In Episode 49, we welcome Dr. Steve Sjuggerud. The conversation begins with Meb and Steve reminiscing about the origin of their friendship, which dates back some 10 years. This leads the guys into Steve’s background, and how he transitioned from being a broker into being the highly-popular investment newsletter writer he is today.
Meb asks Steve to describe his investing framework. Similar to Meb, Steve likes both value and trend. Specifically, he looks for 3 things: assets that are “cheap,” “hated,” and “in an uptrend.” This methodology applies to all sorts of asset classes. The guys dig deeper into value and trend, leading to Steve ultimately to say, “If I had to choose between one or the other, I would actually choose momentum over value.” Meb agrees.
Next, Meb asks how the world looks to Steve today. Is he buying? Defensive? Where’s he looking? And so on…
Steve tells there are always reasons to sell or stay out of the market. Despite this, Steve’s thesis is that interest rates will stay lower than you can imagine, longer than you can imagine. And this will drive asset classes higher than we can imagine. We’re still not at absurd equity levels yet here in the U.S. – Steve says we’re maybe around the 7th or 8th inning of this bull market. But the biggest gains can often come at the end of a bull market, so there’s potentially more significant room to run.
As the guys discuss this, the conversation tilts toward investor sentiment. They agree that irrational exuberance for this bull market simply doesn’t exist right now. There’s no euphoria. Steve sums it up simply: “This is not what the peak of a bull market looks like.”
Yeah, valuations are high, but interest rates are near historic lows. Relative to bond yields, the equity values are far more reasonable. Investors need to compare returns to what you can get through other asset classes.
The guys jump around a bit, touching upon the warning signs Steve will look for to tip him off as to when to bail on U.S. stocks, a discussion of the Commitment of Traders report and how to use it, and then a discussion of U.S. housing and how it’s a solid investment right now because housing starts are nowhere near what they need to be to equalize supply and demand.
The guys then turn toward foreign equities, where it appears that value and trend are lining up. Foreign has been cheap for a while, but it’s been underperforming. And now that appears to be changing. Meb asks Steve to tell us what he’s seeing – it generally boils down to one big thing: China.
You’ll definitely want to listen to this part of the discussion, as Steve tells us about a revolution in mobile payments that’s already happened in China (and will likely happen here in the U.S.). But beyond that, Chinese stocks as a whole are now incredibly cheap. Even better, there are going to be tailwinds of adding Chinese stocks to a major index. I won’t get into the details here, but the analogy the guys use is having the teacher’s manual of a high school textbook with all the answers ahead of time. Best of all, Steve gives us the names of some actual ETFs that may benefit from this trend.
There’s much more in this value-packed episode: gold and gold mining stocks… Steve’s investment in St. Gaudens coins… Steve’s surfboard and vintage guitar collections (including the story of a $30K guitar he bought and later sold for $72K)… And of course, Steve’s most memorable trade – which involved a painful 50% loss for Steve and his subscribers, all stemming from the lie of a certain global politician.
Which politician and which lie? Find out in Episode 49.
In Episode 48, we break new ground for The Meb Faber Show. Departing from our usual world of stocks and bonds, we welcome expert numismatist, Van Simmons. For anyone unfamiliar with the word, a “numismatist” is a rare coin collector.
We start where we usually do – with a bit of background on our guest. Van gives us a quick overview on how he got into his line of work. But it’s not long before the guys jump into the world of rare coins, with Meb asking Van to provide a general, contextual overview.
Van’s description of the world steers the conversation toward perhaps one of Van’s biggest contributions to the coin collecting community – the creation of an innovative coin grading standard. Meb believes this grading standard was huge, as “not getting screwed” is such a concern for all sorts of investors.
Next, the guys cover a few, quick questions – how has coin space evolved over the years… what were the biggest seismic changes… and which demographic Van sees as the most active in this space. But they dig deeper when the conversation turns toward international demand – specifically from China.
Van tells us how he bought two high-grade Chinese silver dollars in the late 90s. He found them in his safe two and a half years ago, and wondered what they were worth. He called an auction company and was told that he could have sold them at their last auction about four months earlier for $60-70K a coin (Van actually sold the coins some months later at a hefty price, though not quite this high). And what had Van paid for those coins? $600 for one and $900 for the other.
Meb brings the conversation back to U.S. market, asking Van if there is a most famous or most traded coin – in essence, is there a “blue chip” coin?
Van tells us one of them would be a 1907 twenty-dollar high relief (a $20 Saint Gaudens). He follows up with more color on the coin’s origin, dating back to President Roosevelt, as well as some interesting trivia on it relating to its high-relief profile. Other coins Van mentions are the 1804 Silver Dollar and the 1913 Liberty Nickel.
Next, Meb asks how a new coin investor with a long time-horizon could get started with $10K. Meb reveals this is not an academic question – he actually intends to have Van build him a portfolio with a $10K seed. Meb’s criteria are: one, spread his money around as much as possible, say, up to 5-10 coins; two, he wants to tilt toward beautiful coins; and three, Meb wants coins that have some historical significance. Van gives us his thoughts.
The guys jump around a bit before getting onto the topic of counterfeiters. Unfortunately, this can be a problem. Van tells us a story illustrating the danger before the guys discuss how to avoid getting ripped off.
This leads into the topic of common mistakes that new coin collectors make. Van tells us that the biggest mistake is buying everything. The hardest thing to do is find someone you trust who will steer you toward great pieces that will hold value.
Next, Van and Meb branch out, discussing other collectibles. There’s talk of pocket knives, Native American artifacts, baseball/basketball cards – even a great story involving Meb’s mom and a Michael Jordan rookie basketball card.
Meb asks Van as technology improves, at what point does grading become software based, with optical recognition?
Turns out, this technology has already been here – and Van was a big part of its creation. But the collecting community preferred human-graders. It’s a fascinating story you’ll want to hear.
There’s lots more in this episode: a Mickey Mantle card worth $5M… Milton Friedman (one of Van’s clients) discussing the inevitable demise of the U.S. dollar… and of course, Van’s most memorable story related to collecting. This one involves a long-lost coin that turned out to be very valuable.
What are the details? Find out in Episode 48.
In Episode 47, we welcome New York Times bestselling author, Ric Edelman.
We start with some quick background on Ric, but then jump into the main topic: the future of technology and how it will affect our lives.
In essence, the future is going to look far different than what we’ve known. The tendency is to believe that the future will be similar to what our parents and grandparents experienced as they aged. A linear progression – school, work, retirement, death.
Ric tells us this is going to change. The linear lifeline is going away. It will more resemble school, work, back to school, a new, different career, then a sabbatical, more school, and so on… Think of a lifeline that’s more cyclical.
What’s the reason? Well, we’re going to be living far longer. Technological and health care advances mean we’re going to be far more vibrant much later in life, so this will change everything we know about retirement and our traditional life-paths.
The guys then dig into the role that technology and robots will play in all this. Robots are going to eliminate numerous existing occupations. On the other hand, new jobs and skill sets will be created, but we’ll have to go back to school to learn them.
Meb ask Ric to dive deeper into this “loss of jobs” forecast, as it’s a common source of concern for many people.
Because of computers’ increased capacity, robots will be able to do jobs that humans do – and not just “factory line” type jobs. Any jobs that are repetitive in nature are at risk – which means white collar jobs too; for example, certain types of legal work. As another example, did you know that computers are already writing news articles? There’s a program that currently writes sports stories, and apparently, readers can’t tell the difference between a human and computer author.
Ric tells us “According to Oxford University, 47% of the occupations in America will be gone within 15 years.”
So what can you do to protect yourself from being replaced by a robot?
There are 4 skill sets that will give you an edge: thinking, managing, creating, and communicating. These four things will be the most difficult for computers to do.
