Market prices and business performance

Recently, there have been many stock market pundits who have remarked on the fact that even companies releasing stellar earnings reports have been getting punished in the stock market the next day.

Indeed, most investors have probably noticed this phenomenon over the course of their investing careers, in which a company's earnings report will show signs that the business is doing well (and showing the promise of continuing to grow in the future), and yet the stock drops mysteriously immediately following.

We believe this is an excellent way of illustrating the basic truth that the short-term performance of a company's stock in the market is very different from the performance of the underlying business. Intellectually, all investors should understand this, but it is very easy to forget it, given the enormous attention that the stock market and its day-to-day movements generate.

Back in June of last year, we published a post entitled "The airplane and the tetherball" in which we introduced a metaphor that illustrates this principle (and we mentioned other metaphors which convey the same truth, such as Ben Graham's famous "Mr. Market").

In the "airplane and tetherball" metaphor, the airplane represents the underlying asset (such as a business), and the tetherball represents the market price of that asset from one moment to the next.

The tetherball, which is attached by a long bungee-cord, bounces around in all directions, based on the unpredictable and ever-changing air currents that buffet it back and forth. Even if the airplane itself is climbing (the business is growing), the tetherball can be heading downwards for a short time (the market price can be going down).

For example, the overall market may be in a "downdraft" for one reason or another. If the airplane keeps going up year after year, however, that tetherball will almost certainly be higher -- there just may be a delay in the market's recognition, and there will almost certainly be plenty of bounces up and down along the way.

The ability of anyone to predict the next bounce of the tetherball from one day or week to another is suspect, since the "air currents" that can move markets include unexpected geopolitical events, technical market factors, and even the general mood of the day. This is why it makes much more sense to focus on the airplane (the fundamental cash flows and business performance of the underlying asset, in this case a public corporation).

All this is not to say that the market price does not matter -- that would be ridiculous, and investors must perform analysis to determine if even a fast-growing business has become hyped and overvalued. The point to keep in mind is that the relationship between the price and the underlying company is complicated, especially in the short term.

Investors should realize that right now, the market simply "wants to go down." This is a common and normal pattern in the market, particularly after a sustained upward period. In fact, it is healthy for the market to correct and do some "backing and filling."

The prices of good companies -- even companies that release positive earnings reports -- will generally get sucked downward in such a correction. When investors notice this taking place, it should serve as a reminder to them of the distinction between the market and the overall business, and the importance of focusing on the performance of the business.

Subscribe (no cost) to receive new posts from the Taylor Frigon Advisor via email -- click here.
Continue Reading

Index of Economic Freedom Released; U.S. slips

The annual Index of Economic Freedom, published as a joint effort by the Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal, has recently been released for 2010.

The Index is a valuable tool and one which investors should pay close attention to. We have previously explained our longstanding framework for measuring the climate for investing in any given country or region using the "four pillars" of tax rates, interest rates, level of monetary stability or inflation, and level of freedom. The Index is one of the best resources for evaluating the varying levels of freedom on a global basis.

It is also valuable for evaluating the changing levels of freedom in different countries, and the direction they are heading (either towards becoming more free or less free).

In that previous blog post on the "four pillars," as well as in other previous posts such as "Return of the 1970s, part 2," we noted that there have been some disturbing trends towards lower scores in the U.S. in all four of those important categories, and the latest Index of Economic Freedom bears that out. The United States is one of the most declined countries in the Index this year, declining in seven out of ten categories measured in the study, and falling to eighth in the world from sixth a year ago.

As you can see from the map pictured above, America now ranks behind neighbor Canada, which ranked seventh last year.

How should investors react to this information? We have written on this topic in the past. We would recommend reviewing the thoughts found in the following previous posts:
Subscribe to receive new posts from the Taylor Frigon Advisor via email -- click here.

Continue Reading

Paying yourself first, revisited

Nearly a year ago, on March 26 of 2009, we published a post entitled "Paying Yourself First," in which we reiterated the importance of establishing a systematic mechanism for adding capital into savings on a regular basis.

Market corrections make systematic investments all the more powerful. For instance, since the date of that blog post, the broad market represented by the companies in the S&P 500 index has increased in price by over 34%.

We noted in that post our experience that "this is an area in which investors -- even very wealthy investors -- often have good intentions but haphazard execution."

In light of this fact, we believe it is important to remind investors of the importance of this practice of regularly watering their crops, so to speak.

