that the S&P 500 has been bumping along  the upper Resistance Line for all of 2014, with the exception of the mid-October 2014 drop to the middle Primary Trend Line (blue). There is no sign whatsoever that the six-year bull rally is threatened. Chart courtesy of StockCharts.com.

CHART 2 (click to enlarge): The S&P 500 index is also in a steady uptrend since the 2008/2009 market lows. Notice that the S&P 500 has been bumping along the upper Resistance Line for all of 2014, with the exception of the mid-October 2014 drop to the middle Primary Trend Line (blue). There is no sign whatsoever that the six-year bull rally is threatened.

Using the trend lines shown in the charts above, we can see a very precise channel from the September 2008/March 2009 lows to present with a multitude of touch points over the course of six years.   You have to admit; the accuracy of these trend lines is compelling.

In a trend channel, the upper and lower Resistance and Support Lines as well as the Primary Trend Line must all be parallel to one another.   The market does not necessarily have to stay within the channel 100% of the time.  In fact, the Trend Lines are more of a general area around which prices coalesce.  Sometimes prices will stay just above a Trend Line and sometimes just below.

However, a Trend Channel should provide a clear demarcation of Support and Resistance levels over long periods of time. The channels in the two charts above accomplish that objective and provide us with a clear basis for stating that the bull market rally that began in 2009 is alive and well!

Investors would be wise to rely on these channels to determine when to exit stocks, rather than rely on speculation of coming developments or valuation measures that historically have low correlation to future stock prices.

WHAT WILL THE MARKET DO FROM HERE?

After bouncing off the green Support Line in mid-October 2014, the Russell 2000 Index rose recently to just above its Primary Trend Line (blue line in the middle of the channel). For the S&P 500, prices are dropping from the upper Resistance Line (red line at the top of the channel), but this index has not seen prices drop to the lower Support Line (green) since late 2012. As long as prices stay above the green Support Line, the uptrend will remain intact, so there is plenty of room to maneuver while staying within this range.

It is possible for us to estimate a range of prices for the market within the trend lines. We measure upper Resistance Line (dotted red line) being 12% above the Primary Trend Line while the lower Support line (dotted-green line) is 9% below the center Primary Trend Line.   In prices, that calculates out to be a current upper range around 1316 and the current lower range down to 1070 on the Russell 2000.

For the S&P 500, the current upper range in its trend channel tops out around 2040, where it peaked recently.  The lower Support Line of the channel is all the way down at about 1800.  Is it possible that large-cap stocks, which have done extremely well over the last two years, are now due for a selloff?  It appears that’s exactly ehat’s happening.  Will small-cap Russell 2000 stocks now take the lead in a ‘great rotation’ of market cap stocks?

No predictions here.  Our policy is to observe and react, not speculate.

However, both the small-cap Russell 2000 and the large-cap S&P 500 (and all other indices) are clearly moving within these very steady Trend Channels.   Until we see a change in that dynamic, we don’t expect a major disruption of the market.  Volatility within the Trend Channel, yes. But a crash?   We’re not even close.

Subscribers to IntelligentValue.com get our weekly updates with analysis of both the market and the undervalued stocks we hold in our high-return portfolios.

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The Status of the Economy

Many are saying that the recent weakness in small-cap stocks is an indication that the economy is about to enter a recession.  However, value investors believe it’s foolish to look towards the market for advice on the economy.  Instead, we view the market as a potentiator of stock-buying opportunities.  Rather than the market, we watch employment statistics and the yield curve.  Those two economic indicators have a 100% accurate record of predicting downturns since 1932.

Unemployment continues to drop and after last month’s 288,000 increase in jobs, the unemployment rate has reached a five-year low of 6.3%, dropping from 10% in early 2009.  We would need to see a couple of month’s reversal of that trend to signify an economic downturn.

140525_unemployment_chart
Chart 1: The unemployment rate continues to drop as the economy strengthens. Courtesy of Bureau of labor Statistics.

The Yield Curve is the difference between the yield on 3-month Treasury Bills and 30-year Treasury Bills.  A steep yield curve indicates that investors are not yet piling into short-term bonds in an effort to avoid an economic downturn.  A flat yield curve indicates that investors are buying up the short-term bonds, and the demand has forced yields as high or higher than long-term thirty-year bonds.

