Endowment Funds up 20% in 2011

I wrote a month ago that the endowments and real money funds would face a high hurdle this past year (ending June 30th), and it looks like at least the initial numbers are pretty good.

60/40:  18.33%

Ivy allocation from book:  24.27%

Bloomberg:  ” Endowments and foundations gained an average of 20 percent in the year ended June 30, their best performance in 14 years, according to consultant Wilshire Associates Inc.”

What Happens Next?

This seems to be the question many people are asking in today’s markets.  Most commentators and media focus only on equities (even though the bond market is bigger than the stock market). While bonds have had a fantastic run (the long bond is up about 14% YTD), equities are down around 5% (although with current vol that # could be anywhere by the time this gets published).

Many investors are also nervous and wringing their hands about the day to day volatility.  While most of my systems and approaches are on a much longer timeframe (weeks to months), it is interesting to see how markets have responded to similar down days such as yesterday.  I looked at all -5% down days in the US back to the 1920s as well as all -5% days in Japan to the 1950s.

Below is a table of the average, median, max, and min summaries for T +1 (ie today), T + 2 (Monday), T+ 3 (Tuesday), and the 7-day and 14-day total returns.  While you can see that there is a little bit of outperformance for buying after these down days (which represent about 1% of all days as mentioned in my last post), there is such wide variability (plus or minus 20% in two weeks) that it is impossible to forecast with conviction what may happen in the ensuing days even though that short term outperformance annualizes to about 30-50%.  That is some solid alpha, but you are taking on the risk of a much worse outcome as well.  (We’ve replicated this for 15 countries with fairly similar results.)

As always, have a plan and be prepared going in to every market situation while realizing all of the possible outcomes, both good and bad as well as the strengths and weaknesses of any approach.  Especially so that you are not asking yourself, “What do I do now?”






Closed End Funds During Volatile Times

It is always good to look at CEFs during bear markets and sharp market volatility.

Here is a nice website that lets you screen based on discounts and premiums:  CEF Connect.

Dreman’s Contrarian Investment Rules

If you get to Rule #1 you know there are some that I disagree with, but overall some nice advice from Contrarian Investment Strategies by Dreman.

Rule 1: Do not use market-timing or technical analysis. These techniques can only cost you money.

Rule 2: Respect the difficulty of working with a mass of information. Few of us can use it successfully. In-depth information does not translate into in­-depth profits.

Rule 3: Do not make an investment decision based on correlations. All correla­tions in the market, whether real or illusory, will shift and soon disappear.

Rule 4: Tread carefully with current investment methods. Our limitations in processing complex information correctly prevent their successful use by most of us.

Rule 5: There are no highly predictable industries in which you can count on an­alysts’ forecasts. Relying on these estimates will lead to trouble.

Rule 6: Analysts’ forecasts are usually optimistic. Make the appropriate down­ward adjustment to your earnings estimate.

Rule 7: Most current security analysis requires a precision in analysts’ estimates that is impossible to provide. Avoid methods that demand this level of accuracy.

Rule 8: It is impossible, in a dynamic economy with constantly changing polit­ical, economic, industrial, and competitive conditions, to use the past accurately to estimate the future. The past gives some frame of reference but cannot be exact.

Rule 9: Be realistic about the downside of an investment, recognizing our hu­man tendency to be both overly optimistic and overly confident. Expect the worst to be much more severe than your initial projection.

Rule 10: Take advantage of the high rate of analyst forecast error by simply in­vesting in out-of-favor stocks.

Rule 11: Positive and negative surprises affect “best” and “worst” stocks in a di­ametrically opposite manner.

Rule 12: (A) Surprises, as a group, improve the performance of out-of-favor stocks, while impairing the performance of favorites. (B) Positive surprises result in major appreciation for out-of-favor stocks, while having minimal impact on favorites. (C) Negative surprises result in major drops in the price of favorites, while having virtually no impact on out-of-favor stocks. (D) The effect of an earnings surprise continues for an extended pe­riod of time.

Rule 13: Favored stocks under-perform the market, while out-of-favor companies outperform the market, but the reappraisal often happens slowly, even glacially.

Rule 14: Buy solid companies currently cut of market favor, as measured by their low price-to-earnings, price-to-cash flow or price-to-book value ratios, or by their high yields.

Rule 15: Don’t speculate on highly priced concept stocks to make above-average returns. The blue chip stocks that widows and orphans traditionally choose are equally valuable for the more aggressive businessman or woman.

Rule 16: Avoid unnecessary trading. The costs can significantly lower your re­turns over time. Low price-to-value strategies provide well above mar­ket returns for years, and are an excellent means of eliminating excessive transaction costs.

Rule 17: Buy only contrarian stocks because of their superior performance char­acteristics.

Rule 18: Invest equally in 20 to 30 stocks, diversified among 15 or more indus­tries (if your assets are of sufficient size).

Rule 19: Buy medium-or large-sized stocks listed on the New York Stock Ex­change, or only larger companies on Nasdaq or the American Stock Ex­change.

Rule 20: Buy the least expensive stocks within an industry, as determined by the four contrarian strategies, regardless of how high or low the general price of the industry group.

Rule 21: Sell a stock when its P/E ratio (or other contrarian indicator) approaches that of the overall market, regardless of how favorable prospects may appear. Replace it with another contrarian stock.