The market correction that is taking place right now (which take place regularly and which are a necessary function of markets) is an excellent time to remember this point. However, we would also point out that investors should not wait for corrections, at least not with all of their contribution. It is important to have a regular amount which goes into investments using dollar-cost-averaging, although holding back a portion (50% or less) of the monthly or quarterly contribution to add during pullbacks is a strategy that we endorse.

Subscribe to receive new posts from the Taylor Frigon Advisor via email -- click here.

Continue Reading

What a farmers' market can teach us about money management

In his 2008 book In Defense of Food, author Michael Pollan explains some of the benefits to obtaining food from a farmers' market, and he does so in terms that strike a chord with us as professional money managers.

Beginning on page 159, he writes: "If you're concerned about chemicals in your produce, you can simply ask a farmer at the market how he or she deals with pests and fertility and begin the sort of conversation between producers and consumers that, in the end, is the best guarantee of quality in your food. So many of the problems of the industrial food chain stem from its length and complexity. A wall of ignorance intervenes between consumers and producers, and that wall fosters a certain carelessness on both sides. Farmers can lose sight of the fact that they're growing food for actual eaters rather than for middlemen, and consumers can easily forget that growing good food takes care and hard work. In a long food chain, the story and identity of the food (Who grew it? Where and when was it grown?) disappear into the undifferentiated stream of commodities, so that the only information communicated between consumers and producers is a price. [. . .] So here's a subclause to the get-out-of-the-supermarket rule: Shake the hand that feeds you."

That paragraph should be read and re-read carefully by investors, because we have long been strongly convinced that the arguments it is making are absolutely true for the financial services industry. The "industrialization" of the money management business has created a "long food chain" between money managers and consumers of money management, such that very few investors today are able to actually "shake the hand that feeds them."

The "farmer" who far away is cultivating the soil of their portfolio and planting it with individual securities is removed from the investor by the long and complex apparatus of the financial industry, with its enormous "supermarkets" selling a lot of their equivalent of processed food-like products.

There is abundant evidence that the industrialization of money management is making a lot of investors "sick" (judging from the studies of long-term returns across the broad range of investors). There is also evidence that what Mr. Pollan describes above as a "wall of ignorance" between producers and consumers has grown up over the past decades, and that this situation indeed "fosters a certain carelessness on both sides." We would argue that the implosion of many of the financially-engineered products created by Wall Street in 2008-2009 is incontrovertible evidence of this fact.

We have presented many of these points before, backed up with extensive data, such as in our series of articles on what we call "The Intermediary Trap."

As more and more of what Mr. Pollan calls "actual eaters" discover drawbacks to the "length and complexity" of the "industrial food chain," we would advise "actual investors" to use it as a lesson that they can apply to their search for healthy money management as well.

Subscribe to receive new posts from the Taylor Frigon Advisor via email -- click here.
Continue Reading

Was the decade lost?

We recently published "The Investment Climate: January 2010" in the commentary section of our website.

In it, we summarize the current situation and provide some perspective on where we stand today.

Subscribe (no cost) to receive new posts from the Taylor Frigon Advisor via email -- click here.
Continue Reading

Excellent discussion from Scott Grannis

Economist Scott Grannis just posted a discussion of the role of business innovation versus the role of government and Fed policy in the aftermath of the Panic of 2008-2009.

We recommend that every investor head over to his blog, the Calafia Beach Pundit, and check it out. The concepts he discusses in this most recent post, entitled "Why zero rates are not driving the equity rally," should be carefully studied by all investors.
Continue Reading

Composite performance through 12/31/2009

The composite performance for the Taylor Frigon Core Growth Strategy and Taylor Frigon Income Strategy data is now posted on the Taylor Frigon website from inception through December 31, 2009.

The Core Growth Strategy is managed according to the time-tested investment philosophy which we have tried to explain to readers in the pages of this blog (in posts such as this one and this one, for instance). It solidly beat broader market indexes such as the S&P 500 and the Russell 3000 in 2009, and also in 2008, as well as for the entire in the period since its inception in January 2007.

We point this out in order to provide our readers with some confidence as they compare the assertions we make versus the many other arguments and theories that fill up the airwaves and bookshelves of financial media stations and the investment sections of local bookstores and libraries.

It is important to stress that we do not believe that any one year -- or even any three years -- is actually enough time to evaluate the true validity of an investment philosophy. There are numerous studies which show that money managers who outperformed the broad market over very long periods almost invariably had periods of three years or longer in which they underperformed considerably. This famous address given by Warren Buffett in 1984, as well as later research on the subject, bears that out.

We have always urged investors to take a long-term perspective, since for most of them what happens over a period of thirty years (or longer) will be far more important.