Chart 2 below shows the flat yield curve at the end of 2007, just before the 2008 recession hit while Chart 3 shows today’s yield curve which is about as steep as it has ever been.  You can see an animated version of these charts for 1999 to present at StockCharts.com.

The yield curve goes flat when the economy is overheating, and smart money recognizes that fact, moving money into the safety of bonds.  However, instead of growth that causes overheating, we see steady growth of about 2.5%, accompanied by low inflation. Today’s economy is about as good as it can get: slow but steady growth with no signs of overheating, the perfect combination for long-term value investors.

140525_yield_curve_2007
Chart 2: The yield curve before the last recession was almost inverted.

140525_yield_curve_2014
Chart 3: The yield curve today is still very steep.

Having said all that, it has been three years (2011 debt-ceiling fiasco) since we have seen a surprise-shock to the economy, and we are overdue.  The corporate profit margins, as well as the Graham 10-year PE ratio, are also at historic highs and can’t remain there forever.  Therefore, we will maintain a conservative posture and continue to use fixed stops (on a closing basis) at this time.  We will be taking those stops off as soon as we see confirmation of the market upturn discussed below.

Why a Cash Recommendation is Just as Valuable as a Stock Recommendation

We are holding a high amount of cash (60%) in our three portfolios at this time; we are not adding any new stocks again this week, and we have tight stops on each of our existing positions.  This is at a time when the overall market (represented by the S&P 500) is hitting fresh all-time highs.  So what’s the problem? Why aren’t we taking advantage of this bull market?

In the past, many IntelligentValue subscribers would choose to leave us about now, ostensibly because they felt that their subscription was payment for the regular disclosure of good stock picks.  If we didn’t have those undervalued stock picks listed each week consistently, apparently some felt they were shortchanged and subsequently cancelled their subscription.

This pattern of behavior is unfortunate, because the advice to hold cash in a portfolio (either partially or completely) is just as valuable as a recommendation to purchase particular individual stocks.  Because of the high cash condition of our portfolios again this week, I’m going to elaborate briefly on why this is true.  To some, this discussion may be blatantly obvious, but to others it’s not so clear why cash is an advantage.   If you’re in the former group, please consider this a brief refresher article.  If you’re in the latter group, please pull up a chair.

“There are two times in a man’s life when he should not speculate: when he can’t afford it and when he can.”
– Mark Twain


THE  TEMPTATION OF THE QUICK BUCK

The majority of market participants follow approaches that provide no real hope of long-term gain.  In fact, most pursue avenues that hold the chance of considerable financial loss and resemble outright gambling more than they do investments.  It’s easy for the undisciplined individual to fall prey to investment schemes that promise quick and easy gains.

The temptation of making a quick buck is high, and the majority of investors are unable to fight the influence of the crowd.  This activity is invariably focussed on stock prices and speculation of where those prices might go next, rather than a clear and thorough analysis of a business’s fundamentals.

After all, fundamental analysis is difficult, and surely anyone can easily see that the latest hot technology stock will quickly grow into its 175 PE ratio!  “There’s no analysis needed to anticipate that gain,” they reason.  Plus, “Everyone on TV is talking about that stock and how could everyone be wrong?”  This kind of flawed logic is rife in the investment world, both with individual investors and professionals.

THE SOURCE OF THE INTELLECTUAL CORRUPTION

In many ways, Wall Street functions as a giant casino where the collection of commissions and fees easily trumps any fiduciary responsibility a firm may have to their clients.  Wall Street is clearly more concerned with the volume of trading than it is with their client’s financial success.  This can be attributed to up-front fees being charged on every transaction, which provides the entire structure of the Wall Street machine with an incentive to promote the volume of trading over successful investing.

In this atmosphere, Wall Street’s drive for commissions coerces the entire system into a short-term trading mentality.  The concept of investing in America has developed into a speculative gambling enterprise, with the ‘house’ consistently winning.  Stocks become less a document of partial ownership in a business and more a digital ‘chip’ that is traded endlessly back and forth.

The speculative churning of stocks seeps into every nook and cranny of the investment world.  Institutional money managers face pressures that force them to join a short-term relative performance derby.  In this race, the risk of portfolio losses on their job security is great.  In an effort to avoid losses, many engage in indexing, which is a sure-fire recipe for mediocrity.  This base of holdings is then supplemented by short-term investment fads and the latest, most popular stocks as a way to stay ahead of the ever-present S&P 500 benchmark.

