Archive for February, 2010
Sunday, February 28th, 2010
Warren Buffett shares his letter to shareholders just ahead of this year’s Annual General Meeting of Berkshire Hathaway.
Here are some of this year’s nuggets. Buffett discusses how he and Charlie Munger, apply Charlie’s thinking to investing.
- Charlie and I avoid businesses whose futures we can’t evaluate, no matter how exciting their products may be. In the past, it required no brilliance for people to foresee the fabulous growth that awaited such industries as autos (in 1910), aircraft (in 1930) and television sets (in 1950). But the future then also included competitive dynamics that would decimate almost all of the companies entering those industries. Even the survivors tended to come away bleeding.
- Just because Charlie and I can clearly see dramatic growth ahead for an industry does not mean we can judge what its profit margins and returns on capital will be as a host of competitors battle for supremacy. At Berkshire we will stick with businesses whose profit picture for decades to come seems reasonably predictable. Even then, we will make plenty of mistakes.
- We will never become dependent on the kindness of strangers. Too-big-to-fail is not a fallback position at Berkshire. Instead, we will always arrange our affairs so that any requirements for cash we may conceivably have will be dwarfed by our own liquidity. Moreover, that liquidity will be constantly refreshed by a gusher of earnings from our many and diverse businesses.
- When the financial system went into cardiac arrest in September 2008, Berkshire was a supplier of liquidity and capital to the system, not a supplicant. At the very peak of the crisis, we poured $15.5 billion into a business world that could otherwise look only to the federal government for help. Of that, $9 billion went to bolster capital at three highly-regarded and previously-secure American businesses that needed – without delay - our tangible vote of confidence. The remaining $6.5 billion satisfied our commitment to help fund the purchase of Wrigley, a deal that was completed without pause while, elsewhere, panic reigned.
- We pay a steep price to maintain our premier financial strength. The $20 billion-plus of cash- equivalent assets that we customarily hold is earning a pittance at present. But we sleep well.
- We tend to let our many subsidiaries operate on their own, without our supervising and monitoring them to any degree. That means we are sometimes late in spotting management problems and that both operating and capital decisions are occasionally made with which Charlie and I would have disagreed had we been consulted. Most of our managers, however, use the independence we grant them magnificently, rewarding our confidence by maintaining an owner- oriented attitude that is invaluable and too seldom found in huge organizations. We would rather suffer the visible costs of a few bad decisions than incur the many invisible costs that come from decisions made too slowly – or not at all – because of a stifling bureaucracy.
- With our acquisition of BNSF, we now have about 257,000 employees and literally hundreds of different operating units. We hope to have many more of each. But we will never allow Berkshire to become some monolith that is overrun with committees, budget presentations and multiple layers of management. Instead, we plan to operate as a collection of separately-managed medium- sized and large businesses, most of whose decision-making occurs at the operating level. Charlie and I will limit ourselves to allocating capital, controlling enterprise risk, choosing managers and setting their compensation.
- We make no attempt to woo Wall Street. Investors who buy and sell based upon media or analyst commentary are not for us. Instead we want partners who join us at Berkshire because they wish to make a long-term investment in a business they themselves understand and because it’s one that follows policies with which they concur. If Charlie and I were to go into a small venture with a few partners, we would seek individuals in sync with us, knowing that common goals and a shared destiny make for a happy business “marriage” between owners and managers. Scaling up to giant size doesn’t change that truth.
- To build a compatible shareholder population, we try to communicate with our owners directly and informatively. Our goal is to tell you what we would like to know if our positions were reversed. Additionally, we try to post our quarterly and annual financial information on the Internet early on weekends, thereby giving you and other investors plenty of time during a non-trading period to digest just what has happened at our multi-faceted enterprise. (Occasionally, SEC deadlines force a non-Friday disclosure.) These matters simply can’t be adequately summarized in a few paragraphs, nor do they lend themselves to the kind of catchy headline that journalists sometimes seek.
- Last year we saw, in one instance, how sound-bite reporting can go wrong. Among the 12,830 words in the annual letter was this sentence: “We are certain, for example, that the economy will be in shambles throughout 2009 – and probably well beyond – but that conclusion does not tell us whether the market will rise or fall.” Many news organizations reported – indeed, blared – the first part of the sentence while making no mention whatsoever of its ending. I regard this as terrible journalism: Misinformed readers or viewers may well have thought that Charlie and I were forecasting bad things for the stock market, though we had not only in that sentence, but also elsewhere, made it clear we weren’t predicting the market at all. Any investors who were misled by the sensationalists paid a big price: The Dow closed the day of the letter at 7,063 and finished the year at 10,428.
- Given a few experiences we’ve had like that, you can understand why I prefer that our communications with you remain as direct and unabridged as possible.
Tags: American Businesses, Annual General Meeting, Berkshire Hathaway, Brilliance, Brk, Business World, Cardiac Arrest, Charlie Munger, Competitive Dynamics, Competitors Battle, Dramatic Growth, Fallback Position, Gusher, Img Src, Kindness Of Strangers, Letter To Shareholders, liquidity, Nuggets, Openx, Profit Margins, Random Number, Supplicant, Television Sets, Warren Buffett
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Sunday, February 28th, 2010
“There has been a great deal of discussion in the financial press about whether Greece will successfully navigate the crisis it now finds itself in, if the Eurozone will survive a sovereign debt default should one occur and if there is a risk of contagion for countries such as the UK, Japan and the US. These are all important questions which we will have definitive answers for in the coming months and years but to my mind there is a more important question that needs to be addressed first.
