In Episode 77, we welcome author and asset manager, Tobias “Toby” Carlisle.
After discussing Toby’s background, including his time as an M&A lawyer and what drew him to investing, we jump into his latest book, The Acquirer’s Multiple.
Toby tells us that the book describes a simple way to find undervalued companies. In essence, you’re trying to find a company trading below its intrinsic value. This is how to get a great price as a value investor. Of course, you get these prices because things don’t look too rosy with the stock – there’s usually a crisis or some hair on it, so to speak. Toby tells us “In order to find something that is genuinely undervalued…there’s always something that you don’t like.”
This leads into a great conversation about what Warren Buffett seeks in a company, versus what Toby, through the Acquirer’s Multiple, seeks. While Buffett looks for wonderful companies trading at fair prices, Toby seeks fair companies trading at wonderful prices.
Toby goes on to tell us that for a company, there are two sources of value – the assets it owns, and the business/operations itself. You have to look at both together. Buffett looks at wonderful companies at fair prices, and is willing to pay a premium to book value, but that’s generally because Buffett is able to ascertain that the stock is worth even more. Joel Greenblatt took this idea and ran with it in his book, The Little Book That Beats the Market. The idea relies on buying companies with high returns on investing capital (ROIC). But Toby thought “what if you can buy at the bottom of a business cycle?” You could likely get better returns by buying very, very cheap, hence his focus on fair companies at wonderful prices.
The guys then discuss the merits of a high ROIC. Toby tells us that a high ROIC is meaningless absent a moat or competitive advantage. Don’t misunderstand – a high ROIC is incredibly valuable, but it has to be protected.
This dovetails into a fun stretch of the interview when the guys discuss the old Longboard study about how only a handful of stocks truly outperform… a study from Michael Mauboussin, which points toward the power of “mean reversion”… how a historical backtest of “excellent” companies (high returns on equity, assets, and invested capital) actually underperformed “un-excellent” companies – which were generally defined as being incredibly cheap. The reason? Mean reversion.
Finally, we get to The Acquirer’s Multiple. Toby tell us you’re trying to find the real earnings of the business. The guys touch on lots of things here – why Buffett & Munger actually don’t prefer this multiple… a comparison between The Acquirer’s Multiple (AM) and Greenblatt’s Magic Formula… and an example from Toby about the power of the AM using the stock, Gilead.
The guys then discuss implementation, including how many stocks you should hold to be diversified. They also touch on the Kelly criterion – how much of your bankroll you should bet on any given stock or investment. This leads to an interesting story about how Ed Thorp showed that the Wall Street quants were using Kelly incorrectly. The guys agree that “half-Kelly” tends to work pretty well.
The conversation drifts toward valuations, with Meb feeling angst about how nearly all institutional investors believe future returns will be below-average. The contrarian in him is excited. Toby tells us that every metric he looks at says we’re overvalued. Therefore, we should be cautious, but then again, Japan got to a CAPE of 100 and the US has been to 44. You just don’t know when to get out, and there’s no right answer…
The guys hop back into The Acquirer’s Multiple, discussing how to avoid the value trap… marrying momentum to it… how value is sitting on about a decade’s worth of underperformance… and whether the AM works globally.
The guys eventually switch gears, and turn toward Toby’s private “special situations” fund. In essence, Toby looks for situations when there’s a corporate act, say, a board-level decision to buy or sell a company, or pay a special dividend, or buy back a material amount of stock. He then tries to arb it. He gives us any example of how he made money using the strategy back when Obama was attempted to stop corporate reverse-mergers. But in all cases, Toby is still looking for undervalued, cheap investments.
There’s tons more in this episode: the “broken leg” behavioral problem… how investors trying to improve upon the Magic Formula tend to vastly underperform the Magic Formula left alone… how professional investors tend to behave just as poorly as non-professionals… what Toby is working on/excited about right now… and of course, Toby’s most memorable trade. It involves a basket of net-cash biotechs. While he made over 200%, if he hadn’t tinkered, he could have made 750%.
What are the details? Find out in Episode 77.
In Episode 76, we welcome Phil DeMuth. We start with Phil’s background. It’s a fun recap, involving Phil’s clinical psychology roots, his move to LA to be a screenwriter, his experiences in the Dot Com boom with friend, Ben Stein, which led to the writing of his first investment book, which eventually resulted in his managing money.
Meb dives into investing, asking for an overview of the framework Phil uses with clients.
Phil seeks to construct a portfolio that matches each individual’s situation, so it’s largely bespoke. That said, in general, he starts with a global market portfolio, then adds various factors – for example small value, or momentum, or low beta… Then he’ll add bonds, some alternatives, gold, and so on – again, all relative to the individual’s needs and goals.
This leads into a great conversation on the idea of a person’s “personal beta.” This dovetails into the concept of a person’s human capital. Meb believes that adjusting a portfolio to reflect a person’s human capital is something advisors do well, giving them an advantage over robos. Phil thinks there are ways the robos can catch up here.
Next up, the guys discuss the various types of investing clients – doctors, engineers, celebrities, and so on – and whether any specific type is better or worse suited for investing. Meb’s opinion is that many doctors and engineers can be challenging clients because they’re brilliant and love to tinker. They can also have some hubris – an element of “I can do better than buy-and-hold”.
Phil agrees that doctors and engineers should be excellent investors. They’re so smart that they can do it all; yet in practice, they tend to stumble.
This leads the guys to the takeaway that, in investing, there’s not a linear correlation between time/effort and returns. Phil notes the correlation could even be negative!
Next up, Meb asks how the world looks to Phil today. Phil tells us “Everything looks expensive. It’s just a question of what looks more expensive than others.” That said “Nothing in my global outlook is telling me it’s time to pull up the anchor and set sail,” even though there seems to be 10 articles each day claiming the sky is falling.
This dovetails into an interesting conversation about how nearly no one believes there will be strong U.S. equity returns over the next decade or so. But what is the psychological impact of everyone believing that? Especially in light of how terrible humans tend to be at these kinds of predictions.
From this, Meb brings up alternatives. Phil has been delving deeper into alts since ’08, when all his assets sank together. Phil tells us he’s been looking for alts that have have zero correlation to the stock market, reasonable expenses, and should have positive expected returns.
Meb switches to psychology, asking about the most insidious behavioral issues facing investors, and how to protect against them. The guys discuss our shortcomings, including a trick Phil uses with his clients that tends to help them avoid some of the damage.
Meb transitions to Phil’s newest book, which is one of Meb’s favorites: The Overtaxed Investor: Slash Your Tax Bill & Be A Tax Alpha Dog. The guys discuss how implementing effective tax strategies in investing is one of the biggest, yet underused, sources of alpha around. Phil notes that any savings in this area goes straight to the bottom line.
Meb asks for specific tax strategies. You’ll want to listen to this section, which dives into some of the details of parking the right kind of assets into the right kind of accounts. This dovetails into an idea Meb loves: (and the topic of a soon-to-be-released whited paper) avoiding dividends.
Phil tells us he hated the taxes he was paying on dividends and capital gains, so he got rid of everything issuing him dividends and distributions, and instead, sought quality investments that wouldn’t pay a dividend. He goes on to say how dividends are great for retirees who are intentionally spending the money, but if you’re earlier in your working career, and the government is taking 30% of your income via taxes, that’s not good at all! So, Phil wondered how he could get the dividend benefit, without the dividend.
It was this idea that led Meb to do his own research on the topic (the subject of the forthcoming white paper). So Meb thanks Phil for the inspiration, then takes the handoff and discusses what he found through his own research. If you’re a dividend investor, you won’t want to miss Meb’s conclusion.
There’s way more in this great episode: additional tax tips… ETNs… tax loss harvesting… donating stocks with huge capital gains to charities rather than donating cash… wills… how Meb wants a Viking funeral (yes, you read that right)… Meb’s unexpected bill from the IRS… And of course, Phil’s most memorable trade – it involves an investment that turned out to be somewhat less liquid than Phil had anticipated.
What are the details? Find out in Episode 76.