The conversation bounces around a bit before the guys dig deeper into how working has changed over the years – and how it will continue to change. This leads into a conversation contrasting the “New York model” with the “Hollywood model.”
In essence, the New York model is “one job.” You do a given thing with same people for the same customers for decades. With the Hollywood model, you have a group of people who come together for one project, though they’re likely working on multiple projects at the same time. You’re using your skills in a wide variety of activities at the same time. We’re moving toward a Hollywood model.
Meb asks how this view of the future impacts asset allocation.
There are two big ways: One, we need to increase our allocation to stocks far more, and maintain it for much longer. Most peoples’ asset allocation models are flawed in this manner.
Two, we need to re-think the types of companies that are in our portfolios. Most of these businesses were likely built for the 20th century – and if so, they’re at risk of failing in the 21st century. As an example, think Kodak that went bankrupt when it couldn’t transition and monetize newer technologies. Ric mentions Tesla and AirBnB as two examples of 21st century companies.
This leads into a discussion about an ETF that targets only 21st Century companies. You’ll want to hear this topic.
There’s way more in this episode: behavioral challenges for investors and the role that an advisor should play in helping… an irrevocable trust, created by Ric, that’s helping parents save money for their children… the challenges facing Social Security given our much longer life-spans… Even why personal finance isn’t taught in schools, despite being one of the most critical skills our kids should learn.
So why isn’t it taught? Hear Ric’s thoughts in Episode 47.
In Episode 46, we welcome Real Vision TV co-founder, Raoul Pal. The guys start by going over a bit of Raoul’s background.
Raoul started his career by running equity and equity derivatives at Goldman Sachs. Through this, he learned the macro investing world. He then joined a hedge fund, managing its global macro fund before retiring at 36 on the coast of Spain. But it was then that Raoul decided to start a research service, the Global Macro Investor, aimed at large, institutional players.
However, in 2008, Raoul realized the ordinary investor had been let down by the system and financial media. So, in an effort to help, Raoul founded Real Vision TV with Grant Williams. Real Vision features the smartest guys in the world teaching you how to invest, what their best ideas are, and so on…
After this background, the guys jump in, with Meb asking Raoul about his overall investing framework. Raoul tells us this whole game is about probabilities. To invest successfully, we look for times when the odds are in our favor. So, to look for these times, Raoul developed a system based on the business cycle – with a focus on GDP, as asset prices are moved by economic growth. The model relies heavily on findings from ISM reports (Institute for Supply Management). Raoul tells us that when looking at ISM numbers, it’s not just the level that counts, but also the rate of change of those levels. Overall, this model helps forecast S&P levels, bond yields, inflation, world trade… basically everything!
So, what is it saying now?
“We’ve got to expect a recession this year or next year, or if we’re at the wild extremes, the year after that.”
Meb brings up stats from Ned Davis, tying ISM levels to market returns. He says how last year, it appeared that ISM levels were rolling over, but then they steadied and now are a bit high. He asks Raoul what it means for us now.
You’ll want to hear Raoul’s response, which includes the possibility that asset prices may weaken soon – while bond yields may suffer significantly.
Meb then points to Raoul’s call of a potential short trade in oil. Raoul tell us that this is the largest speculation in oil – ever. Way too many people went long, and this speculative positioning is too far ahead of the actual business cycle. He says oil is maybe $10-$15 too high right now. It’s coming close to being a perfect trade setup. Oil could hit as low as $30.
Next, the guys discuss great opportunities around the globe. Raoul points to Cypress. Greek stocks are still hammered too. He says the upside could be huge – potentially 10x your money. Meb agrees, mentioning his own study about markets that have gone down big, or stayed down for many years. The upside is often spectacular.
The conversation then steers toward one the biggest emerging macro story in the world – India. You’re going to want to hear this one. It’s a fascinating story, and Raoul gives us actionable investment ideas.
Next up – Bitcoin. Raoul gives us a quick primer on Bitcoin and blockchain technology. He tells us that many people are confused as to what, exactly, it is – currency? Investment? Raoul gives us his thoughts.
There’s way more, as this episode is packed with great content. The guys talk about Google’s and IBM’s prospects as investments… artificial intelligence… making money entrepreneurially rather than through investing… and Raoul’s most memorable trade – it’s fascinating story involving the South African Rand that you don’t want to miss.
What are the details? Find out in Episode 46.
In Episode 45, we welcome one of the most often-requested guests for our podcast, Gary Antonacci.
After a few minutes on Gary’s background, the guys dive into Gary’s “Dual Momentum” research. To make sure everyone is on the same page, Meb asks for definitions before theory. “Relative momentum” compares one asset to another. “Absolute momentum” compares performance to its own track record over time, also called time-series momentum. Gary uses a 12-month lookback, and compares his results to the S&P and other global markets. In essence, you’re combining these two types of momentum for outperformance.
The guys talk a bit about using just one of the types of momentum versus combining them, but Gary tells us “You get a synergy that happens when you use (Dual Momentum).” The compound annual growth rate applied to the indices is 16.2% dating back to 1971, compared to the S&P’s 10.5%. And the reduction in volatility and drawdown is under 20% compared to 51% for the S&P.
With the basics of Gary’s Dual Momentum out of the way, Meb decides to go down some rabbit holes. He asks about the various extensions on Dual Momentum. It turns out, Gary says you can introduce some additional granularity, but not a lot. Almost nothing really improves the current version of Dual Momentum substantially. (And in case you’re wondering, you can go to Optimalmomentum.com to track Gary’s performance.)
Meb then brings up questions that came in via Twitter. The first: “What sort of evidence would be required to convince Gary that Dual Momentum won’t work in the future?”
Gary tells us that because the evidence for Dual Momentum is so strong, the evidence against it would have to be strong. We would need more than a few years of underperformance, and instead, a full market cycle of underperformance. But more importantly, he’d want to understand why it would underperform – for instance, perhaps everyone decided to become a trend follower, squeezing out the alpha? Gary quickly ads that such a scenario will likely never happen due to our behavioral tendencies as investors.
The next Twitter question: “What are your thoughts on doing something alpha oriented versus just dropping into cash and bonds when you’re in a downtrend?”
Gary says shorting doesn’t work because of an upward bias to stocks. Meb agrees, saying that shorting actually amps up risk and volatility, but doesn’t really add to risk-adjusted returns.
Next, Meb brings up a post Gary wrote about commodities – are they still a good diversifier? The idea is that markets and their participants change over time. Gary thinks passive commodities have changed over time. And while they were a good diversifier to a stock/bond portfolio before, everyone has started doing it, which changed the nature of the market, reducing the benefit.
Gary also mentions the risk of others front-running you. Meb chimes in, agreeing – you’re going to want to hear this back-and-forth.
There’s tons more in this episode: moving away from market cap weighting when using Dual Momentum… Dual Momentum applied to sector rotation… sports gambling… our tendencies to stray from our investment plans… and Gary’s most memorable trade – hint: it involves an options blow-up.
What are the details? Find out in Episode 45.
Last week’s solo “Mebisode” was met with lots of positive feedback, so we’re going to do one more in this format before we return to interviewing guests. Therefore, in Episode 44, Meb walks us through his book, “Invest with the House, Hacking the Top Hedge Funds.”
Picking stocks is hard—and competitive. The most talented investors in the world play this game, and if you try to compete against them, it’s like playing against the house in a casino. Luck can be your friend for a while, but eventually the house wins. But what if you could lay down your bets with the house instead of against it?
