Self-Directed Excellence

This Week at MANIFEST (1/24/2020)

“Life is like a snowball, all you need is wet snow and a really long hill.” — Warren Buffett

This past week, we lost a very special charter subscriber to Manifest Investing. My Father. I think his ID number was single digits. He was also a charter member of our Chicago-based investment club, evolved into an investing warrior … and was quite simply, my favorite EAGLE.

A couple of weeks ago I huddled with my father over his monthly ritual of opening his E*Trade envelope. A careful slice of the envelope (he saved every single one of them, every one) and I heard him say some of my favorite words, “My Colgate-Palmolive stock is worth how much? That can’t be right.” A $2000 investment in CL was now worth $28,000. This was typical of many holdings. In fact, the gains in Gentex, Pepsi, and Vanguard Technology (VGT) were actually much bigger.

His experience with General Electric was “different.” He shared his disappointment with GE often.

But he fixated on the steady delivery of Colgate. As the accompanying image shows, the company occupied Mom and Dad’s Christmas tree. We first talked about this long ago, see: When Monsters Are Created. It’s a story about consumer and stakeholder loyalty. This past weekend, I noticed that all of the squeezed toothpaste tubes on the bathroom sinks (including those toted by his grandchildren) were Colgate. He left a mark.

The image of Mom and Dad was captured at an Investor Fair in Springfield, Illinois. Long story short, the Biomet investor relations representative had told Mom and Dad over breakfast that $2000 invested in Biomet circa 1980 was worth $1,000,000 in the late 1990s. It’s a fact. (For more, see Raise A Cup: Million Dollar Moment — April 2012) It’s also potential freedom. Magic and miracles happen when given a chance.

Dad was a magnificently complicated man. He often chided me for complaining about bears and investing. “Not all bears are bad. I give one to your mother every Valentine’s Day. Besides, we loaded up on some pretty good stocks in March 2009 thanks to one of your bears.” Much wisdom.

And, in closing, one of the simplest and 100% effective lessons ever: Lessons From Fathers & Simple Things, Solid Results (Some might note that this may have been the earliest reference to Five Below)

Bottom Line: Dad took his investment club experience back in the 1990s and deployed it with an IRA that was invested in a CD that also happened to be charging $75/year for “custodial service.” We recently calculated that it would have worth approximately $20,000 if left in that paltry “risk free” situation. We moved it to E*Trade and he carefully selected companies like Gentex, Johnson & Johnson, AFLAC, Walgreen/CVS and leaned heavily on Vanguard Technology (VGT) despite his age. His balance grew to be a lot more than $20,000. When we talked about “risk”, I observed that “Dad, you’ve NEVER, EVER, acted your age.” He didn’t think long term investing included the risk they talk about on television and teach in colleges and business schools. He was right.

For so many of the deepest lessons and love imaginable, THANK YOU, DAD.

MANIFEST 40 Updates

  • 23. Pepsi (PEP)
  • 32. Tapestry (TPR)
  • 39. Ulta Beauty (ULTA)
  • 40. Costco Wholesale (COST)

Round Table Stocks

  • Costco Wholesale (COST)
  • Dollar General (DG)
  • Five Below (FIVE)
  • Schwab, Charles (SCHW)
  • Skechers (SKX)
  • TJX Companies (TJX)
  • Tyson Foods (TSN)
  • Ulta Beauty (ULTA)

Best Small Companies (2020 Dashboard)

The status of the 2020 Best Small Companies can be tracked at: https://www.manifestinvesting.com/dashboards/public/best-small-companies-2020

Investing Round Table Sessions (Video Archives)

Investing Topics (Video Archives)

Results, Remarks & References

Companies of Interest: Value Line (1/24/2020)

The median Value Line low total return forecast for the companies in this week’s update batch is 5.5% vs. 4.6% for the Value Line 1700 ($VLE).