In Episode 75, we welcome Mike McDaniel, CIO and co-founder of Riskalyze. It’s a special episode, being recorded at the Riskalyze Fearless Investment Summit in Lake Tahoe.
Per usual, we start with Mike’s origin story, but it’s not long before the guys dive into investments. Meb asks about Mike’s investment framework – how does he think about the world as a practitioner.
Mike tells us he tries to let the market do as much as possible. One of the biggest things that will lead to success is simply being investing. And because our emotions can trip us up so much, by quantifying risk and then having a better idea of what to expect, we stand a better chance of success.
This concept is what lead to the Riskalyze Risk Number. Meb asks for an overview of what this number is and how it works.
Mike gives us a great overview of its background and how Riskalyze seeks to quantify risk on a scale of 0-100. (Basically “cash” to a “single stock.”) The conversation morphs into how the Risk Number has been further refined over the years, including the amount of historical data included.
Next, Meb brings up something Mike once said in an interview, about the two reasons why investing is broken. He asks him to expound. Mike tells us these factors are 1) the psychological pitfalls facing the mom ‘n pop investor, and 2) the complex nature of the investing environment (so many products available to the investor).
It’s not long before Meb brings up a current reality facing advisors: With asset allocation being largely commoditized with a low fee attached, where is the main “value add” for advisors these days?
Mike believes that the advisor’s role is to be the behavioral coach. He has multiple stories about the power of using data and analytics to keeping the investor invested. This leads into the most common mistakes Mike sees that many investors continue to make.
It’s not long before Meb turns the mic over to the audience (remember, this was recorded in front of a live audience in Lake Tahoe). You’ll hear:
There’s plenty more in this episode, including Meb’s discussion of the impact of fees on various global asset allocations… home country bias… the challenges of trend-following… and of course, Mike’s most memorable trade. It turns out, he has two, the latter of which is what led to the creation of the Riskalyze concept.
What were the trades? Find out in Episode 75.
In Episode 74, we welcome Jeffrey Sherman from DoubleLine. We start with Jeff’s background – it’s a fun recap, including stories of running the scoreboard for The Stockton Ports… being a bank teller… earning graduate degrees… there’s a brief aside into catastrophe bonds which is a good primer if you’re less familiar with them… then back into Jeff’s background with DoubleLine.
This dovetails into Meb asking about the type of shop DoubleLine is, as well as its overall investing framework. We learn that DoubleLine will go into whatever market it finds interesting. They’re also a macro shop, which led them to fixed income. After all, Jeff tells us “If you want to know what’s going on in the world macroeconomically, the bond market tells you.”
Next, Meb asks how the world looks to Jeff today.
Everything is growing, but it’s not the same old growth. The difference is debt. Overall, it has been a positive environment for investing; inflation is low, but the price of assets now reflects this good environment and people are projecting that forward – but it’s not realistic. Many assets are expensive now. Jeff puts a point on the situation by saying “There’s this ‘buy-the-dip’ mentality… Do you play in it or just shake your head?”
The guys cover lots of ground here: Prices in the bond market have gotten ridiculous… Policy mistakes from the Fed… How this is “The Jay Cutler bull market” meaning it’s very “ho-hum”... how Europe is growing at the same rate as the U.S., yet they are continuing to do QE, while we’ve hiked rates four times… we’re talking about unwinding bonds while they’re buying – there’s a disconnect. And we don’t truly know what unwinding is going to look like.
This leads into a great discussion of bonds and how they respond to a rising rate environment. As Meb notes, most people hear “interest rates are going up” and they think “bond prices must be going down.” But that doesn’t have to be the case. Jeff dives into some great detail here on the math behind bond returns and rising rates. If you’re a bond guy, make sure to catch this part of the episode.
A few twists and turns later, Meb brings up a DoubleLine fund that combines U.S. equities in various sectors, paired with a fixed income component. He asks how is it designed, the benefit, and so on.
Amongst other details Jeff tells us, we learn that the fund applies a sector rotation strategy based on Professor Shiller’s CAPE ratio. Historically, people have used CAPE to evaluate markets. Jeff wondered why one couldn’t apply it to smaller subsets of the markets – sectors. For instance, utilities and tech have different profiles re: beta and whatnot. So why not take each sector’s CAPE and compare it to its own CAPE history? You then look for the cheapest sectors of the market. And you can avoid buying a value trap by apply momentum (in Jeff’s strategy, they throw away the worst one-year momentum sector).
Meb asks which sectors look good from a CAPE perspective now. Jeff tells us he’s looking at technology, consumer discretionary, consumer staples, and health care. He was looking at energy, but he booted it due to its bad momentum. He tells us another high flier is the financial sector. Up 35% or so since the election.
Meb asks a Twitter question next – how much does DoubleLine incorporate technicals into their process? Jeff tells us that he uses technical more on trade implementation and things that are hard to value like FX.
There’s so much more in this episode: sentiment… Trump, and the D.C. status quo… commodities… the “Four Asset” portfolio… More write-in questions from Twitter… a quick descent into a crypto-rant… the biggest mistakes Jeff is seeing investors make… and of course, his most memorable trade.
What were the details? Find out in Episode 74.
In Episode 73, we welcome Jeff Porter and Barbara Schelhorn from the financial planning group, Sullivan Bruyette Speros & Blayney.
We start with Jeff’s background. He was a contemporary of Meb’s at the University of Virginia. The guys share a laugh recalling running out of class to check stock quotes back in the Dot Com boom.
As the conversation turns to investing and financial planning, Meb asks about changes in the industry – with the rise of robo-advisors, indexing, target date portfolios, and so on, how does Jeff, as a financial planner, continue to add value on the investment side?
Jeff tells us how the aforementioned products can be great for many investors, but less so for others. For investors who need more handholding, and/or have more complex financial situations, advisors can add significant value.
What follows is a great discussion on questions Jeff asks his clients as he seeks to evaluate the right market strategy for them, as well as the right implementation. There are myriad issues: what’s the best asset mix? Do you add hedges? Active or passive? Factor tilts? And so on.
Jeff looks to understand what his clients need from a return perspective in order to reach their goals, as well as their ability to handle risk. This includes variables such as when will the client need to take withdrawals. This leads to an interesting conversation about those risky years shortly before and after retirement begins. If luck is against you, and the market is down in those years, it can make a huge difference in your portfolio’s balance and therefore, your retirement lifestyle. Jeff tells the story of how retiring at two different points in time led to two very different outcomes.
Another question Jeff asks clients is what percentage, or dollar value, could they accept as a temporary loss in a bear market?” He tells us another story about a husband/wife client who realized they had very different answers to this question.
Meb asks what’s the average answer to “how much can you stomach being down?”. Apparently, most clients say they can handle about 15-20% declines.
Meb then brings up how portfolio creation and management is just one part of a person’s entire financial picture; therefore, as Jeff and Barbara think about risk and a client’s holistic financial view, where do they begin?
Barbara answers this one. She tells us one of the most important things she does is help clients organize their financial lives. She accomplishes this by asking three questions: Who? What? And how much?
She goes on to give us great details on what really goes into these questions. In essence, she’s helping clients gain far greater control over their financial lives. You’ll hear Meb sound a bit overwhelmed in response, noting how simply the organizational side of getting someone’s financial life in order can be massive – and that he could personally use the help.
The conversation drifts toward allocating cash and savings. But one of the problems is that many investors have way too much cash sitting in accounts earning nothing. At a minimum, they could use that cash to pay down various debts or mortgages. Meb makes the point that countless investors are bad at optimizing the cash/debt equation. He says there are simple techniques to easily turn cash earning 0% into cash earning 1% per year.
Meb continues to steer the conversation toward traditional financial planning topics: Social Security, retirement benefits, health and liability risks, and so on…
Barbara provides some wonderful information on insurance and long-term health care. As an interesting aside, she tells us that most of her male clients don’t want to waste their money on long-term health care, while her female clients find it to be more of a need. Barbara says the reality is somewhere in between.