In the stock market, the most successful large investors—particularly hedge fund managers—represent the house. These managers like to refer to their top investments as their “best ideas.” In today’s podcast, you will learn how to farm the best ideas of the world’s top hedge fund managers. Meb tells us who they are, how to track their funds and stock picks, and how to use that information to help guide your own portfolio. In essence, you will learn how to play more like the house in a casino and less like the sucker relying on dumb luck.
So how do you do it? Find out in Episode 44.
Episode 43 finds us revisiting the “solo Meb” show. This time, he walks us through his research paper, Learning to Play Offense and Defense: Combining Value and Momentum from the Bottom Up, and the Top Down. If you’re on-the-go, then this episode is perfect for you as it’s a bit shorter.
Sorting stocks based on value and momentum factors historically has led to outperformance over the broad U.S. stock market. However, any long-only strategy is subject to similar volatility and drawdowns as the S&P 500. And as we all know, drawdowns of 50%, 60%, or even 90% make a buy-and-hold stock strategy incredibly challenging. Is there a way not only to add value on your stock selection, but also to reduce volatility and drawdowns of a long only strategy with hedging techniques?
In Episode 43, Meb examines how we might combine aggressive offense and smart defense to target outsized returns with manageable risk and drawdowns.
Episode 42 is a remote podcast with Meb calling in from Hawaii. Fortunately, the roosters in the background aren’t loud enough to interfere...
Though this is a Q&A episode, it’s slightly different in nature. Rather than discuss listener questions, we’re experimenting with using some of Meb’s “tweets of the week” as our topics of conversation. It’s a way of getting inside Meb’s head a bit more. We’d love your feedback, so love it or hate it, let us know how we can make this format (or any, for that matter) better and more beneficial for you.
Some topics you’ll hear covered in this episode include:
- How do you know when your market strategy has lost its efficacy, versus when it’s simply having a rough stretch, yet will rebound?
Details: One of Meb’s tweets suggested “After you read Buffett’s new letter to investors, read this,” which pointed toward his post about how Buffett’s long-term returns have crushed those of nearly everyone else, though he’s underperformed the market in 7 of the last 9 years. This brought to mind a question which Meb asked Ed Thorp: “When do you know when a strategy has failed, versus when it is time to remain faithful, as reversion to the mean is likely about to happen?” The Thorp answer was generally, “Do your homework so you know whether your drawdown is within the normal range of probabilities, or something unique” We push Meb on how a retail investor is supposed to do that.
- With the VIX hovering around 11, is Meb considering buying LEAPS?
Details: If you’re not an options guy, don’t worry. Meb takes this question in a slightly different direction, discussing low volatility and options more in a “portfolio insurance” type of way. You buy insurance on your home and car, right? Buying puts at these low volatility levels has some similarities to buying portfolio insurance.
- The last time stock market newsletters were this bullish was Jan. 1987. To what extent does this level of ubiquitous optimism get Meb nervous?
Details: Lots of indicators seems to be suggesting we’re far closer to the end of this bull market than the beginning. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen tomorrow. You’ll hear Meb’s take on various indicators and what he’s taking away from them right now.
- Newfound did a study, finding that the 60/40 model is predicting 0% through 2025. What are Meb’s thoughts in general?
Details: Meb is not surprised by this prediction. He’s discussed future returns based on starting valuations for a long time. But if you’re somewhat new to the podcast, this is a great primer on how Meb views potential returns of various asset classes going forward.
There’s plenty more, including something Cliff Asness referred to as “deeply irrelevant,” how advisers can excel as robos continue changing the investment landscape, Meb’s experience at a recent Charlie Munger speech, and Meb’s issue with Tony Robbins.
What is it? Find out in Episode 42.
In Episode 41, we welcome Doug Ramsey from Leuthold. Meb is especially excited about this, as Leuthold publishes his favorite, monthly research piece, the Green Book.
After getting a recap of Doug’s background, Meb dives in. Given that we’re in the Dow’s second longest bull run in history, Meb asks how Doug sees market valuation right now.
Doug’s response? “Well, that’s a good place to start cause we’ll get the worst news out of the way first...”
As will surprise no one, Doug sees high valuations – believing that trailing earnings-based metrics might actually be underestimating the valuation risk.
This prompts Meb to bring up Leuthold’s “downside risk” tables. In general, they’re showing that we’re about 30% overvalued. Across no measure does it show we’re fairly valued or cheap.
Doug agrees, but tells us about a little experiment he ran, based on the question “what if the S&P were to revert to its all-time high valuation, which was on 3/24/2000?” That would mean our further upside would stretch to about 3,400, and we’re a little under 2,400 today. Doug summarizes by telling us that if this market is destined to melt up, there’s room to run.
Meb agrees, and makes the point that all investors have to consider the alternate perspective. While most people believe that the markets are substantially overvalued, that doesn’t mean we’re standing on the edge of a drawdown. As we all know, markets can keep rising, defying expectations.
The conversation then drifts into the topic of how each bull market has different characteristics. Meb wants to know how Doug would describe the current one. Doug tells us the mania in this bull market has been in safety, low volatility, and dividends. Overall, this cycle has been characterized by fear – play it conservative.
The guys then bounce around across several topics: small cap versus large cap and where these values are now… sentiment, and what a difference a year makes (Doug says it’s the most optimistic sentiment he’s seen in the last 8 years)… even “stock market returns relative to the Presidential political party” (historically, democratic Presidents have started office at a valuation of 15.5, leading to average returns of 48%, while republicans have taken over at a valuation of 19, which has dragged returns down to 25%). The bad news? Trump is starting at very high valuations.
Next, the guys get into the biggest problem with indexing – market cap weighting. Leuthold looked at what happens to equities once they hit 4% of their index. The result? It becomes incredibly hard to perform going forward. It’s just near impossible to stay up in those rarified market cap tiers. So what’s the takeaway? Well, Doug tell us that he’d bet on the 96% of other stocks in the S&P outperforming Apple over next 10 years.
This episode is packed with additional content: foreign stock valuations… value, momentum, and trend… the Coppock Curve (with a takeaway that might surprise you – higher prices are predicted for the next 12-24 months!)… The best sectors and industries to be in now… Why 2016 was the 2nd worst year in the past 89 years for momentum…
Finally, for you listeners who have requested we pin our guests down on more “implementable” advice, Meb directly asks what allocation Doug would recommend for retail investors right now.
What’s his answer? Find out in Episode 41.
We’ve had some great guests recently, and have many more coming up, so we decided to slip in a quick Q&A episode. No significant, recent travel for Meb, so we dive into questions quickly. A few you’ll hear tackled are:
- Some folks talk about how the inflation numbers are manipulated by the government, and how the calculations have changed. Is there any merit to this?
- What is your opinion on market neutral strategies? If you had to build a market neutral ETF, what strategy would you use?
- Your buddy, Josh Brown, indicates that a significant portion of valuations, specifically CAPE, are the confidence in the stability of the stock market, which will justify high valuations here in the U.S. This makes intuitive sense, but I’d like your thoughts.
- Have you given any thought to the application of a trend following approach over a lifetime? Specially, use buy-and-hold when younger, but move to trend as one approaches retirement?
- Based on your whitepapers, you’ve indicated that trend following is not designed to increase returns, but rather, to limit/protect your portfolio from drawdowns. If this is the case, how does an increase in the allocation toward trend in your Trinity portfolios correlate to a more aggressive portfolio? It seems if “more trend” is supposed to reduce drawdowns, it should be found in Trinity 1 instead of Trinity 6.
- Have you done any research on earnings growth rates compared with CAPE to get a more accurate indicator of expected returns? For example, while the CAPE for many countries in Europe is low, their growth rates are also considerably lower than the U.S., which could justify the lower CAPE as compared with the U.S. Your thoughts?
- Does your “down 5 years in a row” rule apply to uranium, or is it too small?