“All the issues facing these governments are in essence related to a problem with too much debt and leverage and not enough tax receipts to pay it down. The questions so far have focused on how one country or another might survive this crisis but from the perspective of a judge at an international beauty contest do we want to invest in these countries at all since there are plenty more where these problems are relatively minor if they exist at all?
“Commodity producers such as Australia and Canada have come through this crisis comparatively unharmed. Most of the others are primarily in the so-called emerging markets. Brazil is now a net creditor, China has the biggest foreign currency reserves in the world. Large numbers of countries in Latin America and Asia run trade surpluses. If we look at the world with a broader perspective we see clearly where risk and leverage are concentrated.
“The outcome of the major challenges facing the US, UK, Eurozone and Japan are crucial because of the effect they have on the global market. However, we do not have to invest in the debt, currencies or equities of these countries. Others are better equipped to deal with these issues from a position of strength. They have shown to be credible managers of their economies in a truly testing era and it is surely in these countries one should concentrate long-term investments.”
Source: David Fuller, Fullermoney, February 24, 2010.
Tags: Brazil, Canadian Market, Commodity Producers, Contagion, Countries In Latin America, Creditor, Currency Reserves, David Fuller, Debt Default, Definitive Answers, Emerging Markets, Eurozone, Foreign Currency, Fullermoney, Global Market, International Beauty Contest, Large Numbers, Leverage, Sovereign Debt, Tax Receipts, Term Investments, Trade Surpluses
Posted in Brazil, Canadian Market, Markets | Comments Off
Sunday, February 28th, 2010
- The major market indices were mixed this week. The Dow Jones Industrial Index fell 0.74 percent. The S&P 500 Stock Index declined 0.42 percent, while the Nasdaq Composite finished 0.25 percent lower.
- Barra Growth underperformed Barra Value as Barra Value finished 0.08 percent lower while Barra Growth fell 0.76 percent. The Russell 2000 closed the week with a loss of 0.48 percent.
- The Hang Seng Composite finished higher by 3.36 percent; Taiwan was down 0.08 percent and the Kospi advanced 0.04 percent.
- The 10-year Treasury bond yield closed at 3.62 percent, down 16 basis points for the week.
Domestic Equity Market
The figure shows the performance of each sector in the S&P 500 Index for the week. The best-performing sector was financials, up 1.5 percent. Other top-performing sectors included consumer discretion and industrials. Materials, utilities and energy underperformed.
KeyCorp was the best-performing stock within the financials sector, up 5 percent. The other top-five performers were Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, BB&T and PNC Financial Services Group.
- The retail apparel group was the best-performing group for the week, up 5 percent. The two largest members of the group, TJX Companies and The Gap, both reported quarterly earnings in excess of the analyst consensus estimate. They also both issued positive guidance for their respective fiscal years.
- The managed healthcare group outperformed, rising 5 percent. Late Friday of the last week, the federal agency that administers government-run medical insurance programs announced an almost 4 percent increase for the baseline payment rate of Medicare Advantage plans for next year.
- The diversified supply services group was among the outperformers, gaining 5 percent. The group was led by Iron Mountain. The records management company reported earnings above the consensus estimate and raised its revenue guidance for 2010. The company also announced a $150 million stock buyback program and initiated a cash dividend.
- The special consumer services group was the worst performer led down 18 percent by its only member, H&R Block Inc. The tax preparer said 2010 results will be lower than expected. It believes industry tax return filings are down due to the recession and sustained, high levels of unemployment, with more people turning to do-it-yourself services due to the weak economy.
- The fertilizer & agricultural chemicals group was the second-worst performer, falling 8 percent. Monsanto, the group’s largest member, reaffirmed its earnings guidance for 2010 at an industry conference this week but information in the presentation caused some brokerage analysts to lower earnings estimates.
- The homebuilding group was among the underperformers, dropping 5 percent. On Wednesday the Commerce Department reported that new home sales fell 1.2 percent in January from December to a seasonally adjusted annual sales pace of 309,000, below the consensus estimate. The results were probably affected by poor winter weather in January.
- There may be an opportunity for gain in M&A (merger & acquisition) transactions in 2010. Corporate liquidity is high with over 10 percent of corporate assets in cash and short-term investments, a record high for at least the last forty years, thereby providing the means to pursue acquisitions.
- Should investors’ expectations for an improving economy not come to fruition on a reasonable time frame, it could be a threat to stock prices.
- As governments around the world begin to wind down the monetary and fiscal stimulus programs put in place during the economic crisis, it will likely present a headwind for stocks.
Tags: 10 Year Treasury, Analyst Consensus, Consensus Estimate, Dow Jones Industrial, Dow Jones Industrial Index, Financial Services Group, Index Summary, Jp Morgan, Jp Morgan Chase, Major Market Indices, Medical Insurance Programs, Nasdaq Composite, Performing Group, Pnc Financial Services, Pnc Financial Services Group, Quarterly Earnings, Revenue Guidance, Tjx Companies, Treasury Bond Yield
Posted in Markets, US Stocks | Comments Off
Sunday, February 28th, 2010
The Economy and Bond Market
Consumer confidence took a dive this month, highlighting the fragile nature of the economic recovery. Most of the economic news out this week from consumer confidence, to housing and concerns regarding European stability had a negative bias to it.
