Posted February 9, 2012 at 3:40 am
via The Dividend Monk
This is the third in a series of articles highlighting dividend companies that have large and durable economic advantages, or “moats”, that protect their business operations and allow years or decades of strong profitability.
When looking for long-term investments, one typically wants to find a business that is performing well not simply because management is on top of their game right now, but rather because the business itself has fundamental and difficult-to-replicate advantages over its competitors.
Some companies keep competitors away by patenting their products. This gives them a number of years where they can get all of their research and development to pay off with nice profit margins.
If a company is big enough, they can successfully layer or ladder dozens, hundreds, or thousands of patents so that at any given time, only a subset of their patents are expiring, and new ones are replacing them. That way, most of the product portfolio is continually refreshed with a strong set of patent shields.
When a company organizes hundreds or thousands of engineers and scientists, and then layers their products with patent shields, this creates a pretty formidable defense against competitors. Some of the largest patent-holding companies often buy companies just for their patents.
Posted February 9, 2012 at 2:26 am
by Daniel Dicker
The worst investment in the world, the United States Natural Gas fund (UNG) has again revealed how cruddy it is by announcing a four-for-one reverse split as of Feb. 22.
Anyone who still holds this turkey expecting it to even approximate the price movement of natural gas should be convinced by this last move to get out of this horrible fund.
Futures-based ETFs start with a grave disadvantage in the ETF world: instead of using various groupings of stocks to replicate the movement in a sector, they must use futures contracts and over-the-counter swaps to try and capture the price movement of an underlying commodity.
While there may be a terrific appetite for investors afraid or unwilling to engage in the futures market to bet on prices of natural gas or crude oil, there is really no good way to represent these commodities like stocks. Most of these ETFs are programmed to fail.
UNG suffers from a further problem. With natural gas dropping for most of the last four years, an increasing skew of the price curve, called a [continue]…
Posted February 2, 2012 at 2:46 am
Interviewed by Tom Dyson, publisher, The Palm Beach Letter
Tom: Let’s talk about art. You’ve mentioned many times what a great investment it has been for you.
Mark: Are you sure that’s a door you want to open, Tom? I can talk forever about art collecting.
Tom: Yes, let’s hear it. I’m interested to know why art collecting? Why not cars, or antique dollhouses or something?
Mark: Fine art—paintings, drawings, and sculpture—has always held a special place in my heart, so it was a natural choice for me.
My art collection has enriched me in three ways: Buying it is a lot of fun—especially when you know you are buying it right. Owning it is a great pleasure. It enriches your life every time you look at it, and it tells your friends and people something important about you. Thirdly, it can make you richer.
My art collection, as a whole, has appreciated more than a million dollars. I wouldn’t care if it didn’t. I’d be happy if it simply maintained its value. But I made investing in art a hobby, and it paid off.
Fine art, like a number of other historically recognized collectibles, has a lot of the qualities you want in an investment: It’s a tangible asset, so it tends to appreciate during inflationary times. It’s portable, which is a very good thing in case you might want to disappear one day. It’s also private—and by that I mean that you don’t have to report your transactions to the government. And finally, if you buy the right art it can appreciate—sometimes a great deal.
Tom: So what does a novice need to know before collecting?
Mark: The novice needs to know that, from a wealth-building perspective, there are different kinds of art.
First, you have what I call “decorator art.” These are pieces of art that simply fill a given space with color and texture, but will never appreciate. This is the kind of art you see in Las Vegas hotel lobbies and Caribbean resorts. “Decorator art” is a waste of time and money.
Commercial art is what you find in galleries. However, the quality of this art can vary widely—it all comes down to the dealer and his expertise.
While it’s true that some dealers peddle that “decorator art” I was talking about, there are also some fine art commercial galleries that cater to local artists, graduate students, the talented Sunday dauber, as well as fine art by recognized talent. Priced right, these artworks make a very good starting point for the fledgling collector.
Those small local galleries I was talking about is where you want to go when starting your collection. You can find oils, pastels, and drawings that are worth a few hundred dollars. Buying pieces like that is a good way to train your eye.
Investment-grade art is different. It hangs in major museums. The artist is already in the art books. He’s already a serious figure. His art isn’t going to disappear. Nor will its value. It might fluctuate, as all investments do, but the long-term trend is good, and you can be confident that over the long run it will maintain or increase its value.
When buying art for investment purposes, collectors need to understand that appreciation happens over a substantial period of time.
Unless an artist dies or is the subject of a 60 Minutes interview, collectors will cool their heels for a while before selling for a profit. However, studies show that high quality, investment-grade art is one of the top performers in terms of long-term return on investing.
Tom: Okay, so how does someone begin?
Mark: There are two methods. If you are new to art and aren’t sure what you like, you can begin by buying inexpensive art. I’m not talking about decorative art.