As usual, there’s plenty more, including a listener wondering why Meb didn’t challenge Rob Arnott on a discussion topic during Rob’s episode, why Meb is in a cranky mood (involves auditing), and a request for more gifts of tequila from listeners. All this and more in Episode 40.
In Episode 39, we welcome the legendary Ed Thorp. Ed is a self-made man after having been a child of The Depression. He’s a professor, a renowned mathematician, a fund manager who’s posted one of the lengthiest and best investment track records in all of finance, a best-selling author (his most recent book is A Man for All Markets), the creator of the first wearable computer, and finally, the individual responsible for “counting cards.”
Meb begins the episode in the same place as does Ed in his new book, the Depression. Meb asks how that experience shaped Ed’s world view. Ed tells us about being very poor, and how it forced him to think for himself, as well as teach himself. In fact, Ed even taught himself how to make his own gunpowder and nitroglycerine.
This dovetails into the various pranks that Ed played as a mischievous youth. Ed tells us the story of dying a public pool blood-red, resulting in a general panic.
It’s not long before we talk about Ed’s first Las Vegas gambling experience. He had heard of a blackjack system developed by some quants, that was supposed to give the player a slight mathematical advantage. So Ed hit the tables with a strategy-card based on that system. At first, his decisions caused other players at the table to ridicule him. But when Ed’s strategy ended up causing him to hit “21” after drawing 7 cards, the players’ opinions instantly changed from ridicule to respect.
This was the basis from which Ed would create his own counting cards system. Meb asks for a summary of how it works. Ed gives us the highlights, which involve a number count that helps a player identify when to bet big or small.
Meb then asks why Ed decided to publish his system in academic journals instead of keeping it hush-hush and making himself a fortune. Ed tells us that he was academically-oriented, and the spirit of science is to share.
The conversation turns toward the behavioral side of gambling (and investing). Once we move from theory to practice, the impact of emotions plays a huge role. There’s a psychic burden on morale when you’re losing. Meb asks how Ed handled this.
Ed tells us that his early days spent gambling in the casinos were a great training ground for later, when he would be “gambling” with tens of millions of dollars in the stock market. He said his strategy was to start small, so he could handle the emotions of losing. As he became more comfortable with his level of risk, he would scale his bets to the next level, grow comfortable, then move up again from there. In essence, don’t bet too much too fast.
This dovetails into the topic of how to manage money using the Kelly Criterion, which is a system for deciding the amount to bet in a favorable situation. Ed explains that if you bet too small, won’t make much money, even if you win. However, “if you bet too much, you’ll almost certainly be ruined.” The Kelly Criterion helps you determine the appropriate middle ground for position sizing using probabilities.
It turns out that Ed was so successful with his methods, that Vegas changed the rules and eventually banned Ed from their casinos. To continue playing, Ed turned to disguises, and tells a fun story about growing a beard and using contact lenses to avoid identification.
Meb tells us about one of his own card-counting experiences, which was foiled by his partner’s excessive Bloody Mary consumption.
Next, we move to Wall Street. Meb brings up Ed’s performance record, which boasts one of the highest risk-adjusted returns of all time – in 230 months of investing, Ed had just 3 down months, and all were 1% or less. Annualized, his performance was over 19%.
Ed achieved this remarkable record by hedging securities that were mispriced – using convertible bond and options from the same company. There was also some index arbitraging. Overall, Ed’s strategy was to hedge away as much risk as possible, then let a diversified portfolio of smaller bets play out.
Meb asks, when you have a system that has an edge, yet its returns begin to erode, how do you know when it’s time to give up the strategy, versus when to invest more (banking on mean reversion of the strategy). Ed tells us that he asks himself, “Did the system work in the past, is it working now, and do I believe it will it in the future?” Also “What is the mechanism that’s driving it?” You need to understand whether the less-than-desired current returns are outside the range of usual fluctuation. If you don’t know this, then you won’t know whether you’re experiencing bad luck (yet within statistical reason) or if something has truly changed and your “bad luck” is actually abnormal and concerning.
Next, Meb asks about Ed’s most memorable trade. You’ll want to hear this one for yourself, but it involves buying warrants for $0.27, and the stock price eventually rising to $180.
There’s plenty more in this fantastic episode, including why Ed told his wife that Warren Buffett would be the richest man in America one day (said back in 1968)… What piece of investing advice Ed would give to the average investor today… Ed’s interest in being cryogenically frozen… And finally, Ed’s thoughts on the source of real life-happiness, and how money fits in.
The show ends with Meb revealing that he has bought Ed and himself two lottery Powerball tickets, and provides Ed the numbers. Will Ed win this bet? The drawing is soon, so we’ll see.
All this and more in Episode 39.
In honor of this Sunday’s Super Bowl, Episode 38 is a special, bonus “gambling” podcast. We welcome mystery guest, E.V. Better, which is an alias for “Expected Value Better.”
Meb starts by asking E.V. how he got to this point in his career. E.V. had a traditional finance background, working at a long/short hedge fund for 5 years, but realized he could apply certain predictive analytics that work in the financial world to the sports betting world. He helped create a basketball model at Dr. Bob Sports and enjoyed it so much that he made the jump from traditional finance.
Next, Meb requests a quick primer for the non-gamblers out there; for instance, how the various types of bets works, the “lines,” the most popular bets, and so on. E.V. gives us the breakdown.
The conversation then drifts toward examples of “factors” when it comes to gambling (such as “value” or “momentum” is in the stock market). E.V. tells us there are really two schools of thought in traditional investing – fundamental and technical investing. When it comes to gambling, there are similarly two schools of thought; you have the strength of a team that’s measured by traditional stats (for example, net yards per pass) or technical factors (having been on the road for 14 days…having suffered 3 straight blow-out losses). When you combine these two factors, you better a better idea of which way to go with your wager.
These leads to two questions from Meb: One, how many inputs go into a multi-factor model? And, two, how do you replace older factors that don’t have as much influence or predictive power as they used to? E.V. gives us his thoughts.
Meb asks about “weird” or interesting factors that are effective. E.V. points toward “travel distance,” though the effect has diminished over time as travel has become easier. He also points toward “field type.” This leads into a discussion about betting against the consensus (contrarian investor, anyone?). And this leads into a common investing mistake – recency bias. For example, because the Broncos won the Super Bowl last year, people expected them to be great again this year…and they didn’t even make the playoffs (Meb is still bitter).
Meb steers the direction away from the NFL. Whether basketball, baseball, or whatever other sport, you’re simply trying to find an edge over the house. Meb brings up “variability” (the more games the better if you have a slight edge), and asks how this changes over different sports.
E.V. says duration of season is a huge factor. Also, the level of data available for analysis is key (for example, the amount of data in baseball is amazing). But overall, E.V. says the goal is reduce the variance to make thing as simple and predictive as possible to find your edge.
Meb asks about underrepresented sports (curling, or NASCAR) offering more, or better opportunities (think “small caps” versus the “Apples” of the investing world). E.V. says the issue is finding a counter-party. You might be a great curling modeler, but have fewer market participants from which to profit.
This leads into how to quantify an edge, and what a good edge value should be. E.V. says a 10%+ edge would be fantastic, but it’s important to be conservative in your estimate of just how big your edge is. After all, you won’t have a consistent edge every game. Meb makes an interesting correlation to investing you’ll want to hear.
Next, Meb asks about gambling as an asset class. Where would gambling fit into a portfolio and how would it work together? E.V. says sports is a unique alternative asset class that’s uncorrelated to other markets. This quality makes gambling an interesting addition to a portfolio.
Next, Meb moves to “quick hits” – shorter questions, many of which came from listeners via Twitter.
- What’s the worst bad beat you’ve seen?
