The Investment Scientist

Archive for the ‘Investor Behavior’ Category

ImageAs far as investment philosophy is concerned, I am solidly in the camp of Nobel Prize winner Eugene Fama and Vanguard founder Jack Bogle. They both believe that the market is by and large efficient, and there is no point in picking stocks.

Most of my money is in broad-based passively managed asset class funds, but I do set aside 5% just to have some fun with and right now I only have three stocks in my fun account.

Safeway

I bought SWY last November after going to the Chicago Booth Entrepreneur Advisory Meeting. From the meeting, I learned that big retailers routinely write off their inventory at a huge loss. The reason being that they can not control demands as they have little information about the needs of the individual consumer, though they can usually make a rough guess on aggregate needs.

I noticed my wife had been shopping at Safeway more and more. After a little digging, I found out Safeway had set up a technology system to track each individual’s needs and price sensitivities. Then it can make targeted offers to shoppers like my wife that unfailingly brought her back over and over. I recalled my earlier meeting and realized they would save tons of money just from better inventory management.

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ImageIt really caught me by surprise when Eugene Fama, the newly minted Nobel laureate in Economics said: “It doesn’t matter that much.” when speaking about investing outside of the US.

OK sure, I can understand his point. Why invest outside of the US when the US markets already account of 40% of world capitalization? “The U.S. market is so well-diversified already that combining it with global markets doesn’t really matter,” so said Fama.

However, I think it actually does matter ….

Proportionally, the US market is getting smaller. Right after the second world war, the US market accounted for 70% of world capitalization, now it only accounts for 40%. For a country that boasts only 5% of of the world’s population, this is still exceptionally high.

For the foreseeable future, there are better than even odds that the combined markets outside of the US will grow faster than the US market will do alone. Why forego those opportunities?

The diversification benefit you’d get is certainly not negligible either. During the so-called ‘lost decade’ of 2000 to 2009, the US market, as measured by the S&P 500, had a net loss of 9.1%, while international developed markets went up by an anemic 12.4%, but emerging markets went up by a whopping 154.3%.

It would have made a bog difference if you have a piece of emerging markets in your portfolio.

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ImageWhen I was in California, I had a very intelligent debate with a doctor. He mentioned that in 2012, the US took in $2.5T in revenue and spent $3.6T in government expenditures.

He accurately pointed out, “If I spent like that, I would be bankrupt in a few years.” He believes so strongly that the US is going the way of national bankruptcy that he has moved substantial amounts of his money overseas and has invested a great deal in gold.

I happen to believe that gold is the most unproductive of assets, since it does not generate dividends or interest and it actually costs money for upkeep in a safe in a Singapore bank.

On top of that, by throwing so much money into gold, one could over prepare for a disaster that is very unlikely to happen and thereby miss out on all the opportunities to grow wealth in this country.

But I still need to explain why the US won’t go bankrupt anytime soon. Here are two explanations:

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There have been 17 government shutdowns in history. Today I asked my intern Taro Taguchi to analyze the market performances subsequent to shutdowns.

Using the closing price prior to the day of government shutdown as a base line, he found on average, the market rose 0.97% in one month, 2.38% in three months and 13.42% in a year.

If we isolate the 5 most severe shutdowns that lasted more than 10 days, the picture is a bit worse, but not by much. On average the market fell 4.19% in one month, fell .18% in three months and rose 9.63% in a year.

These historical precedents confirm my gut feeling that a government shutdown is really no big deal, as far as the market is concerned.

More worrisome is the upcoming debt ceiling fight. There is no precedent of US default to guide my outlook on this, but the longer the government shutdown lasts, the deeper heels get dug in by both parties and the more likely a default. Nevertheless, I’m still thinking that will also be a storm in a tea cup.

The bottom line is these are issues beyond our control, there is no point worrying about them. If worst comes to worst (ie default,) and the market should drop 20%. That’s actually great because then we can buy shares at a discount!

Image1. “The gross revenues for the financial services industry in 2010 were $1.129 trillion. That year, total US financial assets stood at $50.38 trillion, meaning that the financial services industry as a whole is skimming 2.25% a year out of everyone’s wealth.” This is an excerpt from a post on Wealthcare Capital entitled “Investment Expenses – The Other Millionaire You Make.” How about I help you cut those expenses by half?

2. Shocking! Shocking! Your elected representatives want the financial industry to continue ripping you off!

3. Ike Devji wrote a piece “Investment Fraud Red Flag for Physicians.” It is packed full of useful tips. I have one thing to add though, never work with a broker, regardless how clean his or her broker check record. These people are not legally obliged to watch out for your best interest.

4. A very succinct piece in Physicians’ Monday Digest about How Rising Interest Rates Would Affect You.

5. Taxpayers beware, AccountingToday has a piece on tax deductions expiring in 2014.

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I had a fun conversation with a prospective client who I lost a few months ago. He actually got me to create an investment plan for him, then he shopped around and found an advisor who charges less.

He then had the gall to call me back and ask whether I think he is paying too much for his new advisor. Here is what he said.

My advisor puts me in low cost ETFs and meets with me every quarter. But otherwise he does nothing with my portfolio, so what exactly do I pay him $15k for?

I know this gentleman has a sizable portfolio, and $15k means a fee of well below 1%. So I told him what I thought.

  1. The fee is very competitive.

  2. The advisor did the right thing by putting his money in low cost EFTs.

  3. Doing nothing with a portfolio is the only right thing to do!

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Author

Michael Zhuang is principal of MZ Capital, a fee-only independent advisory firm based in Washington, DC.

Twitter: @mzhuang

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