I received this very interesting comment from a subscriber as I bought my 5th stock for my lump sum portfolio which is now 50% invested. So, I invested 50% of my portfolio over the last 3 months that might surprise people scared of the upcoming crash or recession.
I have 3 points to answer this question:
I can’t predict the future, nobody can
Nobody knows what will happen with the market, we have the last two crashes in our mind that were close to 50%, but that doesn’t mean it will happen again. Nobody, and I mean nobody knows.
A recession is always around the corner
There are recession predictions for 2019 and 2020, but the same could had been said in 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, and especially 2010 and 2009. There are many out there that have been waiting on the side-lines since 2009 or they just got in in the last few years. No need to mention the missed opportunities.
For example, my largest position in January 2018 was Nevsun Resources.
In January 2018 there were fears about China slowing down leading to a copper crisis etc., fears of a recession and market crash over the next two years with Ray Dalio saying there is a 70% chance for an U.S. recession. I would have been better in cash than investing in a copper miner, right?
Well, all depends on value, if you find it, even if a recession happens, your returns are delayed by a year to 3. The point is that if you buy value, you will survive those bad years and get ahead after the crash. So, I, as a selective investor, simply buy when I see value and when I am happy owning the business. It has rewarded me very well in the past no matter the possible crashes. And yes, I lost money in 2008, but it is not comparable to what I made from 2009 onward and from 2002 to 2008.
Index fund investors
For those who invest in index funds, just invest on a monthly basis, just dollar cost average and forget about stocks, don’t even think about it, you will get your returns whatever they will be, own your home, invest in another property, diversify and you will be well off. Your wealth doesn’t depend on the market, but mostly on you and you not doing stupid things like most did, I.e. selling in 2009 march.
3) Highest possible return long-term
I know if there is a recession my portfolio will get hit, but I also know that the highest possible return I will get is when I buy value when I see it. So, in good years I will have great returns, in a bad year, I don’t know how I will do. There is a nice passage in the book Margin of safety by Seth Klarman discussing how when you buy value, real value, it often offers downside protection as it is already depressed in price and the price can’t go much lower. All my current 5 stocks trade below book value, mostly tangible book value, have high earnings yield and potential. So whatever happens, I am a happy owner, owning assets and that gives me a margin of safety.
To explain in an easy way what margin of safety investing is, I’ll make the next video article apple.
A month or something ago, I was contacted by an investor that had just set up a portfolio with an investment bank. He told them that his risk tolerance is minimal and that he would like some capital appreciation in the long term. He asked me to review the portfolio and that is what we are going to do now.
Here is the video version, while those who prefer reading, can find the article below.
$13 million-dollar investment bank managed stock market and bond portfolio review:
US equity portfolio exposure & issues
International equity portfolio exposure
Fixed income portfolio
General banking fees and value for money
Discussion about fees and risk reward opportunities
Risk and reward
What would I do differently?
Stock market and bond portfolio review
Here is how the portfolio has been structured:
US equity is 22.74%, international stocks 25.52% and as the requirement was low risk, 48.5% has been placed into US fixed income. This has been done by putting the money into 3 different bank funds (more about bank fees later). The yearly management fee is 0.9%.
Let’s start with US equity exposure.
US equity portfolio exposure
The portfolio positions are listed from the largest to the smallest. The client automatically replicates the positions held by the 3 funds within his account.
The largest position is Advance Auto Parts (AAP). I don’t know whether the fund bought the stock at the bottom in February of 2018 or it was a long term holding as the unrealized gains and losses in the above table go back to when the portfolio investment was made, which is February 2018.
AAP, has had free cash flows between $300 and $500 million per year over the last 10 years on a $10 billion market capitalization. I would expect the return there to be around 4% in the future. Auto parts are a competitive business but can be recession proof.
The next position is Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA), a company that recently won its bidding war and acquired Sky Plc for $38.8 billion. The all cash offer will put more pressure on Comcast’s balance sheet that already has $114 billion in liabilities. Plus, Sky Plc has had operating cash flows of around $2 billion per year in the last 10 years. This makes it a stretched acquisition as the interest on the debt will be close to the $2 billion of free cash flow coming from Sky.
Intercontinental Exchange (NYSE: ICE) is another stable company with high free cash flows and a potential return of around 4 to 5%. Free cash flows are $2 billion on a $42 billion market cap.
Danaher is the 4th largest US portfolio position (NYSE: DHR) is another stable company with $3 billion in cash flows on a $70 billion market cap.