- Have you looked at “intra-game” gambling, or do you only focus on full-game bets?
- How does a sport with a small dispersion in scoring (like soccer) affect how you bet versus a high-scoring sport (like basketball)?
- Have you thought about any lines that change over the course of a day based on the concept of betters losing in the morning and becoming increasingly aggressive in the afternoon (going on tilt, trying to win back money).
- What do you think about “the hot hand”?
You’ll want to hear E.V.’s answers.
Finally, we get to the topic du jour – the Super Bowl. Meb asks E.V. directly, “Who do you like with New England at -3?” If you’re thinking about betting this Sunday, don’t miss it.
There’s far more in this bonus episode, including discussion of betting on the results of the Super Bowl’s coin toss… How long it will take for Luke Bryan to sing the National Anthem… How many times will “Gronkowski” will be said by the commentators during the Super Bowl broadcast… Want to put the odds in your favor? Then join us for Episode 38.
In Episode 37, we welcome John Bollinger, creator of Bollinger Bands, one of the most widely-used analytical tools in investing.
As John is also a market historian, Meb start by asking him about his historical influences – those individuals who helped shape John’s perspectives on the markets and trading. John gives us his thoughts, identifying who he believes is one of the most important figures in technical analysis. This leads to an often-forgotten takeaway – that many of the most effective market concepts have been around for a long time. Some very profitable strategies that still work today were being explored 100 years ago.
Meb redirects, asking John about his background. It turns out, John was in the film business as a cameraman. But by a few twists of fate, he ended up in front of the camera, providing technical commentary on markets for a fledgling financial broadcast network.
This leads into a discussion of John’s famous “Bollinger Bands.” He gives us an overview of the tool, and how he came to establish it. In essence, Bollinger Bands can help investors identify relative market bottoms and tops, helping find direction for profitable trades.
Meb then asks if John’s thinking on Bollinger Bands have changed since the early days. John tells us that the core concept stands the test of time, though he has added some extra indicators.
Next, Meb asks about combining two types of analysis – technical and fundamental – something John calls “rational analysis.” For many people, you fall into one camp or the other. But John was able to find overlap between them. He tells us how, and even ropes in two additional types of analysis to include – quantitative and behavioral. He thinks combing all four works better than using any single one. Meb asks how you actually use them all together, to which John gives us his thoughts.
Meb then asks which sector John is currently identifying as a good source of potential trading profits – but he immediately discounts the validity of his own question. You’ll want to hear why. This leads into a great takeaway – using the right charts for entry/exit in a trade. Specifically, a trader may use a short-term chart to initiate a position, but then not move to a medium-term chart to help him navigate how long to hold the position. Instead, he keeps looking at the short-term chart, which obviously will oscillate, and potentially scare the investor out of the trade. John says “People have this time frame confusion that I think does a huge amount of damage.”
Meb then asks about trade management. John says the most neglected issue is position sizing. People need to know how much capital to commit to their strategy, and there is a mathematical “optimal” answer. In essence, the problem is “betting too large.”
This leads John to reference the trading concept of “regret” – the percentage of time you’re in a drawdown. Turns out it’s about 80% or 90% of the time you’re invested. The only times you’re not in a drawdown are when you’re setting new highs, and that’s pretty rare. But most investors hate drawdowns and just don’t do well with this reality (part of the reason why investing is so hard for most of us).
There’s far more in the episode, including the most influential books John has read, Bitcoin, currencies, how to trade volatility, and John’s most memorable trades (good and bad). What were they? Find out in Episode 37.
We’re back with the first Q&A episode of 2017.
We start by discussing the “Zero Budget Portfolio,” about which Meb wrote a recent blog post. The quick idea is that when considering your portfolio, you should start from scratch, or “zero.” Imagine your perfect portfolio – which markets you’d like to own, which assets, tilts, etc.
Now compare that perfect, hypothetical portfolio to your actual portfolio. To the extent that your real, owned assets have a place in your perfect portfolio, you’ll continue owning them. Any assets that don’t fit, you sell immediately.
But it’s not long before we dive into listener questions. A few you’ll hear tackled are:
- How do I decide whether I should use a robo-service or manage my portfolio myself? How likely am I to underperform a robo?
- We know that value can lag market returns, but should lead over time. What is the time horizon by which you determine whether a strategy like value is successful?
- Are there are country ETFs that you would not trade in a global, low-CAPE portfolio because of country risk?
- How has your timing model performed since you introduced it a decade ago?
- Will you discuss momentum investing versus chasing performance? It seems that a long-only momentum portfolio basically chases what has already gone up.
- Given real world tax issues, is active investing still a better strategy than buy-and-hold?
- Given that 44% of the S&P 500 revenue and profit comes from overseas, is there really a home country bias if you are invested in the S&P? And with this in mind, what is the right allocation to Emerging Markets?
As usual, there are plenty of additional rabbit holes, including options, currencies, and even the Baltic Dry Index. What’s Meb’s take on it? Find out in Episode 36.
Episode 35 features one of the original Turtle Traders. “What’s a Turtle Trader” you ask?
The story involves Richard Dennis, a great trader from the 1970’s. As the story goes, he made his first million by about age 25. By the early 80’s, he was worth about $200 million. Around this time, the movie “Trading Places” came out (two millionaires make a bet on the outcome of training a bum to be a financial whiz, while taking a financial whiz and, effectively, turning him into a bum). Richard felt he could similarly train a financial no-nothing, turning him into a great trader. Richard’s partner felt it wouldn’t work. So they made a bet. (Though as you’ll hear on today’s podcast, Jerry doesn’t actually believe there was ever a bet.) Regardless, how’d it turn out? Three or four years later, the group Richard trained had made, on aggregate, around $100 million.
The episode starts as Meb asks Jerry how he became involved with Dennis, trend following, and the Turtle Traders. Jerry was hooked on the idea of trend following from the beginning. Meb suggests that many people either “get it” or they don’t – meaning they get hooked, buying into the strategy completely, or not. For many people, the philosophy just doesn’t take.
Eventually the program ended, after which Jerry moved back to Virginia and started Chesapeake, which basically consisted of a telephone, a quote machine, and his trading rules. Jerry tell us how the company grew and how its trading systems developed. They’ve gone from trading around 20 markets to well over 100 now. Meb asks in terms of conditions, what’s been the most challenging market for Jerry in his career at Chesapeake? His answer – the market since 2008.
The conversation eventually steers toward leverage and volatility. Meb says how most people don’t realize how they can tamp down a volatile market through trend following and managed futures. Jerry agrees, and adds that you want to “make the same (volatility) bet” despite different markets, to maintain consistency.
Meb then asks why so many investors, retail and institutional alike, have such small allocations to trend following. Jerry gives us his thoughts, pointing toward the inherent bias people have for equities. He also believes most investors truly don’t realize how powerful diversified trend following can be.
Meb agrees, noting how if you showed an adviser the returns of all sorts of portfolios yet didn’t name the strategies, in almost all circumstances, the portfolios the advisers would choose would have the largest allocation going to trend following. But when you attach the actual strategy names, people shy away from trend following. Meb thinks it really boils down to a branding problem.
Jerry thinks people have it backward—they see trend following as an add-on to some other strategy, when in fact, it’s the core. Start with the CTA strategy and maybe add some long-only equities.
Meb then steers the guys into a discussion about some of Jerry’s most popular tweets. One of which is Jerry’s recent quote: “Beating the market is hard. Even surviving the market is hard. Stamina may be the most underrated quality.” The quote really resonated with Meb, and he asks if Jerry ever wanted to throw in the towel. Jerry thinks discipline is at least 50% of it, and yes, it can be very hard.
