Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Old Abnormal

Earlier this decade we were graced with the catchphrase the ‘new economy’ to explain why price to earnings ratios of 100 made sense. Today’s catchphrase, the ‘new normal’, has been coined by the folks at PIMCO to explain why we should get used to much lower growth rates for a while. Mohamed El-Erian and his boss Bill Gross have been on a bit of a mission touting the virtue of weighing security portfolios in favor of bonds and reducing allocation to equities. The logic is that the Great Recession has embarked us on a new era of slow growth characterized by high employment, capital starvation, more regulation and the rising power of China and other emerging markets at the expense of the United States. According to PIMCO equity exposure should now be in the 30% to 54% range as opposed to 60% with no more than half in U.S. equities. Needless to say this advice will benefit PIMCO as one of the biggest bond shops in the world with over $800 billion under management, $120 billion of that coming in since the beginning of 2008.

Perhaps not surprisingly the masses are blindly following the advice of the 'experts' and succumbing to Mr. Market’s mood swings. There is a lot of talk about slow growth, the importance of asset allocation and the nasty repercussions of a depreciating U.S. Dollar. I recently posed a question to Stephen Yacktman of Yacktman Funds during a Q&A facilitated by the Wall Street Journal’s Journal Community and here is what he had to say about the new normal:

So one can try to figure out how to play the asset allocation game or one can concentrate on buying good businesses at reasonable prices. As I have discussed before, many of the largest U.S. corporations offer a natural hedge against a declining U.S. Dollar not to mention the fact that by virtue of being multinationals they will also let you participate in the growth of non-U.S. economies. This is the time to invest in equities for the long run not when growth resumes and the ‘new normal’ morphs into the ‘old abnormal’. To be sure Mr. Market has been on a bit of a tear since April and equities are more fairly valued than cheap. But companies such as Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ), Coca Cola (NYSE: KO), Procter and Gamble (NYSE: PG), Pfizer (NYSE: PFE), Microsoft (NYSE: MSFT), Intel (Nasdaq: INTC) and Ebay (Nasdaq: EBAY) are worth considering despite the recent rally.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Golden Wall

The Black Box algorithms and catchy names served their purpose while the good times rolled along through the early part of 2007. Fees and market beating returns for the likes of Pequot Capital and Atticus Capital were all too easy to come by. But the recent turmoil in the markets is turning out to be a tad too much for these folks. Pequot is all but shut down and Atticus announced a few weeks ago that it is returning 95 percent of its investors' money by October. It turns out, according to one source close to Atticus' Mr. Barakett, that “there is no fundamental analysis in the market today” and that the "golden era of equity investment is over”. I am not making this up. This was printed loud and clear on the front section of Financial Times' Market section. Yup, Mr. Barakett even attributed a portion of his performance over the past ten years to luck. So much for the secret Black Box algorithms and hanging in there for your loyal investors when the times get tough. Unfortunately he has no incentive to do so. Why work hard to make up for losses when he won't get paid for his efforts (hedge funds can't collect a performance fee until they get back over the previously set high water mark)? This pervasive psychology along with the rise of the Black Swan theory and Dr. Doom and headlines such as “There will be Blood” in our own Globe and Mail newspaper are what typify market bottoms. We may not be out of the woods yet but this is exactly when you want to be putting your money to work. The golden age may have ended for the fancy hedge fund folks, but Mr. Market will happily continue climbing that shiny Golden Wall of Worry for a long time to come.