Materially Stronger: Wal-Mart (WMT), Aaron’s (AAN), Costco Wholesale (COST), AutoZone (AZO)

Materially Weaker: Conn’s (CONN), Designer Brands (DBI), Children’s Place (PLCE), Fossil (FOSL), Kohl’s (KSS), Ollie’s Bargain (OLLI), Molson Coors (TAP)

Discontinued: Avon Products (AVP), Medicines Co. (MDCO)

Note:

Market Barometers

The thing very few people tell you about “overvalued” markets is that, occasionally, the fundamentals arrive to justify them. — Joshua Brown

Value Line Median Appreciation Projection (VLMAP) Forecast. The long-term median appreciation projection for the 1700 companies featured in the Value Line Investment Survey is 8.8%, a DECREASE from 9.7% last week. For context, this indicator has ranged from low single digits (when stocks are generally overvalued) to approximately 25% when stocks are in the teeth of bear markets like 2008-2009.

Update Batch: Stocks to Study (1/24/2020)

Long & Short Term Perspectives. (January 24, 2020) Proj Ann Return (PAR): Long term return forecast based on fundamental analysis and five year time horizon. Quality: Percentile ranking of composite that includes financial strength, earnings stability and relative growth & profitability. MANIFEST Ranking: Combination ranking that equally weights PAR and Quality. VL Low Tot Ret: Value Line forecast, expressed as low total return forecast. Owner’s PROC: Projected Return on Capital via 5-year EPS forecast versus current capital — equity and debt. Morningstar and ACE and P/FV: Price-to-Fair Value estimates from the (2) sources. 1-Yr ACE Tot Return: One year total return estimates via ACE.

Fave Five: Triple Play (11/17/2017)

Fave Five (11/17/2017)

Our Fave Five essentially represents a listing of stocks with favorable short term total return forecasts (1 year, according to Analyst Consensus Estimates, or ACE) combined with strong long-term return forecasts and good/excellent quality rankings. The median 1-year ACE total return forecast is 7.2%.

This week we return to the triple play screening method for our five favorites. The triple play possibility occurs when you find a stock that is very depressed in price and also appears to be on the verge of substantially boosting its profit margins. The triple play effect is possible in that:

(1) The depressed price of the stock can return to normal levels;

(2) increased profit margins can produce increased EPS and a higher price;

(3) may also cause higher P/E ratios, or P/E expansion.

Schlossing About

We continue to leave the 52-week “position”, a factor that combines with 1-year total return for the short term outlook. Walter Schloss loved to find vetted high-quality companies with solid expectations that were trading near the low end of a 52-week range.

This week’s short list has all the usual attributes over the long term, the next year (or short term) and also is expected to grow at double-digit rates, precisely the type of treat that we seek to discover going into the holiday season this year.

The Long and Short of This Week’s Fave Five

Long & Short Term Perspectives. (November 17, 2017) Projected Annual Return (PAR): Long term return forecast based on fundamental analysis and five year time horizon. Quality Ranking: Percentile ranking of composite that includes financial strength, earnings stability and relative growth & profitability. 52-Week Position: Position on scale between 52-week low price and 52-week target price. VL Low Total Return (VLLTR): Low total return forecast based on 3-5 year price targets via Value Line Investment Survey. Morningstar P/FV: Ratio of current price to fundamentally-based fair value via www.morningstar.com S&P P/FV: Current price-to-fair value ratio via Standard & Poor’s. 1-Year ACE Outlook: Total return forecast based on analyst consensus estimates for 1-year target price combined with current yield. The data is ranked (descending order) based on this criterion. 1-Year S&P Outlook: 1-year total return forecast based on S&P 1-year price target.

Fave Five Legacy (Tracking Portfolio)

The relative/excess return for the Fave Five tracking portfolio is +5.3% since inception.

The absolute annualized rate of return is 20.6%.

Tracking Dashboard: https://www.manifestinvesting.com/dashboards/public/fave-five

Be Careful Out There

This Week at MANIFEST (9/15/2017)

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn. — Ben Franklin

Be careful out there. — Phil Esterhaus, Hill Street Blues

“Historically, September is the worst month for U.S. stock market performance,” wrote Minerd. “Since 1929, the S&P Composite Index has averaged -1.1 percent for September, making it one of only three months with negative average returns over that time. The worst performing single month over this time period was September 1931, when the S&P composite fell 30 percent.” — Scott Minerd, Guggenheim Partners

Call it the Pre-January Effect if you’d like. It’s particularly relevant and pertinent for the smaller, faster-growing companies this time of year. With the January Effect, we benefit from reallocation and tax-related selling by investing in smaller companies that have been unduly punished during the fourth quarter with the hopes that repurchase and first quarter purchasing will restore many of the damaged prices.

