Category: portfolio-management

Stocks Ben Graham Might Buy If He Were Alive Now

Via John Dorfman in Bloomberg:

Each year from 2001 through 2006 I wrote a column on stocks I believed Graham would have liked were he still alive. This year I revive the tradition.

I have designed a few criteria that I believe reflect the spirit, and to some extent the letter, of the maestro’s methods.

Channeling Graham

What I call Graham stocks have a share price that’s less than book value (corporate net worth) and less than 12 times earnings, as well as debt less than 50 percent of stockholders’ equity.

Graham’s own metrics were vastly more complex and numerous, and he allowed room for judgment. Also, because he did much of his investing in the 1930s and 1940s, Graham was able to find some bargains the likes of which do not exist today.

Nonetheless, I think Graham would find some stocks to like if he were an active investor now.

One example is Tutor Perini Corp., a general contractor that specializes in large construction projects. It is based in Sylmar, California.

I like Tutor Perini’s ability to tackle big and diverse projects. It has built hotels and convention centers, airport runways, solar plants, the police headquarters building in Los Angeles. The ability to take on difficult projects often confers some pricing power.

Read the full article here

The Perfect Portfolio


Great chefs know that it takes more than the right ingredients to make an outstanding stew. If you put everything together in just the right way, ordinary ingredients can turn into magic. In this article, Jeff Merriman-Cohen shows how the same thing is true for investing.

The ideal portfolio may be different for every investor, but that doesn’t mean there are 150 million perfect variations.

Nevertheless, based on the Suggested Portfolios on our Web site and the strategies we manage for clients, there are probably thousands of combinations that could qualify, depending on any one person’s needs.

How can an investor choose the right one?

In this article, I’ll walk through some of the steps I used when I was still meeting with clients (something that’s ruled out by my current job) for the first time. I hope this will give you some good ideas on how to put together a combination that’s just right for you.

The most important initial conversation with any new client is about risk. It’s the most basic part of investing, the topic that most of the industry (and most investors) would be happy to avoid altogether.

Let me be blunt about this: Investors who don’t understand risk cannot understand the most important decisions and choices they must make.

Read the full article here

Successful Market Timing

Via World Beta:

If you have the emotional makeup for it, timing can reduce your risks and enhance your returns. If you’re satisfied that you have what it takes to be a market timer, here are the best tips I know for doing it successfully. They aren’t necessarily listed in order of priority. In fact, I suggest that you regard each one of them as the top priority.

1. Use mechanical strategies.
Timing financial markets is already plenty hard without worrying about making predictions or (even worse) thinking you have to decide who is right when smart economists and savvy analysts make conflicting forecasts and draw different conclusions. If you leave the final decisions to subjective factors, you will never be sure what you are supposed to do at any given moment. That will cause you anxiety and delay. And you’ll have a system you can’t count on. Rely primarily on trend-following systems that are based mainly on trends that are impacted by actual prices in the market. There’s nothing speculative about prices. They reflect what buyers and sellers are doing, and that’s about as reliable an indicator of the direction of the market as you can find.

2. Do not — repeat DO NOT — pay much attention to the effect of every trade.
The majority of individual trades will be irrelevant to your long-term results. If you feel you must focus on each trade and agonize over what it means, that’s a sure sign you are not cut out to be a successful timer. Dwelling on each trade is a sure way to drive yourself nuts, and it won’t improve your results at all.

3. Use timing systems that are right for you and your temperament.
The perfect strategy for you will match your time horizon, will respect your emotional needs and will operate within your tolerance for risk and change. There are short-term systems that trade frequently, long-term systems that trade infrequently and intermediate-term systems that typically trade two to six times a year. Over long periods of time, no group has an inherent return advantage over the others. But the practical and emotional differences are important. If you have a strong desire to perform closely in synch with the market, use short-term systems, which are good at quickly reacting to today’s highly volatile market swings. However, short-term systems demand that you make many trades, and each trade has potential tax consequences unless you are investing in a tax-sheltered account. The volume of trades demands a lot of attention, produces a lot of paperwork and tests the patience of many mutual funds, which sometimes won’t accept accounts from very active timers. If on the other hand you have a strong aversion to whipsaws, you can use long-term systems. But doing so will sometimes make you wait for a move of 20 percent or more before you buy or sell. For the best compromise, do as we do: Use intermediate-term systems. This level of activity is likely to be accepted by most mutual funds and is not too demanding emotionally.

