Q2 2018 Performance

quarterlyperformance

My streak of underperformance continues. I have no idea when it will end. All I know is: you can’t time this stuff. You just have to stick to it. Over time, markets reward disciplined rules-based value-oriented approaches. I think Cliff Assness put it best when he said in a recent interview that you should “find something you believe in and stick to it like grim death”. I believe in this stuff. It’s logical, time-tested, battle-tested. I’m not going to abandon it because of underperformance.

Value tends to do best coming out of a recession. If I had to guess, I won’t really see any outperformance until we see another recession and the recovery from it. That’s going to take anywhere from 5 to 10 years. Of course, that’s not how things worked out in 2000. The outperformance of value actually started before the recession. There simply isn’t any way to know or time it. I just have to stick to it.

This is my key advantage as a small investor. A professional enduring my underperformance would be in serious trouble with their investors. In an effort to keep their job, they would start to buy more popular positions. They would start to hug the indexes. They wouldn’t be able to ride something like this out and be cool with it. This is why most professionals underperform.

What’s my edge? I don’t have an informational edge. The only edge that I have is behavioral, which is something most professional investors can’t afford to have. I can handle the stench and dive into the dumpster. I can ride out the underperformance. If I can’t, then I might as well put this IRA into an index fund.

In short, I have to stick to it like grim death.

Sells

After staying put for the first quarter, I did much more trading this quarter. You can read a list of all of the trades here. I’m trying to stick to some concrete, easily identified sell rules. Those rules are:

  1. I can sell on an operational slip. For me, that is an operational loss. When I’m buying a stock on the basis of EV/EBIT, what is the position worth if EBIT begins to fall apart?
  2. I can sell if I held the stock for at least a year.
  3. I can sell as part of an annual rebalancing or a price increase of more than 50%.

For the operational slip rule, this was a result of the lessons I learned from my positions in IDT, Manning & Napier, and Cato Corp in 2017. All gave me early warning signs of a problem in the form of a decline in operating income and I ignored it.

Selling is one of the hardest elements of deep value investing. You can go with a very simplistic system such as Greenblatt’s magic formula, in which he recommended holding a stock for a year and then selling it unless it was still undervalued. Graham recommended selling after a 50% gain or after holding for two years.

My method is a combination of the two along with an element of downside protection by getting out of positions in businesses that post operating losses.

A deep value portfolio is going to be a high turnover portfolio. I am not buying stocks of companies with deep moats and high returns on invested capital. These are companies with problems that are causing an undervaluation. My goal is to buy when sentiment is poor and sell when sentiment has improved. I also sell when the fundamentals deteriorate. This is a major reason that the account I decided to track on this blog was the IRA, so I wouldn’t have to worry about tax considerations.

My sell rules aren’t perfect. My sale of Francesca’s, for instance, is looking like a mistake. Even though it will result in mistakes, I think sticking to it will help to cut off the bleeding in the worst positions. I will probably add to the rules over time as my experience grows.

Many investors hate rules. I love them. Rules keep me honest. Rules keep me out of trouble. There are thousands of investment ideas. It’s important to have strict guidelines or it will be easier to do dumb stuff. Guidelines and rules keep me honest. They keep me from straying from a tried and true path.

Buys

After selling for various reasons (price pops, operational slips, etc.), I bought a number of positions in the past quarter. They are all listed below. I also included links to my brief write-ups on each position, explaining why I found the idea attractive.

They check all of my boxes: (1) statistically cheap, (2) clean balance sheet, (3) poor sentiment, (4) potential for improvement.

  1. Ultra Clean Holdings
  2. Big Lots
  3. Jet Blue
  4. Aaron’s 
  5. Unum Group
  6. Argan

Macro

I’m fully invested, which makes me nervous when U.S. stocks are as expensive as they are. I’m trying as hard as possible to ignore macro stuff and stick to buying undervalued stocks.

Now I’ll proceed to look at it anyway.

allocation

For US stocks, the average investor allocation to equities stood at 42.82% at the end of Q1 based on the latest data. That’s a slight improvement from 43.63% at the end of Q4 2017. This suggests a 3.2% rate of return from US stocks over the next 10 years. This is the same as than the 10-year treasury yield (3.2%) but much less than the current yield on AAA corporate bonds (4%).

Bottom line, the market is expensive. That should be news to no one. That doesn’t mean it’s going to crash. That doesn’t mean we’re going into another Depression. It means they’re expensive and returns are going to be fairly low over the next ten years. The road to those returns is unknowable.