It won’t teach you anything. I’m talking about art that you might find at small galleries, local art shows, or antique shops. Buy the stuff you like, but don’t spend any more than a few hundred dollars on any individual acquisition.
As your taste improves—and it will improve—you may find that much of what you once admired is not so wonderful anymore. When that happens, you can sell it (for whatever you can) or give it away. Ask questions of the dealer every time you buy art.
If you meet the artist and like him, make friends. Gradually, your circle of contacts will improve and so will your eye. Eventually you will feel ready to venture into investment-grade art.
Tom: Sounds like a relatively slow process. Is there a better way?
Mark: Yes. You can begin with investment-grade art, but you have to do your homework and be patient. Start by trying to figure out what genres of art you like. Do you like landscapes? Do you like abstract art? Do you like portraits? Sculpture? It doesn’t matter.
Don’t let someone talk you into, say, abstraction, if you prefer portraits. Art and collecting are life-enhancing endeavors, first and foremost. There is investment-grade art of every kind.
The collector needs to figure out his personal tastes before acquiring. That is why museum visits, gallery openings, etc., are so important.
Find what type of art appeals to you. Then figure out what artists you like within that genre. Try to limit your interest to two or three artists to begin with.
Study the price history of those artists. Find out what their pieces have sold for in auction in the past. Find out what they are selling for currently. Try to become an expert in their work as quickly as you can.
You don’t need to take any art appreciation courses. Just read books about the artists and the genres you like. You should also visit museums whenever you can and study the work of your preferred artists. When you have studied a thousand paintings, you will have developed your eye. You will know what you like. And more importantly, you will have a sense for quality.
You don’t want to start off spending lots of money. This can lead to costly mistakes. Begin by buying inexpensive pieces such as sketches from major artists (expect to pay $1,500 and upwards) and gouaches and paintings of second-tier investment-grade artists ($2,500 to $7,500). This sort of buying will keep your risk relatively low, so if and when you do make the occasional mistake (like buying a fake or overpaying for a piece), it won’t break you.
When I first got started, one of the things I got involved with was a school of art called CoBrA. CoBrA is an acronym for Copenhagen, Brussels, and Amsterdam. It was a period of art that officially took place from 1948-1952. It had a total of 10 or 12 artists in it, of which there were three major artists: Appel, Corneille, and Jorn. All of these artists hang in the major museums in the world.
I knew their art would never be worthless. This was a good group to begin with because it was small. It took place over a small period of time, it comprised a small number of artists, and each of them was recognizably different.
In other words, it was easy to study. So I began by collecting these three artists. I bought sketches and crayon pieces at first because they were cheap, and afterwards I sold some of them at a profit and “traded up.” Eventually, I was able to purchase a very nice collection of good pieces that have appreciated over 300%.
Tom: Okay, so let’s say I’ve done all that. I’ve picked my genre and my artists, I’ve spent months pouring over paintings and visiting museums. When I’m ready to buy, how do I know what’s a fair price, or how to value a piece of art?
Mark: That’s actually easy. But you have to ignore what the pundits say. Art pundits say that valuing art is impossible because it’s subjective. That is true in terms of the pleasure you get from art but it is not true of the investment value of art.
From an economic perspective, art is valued by the marketplace, just as stocks are. An artist’s work is valuable because important critics at some point decided it was good. Because of that, it went to the big museums. It got into books. It is taught in art courses. And when it goes to auction, people bid it up.
Once there’s a ten- or twenty-year market for a particular artist, the value of his art is unlikely to collapse. By that time, so many people—museums, brokers, and wealthy collectors—are invested in it. None of them, if they can help it, will allow it to collapse.
Who is ever going to say that Rembrandt wasn’t a great artist? Or that his paintings aren’t worth millions of dollars? Nobody. That doesn’t mean he was the best Dutch painter of his time. If you look at paintings by his contemporaries you might think that some of the other Dutch masters (or even a few of the minors) were just as good. But Rembrandt’s values will hold.
Why are his paintings worth a hundred times more than another one that is technically just as good? Because history has decided it should be so. Art critics—experts, people who dedicated their lives to studying art, have decided. The marketplace has put a value on it, and that’s what makes it more valuable.
When you’re collecting art, you’re collecting the history of what art critics have decided. You might disagree with them on an aesthetic basis, but you’d be foolish to disagree with them with your money.
My point is that the value of art, from an investment point of view, is not subjective at all. It is objective. More objective and easier to predict, in fact, than stocks.
You can read the conclusion of this interview here.
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Posted January 24, 2012 at 3:44 am
by Joshua Brown
I get a lot of inquiries about investment help from people that aren’t suitable for what I do or people who simply don’t yet meet our minimums.
I hate having to turn folks away, especially loyal readers or people that truly need assistance and can’t find anywhere to get it in an unbiased way.