The key word is “unduly.” And in the words of George Nicholson (via the 1984 NAIC Investors Manual) and Hill Street Blues Sergeant of the morning watch, Phil Esterhaus, “Be careful out there.”

Nicholson’s stark warning appears on page 98 of the 1984 Manual.

The guidance is offered in the context of his “Challenge”, a switching consideration that is intended to improve the overall portfolio by selling a holding and replacing it with a suitable, bolstering, substitute.

“When you begin this Challenge, the most important rule is requiring that the challenger (or replacement stock) is of equal or higher quality.” [His emphasis added, NOT mine.]

The accompany chart of screening results is from the Value Line Investment Analyzer. As shown, the listing is sorted by Projected 3-5 Year Total Return (Descending.) Needless to say, these return forecasts are red hot.

We draw your attention to the Financial Strength column where many of the companies are C, C+, etc. Remember, a “C” rating from Value Line is equivalent to an “F” from your school days. The ratings don’t get any lower than “C”. You have to reach for at least a “B++” to get above average.

We also note that many of these companies have stock prices less than $10. It’s one piece of the puzzle, but worthy of a yellow flag and caution.

And finally, check out the growth column. There’s not a whole lot of growth here. In the words of David L. Babson, growth conveys “grace” to long-term investors often healing wounds and compensating for buying a good stock at a price where you should have waited. So there’s not a lot of grace in this group … either.

Turnout Terraforming

As a reminder, the monthly Round Table webcasts will continue and not be disrupted by these new Tuesday sessions.

That said, we’ve heard from a number of you that you’d be interested in seeing us tackle some subjects, topics and methods independent of the Round Table sessions. So we will.

Tuesday seems to be a fairly optimum time to schedule additional sessions although we’ll likely have a few “Turnouts” on other days of the week.

We’d like to hear from you. (markr@manifestinvesting.com) What’s on your mind? What topics would you like to see covered? Here are some that have been suggested or considered so far:

  • Getting Risk Right (Cy Lynch)
  • Lessons From The Legends (Hugh McManus)
  • How Can We Calculate Relative Return?
  • Are Quality and Moats Related?
  • What Should Our Investment Club Meetings Look Like?

MANIFEST 40 Updates

  • 9. Cisco Systems (CSCO)
  • 11. Walgreen (WBA)
  • 12. Qualcomm (QCOM)
  • 26. CVS Health (CVS)
  • 28. LKQ (LKQ)

Round Table Stocks

  • Cisco Systems (CSCO)
  • CVS Health (CVS)
  • Gentex (GNTX)
  • LCI Industries (LCII)
  • LKQ (LKQ)
  • Qualcomm (QCOM)

Round Table Sessions (Video Archives)

Best Small Companies

  • 14. Gentherm (THRM)

Results, Remarks & References

Companies of Interest: Value Line (9/15/2017)

The average Value Line low total return forecast for the companies in this week’s update batch is 5.6% vs. 3.7% for the Value Line 1700 ($VLE).

Materially Stronger: Estee Lauder (EL), Modine Manufacturing (MOD)

Materially Weaker: Acacia Communications (ACIA), Synaptics (SYNA), Qualcomm (QCOM), Rite Aid (RAD), Harmonic (HLIT), BT Group (BT), Genuine Parts (GPC), Walgreen (WBA), CenturyLink (CTL), Commscope (COMM), Avon Products (AVP), Pharmerica (PMC), Infinera (INFN), ATN International (ATNI), Dish Network (DISH)

Discontinued: NeuStar (NSR), Reynolds American (RAI)

Market Barometers

Value Line Low Total Return (VLLTR) Forecast. The long-term low total return forecast for the 1700 companies featured in the Value Line Investment Survey is 3.7%, an increase from 3.5% last week. For context, this indicator has ranged from low single digits (when stocks are generally overvalued) to approximately 20% when stocks are in the teeth of bear markets like 2008-2009.

Update Batch: Stocks to Study (9/15/2017)

The average return forecast (PAR) for this week’s update batch is 9.0%.