Expensive markets don’t crash just because they’re expensive. Usually, there is an event that triggers the sell-off. Usually, the event is a recession. I think about rich valuations in the sense of “the bigger they are, the harder they fall”. To fall, you still need something to push you.

The most common cause of a recession is the Fed tightening too much, which is why the yield curve is a useful indicator. The 2 year vs 10-year yield curve still hasn’t inverted, implying that a recession is not imminent. We’re likely entering a very juicy stage of the business cycle (think 1969, 1989, 1999, 2006).

yield

There also hasn’t been an uptick in unemployment, another indicator that a recession is about to begin. Unemployment continues to drop. With a tight labor market, some employers are experiencing inflationary pressures (Eric Cinnamond mentioned others on “the investor’s podcast”). This suggests to me that the Fed won’t stop tightening and at some point, they’re going to push the yield curve into an inversion and trigger a recession.

unemployment

Nonetheless, the fact that I don’t expect a recession in the next year makes me comfortable with the fact that I’m fully invested and have positions in some deeply cyclical industries. The market could easily crash 20%, but I don’t think we’re going to see a really nasty recession that would trigger a 50% drawdown in the next year.

Random

1. I saw “Solo” and didn’t understand the criticism of it. It was fun and it checked off on all the fan boxes: we saw how Han met Chewie, how Han obtained the Millennium Falcon, etc. We even saw the Kessel Run! It was certainly better than “The Last Jedi”. My suggestion is to not listen to the haters and see it.

2. I hope Gamestop gets bought out. This has been one of my long-suffering positions and there are signs on the horizon that the situation is improving.

3. Argan is the position I am most excited about. It certainly seems like a “no-brainer” at this valuation and considering the quality of the company. Still, I’m trying to keep an equally weighted 20 stock portfolio and I am not taking a position that is too concentrated. We’ll see if I come to regret that.

5. My day job has been pretty hectic this quarter but it seems to all be working out. I work in operations for a bank. I was promoted last December to a section manager role and faced an internal audit and headcount exodus right after getting the job. I was able to hire new people who are working out well and I received news this week that I passed our internal audit, which was a relief. I hope the rest of the year is a smoother ride now that those hurdles are gone.

6. My personal highlight of the last quarter was taking a week off of work, going to the beach, and spending my time reading “Margin of Safety” by Seth Klarman. Good times.

7. I also caught a couple of really good under-the-radar movies. Thoroughbreds was a really twisted tale that you should check out. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before (American Psycho for rich entitled high schoolers?) Just don’t expect to feel good about human nature when it’s all over. I also really dug Lady Bird, a funny movie about a high school senior in 2002 plotting to get out of Sacramento and go to college. That was actually a feel-good movie. I recommend it!

8. Deutsche Bank really worries me. The bank looks like it is in a slow-motion collapse. It’s one of the biggest banks in the world and I don’t know how the global economy would handle it if the bank fell apart.

9. I’ve really been enjoying the Focused Compounding podcast with Geoff Gannon and Andrew Kuhn. They avoid a lot of the trendy topics that are geared towards big investors that seem to dominate the podcast landscape these days (sorry guys, I don’t care about venture capital or angel investing because I’ll never be able to do it and I think most of them are lucky gamblers anyway). They focus on individual stocks and situations that small investors can take advantage of. This one and “The Investor’s Podcast” are my go-to’s. I look forward to listening to them whenever they pop up in my feed.

10. Politics is nauseating and it is getting worse. When I was in my 20s, I loved politics. I was a news and political junkie. That hasn’t been the case for most of the last decade. It’s becoming increasingly impossible for people to empathize with the opinions of others. This is very apparent on Twitter and I follow people on both sides of the aisle. Everyone thinks the other side isn’t just wrong, they’re evil and need to be destroyed. All of this anger and vitriol isn’t good for people’s state of mind. Both sides have a mob mentality. I don’t know how we’re going to snap out of it. To paraphrase Charlie Munger, ideology is turning our brains into mush.

11. Last, but not least, Captain Kirk’s finest hour.

PLEASE NOTE: The information provided on this site is not financial advice and it is for informational and discussion purposes only. Do your own homework. Full disclosure: my current holdings.  Read the full disclaimer.

7 thoughts on “Q2 2018 Performance”

  1. Great piece! I appreciate the transparency. Have you thought about looking at more “deep moat” business while keeping your Deep Undervalued plays?