These money managers can rest assured that their quarterly reports to their clients are greeted with gusto when the most popular names comprise the investment list.  However, historically only 3% of money managers beat the S&P and the majority actually lose money over any given 10-year period, so this approach is most assuredly not working out well for the clients.

For individual investors, the frenzied atmosphere of the market, which includes breaking headlines continuously fed to their inbox and TV channels with one ‘expert’ after another, supplemented by regular features about ‘fast money,’ leads many to become enmeshed in the short-term chase for returns.  In this environment, stocks are more like commodities than certificates of ownership in a business.

THE GUESSING GAME POSING AS INFORMED ADVICE

As the daily parade of experts on TV give their opinions about what to expect next, you constantly hear phrases such as “I think,” “I believe,” and “we expect.”  In essence, these gurus and experts are just giving their opinions, which are merely guesses.  As soon as the opinion is projected out in airwaves across the world, it is quickly forgotten by the speaker because we find them back on the show a week later giving an entirely different forecast, oblivious to the fact that their previous guess turned out to be 100% incorrect.

The stock-market community is obsessed with something that is diametrically opposed to a rational approach to investing, i.e., forecasting the future.  Value-investing great Seth Klarman said it well:

“Speculators are obsessed with predicting—guessing—the direction of stock prices. Every morning on cable television, every afternoon on the stock market report, every weekend in Barron’s, every week in dozens of market newsletters, and whenever businesspeople get together, there is rampant conjecture on where the market is heading.  In reality, no one knows what the market will do; trying to predict it is a waste of time, and investing based upon that prediction is a speculative undertaking.”
– Seth Klarman

 

This speculation of what will happen in the future is a fool’s game.  However, it’s the same game that has been played over centuries using crystal balls, tarot cards, and tea leaves.  It’s disappointing that with so much fundamental business information now available at their fingertips, the majority still depend on the predictions of investment soothsayers to tell them what will happen tomorrow or next week.

Most so-called ‘investment professionals’ that appear in the media are really ‘speculation professionals,’ because they are advocating short-term bets based on predictions of market fluctuations rather than making intelligent long-term investment decisions based on business fundamentals.

The majority of market participants are caught up in the comfortable atmosphere of speculative consensus, a world where the emotional responses of greed and fear dictate short-term decision-making.  However,  as addictive as it is, the excitement of hitting the ‘buy’ and ‘sell’ buttons with an online broker and taking a ‘flyer’ on the latest hot stock is truly asinine behavior.  It is the definition of ‘speculation,’ which is another word for gambling.

There’s one critical difference between investors and speculators that should be important to you: investors have a good chance of achieving long-term gains, while speculators are likely to lose money over time.

WHY QUANTITATIVE VALUE INVESTING WORKS

Quantitative value investing is the antithesis of the speculative activities that dominate the stock market today. There are several crucial ways in which value investing differs from all other styles of investing.

First of all, it is based upon the quantitative analysis of a company’s fundamentals, i.e., its book value, its cash flow, its capital expenditures, its return on equity, etc. Based on these fundamental aspects of the business, we can assign a reasonable value. Purchasing at a substantial discount to this value is the key to unlocking the world of investment gains (more on this in a moment).

Secondly, there is little or no forecasting of the future involved in quantitative value investing (at least the way IntelligentValue practices the art).  Any discipline that depends upon forecasts of the future is risky, vulnerable to error every step of the way.   We base our value analysis strictly on conditions as they exist today, not extrapolations or predictions of the future.

The typical speculative approach to stocks includes the daunting task of predicting the unpredictable, whether it is oil production next year, next quarter’s GDP figure or a particular company’s net earnings next year. You also have to accomplish this mission faster and more efficiently than thousands of other very smart individuals.  Is an impossible game you would be wise to avoid.

Thirdly, quantitative value investing is a risk-averse approach.  We are looking to purchase at a discount to the company’s intrinsic value. In the words of Warren Buffett, it’s the concept of purchasing a dollar bill for forty cents.  We seek to find a margin of safety in our investments to protect us from loss of capital.  On the other hand, speculative investing is a greater-fools game. You’re hoping someone else will pay a higher price for an asset when the price may be entirely unrelated to the asset’s value.

