Beware: Bear Market Brings Out Tall Tales!
FORECASTS & TRENDS E-LETTER
IN THIS ISSUE:
1. Two Valuable Investment Articles To Share
2. Stocks Hit 50% Drawdown In February
3. Investors Naturally Seeking Guidance
4. Some Buy-And-Hold Advice Is Misleading
5. Another Active Money Manager Doing It Right
6. Conclusions – Don’t Be Misled
As I have noted many times in past E-Letters, my staff and I read a ton of material every week. This week, I want to bring two recent articles to your attention. Each of these articles is on the subject of investing, with one from the Wall Street Journal and the other from Investor’s Business Daily. While they have very different subject matters, they are related in a way that I’ll make clearer as we progress through the E-Letter.
The first article from the Journal provides a snapshot of just how badly the stock markets have performed in 2009. While many believed that stocks would stage a rally in early 2009 based on a variety of factors, the equity markets have plunged instead. With that being the case, investors are asking what they should do in light of the market’s drop.
That’s where the second article comes in. It’s an article from Investor’s Business Daily that is little more than a shill on behalf of large mutual fund firms. It purports to illustrate why timing the market is a bad thing, but it is so skewed in its analysis that one of our fellow Investment Advisors called it “…so bad it’s funny.”
Unfortunately, it’s not funny for those who are locked into investments that have continued to plummet in value, yet the only advice they get is to “stay the course.” That’s why I’ll end up this week’s E-Letter with an analysis of one of the actively managed investment programs that I have written about in the past.
Stocks Dropping Like A Rock
The first article I’d like to bring to your attention is from the February 24 edition of the Wall Street Journal. The headline says it all: “Stocks Drop to 50% of Peak.” The day before the article was featured, the Dow closed at 7114.78, down by about half from the October 7, 2007 high close of 14,164.53.
Clearly, the stock market has not been impressed with the efforts so far to address the credit crunch and reverse the economic recession in which we now find ourselves. Since the article was written, the Dow rallied a bit, but then continued its downward slide, closing out the month of February even lower at 7062.93. As of the end of February, the Dow was down over 19% year-to-date in 2009 and stood at a loss of just over 50% from its October 2007 peak, and things have gotten worse since then.
The S&P 500 Index, one of the most widely followed of all stock market benchmarks, is actually worse off than the Dow. From its peak value of 1565.15 on October 9, 2007, the S&P 500 hit a 50% drawdown in November of 2008, and then hit another new low for this bear market of 743.33 on February 23, a drop of over 52%. As of the end of February, the S&P 500 Index stood at 735.09, down over 18% for 2009 and down over 53% from its peak in late 2007.
I have provided a link to the full WSJ article under the Special Articles heading below my signature. I encourage you to read it over to glean additional details about how various sectors of the market have performed. Obviously, it remains to be seen when the markets will hit bottom and begin to recover.
Looking back, much has been said of a “lost decade” in the stock market. Unfortunately, we’re now pushing even further back to find comparable values for the major market indexes. The Journal article notes that the major market indexes are revisiting values not seen in more than 11 years. That’s a zero net gain for a period of over a decade, which is not what they tell you to expect in the buy-and-hold propaganda.
More recent market action has now taken the S&P 500 Index down to October 1996 levels, dropping the Index value to just over the 700 mark. The S&P 500 Index now stands at 55% below its October 2007 peak, which means that index investors will have to make returns of over 122% just to get back to break-even. The Dow is in similar shape, needing returns of apprx. 110% to get back to where it was in October of 2007.
Investors Are Seeking Guidance
Needless to say, investors who still have money in the markets have continued to see their account balances fall in 2009. With all the talk of a rally in early 2009, there is widespread concern and disappointment. Now that the major market averages have fallen to new lows, many investors are wondering if they should bail out now or hang on and hope the market finds its footing soon.
At the same time, investors who have already moved to cash are asking if now might be the time to get back in. As noted above, as of the end of February the S&P 500 Index is down over 18% year to date, and the Dow is in even worse shape with a year-to-date loss of over 19%. Thus, investors who are on the sidelines are wondering if we’re now at a point where they should jump back into the market. I suspect a large percentage of them are paralyzed with fear, not knowing how much further the market may have to fall.