- Fed Chairman Bernanke reiterated his view that record low interest rates would be maintained for some time while the economy recovers from the recession.
- Fourth-quarter GDP, fueled by business spending, was revised higher to 5.9 percent from 5.7 percent.
- The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated the emergency fiscal stimulus created more than 2 million jobs and boosted the economy more than many had expected.
- New home sales hit a new record low, falling to just 309,000 annualized units.
- Existing home sales were also weak, falling 7.2 percent in January.
- Weekly initial jobless claims rose to 496,000 and hit the highest level in three months. This is a sign the economic recovery remains uneven.
- If financial markets are a good mechanism for discounting the future, the future appears relatively robust. The markets have been able to shake off bad news relatively easily this week, probably a good sign for the economic recovery.
- If one of the eurozone countries were to seriously threaten default, the whole eurozone system comes into question and threatens global financial stability.
Tags: Bad News, Bond Market, Bonds, Congressional Budget Office, Consumer Confidence, Economic News, Economic Recovery, European Stability, Eurozone Countries, Existing Home Sales, Fed Chairman Bernanke, Financial Markets, Fiscal Stimulus, Fourth Quarter, Fragile Nature, Global Financial Stability, Initial Jobless Claims, Low Interest Rates, Negative Bias, Quarter Gdp, Recession
Posted in Bonds, Markets | Comments Off
Sunday, February 28th, 2010
For the week, spot gold closed at $1,117.60 per ounce down $1.60 or 0.14 percent. Gold equities, as measured by the XAU Gold & Silver Index (XAU) fell 1.85 percent for the week. The U.S. Trade-Weighted Dollar Index (DXY) fell 0.36 percent.
- Gold and equities were able to rebound as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke appeared before Congress and reaffirmed that short-term interest rates would remain low for an extended period of time and predicted the economic recovery would remain slow.
- Desjardins Securities said copper stockpiles in China are declining swiftly and that many in the market are wrong in thinking that speculation, rather than fundamental demand, has underpinned imports of copper into China. The company also said fundamental demand far exceeds general expectations.
- The Bombay Bullion Association said India’s gold imports in February are most likely between 30-35 tonnes. This is at least a 280 percent increase year-over-year when compared to 2009 imports of 7.9 tonnes during the month of February.
- Weaker-than-expected consumer confidence and new home sales reports set the mood earlier in the week as traders and investors remained on the sidelines.
- Investors remain risk averse after ratings agency Fitch downgraded Greece’s largest banks ahead of Greece’s 10-year bond auction. Gold has been under pressure as of late due to a strengthening dollar primarily due to a weakening euro.
- The National Energy Regulator of South Africa has approved Eskom’s 28 percent tariff increases in 2010 and nearly 26 percent the next two years. With the South African economy is still in recovery mode, tariff increases on power utility will impact mining and the wider economy.
- Platinum Guild International has released a report stating young women are spurring demand for platinum jewelry demand in China. The report states that two-thirds of platinum jewelry buyers in China are women between 18 and 34 years old.
- The Financial Times reported the London Metals Exchange will be launching derivatives contracts on cobalt and molybdenum. The new offerings come as investor appetite for commodities continually increases as strong consumption in China drives demand and higher prices.
- JPMorgan said the dollar may fall against Japan’s currency to as low as 87 yen as investors reduce bets that the Federal Reserve will further tighten monetary policy in the near future.
- The Commodities and Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) will discuss position limits for gold, silver and copper futures markets next month.
- America’s third largest bank recently notified customers that effective April 1, 2010, they reserve the right to require seven days advance notice before permitting a withdrawal from all checking accounts.
- In efforts to ease the housing debacle, the Obama Administration may ban all foreclosures on home loans unless they have been screened and rejected by the government’s Home Affordable Modification Program.
Tags: Bond Auction, Commodities, Consumer Confidence, Dollar Index, Dxy, Economy Opportunities, Energy Regulator, Federal Reserve Chairman, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, Fundamental Demand, Gold, Gold Bullion, Gold Equities, Gold Imports, Gold Market, India, Jewelry Buyers, Platinum Guild International, Platinum Jewelry, Recovery Mode, Report States, Silver Index Xau, South African Economy, Spot Gold
Posted in Commodities, India, Markets, Silver | Comments Off
Sunday, February 28th, 2010
Energy and Natural Resources Market
- The Baker Hughes weekly rig count climbed by 28 rigs in the United States to a 52-week high of 1,373 drilling rigs.
- U.S. crude steel output totalled 1.66 million short tons last week, up 0.9 percent, with mills operating at an average capability utilization rate of 68.6 percent. This was the highest weekly total since late-October 2008.
- Global steel production increased by 2.1 percent on a sequential basis to 109.2 million metric tons for the month of January or the equivalent of 1.286 billion metric tons annualized. This is compared with 107.0 million metric tons during the month of December or 1.259 billion metric tons on an annualized basis.
- A key leading indicator of non-residential construction in the domestic market, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Billings Index declined to a reading of 42.5 for January from 45.4 in December.
- Bloomberg news reported Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said that the country will spend about $1.1 billion on expanding electricity capacity in the year ending March 2011. It also plans to introduce a coal regulatory authority. Over 75 percent of the country’s electricity is powered by coal.
- China Industry news reported that China will likely add another 85 gigawatts of installed power generation this year to bring the country’s total to about 950 gigawatts by year-end.