4. Use multiple timing systems, stick with them and let them act independently in your portfolio.
Even the most productive system from the past may be a mediocre performer in the future, and the reverse could also be the case. We use four U.S. equity timing models, each of which governs 25 percent of our portfolio. We have faith in the systems as a group. But we don’t have enough faith in any one system to let it govern the whole portfolio. You shouldn’t either. Just as you should not chase recent performance in your choice of mutual funds or asset classes, do not chase recent high-flying timing systems. One of the smartest timers in this business, a fellow newsletter publisher whose work I respect, has averaged about 9 percent over the past decade. He chooses good timing systems, which have produced average returns of more than 18 percent before he adopts them. But he doesn’t stick with those systems. Whenever the system he has been using disappoints him, he finds another one that would not have done so, based on real or hypothetical past performance, and then he switches to that system. In theory, this may seem like a valid way to search for the very finest system on the planet. But in truth, such “superstar” timing models simply do not exist. They are a myth. Good performance one year doesn’t mean anything about performance the next year – not anything. This is one of the hardest facts for investors to accept, but it’s true. Therefore, we believe your best bet is to find several robust timing models and stick with them.

5. Remember that whether you use a buy-and-hold approach or market timing, asset allocation is the most important investment decision you will make as an investor.
Use many assets or asset classes that move up and down at different times and at different speeds. Include international diversification, whether you invest in equities, bonds or both. Just as you never know which timing model will be the star performer in a given quarter or year, you never know which asset class will be the overachiever and which will be the laggard.

6. Follow your systems and your strategy.
Put them into action without fail and without exception. Remember this Chinese proverb: “He who knows but does not act, still does not know.” If you do only one thing right and everything else wrong, make sure this is the one thing you do right. This is the most essential key of all. If buying diet books and exercise equipment took off pounds, obesity would not be a major health concern. You can devise the greatest portfolio in the history of investing, but it will do you no good unless you commit your money to it. The greatest timing models do you no good unless you apply them. Therefore, do whatever is necessary to get it done.

7. Before you start timing, take off the rose-colored glasses, if you are wearing them.
Focus in advance on the difficulties you can expect as well as the ultimate rewards you hope to achieve. Accepting the rewards of success will be easy. But you’ll never get to the finish line unless you can deal with the hurdles along the track. Know the level of interim losses you are likely to encounter with your strategy, and make sure you are willing to accept them. In the early 1970s, buy-and-hold investors in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index suffered a 39 percent loss in one year. Even timing can be ugly. In our Worldwide Equity strategy, all our back-testing has failed to produce a decline as high as 15 percent in any 12-month period. Yet we believe that any strategy with the potential to produce returns of 13 to 15 percent a year also has the potential to lose 15 percent in a year, so that’s the figure we use when we project the expected worst-case scenario. Bottom line: Do not expect magic from any timing system.

