Steve Selengut

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A participant in the morning Working Capital Model (WCM) investment workshop observed: I’ve noticed that my account balances are returning to their (June 2007) levels. People are talking down the economy and the dollar. Is there any preemptive action I need to take?

An afternoon workshop attendee spoke of a similar predicament, but cautioned that (with new high market value levels approaching) a repeat of the June 2007 through early March 2009 correction must be avoided— a portfolio protection plan is essential!

What are they missing?

These investors are taking pretty much for granted the fact that their investment portfolios had more than merely survived the most severe correction in financial market history. They had recouped all of their market value, and maintained their cash flow to boot. The market averages remain 40% below their 2007 highs.

Their preemptive portfolio protection plan was already in place — and it worked amazingly well, as it certainly should for anyone who follows the general principles and disciplined strategies of the WCM.

But instead of patting themselves on the back for their proper preparation and positioning, here they were, lamenting the possibility of the next dip in securities’ prices. Corrections, big and small, are a simple fact of investment life whose origination point, unfortunately, can only be identified using rear view mirrors.

Investors constantly focus on the event instead of the opportunity that the event represents. Being retrospective instead of hindsightful helps us learn from our experiences. The length, depth, and scope of the financial crisis correction were unknowns in mid-2007. The parameters of the current advance are just as much of a mystery— today.

The WCM forces us to prepare for cyclical oscillations by requiring: (a) that we take reasonable profits quickly whenever they are available, (b) that we maintain our “cost-based” asset allocation formula using long-term (like retirement, Bunky) goals, and that we slowly move into new opportunities only after downturns that the “conventional wisdom” identifies as correction level— i. e., twenty percent.

So, a better question, concern, or observation during a rally (Yes, Virginia, seven consecutive months to the upside is a rally.), given the extraordinary performance scenario that these investors acknowledge, would be: What can I do to take advantage of the market cycle even more effectively— the next time?

The answer is as practically simple as it is emotionally difficult. You need to add to portfolios during precipitous or long term market downturns to take advantage of lower prices— just as you would do in every other aspect of your life. You need first to establish new positions, and then to add to old ones that continue to live up to WCM quality standards.

You need to maintain your asset allocation by adding to income positions properly, and monitor cost based diversification levels closely. You need to apply cyclical patience and understanding to your thinking and hang on to the safety bar until the climb back up the hill makes you smile. Repeat the process. Repeat the process. Repeat the process.

The retrospective?

The WCM was nearly fifteen years old when the robust 1987 rally became the dreaded “Black Monday”, (computer loop?) correction on October 19th. Sudden and sharp, that 50% or so correction proved the applicability of a methodology that had fared well in earlier minor downturns.

According to WCM guidelines, portfolio “smart cash” was building through August; new buying overtook profit taking early in September, and continued well into 1988.

Ten years later, there was a slightly less disastrous correction, followed by clear sailing until 9/11. There was one major difference: the government didn’t kill any companies or undo market safeguards that had been in place since the Great Depression.

Dot-Com Bubble! What dot-com bubble?

Working Capital Model buying rules prohibit the type of rampant speculation that became Wall Street vogue during that era. The WCM credo after the bursting was: “no NASDAQ, no Mutual Funds, no IPOs, no problem.” Investment Grade Value Stocks (IGVSI stocks) regained their luster as the no-value-no-profits securities slip-slided away into the Hudson.

Embarrassed Wall Street investment firms used their influence to ban the “Brainwashing” book and sent the authorities in to stifle the free speech of WCM users— just a rumor, really.

Here we are once again. For the sixth time in the thirty-five years since its development, Working Capital Model operating systems are proving themselves to be an outstanding market cycle management methodology.

And what was it that the workshop participants didn’t realize they had— a preemptive portfolio protection strategy for the entire market cycle. One that even a caveman can learn to use effectively.

Article Source: Articles Engine

Steve Selengut
Sanco Services
Kiawah Golf Investment Seminars
Author: “The Brainwashing of the American Investor: The Book that Wall Street Does Not Want YOU to Read” and “A Millionaire’s Secret Investment Strategy”.

During every correction, I encourage investors to avoid the destructive inertia that results from trying to determine: “How low can we go?” and/or “How long will this last?” Investors who add to their portfolios during downturns invariably experience higher values during the next advance. Yes, Virginia, just as certainly as there is a Santa Claus, there is another market advance in our future. And despite a still much too high DJIA, we are in the seventh month of a correction. (The eighth month if you own income securities.)

Corrections are part of the normal “shock market” menu, and can be brought about by either bad news or good news. (Yes, that’s what I meant to say.) Investors always over-analyze when prices become weak and lose their common sense when prices are high, thus perpetuating the “buy high, sell low” Wall Street line dance. Waiting for the perfect moment to jump into a falling market is as foolish a strategy as taking losses on investment grade companies and holding cash.