    Like

    1. I don’t think it is possible to identify moats without Buffett-Munger level business insight, which I don’t have. The truth is that only a small percentage of high ROIC firms that can actually sustain it. It’s in my ‘too hard’ pile. For now I’m content with finding an undervalued stock and selling after the problem is resolved.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hey there, absolutely great stuff. I am an inspiring investor myself, started with Warren Buffett, naturally moved to the Intelligent Investor but have now come full circle to a semi-contained obsession with Charlie Munger.
    Anyway, I know criticism is two-fold and sometimes unwarranted but I just wanted to somewhat question whether your underperformance is due to “value investing under performing” or whether a more objective assessment of your own patience and discipline could be the culprit.

    If you’ll look back at some of your investments (particularly the solidified losses between 0-25%) you clearly sold too soon, in essence giving up on the style. According to both rules that Graham set for losses (Sell at 50% gain or if thesis doesn’t play out after 2 years) that you have espoused they don’t meet these.
    Some examples are below, I apologize if my writing has conveyed a patronizing or holier than thou message, this comment is solely born out of a curious finding and desire to discuss investing.
    Hindsight is always 20/20, but as you yourself have stated your rules are in place to avoid emotional investing. If these rules had been more steadfastly applied, some of your losses would’ve instead been minor/large gains
    1. UIHC (Bought in DEC16 @ 14.9 sold for 3% loss SEP17, BUT disciplinary application of your rule would’ve led to a 10% gain by DEC17 & 30% if held for longer than a year)
    2. FNHC (Bought DEC16 @ 18.5 sold for 23% loss SEP17 BUT w/ rules 19% gain *Caveat, you would’ve had to suffer a large unrealized loss in the meantime which could mean waiting/calculating a larger margin of safety for yourself to avoid buying too early)
    3.IESC (Hindsight shows you clearly bought at a high in the market, which is impossible to predict and unfortunate but the company might warrant a second look @ price dips)
    4.DDS (An incredible pick on your clearly spot on retail thesis @ $64 on DEC16 which over the last 18 months has given several points to sell for 10-20% gain and recently *if held for the 2 year duration prescribed by Graham* can be sold for a 40% gain ) was instead sold for a 10% loss with just under a year’s holding time but accompanied by no change in thesis
    5. And most recently & in my opinion the most egregious sell yet
    FRAN bought at $6.65 in DEC17 and sold 6 months later due to an operating loss (even though you’ve espoused agnosticism for quarterly earnings) would now represent at 24% gain 7 months later with no real thesis change in your original rules.

    I think your contrarian sense coupled with your desire to find these undervalued companies has led to several outstanding picks (which I myself have utilized) yet your own somewhat nebulus rule book [Value investing in cigar butts mixed with earnings and F scores, etc..) have led to poor discipline and contributed greatly to your underperformance.

    Again, this comment is a handful and may seem like a harsh rebuke but it stems more from respect and adoration for your blog and opinions on today’s economy than from a desire to bring you down.

    Like

  3. I think it would absolutely serve you well because as you’ve said your largest strength as compared to Wall Street is your behavioral advantage.
    I think the idea that “value is dead” is false and brought on by the idea that Growth & Value can’t coexist for time periods without the other being destroyed. I think if you examine some of the value investors that are saying the strategy is dead today they are those that are attempting to short growth companies with poor value characteristics. (I.e. Einhorn’s shorting of Amazon, Netflix & Tesla). I’ve found that these investors are often frustrated with their inability to either persuade or predict “Mr.Market’s” tendencies and have fallen from the core tenants of value investing that Walter Schloss, Ben Graham and others adhered to so steadfastly.
    I’d definitely take solace in your keen ability to spot these unfair trends in the popular Wall Street opinions and keep working.
    Anyway, my email is tjbinkowski13@gmail.com if you’d like to ever take the time to discuss some investments or have holes poked in your theories I’d love to oblige.
    Best wishes and happy investing.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I would just like to say that I appreciate your honesty and transparency in this blog. Your determination in sticking to value investing, despite the under-performance, is admirable, I first started ‘value’ investing 2 years ago, but the gains weren’t enough for me and I caved to temptation and chased ‘growth’ and ‘spec’ stocks – unsurprisingly I lost money chasing those stocks and the remaining value stocks I still had made money.

    Your blog has inspired me to get back to value investing and trying to stick with it.

    Like

Comments are closed.