Progressive Corp Ohio (NYSE: PGR) is an insurer and Kroger (NYSE: KR) is a grocer with similar characteristics as the above businesses. All have dividend yields of around 2%, stable business models, we can call them recession proof business models, and price to cash flow ratios of around 20 that should lead to a return of around 4 to 5%.
If we look at other portfolio positions, those mostly replicate the above. All good companies and fairly priced by the market. The portfolio also holds Google or better to say Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOGL), American Express (NYSE: AXP), Mastercard (NYSE: MA) and we could easily say that the US equity portfolio reflects the client’s wishes: safety and quality.
US equity portfolio potential issues
I have two issues I want to discuss. The first is the value added in relation to the charged fee and the second is the fund management cost environment and investment process which is possibly even more important than fees.
Investment fees and value added
The first issue with the US equity portfolio part might be that there are 26 positions. If we look at professor and 1990 Economics Nobel prize winner Sharp’s seminal work on risk: Risk, Market Sensitivity, and Diversification, published in the Financial Analysts Journal in 1972, we see that as soon as you pass 20 positions in your portfolio, the risk equals the market’s risk.
We have seen that the expected returns from a price to cash flow standpoint will be around 4 to 5%. However, if we look at the top positions of the S&P 500, their price to cash flows don’t differ much from the ratios of the analysed portfolio and the businesses in the S&P 500 can be considered of quality too.
Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) has a cash flow yield on price of 3.75%, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) of 8%, Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) of 1.8% but we might argue that in 10 years, AMZN might have higher cash flows than Kroger. Berkshire (NYSE: BRK.A, BRK.B) is a diversified portfolio focused on US equity by itself, it holds great businesses and it has a price to free cash flow ratio of around 4%.
This leads me to the question, is the 0.9% yearly fee our friend is paying for the above portfolio justified? One can buy the S&P 500 for a yearly fee of 0.04% which is 22.5 times smaller than what is being paid to the investment bank or there is always the option to simply buy Berkshire and let Buffett and his fellows manage the money at no cost practically.
To conclude on the investment fees, I don’t think that in this case, paying a yearly fee of 0.9% adds any kind of value given that the stocks might look a bit more conservative than the S&P 500 but such bet is based on past performance and not part of a strategy. In this digital era world, one might argue that Amazon is more defensive than Kroger.
Investment fund behavior
The thing when it comes to banks is that there is a lot your bank is not telling you.
Aside from the 0.9% yearly management fee, the bank makes money as they buy and sell through their own broker, perhaps they are even the market maker for the security, they pay for research, marketing costs, administration etc. that might not be included in the first fee you pay but might be included in the costs of the second fund that you actually don’t see. In this case, as the clients owns the positions directly, only the brokerage, custodian and market maker fees come into account, but that is still something extra.
Investment fund management process
Now, there is another thing when it comes to investment funds that is not discussed much. When things go well, all is good, but when things go south, some clients might want their money back. The investment manager is put into a tough spot because he then has to make investment decisions based on external inputs which might not be in the best interest of other clients. For example, if I manage a $1 billion portfolio, there is panic in the markets and clients want to cash in on $300 million. Liquidity usually dries up on the market too at such moments and you cannot sell your positions easily, especially your bond positions. (Remember that the positions discussed above are part of a much bigger fund)
The investment manager has no option than to sell the most liquid assets which might be the best assets to hold in the long term. Further, an investment manager has to be invested 100% all the time. Investment managers, collecting a fee of 0.9%, don’t have the option Buffett has. Buffett has $114 billion dollars practically lying on Berkshire’s bank account waiting for a market panic so that he can buy stocks on the cheap. (Buffett’s cash is invested in short term US Government Treasuries with an average maturity of 4-months – can be considered as cash)
This is something few think about when things go well, but crucial when things go south. Our friend has no influence on that and unfortunately this is where things often go wrong with funds managed by investment banks. An investment manager has to do as ordered, not as he wishes or what would be in the best interest of the client.
International stock portfolio overview
The international part is 25.52% of the whole portfolio and has a total of 68 positions. Since the inception of the portfolio, the performance of the international part has been really bad as almost all the positions are down with some like Ryanair (LON: RYA) down 34%. This is nothing strange given that international stocks and emerging markets have really suffered during 2018.
