Smead Capital Management is a Seattle-based investment firm that manages a high quality, large-cap value portfolio with boringly dry turnover via separate accounts, subadvisory, and mutual funds in the United States and abroad. We are contrarians and welcome like-minded investors on this journey.
Quality is Missing the Point
I got very excited when I came across an excerpt from Jordan Ellenberg’s book, How Not to Be Wrong. His book was written to teach readers how much logic and common sense is provided by math. He tells the story of Abraham Wald during World War II, who worked for the Statistical Research Group (SRG).
There Is No Alternative (TINA)
We hear numerous market strategists talk about stocks which are going up because “there is no alternative” to owning them. In the Wall Street vernacular, this goes by the phrase TINA.
Value’s Lifeblood is Performance Chasers
While listening to Rob Arnott on a recent Morningstar podcast, I became enamored with something that Arnott was emphatic about. He pointed out that the structural advantage of being a contrarian isn’t being smarter. Every winning purchase in the stock market comes as an opportunity cost to the seller.
The Inflation Cocktail is Being Mixed
Since the inflation cocktail is closely related to value stock outperformance, we are very excited about our future value investing possibilities.
Value in the Four-Minute Mile
Due to the pandemic, there is a sense of permanence on Wall Street to what has transpired. This permanence focuses on the changes that we have seen in the recent five months in our daily lives. These changes include shopping online versus shopping in-person, getting takeout versus sitting in a restaurant and working from home instead of talking sports around the water cooler with our colleagues.
Economic Normality: When? Sooner? Never?
In the time since COVID-19 hit the economy and stock market, there has been three phases. First, the question was ‘when’ will the economy return to pre-COVID normal? Next came ‘sooner or later’? Recently, we have moved to ‘will the economy ever come back’? For long-duration investors like us, what are the investment implications in where we are now in a U.S. stock market with many securities priced for ‘never’?
True Stories of Financial Euphoria Circa 1998-1999
When you are in a financial euphoria episode, like the one we are in currently, it is hard to visualize the impact it has when it breaks. Historically, it is the leading cause of stock market failure. We thought it would be helpful to discuss the secondary impact of the euphoria on common stocks.
The Fear of Stock Market Failure
The stock market is a big place with thousands of investments that you can make as an investor. It’s a frustrating place. There is a myriad of investing disciplines that you can seek out. As a millennial, my generation is learning this for the first time. Don’t kid yourself for one second: they will destroy wealth.
To Hell and Back
Everyone who owned common stocks in the U.S. went through hell in the first quarter of this year. The 36% decline in the S&P 500 Index in February and March was the fastest 36% decline of my lifetime. This hell was especially damaging to those of us who have a positive view of the U.S. economy over the next ten years.
The Boy Who Cried Wolf
The nice thing about being the boy who cried wolf is that you look stupid before you are proven correct and you look smart when you are right, but nobody believes you until it is too late.
Sins of Omission
With markets extremely difficult and volatile as we work through COVID-19, we thought it would be good to review important parts of our investment discipline. One way to do that is to consider stocks we found via our eight criteria for stock selection and did not keep long enough to get to their ultimate rewards.
Amazon vs. eBay: A Case Study in Business Models
On June 4, 2020, eBay (EBAY) released a business update to make investors aware that the quarantine circumstances have caused their business to perform “significantly better than expectations,” compared to their earnings report on April 29, 2020.
1972 + 1974 = 2020
The oddity of today’s stock market is exactly what any God-fearing value manager should pray for. There are very few scenarios in the last 50 years that can be used to model or forecast what is currently going on.
A series of charts and historical evidence exists in late May of 2020 which shows that the S&P 500 Index and the vast majority of institutional investors of all shapes and forms have concentrated their investments in the most popular stocks in the stock market.
Only the Lonely Can Play
Great investment opportunities are lonely. History shows us the crowd behaviors to avoid and the investment market circumstances to capitalize on. We believe we are at one of the great junctures, where the crowd thinks they unequivocally know the future.
