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.