Don’t Get Kicked Out of the Game

One of the biggest mistakes an investor can make is to imagine that the market will perform the same way year after year. Last year’s winners are often this year’s losers. I warned investors against this mistake in July 1992, writing:

How many investors—not you I hope—buy mutual funds keyed to recent performance ratings? These are usually the funds not to buy. Have you ever heard of Frank Russell Co.? These folk do a really good job of researching vital investment info. In a recent Pension & Investments article, the following item was of vital importance to you. A new study by the Frank Russell Co. has confirmed a long-held tenet of the investment industry: It’s useless to select a money manager based on past performance. In fact, the study found, there is no satisfactorily significant relationship between past and future performance.

Not only will you not find value in looking at past performance as a predictor of future results, you will not be able to deal with the high turnover, high taxes, anti-compounding issue. And just how important is compounding? Fortune magazine in its special investment strategy article “A Low-Risk Path to Profits” noted the views of Joe Rosenberg of Lowes Corp. “Joseph Rosenberg, who manages more than $1 billion for Lowes Corp., believes so fervently in the awesome power of compounding that he carries a compound interest table in his pocket at all times. His faith is simple and absolute.” Says Joe, “It is the most important thing in investing. It’s foolish to undermine the power of compounding by taking big risks that could kick you out of the game.” Joe is dead on the money here.

Joe was right. You don’t want to get kicked out of the game by making a bad decision. Don’t buy last year’s winners hoping for a repeat. Work to mitigate risk in your portfolio and allow the awesome power of compounding to do the rest.

image_printPrint Page

Here’s What You Need to Know about Dividends

In November 1999 tech stocks with no dividends seemed like a sure bet. Despite the hype, I was still doing my best to encourage my readers to stick the principles of dividends and compounding. Here’s what I wrote then:

Historically, Dividends Provide Much of Total Return

What about the base for the economy and the stock market in general? As I’ve written often, the two are inexorably linked. After all, could stocks on average outrun the performance of all the companies that jointly contribute to our country’s gross domestic product? No. and, here’s why.

Over seven decades, from 1926 to 1997, U.S. nominal gross domestic product (non-inflation adjusted) grew at a compounded 6.4% per year. Over the same period, the return on stocks due to price appreciation (dividends not considered) was a compounded 6% per year. The fit is almost exact. I know you’re thinking that the stock market must have done better than that, but it did not.

Investors, however, did better due to the average annual compounded 4.6% return paid to shareholder from dividends. The total return from (1) price appreciation and (2) dividends was an average compounded 10.6%, but remember, over 43% of total return came from dividends. Sadly, today’s investors have almost completely forgotten about dividends. Perhaps with the average yield on stocks about 1.5%, instead of the historical 4.6%, there is some reason not to spend much time on dividends. Nonetheless, most investors are unlikely to see stock price appreciation that outruns nominal GDP growth over time.

You can read more about the benefits of dividends in your portfolio in, Dividend Investing: A Primer, a white paper on the subject produced by my family run investment counsel firm, Richard C. Young & Co., Ltd.

image_printPrint Page

The 5 Rules of the Financial Armadillo

In the heart of a bull market in March 1997, I was urging investors to ignore the “TV media financial gibberish, most of which is sensationalized to keep you twitching to the max.” I wanted to show readers how to insulate themselves from a bear market. To do so, I gave them my Financial Armadillo Strategy, an armor-plated long-term plan I use myself to this day. I wrote:

  1. Take a pledge of allegiance each day to your most trusted investor ally, compound interest. Learning how to better harness the awesome power of compound interest assures you of long-term success. It is interest on interest that allows you to invest like the world’s most successful capitalist, Warren Buffett.
  2. Commit to memory the first two rules of investing. Rule #1: Do no lose your capital. Rule #2: Do not forget Rule #1.
  3. Ruthlessly slash, hack and chop your investor costs. None of us knows the future for certain. Yet while you may not know the future, you sure as heck can know your costs today. Most mutual funds and annuities are high-cost breeders. Get rid of these leeches. You win every day by keeping your costs low.
  4. Armor-plate yourself against the taxman. Your best strategy is to hold trading to an absolute minimum. The mutual fund arena is fraught with trading excess. The average turnover rate is 80%, or more than 10 times what I target in my own account and advise for you. In every mutual fund’s annual and semiannual reports is a statistical display of portfolio turnover. Aim for 40% or less for your CORE funds. Don’t forget, each time a mutual fund manager sells a stock at a profit, you get a tax bill. These guys invest with no regard for your tax bill or your devotion to compound interest. You simply cannot pay enough attention to mutual fund portfolio turnover.
  5. Diversify, diversify, diversify. Proper diversification will help you sleep well during bear stock markets. We have not seen a bear market in years, and we are all, quite honestly, spoiled. Today is a dangerous time in the annals of the stock market and the least safe time in the last 16 years to be inadequately diversified. Sooner or later the music will stop, and you do not want to be the one left without a chair. You want to properly diversify yourself before it’s too late. You will never regret your diligence.