Consider Amazon, currently with a shockingly high PE of 871. Will someone pay a higher price than that?  Perhaps. Perhaps not. But Amazon investors are hoping someone will buy their shares at a higher price based wholly on speculation that it will someday make a reasonable profit.

In value investing, we have a good idea of what an asset is worth and are paying for the stock at a safe margin below that value.  Amazon’s stock could shoot higher, or the bottom could fall out based upon the next company-related headline, either positive or negative.

And a fourth difference is that value investors maintain cash balances at times.  We maintain a cash balance when we are unable to find attractive, undervalued opportunities, and put that cash to work when those opportunities become available.  We’re not afraid at all to hold a significant amount or even 100% cash in our portfolio if we are unable to find stock ideas that meet our margin of safety requirements.

The result of our quantitative value-investing approach is apparent: returns greater than 100% annually and never a losing year (even in the 2008 market collapse we made a solid return).  On the other hand, the speculative approach that dominates the market, while potentially exciting, is a losing game.

WAIT FOR THE OPPORTUNITY

Successful investors tend to be unemotional, allowing the greed and fear of others to play into their hands.  The rampant speculation that rules the market is an edge that value investors can exploit to their financial advantage.  Currently, we are finding few stocks that meet our quantitative standards for selection.  The most likely reason for this is that stocks are somewhat overvalued.

At times like these, it pays a value investor to maintain their discipline and hold cash even if the overall market is setting new highs.  Turn off CNBC, Bloomberg, and Fox Business, cancel your subscription to the Wall Street Journal, and put aside Forbes.  Those are all media that thrive on the Wall Street volume-at-any-cost machine and cause unnecessary distractions for value investors.

For years, investors have been given the message by the ‘machine’ that they need to stay totally informed about conditions of the market in order to anticipate changes, get ideas, and speculate on the future.

You will be better-served by ignoring the media and instead following our value-based stock selections, which means holding cash at times until our quantitative systems reveal fresh undervalued opportunities. There’s a substantial reason our portfolios are mostly in cash at this time, and we believe our systematic approach will be proven correct again.

Stick with the program! Our 100%+ annual returns have proven the case for this admonition year after profitable year since our launch in 2004.

True Value Investors are a Rare Breed

‘TEMPORARY LOSERS’ ARE THE MOST PROFITABLE INVESTMENTS

No rational investor claims to be seeking to buy the most expensive stocks.  Of course, everyone wants to buy a stock low and sell it high, but what is it that sets ‘true value investors’ – who are actually quite rare – apart from other investors?  And what sets ‘Deep Value’ investors (even more rare, indeed) apart from ‘regular’ value investors?  Consider the different types of investors:

1) TECHNICAL (PRICE-BASED) INVESTORS

First, let’s consider the technical analysts. This group of investors almost abhor fundamental analysis. They typically study past price patterns and volume levels seeking to extrapolate and infer future price movements from those historical patterns of supply and demand. Technicians care nothing about a stock’s fundamental aspects, never considering a company’s balance sheet or earnings power in the analysis.  Instead, they plot charts of price patterns in the past and seek to infer future patterns from the past patterns.  Technical analysis lends itself to very short-term (frequently day- or even hourly trading), which is something most investors neither have the time nor inclination for doing.

Does technical analysis work as an investment approach?  Sure, it works for some. We even use it ourselves as an enhancement to (not a driver of) our approach, but we know of no investors who claim to have become millionaires or billionaires from a purely technical approach, do you? On the other hand, many investors can bring to mind a half-dozen or more names of billionaires from the world of value investing.  But first let’s examine some other more common alternative investment investing approaches…

2) MACRO-FUNDAMENTALISTS

Macrofundamentalists are concerned with broad economic factors that affect stocks as a whole.  These investors are interested in things such as interest rates, unemployment rates, gross domestic product (GDP), and business cycles.  This top-down approach starts with the overall economy and works its way down to specific sectors and then to specific companies.  Like any other investor, macrofundamentalists seek to buy low and sell high, and they hope that their superior analysis of the overall economy will allow them the privilege of doing that.  Again, I don’t know many macrofundamentalist  billionaires, although there may be one.