The guys then discuss markets, with Jerry noting that there is nothing to be lost from trading more markets than stocks. For instance, he loves currencies. This prompts Meb to bring up a Bitcoin-crash example, where a trend following approach could possibly have saved some major losses.
The conversation then turns toward common investor mistakes, most notably the tendency to hold losses and sell winners short. Simply put, the behavioral side of investing is extremely challenging. This causes Meb to wonder what will happen to the roboadvisors when a bear market finally begins. Specifically, with it so easy to pull your cash out of a roboadvisor (and no live advisor to stop you), how many investors will allow fear to make them liquidate their positions?
There’s tons more in this episode, including how Jerry lost 60% in one day, the differences between technical analysis and trend following, the “turtle program” of the future, and the one market that won’t allow futures trading. Do you know which one it is? Find out in Episode 35.
It’s a special holiday episode of The Meb Faber Show. We thought it would be fun to combine all the “beautiful, useful or downright magical” contributions from Meb and our various guests into one episode. If you’re one of our listeners who has written in to report how much you enjoy this segment, this one is for you.
A quick word – as we move from 2016 to 2017, we want to give a huge “thank you” to all our wonderful guests for having given us their time and wisdom. And, of course, a very special “thank you” to all our listeners. We appreciate your time in tuning in to us, your thoughtful questions and comments, and your overwhelming support.
In order to spend time with our families, we won’t be publishing a new episode next week on Wednesday 12/28. We’ll see you in the New Year!
It’s another Q&A episode before everyone gets too busy with the holiday swirl.
Per usual, Meb has just come back from more travel, this time to Todos Santos, Mexico. He gives us a quick update before we hop into listener questions. A few you’ll hear tackled are:
- I don’t really understand Trend. In order to maximize return, wouldn’t it make more sense to buy below the simple moving average, then hold or sell when above it? I’m just applying common sense – buy when cheaper than average. What am I missing?
- If you were building an investment strategy for the next 30-40 years, would it more resemble the one found in your QTAA paper, an absolute value strategy (similar to what Porter discussed in that podcast), or your Trinity approach, which is more buy/hold with rebalancing?
- Have you ever considered a strategy that buys put option protection for equity portfolios when valuations are historically high? You could buy long puts or long puts/short calls to offset some of the option premium.
- Are recent bond yield increases causing you to tweak your bond allocations in the Trinity portfolios?
- How does your use of momentum differ from Gary Antonacci’s dual momentum system?
- I’m a banker, and can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a variation of “Rates are so low at the moment, what a great time to borrow.” What are your thoughts on the long-term debt cycle, and how would you “time” leverage?
There’s plenty more, as several of these questions send Meb into deep, labyrinthine rabbit holes – one of which involves his thoughts on how to educate children about investing. He believes most parents today do it entirely wrong. So what’s the right way to raise a world-class investor? Find out in Episode 33.
Episode 32 is like no other we’ve done to date. Local guys, Brew and Brett, run a startup in nearby Manhattan Beach – and it’s disrupting the real estate financing market. It’s not long into the episode before the guys give us the overview of how it works.
Peer Street invests in real estate debt. Now, when most people try this, there are too many intermediaries. The effect is the yield is stripped out. Peer Street is fixing this, focusing on short-term, high interest rate loans. The guys’ vision is to enable investing in real estate lending to be as easy as buying a stock through an online broker.
After giving us their fascinating professional backgrounds prior to starting Peer Street, Brew and Brett dive into how the process work.
There’s always been a shadow, niche market in this space. A real estate investor finds a good property that he/she is able to fix up and sell/rent. But to make the deal happen, the developer has to move quickly, and doesn’t have time to get a traditional loan through a bank. In steps a reputable cash lender, enabling the deal. Brew and Brett are enabling retail investors to take part in these localized real estate deals.
Meb asks about the range on yields… how many current deals they have… just general top-down metrics to paint the broad picture.
Since the end of Oct 2015, the guys have opened around $200M of loans. The average yield to investors is 8.5% net of fees and expenses. The average loan duration is 10 months. And the average loan-to-value ratio is 65%.
The guys then discuss how deals are vetted. There are approval processes, several layers of underwriting, a requirement wherein lenders have to commit their own capital, various data analytics, then stress testing of the loans.
Meb asks what would happen to these loans in a real estate Armageddon situation.
The Peer Street guys tell us they use as much data as possible to mitigate potential losses. And these are only 10-month loans, so to lose money, the borrower has to stop making payments and the value of the property has to decrease by about 35%. To try to protect against this, they run algorithms and compare the data to previous cycles. Then they consider what was the worst decline in that submarket. This helps them do a manual underwrite of the loan, after which they get an appraisal from an independent 3rd party. There’s far more on how the guys manage risk which you’ll want to hear.
Next, the conversation steers toward how an investor would actually take part in the deals. He/she can pick from, typically, 3-15 available deals at a time. Or investors can set up an automated system, establishing parameters from which Peer Street would match them with the right investments. Ten or more loans at a time is recommended for diversification, with the minimum investment being $1,000.
There’s way more in this episode, including Brew’s and Brett’s vision for how disruptive this could be, where this type of investment would fit into an asset allocation model, and an “imposter Cambria” that has Meb very angry. Curious why? Find out in Episode 32.
Episode 31 starts with some background information on Mark. After some early-career twists, he got his “big break” – working for his alma mater, Notre Dame, in its endowment department. Several years later, The University of North Carolina came calling, and Mark took the helm for UNC’s investments. Eventually, he moved on to private wealth with his current group, Morgan Creek.
Given the heavy institutional background, Meb asks about how endowments invest. Mark tells us that every large pool of capital manages its money the same way – investing in stocks, bonds, currencies, and commodities. That’s it – though how you own those assets might change. Yet despite different wrappings, they all have the same risk factors. This leads Mark to focus on asset allocation, as “asset allocation matters most.”
The conversation turns toward money managers (Mark uses various money managers at Morgan Creek). Meb asks how a retail investor can get access to the truly great money managers. It turns out, it’s very difficult. But Mark says you don’t necessarily want the well-known superstars who’ve been in the limelight for 20 years. You want to get onboard with them far earlier in their careers when no one is looking, before they become famous. As to how you actually find them, Mark says you have to “kiss a lot of frogs.”
Meb follows up with an interesting question – forget about how to find great money managers…how do you know when it’s time to get rid of one? After all, it can be hard to tell when a manager’s investing system is flawed versus when he/she might simply be distracted by personal issues, or just going through a rough patch.
Mark’s answer? Stop focusing on performance. Instead, focus on the other three P’s: 1) people 2) process, and 3) philosophy. If all you’re doing is looking at/chasing performance, chances are you’re going to underperform. So expand your analysis.
Meb adds that this focus on performance isn’t limited to retail investors – institutions do this too. Mark agrees, having had personal experience with this. His group was hired, fired, re-hired, and so on, as one particular client chased performance.
The guys then switch to venture capital, a huge area for outperformance. Institutional investors have the advantage here – the “illiquidity premium” as Mark calls it. Meb asks how retail investors can try to take part in this space. Mark tells us that, unfortunately, retail investors have one arm tied behind their backs courtesy of the SEC. Its philosophy is “If you’re not rich, you’re not smart.” So yes, investing in venture capital is very challenging for retail investors, despite some recent gains.
Eventually, the conversation drifts back to asset allocation. Mark has a 3-bucket system he recommends. Bucket 1 – “liquidity.” This is about 2 years’ worth of spending. Call it 10-15% of your wealth in cash-like investments. Bucket 2 – your “get rich” bucket. Also 10-15%. He recommends investments like businesses and real estate, though most people use this money to chase the latest hot stock. Bucket 3 – your “stay rich” bucket. This one is all about diversification (whereas your “get rich” bucket was all about concentration).
