What Have Clubs Bought & Sold?

The transactions displayed were recorded by investment clubs during the month of September 2017 as reported by bivio. bivio.com is a favorite record-keeping solution for investment club accounting and has an admirable record of exemplary customer service and cost-effectiveness for many years.

I’ve been an advocate of bivio as an invaluable club resource since I first met one of the co-founders Dr. Ion Yadigaroglu nearly twenty years ago. The leadership was subsequently assumed by Rob Nagler and a solid tradition of delivering a quality solution and outstanding service is currently led by Laurie Frederiksen. It’s been a while since we did a club Dashboard Diagnostics session and it’s probably time to remedy that. If you or your club would be interested in a live portfolio review using our dashboards, let me know.

As many of you know, I was responsible for the annual portfolio contest at Better Investing magazine several years ago. This afforded me the opportunity to witness success as I reviewed hundreds if not thousands of club portfolios. The best practices and outcomes observed became the genesis of Manifest Investing.

Trust Your Stock Study Results

The bull market has been on rampage for several years. In fact, the performance since 2009 now resembles and reminds many of us of the late-1990s, a period that we often regard as a golden age of investing. Do you remember? The analysis and methodology deployed by most investment clubs involves using the business models, trends and forecasts to build a long-term expectation for the companies that we study. Good stewardship mandates that we continually monitor all of the important influences and characteristics for the stocks that we own. This is the hallmark and foundation of the modern investment club movement.

Sometimes after a persistent bull market, investors can hoist the patience and discipline anchor. “This form of stock analysis does not work any more?” “P/E ratios no longer matter.” (That’s true, but only for special situations and circumstances.) Do you remember? “P/E ratios don’t matter for Cisco Systems (CSCO) … it’s by far the most strongly recommended stock on the stock market.” “Ignore that sell zone. This bandwagon is leaving the station.” We know with 20/20 hindsight and the soon-to-follow 92% drop over 1-2 years that some bandwagons are more cruel than others. We also know that CSCO was squarely in the sell zone of most of our stock studies at the time with a long-term return forecast in the negative double digits.

Do you remember?

We’re human. That’s why anchors matter.

bivio Clubs Activity Report: The Long & Short Term Perspective. (October 7, 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. bivio Clubs Net Buys vs. Sells: Number of reported purchases minus reported sales. The data is ranked (descending order) based on this criterion. 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.

Home Depot (HD): Business Model Analysis. The assumptions for Home Depot for a sales growth forecast of 5-7%, net profitability of 8-9% and a projected average P/E of 18x generate a return forecast in the mid-single digits.

The Bottom Line of any Stock Study is the Return Forecast

Home Depot (HD) is not Cisco Systems (CSCO). Home Depot is an exceptional company that dramatically weathered an industry DEPRESSION and not only survived but thrived. It ranks among the most widely-followed companies by subscribers at Manifest Investing and trust me, we’re grateful. But most of us would consider it a “Strong Hold” — not a “Buy” — under current conditions and based on the accompanying business model analysis.

Following a long bull market, some club participants begin to question the return forecasts of some of their favorite holdings. Some live in fear of the next bear market and urge colleagues to stick to blue chips and it doesn’t matter what the price or return forecast looks like. Many, many average investors flee to defensive blue chips and this has been going on for a long time as talking heads and pundits have been telling us to run for the hills for YEARS. The result of this is that many of our foundational favorite stocks are no longer attractive purchase candidates. Yes, quality matters. Quality is what keeps us safe when the next correction or bear market finally does arrive. Because it will. Nobody can tell you when. But, PRICE MATTERS TOO. Because return forecasts matter. Buying stocks with relatively low return forecasts will compromise your long-term returns and results.

For some context, we track approximately 2400 stocks at Manifest Investing. The average return forecast for those stocks (based on the collective results of a pile of stock studies) is now 6-7%.

Many of the companies at the top of the activity list have fairly weak long-term forecasts. We publish versions of this long-term and short-term perspective profile so that we can compare some trusted second opinions. In this case, note the general level of the low total return forecasts according to Value Line. We also check the price-to-fair value (P/FV) from Morningstar and S&P. A value less than 100% is regarded as potentially “on sale.” A value greater than 100% suggests that a stock is at least, temporarily, overvalued. Or expensive. Scan the list from top to bottom.