3) MICRO-FUNDAMENTALISTS

The type of investors who analyze specific companies, taking apart the financial aspects of each, are called micro-fundamentalists.  Even among microfundamentalists, value investors in the tradition of Graham and Dodd are very rare. The common approach of microfundamentalists begins with the current price of the stock as the point of departure in analyzing a company.

These investors research how the price of the stock has reacted historically to changes in earnings, changes in the company’s industry,  changes in the product channel (i.e., channel checks), improvements in product technology and new product development (think Apple). Others focus on management of the company, and management shakeups (think Hewlett-Packard or Yahoo) as the starting point of their investment.  These microfundamentalists try to anticipate how changes to these various factors are going to affect the future price of the stock.  Again, because of their self-perceived expertise, they believe they can estimate future prices better than the next analyst, thereby buying low and selling later at a higher price.

Another style of microfundamentalist investor places all of their attention on company earnings. We all know how much brouhaha surrounds ‘earnings season’ every quarter, and how the TV-business news channels like to make a big, dramatic announcements when a popular company’s earnings ‘surprise the street.’

Many microfundamentalists focus their efforts on analyzing and predicting (using what they hope is a greater degree of effectiveness than other approaches) a company’s future earnings. When they find a stock that they believe is underpriced compared to their estimate of future earnings growth, they buy. They believe they are buying low- and based upon their superior knowledge of the future – they intend on selling high. At least that is the foundation of their hope.

Those are the primary types of investors in the world: 1) Technical Analysts, 2) Macrofundamentalists with a top-down analysis, 3)Microfundamentalists focusing on company-specific events that might impact the stock, or 4) Microfundamentalists who think they have a sharper insight into a company’s earnings prospect. These categories account for 90% or more of all investment approaches.

Two Consistent Themes

There are two consistent themes among each of these common investment approaches.  One is a focus on anticipated changes in prices, and the second consistent theme is a focus on estimations of future events.

If you listen to any of the television business-news channels with these two themes in mind,  you will hear them over and over and over. Each of the guests is promoting his own style of expertise, and almost to a man they are making a prediction about the change of prices based on an estimated outcome in the future.  One will say they ‘expect Apple to have strong price performance going into the third and fourth quarter as a result of the introduction of a new iPhone.’  Another will say they expect the prices of materials and industrial stocks to surge higher as the economy picks up steam going into next year.   If you listen to the TV news channels, or read any of the printed investment newspapers, you will hear these approaches to investing over and again.

4) VALUE – THE RARE APPROACH

True value investing in the Graham and Dodd tradition makes no estimation whatsoever of the future. True value investing starts with a careful analysis of the present value of the company - assigning a per-share worth, and then looks at the current level of a stock’s price compared to the current underlying value of the company.  Once the value of a company is determined by careful micro-fundamental analysis, and a ‘margin of safety’ (usually 30% or more) is subtracted from that value, the true value investor can determine whether a specific stock is an attractive or unattractive prospect.

Under no circumstance is an estimation of future outcomes factored into the analysis. The value investor does not start with the stock’s price – the true value investor starts with the underlying company’s intrinsic value, then compares the stock price to the intrinsic price, seeking a bargain.  The bargain is the key aspect of the value approach. This is also why true value investing is the LEAST RISKY approach to investing: you are buying at less than fair market/liquidation value!

The best estimation of a true bargain is buying a stock below the value of the company’s liquid assets. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s a beautiful thing! This is really the goal of ‘DEEP VALUE’ investing. We seek to purchase the beaten-down stock of weakened companies, companies where it is unclear if they will survive.

This is why true value investing is a very rare approach. Many thousands of people will tell you that they are ‘value investors,’ but they aren’t – at least in the classic, Graham and Dodd sense. Most are simply micro-fundamentalists that are pinning their hopes on an estimation of the future and a guess that the stock’s price will be higher tomorrow than it is today. Estimating the future and guessing outcomes based on those estimates is a very poor way to invest for the future, but that’s how its usually done.

Each of the investment approaches we discussed earlier is a valid approach if pursued carefully and diligently, but the key is that there is an estimation of the future involved in each of those approaches, and as far as we know, no one has the proverbial crystal ball to consistently and flawlessly to forecast the future.