Meb agrees with this, telling us how the asset allocation required to get rich is different than the asset allocation needed to remain rich.
The guys then move to predictions. Each January, Mark writes his financial predictions for the new year. So how did he do in 2016? They go over the results, with topics that include interest rates, the Japanese equity market, black swan events in Europe, roaring commodities, and the strength of the Dollar.
This leads the guys into a more detailed conversation about U.S. interest rates, comparing us to Japan. Mark warns us about the Killer D’s: demographics, debt, and deflation. It’s a fascinating conversation with the short takeaway that we may not see the bottom in interest rates until around 2020-2022 (when demographics finally shift back in our favor).
There’s far more in this episode, including “Red Ferrari Syndome,” a Twitter question to Mark about the biggest learning experiences of his career, and an asset class that’s about to be down a whopping 6 years in a row. What is it? Find out in Episode 31.
As Meb is back from another series of speaking engagements, Episode 30 starts with a brief recap of his travels. But we hop in quickly, first addressing the election. We’ve had several anxious people write in, requesting commentary on the financial markets now that Trump will be taking over. Meb offers his thoughts, which we can reduce to one word: irrelevant.
Next Meb gives us an overview of a white paper he’s soon to begin writing – a rebuttal to detractors of Shiller’s CAPE ratio. He provides some convincing points on why CAPE can be an effective timing tool. You’ll want to hear this if you’re a CAPE fan – even more so if you believe CAPE is flawed.
After that, we hop into listener Q&A. A few of the questions you’ll hear Meb tackle are:
- How does CAPE do as a valuation metric for a stock index when the composition of the index is changing or there is significant dilution?
- When it comes to value filters like P/B or P/E, how do you rank metrics which can become negative or distorted when they get too close to zero?
- Besides trend following, what other alternative strategies (e.g. long/short, diversified arb, global macro, market neutral, etc.) do you believe are a worthy addition to a balanced portfolio?
- Please address living through drawdowns versus using trailing stops. Discuss the tradeoff between minimizing drawdowns versus potentially missing huge recoveries.
- What do you think of using CAPE in Frontier markets? And does the 10-month SMA timing model work in these markets?
- How do you practically implement the bond strategy laid out in your paper, “Finding Yield in a 2% World”?
- James O’Shaughnessy’s “What Works on Wall Street” references an investing strategy that posted amazing returns for many years. Seems too good to be true. Any insights? Wouldn’t everyone be using this system if it really was this wonderful?
- Any pointers on how to do your own backtesting?
As usual, there’s lots more, including the common investor sentiment of “I’m waiting until the uncertainty dies down before I put more money into the markets,” Meb’s thoughts on cash and inflation, and the benefits of systematic investing. All this and more in Episode 30.
In Episode 29, we welcome market veteran, Tom McClellan. Meb starts with some background on Tom – he’s been doing financial writing for 20 years, likely making him one of the longest-running financial writers in the business.
The guys then provide an overview of Tom’s proprietary market tool, the McClellan Oscillator. The roots of the Oscillator date back decades ago, when Tom’s father, Sherman, was trying to develop a system by which he could better time corn purchases for their farming business. (It turns out, you can get a better price in March.)
In short, Sherman eventually crossed paths with some technical analysts who were exploring breadth statistics in the market (advance/decline line). Sherman applied moving averages to the advance/decline line, and a few tweaks later, we got the McClellan Oscillator.
Meb then asks about the best way investors can use the Oscillator, and what the signals are telling us now. Tom gives us a quick tutorial, then suggests that the Oscillator is saying “oversold” (keep in mind this episode was recorded on 11/9). It has been correcting since July, but now that election is over, maybe we’ll see that change.
With the election in mind, Meb brings up the sentiment he’s heard from many investors: “I want to wait until the election is over and things are more certain.” Meb finds this amusing, as when are the markets ever certain?
This segues into Tom’s election indicator. It had predicted Trump. Tom gives us more details about the mindset behind his indicator. In essence, we see market movements reflected in the poll numbers. In other words, the market is a leading indicator for where the polls will go.
As evidence, he references the election when Bush/Gore was too close to call, discussing this through the prism of what the markets were doing at the time. And in this most recent election, the indicator had called for Trump to win though the polls didn’t. Tom says that’s because the poll numbers before the election hadn’t reflected the big decline in the stock market in the week leading up to the election – but that decline did show up as a change in the actual vote.
This sets the guys off on a conversation about “sentiment” which is an indicator Tom loves. Then Meb steers the conversation toward interest rates and the Federal Reserve. It turns out, the guys believe you can tell where the Fed should set the Fed Funds Rate by looking at what the yield is on the 2-year note. It’s when that doesn’t happen that we see market issues. Tom gives us an example from Bernanke’s tenure.
Meb then points toward another chart from Tom: the S&P verse Federal Tax receipts divided by GDP – in essence, how much the government is collecting in taxes. What’s the relationship here? Well, if you’re against the government taxing too much, you’ll likely agree with the findings.
There’s more fascinating conversation about Tom’s various charts. For instance, the common conception is that a slowdown in the economy leads to an increase in crime. Tom says not true. Do you know what is correlated to an increase in crime? Inflation. What inflation does in Year 1 is what crime will do in Year 2.
Meb then asks about the biggest mistakes that investors make when creating their own charts. Tom tells us that people want to simplify too much. “Just give me the one chart that will work.” Unfortunately, there is no holy grail. If you’re looking for easy answers, the stock market is not the place to find it. Look for more obscure indicators. If everyone is using the same indicator, there’s no value there.
There’s lots more, including a conversation about “value.” Turns out, Tom doesn’t really use value at all. In fact, he says there are only two variables that matter. What are they? Find out in Episode 29.
As we recorded Episode 28 on Halloween, it starts with Meb referencing his costume from the prior weekend’s festivities. Can you guess what it was? He stayed true to his financial roots, dressing as Sesame Street’s “Count von Count.” (Sorry, no photographs.)
But the guys jump in quickly, beginning with the subject of Larry’s 15th and latest book – “factors.” Larry tells us that the term “factor” is confusing. He defines it as a unique source of risk and expected return. So which factors should an investor use to help him populate his portfolio? Larry believes there are 5 rules to help you evaluate factors: 1) Is the factor “persistent” across long periods of times and regimes? 2) Is it “pervasive”? For instance, does it works across industries, regions, capital structures and so on. 3) Is it “robust”? Does it hold up on its own, and not as a result of data mining? 4) Is it “intuitive”? For instance, is there an explanation? 5) Lastly, it has to be “implementable,” and able to survive trading costs.
The guys then switch to beta. Larry mentions how valuations have been rising over the last century. He references how CAPE has risen over a long period, and points out how some people believe this signifies a bubble. But Larry thinks this rising valuation is reasonable, and tells us why. Meb adds that investors are willing to pay a higher multiple on stocks in low-interest rate environments such as the one we’re in.
Next, Meb directs the conversation toward a sacred cow of investing – dividends. He asks about one particular quote from Larry’s book: “Dividends are not a factor.” Larry pulls no punches, saying, “there is literally no logical reason for anyone to have a preference for dividends…” He believes investors over overpaying for dividend stocks today. He thinks it’s unfortunate the Fed has pushed investors to search for yield, inadvertently taking on far more risk. Dividend stocks are not alternatives to safe income. There’s plenty more on this topic you’ll want to hear.
Eventually the conversation drifts back toward market values. Larry tell us that when the PE ratio of the S&P has been around its average of 16, it has about a 7% expected return. So now that the CAPE is roughly 25, and the expected real return is around 4%, some people are shouting “Sell! Huge crash coming!” Larry disagrees and tells us why.
