The World is Not Enough
A few weeks ago, I caught myself pulled in by an old James Bond classic, The World is Not Enough, starring Pierce Brosnan. In the movie, an oil heiress, Elektra King, is kidnapped. While in captivity, she becomes a victim to Stockholm Syndrome and plots with her captor to destroy an oil pipeline running to the Bosphorus Sea. There is a scene in the movie that encapsulates where we are in today’s stock market environment.
Buffett Whispers of Danger
In the 2017 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Letter, Warren Buffett told us what he is doing, and, in as quiet a voice as he could use, what he says to do. Our readers will not be surprised at our summation of Buffett’s letter, but here we go anyway.
In the movie, Minority Report, Tom Cruise plays a policeman in a world where crimes are predicted ahead of time. Cruise’s character gets accused of a future murder and he is forced to work incredibly hard to acquit himself of the anticipated crime.
Buffett’s, Bezos’ and Dimon's Tapeworm
Warren Buffett, Jeff Bezos and Jamie Dimon recently announced that their three companies will form a non-profit entity to attempt to drive down healthcare costs for them and possibly other companies. In the process of making the announcement, Buffett called the healthcare sector of the U.S. a “hungry tapeworm” in the economy.
Value Investing’s Dark Hour
Is the underperformance by most large-cap value investing strategies in this lengthy bull market the “darkest hour” for value investors? This is the longest underperformance stretch of four relatively poor stretches for value in the last 80 years.
Risk is Not High Math
Long term success in common stock ownership is much more about patience and discipline than it is about mathematics. There is no better arena for discussing this truism than in how investors measure risk. It is the opinion of our firm that measuring a portfolio’s variability to an index is ridiculous, because it is impossible to beat the index without variability.
As we enter 2018, numerous uncertainties are dominating the minds of American citizens and investors. We are happy to weigh in on what we consider to be both un-useful and useful uncertainties as they pertain to long duration ownership of common stocks.
Confusing Brains with a Bull Market
It is hard to think about 1981, my first full year in the investment business. Three-month Treasury bills were paying 18%, longer-term Treasury bonds yielded 15% to maturity and cheap stocks got 20% cheaper. In the summer of 1981, we saw a stock market decline from an already depressed market trading at eight-times after-tax profits down closer to six times.
Gold Rush to Tech Rush
Over the weekend I stopped to watch the last part of a James Stewart Western called, The Far Country. It was the story of two cattle drivers who took their cattle all the way to the Yukon to get a piece of the late 1890’s Klondike gold rush.
A massive amount of stock market capitalization is tied up in companies based on both their potential market share and hypothetical future profits. The popular arguments in their favor come from looking at a company’s total addressable market (TAM). Sky high price-to-earnings ratios and massive capitalizations are common in companies with a large TAM as we finish up 2017.
Investing Like the Mafia 2017
As famed market strategist Richard Bernstein has pointed out, investors should pattern common stock selection after the investment style of the Mafia. What causes the Mafia to get such good returns? How do they spot opportunities? Why should we as investors in publicly-traded common stocks emulate their behavior near the end of 2017?
Today’s Financial Euphoria
All major financial euphoria episodes hold aspects in common. Among our favorite books on investing is John Kenneth Galbraith’s A Short History of Financial Euphoria. More than any other economist, we admire his understanding of the connection between the securities markets and the economy.
Rise of the Rest
The first time I read Forbes magazine was in 1980 as a brokerage trainee in New York City. I was fascinated by the company stories and the way the top investment disciplines were analyzed. In the 100th Anniversary Issue—published in September 2017—over 100 successful business and investment people wrote a short essay.
Buying Value in a Good Ol’ Bull Market
Many well-regarded experts have weighed in on the length and the pricing of common stocks eight and one half years into this bull market. They range from the dire warnings of perma-bears like Marc Faber to more reserved warnings from Howard Marks and Robert Shiller.
Value’s Lazarus Moment
In the Bible, Jesus arrives to help his friend Lazarus a few days after he had already died. His friends Mary and Martha were very disappointed because they thought all hope was lost. As the story goes, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.
Large-Cap Value Farming
Value investing is very similar to farming. A farmer needs fertile ground, well-planted seeds, unshakable patience, loads of sunshine, watering and weeding, as well as a great deal of courage and faith to succeed in the long run. Today, we believe that investors need to reexamine the benefits of a value investing approach toward the end of an era which has rewarded growth stock investing.
We Didn’t Start the Fire
What should long-duration common stock owners like us do with the news of the horrific flood in Texas, the Category 5 hurricane in the Caribbean, the heightened tensions created by North Korea’s Dictator, Kim Jong-un, and the 8.1 magnitude earthquake in Southern Mexico? What is wise behavior in a more volatile stock market environment created by outside events?
Intense Bargain or Value Trap?
As value managers, we are often asked if a company whose stock price is down substantially is a value trap. This is especially true when we are auditioning new holdings. We like to buy a company with a long history of success when it falls deeply out of favor for one reason or another.
Foregone Conclusions Become Well Known Facts
We’ve heard Warren Buffett continue to repeat an important phrase, “what the wise man does in the beginning, the fool does in the end.” This begs the question, when does a foregone conclusion become what we call “a well-known fact”?
Death of the Internal Combustion Engine
The stock market is discounting an accelerating rate of technological change in our society. A mad dash by investors is anticipating a world organized like “The Jetsons” cartoon from my childhood. We thought it would be useful to look back at other points in time where great technological change was anticipated and see how that worked out for S&P 500 Index investors.