Fortunately, the message I have been giving ever since I started writing this E-Letter has hit home with many of my readers. I have always suggested using active money managers who have the ability to move to cash or hedge long positions as opposed to buy-and-hold strategies that just tell you to take losses in stride. We are as busy as we have ever been – handling phone calls, e-mails and website contacts from investors who are now anxious to learn more about our active management strategies.
You see, with active management strategies you don’t have to worry about when to get in or out of the market. Our professional active money managers handle those details for you. Thus, no matter whether the market starts back up or continues its decline, you know that you have an experienced professional on your side. In addition, you also know that you have my firm monitoring the managers on your behalf.
Bad Advice From A Good Source
Unfortunately, however, not everyone has jumped on the actively managed bandwagon. As I noted in my January 27 E-Letter, buy-and-hold is not going down without a fight. Many investors are getting poor advice, sometimes based on misleading “studies” that are little more than blatant attempts to keep investors in the market as long as possible, despite the negative consequences. And sometimes this ill-fated advice comes from well-respected sources.
A case in point is the Investor’s Business Daily article that I mentioned above. On February 18, the IBD ran an article in their Investment Trends section that provided a very one-sided view of buy-and-hold versus market timing. The article summarized a study done by a large mutual fund company that showed the superiority of “dollar-cost-averaging,” which is a buy-and-hold strategy, to their interpretation of market timing. It was entitled “When Buy-And-Hold Beats Bad Timing,” and it was little more than a hit piece on active management from the beginning.
The study is fatally flawed, in my opinion, as I will discuss in more detail below. Such flawed studies are nothing new for the mutual fund industry, since after all, it’s in their best interests for clients to stay invested (even though it may or may not be in the clients’ best interests).
What bothers me the most, however, is that a well-respected publication like Investor’s Business Daily chose to serve as the marketing arm of a giant mutual fund family by publishing a study that they had to know included dubious assumptions. Whatever happened to objective financial journalism where assumptions were analyzed rather than just accepted at face value? I will dissect the study and show you why it is faulty below.
Here’s the scenario depicted in the fund company study. An investor has $10,000 of accumulated value in the stock market on January 1, 2000 and then decides to make $500 monthly contributions under a dollar-cost-averaging plan going forward. The study assumes that all investments will be made into the S&P 500 Index (which is not possible in reality, but is OK for the purposes of an illustration). The study tracked the ongoing performance from January 1, 2000 through the end of January 2004.
Using various assumptions that I will critique in more detail below, the study concluded that investors would have been better off had they stayed invested in the market during the entire 2000 – 2002 bear market than if they had followed any of three different market timing strategies. Keep in mind that these are not real market timing strategies, but rather just completely hypothetical scenarios dreamed up by the mutual fund company.
Anyway, according to the article, by the end of January 2004, the buy-and-hold investor would have had $33,502 of value as opposed to $33,357 for what the study called the “Bear Market Dodger,” $31,799 for the “Bear Market Refugee” and only $31,616 for the “Doomsday Capitulator.” Cute names, don’t you think?
In my analysis, I concentrated on just the first market timer category, the “Bear Market Dodger,” since doing so will allow me to simplify the calculations and stay within the space I have to discuss this issue. Under this scenario, the investor becomes nervous about the market in early 2000 and elects to make all ongoing monthly contributions of $500 to cash instead of into the market. Then, in January of 2004, the Dodger jumps back into the market with both ongoing contributions and accumulated cash.
I had my staff run the numbers again from scratch using the study’s basic assumptions. Unfortunately, we were unable to duplicate the exact numbers published in the study, but we got close. We were using month-end S&P 500 Index total return numbers while the study’s authors may have used daily returns, so this could account for the slight difference. We then ran scenarios that corrected the flaws we identified in the assumptions. I will discuss the results of our alternative calculations in more detail below.
Many investors and even financial professionals would just take the study’s numbers at face value without further critical thought. However, I believe the mutual fund study has a number of flaws that make its conclusions of little value (read: misleading!). They are as follows:
Unfortunately, I’m sure that many investors who read the IBD article or reviewed the fund study didn’t pick up on the flawed assumptions designed to favor buy-and-hold, especially when it was published by a trusted name in the financial media. The moral to this story is that you should read any comparison of investment strategies with great care, even if they come from what most consider to be reliable sources.
And one final point on the study. As noted above, the market timing strategies in the study were not real market timing strategies, but rather just completely hypothetical scenarios dreamed up by the mutual fund company. In each strategy, the decision to get out of the market was based on fear and emotion. The successful market timers I recommend do not operate out of fear; instead, they have very sophisticated systems that generate trading signals.