The Long & Short. (September 15, 2017) Projected Annual Return (PAR): Long term return forecast based on fundamental analysis and five year time horizon. Quality Ranking: Percentile ranking of composite that includes financial strength, earnings stability and relative growth & profitability. VL Low Total Return (VLLTR): Low total return forecast based on 3-5 year price targets via Value Line Investment Survey. Morningstar P/FV: Ratio of current price to fundamentally-based fair value via www.morningstar.com S&P P/FV: Current price-to-fair value ratio via Standard & Poor’s. 1-Year ACE Outlook: Total return forecast based on analyst consensus estimates for 1-year target price combined with current yield. 1-Year S&P Outlook: 1-year total return forecast based on S&P 1-year price target.

Fave Five (9/8/2017)

Fave Five (9/8/2017)

Our Fave Five essentially represents a listing of stocks with favorable short term total return forecasts (1 year, according to Analyst Consensus Estimates, or ACE) combined with strong long-term return forecasts and good/excellent quality rankings. The average 1-year ACE total return forecast is 10.6%.

Our Favorite Bubbles …

… just might be the kind of bubbles that evolve when we blend Ivory Soap with Irish Spring. Hugh McManus likes to shop for opportunities among stocks that are trading near their 52-week lows and for non-core case studies, he’ll sometimes demand that the stock prices be near multi-year lows. Part of the driver behind this is the recognition that there’s often a large difference between 52-week highs and 52-week lows, even for some of the bluer chip established stocks. Isolating opportunities to invest when stocks are in the lower part of those annual ranges would seem to provide a margin of safety and reduce some of the downside … and “all things created equal” why should we shop anywhere else. (Read that in an Irish brogue for full effect.)

The five stocks flagged this week are repeat selections for the Fave Five tracking portfolio and as the parade of second opinions shows — there’s largely some consensus about expectations. FleetCor (FLT), Starbucks (SBUX) and Ulta Beauty (ULTA) also popped up as high-quality stocks with relatively outsized return potential in Ken Kavula’s review of the Forbes Most Innovative Companies. Gentex (GNTX) has also been a Round Table favorite with stellar performance over the years and Akamai Technologies (AKAM) has been featured as a worthy exploration consistent with the growing need for cyber security.

StockSearch Results using the stock screener at www.manifestinvesting.com with the following criteria: Manifest Rank (percentile ranking based on combination of quality and long term return forecast) greater than 99.44% — or top 1/2 of top percentile of all stocks covered, Financial Strength > B++ (70%) and stocks within 20% of their 52-week low.

The Long and Short of This Week’s Fave Five

The Long & Short. (September 8, 2017) Projected Annual Return (PAR): Long term return forecast based on fundamental analysis and five year time horizon. Quality Ranking: Percentile ranking of composite that includes financial strength, earnings stability and relative growth & profitability. VL Low Total Return (VLLTR): Low total return forecast based on 3-5 year price targets via Value Line Investment Survey. Morningstar P/FV: Ratio of current price to fundamentally-based fair value via www.morningstar.com S&P P/FV: Current price-to-fair value ratio via Standard & Poor’s. 1-Year ACE Outlook: Total return forecast based on analyst consensus estimates for 1-year target price combined with current yield. The data is ranked (descending order) based on this criterion. 1-Year S&P Outlook: 1-year total return forecast based on S&P 1-year price target. 1-Yr GS: 1-year total return forecast based on most recent price target issued by Goldman Sachs.

Fave Five Legacy (Tracking Portfolio)

The relative/excess return for the Fave Five tracking portfolio is +2.3% since inception.

The absolute annualized rate of return is 15.3%.

Tracking Dashboard: https://www.manifestinvesting.com/dashboards/public/fave-five

Fave Five (6/30/2017) Triple Play

Fave Five (6/30/2017)

Our Fave Five essentially represents a listing of stocks with favorable short term total return forecasts (1 year, according to Analyst Consensus Estimates, or ACE) combined with strong long-term return forecasts and good/excellent quality rankings. The average 1-year ACE total return forecast is 9.7%.

This week we return to the triple play screening method for our five favorites. The triple play possibility occurs when you find a stock that is very depressed in price and also appears to be on the verge of substantially boosting its profit margins. The triple play effect is possible in that:

(1) The depressed price of the stock can return to normal levels;

(2) increased profit margins can produce increased EPS and a higher price;

(3) may also cause higher P/E ratios, or P/E expansion.