Times are never too good to ignore these basic tenets of investment philosophy. When you take off your investment armor, that’s when you become vulnerable to the swings of the market. If you aren’t already following this plan, start today.

image_printPrint Page

You’re in Charge: Act—Don’t React

Thirty years ago this month, I was working hard to explain to investors like you the simple power of having a plan. An investment plan is the reliable engine that keeps your investment train on its track. I told readers they shouldn’t make investments without consulting their plan, writing:

Am I clear on this? Sit back, take a deep breath and repeat after me, “I will have a plan; I will not be a reactionary investor; I will practice diversification.”

Still with me? You see, I want you to lower your financial blood pressure. If an idea is sound today, it must be sound tomorrow. I learned decades ago never to make an investment move on the day I think it is time to move. I always sleep on an idea; rarely am I sorry I’ve waited. Do not be an emotional investor, do not be sold investments by salespeople, and do not make investments that do not fit into your predesigned master plan.

Later I explained how a vital part of my investment plan, diversification, reduces risk, and how important that is to your investment future.

When you own only one stock, your stock portfolio comes with about 72% more risk than the minimum risk, or systematic risk, in owning a portfolio of hundreds of stocks. By simply adding one stock and building a two-stock portfolio, you cut your associated risk to about 36%. By the time you add eight more stocks and reach the 10-position portfolio level, you will have assembled a portfolio that has only about 7% more risk than owning hundreds of stocks. [Editor’s note: For various technical reasons that number is higher today.]

If you are reacting in the investment markets, you’re already too late. You must create a plan ahead of time to deal with market volatility. If you need help building an investment plan, sign up in the form below to be contacted by a seasoned member of the investment team at Richard C. Young & Co., Ltd. They will discuss your financial goals and provide feedback under no obligation.

Act—don’t react.

image_printPrint Page

Here’s How to Build Yourself a Barricade Against Volatility

Back in October of 2006, as the crest of the Housing Bubble was forming, I remained doggedly attached to my principled investment strategy of diversification and compound interest. That month I encouraged readers to build a “volatility barricade.” Here’s what I wrote (with updated numbers to reflect the intervening years):

Your Volatility Barricade

Your portfolio’s fixed-income position does two things for you. (1) It either throws off cash for you to spend at Ace or True Value (not Wal-Mart or Home Depot) in retirement or, instead, allows your interest to compound in an IRA. (2) Your fixed income holdings (short and medium term) will most often zig when stocks zag. You benefit with a counterbalancing teeter-totter. Please [refer to the chart below]. Here you will see that since 1950, in 14 of the 15 years that the S&P 500 has been down, intermediate-term government bonds advanced. That’s a .933 batting average. And in the only exception year, intermediate-term government bonds were down a scant 0.74%. Nice counterbalancing, wouldn’t you say?

If you had built yourself a volatility barricade in 2006, it is likely you managed the bursting of the housing bubble with fewer gut-wrenching swings in your portfolio’s value. I encourage every reader to incorporate fixed income into his portfolio, today.

image_printPrint Page

High Barriers to Entry Make for Safer Investments

I have written many times through the years about the benefits of businesses with high barriers to entry. Those barriers often include protection by government regulations, including rights of way, monopoly power, and intellectual property. In November of 1996 I explained the value of intellectual property and how difficult it is to generate. I wrote:

Have Mercy!…

Back in the spring of 1964, XERF was the most powerful commercial radio station on earth. With a thunderous quarter-million watts of energy pumping from its massive transistor deep in the Mexican Coahuila Desert south of the Texas border of Del Rio, the XERF signal could bounce off the ionosphere on a clear cold night all the way from the Rio Grande to Cleveland, Ohio.

A nighttime spin on an AM radio dial to XERF 1570 brought in the tortured wail of Wolfman Jack. With his patented intro of “Aaaooooooooo…all right, baby, have mercy,” the Wolfman influenced thousands of rhythm-and-blues fans of the sixties, including the creator of Star Wars and American Graffiti—George Lucas.