Repetition is good for the brain’s CPU, so forgive me for reinforcing what I’ve said in the face of every correction since 1979… if you don’t love corrections, you really don’t understand the financial markets. Don’t be insulted, it seems as though very few financial professionals want you to see it this way and, in fact, Institutional Wall Street loves it when individual investors panic in the face of uncertainty. Psstt, uncertainty is the regulation playing field for investors, and hindsight isn’t welcome in the stadium.

A closer examination of the news that’s fit to print (but isn’t printed often enough) should make you more confident about the years ahead, whatever your politics. There is still plenty of good news, but neither the media nor the presidential hopefuls pay much attention to it: (1) Employment, jobs, and unemployment numbers could be worse. (2) Manufacturing numbers aren’t all that bad. (3) The inflation rate is historically low. (4) Interest rates are closer to historical lows than to hysterical highs. (5) Durable goods orders are fine. (6) Corporate earnings reports have been relatively strong. (7) Corporate dividend payouts have not been cut. (8) Our economy is still the biggest and strongest in the world, in spite of government efforts to prevent that from continuing. (9) We have had two consecutive mild hurricane seasons.

The bad news isn’t all that bad either, pretty much the same ole stuff: (1) There’s always been a war of some kind, particularly in the Middle East. (2) Energy prices are high, but I still don’t see any gas lines, or any new exploration or refining capacity in North America. More than half the cars you see are SUV gas-guzzlers. (3) Trade deficits, and jobs leaving the country are really not news; they are the result of misguided tax and tariff policies. (4) High consumer debt. New? Not. (5) The terrorism threat has been a major serious problem for the past how many years? We’re trying to deal with it. (6) The federal regulatory agencies probably do more damage to the economy than everything else combined. (7) Social Security, the IRC, and health care are still the major problems we face and continually ignore, even in election years.

Clearly, there are no new economic problems (credit problems don’t qualify as new) to be overly concerned about. And for now, we simply have to deal with the opportunities at hand. The credit crunch has artificially forced fixed income prices down and yields up… Opportunity One! Economic news, recession (with inflation) fears, and the popularity of Equity based derivatives have caused Investment Grade Value Stock prices to trend downward… Opportunity Two! These forces of are intersecting with the Market Cycle, something Wall Street tries to ignore and the media constantly misunderstands. Markets move in both directions, it’s their thing, just like politicians changing their minds… Opportunities One and Two, squared!

There is an Investment Mindset Solution for the problems that most people have dealing with corrections, and rallies too, for that matter. I’ve never understood why “yard sale prices” here are so scary. Prices of high quality securities always seem to bounce back eventually. And there need be no rush for this to happen…

In recent years, Wall Street and the media have turned the process of investing into a competitive event of Olympic proportions and stature. What was once a long term (a year is not long term), goal directed activity, has become a series of monthly and quarterly sprints. The direction of the market isn’t nearly as important as the actions we take in anticipation of the next change in direction. Performance evaluation needs to be “rethunk” in terms of cycles!

The problems, and the solutions, boil down to focus, understanding, and retraining. You need to focus on the purposes of the securities in the portfolio. You need to understand and accept the normal behavior of your securities in the face of different environmental conditions. You need to overcome your obsession with calendar period Market Value analysis, and embrace a more manageable asset allocation approach that centers on your portfolio’s Working Capital. You need to elect new people who know how to connect the economic dots, and who remember that “the business of America is business”.

But for now, relax and enjoy this correction. It’s your invitation to the fun and games of the next rally, when you will see that correction is spelled o-p-p-o-r-t-u-n-i-t-y.

Article Source: Articles Engine

Steve Selengut
Professional Portfolio Management since 1979
Author of: “The Brainwashing of the American Investor: The Book that Wall Street Does Not Want YOU to Read”, and “A Millionaire’s Secret Investment Strategy”

Whatever happened to the Stock Market Cycle; the Interest Rate Cycle; Baby Jane? How did Wall Street get away with pushing these facts of financial life down the basement stairs? Most investors, I’m beginning to believe, and all financial advisors, media representatives, and market gurus have abandoned these fascinating curves for the comfort of a straight-edged twelve-month playing field… simple, yes; realistic, not. I have to wonder if things would be different with a more investor-friendly tax-code, but that would be far less lucrative for The Wizards…

Investing with a calendar year focus has no basis in the realities of finance, business, or economics… isn’t it obvious that the Stock and Bond Markets are far more closely related to the Business Cycle than to the Earth’s around the Sun? Investopedia reports that, during the last sixty years, most business cycles have lasted three to five years from peak-to-peak. The Stock Market Cycle (in terms of the S & P 500 Average) is the period of time between the two latest highs of that average which are separated by at least a 15% decline in the average. The second high needs only to be 15% above the nadir, it doesn’t have to represent a new All Time High (ATH). Interest rates (based on the 10 Year Treasury Bond), seem to cycle in the two to five year range, and are much more closely related to Business or Economic cycles than they are to the Stock Market Cycle. Confused?

