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.
Episode 24 brings us back to our most controversial episode format: the “solo Meb” show. Listeners seem to either love and loathe this style of show. If you fall into the “loathe” camp, it’s a short episode so the pain is limited. But hopefully you will listen, as Meb dives into the fascinating, and possibly timely, subject of bubbles. The quick takeaway? Using a trend following approach would have helped you reduce drawdowns as popping market bubbles ravaged portfolios. And this would have helped you achieve investing’s main goal: surviving another day. Meb then dives in, first defining bubbles, then referencing three of the most famous bubbles in history: the South Sea Company bubble, the Mississippi bubble, and the Dutch tulip mania, each of which saw drawdowns of 90%. Meb dives deeper into the South Sea Company bubble. In short, the South Sea Company was a huge pump-and-dump scheme – catching none other than Sir Isaac Newton in its carnage. From here, Meb discusses strategies for capturing the upside of bubbles while protecting yourself from the fallout. One solution? Trend following, using the 10-month simple moving average. It does a great job of reducing volatility and drawdowns, and improving returns. Meb ends the show by revisiting the South Sea Company bubble, this time putting an actual figure on Newton’s losses, and comparing them to what a trend follower would have made. What’s the difference? Find out in Episode 24.
If you’re a factor-investor, Episode 23 is for you. In fact, about 10 years ago, Gregg actually trademarked the term “multi-factor” in the use of mutual funds. Meb asks Greg which factors they use. It turns out “price-to-anything” isn’t bad. The conversation gravitates toward the behavioral side of investing, leading Gregg to an interesting comment: “Sometimes the best investment strategy isn’t the right investment strategy.” He goes on to illustrate by saying how if we bought nothing but small cap value stocks and held them for the next 50 years, we’d look back and realize that such a strategy would have been one of the most successful ones anyone could have chosen. The problem is the volatility of that strategy is off the charts, so most investors can’t see it through. In many ways, the experience of investing is as important to us as the outcome. Meb agrees, referencing a recent article detailing how Harvard’s endowment has posted a small loss over the last two years and some folks at Harvard are finding this totally unacceptable. But that’s to be expected with factor investing. As Gregg says, the whole concept of factor investing is to be different than the average investor. Next, Meb asks how to put together value and momentum. Turns out, there are lots of ways to slice this. Greg tells us to start with diversification, then differentiate across risk factors, tilting toward those factors that are well-rewarded for taking the risk. The guys then touch on factor investing in real estate, followed by top-down investing (Gregg doesn’t really adhere to top-down), then they move on to losses. We all know this intuitively, but huge losses can scar people – even to the point they never come back. So one of the keys to avoiding this is diversification. This bleeds into the topic of written investment plans. Gregg agrees that nearly no one has a written plan (though it would be great if they did). There’s far more, including currency hedging and smart beta factors. The episode winds down as Meb asks what advice Gregg might have for young investors who have only been exposed to the past 7 years of bull market. What’s Greg’s answer? Find out on Episode 23.
Episode #22 is another “Listener Q&A” episode. Meb has been traveling again, this time giving several speeches. So we start the episode with Meb giving us the highlights from his most recent talk in Vegas, in which he details four mistakes that investors are making right now. Next, we get into our listener Q&A. Meb tackles:
- Is shareholder yield a smart beta factor in its own right, or is it a combination of factors?
- Should a shareholder yield strategy outperform portfolios with size, value, and momentum tilts?
- Is there a reason why Meb rarely talks about adding small caps to a portfolio?
- What are the merits of investing in ETFs versus bonds directly?
- Can sentiment indicators be used to add tangible long-term value to a portfolio?
- How does Meb define risk, a term he uses quite often?
- While certain global countries with low CAPEs appear attractive, if the U.S. entered a correction, wouldn’t those foreign countries follow, negating the decision to invest there?
There’s plenty more, including talk of gambling in Vegas (and counting cards), Meb’s high school reunion, and some of the worst investment losses Meb ever suffered (think “biotech” and “options”). Hear it all in Episode 22.