8. Give timing enough time to work. In the short term, anything can happen.

In the long term, if you have chosen a strategy carefully and you follow the discipline, you should be rewarded accordingly. But how long is long enough? There are two places to look for the answer. The first is in your own psychology. Do you normally undertake long-term projects or strategies, comfortable knowing that you’ll have to wait for any payoff? If so, you may be a good candidate for market timing. But if on the other hand you are usually quick to judge the success or failure of something you start, and if you need instant gratification, you’ll probably have trouble being a successful market timer. The second place to look for the answer is in statistics and history. Arm yourself (or have your manager do this for you) with the past statistical performance, either real or hypothetical, of your proposed investment. Over the longest period for which you have data, determine the depth of the largest drawdown. Find out how long it took to return to break-even. One of our most aggressive timing programs, which we call by the shorthand of +2 to -1, meaning it attempts to double the performance of large U.S. stocks when the market is rising and to do the opposite of the market during declines, once took nearly two years to recover from a 20 percent drawdown. Are you prepared to endure that in order to make returns of more than 20 percent? Here’s an even tougher example of the extraordinary patience required of investors: In 1973 and 1974, the S&P 500 declined by 44.9 percent. The index eventually regained its pre-decline level. But it took 66 months for some investors just to break even. Unless you are sure you’d stick with a strategy through the longest historical drawdown for which you have data, don’t embark on that strategy.

9. Unless you are absolutely committed to being a market timer, use both timing and buy-and-hold.

This gives you two non-correlated approaches that will have differing results in any given period. Over long periods, carefully chosen investments in similar assets may generate similar returns with buy-and-hold and market timing. But in the meantime, the average of the two may give you lower losses, less risk and (perhaps most important) less anxiety than either market timing or buy-and-hold alone. This combination may be more appealing to many people than the peaks and valleys of each approach separately.

10. Make sure you understand in advance the realities of market timing.
And make sure you are prepared for them. I cannot emphasize this point too much, so I hope you’ll read the following overview. If you invest money that’s governed by timing and you’re surprised by everything that happens to your investment, you will always feel off balance. You’ll come to dislike and distrust timing. And even if you follow your system, timing will produce anxiety for you. That is just the opposite of what it’s intended to do.

Measuring the Timing Ability and Performance of Bond Mutual Funds

Via CXOAG Investing Notes:

Do managers of bond mutual funds generate value for fund holders by successfully timing the market? In the September 2009 update of their paper entitled “Measuring the Timing Ability and Performance of Bond Mutual Funds”, Yong Chen, Wayne Ferson and Helen Peters evaluate the ability of U.S. bond fund managers to time nine common factors related to bond returns. The nine factors reflect the term structure of interest rates, credit and liquidity spreads, currency exchange rates, mortgage spread and equity market returns. The authors also define seven benchmarks matching different bond fund styles. Using monthly returns for more than 1,400 U.S. bond mutual funds and contemporaneous bond market factor and benchmark data during January 1962 through March 2007, they conclude that:

  • Across all bond mutual funds over the entire sample period, the mean monthly return is 0.62% and the standard deviation of monthly returns is 1.51%.
  • After controlling for return series non-linearities unrelated to timing, the evidence for market timing ability is on average neutral to weak.
  • With these controls, 75% of bond funds significantly outperform style-matched benchmarks before fund costs (average expense ratio of each fund plus an assumed round trip trading cost associated with the fund style), but there is no evidence of net outperformance on average after costs.

In summary, evidence provides weak support for a belief that managers of U.S. bond mutual funds can on average time the bond market, but fund costs/fees offset any associated net outperformance of reasonable benchmarks.

Do You Have the Mental Fortitude to Accept Huge Gains?

I am not a follower of Elliott Wave Theory, but this is a very accurate passage from Robert Prechter:

“Do you have the mental fortitude to accept huge gains?”

“This comment usually gets a hearty laugh, which merely goes to show how little most people have determined it actually to be a problem. But consider how many times has the following sequence of events occurred? For a full year, you trade futures contracts, making $1000 here, losing $1500 there, making $3000 here and losing $2000 there. Once again, you enter a trade because your (trading) method told you to do so. Within a week, you’re up $4000. Your friend/partner/acquaintance/broker/advisor calls you and, looking out only for your welfare, tell you to take your profit. You have guts, though, and you wait. The following week, your position is up $8000, the best gain you have ever experienced. ‘Get out!’ says your friend. You sweat, still hoping for further gains. The next Monday, your contract opens limit (down) against you. Your friend calls and says, ‘I told you so. You got greedy. But hey, you’re still way up on the trade. Get out tomorrow.’ The next day, on the opening, you exit the trade, taking a $5000 profit. It’s your biggest profit of the year, and you click your heels, smiling gratefully, proud of yourself. Then, day after day for the next six months, you watch the market continue

to go in the direction of your original trade. You try to find another entry point and continue to miss. At the end of six months, your method finally, quietly, calmly says, ‘Get out.’ You check the figures and realize that your initial entry, if held, would have netted $450,000.”