You are apparently a member of the small group of individuals who recognize this fact and see true, Graham and Dodd-oriented, Deep-Value investing as the clear choice for you. We’ll help you with insights and stock suggestions that meet this choice.

To join IntelligentValue.com now and get instant access to our VALUE portfolios which have truly phenomenal returns, go to this link: http://www.intelligentvalue.com/subscribe.htm.  Get a special 2-week trial forFREE with a full Money-Back Guarantee if you continue!

INTELLIGENTVALUE – OUR MISSION

IntelligentValue.com was founded with a mission to assist individuals in their effort to achieve consistently outstanding investment returns through the dedicated practice of the value approach to selecting stocks.

CLASSIC VALUE INVESTING

To accomplish this goal, we start with Classic Value Investing as taught by the ‘Grandfather of Value Investing,’ Benjamin Graham, which focuses on buying the stock of quality companies when their shares are selling at a significant ‘margin of safety’ below the true value of those shares.

In the world of private business M&A, there is rarely a reason that a company would sell for less than its intrinsic value, or in rare circumstances, at its breakup, firesale value. However, in the world of publicly traded companies, we are sometimes able to buy the stock of firms that are selling at a significant discount to their true value – at no fault of their own.  Frequently, the market simply dips because of worry over this or that issue.

We optimize the likelihood of outsized gains by purchasing ownership in publicly held corporations at those rare times when their stock is selling at a deep discount to their intrinsic value. The investment is then sold when those shares are selling equal to, or at a premium to, that inherent value.

MARKET TREND IDENTIFICATION TO AVOID DEEP DRAWDOWNS

IntelligentValue.com takes classic value investing one more step by using the power of computers to develop and track a proprietary composite indicator that helps us determine the turn points of market trends before their occurrence.

In this way we are able to reduce exposure during MARKET DOWN periods and then purchase a fresh, new set of undervalued positions when we receive a MARKET UP signal. The result is incredible returns – far greater than the returns we would be able to achieve without our ‘Intelligent Market Timing Model.’ Subscribers to IntelligentValue.com get the clear signals from the timing system as well as multiple value-based portfolios to choose from. We even have ALTERNATIVE Portfolios that stay invested 95% of the time so that subscribers will always have an option for choosing the best undervalued stocks.

THE SERVICES WE OFFER FOR VALUE INVESTORS

Since our launch in September 2004, IntelligentValue.com has been a proven tool for sophisticated individual investors as well as part-timers and amateurs alike. The information, analysis, and value-investing tools provided are unparalleled by any other site or newsletter.

1) MODEL PORTFOLIOS: We provide three categories of model portfolios, including ‘Value-Plus,’ ‘Guru,’ and ‘Alternative.’ Each category has several selections from which to choose. These model portfolios are time-tested and we provide the back-test data and charts, factors and formulas used, closed-position returns, and detailed performance analysis so that you can understand the basis for each portfolio and choose the one(s) that best fit your objectives. Real-time performance as well as clear charts, detailed statistics, and clear listing of the returns of each position make these model portfolios incredibly useful.

2) INTELLIGENT MARKET TIMING MODEL (IMTM): This proven market-timing system has been in operation for almost 10 years now, carefully amended and refined along the way, assisting our subscribers in dramatically improving their investment returns by reducing losses and turbocharging portfolio gains.

For example, our most recent two market signals were a MARKET UP signal on NOVEMBER 18, 2012, and a MARKET DOWN signal on FEBRUARY 21, 2013. A look at the chart  of any major index (S&P 500, etc.) will show you that these two calls, as well as many before over the last 8 to 10 years were right on the money. By using an almost foolproof method of identifying market trends, we are able to optimize our returns by purchasing at definite lows and selling at definite highs. The result is incredibly increased returns. Over the course of a few years, returns can sometimes be doubled or better.

3) INTELLIGENTVALUE ALERTS:  We publish highly informative ‘Market Alert’ and ‘Value Alert’ newsletters whenever there is a significant change in the market – or new, value-based stocks that we want to financially analyze. These newsletters are not published on any established schedule, but are published when there is a real reason to alert you to an important event.

Put together, the features of IntelligentValue are unparalleled by any other investment tool available for the intelligent individual investor. If you’re not already a subscriber, please check out our Subscribe Page to see just how inexpensive it is to get all the tools and benefits of IntelligentValue.com!