Episode 21 starts with a “thank you” to Michael, as it was his advice on starting a podcast that got “The Meb Faber Show” off the ground. But Michael and Meb quickly turn to Michael’s expertise, trend following. This is how Michael summarizes it: “We don’t know what’s going to happen. We can’t make a prediction worth a damn. The market starts to move, whatever that market might be. We get on board, and we don’t get out until it goes against us and we have an exit signal.” They then turn to the infamous “turtle” story. It involves Richard Dennis, a great trader from the 1970’s, who 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. How’d it turn out? Three or four years later, the group Richard trained had made, on aggregate, around $100 million. Meb then suggests that a profitable strategy such as trend following, that seems to work, should attract lots of investor dollars in the long run. So why then doesn’t trend following have more “big money” institutional investors using it? Michael points toward drawdowns – “the scarlet letter of trend following” – even though buy-and-hold has plenty of drawdowns too. The guys then agree that all investing is purely speculation. We like to believe there’s more certainty, but that’s not the case. They then bring up a quote from Ed Seykota: “Win or lose, everyone gets what they want out of the market. Some people seem to like to lose, so they win by losing money.” Michael tells us this is true not only for investing, but life as well. Next, Meb asks about Michael’s podcast, which results in a great recap of how Michael got started and how he grew it to be the success it is today. The guys then discuss the mass of great investing content out there, for example, the hours of great interviews from Michael’s podcast—where is a new listener supposed to start? It’s overwhelming. Michael gives us his thoughts. This leads to Meb’s latest entrepreneurial business idea (which some listener should run with and make lots of money). There’s plenty more, including the guys touching on sensory deprivation, yoga/meditation, and of course, what each of them find beautiful, useful, or downright magical – Michael has about seven for us. What are they? Find out in Episode 21.
Episode #20 is another “Listener Q&A” episode. Meb starts by telling us about his frustration after doing a guest panel on CNBC earlier in the morning. (Hint: questions about The Fed tend to annoy Meb…also, if you ever chat with him in person, do not refer to a 1% market move as a “major” move.) But soon we change gears, and Meb answers questions including:
- When following a trend strategy based on a 100 or 200-day moving average, is the idea to buy/sell on Day 1 of the broken trend? Or is it more nuanced?
- Is there some magic number of days (when following a trend strategy) that is the right length?
- (The above questions dovetail into a conversation about the #1 mistake the majority of investors make when using a trend following approach – expecting it to be a return-enhancing strategy.)
- What are good trend strategies for sideways/chainsaw markets?
- How about combining a momentum strategy with a simple 10-month trend strategy?
- When looking at managed future funds, aside from cost, any thoughts on what might warrant choosing one fund over another?
- (This dovetails into an interesting admonition from Meb in which he suggests listeners should do their own homework on issues like this—after all, if you don’t fully understand a fund’s strategy and have your own reasons for buying it, how will you know whether a 20% drawdown reflects a bad strategy, bad execution, or just bad luck?)
- Can you earn a 10% CAGR with Dalio’s All Weather portfolio without fear of a major drawdown?
- (This dovetails into a question about asset allocation – does it really dominate long-term returns? A listener thought he heard a difference of opinion between Meb and a guest on a past episode.)
There are more questions, including one hand-written and mailed to Meb by a college student. He wants to know what qualities, skills, and abilities Meb looks for in new hires at Cambria, as well as what unique skills a college grad should bring to his/her employer. What’s Meb’s answer? Find out in Episode 20.