This hardly even begins to scratch the surface of what’s covered in this episode. (It’s our longest to date!) You’ll hear about umbrella insurance policies (and why Meb could use one for some property he owns in Colorado)… The importance of proper titling of your assets and how it can protect you from litigation… Gifting loved ones with stock rather than cash to get around big capital gains… Effective financial strategies using tax bracket trends… SEP IRAs versus 401Ks vs Roth IRAs… When to start taking Social Security… And way more.
And of course, you’ll hear Jeff and Barbara’s most memorable investments. While Barbara’s is interesting, Jeff’s involves a huge market loss thanks to a bad tip from a certain college friend (you guessed it – Meb was to blame).
What was Meb’s bad investment advice that cost Jeff thousands? Find out in Episode 73.
Episode 72 is a radio show format before we start back with guests this fall. Some of the questions and topics you’ll hear:
As usual with the radio show formats, there are plenty of additional rabbit holes including the potential direction of the U.S. dollar, the velocity of money, and the tug of war between inflation and deflation.
What is Meb’s take on all this? Find out in Episode 72.
Episode 71 is a solo-Meb show in which he reads a white paper we’ll soon be publishing. The white paper might be a tad controversial as it calls into question an investing strategy that’s so beloved, it borders on sacrosanct.
What’s the strategy? Since this is a shorter episode, we won’t reveal it here. Instead, here’s a bit from the paper’s introduction…
“…Similarly, if you worship at the altar of this wildly-popular investing strategy, you too may find this paper’s contents equally blasphemous.
Yet if you find yourself feeling that way, I would encourage you to keep an open mind, for rejecting what you’ll read today would only shortchange yourself. That’s because I believe the approach I’ll suggest you consider in place of this beloved strategy has the potential to increase your returns significantly. And that’s just the start, because it also carries benefits that could result in even greater improvements for taxable investors.”
What are these strategies? Find out in Episode 71.
Episode 70 is a radio show format. We start with a quick catch-up, discussing the recent eclipse and Meb’s upcoming travel, including Iceland, Reno, Orlando, Amsterdam, among others.
Before jumping into listener questions, we get Meb’s thoughts on Episode 69, which featured Jason Calacanis (Meb dabbles with some angel investments himself). Meb tells us a bit more about his own angel experiences and his reflections on interviewing Jason.
This dovetails into a question about how Meb allocates his own money between private investments, public investments, debt, and so on (with a “capital allocation” comparison to Thorndike’s book, The Outsiders). You’ll hear Meb’s thoughts on his personal asset allocation.
This segues into our first set of questions from listeners, focusing on where to put “safe” money right now. Meb gives us his thoughts, leading into a discussion of which asset could be right for listeners wanting to keep some money on the sidelines, yet without inflation taking too big a chunk of it.
What follows is an assortment of questions and rabbit holes: If Meb had to short just one market right now what would it be and why… How an individual investor should look at leverage in a portfolio (includes a recap of risk parity)… Who is Meb’s favorite 13F guru… What hedge fund replication strategies Meb finds most interesting… And even a cryptocurrency challenge to listeners from Meb.
What is it? Find out in Episode 70.
In Episode 69, we welcome legendary angel investor, Jason Calacanis.
We start with Jason’s background. From Brooklyn, he worked his way through college, then was in New York at the breaking of the internet. He started his own blogging company, and eventually sold his business for $30M. Later, he landed at Sequoia Capital as part of its “scouts” program, and went on to be an angel investor in a handful of unicorns (a startup company valued at over $1B).
As the conversation turns to angel investing, Meb starts broadly, asking Jason about the basics of angel investing.
Jason defines it as individuals investing in companies before the venture capital guys get involved (before a Series A). He tells us that the more you can analyze a company through data, the lesser chance it’s an angel investment. That’s because to get the huge returns that come through a true angel investment, there has to be some level of risk (in part, related to having less data-driven information about a company’s financials).
So, the challenge is to find that “Goldilocks” period – before revenues are so high that a VC is interested, but after a startup company has launched a product and shown a hint of traction (so many early stage companies end up failing even to launch a product). When you time your investment in this manner, you reduce your downside risk.
Meb makes a parallel to traditional equity investing, where only a handful of stocks make up the majority of overall market gains. He suggests this dynamic is likely even more exaggerated in angel investing.
Jason agrees. That’s why he suggests you want to go slow at the beginning, ramping up as you learn more, building your network, and growing your deal-flow. But when you get it right, it can result in massive wealth. Or as Jason says, “I think that this is a little secret way… a dark art of becoming truly wealthy… massive wealth.”
Meb points the conversation toward a section of Jason’s book which made the point that to get started in angel investing, you need at least one of four things: money, time, expertise, or a great network. He asks Jason to expound. So, Jason provides us some color on these different angel-factors.
This dovetails into how much of your net worth should be allocated toward angel investments. It’s a great conversation diving into the math of various net-worth-percentages, and how a couple of investment-winners can have a profound impact on your overall wealth. Meb tells us about his own early-stage investing experience, and how the contagious optimism is exciting.
Meb asks what are some resources and places to go for more information. Jason points toward doing some syndicate deals. By doing so, you can read the deal memos, and track the investments even if you never actually invest. It’s a great way to learn – Jason uses the analogy of playing fantasy baseball. The guys go on to discuss ways to grow your network through other syndicate investors.
A bit later, Meb asks about pitch meetings when company founders are looking for money. What’s your role as a potential investor in these meetings? Jason likes to ask the question “What are you working on?” He then provides some great reasons why this question is effective. A follow-up question is “Why now?” In essence, what has changed that makes this moment right for your business? For example, for Uber, it was GPS on phones.
Curious what the “why now?” of the moment is? Robotics is one of them. Jason gives us a couple others (but you’ll have to listen to discover what they are).
The conversation drifts into how to exit your angel investment (or invest more). Jason says if you have a breakout success you want to quadruple down. For instance, if a big VC like Sequoia is thinking about investing, you’d definitely want to jam as much money in as possible. The guys then discuss taking some money off the table if your investment goes public, perhaps selling 25% of your position at four different times.
Meb likes this idea, as we discuss the behavioral challenges of investing so often, with so many investors thinking in binary terms – “in or out?” But scaling is such a powerful concept.
There’s so much more in this episode, and if you’ve ever been curious about angel investing, you’re going to learn from the best. The guys discuss how the lack of liquidity can be a blessing in disguise… why the sophomore year of angel investing can be brutal… a great way to tell if your angel investment is doing poorly… a huge ($10M huge) tax benefit of early stage investing… and of course, Jason’s most memorable trade – it turns out, he was the 3rd or 4th investor in Uber.
Want to hear the details? You’ll get them all and more in Episode 69.
In Episode 68, we welcome Meb’s friend and Newfound Research founder, Cory Hoffstein (or as Meb refers to him, a “fellow nerd”).
Per usual, we start with Corey’s background, but then Meb jumps in by asking Corey to describe his general, 10K foot investing framework.
Corey tells us that a specific product and/or style doesn’t necessarily define him or Newfound. Rather, he believes in a consistent, well-researched process that takes into account the behavioral challenges that accompany any given investment strategy. This is because the journey is often just as important as the destination.
Meb asks where Corey starts when creating a portfolio. Corey tells us it’s about the balance of risk. This is because “risk cannot be destroyed, only transformed.” Therefore, when building a portfolio, there’s no single holy grail. You need to understand the goals and fears of your client, then figure out how to balance various strategies in order to find a robust, flexible portfolio that handles risk appropriately.
This dovetails into one of Newfound’s white papers, “Portfolios in Wonderland,” which tackles today’s investing climate. Corey tells us that we’re in a unique environment, whether focusing on equity valuations or interest rates. It used to be that stocks and bonds zigged when the other zagged. But in the 1980s, both became cheap. Today, we have the opposite: high equity values and low yields on fixed income.
This leads to a great discussion on bonds, including Corey’s rule of thumb for estimating future bond returns, and his research into the source of bond returns – how much was due to the coupon, versus declining rates and roll yield.
The guys agree that with U.S. equities richly valued, and bond yields so low, future returns of the classic 60/40 portfolio don’t look too appetizing. So, what’s the solution?