The largest position is Medtronic (MDT), followed by Unilever (UN), Compass Group (CMPGY), Aptiv (APTV) and Ryanair (RYAAY). There is a little bit of everything there with Tencent (TCEHY), BHP Billiton (BHP), the Indian Icici Bank (IBN), the Russian version of Facebook – Yandex (YNDX) and some interesting Chinese stocks like 58.com (WUBA) or South American payment processors like Cielo SA (CIOXY).
Now, Medtronic (NYSE: MDT) – the world’s largest medical device company makes most of its revenues and profits from the U.S. healthcare system but is headquartered in Ireland for tax purposes. Thus, this is not an international stock but goes under the international portfolio. Free yearly cash flows have been around $4 billion over the past 10 years and the market cap is $120 billion.
Nevertheless, holding 69 stocks doesn’t move the needle and we can expect them to perform equally as the market does. Therefore, one can simply buy the Vanguard Total International Stock ETF (VXUS) for a fee of 0.11% per year.
If I compare Vanguard’s top 10 positions and the portfolio we are analysing, I see that Royal Dutch Shell pls (NYSE: RDS) is in both portfolios, same as Tencent (TCEHY), Novartis (NVS), Roche (RHHBY) and Taiwan Semiconductor (TSM).
So, a portfolio I am paying 0.9% to be managed has 5 positions that are also in the Vanguard Total International stock ETF top 10 positions with a management fee of 0.11%.
Let’s see if there is more value added in the bond portfolio.
US fixed income portfolio
48% of the portfolio is placed into a bond fund and the holdings are the following.
The majority of the bond portfolio is in US Treasuries, 18% of it, with maturities ranging from 2021 to 2026. The yield on those is less then 2% or around that. Then there is a bunch of other corporate bonds with yields between 1% and 4% on average and maturities ranging from 2022 to 2028 on average.
Now, the first thing is that if 9% of the total portfolio is in Treasuries, why would you ever have to pay any fees on that as with a $13 million dollar portfolio you can simply buy them yourself. Or, if you want, the Vanguard Treasury ETFs has a fee of 0.07%.
Secondly, the investment grade US corporate bond ETF from Vanguard, offers much higher yields for minimal fees.
On a portfolio of 66 bonds, 60 excluding the Treasuries, I simply don’t see any difference except the huge fees. The intermediate corporate bond ETF, has a yield of 4.35% and is managed by Vanguard.
Conclusion – portfolio management and risk reward
The holder of this portfolio hoped that I can manage part of his portfolio and perhaps create an all-weather portfolio for his holdings. I declined because my current investing focus accepts a little bit more risk as we are focused on long term return maximization which isn’t what the goal of this portfolio is. I am completely devoted to what I do and creating another portfolio alongside building mine would be impossible. On the all-weather portfolio, I am partly working on it, but an all-weather portfolio focuses first on neutralizing risk and not that much on maximizing returns. You cannot get high, Buffett like returns with an all-weather and that is why I cannot focus my whole work around it and this portfolio. I takes at least a year of hard work to build a portfolio.
Secondly, if I would have to manage the money as required, the way explained above would be one way of doing it. I cannot charge $117,000 per year for the above as the investment bank is doing, I simply can’t. Well, you have it above for free.
What we actually did is that we have created a smaller part of the portfolio to follow my portfolio that I manage on my Stock Market Research Platform. This should add a bit more diversification as it is focused on absolute value and not that correlated to markets. Plus, there are some hedges too.
Portfolio risk reward
Now, what we still have to discuss are the risks of the above portfolio in relation to the rewards. We have seen that the yield on Treasuries now should be around 3%, and the return on equities could be at 4%, up to 6% on the international portfolio. Given the 10-year maturity of the bonds, that is what the holder can expect, deduct 2% inflation and you have a real return of about zero on the bond portfolio which would be closer to 2% with Vanguard.
50% of the portfolio is in stocks and given that the number of stocks held is 90, one should expect equal to market returns, US equity markets and international equity markets. The biggest risk here is a contraction in valuations. If global investors start to require a 6% investment yield in place of the current 4%, that could lead to a decline of 50% on global stock markets and a similar decline within the equity portfolio. Also, as bonds are priced in relation to interest rates, I would expect a significant decline in the bond portfolio too.
Thus, the upside is limited but the downside is pretty big. This is because there is no strategy behind the discussed portfolio, it is over diversified, there are no hedges in place, no real diversification as we have seen bonds and stocks move in correlation during the turmoil of the last few months.
