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.