Corey likes the proliferation of asset classes that used to be found almost exclusively in hedge funds. Now, we can use them to diversify our portfolios and reach a solid rate of return. The conversation bounces around a bit here – how 8%-10% returns aren’t likely going forward unless you’re invested exclusively in emerging markets... how if you let a portfolio optimizer do its thing, you’d have almost no U.S. exposure in either equities or bonds... and how, behaviorally, most people couldn’t have 0% allocated to the S&P, so finding a balance between the best portfolio and the most realistic portfolio is needed.
Meb asks how much drag there is on returns when moving away from the mathematically “best” portfolio to a portfolio which investors can actually stomach. Corey tell us investors are probably giving up 50-100 basis points of return which, over the long run, is a meaningful difference.
It’s not long before Meb asks about new research Corey is working on. Corey tells us he’s looking at much complexity an investor should bring into a portfolio. Some small details can make a huge difference. This leads to a great discussion about “timing luck” when it comes to trend following. More specifically, when you choose to rebalance can make a huge impact on your returns. If you’re a trend follower, make sure to catch this part.
A bit later, the guys discuss another white paper from Corey, “Outperforming by Underperforming.” This leads into a conversation about the challenges of looking different with your strategy, as well as the right time-frame needed to evaluate any strategy. The conversation includes a great quiz Corey often asks his audiences regarding Buffett and how badly he has lagged the S&P at times. Chances are you’ll be surprised to hear what Corey says.
There’s way more in this episode, including answers to “Should we be holding more cash?” “Is dividend investing dangerous” and “How do you factor in various global interest rates when looking at a bond allocation?” There’s also how Corey constructs multi-asset portfolios… how value works across asset classes… the biggest concerns Corey is hearing from clients today… an idea Meb has for a “weird ETF”… and of course, Corey’s most memorable trade.
What is it? Find out in Episode 68.
In Episode 67, we welcome Simon Black, founder of the newsletter, Sovereign Man.
We start with Simon’s military background, having been an intelligence officer. He spent lots of time overseas, yet became disillusioned after the promises of WMDs failed to prove accurate. From this, he began challenging the status quo.
Underpinning everything was an ethos of personal freedom, which is at the core of what Simon’s newsletter, Sovereign Man, is really about.
Meb asks what global red flags and/or issues Simon is seeing now which might be challenging our personal freedoms. Simon tells us “I see a lot of red flags.” Specifically, he’s seeing a global trend toward socialism. People have a sense that the system is rigged. There’s an intuitive understanding that something is wrong, though people aren’t quite certain what it is, so they blame capitalism. But when people gravitate toward socialism (“I want more free stuff”), we run into the challenge of too many people wanting to jump on the cart, without enough people actually pulling the cart.
This leads to an interesting conversation about the effects of socialism in Venezuela, where Simon is located. He mentions how there are vast quantities of soil where the Venezuelans could be growing crops, yet there is starvation. He steers the conversation back to challenges here in the U.S., which leads toward the need for what Simon calls a “Plan B.” In essence, this is a plan intended to protect yourself and your assets from the various risks we face today on many levels – financial, personal, governmental…
Part of an effective Plan B ties to diversification. Simon mentions how if all of your assets are in the same banking system, then you’re not diversified. So, Simon suggests at least some money should be kept in banks outside of the U.S. – after all, there are many global banks that are better capitalized than those here in the U.S. He offers Hong Kong as an example.
The conversation drifts toward an example of personal diversification – getting a second passport. Simon thinks this is the ultimate option, providing tons of opportunities and benefits – all upside with no downside, for minimal cost.
Next up is Simon’s suggestion to legally reduce your tax burden. He tells us “reducing your taxes…that’s the easiest return on investment you’ll ever make.” Simon tell us a favorite tax-reduction technique upon Meb’s request.
Next up, the guys discuss having cash outside the U.S. banking system. The conversation references why this is important – just look at what happened in Cyprus and Greece a few years ago. This leads into a discussion of cryptocurrencies. Simon tells us how so many people putting money into crytos today now have no idea what they’re doing – do they even understand Bitcoin and Ethereum? Who has actually read the original white paper on Bitcoin?
There’s way more in this episode: where Simon is looking now for safe, margin-of-safety-style investments around the globe… how private equity can help your portfolio… Simon’s entrepreneurial advice… what Simon’s readers are most concerned about today… and of course, Simon’s most memorable trade – it involved day-trading Compaq (and losing everything).
How’d it happen? Find out in Episode 67.
Episode 66 is a radio show. We start with Meb referencing the just-published book, The Best Investment Writing, which he edited. It’s a great collection of essays from some of the smartest minds in investing. Check it out.
Next, we jump into market commentary, using Meb’s recent “office hours” as our vehicle for discussion. What that means is Meb had some extra time over the last few weeks, so he opened his calendar to his followers, scheduling loads of 30-minute phone calls with various individual investors and RIAs looking to pick Meb’s brain on a variety of subjects. Meb tells us the topics which came up the most often, as well as his thoughts. There’s talk of U.S. equity valuation (and at what level Meb would start selling even before a crash), angel investing, portfolio allocation weightings, and far more.
We end with several listener questions. The first involves how Meb views market breadth in light of the growth in index investing; the second solicits Meb’s thoughts on the dangers of ETF investments if the market heads south; the third is at what valuation level the buyback component of a shareholder yield strategy ends up being a headwind.
What valuation level did Meb indicate? Find out in Episode 66.
In Episode 65, we welcome CTA and commodities expert, Emil van Essen.
Meb starts with a fun bit of trivia – if you mesh his and Emil’s name, coming up with “Emil Faber,” can you guess in which movie that name appears?
It turns out it’s from the classic comedy, Animal House. “Emil Faber” was the founder of the movie’s “Faber College” and under his statue was his quote, “Knowledge is good.”
After Emil gives us a bit about his background, the guys jump into the deep end. Emil trades managed futures, and while most people think “trend following” when they hear “managed futures,” there are other styles. Emil tells us about a style he uses often, spread trading.
Emil looks at the term structure in commodities futures contracts. There’s a price for every month going out in time. You can trade the differences between those months (calendar spreads). He also trades relative value and roll arb. Emil likes these strategies because there’s tons of alpha available.
Meb pauses to explain a bit for any listeners who are less familiar with all this. He explains exposure to the futures markets, using oil as an example. This leads into a discussion about the growth of commodities markets. Back in the 2000s, commodities went from being just a product to an investment vehicle. So the powers that be created indices and various commodities products to meet this demand. Investments in commodities exploded, driving up prices.
This dovetails into what Meb calls “one of the dirty secrets of indexing,” which is how many indices can be front-run. Meb tells us how, for some 1.0 commodities indices, the slippage was in the order of 3-4% per year.
Meb then asks Emil to describe what he looks at when establishing a position. Is it fundamental? Technical? Emil tell us it’s very important that you use both, because “you have to understand the fundamentals because things change.”
Next is a great conversation about front-running trend followers. This is something that Emil does. He knows that if there’s a big move, the trend followers are likely all on the same side of the position, so when it comes time to roll the front month, and Emil generally knows when that will happen, Emil takes advantage of the price movement. Meb and Emil then discuss the easiest way to implement this strategy.
A bit later, the guys discuss what themes/positions Emil is interested in right now. He tells us how there has recently been a shortage in gasoline, so gas has been running up against crude oil. It’s at high levels now, and Emil thinks it’ll come down. Emil also tells us that he’s looking at grains, the energy markets, and certain metals including platinum and palladium.
This leads into a discussion on oil. Meb asks Emil’s take on the industry.
Emil gives us some great background on what drove oil up so high, and why it crashed. Then he discusses the technological revolution in oil drilling, the result of which is that the cost of finding and developing oil has collapsed. There are some great details in here which oil investors won’t want to miss, but Emil wraps up this part of the conversation by saying “the days of $80 oil – that’s a long way away.”
Meb then asks what areas of commodities Emil likes right now. Emil tells us his thoughts on at what level crude is buy. And he mentions a certain metal which he considers a “no brainer.” You’ll have to listen for the details.