Rule 22: Look beyond obvious similarities between a current investment situa­tion and one that appears equivalent in the past. Consider other impor­tant factors that may result in a markedly different outcome.

Rule 23: Don’t be influenced by the short-term (3 or five year) record of a money manager, bro­ker, analyst or advisor, no matter how impressive; don’t accept cursory economic or investment news without significant substantiation.

Rule 24: Don’t rely solely on the “case rate.” Take into account the “base rate“­ – the prior probabilities of profit or loss.

Rule 25: Don’t be seduced by recent rates of return for individual stocks or the market when they deviate sharply from past norms (the “case rate”). Long term returns of stocks (the “base rate”) are far more likely to be established again. If returns are particularly high or low, they are likely to be abnormal.

Rule 26: Don’t expect the strategy you adopt will prove a quick success in the market; give it a reasonable time to work out.

Rule 27: The push toward an average rate of return is a fundamental principle of competitive markets.

Rule 28: It is far safer to project a continuation of the psychological reactions of investors than it is to project the visibility of the companies themselves.

Rule 29: Political and financial crises lead investors to sell stocks. This is pre­cisely the wrong reaction. Buy during a panic, don’t sell.

Rule 30: In a crisis, carefully analyze the reasons put forward to support lower: stock prices-more often than not they will disintegrate under scrutiny.

Rule 31: (A) Diversify extensively. No matter how cheap a group of stocks looks, you never know for sure that you aren’t getting a clinker. (B) Use the value lifelines as explained. In a crisis, these criteria get dramatically better as prices plummet, markedly improving your chances of a big score.

Rule 32: Volatility is not risk. Avoid investment advice based on volatility.

Rule 33: Small-cap investing: Buy companies that are strong financially (nor­mally no more than 60% debt in the capital structure for a manufacturing firm).

Rule 34: Small-cap investing: Buy companies with increasing and well-protected dividends that also provide an above-market yield.

Rule 35: Small-cap investing: Pick companies with above-average earnings growth rates.

Rule 36: Small-cap investing: Diversify widely, particularly in small companies, because these issues have far less liquidity. A good portfolio should contain about twice as many stocks as an equivalent large-cap one.

Rule 37: Small-cap investing: Be patient. Nothing works every year, but when smaller caps click, returns are often tremendous.

Rule 38: Small-company trading: Don’t trade thin issues with large spreads unless you are almost certain you have a big winner.

Rule 39: When making a trade in small, illiquid stocks, consider not only com­missions, but also the bid /ask spread to see how large your total cost will be.

Rule 40: Avoid the small, fast-track mutual funds. The track often ends at the bottom of a cliff.

Rule 41: A given in markets is that perceptions change rapidly.

Gaining Some Perspective

Normal market returns are extreme.  Listening to the media and following the comments on Twitter one would think the world is ending every 1% move in stocks and bonds.  Makets are volatile, and that is “normal”.

Outliers have a big impact on performance, and below are charts of the Worst/Best days since 1928 in the US stock market.  As you can see, you should have about two or three days every year that are around -4 to -5% (as well as +4 to +5%).  And every few years you will have some -9 or -10% days (as well as +9 or +10%).  Since volatility tends to cluster, and that tends to happen after markets have begun declining, you usually see the most volatile days when markets are below long term moving averages.  On average about 70% of the best AND worst days occur below long term moving averages simply because markets become more volatile.

New White Papers Coming…

We have a few new papers coming out over the next few months, and below are some of the teaser headlines:

Learning to Love Investment Bubbles: What if Newton was a Trendfollower?

Where the Black Swans Hide

S&P 300, S&P 2600

Total Yield:  Building a Better Dividend

BP CEO Oil Forecast

Last quotes from Future Babble I promise:

“I can forecast confidently that it will vary.  After that, I can gossip with you.  But that’s all it is, because there are too many factors which go in to the dynamics of the pricing of oil.”

-Lord John Browne, the legendary former chief executive officer of British Petroleum, worked all his life in the oil business, and he is convinced the price of oil is fundamentally unpredictable.

“Those who claim to foresee the future are lying, even if by chance they are later proved right.”

-Arabic saying

People Run Out of the Store

Remember when everyone hated bonds six months ago?

Long term bonds have rallied about 10% since that post on bond drawdowns:

When Things Go On Sale, People Run Out of the Store

An updated chart of the long bond ETF TLT below….

Useless Forecasts

Another great quote from Future Babble:

“The Commanding General is well aware the forecasts are no good.  However, he needs them for planning purposes.”

- Kenneth Arrow, Nobel Laurate Economist, recalling the response he and colleagues received during the Second World War when they demonstrated that the military’s long-term weather forecasts were useless.



This is a great passage from the book Future Babble:

Be articulate, enthusiastic, and authoritative.  Be likable.  See things through a single analytical lens and craft an explanatory story that is simple, clear, conclusive, and compelling.  Do not doubt yourself.  Do not acknowledge mistakes.  And never, ever say, “I don’t know.”

People unsure about the future want to hear from confident experts who tell a good story, and Paul Ehrlich was among the very best.  The fact that his predictions were mostly wrong didn’t change that in the slightest.

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