The Fave Five This Week

  • CVS Health (CVS)
  • Gentex (GNTX)
  • IMAX (IMAX)
  • Infosys Tech (INFY)
  • Monro Muffler (MNRO)

The Long and Short of This Week’s Fave Five

The Long & Short. (June 30, 2017) Projected Annual Return (PAR): Long term return forecast based on fundamental analysis and five year time horizon. Quality Ranking: Percentile ranking of composite that includes financial strength, earnings stability and relative growth & profitability. VL Low Total Return (VLLTR): Low total return forecast based on 3-5 year price targets via Value Line Investment Survey. Morningstar P/FV: Ratio of current price to fundamentally-based fair value via www.morningstar.com S&P P/FV: Current price-to-fair value ratio via Standard & Poor’s. 1-Year ACE Outlook: Total return forecast based on analyst consensus estimates for 1-year target price combined with current yield. The data is ranked (descending order) based on this criterion. 1-Year S&P Outlook: 1-year total return forecast based on S&P 1-year price target. 1-Yr GS: 1-year total return forecast based on most recent price target issued by Goldman Sachs.

Fave Five Legacy (Tracking Portfolio)

The rate of return for the tracking portfolio is 15.2% since inception.

The relative/excess return for the Fave Five tracking portfolio is +0.2% since inception. 45.7% of selections have outperformed the Wilshire 5000 since original selection.

Tracking Dashboard: https://www.manifestinvesting.com/dashboards/public/fave-five

Morningstar Conference (2016)

Morningstar Investment Conference (2016)

“I see investing as the responsible act of the broad middle class, yet there’s still so many people we don’t touch today.” — Don Phillips, Morningstar

The annual shareholder meeting of Berkshire Hathaway has been called the Woodstock of capitalism, drawing tens of thousands of investors from all over the world.

I think the Morningstar Investment Conference might be “bigger” than the annual pilgrimage to Omaha.

Really? Yes, really. On a per capita basis, comparing the number of investors in Omaha versus the over 2000 advisors and practitioners in Chicago, the Morningstar Investment Conference, or #MICUS, might be a bigger “show.” Before you scoff, consider the population of registered advisors and representatives vs. how many attend. Morningstar puts on an effective event and while you’re scratching your head over the per capita comparison, don’t forget there’s an admission price for the Chicago program.

Make no mistake. Don Phillips and the Morningstar gang throw one heckuva party. We’re reminded about rampant fallacies with respect to passive vs. active investing, a growing discovery and emphasis on sustainability, the mistaken generalizations about advisors vs. registered reps, the new DOL fiduciary regulations and a litany of topics worthy of consideration and discussion.

  • “Supporting responsible investing is actually more closely related to behavior modification.” — Don Phillips
  • We’ve been fans of the Morningstar MOAT Fund for some time. Microsoft’s acquisition of LinkedIn (LNKD) provides quite a boost to the fund’s value in recent days. The merits of LinkedIn — and investment thesis — were covered by Morningstar’s Elizabeth Collins during an early panel session.
  • Best Ideas: Biogen (BIIB) and Williams-Sonoma (WSM). (Elizabeth Collins)
  • “Global growth over last four years has been slower … but it’s actually closer to long-term norms.” Prevalent themes: persistent strong U.S. dollar, U.S. treasury yields not justified and some scattered opportunities in emerging markets. (Michael Hasenstab, Franklin Templeton)
  • “Investors should not use a shot gun approach with respect to emerging markets. Use a rifle instead.” (Hasenstab)
  • Reminiscent of a couple of previous Morningstar conferences, Bill Bernstein served as this year’s “Grumpy Old Man” but he seems to agree with many of us on many issues. But he’s a delightful curmudgeon.
  • “The case for index and passive investing has been dramatically overstated.” (Phillips)
  • “Alternative funds are not an investment. They are a compensation scheme.” (Bernstein) [Told you …]
  • What hasn’t been overstated? The cleavage between high-cost and low-cost. (Phillips, Bernstein)
  • “I pride myself on not knowing what stocks are in my portfolios. I’m a Quant.” (Cliff Asness, AQR)
  • I respect and enjoy the work of Rob Arnott (Research Affiliates) and Cliff Asness (AQR). But watching them debate like sumo wrestlers trying to give each other a wedgie in a cage match on the head of a pin is not my favorite post-breakfast activity. I’m glad they believe in “Tin Cup”, grant permission for us to “sin a little” with asset allocation and speculation and I now have a greater appreciation for Smart/Strategic Beta and I’m thankful that at it’s core — we have been doing a lot of the factor-based opportunity stuff for a long time. But most of all, I’m grateful for the elegant simplicity of our methods. It’s a powerful reminder about Occam’s Razor.