- South African state-owned power generator Eskom has been granted permission to annually raise electricity prices by 25 percent over a three-year period, following protracted negotiations.
Tags: American Institute Of Architects, Baker Hughes, Billion Metric Tons, Capability Utilization Rate, China Industry, Commodities, Crude Steel, Drilling Rigs, Electricity Prices, energy, Eskom, Gigawatts, Global Steel, India, Indian Finance Minister, Institute Of Architects, Leading Indicator, Market Strengths, Million Metric Tons, Natural Resources, oil, Pranab Mukherjee, Rig Count, Sequential Basis, Steel Output
Posted in India, Markets | Comments Off
Sunday, February 28th, 2010
- Taiwan’s GDP grew 9.2 percent year-over-year in the fourth quarter of 2009, exiting a recession which started in late 2008. Not only were exports and investment on the rise, but private consumption registered the strongest quarterly increase in the last 20 years.
- Thailand’s fourth quarter GDP rose 5.8 percent from a year earlier, accelerating from a 2.7 percent contraction during the third quarter. The change came as private consumption and government spending more than offset still anemic investment constrained by political uncertainty.
- January wireless data for Brazil indicated net additions of 1.6 million and a 16 percent year-over-year increase in total subscriber base. Vivo accounted for 43 percent of new subscriber additions, followed by Claro (América Móvil) with 25 percent and Telecom Italia Mobile with 24 percent. Brazil wireless penetration currently stands at 92 percent compared with 76 percent in Mexico, 116 percent in Argentina, 98 percent in Chile, 81 percent in Colombia and 68 percent in Peru.
- Unemployment in Brazil rose to 7.2 percent during January, up from 6.8 percent in December due to a seasonal effect but was better than the market expected.
- According to Troika Dialog metals and mining analysts, Russian gold mining companies boast output growth that is among the highest on the global landscape, while appearing attractive on valuation grounds.
- Initial public offerings launched by Chinese companies in the U.S. during the fourth quarter declined 4.8 percent on average in the first month of trading. The loss deteriorated to 6.7 percent for IPOs in January and February, the longest slump in five years, as investor continued to trim risk exposure and sentiment remained weak.
- Results from Brazilian toll road operator Companhia de Concessões Rodoviárias (CCR) came in weaker than anticipated due to higher costs.
- Murray and Roberts, the largest engineering firm from South Africa, provided a murky outlook for its operations. While the company was positive about its long-term outlook, its short-term future is foggy—particularly with respect to operations in the Middle East.
- Price expectations for residential buildings in Czech Republic remain stagnant even after a significant recession, according to Citi research. The chart shows realized prices significantly below offer prices, while expectations from a business survey point to further weakness.
- Expanded urbanization and regional development are expected to be confirmed as a major policy focus in China in the upcoming annual plenary session of the National People’s Congress. Supportive policies may be created to empower local governments to develop infrastructure and attract capital because of the role urbanization plays in promoting consumption. Indeed, even global luxury brands have spread their presence beyond coastal China into second- and third- tier cities to position for tomorrow’s growth.
- As uncertainty related to global policy actions in both the developed and emerging worlds continues to rise, Russia could become a spot of relative stability, according to Bank Credit Analyst research. The chart shows that equity valuations are still low compared with the emerging market universe.
- Domestic sugar prices in China have been on the rise so far this year as drought in southern China affected cane production. There are also news reports about labor shortages, especially in the Pearl River Delta area where some migrant workers chose not to return to work after the Chinese New Year because of unattractive wages compared with inland regions. There could be inflation going forward if these developments persist.
- Although an announcement of higher bank reserve requirements in Brazil had been expected, some market participants may view it as ambiguous with respect to the impact on the banks’ top and bottom lines. We do not expect a detrimental impact on the profitability of Brazil’s banks because they will still be earning interest on the reserves at the SELIC rate—the overnight lending rate set by Brazil’s central bank.
- Political tensions in Turkey have escalated this week following new arrests related to an alleged 2003 military coup against the ruling Justice and Development party. The uncertainty related to the outcome of a likely referendum on controversial judiciary reform may also contribute to further market volatility.
Tags: Brazil, Ccr, Chinese Companies, Contraction, Emerging Markets, Engineering Firm, Fourth Quarter, Global Landscape, Gold Mining Companies, Initial Public Offerings, Political Uncertainty, Private Consumption, Quarter Gdp, Quarterly Increase, Risk Exposure, Russia, Seasonal Effect, Subscriber Base, Telecom Italia, Telecom Italia Mobile, Toll Road, Troika Dialog
Posted in Brazil, Infrastructure, Markets, Outlook, US Stocks | Comments Off
Sunday, February 28th, 2010
By Frank Holmes
CEO and Chief Investment Officer
I had the chance to listen to a prominent MIT finance professor talk about how market participants make their decisions, and I came away thinking that his big-brain ideas validate the approach that we’ve been using for years.
Andrew Lo, the MIT professor, has developed what he calls the “adaptive markets hypothesis” (AMH) as a more sophisticated framework than the long-standing “efficient markets hypothesis” (EMH).
I won’t go into a lot of detail, but the EMH assumes that all market participants act rationally at all times, and that all available information is immediately reflected in market prices.
In Lo’s AMH, market participants are not always perfectly rational, he says – they often make bad decisions. They learn from those bad decisions and, driven by competition, the survivors constantly innovate. Those who don’t adapt don’t last.