So with that in mind, I’m laying out my Twenty Common Sense Investing Rules.
Please understand that these are not intended to be taken as Iron Law applicable in all situations nor are they meant to be specifically geared toward any one person.
This list of rules is simply my accumulated common sense, learned in victory and defeat (lots of defeat) and it can be applied to a plain vanilla portfolio within one day.
The below is for ordinary investors, not professional traders or those aspiring to become professional traders [continue]…
Posted January 12, 2012 at 1:12 am
Stocks hit a five-month high on Tuesday, but pros still caution against making any major portfolio changes. Here’s what they do recommend.
via Smart Money
Someone living under a rock for a year might wonder why everyone lamented about the market’s “volatility.” The S&P 500 basically ended 2011 where it started, and 10-yearTreasurys are still paying near-record-low interest rates.
But that end-of-the-year calm masked 12 months where the market had a 25% up-and-down swing. Experts are generally predicting some stronger numbers from the markets and world economies for the year ahead, financial advisers are preparing for volatility to continue and taking steps to smooth out portfolios.
While investors will want to continue to look abroad for opportunities, experts say the U.S. could be the best place for safety in 2012. Domestic earnings are likely to continue to rise, while the U.S. job market should slowly improve, says Chris Hobart, chief executive officer of Hobart Financial Group in Charlotte, N.C.
“It’s like we’re the least dirty shirt in the dirty laundry,” he says. Every few weeks, SmartMoney checks in with financial planners about the right mix of assets for investors in different life stages.
Posted January 10, 2012 at 3:38 am
by Martin Conrad
Studies of investor behavior tell us some surprising things about the decisions they make. Two results are particularly striking.
First, 85% of sell or exchange decisions are wrong — the investor would do better by doing nothing or going the other way that 85% of the time. Simple random decision making (with no investment knowledge) would have yielded about 50% good decisions.
The second result follows from the first one: In the 20 years ended 2008, a period that included the best decade of performance ever for stocks, the average stock-fund investor averaged only a 1.9% annual return (due to consistently poor buy and sell decisions) even though the average stock mutual fund returned 8.4% annually over the same period. With compounding, the difference was about ninefold (402% vs. 46%) over 20 years.
This is a compelling demonstration of the illusion of control, the mistaken belief that better results come from more-direct, detailed control and using it to make lots of decisions and transactions.
Investors are not particularly stupid or ignorant people, but they did make millions of stupid investment decisions with horrible consequences. How to explain such remarkable effects?
More generally, why is successful long-term investing so difficult? [continue]…
Posted January 4, 2012 at 1:50 am
by Stephen Ciccone
If you’ve never made a New Year’s resolution, you’re in the minority: One 2006 study found that more than 80 percent of those surveyed had once promised to, say, eat, smoke or spend less after Jan. 1. Unfortunately, research also shows that 80 percent of these resolvers fail.
Why do they make promises they can’t keep? It’s new year optimism — the idea that, whatever happened between February and December, things will be better in January.
It’s no different on Wall Street. We start the new year thinking that, as we become better people, our investments will perform better as well. In a recent paper in the Journal of Behavioral Finance, I connected January optimism to an overall rise in stock prices. The results were clear: Whether in boom times or in recession, bears hibernate in January, and positive-thinking bulls run free.
This “January Effect” has long been a mystery to market analysts. The market isn’t supposed to behave like another irresolute new year’s resolver. Despite being uncovered in 1942 by economist Sidney Wachtel and widely publicized after a 1976 study by professors Michael Rozeff and William Kinney, the phenomenon persists.
Two popular hypotheses try to explain these unusual returns. One is “tax-loss selling” — the notion that investors sell stocks in December to generate capital losses for their tax returns, then buy them back in January, pushing up prices temporarily.
The other, “window-dressing,” contends that money managers sell risky holdings in December to make portfolios look safer when reporting to clients. After the ball drops, they buy back what they sold, pushing January prices up.
Both explanations have their supporters, but neither adequately accounts for [continue]…
Posted January 2, 2012 at 2:20 am
by James O’Shaughnessy
Most investors would love to know what to expect from the investment markets in 2012. Of course, the problem is that over short periods of time it is difficult to predict which markets will be the best for investors.
The good news, however, is that if you take a longer-term point of view, it becomes much easier to make choices today. Often, the investment that appears the safest in the short-term is actually the most detrimental to your long-term financial health.
Take bonds, for example.
Over the last several years money has been pouring into bond funds just as it has been pouring out of stock funds. Yet, as I write this, the yield on the 10-year Treasury bond is at a record low of 1.73 percent. That means investors who buy the bond today and hold it through its maturity will earn a pittance over the next ten years, and that is before taking the effects of inflation into account.