But the guys just can’t leave dividends alone. They swing back toward the topic, with Larry telling us the whole concept of investors focusing on dividends literally makes no sense. If you want a dividend, create your own by selling the commensurate number of shares.
This leads Meb to discuss a research study he did in which he asked if he could replicate a dividend index with companies that don’t pay any dividends. His research revealed that not only could you, but you can do much better. The takeaway was that for a taxable investor, this investing strategy would be far more efficient.
As the conversation progresses, Meb asks Larry about portfolio construction. Specifically, when he’s building a portfolio, does he pick out individual factors and hang with them for a decade, or does he want to review annually and tilt away, or go multi-factor?
Larry tells us to invest only in something you have a strong belief in. Why? Because every factor can have long stretches of underperformance, so you need to be committed. People think 3 years is long… 5 is very long… and 10 years is an eternity. Larry doesn’t agree. And if you chase returns across shorter time periods, you’ll likely get awful returns.
Next, Meb steers toward the momentum and trend factors, asking what Larry thinks. Larry says “put them to the test.” So he walks them through his aforementioned 5 criteria.
There’s far more in this episode that you don’t want to miss: the correlation of value and momentum… trading costs… the use of CDs in your fixed income allocation… corporate bonds and an eroding risk premium… the state of the ETF industry 10 years from now… There’s even a warning – if a former Miss America is pitching you a mutual fund, beware… In what weird context does that advice apply? Find out in Episode 28.
Episode 27 starts with a quick note from Meb. It’s a week of freebies! Why? Meb is celebrating his 10th “blogiversary.” (He’s officially been writing about finance now for a decade.) Be sure to hear what he’s giving away for free.
But soon the interview starts, with Meb asking Porter to give some background on himself and his company, as Porter’s story is somewhat different than that of many guests. Porter tells us about being brought into the world of finance by his close friend and fund manager, Steve Sjuggerud.
This conversations bleeds into Porter’s thoughts on how a person should spend his 20s, 30s, and 40s as it relates to income and wealth creation. But it’s not long before the guys dive into the investment markets today, and you won’t want to miss Porter’s take. In essence, if you’re a corporate bond investor, watch out. Porter believes this particular credit cycle is going to be worse than anything we’ve ever seen. Why? There’s plenty of blame to go around, but most significantly, the Fed did not allow the market to clear in 2009 and 2010, and it means this time is going to be very, very bad. Porter gives us the details, but it all points toward one takeaway: “There’s going to be a big bill of bad debt to pay.”
Meb then asks what the investing implications are for the average investor. This leads to Porter’s concept of “The Big Trade.” In a nutshell, Porter has identified 30 corporate offenders, “The Dirty 30.” Between them, they owe $300 billion in debt. His plan is to monitor these companies on a weekly basis, while keeping an eye out for liquid, long-dated puts on them that he’ll buy opportunistically. He’ll target default-level strike prices, and expect 10x returns – on average. Meb likes the idea, as the strategy would serve as a hedge to a traditional portfolio.
Next, the guys get into asset allocation. Porter’s current strategy is “allocate to value,” but for him that means holding a great deal of cash. Meb doesn’t mind, as wealth preservation is always the most important rule. This leads the guys into bearish territory, with Porter believing we’ll see a recession within the next 12 months.
This transitions into how to protect a portfolio; in this case, the guys discuss using a stop-loss service. Porter finds it invaluable, as most people grossly underestimate the risk they’re taking with their investments, as well as their capacity to handle that risk. He sums up his general stance by saying if you don’t have a risk management discipline you will not be successful.
Next, the guys get into the biggest investing mistakes Porter has seen his subscribers make over the years. There’s a great deal of poor risk mitigation. He says 95% of his own subscribers will not hedge their portfolio. Meb thinks it’s a problem of framing. People buy home insurance and car insurance. If we framed hedging as “portfolio insurance” it would probably work, but people don’t think that way. He sums up by saying, “To be a good investor, you need to be good at losing.” Porter agrees, pointing out how Buffet has seen 50% drawdowns twice in the last 15 years. If there’s a takeaway from this podcast, it’s “learn how to hedge.”
There’s far more, including what Porter believes is the secret to his success. What it is? Find out in Episode 27.
If you’re ready to dive straight into the deep end, Episode 26 is for you. The guys waste no time, starting off with complicated topic of currencies. Jeremy takes issue with the currency-stance belonging to some former, unnamed Meb Faber Show guests. Specifically, he challenges the idea that currency hedging is expensive. Not true, he says. It’s only “selectively” expensive. You can actually get paid to hedge certain currencies. He gives us more details, leading to his overall takeaway: You should be hedged a lot more than you are. Meb then asks about any rules that might be applied when using a dynamic currency-hedging strategy. Jeremy gives us his thoughts, telling us when we want to be hedged versus when we don’t, as well as two good signals to use – interest rate differentials and momentum. Where are we overall today? Well, Jeremy says that there is no country so cheap that his shop would take their hedge ratio to zero. Eventually, Meb switches the topic to factor investing. Jeremy gives us his take, noting that minimum vol is where things are most expensive. The guys then discuss factor investing as it pertains to the bond space – in essence, moving away from market cap weightings. Why is that important for bond investing? Well, do you want to give the most weight to the countries issuing the most debt? Unlikely, but that’s how market cap weighting works with bonds. Next, Meb steers the conversation toward liquid alts, specifically managed futures. That’s followed by a great discussion on corporate buybacks. Gotta watch out for that dilution from new share issuance. Interestingly, it turns out that buybacks are largely a U.S. phenomenon. Jeremy agrees, but points out some spots around the globe where that might be changing. As we near the end of the show, Meb asks about the opportunities Jeremy sees going forward. His response in a nutshell? “People are underinvested overseas.” There’s plenty more, including an asset class that is coming up on being down a whopping six years in a row, as well as how Meb hacked a VPN service that enabled him to watch the last Super Bowl from a tiny village in Japan. How’d he do it? Find out in Episode 26.
We have some great guests lined up in the coming weeks, so we figured we’d squeeze in another Q&A episode. This week, Meb is back from traveling yet again, this time to The Caymans. The show starts with Meb giving us highlights from the trip, as well as one low-light (waking up one morning to find a welt on his head, and hoping it isn’t Zika). This transitions into a topic recently covered in one of Meb’s blog posts; of all the animals that people find most terrifying, lions and sharks are near the top of the list. But statistically, lions and sharks are responsible for only a tiny amount of human deaths per year. You know what kills 725,000 humans per year – yet few fear (until recently)? Mosquitos. Similarly, many investors are terrified about the outcome of the U.S. Presidential election. But this election isn’t likely to “kill” a portfolio. On the other hand, you know what is? The mosquito known as “fees.” Eventually, the conversation gravitates toward listener questions. A few you’ll hear Meb tackle are:
- What are some of the best ways and resources to learn about markets and investing?
- (Dovetails into…) Why don’t we hear Meb discuss single-stock fundamental analysis more often?
- What does the typical day look like for Meb and other successful investment professionals? Habits? Amount of reading? How much sleep? And so on…
- How does an investor tell the difference between an investment strategy that’s simply “out of favor” (and therefore, underperforming) versus a strategy that has truly lost its effectiveness (and underperforming)?
- One of the variables in Bogle’s formula for estimating returns is dividend yield. Why wouldn’t you substitute shareholder yield instead?
- What are the pros/cons of protecting the downside by buying puts versus using trend following?
- Assuming an investor is a huge risk taker and can handle it, should he put all his money in the asset class with the highest expected return – for instance, be “all in” Russia?
As usual, there’s lots more, including Meb’s upcoming travel schedule. He’s going to be in Orange County, New York, Richmond, and D.C., so drop him a line if you’ll be in the areas. All this and far more in Episode 25.