There’s way more in this episode: how Emil views gold in light of new cryptocurrencies… A Twitter poll Meb conducted that reveals just how stubborn some investors can be when it comes to selling out of overvalued equities… Where Emil has seen the most investors make the biggest mistakes over his 25+ year career… The dangerous false belief that “we’ve seen this before” in the markets, and how computerized investing is taking us into uncharted waters… And finally, Emil’s most memorable trade (which was a loser that will get your blood racing).
What are the details? Find out in Episode 65.
In Episode 64, we welcome David Varadi from Blue Sky Asset Management.
David tells us a bit about himself before he and Meb jump into investing. Meb starts by referencing a quote from Blue Sky’s website:
“Unlike endowments, investors do not have an infinite time horizon. For this reason, we believe that a traditional strategic asset allocation approach based on modern portfolio theory is suboptimal. It makes more sense to adapt to changes in the economic environment. We favor a dynamic approach to asset allocation using market information to guide our investment decisions. Most importantly, we believe that a systematic, quantitative approach is necessary to avoid emotions and biases in decision-making.”
Meb’s a fan of all the ideas in that quote, so he asks David to expound and discuss his general market framework.
David tells us how it’s easy to be a buy-and-hold investor when market is going up; much harder so when the market is falling – especially when nearing retirement. Significant drawdowns can be devastating. So David tells us that “managing risk is absolutely critical.” Investors need to be able to adjust their strategies to handle a wide variety of market scenarios – bear markets, varying interest rate scenarios, and inflation. And “if you have a dynamic asset allocation, you have the ability to be more in tune with the market regime that is currently going on.”
Meb asks David to dig deeper – what are the rules and frameworks in place that make his models dynamic?
For David, much goes back to fundamentals, trend, momentum, and volatility. David starts with a strategic allocation that reflects longer-term assumptions. But what’s interesting is how David uses volatility in concert with trend/momentum, helping him know when to be in the market versus cash. Most people think time-series momentum is a binary decision, but David brings probabilities into the discussion.
Meb then asks about the challenges a retail investor faces when trying to implement the strategies David has been discussing.
A big challenge is tracking error. The more dynamic you are (moving away from buy-and-hold indexing), the more potential tracking error. Another issue is how often you trade. David tells us that the investor has to ask himself what is most important – does the investor want to reduce the drawdown in a 2008 scenario, and if so, is he willing to take the tracking error associated with that?
Meb echoes this tradeoff between buy-and-hold versus active. It’s very hard to look “different” than the market and/or your neighbors when you’re underperforming.
Next, Meb references a chart from one of Blue Sky’s white papers that shows the most successful asset managers (presented in our show links). The top three are all quant/trend guys. Buffett is at six. Meb asks why, then, everyone knows Buffett’s name, but most average investors aren’t familiar with the trend asset managers.
David gives us an interesting answer, referencing how trend is less known, as well as the behavioral challenges of its implementation. But he tells us that a big reason why many of those trend investors are on the chart is because “when you stay in tune with what’s actually happening in the market, you’re much more likely to survive over a long period of time.”
It’s not long before the guys switch to a fascinating new topic – using equity option data to select stocks. In essence, looking at the implied volatility between puts and calls to get a feel for which equities are more likely to climb. David is searching for “high implied skew.”
Next, Meb brings up another Blue Sky whitepaper, this one about retirees and risk. David hits the high points, discussing the challenges of volatility in retirement.
There’s plenty more in this episode, including the new areas David is researching… David’s most memorable trade (one involves put options, the other Bitcoin)… And David’s one piece of investing advice to listeners, involving three mental “buckets” for your asset allocation.
What are they? Find out in Episode 64.
In Episode 63, we welcome Gary Beasley and Gregor Watson, co-founders of Roofstock. If you’re one of our listeners who has written in requesting an episode on rental real estate, be sure not to miss this one.
We start with some quick background on the guys, how they came to found Roofstock, and the way in which their company is aiming to make rental real estate investing far easier. In essence, they want to simplify things by separating the “investing” side of rental real estate from the “operational” side of owning a rental home.
After the background, Meb starts with a broad, contextual question: So how would a new rental real estate investor start?
In the old way, you would identify a market in which you’re interested, look at tons of homes, make some offers, perform due diligence on the ones where the offers have some traction, renegotiation the price and finally buy, then find a property manager to handle operations for you.
But the guys then tell us how Roofstock is making this traditional process far simpler. Basically, the home and rents, tenant, and local property manager have already been vetted and approved. You see the various yields ahead of time. This enables investors to buy without all the traditional brain-damage. The guys tell us “Our goal is to make it incredibly easy to get exposure to the asset class (rental real estate).”
What follows is a wonderful discussion about some of the traditional challenges with rental real estate, and how Gary and Gregor are helping investors overcome those challenges. The discussion touches on how to compare rental homes across different markets… Evaluating rental homes via gross yield, net yield, IRR, and on an after-tax return basis… How Gary and Gregor arrive at rental home valuations… Financing versus all-cash buying…
There are also great tidbits of rental real estate investing wisdom dropped in. For instance, did you know that the total cost to a home-seller to vacate, spiff up, and sell is about 10-12% of the sale price? Did you know that the average cost of a property manager is about 7-8% of collected rents plus a separate leasing fee? Guess what percentage of rental real estate owners live within about an hour of the homes they own? You’ll find out…
Later in the episode, Meb asks about the range of yields on the various rental homes featured on Roofstock; specifically, why wouldn’t he invest in a handful of homes yielding, say, 25% versus those yielding just 5%? Is there a parallel here to high-grade bonds and junk bonds?
The guys tell us, yes, lower yielders tend to be the safer investments, whereas the higher-yielding homes are a bit riskier. But both potentially have a place in a rental portfolio, depending on the needs/goals of that investor.
There’s much more in this episode: the difference between buying single-family homes directly versus investing in a REIT… How to think about starting and building a rental real estate portfolio… How much time an investor would need to commit to being a landlord when not using a property manager… What happens if there’s another 2007… And Gary and Gregor’s single best piece of advice to listeners interested in starting with rental real estate investing.
What is it? Find out in Episode 63.
In Episode 62, we welcome journalist and author, Ron Lieber.
Meb begins by congratulating Ron, as it was Meb's pregnant wife who read Ron's book about how parents should discuss financial matters with their kids, and promptly told Meb he needed to read it and get Ron on the podcast.
Turning attention to Ron's book, "The Opposite of Spoiled," Meb begins by asking about Ron's motivation for writing it. Ron tells us there were three factors: one, a pointed question from his three-year-old ("Daddy, why don't we have a summer home?"); two, the focus of Ron's writing at work (young people who borrow vast sums of money to pay the huge college tuition bills); and three, his own situation as a teen, having seen the collegiate financial aid application process thanks to his mother. All of this together led Ron to the conclusion that "we're not having the right kinds of conversations with our kids about this stuff."
Meb mentions how it's a shame that they don't teach personal finance in high school, which makes it all the more important that parents have these discussions with their kids. Unfortunately, many parents are reluctant. Meb asks Ron why this is so.
Ron points toward shame. Perhaps parents are ashamed they don't know the answers to the questions (maybe they don't have a firm grip on finances themselves), or maybe they're ashamed at how much (or little) they earn, or at how they earn their money.
The conversation drifts toward a piece of advice in Ron's book; it's the suggestion that when facing a question from a child, the parent might ask "Why do you ask that?" The reason this is helpful is that many times, the stated question isn't really want the child wants to know. Questions like "how much do you make?" are rooted in fundamental questions such as "Mom/Dad, are we okay here? Is our family normal?"
Meb brings up the four things spoiled kids have in common from Ron's book and asks for some commentary. Ron tells us that, ironically, these spoiling factors have almost nothing to do with actual money. They are: one, not having any rules for kids; two, if there are rules, not enforcing them or having consequences; three, smoothing out the path in front of kids and making sure they never face any challenges; and four, allowing kids to grow up without any context for how lucky they are for their opportunities â€“ no gratitude, and instead, an attitude of entitlement.