What makes me sad is that most pension funds are managed in the above way with outrageous fees. In a video on Canadian pension funds I discussed how fees go up to 2% per year for practically nothing. This is outrageous and the first thing I would tell people to do is to start educating themselves about what can be done when it comes to investing their hard-earned money.
Perhaps, individual stock picking the way I do it will not be for most, but lowering a management fee from 2% per year to 0.1% makes a hack of a big difference within a portfolio. Actually, it makes almost a 100% difference on a long-term portfolio over 30 years based on current market return expectations.
If all that you change in your financial life and investment portfolio is that you get a lower fee or even eliminate fees, the above is how much it affects a $1 million portfolio over a 30-year period and 4% market returns per year. The differences are staggering.
From a general perspective, an approach like the one discussed above offers no strategy, it is a purely market following and extremely diversified investment. Thus, such a general approach certainly doesn’t deserve to charge a 0.9% fee. The lack of alpha, the lack of an investment strategy, a portfolio that resembles an index is just part of what is not good in story we discussed up till now.
The following chart shows how there are different investment strategies and the one discussed today is probably the most obsolete. However, banks still manage to sell it to clients due to a lack of financial education.
My opinion would be that the investor should first create a clear strategy about what is the goal for his funds and then put that goal into a risk and reward perspective within a well-diversified portfolio based on a well-balanced strategy.
Such a strategy is what we focus on so if you enjoyed this kind of investment educational content shared above please follow, subscribe, like and share.
About the author: Sven Carlin, Ph.D. is passionate about investment research and value investing. He also manages the Sven Carlin Stock Market Research Platform based on long term value and business investing principles.
I recently had the privilege to interview dr. Per Jenster. He is a Fullbright scolar, author of many books, former dean of the Kopenhagen Business school, entrepreneur with more than 20 ventures of which many went public for hundreds of millions and he is an investor that has his own hedge fund. A person from whom we can learn very much. Enjoy the interview.
Investing in stocks requires answering the following questions:
How to invest money in stocks?
How much money to invest in stocks?
What are the best stocks to buy?
How to find the best stocks to buy?
How do I protect myself from a stock market crash?
What are the best stocks to invest in?
Should I invest in penny stocks? Should I invest in bitcoin? Should I invest in blockchain?
How to invest in stocks on your own?
Hi, my name is Sven Carlin, Ph.D, and I am an independent stock market investor and researcher. Before researching and analysing stocks full time, I was an Assistant Professor of Finance and Accounting at the Amsterdam School of international business and before that a researcher at Bloomberg in London. I am also a book author – Modern Value Investing – where I describe 25 tools to apply when looking at a stocks and other interesting modern value investing topics.
I want to explain what I do and how I go about these questions.
How to invest money in stocks? How much to invest in stocks?
I invest money in my stock market portfolio on a month by month basis. I have a model stock portfolio that I started with $10 thousand and I add $1 thousand every month no matter what. I do not necessarily buy with all the money that I add every month, that depends on the opportunities in the market, more about how I find opportunities and track them later.
My goal is for my stock market portfolio to be at $1 million in 20 years. This will be achieved if I reach an investment return of 12% per year. I believe, this can be achieved with proper research, good risk reward analysis and proper portfolio diversification. Investors that I admire like Seth Klarman, Warren Buffett, Schloss, have achieved even higher returns than 12% over the very long term. Other value investors are steadily above 15% which shows that this can be done over the long term with a smart value investment strategy.
The stock market portfolio is just one component of my investment portfolio that includes real estate, businesses, cash, and a separate option portfolio in the future, when the time comes for that. When I think stocks are generally cheap I might transfer some of my money from other asset classes to stocks.
As for you, see what your financial goals are, how many of those goals can be reached through the stock market, what is the long term return you can expect. Your long-term returns depend on the earnings the businesses you own deliver. This also answers the following question.
What are the best stocks to buy?
The best stocks to buy are those with good businesses that lead to growing earnings, cash flows and dividends over time no matter what is going on with the economy or stock market. The higher are the cash flows those companies make, the higher will be their stock price. For example, NIKE’s earnings in 2008 were $0.95 per share. In 2017 the earnings were $2.51, thus almost 3 times higher.
The stock price reacted similarly, or even a bit more as valuations expanded but you get the picture, the more earnings grow, the higher will your returns be. So, the key is to buy great businesses that will grow over time.