Episode 19 is a fun, unique episode, delving into the connection between “more money” and “more happiness.” Turns out, Jonathan has literally written the book on this complex relationship. Do you know what studies suggest is the “line in the sand” for annual income, separating happy and unhappy people? Good chance it’s lower than you think. But why? Jonathan tells us. That dovetails into a discussion about how people should spend their money in order to optimize their happiness. It turns out that spending our money on “experiences” with important people in our lives produces far more intrinsic happiness than money spent on “things.” Next, Meb leads the discussion into familiar territory – investing. Jonathan notes two major traps most of us fall into when investing: 1) overconfidence, and 2) loss aversion. These two Achilles Heels tend to inflict significant damage to our portfolios. So what’s our best defense? Jonathan gives us his three-pronged strategy. The topic then moves to portfolio construction, with Jonathan noting how his own approach has changed from a U.S.-centric, core-holding starting point to a global-market-portfolio starting point. Next, they move to a topic less discussed on the podcast: retirement. Jonathan gives his thoughts on withdrawal rates, portfolio management strategies in retirement, and even timing suggestions on when to start taking Social Security. There’s far more on the show, including what studies say about the effect of kids on happiness, why we need to flip our advice to our children (instead of “pursue your passions early in life” it should be “work your butt off early and save, so you can pursue your passions later”), and finally, specific action steps you can take right now to be a better investor. What are they? Find out in Episode 19.
Episode 18 is packed with value. It starts with Meb asking Rob to talk about market cap weighting and its drawbacks. Rob tells us that with market cap weighting, investors are choosing “popularity” as an investment criterion more so than some factor that’s actually tied to the company’s financial health. What’s a better way? Rob suggests evaluating companies based on how big they are instead (if you’re scratching your head, thinking “size” is the same as “market cap,” this is the episode for you). Is this method really better? Well, Rob tells us it beats market cap weighting by 1-2% compounded. Then Rob gives us an example of just how destructive market cap weighting can be: Look at the #1 company in any sector, industry, or country – you name it – by market cap. Ostensibly, these are the best, most dominant companies in the market. What if you invest only in these market leaders, these #1 market cappers, rotating your dollars into whatever company is #1? How would that strategy perform? You would do 5% per year compounded worse than the stock market. Now slightly tweak that strategy. What if you invest only in the #1 market cap company in the world, rebalancing each year into the then-#1 stock? You’d underperform by 11% per annum. Meb then moves the discussion to “smart beta.” Why is Rob a fan? Simple – it breaks the link with stock price (market cap), enabling investors to weight their portfolios by something other than “what’s popular.” But as Rob tells us, there are lots of questionable ideas out there masquerading as smart beta. The guys then dive into valuing smart beta factors. Just because something might qualify as smart beta, it doesn’t mean it’s a good strategy if it’s an expensive factor. Next, Rob and Meb turn their attention to the return environment, with Rob telling us “People need to ratchet down their return expectations.” All of these investors and institutions expecting 8-10% a year? Forget about it. So what’s an investor to do? Rob has some suggestions, one of which is looking global. He’s not the perma-bear people often accuse him of being. In fact, he sees some attractive opportunities overseas. Next, Meb asks Rob about the idea of “over-rebalancing.” You’ll want to listen to this discussion as Rob tells us this is a way to amp up your returns to the tune of about 2% per year. Next up? Correlation, starting with the quote “The only thing that goes up in a market crash is correlation.” While it may seem this way, Rob tells us that we should be looking at “correlation over time” instead. Through this lens, if an asset class that normally marches to its own drummer crashes along with everything else in a major drawdown, you could interpret it more as a “sympathy” crash – selling off when it shouldn’t; and that makes it a bargain. Does this work? It did for Rob back around ’08/’09. He gives us the details. There’s way more, including viewing your portfolio in terms of long-term spending power rather than NAV, the #1 role of a client advisor, and even several questions for Rob written in by podcast listeners. What are they? Listen to Episode #18 to find out.
Episode 17 starts with the guys from ReSolve discussing how they view asset allocation and top-down investing. They start with the global market portfolio which is the aggregate of what every investor in the world owns, yet interestingly, nearly no individual investor allocates this way. They then adjust the global market portfolio by striving for balance, specifically, risk parity. They discuss how leverage enables an investor to scale risk and target a specific volatility level, therein equalizing the portfolio. Risk parity gets you to start thinking about risk allocation instead of capital allocation. And this is helpful as “you’ve always got something killing it in your portfolio…and always got something killing you.” The topic then moves to valuation. The guys from ReSolve tell us how they see today’s market—near the peak of a cycle and expensive relative to history. What does this mean for returns over the next 10-20 years? They think 1-2% real. This leads to a discussion about the Permanent Portfolio and its pros and cons in various markets. Then Meb doesn’t miss the chance to bring up gold, as he suggests Canadians love their natural resources (ReSolve is based in Canada). Next, Meb asks the guys their thoughts on currencies. Here in the U.S., it’s rare that we factor currencies into our investing decisions, but it can be more of an issue for many non-U.S. investors. The conversation circles back to risk parity, this time in the context of bonds, and where yields might be going over the next 5-10 years. There’s plenty more, including managed futures, assorted risk premia, and an announcement from the ReSolve guys about a new service offering. What is it? Listen to episode #17 to find out.