The lower return forecasts and expectations are generally at the top of the chart while the opposite is true at the bottom.

Home Depot (HD) is an example of a company that typically will reach a stock price plateau. Some of those plateaus have historically extended for many years. In many cases over the years, the stock price stagnates during an extended run where the business fundamentals steadily improve. This was the case for Home Depot a few years ago. I have no idea what lies ahead for Home Depot, it’s just that I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised by a plateau.

Which brings us to General Electric (GE) … the most heavily sold stock during September 2017.

In a game of word association — group therapy for GE shareholders — one of the most common words might be “fatigue.” GE shareholders are exhausted. How long can doldrums last? For this reason, and perhaps some tax-related selling at this time of year, we understand why an investor might feel compelled to sell GE.

But … as you complete your business model analysis, be sure to account for the dramatic changes in the structure of the company over the last few years. The General Electric of 2017 no where near resembles the General Electric of 2014. The financial component has been divested, a number of less profitable business units have been shed and the company on our screens is a different animal. Much of what they have retained and intend to strategically exploit are world class leaders in their enterprises. Take power generation and jet engines. World class. GE has added the remnants of Combustion Engineering and a number of water technology innovators to the mix. Their emphasis on deploying technology in the realm of healthcare continues to expand. GE has new executive leadership. Long story short — you can’t use much of the data array older than a year or two as you build a representative understanding of what the future may hold for GE.

Long story even shorter — our colleague Hugh McManus has been accumulating General Electric (GE) for the last few months as a participant in our monthly webcast series known as the Round Table. If you’re “selling” your shares, Hugh and his fellow knights and damsels are “buying” them. Hugh has a track record as a very successful stock picker and is notorious (and respected) for his long-term perspective. GE will be our featured stock this month.

Prudent Shopping & Good Things, “Small” Packages

We use consensus-driven individual stock analyses and dashboards to manage portfolios. Dashboards can also be used as a home for industry studies and pounce piles. In this case, we created a public dashboard for the stocks listed in this bivio activity report. You can access that dashboard here: bivio Clubs Activity: September 2017

Clicking on the PAR (Projected Annual Return) column header will sort the return forecasts from highest to lowest.

But this also comes with a caveat. Lists like these are almost always large company biased. This is because it’s a national/global compilation and the larger, more liquid, companies are just generally more likely to appear when they’re all “rolled up.”

One of the most critical aspects of building a successful long-term performance is to discover and prudently own some high-quality faster-growing companies. During September and October every year, we turn over leaves and hunt down promising needles in haystacks — the types of companies (think Bio-Reference Labs, Neogen, Masimo, Mesa Labs, Simulations Plus, Universal Display and a number of others) that bolster long-term returns. The search for promising smaller companies should never end and we intensify our efforts during the fourth quarter each year to — in some cases — take advantage of tax-related selling and the January Effect.

1. Check the rigging on your anchor.

2. Build and maintain expectations (do your homework) and use the results to guide your efforts. It’s what sets us apart from a herd of confused, weaker-performing participants known as “average investors.”

Don’t let your friends be average investors. Invest With Your Friends. Thanks, bivio!

March Madness: What Works On Main Street

March Madness: What Works On Main Street

This editorial appeared in Better Investing magazine back in April 2000 in response to a widely-circulated “research paper” that assailed investment club performance. In my opinion, investment clubs unleash stewardship and deliver the potential for better futures to all who come to understand the philosophy and methods.

by Mark Robertson, Senior Contributing Editor, Better Investing

The coming of April showers means that, once again, March Madness has come and gone. March Madness. With each passing year, I find that I enjoy the mighty meetings of high school basketball teams, closely followed by their collegiate counterparts. By the time this magazine reaches your coffee table, there’s a pretty good chance that a number of magical moments will have happened. Gene Hackman and his Hoosiers were just one shining moment. There will be others. The goose bumps are “on ice” just waiting to be experienced. “Do you believe in miracles?”

We’ve acknowledged in past articles that George Nicholson always regarded NAIC and investment clubs as his “Grand Experiment.” Investment clubs are also human. The things that can be discovered are nothing short of miraculous.

Exploring the rewards of investing while stripping away the myth and mystery is something that brings a smile to our faces. Learning to smile together is a gift that we hope to share with as many people as humanly possible.