Get Rich Slowly
A Forbes article of July 1974 profiled John Templeton and highlighted some of the wisdom he implemented in his investment process. The article touched on his discipline of consistently praying to God “for wisdom and clear thinking” at the start of each directors meeting for the Templeton Growth Fund.
What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger!
As we look out into the second half of 2017, it is important to understand that we believe the U.S. stock market has tried to “kill” investor enthusiasm. We would argue this enhances the position of the value-oriented and long-duration equity manager in a way that that doesn’t kill us and makes us “stronger.”
Hey, You, Get Off My Cloud
Walmart (WMT) recently made it clear to vendors that they should “get off” Amazon’s Cloud. This was one of two announcements which speak to the competitive landscape of business in the U.S. The other announcement came earlier when Amazon (AMZN) disclosed an agreement to buy Whole Foods (WFM) for $42 per share in cash.
The General Theory of Reverse Float
During the most-recent Berkshire Hathaway Shareholder Meeting, Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger reiterated a point during the question and answer portion that has stuck with us. We feel compelled to share what we learned.
The Only Game in Town
At the end of my freshman year in college (1977), my brother-in-law’s twin brother called me to ask if I wanted to go to the sixth game of the NBA Finals in Portland. I was a huge Trailblazer fan and was thrilled to sit in the top row of Memorial Coliseum, which held 12,665 fans. Not only was it an unbelievable experience for a lifelong fan (the Blazer’s won), but it was even more powerful because professional basketball was “the only game in town.” No other major professional sport (football, basketball, baseball) existed in Portland in 1977 and there is only one in town today.
Revisiting Buffett’s 1999 Warning: Interest Rates, Orgies, and Value
We thought it would be very helpful to review Warren Buffett’s argument in 19991, the last time there was very high expectations attached to technology stocks and to the overall level of common stock prices. We will reference Buffett’s quotes by the year he said them. The sections labeled 2017 offer our current observations on the markets and thoughts from respected experts.
Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting 2017: Four Keys for Investors
Each year we like to drill down on the wisdom imparted by Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger at the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting. This year, we thought there were four key takeaways we can consider in running our portfolio of common stocks at Smead Capital Management.
Why is the Stock Market’s Biggest Tightwad Buying?
As many of you know, we admire Warren Buffett and his “sidekick,” Charlie Munger. They seek out quality businesses at bargain prices and have a stunning record of success. Both personally and with stock ownership, they are notorious tightwads with their own money and the money of our common stock holding, Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.B).
Like a good attorney, we rarely ask a question for which we don’t have the answer. In the case of looking at sentiment in the economy and in the stock market, we like watching to get a feel for what our professional and individual investor clients are going through to see if it matches what we are hearing and seeing.
Own Meritorious Businesses—Not Stock Markets
The current circumstance in the U.S. stock market reminds us of the mid-1960s. We thought it would be helpful to review what was going on back then and what took place in the following 16 years. It makes us believe that you want to own wonderful businesses and de-emphasize trust in the stock market’s ability to meet the financial goals of long-duration investors.
Private Equity Masquerade
March 10, 2017 was the 8th anniversary of the bull market in stocks that began in 2009. While the economic recovery from that same period has been labeled many things including “muddle-through”, “new-normal”, or other various metaphors suggesting anemia, the stock market recovery has been quite the opposite.
Hard Day's Night
On a recent business flight, I watched The Beatles documentary (Eight Days a Week) which featured the song “A Hard Day’s Night.” The movie chronicled, via previously unseen footage, the early years of The Beatles and the mania surrounding their tours and albums. This documentary and song could teach us about how to navigate the stock market in the U.S. and what demographics mean to American culture and economic trends.
Should $20 a Barrel Be the Real Price of Oil?
In September of 2010, we argued that oil prices were trading on psychology and entrenched beliefs, and could possibly have a real price of $10 per barrel. Investor bullishness was driven by the belief in peak oil theory, the slow transition to electric and hybrid engines, and the use of the commodity oil as an investment in the China boom.
Our Place in This World
At a recent industry conference, we were confronted by a chart, a presentation and a song. In early 2017, we find ourselves in an investment world where the merit of stock picking and "active" portfolio management are challenged regularly, which has contributed to a mass exodus of assets from "active" funds to low-cost index portfolios.
In a recent TV appearance on CNBC, the legendary portfolio manager, Bill Miller, argued in favor of owning shares of Amazon (AMZN) because of the immensity of their "addressable markets." As contrarian investors, this got us thinking about our three core tenets of investing, what markets we want to address, and how to spot industries which are near what Sir John Templeton called "the point of maximum pessimism."
The Grand Divorce
Every great growth company hopes to make the transition from fast growth pioneer to sustainable growth blue chip. When the transition occurs, a grand divorce happens between the price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio and the future success of the business. What made us think of this was the annual forecasting dinner of the CFA Society of Seattle on the evening of January 19, 2017.
The Frightful Five and Investors’ Lament
We are great admirers of the writing of the elite business publications like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. They recently stepped into one of our favorite subjects, technology company hegemony, which has developed in the business world in recent years.
Net Neutrality or Level Playing Field
It was announced on December 15, 2016 that the current Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Thomas Wheeler, would be stepping down as of January 20, 2017. He has been the lead arbitrator and backer of a concept called “Net Neutrality.”
Rising Rates Meet Nesting Urges
We at Smead Capital Management are in the camp of long-duration investors who believe we’ve entered an extended period of intermittent interest rate increases, a reversal from the 35-year era of intermittent declining rates we have experienced since 1981.