At U.S. Global, we have long viewed markets as “complex adaptive systems”—they are made up of many moving parts that are interconnected across a global network, and they learn from experiences and change accordingly.
In our case, we use a matrix of top-down macro models and bottom-up micro stock selection models to determine weighting in countries, sectors and individual securities. We believe government policies are a precursor to change, and as a result, we keep tabs on the fiscal and monetary policies of the G-7 and what we call the “E-7” — the world’s developing nations by population.
We also focus on historical and socioeconomic cycles, and we apply both statistical and fundamental models to identify companies with superior growth and value metrics. We overlay these explicit knowledge models with the tacit knowledge obtained by domestic and global travel for first-hand observation of local and geopolitical conditions, as well as specific companies and projects.
During his San Antonio visit, Lo contrasted “fear and greed” with “rational thinking” – the former being reactive and emotional, while the latter is measured and opportunistic. We use oscillators, like the one above showing gold and the dollar, to help us determine when fear or greed may be taking hold in a market.
I’m a big believer in globalization, urbanization and major technological breakthroughs as key drivers of change in the world. These factors have an enormous impact on infrastructure creation around the world, which in turn greatly affects commodities demand.
Back in the early 1970s, when gold resumed free-trading status in the U.S., China and India were both inward-looking and had very small economic footprints – now their economic engines are lifting tens of millions of people into middle-class prosperity each year.
“I’d be a bum on the street with a tin cup if the markets were always efficient,” Warren Buffett once said. In other words, opportunities come to those (like us) who are able to navigate increasingly complex markets.
Tags: Amh, Bad Decisions, Chief Investment Officer, Commodities, Complex Adaptive Systems, Efficient Markets Hypothesis, Explicit Knowledge, Finance Professor, Fiscal And Monetary Policies, Frank Holmes, Fundamental Models, Hand Observation, India, Individual Securities, Knowledge Models, Macro Models, Market Participants, Micro Stock, Selection Models, Specific Companies, Stock Selection, Tacit Knowledge
Posted in Commodities, India, Infrastructure, Markets | Comments Off
Sunday, February 28th, 2010
Connie Mack recently interviewed David Darst, chief investment strategist for Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, and Robert Kessler, head of Kessler Investment Advisors, which runs portfolios for institutional investors and governments around the world. This is a MUST view/read interview. The complete transcript follows.
CM: David Darst is known as a master of the art of asset allocation. He is the chief investment strategist for Morgan Stanley Smith Barney. David is also a teacher and prolific author, and his latest book is The Little Book that Saves Your Assets . And it’s great to have you both here. Thanks so much for joining us on WealthTrack.
Robert Kessler, U.S. Treasuries, you make your living in investing and managing portfolios of U.S. Treasuries, and as long as I’ve known you, they have been denigrated by most of the competition except in this most recent period when everyone rushed to Treasuries, but now the naysayers are back again. So why are they wrong again about Treasuries?
ROBERT KESSLER: It’s not a question of being wrong or right. A Treasury is really a benchmark to almost every other asset class. So as a benchmark, you can’t be wrong or right about a benchmark. It’s just simply matter of spread between what other asset classes are selling at. So in the Treasury market, we’re lucky enough to be able to have a choice of overnight Treasuries, which is cash, or longer-term Treasuries. And longer term Treasuries are really based on whether you believe inflation is going to be an issue or whether disinflation will be an issue.
So right now we’re in what we call a credit crisis. We’re in a credit recession. And during credit periods of time, you don’t want to own risk assets, and if you don’t want to own risk assets, you want to go to something that has very little risk, which is a Treasury. Now the question becomes: do you own Treasuries as bills overnight or do you really believe that rates are going to come down because there’s very little inflation in the world? So since we believe rates will come down because there is very little inflation, then Treasuries become very attractive.
CONSUELO MACK: All right. So let me stop you there and we’re going to follow up on that in a couple of minutes. David Darst, as a global strategist first and as an asset allocator second, how do you view this?
DAVID DARST: It’s a great point because really, inflation is a monetary phenomenon. We have a big war going on between this monetary phenomenon called inflation potential down the road.
CONSUELO MACK: Right.
DAVID DARST: And deflation is a credit phenomenon. And right now credit is contracting. The latest month figure for December showed it contracted, consumer credit, Consuelo, by $2.5 billion. That’s 11 months in a row the government has been keeping these numbers since 1943. It’s never contracted for 11 months in a row. So right now we have this epic, titanic struggle between the deflation phenomenon, credit contracting and the inflation phenomenon, which is the government attempting to pump up the money supply, add liquidity to the system, which people, makes them worry about inflation down the road. So we feel that maybe Treasury bonds, Treasury securities, you can have them in the portfolio right now, you need to have a little offense as well as a little defense. Treasury securities are a defensive investment in our opinion. Last two years ago they were up 20%. They were up 20% in 2008 when the stock market went down 37%. Last year, ten-year Treasuries lost 9.9% on a total return basis.
I’m very receptive. For a person basically to say stay away from Treasuries means they think interest rates are going to rise. That means the consumer is going to come back. That means that credit is going to stop contracting and we’re going to worry about inflation. But over the next 12 months, I’m not so sure those things are going to be an issue, Consuelo.
CONSUELO MACK: So short term at any rate, next 12 months, Treasuries are probably a good place to be defensive.