March Madness. It brings out the best. Unfortunately, it sometimes brings out the worst, too.

The January/February 2000 issue of the Financial Analysts Journal features an article by Brad Barber and Terrance Odean entitled, Too Many Cooks Spoil the Profits. This publication is received by Chartered Financial Analysts. Although fairly few people will ever see this report, we believe that exploring some of the conclusions is worthwhile. If nothing else, Barber and Odean have been regularly appearing in the media. We think they could gain much from a better understanding of investment clubs and strategic long-term investing.

Quoting their conclusion: “Unfortunately, [investment clubs] do not beat the market.”

We have “been here” before and it won’t be the last time. A year ago, a number of publications assailed our Beardstown Ladies. Too many cooks? Most of us rather like cooking with our friends. There is some impressive cookin’ going on. There will come a day that we’ll demonstrate that we not only achieve (in the words of Barber and Odean) “savings, education, friendship and entertainment . . .” but we also achieve very promising performance levels as well. Collectively, NAIC investors achieve high returns. Clearly, this does not happen for every single club or every individual, but we have scores of success stories. We think it’s valid to point to our Top 100, this issue’s main feature, as substantial evidence. With Intel, Lucent Technologies, Home Depot, Cisco Systems, Merck, PepsiCo and Microsoft among the most widely held companies, clearly somelevel of success has been attained by our practitioners.

Nearly 4,500 investment clubs (11.9 percent of registered clubs) responded to our latest Top 100 Survey with complete portfolio summaries and club accounting reports. Barber and Odean assail the “touting” of investment club performance in the media by citing sample bias. Barber and Odean base their findings on 166 investment club account statements from a single discount broker! Not only that, they cite turnover levels of 65 percent (nearly a complete overhaul of the stocks within a club portfolio every year-and-a-half.) Barber and Odean also share that these club accounts were concentrated in high beta, small-cap stocks. These characteristics lead us to a simple question, “Are you sure that you’re assessing NAIC club performance?” That doesn’t sound like what the long-term investors we know about are doing.

Most people are not statisticians, but I think that they can sense that 4,500 data points might be more representative than 166. Particularly when the “166” are “weak.”

The authors dwell on excessive turnover and poor returns due to commission costs. We ran a quick, biased, completely unscientific survey to investigate a hunch. Approximately 50 online investors responded. I think we can assume that these investors are “most likely” to be the most active. We asked them to provide their turnover figure for 1999. The highest turnover rate reported was 40 percent. The lowest, from several respondents, was 0 percent. (No sell transactions for the year.) The average was 8 percent. Unscientific, yes. And admittedly biased. But, in my opinion, closer to the truth about what long-term investors are really doing.

Here’s another aspect that the Barber and Odean study that raises questions. MANY investment clubs use dividend reinvesting. So, I went back and checked. In 1996, our investment club had 64 percent of our assets in DRPs. Our discount brokerage account would have been terribly UNinformative about the true performance of our club.

Barber and Odean include another rehash of the Beardstown Brouhaha of 1999 as “evidence” of poor performance. It bears repeating. Investment clubs, including our Beardstown Ladies, are human. A mistake was made. But, for the record, the Beardstown Ladies achieved a 15.3 percent annualized return for the 14 years ended in 1997. (This was part of the Price Waterhouse audit.) The annualized return for the S&P 500 for this same 14-year period was 16.9 percent.

If the ladies are guilty of under performance, consider this: In his book, Common Sense on Mutual Funds, John Bogle Sr. documents that only 14.1 percent of “growth and value” mutual funds beat the Wilshire 5000 (16.0 percent returns for the total market) for the 14 years ending in 1997. While committing their “crime,” our Beardstown Ladies “defeated” 5-out-of-6 mutual funds.

March Madness, indeed.

Is the point that the ladies would have been better off stuffing their recipes and cold cash into the corners of their mattresses? I certainly hope not, because if that’s the case, these two educators are not only failing to educate — they’re DE-educating.

A number of us recently gathered online to discuss James O’Shaughnessy’s book, What Works on Wall Street. What works on MAIN Street?

Patience. Discipline. Discovering the best companies, at the best prices, with our friends. Too many cooks? Not even close! It’s the best type of cooking capitalism has to offer.