Indeed, if we assume standard inflation over the next ten years, investors buying the 10-year Treasury will actually see the real, inflation-adjusted value of their portfolios decline over the period.
Contrast that with what you can earn with an investment in stocks. In the fourth edition of my book What Works on Wall Street, I featured an investment strategy that invests in market-leading companies with high dividend yields. Currently, the dividend yield on a portfolio of 30 stocks selected by this strategy is 6.83 percent!
You can enjoy significantly higher income than an investment in bonds, but also benefit from any capital appreciation the stocks might enjoy over the next decade.
Nevertheless, many readers worry about the value of their capital fluctuating in a volatile market, which brings us back to the ability to focus on the long-term when making financial decisions in the here and now.
I’ve studied the rolling 10-year increase in income from this strategy since 1963 and found that the average percentage increase in income from dividends over all previous ten-year periods was 148 percent!
What’s more, given where we are in the stock market—emerging from the second worst ten-year returns in over 110 years—history demonstrates that the future returns to the market over the next five- and ten-year periods will likely be strong.
When we analyze the 50 worst ten-year returns for the stock market since 1871, we find that the average real—or inflation-adjusted rate of return—for stocks over the next five- and ten-years was always positive, averaging 15.53 percent per year over all five year periods and 14.63 percent per year over all ten-year periods.
Thus, while the stock market may always be more volatile than other investments, I think that investors who can take a longer view will be much better off considering equity investment strategies like this one, rather than fleeing to the perceived safety of bonds.
James O’Shaughnessy is Chairman and CEO of O’Shaughnessy Asset Management. He previously served as Portfolio Manager, Director of Systematic Equity, and Senior Managing Director for Bear Stearns. O’Shaughnessy is the author of the bestsellers What Works on Wall Street, How to Retire Rich, Invest Like the Best, and Predicting the Markets of Tomorrow: A Contrarian Investment Strategy for the Next Twenty Years.
Posted December 21, 2011 at 2:55 am
by Brett Arends
Bear markets usually end with a whimper, not a bang. No one on Wall Street fired a pistol in the air in 1932, or in 1982, to announce that shares had stopped falling. These were some of the most interesting investing opportunities in the history of the stock market. But hardly anyone was interested.
Or consider the great bear markets in commodities, and especially in gold, in the 1980s and 1990s. They all petered out miserably a little over a decade ago.
Back then, you couldn’t even start a conversation about gold. People’s eyes would glaze over. They’d give a short, incredulous laugh if you brought it up, then change the subject.
I remember calling around London in 1999, trying to find any analyst who still covered the gold market. There were only a handful left. And none, it seemed, was remotely bullish — not even with gold around $260 an ounce.
One analyst thought it was headed below $100. It proved, in retrospect, the bargain of our lifetimes. But no one was interested. When the Bank of England sold off its bullion, it had some difficulty filling the orders.
There’s a lesson in all this. Sure, you can make a profitable trade in the assets everyone else hates. But you make the really serious coin in this life by [continue]…
Posted December 20, 2011 at 11:35 pm
by Barry Goss
Managing Editor & Publisher, The Wealth Vault
The problem with ‘gloom ‘n doom’ thinkers — or specifically chicken little infused investment analysts — is that they want to be RIGHT, about the future, all all costs.
To them, peril should one day come. When it does, they’ll get their 15-minutes of “I told you so” fame.
Some, even in the face of irrefutable facts that show their less-than-average performance as a money manager or investor, still cling to their the sky will be falling facade.
Yup, fear sells. It always has, it always will.
And, as sad as this is to say, there are people out there morally-tweaked to be ‘okay’ with always selling the potential of future peril, while ignoring ‘right now’ profits.
After all, isn’t it easier for them to throw out excessive and over-the-top warnings about what an investor should BEWARE of than to give them practical (and instantly useable) ideas to PROFIT FROM now?
The former platform just requires them to sound and seem concerned, due to their self-styled ways of expressing what one day may (or possibly can) happen.
But, if you’ve been reading any of our in-house commentary on our Wealth Wire blog, by now you get that we’re about ‘growing money’ through smart traders, managed accounts, and human ingenuity.
So, when I saw an recent episode of Stossel, I couldn’t help but shake my head to the point of exhaustion.
I’m not sure if it’s his voice itself that brought upon my “Are you kidding me!” grimace, or his kid like emotional state of “Well… I just don’t like them [China]” towards the end of the video that is at the bottom of this post.
Stephen Leeb could literally be the poster boy for Chicken Little Investment Analysts (CLIA’s), the world over.
Just ask yourself:
“Do I want to invest alongside somebody who attaches way too much significance to their own ideological hopelessness about the future — where their alarmist identity must force their research to match up their beliefs — or do I want to piggyback off the efforts of the world’s greatest speculators and traders?”
If it’s the latter, check out our informational video that covers our premium research…