Another Active Manager Doing It Right
In light of the blatantly skewed materials being produced by huge mutual fund firms and lovingly embraced by the financial media, I want to provide some straight talk about a money manager I have mentioned many times over the years in these pages, and have been recommending for over a decade. Specifically, I’m going to bring you up to date on the Potomac Fund Management Guardian Program.
We got a lot of good feedback from readers in regard to my January 27 E-Letter in which I highlighted Niemann Capital Management and Scotia Partners, so I’m going to follow the same format in the discussion below. As I did with Niemann, the Potomac Guardian Program will be evaluated over a 10-year period ending as of 12/31/2008. As always, I’ll also provide a link to the complete strategy description and detailed track record of this program.
Also note that the Potomac Guardian managed account makes up just a part of the professionally managed investments we recommend as part of our AdvisorLink® Program. More information about these strategies and their performance can be found on our website, along with detailed descriptions of each strategy. Just click on the following link to see performance information on all of the various actively managed investments we recommend within our AdvisorLink® Program.
Potomac Guardian – Slow And Steady
The objective of the Potomac Guardian program is to participate in stock market growth while also limiting portfolio volatility and risk of extensive loss. Note that Guardian is a long or neutral (cash or hedged) only program, and does not seek to take net short positions in order to gain during down markets.
Guardian seeks to achieve this objective by allocating portfolios across many sectors and/or asset classes, over-weighting those identified by its model as having the best risk-to-reward ratio. Investments are primarily limited to low-volatility mutual funds in an overall effort to reduce downside exposure. In down markets, Guardian will shift to cash or hedged positions to gain a neutral exposure to the markets.
Looking at the turbulent markets in 2008, it appears that Potomac met its objective of limiting losses in down markets. In a year when the S&P 500 Index and Dow Jones Industrial Average both lost over 30% of their value, the Potomac Guardian program limited portfolio losses to only 11.68% in 2008, net of all fees and expenses. Of course, past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results.
However, the real value of the Potomac Guardian program becomes more apparent when you compare its performance to that of the alternatives in the marketplace over a 10-year period. Therefore, as I did with the Niemann Equity Plus program in my January 27 E-Letter, this week we’ll see how the Potomac Guardian program did when compared to the entire universe of stock and bond mutual funds.
I had my staff run some mutual fund searches on our Morningstar Principia software using performance data as of the end of December of 2008 with the Potomac Guardian program as a baseline. I eliminated mutual funds with super-high minimum investments available only to institutional investors. I also restricted the search to Morningstar’s “Distinct Portfolios,” which eliminates multiple share classes for the same fund.
We then searched for mutual funds with 10-year average annualized returns greater than Guardian’s 6.00%, net of all fees and expenses. According to Morningstar, there were over 300 such funds in existence out of a total universe of more than 7,700 mutual fund “Distinct Portfolios.” Already, Guardian is better than 95% of mutual fund alternatives.
However, return alone is not all we’re looking for. Risk management is a big part of what Potomac offers, since it will move to cash or hedged positions during down markets. As you know, we use “peak-to-valley drawdown” as one way to determine an investment’s overall risk. However, Morningstar does not provide drawdown information on mutual funds. Therefore, I used Guardian’s 2008 performance of -11.68% as a proxy for drawdown in our Principia search.
Using the additional 2008 performance criterion, we found that there were a total of 27 mutual funds that could boast a 10-year annualized return greater than Guardian’s 6.00%, while also keeping losses to less than -11.68% in 2008. Past results do not guarantee future performance.
However, we weren’t done yet. Recall that we use drawdown as a risk-analysis measure in all of our programs. Now that we had narrowed down the universe of mutual funds to a just a few candidates, we used another of our mutual fund analysis tools to obtain the maximum drawdown of the 27 mutual funds with a higher 10-year annualized return than Guardian. We found that only 12 funds beat Potomac Guardian’s 10-year performance AND limited their drawdowns to under Potomac’s -15.79% worst peak-to-valley performance.
However, none of the funds that beat Potomac’s 10-year returns were equity mutual funds. In other words, Potomac’s 6.00% annualized return beat every equity “distinct portfolio” in the Morningstar database. Of the mutual funds that did perform better than the Guardian program over the last decade, most were government bond funds.