This dovetails into a great conversation about chores, which points toward allowances. Ron suggests dividing allowances into three buckets: savings, spending, and giving. The specific allocations will likely reflect the values the parent is looking to instill (for instance, if a parent wants to focus on giving, the allowance amount can reflect what the parent believes is an appropriate amount the child should skim off the top for "giving").
There's way more in this episode, and if you're the parent or grandparent of a young child, you don't want to miss this one. You'll hear more about the conditions that lead toward materialistic kids and how to avoid them... Unique ways to deal with things like a visit from The Tooth Fairy... How to handle kids wanting cell phones (do you know how long Bill Gates made his kids wait before buying them a cell phone? You'll find out)... And how to use a great tool called "The Fun Ratio" to help your kids make better spending decisions.
What is it and how does it work? Find out in Episode 62.
In Episode 61, we welcome Jack Vogel, CFO/CIO of Alpha Architect, and the partner of Wes Gray, who you may remember as one of our earliest Meb Faber Show guests.
After Jack tells us a bit about his background and how he came to be at Alpha Architect, Meb jumps in, starting with "factors" - specifically, the value factor. Meb asks about Jack's value philosophy in general, and how he creates a value portfolio.
What follows is a great look at how a professional portfolio manager/asset allocator creates a portfolio. Using quantitative tools, Jack starts by constructing the universe of potential assets to include, keeping in mind scale. Next, Jack applies some forensic accounting in order to exclude certain toxic assets that one wouldn't want in a portfolio. Then, he screens for value. Jack likes using enterprise multiples. Finally, he looks for "quality." These are things like free cash flow, margin growth and marketing stability.
Meb then points the conversation toward momentum investing. Jack offers us a general overview first, noting how momentum investing can be really beneficial for value investors. He also makes the point how it's definitely different than growth investing.
In discussing creating a momentum portfolio, Jack discusses adding seasonality (which means addressing when to rebalance) and quality. On the topic of quality, Jack gives us a great example of what it means in the context of earnings; it involves two stocks, one of which is flat for an extended period, but then explodes in value in a short amount of time, versus the other that experiences the same growth, but gradually and consistently over the entire period. Which earnings are more "quality"? Jack gives us his thoughts.
Next up is Alpha Architect's great tool, Visual Active Share. It's a wonderful way for investors to compare the holdings of an ETF to its benchmark index. Investors can use this to see just how "different" the ETF in question truly is. After all, you don't want to be paying too much in fees for an ETF that's really just a closet index fund. The guys discuss whether there's a particular number for what "good" active share is, as well as the challenge of tracking error as you grow more "different."
As usual, there's a great deal more in this episode: Alpha Architect's new value, momentum, trend ETF... A discussion of the state of robos... What new tools Jack and his crew at Alpha Architect are working on now in order to help investors pull back the curtain on various funds... And of course, Jack's most memorable trade - it was the last individual stock he owned, which he now refers to as 'The Titanic.'
What was the stock? Find out in Episode 61.
In Episode 60, we welcome the great William (Bill) Bernstein.
Bill starts by giving us some background on how he evolved from medicine to finance. In short, faced with his own retirement, he knew he had to learn to invest. So he studied, which shaped own thoughts on the matter, which led to him writing investing books, which resulted in interest from the press and retail investors, which steered him into money management.
After this background info, Meb jumps in, using one of Bill's books "If You Can" as a framework. Meb chose this as it starts with a quote Meb loves: "Would you believe me if I told you that there's an investment strategy that a seven-year-old could understand, will take you fifteen minutes of work per year, outperform 90 percent of financial professionals in the long run, and make you a millionaire over time?"
The challenge is the "If" in the title. Of course, there are several hurdles to "if" which Meb uses as the backbone of the interview.
Hurdle 1: "People spend too much money." Bill gives us his thoughts on how it's very hard for a large portion of the population to save. We live in a consumerist, debt-ridden culture that makes savings challenging. Meb and Bill discuss debt, the "latte theory," and the stat about how roughly half of the population couldn't get their hands on $500 for an emergency.
Hurdle 2: "You need an adequate understanding of what finance is all about." Bill talks about the Gordon Equation, and how investors need an understanding of what they can realistically expect from stocks and bonds - in essence, you really need to understand the risks.
Meb steers the conversation toward investor expectations - referencing polls on expected returns, which are usually pegged around 10%. Using the Gordon Equation, Bill's forecast comes in well-below this (you'll have to listen to see how low). The takeaway? Savings are all the more important since future returns are likely to be lower.
This leads to a great conversation on valuation and bubbles. You might be surprised at how Bill views equity valuations here in the U.S. in the context of historical valuation levels. Bill tells us to look around: Is everyone talking about making fortunes in stocks? Or quitting good jobs to day trade? We don't see any of these things right now. He's not terribly concerned about valuations.
Hurdle 3: "Learning the basics of financial and market history." Meb asks which market our current one resembles most from the past. Bill tells us it's a bit of a blend of two periods. This leads to a good discussion on how higher returns are more likely to be coming from emerging markets than the U.S.
Hurdle 4: "Overcoming your biggest enemy - the face in the mirror." It's pretty common knowledge we're not wired to be good investors. So Meb asks the simple question why? And are there any hacks for overcoming it? Or must we all learn the hard way?
Unfortunately, Bill thinks we just have to learn the hard way. He tells us "The more comfortable you are buying something, in general, the worse the investment it's going to be."
Bill goes on to discuss the challenge of overconfidence and the Dunning-Kruger effect (there's an inverse correlation between competence and belief one has in their competence). Meb asks if there's one behavioral bias that's the most destructive. Bill answers with overestimating your own risk tolerance. You can model your portfolio dropping 30% and think you can handle it, but in when it's happening in real time, it feels 100% worse than how you anticipated it would.
Hurdle 5: "Recognize the monsters that populate the financial industry." Basically, watch out for all the financial leeches who exist to separate you from your money. Bill tells us a great story about being on hold with a big brokerage, and the "financial porn" to which he was subjected as he waited.
There's way more in this episode: Bill's thoughts on robos... What Bill thinks about any strategy that moves away from market cap weighting (Bill thinks "smart beta" is basically "smart marketing")... How buying a home really may not be a great investment after all... Cryptocurrencies... and even Meb's "secret weapon" of investing.
All this and more in Episode 60.
Episode 59 is a radio show format. This week we're diving into some of the recent market stories which Meb has found most interesting. We also bring back some listener Q&A.
We start with a Tweet from Cliff Asness, in which he rebuffs a Bloomberg article titled, "The Death of Value Investing." The article states that value isn't working. Sticking to that approach has resulted in a cumulative loss of 15 percent over the past decade, according to a Goldman Sachs Group Inc. report. During roughly the same period, the S&P 500 Index has almost doubled."
So is value investing dead? Meb gives us his thoughts. We discuss its underperformance, mean reversion, and factor-crowding.
Next up is a New York Times article referencing a recent stance-reversal from Burt Malkiel, a passive investing legend. He's now saying he recognizes where active investing can exploit certain market inefficiencies. The same article has some great quotes from Rob Arnott on the topic of factor investing, and the danger in tons of quants all looking at the same data and trading on it. Meb gives us his thoughts on factor timing and rotation, using trend with factors, and the behavioral challenges involved in both.
Another Arnott quote steers the conversation toward backtesting - the pitfalls to avoid when backtesting, so you don't create a strategy that looks brilliant in hindsight, but is hideous going forward.
Next up are some listener questions:
There's plenty more - including our new partnership with Riskalyze, which enables advisors to allocate client assets into Trinity portfolios. But the more interesting story is how Meb gave his wife food-poisoning the other night. How'd he do it?
Find out in Episode 59.
In Episode 58, we welcome Axel Merk from Merk Investments. After a bit on Axel's background, the guys jump in, discussing the Fed's decision to raise interest rates today (recorded on Wed 6/14/17).
Axel discusses how the Fed has announced the normalization of its balance sheet and the pace at which it would like to do so - but they've left out lots of details. He likens it to driving into a tunnel with no lights on. In essence, the Fed doesn't know where it wants to go.