We are big fans of Buffett’s theories about businesses with low capital requirements and the ability to throw off cash to owners. Unfortunately, he recently emphasized indexing and didn’t shy folks away from today’s glamour tech stocks which require more and more capital
Searching for Peter Lynch
Late last year, there were three people that we observed as optimistic about the prospects of the oil business. These people were Warren Buffett, Sam Zell and Peter Lynch. In revisiting their comments before and after the shutdown of the economy, we can see that two of the three have significantly altered their opinion.
Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting 2020: Buffett Contradicts Himself
Warren Buffett has been arguably the best asset allocator and value stock picker of the last 60 years. We are normally thrilled to sit in his classroom. Quite frankly, we were baffled by the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting held on Saturday in Omaha.
The Façade of Financialized Demand
The capital markets are a highly complex system, where perturbations can cause a tidal change. Every business around the world has been affected by Covid-19. For a profitable business anywhere, this is a calamity. For a business that was losing money before this, it’s a tombstone.
Munger’s Phone is Not Ringing
You have to love The Wall Street Journal writer, Jason Zweig. His extremely inciteful “Intelligent Investor” column could be called “Jason’s Wet Blanket,” because he seems to throw a wet blanket on most investment disciplines in U.S. stocks. This week’s wet blanket is designed to create even more desperation for value investors via his interview with Charlie Munger.
The Willingness to Look Foolish
This smashing of economic hopes, right before one of our brightest demographic phases, could be a bonanza which only those of us who are willing to look foolish can acquire.
The Blutarsky Moment
The year after I graduated from college, the movie Animal House debuted in 1981. With everything falling apart for the Delta fraternity, including grades and double-triple probation, all looked lost. At the point when others would give up, senior fraternity member, John Blutarsky, gave a spirited call to arms by reminding everyone that the U.S. didn’t give up when our Naval operations at Pearl Harbor were bombed on December 7, 1941.
Panic Selling Exacerbates Bargains
This year feels so much like late in 1981, late in 1999 and late in 2008 to us. The first reaction by investors was to flush whatever they had left in economically sensitive stocks. Then, as if there hadn’t been enough torture for value investors today, Saudi Arabia decided to chop the knees out from under the oil industry in the U.S.
Beware Lazy and Sleepy Investors
Investors have been awoken to the carnage of the last three weeks. These circumstances, while unenjoyable, may be hiding the actual problems with today’s market. The unforeseen circumstances of today are no different than the past.
Viral Collapse of Economic Optimism
Those of you who have been with us recently know that we are calling the recent decline in value stocks a capitulation in a value investing depression. The coronavirus has sucked all the economic optimism out of a market which has hugged tightly to large growth companies providing reliable sales or earnings momentum.
Berkshire Hathaway: No Urgency in the Urgent Zone
To us, Warren Buffett is the greatest value investor of our time. He wrote the annual letter to his Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.B) shareholders on February 22, 2020. This letter happens to coincide with some of his worst relative performance in the last year to five years.
Ethics in Stock Picking
A truly interesting contradiction is developing in stock markets around the world. A number of major corporate executives are calling for businesses to be judged by something other than the net present value of their future earnings or other conventional business/investment metrics.
Buffett on Aesop and Cinderella
In the annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders in early 2000, Warren Buffett attempted to remind everyone why value investing works, despite the financial euphoria all around him at that time. We will revisit this valuable lesson and draw implications for reviving enthusiasm for value investing at a point eerily similar to early 2000.
The Auto-matic Era Ahead: It’s Greased Lightning!
In a recent piece, Bloomberg journalist Keith Naughton laid out a wonderful counter-argument to the consensus of opinions for what the future looks like. His piece, “Millennials Could End Up Being a Boon to the U.S. Auto Market,” talks about the good news of the auto businesses future via Benchmark analyst Mike Ward’s research.
Antithesis of 1981
One of our favorite financial writers is Bloomberg’s John Authers. He recently wrote a tongue-in-cheek article about an investment company by the name of Hindsight Capital. In hindsight, or in the company’s case, Hindsight Capital, he talked about what the firm did and what you should have done over the last ten years to produce outstanding returns.