“So what was your problem? Simply that you had allowed yourself, unconsciously, to define your ‘normal’ range of profit and loss. When the big trade finally came along, you lacked the self esteem to take all it promised . . .who were you to shoot for such huge gains? Why should you deserve more than your best trade of the year? Then you abandoned both (trading) method and discipline. To win the game, make sure that you understand why you’re in it. The big moves in markets only come once or twice a year. Those are the ones which will pay you for all the work, fear, sweat and aggravation of the previous years. Don’t miss them for reasons other than those required by your objectively defined method. The IRS categorizes capital gains as ‘unearned income’ that’s baloney. It’s hard to make money in the market. Every dime you make, you richly deserve. Don’t ever forget that.”

. . . Robert Prechter – the Elliott Wave Theorist (1992)

Adapative Asset Allocation

Via Abnormal Returns:

One of the tenets of modern portfolio management most damaged due to the financial crisis has been asset allocation.  We have discussed how during a bear market correlations tend to one, the myth of the all-weather portfolio and how investors may need a more dynamic approach to asset allocation.  It seems we are not alone in our opinion(s).

Noted finance professor Andrew Lo of MIT has a piece in the Financial Times discussing how the practice of portfolio management has been upturned in part due to the financial crisis – asset allocation included.  While we recommend you read the entire piece, the bottom line is that the investment world is now much more complicated post-crisis.  Lo writes:

Diversification is still a good idea, but it has become much harder to achieve. Thanks to the increasing competition for additional yield, every type of investment vehicle and strategy has experienced substantial growth in assets under management.

The asset classes (and dynamic) strategies that have been touted as portfolio diversifiers have seen an influx of capital and managers.  Lo cites the case of the “carry trade” that has become popular enough to have spawned an ETF that follows the strategy.

Read the full post here

How Do Hedge Fund Clones Manage the Real World?


Interesting paper from authors Nils Tuchschmid, Erik Wallerstein and Sassan Zaker of Julius Baer Asset Management. They suggest that hedge fund clones are broadly succeeding in replicating the investment returns of real hedge funds. At the same time, however, some clones have exhibited too much correlation with equity markets and also have raised fears among some investors about the increasing complexity of replication models, the researchers warned.

The report, which looked at 21 clones over the period April 2008 to May 2009, concluded: “Hedge fund replication products seem to deliver competitive performance relative to hedge funds. More importantly they are able to deliver this at a far lower fee level than hedge funds.”

The authors’ research found that the vast majority of clones exhibited a correlation of at least 70 per cent to industry benchmarks operated by Hedge Fund Research and Credit Suisse/Tremont. Most lost less than the typical 10-15 per cent declines recorded by the industry at large, although Wallerstein cautioned,  the relative performance of clones in a bull market remained unproven. “Shortable” clones, which allow investors to benefit from losses in the underlying industry, appear to succeed in mirroring long approaches, he added.

Read the paper here

The Myth of the All-Weather Portfolio

Via Abnormal Returns:

For quite some time now financial advisers of all stripes have been in search of the elusive “all-weather portfolio.”  That is, an asset allocation that serves to protect investors in bad times (bear markets) and performs well in good times (bull markets).  Does an all-weather portfolio really exist?

Prior to the economic crisis many would have answered in the affirmative and would have pointed to the large university endowment funds as examples of investors who had achieved this goal.  However the aftermath of the credit crisis and ensuing bear market indicate these funds have failed to achieve this goal.