DAVID DARST: I think you can have some in the portfolio. We are underweight. We are underweight. Normal is 16%. We’re 7%. That’s our largest single underweight. We are very underweight because we’re worried about the health of sovereign credit finance about the condition of the U.S., the U.K., the European community and so forth, the condition of these finances. So much money has been issued.
CONSUELO MACK: Okay. How do you answer that argument because, in fact, as you know, that most people who are looking at U.S. Treasuries are saying, we’ve got a record deficit; we have to finance that record deficit. If we are basically having to sell a lot of Treasury bonds, that is going to mean that the value of the dollar of our securities is going to go down. And then, in fact, that means that it’s going to be inflationary for the U.S. So how do you respond to that argument? Why aren’t you worried about the size of the deficit and what we have to finance being inflationary?
ROBERT KESSLER: Let me answer two questions. The first question is this concept of the deficit. There is this constant talk of deficits lead to inflation. We don’t really have any indication that that’s true. In the Depression in the United States, we had huge deficits, of course, and we had no inflation. We had deflation. Japan has gone through 20 years now of deficits that are far, far higher than ours, and they have deflation. So we don’t know anything about the inflation side of it. What’s really important is that if people can’t raise prices and there’s an awful lot of excess capacity in the world and wages are going down and unemployment keeps staying kind of sticky at these very, very high levels, it’s very difficult to have inflation.
And so there is no inflation. That’s not our issue. The real issue is– television was interesting today because not only are we dealing with Greece, Greece is very interesting because we’re bailing out Greece and bailing out perhaps Portugal next, but we’re probably going to bail out New Jersey after that. Because New Jersey just announced today that they’re running into a huge deficit, too.
CONSUELO MACK: As are a lot of states.
ROBERT KESSLER: As are a lot of states. So we have states having problems, lowering wages, firing people; very, very difficult to raise prices and consequently, very difficult to have inflation.
CONSUELO MACK: All right. So you think we’re deflationary. You think the credit contraction you think which is extraordinary is actually, we’re in the beginning stages of it. You’re not thinking a year down the road, you’re thinking for inflation, you’re thinking, what three, four, five…
ROBERT KESSLER: It sounds like I’m being very pessimistic.
CONSUELO MACK: You’re a bond person.
ROBERT KESSLER: No, no but I don’t want to be pessimistic. We just got back from the Middle East. I have to tell you, not only is everything for rent in the Middle East, not only are buildings completely unoccupied, but banks, since we deal with banks, banks right now are doing one trade. They’re doing what we call a carry trade, meaning they’re buying their sovereign debt, either U.S. sovereign debt or their sovereign debt short term and they’re carrying it at very low cost.
CONSUELO MACK: Because they can borrow it at very low cost.
ROBERT KESSLER: Because they can borrow at very low cost, as is JP Morgan in the United States and as is Morgan Stanley and everyone else. So the fact of the matter is when people say we’re in a bear market in Treasuries, it’s ridiculous. Last year, even though David is correct, the ten-year Treasury was down 9%. The fact of the matter is we made more money last year in two-year Treasuries than any year I can think of because everyone was carrying a two-year Treasury at zero and getting a point. Now, in bank talk…
CONSUELO MACK: So they were borrowing at lower than 2% and then they were buying the two years… So they made?
ROBERT KESSLER: They do it at a very high leverage level because they don’t need to do very much with a capital question. So the fact of the matter is you have this bull market going on and yet everyone is saying, anything but Treasuries. Tell that to JP Morgan.
CONSUELO MACK: Right. So David, not to completely focus on Treasuries, but as far as asset allocation, you said that your biggest underweight is U.S. Treasuries right now.
DAVID DARST: It’s sovereign credit, Consuelo.
CONSUELO MACK: Across the board.
DAVID DARST: It would include U.K., it would include Canada, it would include Europe.
CONSUELO MACK: And the reason for that is what?
DAVID DARST: Well, the sovereign… we believe there’s so much issuance of sovereign debt; we do believe that the balance sheet of the Fed has ballooned from $900 billion to $2.2 trillion. We do see the deficits as being quite large on out into the future. And we do believe that these trillion dollar and trillion and a half dollar deficits are going to have to be bought and to entice people, which will cause higher interest rates. So that’s why Morgan Stanley’s economists have a big out-of-consensus call, which Robert is very familiar with. And by the way, the word Robert means bright fame. His name means bright fame. Now Robert is familiar with this- Morgan Stanley is expecting 5.5%. And every conversation I get into, I have to argue we think that inflation fears will be higher towards the end of 2011. We see all this slack. But there’s concern. Supply, which you mentioned, that is the excess issuance by the Treasury, and also the Fed, and I know there’s a lot of disagreement over this, we expect them to begin their exit strategy later this year, second half of this year.
CONSUELO MACK: And exit strategy could mean raising the federal funds rate?
DAVID DARST: Higher short-term interest rates, and that means we think higher long-term interest rates. We take a little bit of respectful issue with Robert Kessler’s brilliance over here. But we believe the essence of our underweight versus sovereign debt is because of enormous supply and people’s concern. Inflation is the biggest… The biggest inflations of all times have all come from fighting deflation. In the 1946 to 1949 period in Germany, in communist China, in the 1920s and 1923 period of Weimar Germany, the biggest inflations have all come from fighting deflation.
CONSUELO MACK: So what’s interesting is the common ground is here. Right now we are fighting deflation, which is actually positive at least for the next 12 months, possibly for…
DAVID DARST: Steroids, financial steroids. Mark McGuire has admitted to it and the Fed is taking financial steroids.