Axel's response touches upon our current low volatility. Meb hones in on this, asking if the low volatility is in part due to actions from the Fed.
Axel believes this to be the case (central banks in general, not just the Fed). Yet there's plenty more, involving how central bank activity has fueled this up, up, up market, with investors piling into risk assets. But Axel thinks asset prices are likely to come down from here. He says "A lot of that (rising asset prices) has been induced by central banks. The unwinding of that is going to be, at the very least, let's put it in quotes "'interesting.'"
Meb then focuses the conversation on equities. He says how here in the U.S. they're expensive. So what does Axel see as the opportunity set in equities around the globe?
You'll need to listen for the details, but Axel likes a pairs trade, going long France and short the S&P. Of course, he is quick to say he could be wrong on both legs.
Meb segues to China, as Axel had mentioned it earlier. If you're a regular Meb Faber Show listener who heard Steve Sjuggerud and Jason Hsu's thoughts on China, you'll want to hear Axel's thoughts for a different take. He's not nearly as bullish. He concludes by saying "I happen to think that if you want to be looking at the one risk event that's out there, that's going to get people's attention, China is certainly at the very top of the list."
Since Axel is a currency guy, Meb then brings currencies into the conversation, asking how investors might think about them in a broader portfolio context.
Axel gives us a great overview of different currency markets, with additional detail on the Dollar vs Euro. Overall, he sees the Dollar toward the top of its cycle, and the Euro toward its bottom. He concludes by predicting that the Euro will be substantially stronger a year from now.
There's a great deal more in this episode: whether retail investors should be following an endowment allocation... how holding cash is not necessarily a bad investment choice... a great discussion on gold, and how it fits into a portfolio... even Axel's thoughts on cryptocurrencies and Bitcoin.
And of course, we get Axel's one piece of investment advice for listeners, as well as his most memorable trade (Hint - he bought Apple early).
Find out all the details in Episode 58.
Episode 57 is another "radio show" format, yet this one is different than our others.
In this episode, Meb discusses his 17 different "million-dollar" fintech ideas. In essence, Meb has had various business ideas over the years which he's wanted to pursue, but hasn't had the time. Some he's tweeted about, some he's blogged about, others he's kept to himself. But in Episode 57, he'll run through all 17, diving into more detail.
Can a listener take one and run with it? Sure. Let us know how it works out! Or work on it with us. We're open to ideas.
Either way, here are the 17 concepts:
Are all of these ideas good? (We have our doubts...)
But find out for yourself in Episode 57.
In Episode 56, we welcome Meb's good friend, and CEO of ETF.com, Dave Nadig. Per usual, we start with some background information. Dave tells us about his early days in the investment industry, starting a consulting firm that was working on a then-new idea: fee-only financial advising. His first client was a little shop that went on to become none other than BlackRock. After some professional twists and turns, including running money for a while, Dave ended up at ETF.com.
Meb then dives in by referencing an article Dave wrote toward the end of last year, called "Outlook for ETFs in 2017." There were several key points in the article which Meb thinks can help provide a general, 30-thousand-foot overview of the ETF space. The first point - ETF flows.
Dave tells us "this is a big year for ETFs." He then takes us through a quick recap of the evolution of ETFs, going from a purely institutional product back in its early days, to something embraced by investment advisors, to an investment vehicle for retail investors. And here we are now, somewhat full circle, with ETFs even more embraced by institutions (think endowments), only now, they're no longer held as fringe investments, but as core holdings.
Meb asks at what point ETF assets will surpass mutual fund assets. Meb had predicted within about 10 years back in 2013. Dave tells us there will always be a demand for mutual funds - that said, he believes the cross will happen around 2025, with asset levels around $14 trillion.
Meb asks if the evolution in the ETF space today is primarily a movement from higher fee to lower fee. David believes this is the case. Most of the new flows are going toward low-cost vanilla products. Dave thinks the whole active/passive debate misses the point - it's really about cost. This dovetails into another business/investment idea Meb has that he's offering to any listener willing to pursue it.
Next, Meb brings us back to Dave's 2017 Outlook piece, this time bringing up "ESG."(This stands for "environmental, social and governance" for anyone unaware.). Dave believes that we're near/in the greatest intergenerational wealth transfer in history. And the 40-year-olds that are inheriting, say, a $5M portfolio from their 70-80-year-old parents have different desires about what to do with that money. Dave tells us that this younger generation wants their money to do something - and this usually gets labeled ESG. So Dave believes we'll see more funds targeting this wealth transfer.
After some conversation about industry regulatory issues and Bitcoin, the guys jump into Dave's recent visit to "The Money Show" â€“ a place Meb describes as the "Wild West" of individual investors. One of the biggest things attendees of the show were asking Dave about was ETF liquidity. Is there reason for concern? How illiquid can you go? Dave gives us the key takeaways: 1) remember good trading hygiene. In essence, don't be an idiot. Use limit orders, assess fair value if you can, and so on. 2) In responding to "how illiquid is too illiquid" Dave says it's not that simple, because liquidity is a moving target. He tells us about "the liquidity barbell." If you're worried about this topic, you'll want to be sure to listen to this section.
Meb then asks about a fear the media loves to play up: "Will ETFs bring about stock market Armageddon?" Meb goes on to say how a USA Today article blames ETFs for exacerbating bad investing habits.
Dave says you can't blame ETFs for bad investor timing. That's just how we're wired. But he goes on to say that many of the arguments against ETFs can be traced back to the old guard - people who are trying to defend active management shops that are underperforming, or defend the lack of transparency in their investing process. But their main argument is worth understanding - namely, the indexing problem; the idea is that if everyone owned index funds, then price discovery would be impossible. But Dave says we're a long way from having this problem.
As usual, there's plenty more in the episode: exchange traded notes... the regulatory change Dave would like to see... buying ETFs at NAV... Dave's one piece of advice offered to help listeners the most... and Dave's answer to a new question: since Dave is a big "game" lover, Meb asks which three games are his top 3 of all time.
What are they? Find out in Episode 56.
In Episode 55, we welcome Ed Easterling. Meb starts by referencing a survey he just conducted, asking readers’ opinions as to the single best investing book out there. It turns out that Ed’s book, Unexpected Returns, made the top 50 list, so Meb offers Ed a kudos.
But the guys hop into market discussions quickly. Ed tells us that the stock market is not driven by randomness. It’s predictable in the long run, driven by three components: 1) earnings growth, 2) dividend yield, and 3) the change in valuation level. Stock market returns over the short-term are unpredictable, but over the longer-term they’re highly predictable. And the key driver is the starting level valuation.
Meb brings up how numerous investors are currently expecting 10% returns (based on long-term averages). He asks Ed if that’s warranted.
It turns out, we need to distinguish between long-term returns (say, 100 years) and a return-period that’s more relevant to the average investor (say, 10 or 20 years). This is because changes in PE levels are much more significant for returns over 10-20 year periods for individual investors, more so than over 100 years.
Meb asks if Ed has a favorite PE ratio. Ed likes Shiller’s CAPE and the Crestmont PE – which is driven by GDP and EPS. Ed finds value in comparing the two. They have similar results yet have different approaches.
All the talk of valuation leads the guys into a discussion of secular versus cyclical markets. Ed offers some general context for secular versus cyclical, then says we’re definitely in a secular bear market. He offers up some great details here, factoring in valuations and the inflation rate.
Meb asks what will make the cyclical bear end? Ed says the PE has to get low enough where it can double or triple. So, starting out in the high 20s right now, the PE would need to get down to at least the mid-teens, if not the low-teens.
Soon, the conversation gravitates toward “volatility gremlins,” with Meb asking Ed to define the term and explain.
There are two volatility gremlins that compromise the compounded returns investors receive: 1) the effect of losses – Ed gives us example of the math behind wins and losses; 2) the dispersion of returns – steady returns yield the best compounding, but when returns are more dispersed, it adversely affects the compounding. Meb asks, “what then?” How does one build a portfolio knowing this? Ed answers by giving us a great analogy involving rowing and sailing.