Maybe it isn’t that case that asset allocation models are broken.  It may simply be the case that we are asking too much of asset allocation as a discipline.  In what other investing endeavor do we expect to have the best of all possible worlds?

Read the full article here

What Is the Optimal Number of Managers In a Fund of Hedge Funds

Via SSRN: I came across an interesting academic paper from State University of New York (SUNY) professors Greg Gregoriou and Razvan Pascalau. Diversification is often the mantra of hedge fund investors, but this paper suggests that the optimal number of underlying hedge funds within a fund of hedge fund portfolio may actually be as low as 6-10.

From the Abstract:

This paper investigates the level and the determinants of the optimal number of hedge fund managers in a Fund of Hedge Funds (FOFs). The paper also analyzes the impact that this level has on the performance and the volatility of returns of the typical FOF. Several important findings emerge. First, we find that the number of underlying hedge funds (HFs) included into a FOF has a negative and significant impact on the volatility of returns but less of an impact on the actual returns. However, if we properly classify the FOFs into several larger categories of interest, we find evidence that the FOFs having between 6 and 10 hedge fund managers perform the best. On average this group of FOFs has assets under management of around $200 million. Second, further evidence shows that there is a positive relationship between the size of the FOF portfolio and the lifetime of the fund. Third, several factors that influence the number of HF managers into a FOF include, but are not limited to the amount of leverage, the redemption frequency, the size of the fund, the total number of assets managed by the FOF manager, whether the fund issues a K-1 schedule for tax purposes, the currency in which the fund trades, the geographical focus, and the strategy pursued.

From the Introduction:

Many institutional investors, having no experience in hedge fund manager selection are willing to pay the additional layer of fees of owning a pre-packaged and diversified FOFs rather than setting up an in-house FOF. The number of underlying hedge fund managers in a FOF can play a primordial role in its performance and its survival. We believe this is the first paper to our knowledge that examines the optimal number of underlying hedge fund managers in FOFs. Numerous papers have stated what the optimal number of hedge fund managers in FOFs should be, but none have used an actual dataset to examine this.

Read the paper here

You Can’t Handle the Truth About Stocks interviews Boston University School of Management professor Zvi Bodie. I do not totally agree with Mr. Bodie, but he does have some interesting points. Here are some highlights:

The advice rolls off the tongues of financial planners and appears frequently in the pages of financial magazines such as Money: To have any shot at retiring well, you need to invest a good portion of your money in stocks.

But mention this to Boston University School of Management professor Zvi Bodie, author of “Worry-Free Investing,” and you’ll get a stern reminder of how equities often betray investors. And you’ll get an earful about how millions of us are taking too much risk with our nest eggs.


But don’t you need the growth that stocks provide to combat the risk of inflation?

Inflation is exactly what Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS) and I bonds were created to protect against. Even if equities did perform well in periods of inflation, you’re exposing yourself to an even greater risk of a stock market decline. And as it turns out, anytime there’s been significant inflation, equities have been a terrible investment. Just look at the 1970s.

So you’d tell an investor to have 100% of his retirement money in TIPS?

Yes. In fact, I have 100% of my own retirement money in TIPS. I do have a small account of nonretirement funds in which I invest in bonds, options, and stocks.

Currently, long-term TIPS earn just 2% after inflation. How is anyone going to be able to retire on so little growth?

If you look at most online retirement calculators, they make two assumptions: one, that you want to retire at age 65, and two, that people will be able to save only a certain amount — say 10%. As a result, they spit out risky portfolios to get a higher return. Well, who says we all want to retire at 65 and can save only 10%? What if I retire at 70 or 75? What if I save 30%? Suddenly, you don’t need to take so much risk in your portfolio. Now, if you put 100% in TIPS, you will have to save upwards of 20% of your annual pay, even if you’re young, to retire at age 65. But I think it would be more reasonable to expect to retire at a later date.

Read the full interview here

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