Newton’s Third Law in Action: ESG
One of the exciting buzz words among advisors and institutional investors is ESG, which stands for Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance. This subject is almost always granted a wonderful panel reception at any conference our firm attends as it is the topic du jour.
Riding Winners to a Fault
In a recent appearance on CNBC, we were asked about what we do with stocks we own which have run-up recently. They asked us how we plan to handle Disney (DIS), JPMorgan (JPM) and Target (TGT) after those stocks enjoyed strong price increases this year.
Teeter-Totter Stock Market
One way of thinking about the share price of a common stock is the price range as a teeter-totter. When the psychology of investors is very negative, enthusiasm for the company hits the ground. On the other end, when everyone is in love with a company’s shares, their end of the board can’t seem to get any higher. Where is the board end hitting the ground currently and who is stuck up in the air on a psychological high?
Keynes’ General Greatness from Chapter 12
In 1936, John Maynard Keynes penned his work The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. Most of the work was trying to strike against the consensus of economics. Many in the intellectual communities of the west believed in the classical theory of economics.
Is Grave Digging Extremely Dangerous
We have argued recently that since almost nobody is worried about inflation, there are wonderful opportunities for investments which would benefit from the crowd being wrong.
Nobody Knows Nothin’ at Psychological Extremes
As Carl Icahn bailed out on Occidental Petroleum (OXY) common shares recently, selling spread as traders and algorithms begged on more selling.
When Revenue Growth Collapses
In the revenue growth world of the last five years, this make-believe company would be a huge success story. They would tout a 100% growth in sales the second year and ask investors to ignore the doubling of the loss from $100,000 to $200,000 for the sake of growth.
In financial euphoria episodes, investors become immune to the risks of capital destruction by blacking out to their normal risk aversion. Usually these episodes come from extrapolating the recent past out many years into the future. What can we learn from other disciplines about blacking out? How did this happen with investors in the past and where are risks in the U.S. stock market blacked out today?
“Money for Nothin’”: Have we met Dire Straits?
When baby-boomer adults were in their twenties, we sang along with Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits. Their song, “Money for Nothing” defined the era of music videos. We got cable in 1981 and will admit that we were glued to the TV watching music videos of the bands and performers we loved.
Seeing the Baseline
We live in a world defined by change. Anyone in doubt need only wait a few days to be reminded. Humans endeavor to measure it, describe it, and develop strategies designed to control it.
The Milken Approach
Michael Milken rose to the top of Wall Street by way of the Wharton Business School with Drexel Burnham Lambert in tow. Milken’s work at Wharton was founded on the core theory that bond investors were rewarded by taking junk bond risk.
Battle Royal Markets
Over the last ten years we’ve seen the rise of the Battle Royal markets and the shift away from one-on-one investing. There are all sorts of different battle royal’s, but the ones I watched as a kid were the biggest events in pro wrestling...
It is human to want to win and we are pre-programmed as children to get what we want quickly. Then we become adults in need of good investment returns and we are forced to operate in longer time frames of five to ten years. Only mavericks want to do what is needed.
Money Goes Where Treated Best
We believe money always goes where it gets treated the best. A recent article detailing the most attractive places in the U.S. for millennials to buy a house included the following cities, and that has implications for investing, not just nesting.
Unforgettable and Uninvestable
One of the all-time classic ballad songs is Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable.” The song gives us a great picture of what has been going on in the common stock market with meritorious companies which have been thrown in the bargain bin.
As rates fall to zero in most of the world, the line that has been ringing in our mind is “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave!” This is a chorus investors have sung through their capital allocations. We believe the Eagles provided an excellent understanding of what today’s market is giving investors in their song, Hotel California.
Munger and Icahn Make Oil Investing “Easy”
If you examine the portfolio of the Daily Journal, run by Berkshire Hathaway (BRKB) Vice Chairman Charlie Munger, you will see three main stocks. In 2009, near the market bottom, Munger purchased shares of Wells Fargo (WFC), Bank of America (BAC) and U.S. Bancorp (USB).