Big news today! This isn't our usual podcast. Instead, Meb has an announcement for his listeners. It's only a few minutes long, so don't miss this one!
Episode #16 is another “Listener Q&A” episode. With Jeff asking follow-ups, here are a few of the questions Meb tackles:
- Given low bond yields, what asset would you suggest holding in a trend following strategy while in “cash”? Would you stick to short-term bonds, diversify with several bond funds, or actually hold cash?
- I struggle with a way to screen for quality. I just listened to your podcast with Pete Mladina and he alluded to profitability as a factor. Have you done any work here?
- Do you believe that the development of smart beta (momentum, value, low vol…) will kill the edge of these factors?
- It’s difficult to distinguish signal from noise when evaluating different indicators, such as forward PE versus TTM PE. What suggestions do you have for evaluating the myriad indicators out there?
- I just came into a lump sum of money. Is there any research on the best way to invest it into a pricey market? All at once? Average in? Buy on the pull-backs?
- Should your primary residence count toward your asset allocation and portfolio?
- What do you mean by rebalancing taxable accounts by cash flows?
There are many more questions that touch upon topics including currency exposure, tweaks to shareholder yield, and the effects of hefty fees. All this and more in Episode 16.
Meb tries something new in Episode 15. In “audio book” style, he walks listeners through his latest research piece: The Trinity Portfolio. “Trinity” reflects the three pillars of this investing approach: globally-diversified assets, weightings toward value and momentum investments, and active trend-following. On one hand, Trinity is broad and sturdy, rooted in respected, wealth-building investment principles. On the other hand, it’s strategic and intuitive, able to adapt to all sorts of market conditions. The result is a unified, complementary framework that can relieve investors of the handwringing and anxiety of “what’s the right strategy right now?” If you’re an investor who’s struggled to find an investing framework able to generate long-term returns that make a real difference in your wealth, Episode 15 is for you.
Episode 14 is easily one of our most interesting so far. While there’s great content about trend following, Eric and Meb also delve into the psychological side of investing. There’s a fascinating tension between what people say they want from investing, versus what they actually do. For instance, investors say that want diversification, but very few, in practice, are willing to implement a truly diversified portfolio. Why? The psychological trauma that people experience when they diversify (and watch parts of their portfolio draw down) is simply too painful. This leads into a discussion about one of Eric and Meb’s favorite ways to diversify a portfolio: managed futures. The numbers suggest managed futures are a fantastic addition to a portfolio. Eric ran an experiment with his clients involving portfolio construction. He presented clients the returns and volatility numbers of a handful of asset classes – without revealing what those asset classes were. 100% of the time, when presented blind, people chose managed futures as their core holding. Eric and Meb then move on to the returns of great fund managers like Buffett and Soros. Eric studied these managers with the thesis that they must have done something other investors are uncomfortable doing (which is the source of their long-term alpha). He concludes that this differentiator is actually “underperforming their benchmark.” Eric says Berkshire Hathaway is a “glaring” example. An investor in Berkshire would have underperformed the S&P more than half the time (over various time-periods), but would have made tremendously more money than investing in the S&P. This leads Eric and Meb back to the psychological side of investing, specifically, the pain of relative performance. Meb recalls the Buffett or Munger idea that it’s not greed and fear that drives the investment world; it’s envy. Meb then turns the focus toward playing defense, which leads Eric to tell us how few people realize the impact on their returns of avoiding drawdowns. Avoiding the big losers has more impact on your compounded returns than catching the big winners. In other words, defense is what wins championships. There’s far more: how 80% of all stocks effectively return 0%, while just 20% of stocks account for all market gains… a pointed warning from Meb to listeners about the fees associated with managed future “fund of funds”… and of course, plenty more on Eric’s trend following approach. All of this and more in Episode #14.