ROBERT KESSLER: Let me be a little contrary for a second.
CONSUELO MACK: For a second?
ROBERT KESSLER: All right, for 30 seconds. The fact of the matter is we talk about this exit strategy all the time about the Fed. I’m into the entrance strategy. I am trying to figure out how we’re going to help out 8.5 million people who don’t have jobs. It’s probably closer to 17 million because that’s really a more correct figure.
CONSUELO MACK: The ones who have been discouraged and not looking for jobs anymore.
ROBERT KESSLER: Why we’re talking about exit strategies is very, very disconcerting to me.
CONSUELO MACK: Because the Fed is actually. Bernanke is talking about it, right.
ROBERT KESSLER: What we’re talking about again is Wall Street and the banking industry. When you get to, excuse me, the middle of the United States, at least where I live.
DAVID DARST: Right, you live in Denver.
ROBERT KESSLER: In Denver. People don’t have a clue to what JP Morgan is doing or Morgan Stanley is doing. What they’re looking for is their job, and when someone says, excuse me, I think it will be a good idea to raise interest rates, they can’t even borrow money; not only can’t they borrow money, no one will lend them any money. So they’re really…
CONSUELO MACK: Like the credit contraction you were talking about.
ROBERT KESSLER: So the issue is why are we talking about exiting the strategy?
DAVID DARST: The reason we’re talking about exit strategy is psychological. It’s the use of Shakespearean language and words to try to divert people from worrying about the debasement of the currency, internally and externally. And that’s why he’s saying it. And I agree with you. I don’t see rates jacking way up very quickly. This is going to be gradual, but we went from $900 billion Fed balance sheet to $2.2 trillion. And it is very, very important.
Sarkozy, during the last four weeks– opening speech at the World Economic Forum said that in 2011 France is going to be head of the G7 and the G20 and he says his number-one agenda item is to create a new world monetary system, a new system without the United States dollar as the primary reserve currency. The reason they talk about exit strategy, Robert, is to keep people from going to this new currency.
CONSUELO MACK: So how concerned are you about the fact that the dollar could be replaced as the reserve currency?
ROBERT KESSLER: First of all, for a second I’m going to represent Main Street as opposed to Wall Street, and Main Street doesn’t have a clue to what we’re talking about.
CONSUELO MACK: Right.
ROBERT KESSLER: Believe me. This all gets very, very complicated to talk about.
CONSUELO MACK: And our viewers are investors.
ROBERT KESSLER: They’re investors, so my answer to all of this is the United States will continue to be the reserve currency. There’s nothing wrong with the dollar. Everyone will put money into the dollar, as we’re doing today. Today is a very, very good example. We had a 30-year auction today. What was exciting about it, even though it didn’t go over very big as an auction, didn’t go well, but what was exciting about it is 23% of the auction was bought by Americans. What we call direct investors.
CONSUELO MACK: We’ve seen a trend here where the direct investors, Americans are buying more and more of their Treasury securities.
ROBERT KESSLER: And so when you look at the American dollar, as you can look at the Japanese yen- the reason the yen has stayed strong for so long is because the Japanese support their own country.
DAVID DARST: Internal savings, financing.
ROBERT KESSLER: And in the United States, we are beginning to do the same thing. And so even though we have a deficit, if we’re willing to pay for it, then frankly there’s nothing so terrible about the deficit.
DAVID DARST: Your legion of viewers in the aggregate have 25% stocks, 25% their home and 7% bonds. That’s why, as you’ve pointed out on the show, Consuelo, over the nine months from March through December, they, we all put $315 billion net into bond funds and ETFs, $35 billion into non-U.S. stocks and minus $24 billion into U.S. stocks. So there has been this trend. 1982, the average baby boomer, the median age was 25 years old. Today it’s the reverse of the digits- 52 years old. People have been killed by the dot com meltdown, the housing price meltdown and the financial stock meltdown and that want to set aside some money. So your point is an excellent point, Robert. They want to put this money and maybe some of the buyers will be U.S. households.
ROBERT KESSLER: Let me add one more statistic.
CONSUELO MACK: Very quickly because we have to get to the One Investment.
ROBERT KESSLER: The statistic being, that if Americans begin to invest in Treasuries the way they have in the past, then there would be no deficit. There would be simply no deficit.
DAVID DARST: We’re sitting on $8 trillion of cash right now. And they need only $1.5 trillion, but we need higher rates, Robert, to entice us to take it out of the cookie jar and the mattress and put it in Treasuries.
CONSUELO MACK: So one quick question for you, David Darst, and this is put your asset allocation hat on again. What are you overweighting, in a minute or less?
DAVID DARST: We’re overweighting corporate credit to summarize quickly. That would be high yield bonds, and high grade bonds.
CONSUELO MACK: Because of the yield.
DAVID DARST: The yield is more attractive. We are overweight in real estate investment trust, which have a nice yield to them.
CONSUELO MACK: Right.
DAVID DARST: We’re overweight in emerging market stocks and Canadian stocks, Australian stocks, and in small cap stocks. They have basically taken a little gas in the first part of this year. We think that’s a pause, a healthy, needed correction that we will believe as the economies grow around the world- we just jacked up our China forecast to above 10% for this year- and we think probably world growth will surprise to the up side. Maybe that’s why yields will surprise to the up side, too. Interest rates.