See the Global Investment Performance Standards (GIPS) for more detail on performance reporting standards, and here for our GIPS disclosures.

Subscribe (no cost) to receive new posts from the
Taylor Frigon Advisor via email -- click here.
Continue Reading

Solid convictions versus "snake oil"

As we reflect on the lessons of 2009, some of which we have discussed recently, one thing that strikes us as very important to pass along is the fact that the events of 2009 validated strong convictions that we have held and preached for almost two decades.

Over the years, we realize that we may sound like "a broken record" (how's that for an expression that has been bypassed by the rapid advance of technology!) because we always come back to the time-tested truth that investors should focus on ownership of great businesses and not get caught up in the widely-held belief that "investing" is about anticipating the next market move one way or another.

We even alluded back in October 2008 to the fact that our message often seems "boring" in times of easy sailing, but that it is times of great turmoil that prove its worth.

It was those years and years of honing those convictions, however, that stood us in good stead during the global financial crisis, and enabled us to write "Don't get off the train" in early March, 2009 and to know exactly what to say to investors who were tempted to jump out of their investment positions at the very darkest hour of the storm.

We believe that a solid understanding of these core convictions can help investors to avoid the dangerous but alluring call of the various schemes and systems of market-based (as opposed to business-based) anticipation, which we have referred to previously as modern-day forms of "snake oil."

Thus, our timely warning not to "get off the train" and our later March 13 post saying that if mark-to-market accounting rules were changed "we believe the economy -- and the markets -- can recover much faster than most investors realize" -- which is exactly what happened -- were not examples of our being able to predict the markets, but just the opposite. They were evidence of the value of the right set of long-held convictions which show their true worth when things are most chaotic.

Now that the dust has cleared somewhat, we believe investors should reflect carefully on this valuable lesson.

Subscribe to receive new posts from the Taylor Frigon Advisor via email -- click here.
Continue Reading

The importance of good leadership at companies in which you invest

In the past, we have often mentioned the basic definition of a Taylor Frigon growth company using the words of Thomas Rowe Price: "dynamic, capable management operating in a fertile field of future growth."

Today, Morningstar published the name of their winner for CEO of the year, Stericycle's Mark Miller. This selection comes as no surprise to us, as we have long been owners of shares of Stericycle, and have mentioned the company in previous posts as an example of a well-run company in a fertile field of future growth.

It is interesting that the same Morningstar article mentions past recipients of the leadership award, and that the two other companies specifically mentioned by name are also ones that we have long owned in our managed portfolios, Strayer and Fastenal.

While we do not agree with everything Morningstar advocates in terms of their approach to investing, nor with all the views of the writer of that particular article, we find it an interesting confirmation of the importance we place on the quality of the leadership at a company in which we consider investing capital.

The principals of Taylor Frigon Capital Management own securities issued by Stericyle (SRCL), Strayer Education (STRA) and Fastenal (FAST).

Subscribe to receive new posts from the
Taylor Frigon Advisor via email -- click here.
Continue Reading

Ben Bernanke's non-New-Year's Resolution

Here's a clip that Bloomberg television posted of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke denying that the Fed's easy monetary policy had anything to do with speculation and the massive mis-allocation of capital that took place during the past decade.

It had nothing to do with the Fed cutting rates to 1% and holding them there for thirteen months, making borrowing money nearly free in relative terms.

Chairman Bernanke's denial is questionable, at best, and we have laid out the case implicating the Fed's oversteering in great detail previously, such as in "The long shadow of the Y2K bug." Those who doubt the direct causal link to the most recent crisis should take a glance at the enormous spike in CDO (Collateralized Debt Obligation) issuance depicted in this graph, beginning in 2003 and accelerating during the Fed's easy-money policy.

Unfortunately, not many expect the Fed Chairman to come out and say that he and his predecessor share tremendous responsibility for the carnage of the past decade, or to state his New Year's Resolution (or New Decade's Resolution) not to do it again. Mr. Bernanke, after all, is seeking Congressional approval for his reappointment -- his job is at stake here. Ultimately, his statement is in line with the way we should probably expect a government bureaucrat to behave.

This realization, however, should give investors an important insight. Government bureaucrats and politicians are going to go on enacting less-than-perfect policy. Yet in that less-than-perfect environment, entrepreneurial innovation and value creation by well-run businesses continues, and those who search for those opportunities and participate with their own capital can experience exceptional growth.

This is an important resolution for investors to consider at the start of this new decade.

Subscribe (no cost) to receive new posts from the Taylor Frigon Advisor via email -- click here.

For later posts on the same topic, see here:

Continue Reading