(Continuing with our regularly scheduled programming and weekly update …)

MANIFEST 40 Updates

  • 9. Cisco Systems (CSCO)
  • 10. Qualcomm (QCOM)
  • 12. Walgreen Boots (WBA)
  • 37. CVS Health (CVS)
  • 40. LKQ Corp (LKQ)

Round Table Stocks: Cisco Systems (CSCO), CVS Health (CVS), Gentex (GNTX), Inteliquent (IQNT), ITC Holdings (ITC), LKQ Corp (LKQ), Neustar (NSR), Qualcomm (QCOM), Synaptics (SYNA)

Results, Remarks & References

Companies of Interest: Value Line (6/17/2016)

The average Value Line low total return forecast for the companies in this week’s update batch is 5.6% vs. 5.5% for the Value Line 1700 ($VLE).

Materially Stronger: Infinera (INFN), Drew Industries (DW)

Materially Weaker: American Movil (AMX), Synaptics (SYNA), Titan (TWI), Dish Network (DISH)

Discontinued: Time Warner Cable (TWC), Cleco (CNL), Fuel Systems Solutions (FSYS)

Coverage Initiated/Restored:

Market Barometers

Value Line Low Total Return (VLLTR) Forecast. The long-term low total return forecast for the 1700 companies featured in the Value Line Investment Survey is 5.6%, unchanged from 5.6% last week. For context, this indicator has ranged from low single digits (when stocks are generally overvalued) to approximately 20% when stocks are in the teeth of bear markets like 2008-2009.

Breaking.

Guggenheim has reinstated the S&P Small- and Mid-Cap equally-weighted funds: EWSC and EWMC

For a complete list of Guggenheim ETFs, see:

http://gi.guggenheiminvestments.com/products

Market Barometers (Continued)

In honor of this week’s Morningstar Investment Conference in Chicago, their weekly determination of stock prices in general vs. the “fair value” for the overall stock market.

Mstar market fair value 20160615

Stocks to Study (6/17/2016)

  • LKQ Corp (LKQ) — Highest MANIFEST Rank
  • Neustar (NSR) — Highest Low Return Forecast (VL)
  • Borg Warner (BWA) — Lowest P/FV (Morningstar)
  • Arris Group (ARRS) —Lowest P/FV (S&P)
  • China Auto Systems (CAAS) — Best 1-Yr Outlook (ACE)
  • Juniper Networks (JNPR) — Best 1-Yr Outlook (S&P)
  • Verifone Systems (PAY) — Best 1-Yr Outlook (GS)

The Long & Short of This Week’s Update Batch

The Long & Short. (June 17, 2016) Projected Annual Return (PAR): Long term return forecast based on fundamental analysis and five year time horizon. Quality Ranking: Percentile ranking of composite that includes financial strength, earnings stability and relative growth & profitability. VL Low Total Return (VLLTR): Low total return forecast based on 3-5 year price targets via Value Line Investment Survey. Morningstar P/FV: Ratio of current price to fundamentally-based fair value via www.morningstar.com S&P P/FV: Current price-to-fair value ratio via Standard & Poor’s. 1-Year ACE Outlook: Total return forecast based on analyst consensus estimates for 1-year target price combined with current yield. The data is ranked (descending order) based on this criterion. 1-Year S&P Outlook: 1-year total return forecast based on S&P 1-year price target. 1-Yr “GS” Outlook: 1-year total return forecast based on most recent price target issued by Goldman Sachs.