Well, you should be. Although they are closely intertwined, none of these financial realities are predictable and, therefore, need to be dealt with as hindsightful tools in the performance analysis process… a process that needs to be undertaken using personalized expectations. How many times in the last 20 years do you think that any of these cycles peaked on a December 31st? The “I’ll try this approach for a year or so and then change if it doesn’t work out better than everything else” mentality, combined with a regressive tax code that rewards losses more than gains, has killed cyclical analysis dead. It’s time to get back on our hogs and try something old. Let’s re-cycle peak-to-peak analysis like we do plastics and paper products. It might just put more “green” in our retirement programs. As recently as 1980, Separate Account (the first Mutual Funds) Investment Managers were reporting fund performance in terms of income generation and peak-to-peak growth in Market Value. But that was before investing became the number-two spectator sport in America.

Few investment professionals would argue with the observation that a viable investment program begins with the development of a realistic plan, and most would agree that investment planning requires the identification of long-term personal goals and objectives. Some experts would even agree that the end result should be a near autopilot, long-term and increasing, retirement income. Asset Allocation is used to organize and control the structure of the portfolio so that it operates in a goal directed manner. Is this easy or what! It would be if the average investor would just let things alone long enough for them to work out according to the plan. That’s the rub. Wall Street, the financial media, and financial professionals (including CPAs) have no interest in letting things work out according to plan… even if it’s a plan that they designed.

Is it clear that calendar year performance evaluation allows an average of just six months for an equity selection to ‘perform’? Is it clear that the change in Market Value of an income security over the course of a year is meaningless? Is it clear that a portfolio containing both types of securities cannot be compared with an average or index that is comprised of just one or the other? It is crystal clear until it’s your portfolio that has had the audacity to shrink in Market Value over the course of the year! Human nature is predictable but not necessarily rational. Mother Nature’s financial twin’s twisted sense of humor, though, is both… and totally unrelated to third rock movements.

If the change in a portfolio’s Market Value is really so important (the Working Capital Model would argue that it is not), why not do it over a period of time that recognizes where we happen to be, cyclically? Interest Rates have cycled seven or eight times over the past twenty-five years; the stock market has been nearly twice as volatile. Peak-to-peak analysis, although hindsightful, raises a type of question that can, at least, be portfolio personalized for analysis:

(1) Did my Equity portfolio grow in Market Value between January 2000 and January of 2002, or between January 2002 and either January 2004 or June of 2006? These were cycles on the DJIA, which at its high in June 2006, was still below the ATH established in early 2000. These are meaningful time periods that can be used to study the effectiveness of various equity-only portfolio strategies. S & P 500 cycles were pretty much the same.

(2) Does my Income Portfolio generate more income today than it did the last time interest rates were at these levels is still the most important question that should be raised… regardless of Market Value. Sorry.

But as important as it may be to determine the answers to such questions, it is equally important to understand why the results were what they were. Did I withdraw money from the portfolio, or take losses on investment grade securities for tax reasons? Did I fail to follow the plan, or lose control of my Asset Allocation? Did I change variable expenses into fixed expenses or allow tax considerations to keep me from realizing profits. Were there changes in the investment markets that would make peak-to-peak analysis less meaningful than in the past?

So by taking away the move-your-money, racetrack, mentality that runs today’s investment performance evaluation methodologies, we create a calmer, more cerebral, management exercise with which to tweak our investment strategy. We may have gone backwards because we stayed on the sidelines instead of buying when prices were low. It may have been the strategy, it may have been the management, it could have been the diversification formula, or the buy-sell-hold decision-making rules. It may even have been the fear or greed that influenced our judgment. By looking at things cyclically, and analytically, instead of celestially and emotionally, we either allow our strategy to prove itself over a reasonable period of time or obtain the information needed to change it constructively.

The recent popularity of Index ETFs has detracted from the usefulness of both the popular market averages and the most useful market statistics. Issue Breadth, 52-week High and Low, Most Actives, Most Advanced, and Most Declined figures now include thousands of these hybrid and derivative securities. A bigger problem is the artificial demand created for index-included securities, a demand unrelated to corporate financial statement fundamentals. Another problem for Investment Grade Value Stock only investors is the absence of a well-recognized average or index to use for analysis… the IGVSI and related Market Stats should help.

Analyze this: if the strategy makes sense in the long run, why knock yourself out in months, quarters, and years? Where have all the cycles gone…

Article Source: Articles Engine

Steve Selengut
Professional Portfolio Management since 1979
Author of: “The Brainwashing of the American Investor: The Book that Wall Street Does Not Want YOU to Read”, and “A Millionaire’s Secret Investment Strategy”