The market is now a bit overvalued from a historical perspective, so a fair price for NKE should be around $40 or $50, and that is exactly when I recommended it last summer.
So, the focus for the investor should be in finding the best business earnings. This will also be the best stock to buy. So, how do you find such / best stocks to buy?
How to find the best stocks to buy?
Here it all boils down to research, looking for the best businesses, following sectors that are cheap at the moment due to temporary reasons. I was following the shoe sector last year because it was down due to fears about American retail, but for companies like NIKE it doesn’t matter if you buy in a shop or online, it is even better to buy online for them as their margins are bigger. I made my money relatively quickly in that sector last year. So, the key is to do constant research, keep the value models on lots of companies updated, research new sectors and keep an eye on the stocks you find interesting with a good business. By having a fair value model of many stocks, you know when something becomes a buy or no.
An overview of my research platform will give you a good indication of how this works. Please check the platform and the curriculum: Sven Carlin Research Platform
We have been looking at Argentina lately because those stocks are down 50% in the last few months, but many business have their revenue in US dollars, so not really affected by the Argentinian peso which creates an opportunity for those who follow such a situation. Solar stocks are also down, and there are other opportunities in current market.
But, this doesn’t mean a stock has to be down for me to buy it, positive structural long-term trends are also extremely attractive. For example, the electric vehicle revolution or 5G might really create great opportunities and there are too amazing value investments to be found because there are several ways to get exposure (nickel for batteries and copper but also the technology for 5g through stocks that have other good business segments too. I have found that the more research I do, the better are the risk reward opportunities I find, it takes a lot of time and I do this full time, but it pays with high returns of investment. My amatorial (unfortunately no audited track record yet) return since 2002 is around 18% per year on average.
You will be thinking that 18% returns sound nice but how do I protect myself from a crash?
How do I protect myself from a stock market crash?
Another question all would like an answer too is how to prevent your stock portfolio from crashing during a stock market crash.
Well, you can’t, let me tell it to you immediately. Peter Lynch, had seen his Magellan portfolio crash more than the S&P 500 each time the S&P 500 crashed 10% or more. That happened more than a dozen times while he was the manager.
However, in case of a crisis I like to be hedged against more money printing by owning gold miners. I like to be hedged against stupidity by owning stocks that produce things all people need and will need in the future, with good management, with a long term orientation.
Further, on stock market crash protections, you have to see when you need the money and then balance between cash and investing. Stocks to expensive? Have more cash and then balance as the market always fluctuates. The best protection is to invest in the best stocks.
What are the best stocks to invest in?
This is a bit different from the best stocks to buy because you sometimes buy on a merger arbitrage, or there are some catalysts that crate a positive risk reward situation. The best stocks to invest in are the best businesses at a fair price. When you see NIKE at a PE ratio of 15, you know your long term returns will be at first 7%, but those will grow by 10% per year over the next two decades and you will have 10%, 15% in time from a great business.
So, when you invest in stocks for the long term you simply buy the best businesses and forget about them. The returns will come.
Should I invest in penny stocks or bitcoin or blockchain?
Penny stocks and cryptocurrencies attract lots of people because big money can be made there fast due to the high volatility. However, that is speculation and you depend on someone paying more than what you paid. There might be penny stocks that are worth something but that requires huge research analysis of an investigative type that usually costs a lot and you don’t have much volume to make money on that. So be careful there and usually what you make here you lose somewhere else. Fortunately, those who tell you how much money they made on a penny stock or cryptocurrency don’t have to tell you how much they lost on something else.
On cryptocurrencies and blockchain, there is a big difference between investing in cryptocurrency scams or investing in the blockchain technology.
How to invest in blockchain?
To invest in the blockchain technology you are looking at long term investments in companies like IBM. There is even an IBM blockchain page.
This is something completely different than buying bitcoincash or other. The key is to know as much as possible about any form of investment assets, which will give us the answer to the final question.
How to invest in stocks on your own?
The first thing to know is to understand all the terms related to stocks and investing, all the accounting factors (I have to make a course accounting for investors, will come but I can’t promise when), read as many books as you can (we have made a summary of the intelligent investor here) and there is also my book, and give yourself time to learn. Invest the money you can afford to lose as tuition, you learn much better with real money.
Secondly, when you understand what is what, when you find your investment style you will also find what works best for you. If you like value investing, emerging markets, commodities, and pure common sense investing but don’t know how to do the research yourself or simply prefer to use your time in different ways, please check my research platform.