Next, the guys touch on volatility and what will be the trigger that moves us from this mellow inflation environment. Ed says that volatility is a reflection of the movement of the markets, which also reflects investor sentiment and complacency. By one of the measures of volatility that Ed tracks, he says we’re well-into the lowest 3% or 4% of all periods since 1950. The other volatility measure is the VIX, which is settling again, back around 10. Do you know how many days since 1990 the VIX has dipped below 10? Ed tells us, and yes, we’re flirting with a sub-10 level right now.
There’s far much more in this episode: Where Ed would point a new investor starting in this environment… The biggest investing misconception Ed sees from his students… Ed’s favorite investing styles/strategies within the hedge fund space… And advice for retirees and/or income investors.
What is it? Find out in Episode 55.
In Episode 54, we welcome Elizabeth “Liz” Dunn, author of the book, “Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending”.
Meb suggests they walk through the book using its five broad takeaways as their outline. But before they dive in, he asks Liz about her inspiration for writing the book.
Liz tells us that when she began making a “real, grown up” salary, she wasn’t entirely certain what to do with it. She was curious how to use it most effectively to promote her own happiness. Interestingly enough, there wasn’t a great deal of research on the topic.
Next, Meb asks Liz to discuss her first main finding (and likely the best-known finding) – our happiness tends to increase when we spend money on experiences rather than things. Liz gives us the key takeaways, after which Meb asks why buying experiences over things is hard for us, when we know that’s what we should do.
The problem is we’re bombarded with opportunities to buy things. And it’s easy to see the differences between, say, Liz’s Honda and Meb’s Ferrari (no, Meb doesn’t own a Ferrari). With this comparison, Meb would feel great. But it cuts both ways – it’s also very easy for Meb to see someone else’s far more expensive Bentley, therein making him feel less satisfied with his Ferrari. Conversely, it’s more challenging to compare experiences. Each experience is somewhat unique, therein reducing the tendency to compare. Liz gives us an example using a safari she went on.
Meb and Liz soon move on to the second takeaway from the book: “make it a treat.” One of the greatest misunderstandings of happiness is the idea that if something makes us happy, then more of it should make us even happier. Apparently, that’s not the case. Whether we’re talking someone’s salary or a little luxury like “avocado toast” (Meb and Liz are both big fans), when we have more of it, this can erode our capacity to appreciate it.
This dovetails into the discussion of the salary “line in the sand” above which added dollars has diminishing impact on real happiness. Liz tells us that in the U.S., this figure is about $75K. But she mentions it with an interesting context…
There are two “flavors” to happiness: 1) the kind that comes when you evaluate a question like “am I living the kind of life I want to live?” and 2) the kind that comes when you ask “did I laugh or smile yesterday?”
If you’re making more money – well beyond $75K, you’re more likely to answer #1 in an affirmative way. Sure, as you jet off to Bora Bora and evaluate your life, you’re likely to feel good about having the wealth to enable such a trip. However, it turns out this added wealth has very little effect on the second type of happiness – day-to-day happiness.
The third takeaway is “buying time.” What are we actually doing with the minutes of our lives? Is there a way to trade our money for more time? Liz and Meb discuss spending an hour commuting to work every day, and how miserable that makes people. Wherever appropriate, it makes sense to spend money on things/services/people that can give us back our time, which we can then spend with loved ones or volunteering, etc.
Meb makes the point “show me your calendar and checkbook and I’ll show you what you care about.” While Liz agrees to an extent, she points out that many times the calendar and checkbook DON’T align with things we truly care about because we get into habits – say, mowing the lawn even though we have enough money to pay someone else to do it for us. So part of our challenge is to sniff out where our priorities are out of alignment with where we’re actually spending our time/money, then look to shift out of that mindset.
The fourth takeaway is “pay now, consume later.” This is hardly the way our culture does things, with its credit card mentality. Unfortunately, consuming first and paying later is exactly the wrong thing for happiness. Liz and Meb discuss this in detail, dovetailing into the toxic effects of debt.
The final takeaway is “invest in other people.” Liz has found that we tend to be happier when we spend our money on other people, more so than ourselves. In supporting this takeaway, she tells us of her study in which she gave people either a $5 or $20 bill, and asked them to spend it by the end of the day – the caveat was that some people were asked to spend it on themselves, while others were asked to spend it on other people. Liz’s team followed up at the end of the day, calling the participants, and found that those who spent the money on others reported feeling happier than the people who’d spent it on themselves.
After finishing discussing the book, Liz and Meb go over a paper Liz just published. It’s a fascinating look into what motivates wealthier people to give more to charity. In short, people with lots of money tend to focus on personal achievement more so than the communal “group achievement.” As such, a messaging strategy that reframes the wealthy individual as the hero or standout tends to result in more charitable donations as compared to a communal message.
There’s plenty more in this episode, including Liz’s next research project, discussion of Syrian refugees, what prompted a classic Meb-meltdown as a child, and finally, Meb’s pointed question to Liz: If I put you on the spot and asked you to give us one single piece of advice for achieving more happiness, what would it be?
What’s Liz’s answer? Find out in Episode 54.
Episode 53 is another “radio show” format. This means we tackle a handful of topics from Meb’s blog and tweets.
TOPIC 1 – VALUATIONS
3 DIFFERENT TAKES ON CURRENT VALUE PICTURE:
Meb’s recent blog post “A Bar Too High” indicated that for stocks to meet expectations over next 10 years, valuations must rise to highest they’ve ever been in history. With a current CAPE ratio of 29, that means the stock market multiple needs to INCREASE to all-time 1999 bubble highs to meet investor expectations. He thinks tepid growth is more realistic.
On the other hand, James Montier, member of the asset allocation team at the Boston-based asset manager GMO, is convinced that the US stock market is in bubble territory. However, European equities aren’t particularly cheap, either. Only emerging markets value-stocks appear vaguely attractive to him. Investors should be patient and hold a lot of cash in their portfolios in order to be able to buy when markets are correcting.
What would make the US equity market attractive again – how much would it have to correct? To get back to our sense of fair value tomorrow, it would have to fall by more than 50%. Then we would be on average valuation, which again we estimate based on profitability going back to normal.
A third option from a reader question: “Lately there seems to be a lot of talk about CAPE measure not being as meaningful as many seem to think that it is because the very low yields on bonds and full pricing of bonds are basically changing the overall risk adjusted returns landscape. I think the point people are making is that stocks are fairly priced for current overall market conditions, despite many indicators which suggest that prices are historically high.”
Three viewpoints – how does Meb see them all? You’ll hear his take.
TOPIC 2 – INVEST IN SINGLE STOCKS AT YOUR PERIL
A new study by finance professor Hendrik Bessembinder, called “Do Stocks Outperform Treasury Bills?” found that while investing in the overall stock market makes sense, individual stocks resemble lottery tickets: A very small percentage of winning stocks have done splendidly, but when gains and losses are tallied up over their lifetimes, most stocks haven’t earned any money at all. What’s more, 58 percent of individual stocks since 1926 have failed to outperform one-month Treasury bills over their lifetimes.
Professor Bessembinder found that a mere 4 percent of the stocks in the entire market — headed by Exxon Mobil and followed by Apple, General Electric, Microsoft and IBM — accounted for all of the net market returns from 1926 through 2015. By contrast, the most common single result for an individual stock over that period was a return of nearly negative 100 percent — almost a total loss.
Given all this, what reason is there for the average retail investor to be in specific equities instead of broader sector and index ETFs?
TOPIC 3 – VOLATILITY
We'll post a chart about our current low volatility – actual U.S. stock market volatility going to back 1928 has only been lower about 3% of trading days.
How does Meb interpret this – do these low readings mean a reversion is likely? Or is it the opposite – more of a trend approach where objects in motion tend to stay in motion?
Also, how would an investor act upon this using a tail-risk hedging strategy involving puts?
There’s plenty more and a handful of rabbit holes in this radio show episode, including investor sentiment, the name of Meb’s new child, how to avoid value traps, and yes, as the title suggests, the cheapest countries in the market today.
What are they? Find out in Episode 53.