George Lucas Preceded Star Wars Fame With American Graffiti

Needing a link between the teenagers and music for his groundbreaking movie, American Graffiti, Lucas cast the Wolfman playing himself as that central link. Lucas’ genius of tying together great rock ‘n’ roll music from the fifties and sixties with then-unknown actors (Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Cindy Williams, Harrison Ford) and their trusted nighttime ally, disc jockey Wolfman Jack, made American Graffiti one of the biggest selling pictures of all time. It stands today as a true American icon.

Intellectual property, like that created by George Lucas and certainly Bob Smith for his long-running “Wolfman Jack” syndicated radio shows, is the stuff that can make for great investing. Intellectual property is not created on an assembly line. Rather, it is crafted one story or image at a time by unique individuals. A company that epitomizes America’s ability to create intellectual property in a seemingly never-ending flow is Disney (NYSE: DIS).

Working in an industry with high barriers to entry allows companies to limit gains of competitors attempting to take market share with identical or only slightly improved products. Many of investors’ favorite companies today are working in industries with very low barriers to entry. If you are investing in companies operating in low-barrier-to-entry industries be sure to account for the additional risk.

image_printPrint Page

How to Avoid Wall Street’s Unshakable Attachment to Earnings

Back in December of 1997, I explained Wall Street analysts’ fixation with earnings, and more specifically, earnings guidance. I wrote:

Forget Wall Street’s Myopic Attachment to Quarterly Earnings

It’s important for you to grasp the primary control force of short-term market action. The control force is quarterly earnings reports versus Wall Street projections. Companies that fail to meet Street projections face utter carnage. However absurd this senseless, myopic concentration on quarterly earnings may be, it is reality. The gyrations brought on by earnings’ hits and misses confuse and worry individual investors. Forget these reports, and forget the gyrations as well. I beg you, with every market gyration, do not watch the bulging-eyed TV commentators who look like they’re hooked on heroin.

Instead, adopt a compound interest-based, long-term game plan that features prudent diversification, common sense, patience and rigorous adherence to rock-solid, time-tested principles. You will accumulate wealth at a rate beyond what you might never have considered possible.

It’s over twenty years later, and Wall Street hasn’t changed a bit. Despite having been walloped hard—twice—by mega stock market crashes, analysts are still focused on the ups and downs of quarterly earnings and guidance. Such a short-term view can wreak havoc on investors’ portfolios when market volatility appears.

If you want to sleep well at night, adopt the compound-interest based, prudent, diversified, common sense, patient and rigorous methods I described in 1997. For help with that approach, sign up in the form below to be contacted by a seasoned member of the investment staff at my family run investment counsel, Richard C. Young & Co., Ltd.  We can help you build a balanced portfolio.

image_printPrint Page

What Are You Getting Paid?

It’s a seemingly simple question, what are you getting paid? Most people can recall their weekly or monthly employment income without hesitation, but do you know what your portfolio is paying you quarterly? If you aren’t focused on generating income from your investment portfolio, you may want to adjust your strategy. In April 2006 I discussed the importance of getting paid, now. I wrote:

Pay Me Now

When you invest in portfolio securities, your first question should be, what am I getting paid? I do not want you investing your serious money in securities that pay you neither interest nor dividends. Do not put your hard-earned capital at risk with the view of buying a portfolio security today and selling it to someone else tomorrow at a higher price. To me, this is speculation, not investing. Go with what you know by not only demanding to be paid, but by also holding your taxes and transaction costs to a minimum, as I do. Trust me, over time, the penalty of taxes and transaction costs is a brutal killer for most investors. Think reverse compounding here.

OK, so compound interest and dividends must underpin your investment thinking. Albert Einstein described compound interest as “the greatest mathematical discovery of all time.” Ben Franklin wrote on compound interest, “’Tis the stone that will turn all your lead into gold.” Charlie Munger, longtime partner to Warren Buffett, wrote, “Understanding the power of compound return and the difficulty getting it is the heart and soul of understanding a lot of things.”