Stock picking is hard—really hard. Fortunately, there’s a simple strategy you could begin following today to improve your success. It’s simple to implement, takes just minutes of your time, yet has the potential to vastly improve your investing results. Sadly, if you’re like the average investor, you don’t even know it exists. So what is it? Well, consider the world’s star hedge fund managers – the Buffetts, Klarmans, and Teppers – the guys with average yearly returns in the upper teens and twenties. What if you knew what they were investing in right this second? Logic would suggest if you invested alongside them, you too could post their extraordinary returns. Well, it turns out, the option is available to you thanks to the SEC and Form 13F. This is a form professional fund managers with more than $100m in U.S.-listed assets must fill out. Best of all, it’s available to the public, providing you and me a way to “peek over the shoulder” of some of the world’s most successful investors. Of course, there are some issues with this strategy. For instance, there’s a 45-delay in reporting, there can be inexact holdings, and the biggest one – the fluctuating success of your chosen manager. Bill Ackman’s recent debacle with Valeant certainly comes to mind. No, it’s not easy; a 13F investing strategy takes dedication. Many of the star managers who post amazing long-term returns can actually underperform for years at a time. Would you stay invested alongside them long enough to ride out those barren stretches? Or would fear and second-guessing shake you out? Turns out there are a few ways you can improve your chance of success. Find out what they are in Episode 13.
If you’re a dividend investor, Episode 12 is for you. Yes, historical market data tells us that dividend stocks outperform the broad market. But that’s where too many investors stop. That same historical market data suggests we can improve our dividend-strategy returns—significantly—by a few tweaks. What are they? Well, paying dividends is just one of several ways that corporate managers can return profits to shareholders. They can also buy back stock and pay down debt (a subtler form, but valuable nonetheless). Together, we call these three returns “shareholder yield.” Shareholder yield provides investors a more holistic perspective on the degree to which corporate managers are sharing profits with investors. So when an investor limits his or her analysis simply to dividends, he/she runs the risk of overlooking companies that might be returning major profits to shareholders—but in less visible ways than dividends. That’s a problem because it turns out, when we combine these three yields, this “shareholder yield” strategy has posted better historical returns than dividends alone. How much better? Find out in Episode 12.
Episode 11 features the always-fun Sam Stovall. Sam starts by making an unlikely connection between Clint Eastwood and investing – “A man’s got to know his limits.” Being aware of his own limits, Sam put together a list of rules to help him win at the game of investing. He and Meb dive in, starting with “Let your winners ride, cut your losers short.” Easier said than done, as most of us tend to hold onto our losers, hoping they’ll come back, while selling the winners (prematurely) to lock in gains. “As January goes, so goes the year” is Rule #2. Sam compares investors to dieters looking for a fresh start every year. Rule #3 is a tweak on “Sell in May then go away.” It turns out that’s almost right, but not quite. The better strategy is “rotate rather than retreat.” Do you know the two sectors which historically will boost your returns if you’ll rotate into them during the summer months? Sam will tell you. Rule #4 challenges the idea that there’s no free lunch on Wall Street. According to Sam, there is. If you construct your portfolio in the right way, you can increase your returns without a commensurate increase in risk. “Don’t get mad, get even” is Sam’s fifth rule. Too many investors are losing money because their portfolios are overweight in a few bad picks. So don’t get mad, “get even.” In other words, look to shift your weightings to correct the imbalance. Rule #6? “Don’t fight the Fed, at least, for too long.” For all you bears over the last few years, this seems especially appropriate. Finally, #7 is Meb’s favorite: “There’s always a bull market someplace.” It turns out Sam and Meb share a fondness for rules-based investing. Sam has his own rules which help him identify these bull markets that are always happening someplace. What are they? Find out in Episode #11.