Cicadas and the Stock Market

This Week at MANIFEST (9/18/2015)

“The cicadas pierce the air with their searing one-note calls; dust eddies across the roads; from the weedy patches at the verges, grasshoppers whir. The leaves of the maples hang from their branches like limp gloves; on the sidewalk my shadow crackles.” — Margaret Atwood

“Nothing in the cry of cicadas suggests they are about to die” — Matsuo Bashō

“There was an electric buzzing sound that was constantly on, acting as background music like a million cicadas in the forest. A constant white noise.” — Missy Lyons

Cicadas have been used as money, in folk medicine, to forecast the weather, to provide song (in China), and in folklore and myths around the world.

The cicada has represented insouciance since classical antiquity. Jean de La Fontaine began his collection of fables Les fables de La Fontaine with the story La Cigale et la Fourmi (The Cicada and the Ant) based on one of Aesop’s fables: in it the cicada spends the summer singing while the ant stores away food, and finds herself without food when the weather turns bitter.

In China, the phrase “to shed the golden cicada skin” is the poetic name of the tactic of using deception to escape danger. It became one of the 36 classic Chinese stratagems. In the Chinese classic novel Journey to the West (16th century), the protagonist Priest of Tang was named the Golden Cicada; in this context the multiple shedding of shell of the cicada symbolizes the many stages of transformation required of a person before all illusions have been broken and one reaches enlightenment. This is also referred to in Japanese mythical ninja lore, as the technique of utsusemi (i.e., literally cicada), where ninjas would trick opponents into attacking a decoy. More generally, the cicada symbolizes rebirth and immortality in Chinese tradition.

In Japan, the cicada is associated with the summer season. According to Lafcadio Hearn, the song of Meimuna opalifera, called “tsuku-tsuku boshi”, is said to indicate the end of summer, and it is called so because of its particular call.

In an Ancient Greek myth, Tithonus eventually turns into a cicada after being granted immortality, but not eternal youth, by Zeus. The Greeks also used a cicada sitting on a harp as emblematic of music. [Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cicada]

15-17 Year Cycles In The Markets

From the dusty eddies of end-of-summer (or early autumn) corrections to the notions of noise and the reality of 13-17 year cycles, we find elements of investing in all things cicada. And we wish/hope that the flash crash cicadas will experience similar life cycles.

A number of academic studies have pegged market cycles at approximately 15-17 years. We’re not talking about economic cycles, but those secular trends that seem to last about that long. The bull market of 1982 through 2000 is one example. We just might be living through a cicada cycle from 2000-2002 to 2015-2017 until a real bull market returns. How can we say that? Haven’t we been in a bull market for several years?

Perhaps. Stock prices have recovered in recent years, staggering and muddling along to new highs — but there’s an uneasy feeling among many investors that much of it is artificial, bolstered by things like low interest rates, government seizure and ownership of equities and the quantitative easing of the last several years. As this has propagated, general profitability has been flat and hovering near recessionary levels for the better part of the last ten years. Demand has been quenched and productivity maximized.

We updated the VLLTR forecast chart to cover a period of approximately 16 years. This means that the blue trend line just might cover a full cycle and be “representative.” As we counsel, the blue trend is the real long term path and the spikes and troughs in the green bars (Wilshire 5000) spend time above and below the trend line — much like rising and falling tides in the turbulent oceans.

Investors should not be surprised by a migration back to that blue trend — most likely with some pendulum-like overshoot along the way — because regression to the trend is a little (maybe a lot) like gravity and it’s been historically fairly reliable.

If this is true, we’re likely to be presented with some outstanding long-term opportunities over the next few years as the opportunity cicadas awaken and sing.

Companies of Interest: Value Line

The average Value Line low total return forecast for the companies in this week’s update batch is 5.8% — in line with the 5.9% for the Value Line 1700.

Materially Stronger: CVS Health (CVS), Dycom Industries (DY), T-Mobile (TMUS)

Materially Weaker: Bioscrip (BIOS), Dana Holding (DAN), America Movil (AMX), Arris Group (ARRS), Cablevision (CVC), Dish Network (DISH) … “Dishonorable Mention”: Qualcomm (QCOM)

Standard Coverage Initiated: Shake Shack (SHAK)

Discontinued: DirecTV (DTV), Catamaran (CTRX), Integrys Energy (TEG)