Ben Graham Speaks

In almost each of my strategy reports over the decades, I’ve written about the power of dividends. Mr. Value Investing, Ben Graham, devoted a ton of ink to the subject. In fact, B.G. wrote, “One of the most persuasive tests of high quality is an uninterrupted record of dividend payments going back over many years.” Graham believed that “the defensive investor might be justified in limiting his purchases to those meeting this test.”

image_printPrint Page

When You Get OLD, Things Have to Be RIGHT

It all started for Chuck Berry on 21 May 1955 with Chuck’s simple three-chord–Bb, Eb7, F7 (played in A by many guitarists for ease)–recording of Maybellene, an adaption of “Ida Red,” with Jerome Green on maracas, Johnnie Johnson on piano, Jasper Thomas on drums, and the legendary Willie Dixon on bass. By the end of June 1956, “Roll Over Beethoven” ran to #29 on the Billboard charts. Berry would go on to produce hit after hit, including “School Days,” “Rock and Roll Music,” “Sweet Little Sixteen,” and “Johnny B. Goode.”

Berry, the Real King of Rock & Roll, died in March of 2017, leaving a musical legacy that will be hard for anyone to rival. Back in October of 1985, I wrote about one opportunity I had to enjoy Berry in concert. While waiting for the show, Berry treated the audience to some valuable advice. I wrote then:

Recently, I took my teenaged children to the Warwick (RI) musical theater to see a concert given by rock and roll legend, Chuck Berry.

Prior to the start of the concert Berry made some last minute changes with his amplifier and speaker alignment. After making the desired changes, Berry opened his show by telling his audience with a grin “When you get OLD, things have to be RIGHT.”

His opening line brought down the house! The next day I couldn’t help but remember Berry’s one liner and think that his statement applied directly to investments as well as music.

I have just finished reading a Sports Illustrated account by Douglas S. Looney headed “Thrown for Some Big Losses.” Looney outlined the financial plight of Dallas Cowboy great, Tony Dorsett.

Questionable business deals and investments have brought Dorsett to the edge of bankruptcy. The IRS has garnished his Cowboy paycheck and placed liens on two Dallas area houses to satisfy $414,247.91 owed in back taxes. $520,000 had been blown in a “speculative oil and gas deal that went pffft.” And the list went on and on. Here was a man with a supposed $1,127,000 contract in 1977 and a new $2,725,000 contract cash poor!

SI writer, Looney, printed Dorsett’s old Pitt coach’s Johnny Majors, view on the debacle. Majors said, “The shame of all this is that Tony could have put all his money in 9% savings and never had to work another day in his life. I’m just guessing he got the wrong advice.

Tony Dorsett’s problems are all too common. Too many investors simply fail to use good common sense. When dealing with your financial future (whether young or old), things as Chuck Berry said, have to be RIGHT.

If your retirement isn’t on solid ground, you should seek assistance in managing your portfolio. Signing up for the monthly client letter alert (free even for non-clients) from Richard C. Young & Co., Ltd. will show you how one of Barron’s Top 100 investment advisors manages money for retired and soon to be retired clients. You should demand the same level of service for your own investments.

image_printPrint Page

Build Your Investment Strategy for the Field of Play

Are you a trader or speculator? Or are you long term investor saving for a comfortable retirement? What’s your field of play?

In December of 2011 I wrote to readers explaining that each sport is dependent on the field of play. Coaches and players enter the game with a clear understanding of what they are trying to achieve, and the area within which they are trying to achieve it. Does that describe your current investment planning picture? If not, your first step is understanding your field of play. I wrote:

Football, baseball, soccer, hockey—each has something in common that can be translated into the investment world: Management knows in advance that 100% of the action will take place in a designated space, whether arena or field. As such, the focus is on a significant known. While it is true, certainly in baseball fields, that performance venues are different, the differences are known well in advance and are likely to remain static for a long time. Let’s take the Boston Red Sox. Whom, by the way, should we blame for this year’s disaster? Was it not convenient of Theo to leave bodies (see Crawford’s outrageous contract) strewn all over Fenway Park and then simply quit, walk away from the carnage, and jump to the Cubs?

Here’s the play. The Sox develop a team that is theoretically built to take advantage of the oddities of Fenway Park. The Yankees do the same tailored to a completely different mix of ballpark physical oddities. Many decades ago, I decided that field of-play thinking was necessary, at least for me, in order to allow disciplined thought and strategic planning on the investment front. Most investors, professional or amateur (I am never sure where the line is drawn), form decisions based upon news of the day, emotion, and the views of others. This crowd is action-oriented, wrongly believing that the more action in a given portfolio, the better odds for satisfactory performance. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite. I decided to take the news of the day off the table, to pay no attention to day-to-day market action, and to not seek out the opinion of others, but rather rely on my own thought process. This approach, of course, mandates extensive reading on a broad array of subjects. Enter inference reading as the heart of my decision-making process. The final leg involved putting all the information gathered from my reading and study into a workable format, or playing field.

image_printPrint Page