With the current credit crunch and uncertain bond markets, many analysts are doubting whether even government bonds can repeat this type of performance, especially in light of the Treasury’s having to print money to cover trillion-dollar bailouts. Thus, when considering 10-year annualized returns, 2008 calendar-year performance and maximum drawdowns, the Potomac Guardian Program beat all equity mutual funds in the Morningstar database. Now that’s impressive long-term performance. Past performance, however, is not a guarantee of future results.
While other time periods will likely render different results, I believe the 10-year time window is important, especially for actively managed investment programs, because it encompasses two different cyclical bear markets. While no one knows what the future holds, the ability to deliver a consistent gain over 10 years, coupled with holding drawdowns to -15.79% or less is just the kind of performance we have come to expect from Potomac Fund Management.
Potomac has the distinction of having the longest tenure on our list of recommended professional money managers. The Potomac Guardian Program has been a mainstay of our AdvisorLink® Program since its inception in June of 1996. Over that time, it has produced an annualized return of 8.96% as of the end of January, 2009. As always, there are no guarantees for the future.
As noted above, Potomac has been able to produce these returns by utilizing its ability to move to cash or hedge long positions in downward markets. Yet the critics, armed with flawed studies like the one recently highlighted by IBD, still say that “market timing” doesn’t work. Well, yes it does if you can find a successful manager like Potomac, Niemann or our other AdvisorLink® money managers.
For more information on the Potomac Guardian Program and performance, please click on the following link to access our Potomac Guardian Advisor Profile. If you would like for us to send you an Investor Kit on this program that contains the Advisor Profile plus documents necessary to establish an account, just click on the link for our Potomac online request form, or give one of our Investment Consultants a call at 800-348-3601.
Be sure to read all of the Important Notes and disclosures that follow my signature at the end of this E-Letter in regard to the above performance statistics. Also, keep in mind that the universe of mutual funds on the Morningstar database consists of a wide variety of different types of funds and strategies, many of which are different from those utilized by Potomac.
I know that this week’s E-Letter covers a lot of ground. To summarize, I’d like you to take a few key points away with you now that you’ve read it. First, the markets are in bad shape and have resisted every attempt to prop them up. While many analysts have indicated that we have hit “the bottom” since the end of 2008, the market continues to perform as if it had a mind of its own, indifferent to the experts’ opinions. As this is being written, the Dow has dipped below 6800 for the first time since April of 1997. Will this be the bottom? It might, but it also might not.
Next, no matter how poorly the market performs, those with vested interests in you keeping your money in the market will produce “studies” and other authoritative sounding materials to keep you invested in their products. Some, as the one discussed above, will be based on flawed assumptions, and worst of all, they will sometimes be embraced by trusted members of the financial media. If you learn nothing else from this article, please take away with you that you should always approach any such financial industry study with a critical eye, asking yourself whether the assumptions used make sense in today’s world.
Last but not least, no matter how many studies try to disprove the benefit of active management, there are professional money managers who have successfully employed these strategies for well over a decade. To ignore the actual historical track records of these managers is to rob your portfolio of an additional source of diversification.
In closing, one of my staff members recently gave me an article authored by Steve H. Hanke, a professor of applied economics at the Johns Hopkins University and a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. He notes that “Following conventional wisdom has led an entire generation of investors down the road to ruin.” I agree, yet we still see official-looking studies like the one discussed above that continue to spout conventional wisdom as the way out of the abyss.
Truth be known, it might be that had many investors not followed conventional wisdom, they wouldn’t be in the abyss in the first place. I think it’s time that you consider being a little unconventional in your approach to investing. I and my staff stand ready to help you shed the confines of conventional wisdom and experience active management for yourself. Just give us a call at 800-348-3601 or send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wishing you profits,
Gary D. Halbert
Stocks Drop to 50% of Peak (subscription may be required)
When Buy-And-Hold Beats Bad Timing (subscription may be required)
IMPORTANT NOTES: Halbert Wealth Management, Inc. (HWM) and Potomac Fund management (PFM) are Investment Advisors registered with the SEC and/or their respective states. Some Advisors are not available in all states, and this report does not constitute a solicitation to residents of such states. Information in this report is taken from sources believed reliable but its accuracy cannot be guaranteed. Any opinions stated are intended as general observations, not specific or personal investment advice. Please consult a competent professional and the appropriate disclosure documents before making any investment decisions. HWM receives compensation from PFM in exchange for introducing client accounts. For more information on HWM or PFM, please consult the appropriate Form ADV Part II, or the PFM Annual GIPS Disclosure Presentation 2007, available at no charge upon request. Any offer or solicitation can only be made by way of the Form ADV Part II. Officers, employees, and affiliates of HWM may have investments managed by the Advisors discussed herein or others.