CONSUELO MACK: Very interesting. And so let’s go to the One Investment for our investor viewers out there, and Robert Kessler, guess what you’re recommending.
ROBERT KESSLER: A quick comment.
CONSUELO MACK: Yes.
ROBERT KESSLER: A quick comment. I am so weary of people who wear white suits and recommend emerging markets. Now, David’s not.
DAVID DARST: White suits?
ROBERT KESSLER: White suits.
DAVID DARST: Tom Wolf.
ROBERT KESSLER: Right.
CONSUELO MACK: I don’t understand that.
ROBERT KESSLER: Consequently, what I’m saying is I think you want to be in everything that is risk-averse. And therefore I would suggest that a Treasury, whether it’s overnight money or it’s ten or a 30-year Treasury, I think the ten year will probably outperform everything this year, and that’s a way-out kind of a call, but I do think that rates are going to substantially come down, and they do usually the second or third year after a recession, and since we’re only a year into this, we have a long ways to go, and I think you’ll see the ten-year Treasury probably back at 2% range or lower. And that’s a big move.
CONSUELO MACK: Wow. And David Darst, you’re thinking defensive action, too.
DAVID DARST: I am, Consuelo. Procter & Gamble (PG), which I’ve recommended on the show before- they have 23 products with over $1 billion in annual sales, and they have 20 products in addition with over $500 million in annual sales. They just changed leaders. Robert McDonald takes over from A.G. Lafley. McDonald has been with them for 29 years. He sold Folgers Coffee. He’s selling off the pharma area to focus on personal care, on household products and human well-being, okay. We see three billion people every day out of six billion in the world that are touched by a Procter & Gamble product.
CONSUELO MACK: Wow.
DAVID DARST: He wants it to go up to four billion. Only 30% of their revenues are outside the U.S. and Europe. Stock sales are 14 times last year’s earnings. It yields 2.9%. They’ve not been buying stocks in a year and a half. They’ve just begun to buy stocks, and the last thing is it was only up 1% last year with its lag to market. It went down less than the market. It went down 14 in ‘08 when it went 37 down, up 1% last year. We think this is a company that’s been a defensive stock about to go on the offense.
CONSUELO MACK: So we have a diversified portfolio right here between the two of you. Robert Kessler from Kessler Investment Advisors, thank you so much for coming in from Denver and from New York, it’s great to have you regardless, David Darst from Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, thanks so much for joining us.
At the conclusion of every WealthTrack, we tried to leave you with one action to take to build and protect your wealth over the long-term, as well. This week we’re revisiting a retirement income theme that we and many of our guests have emphasized over the years. This week’s Action Point is: lock in some retirement income for life.
How do you do that? The Obama administration recently came out in support of annuities as a tool to deliver a form of “guaranteed lifetime income.” Specifically, President Obama has called for a change in federal rules to allow adding annuities to 401(k) retirement plans.
Until that becomes a reality, one way to assure a stable flow of income that you can count on for life is to buy the simplest, plain vanilla version, an immediate fixed annuity, also known as a single premium immediate annuity. You turn over a one-time payment to an insurance company, and it in turn will provide you with a predictable and guaranteed monthly income as long as you live. To make sure it’s there, that it is as long as you live, only work with life insurance companies that have the highest credit ratings, and don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
The financial advisors we have talked to recommend investing only a portion, no more than one-third of your retirement assets, in annuity products, and also recommend consider staggering the amount you put in over a number of years, so you can adjust your income stream as you need it. To get an idea of what kind of monthly income a given amount will return, go to immediateannuities.com for a quote.
Now what troubles many people about these immediate fixed annuities is that you might die before you have recovered your investment, your heirs don’t get any benefit, and inflation can eat away at the value of the income stream. So the insurance industry, in its infinite wisdom, has responded with variations on immediate annuities that address these concerns. The tradeoff is the adjustments reduce the monthly income. Annuities are not right for everyone, but as a vehicle to create your own guaranteed pension plan for life, an immediate fixed annuity is definitely worth considering.
That concludes this edition of WealthTrack. Join us for one of our Great Investors series next week. I’ll sit down with Steven Romick, portfolio manager of the FPA Crescent Fund, a finalist for Morningstar’s Domestic Equity Fund Manager of the Decade award. In the meantime, to watch this program again, please go to our website, wealthtrack.com. Starting Monday, you can see it as streaming video or a podcast. Thank you for visiting with us. And make the week ahead a profitable and a productive one.
Source: Consuelo Mack, WealthTrack, February 19, 2010
Tags: Asset Allocation, asset class, Asset Classes, Bonds, Canadian Market, Chief Investment Strategist, Connie Mack, Credit Crisis, David Darst, Disinflation, Emerging Markets, ETF, ETFs, Institutional Investors, Interview Transcript, Kessler Investment Advisors, Morgan Stanley, Naysayers, Prolific Author, Recession, Robert Kessler, Smith Barney, Stanley Smith, Treasuries, Treasury Market
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Sunday, February 28th, 2010
This week on Wealthtrack, Consuelo Mack sits down with Steven Romick, the founder and portfolio manager of the five star FPA Crescent Fund. Romick’s contrarian views and go anywhere, invest in anything style have put him in the top one percent of all money managers over the last decade and earned him a finalist slot for Morningstar’s new “Fund Manager of the Decade Award”.
Note: The transcript of this interview is not available yet, but will be posted here as soon as it arrives.
Source: Wealthtrack, February 25, 2010.