As benchmarks for comparison, the Standard & Poor’s 500 Stock Index (which includes dividends) and the NASDAQ Composite Index represent unmanaged, passive buy-and-hold approaches. The volatility and investment characteristics of the S&P 500 or the NASDAQ Composite may differ materially (more or less) from that of the Advisor, and these Indexes cannot be invested in directly. The performance of the S & P 500 Stock Index and the NASDAQ Composite is not meant to imply that investors should consider an investment in the Potomac Guardian trading program as comparable to an investment in the “blue chip” stocks that comprise the S&P 500 Stock Index or the stocks listed on The NASDAQ Stock Market that comprise the NASDAQ Composite.
Potomac’s performance results are based on the Model Portfolio. The Model Portfolio is an actual account that is considered representative of the majority of client accounts with similar investment objectives. Returns for the Model Portfolio are time-weighted, total returns that reflect the reinvestment of dividends and capital gain distributions. The Guardian strategy is actively allocated across many sectors and/or asset classes, overweighting those exhibiting the best risk-to-reward ratio. Statistics for “Worst Drawdown” are calculated as of month-end. Drawdowns within a month may have been greater. PAST RESULTS ARE NOT NECESSARILY INDICATIVE OF FUTURE RESULTS. Any investment in a mutual fund carries the risk of loss. Mutual funds carry their own expenses which are outlined in the fund’s prospectus. An account with any Advisor is not a bank account and is not guaranteed by FDIC or any other governmental agency.
When reviewing past performance records, it is important to note that different accounts, even though they are traded pursuant to the same strategy, can have varying results. The reasons for this include: i) the period of time in which the accounts are active; ii) the timing of contributions and withdrawals; iii) the account size; iv) the minimum investment requirements and/or withdrawal restrictions; and v) the rate of brokerage commissions and transaction fees charged to an account. There can be no assurance that an account opened by any person will achieve performance returns similar to those provided herein for accounts traded pursuant to the Potomac Guardian trading program. Comparisons to the universe of mutual funds in Morningstar is not meant to imply that an investment in Potomac Guardian is comparable to each or any of these different mutual funds, most of which have different strategies and investments than those used by Potomac’s Guardian program. The comparison is made for informational purposes only.
In addition, you should be aware that (i) the Potomac Guardian trading program is speculative and involves a moderate degree of risk; (ii) the Potomac Guardian trading program’s performance may be volatile; (iii) an investor could lose all or a substantial amount of his or her investment in the program; (iv) PFM will have trading authority over an investor’s account and the use of a single advisor could mean lack of diversification and consequently higher risk; and (v) the Potomac Guardian trading program’s fees and expenses (if any) will reduce an investor’s trading profits, or increase any trading losses. Returns illustrated are net of the maximum management fees, custodial fees, underlying mutual fund management fees, and other fund expenses such as 12b-1 fees. They do not include the effect of annual IRA fees or mutual fund sales charges, if applicable. No adjustment has been made for income tax liability. Money market funds are not bank accounts, do not carry deposit insurance, and do involve risk of loss. The results shown are for a limited time period and may not be representative of the results that would be achieved over a full market cycle or in different economic and market environments.
Forecasts & Trends E-Letter is published by ProFutures, Inc. Gary D. Halbert is the president and CEO of ProFutures, Inc. and is the editor of this publication. Information contained herein is taken from sources believed to be reliable but cannot be guaranteed as to its accuracy. Opinions and recommendations herein generally reflect the judgement of Gary D. Halbert (or another named author) and may change at any time without written notice. Market opinions contained herein are intended as general observations and are not intended as specific investment advice. Readers are urged to check with their investment counselors before making any investment decisions. This electronic newsletter does not constitute an offer of sale of any securities. Gary D. Halbert, ProFutures, Inc., and its affiliated companies, its officers, directors and/or employees may or may not have investments in markets or programs mentioned herein. Past results are not necessarily indicative of future results. Reprinting for family or friends is allowed with proper credit. However, republishing (written or electronically) in its entirety or through the use of extensive quotes is prohibited without prior written consent.