A Wizard’s Spell
In a recent interview by CNN’s Fareed Zakaria with Bill Gates the founder of Microsoft, Gates reflected on the wizardry of Steve Jobs and his ability to “cast spells on people.” Since Gates was a tech-magnate in his own right, his “minor wizard” status gave him the ability to identify the spells Jobs cast on employees and the world at large.
The Price of Knowledge
The stock market has a history of torturing highly-valued knowledge. About every seven years a consensus forms around the fastest growing sector of the stock market, or the fastest growing country, or the fastest growing industry.
Political Football Stocks
In today’s missive, we would like to discuss the tribulation arising out of political scrutiny and the sectors or companies suffering at the hands of political football.
Patience and Free Cash Flow
Why is free cash flow so important in common stock selection? First, you must think like the owner of an entire business. As a sole owner, the cash flow leftover after all obligations are paid is all yours. The more of it you get, the richer you are!
Value Investing: Business as Usual
For most millennials like myself the last ten years have formed what we believe the business to be: a bull market reinvigorated by the whims of the Federal Reserve Board. If anchoring is a powerful force in investor behavior, the anchor at the depths of our millennial beliefs is that value hasn’t worked.
The Risk Pendulum
A series of important factors in the U.S. stock market are in play which beg the question, “Are we at the beginning of a risk cycle or at an ending?” The answers will have a bearing on what to own and where to be positioned going forward. These thoughts won’t be exhaustive, but we hope to get you thinking on a few important subjects.
The Inevitables 2
As I watched this year’s Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting, one thing struck me. There was sheer enthusiasm around the annual shareholder meeting for anything tech-oriented. Yes, it was disclosed that Berkshire had taken a position in Amazon that Friday, but it goes deeper.
Did Vanguard Kill Wall Street’s Golden Goose?
Many are wondering why the market for Initial Public Offerings (IPOs) has performed so poorly, even though the flood of hot new ones came to market recently. It took three years to choke demand for money-losing dot-com IPO companies back in 1997, even though Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan called the mania for tech stocks in late 1996 an “irrational exuberance.” What has killed the goose which traditionally laid the golden eggs on Wall Street?
The Beyond Meat Market
We have written a good deal about the parallels of today’s market with the tech and telecom bubble of the late 1990’s. While no two time periods are ever the same, today’s rhymes are eerily similar in some respects, with the latest development in initial public offerings (IPOs) as the latest example.
Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting 2019: Who is Judas Iscariot?
Charlie Munger set the tone for the 2019 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting. He said that people involved in creating cryptocurrencies, “honored the life and work of Judas Iscariot.” On many major subjects, questions were fired at Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger related to short comings which self-proclaimed expert observers see at Berkshire
Clash of the Titans
We believe the U.S. stock market will come down to a clash between one very positive forward-looking set of facts and a very negative set over the next ten years.
Stock Market Morality
The history of the stock market lays some reliable markers for long duration investors when it comes to these morals. First, in the long run, a basket of the cheapest of the stocks in the S&P 500 Index has outperformed the expensive ones by 3.6% per year...
The Potential Illiquidity Bonanza
We believe there is a severe lack of liquidity in the stock market and it shows itself both directions. Good news is overly capitalized to the upside and bad news is more heavily punished than in prior eras.
My career started in 1994, which was a stealth bear market for stocks and an outright bear market for bonds. Fed Chair Alan Greenspan hiked rates seven times as he played catch up in response to a percolating economy that rediscovered its sea legs coming off the 1991 recession.
Underperforming Like It’s 1999
The singer, Prince, wrote about “partying like it’s 1999.” We can tell you that 1999 was no party unless you owned the most popular tech stocks and the hottest initial public offerings of the latest dot-com company.
Antitrust “Internet Style”
We consider ourselves excellent spectators of competition and look forward to March Madness this month. We are reminded that these very competitive games can’t take place unless there are rules and referees to officiate. Our long-time readers are aware that we have warned of the danger surrounding the aggregation of power by the monopolistic tech behemoths.
Just Do the Math!
We remember looking at demographic charts back in the 1990s which compared the population of the peak borrowing age group (28-40) with the peak savings age group (49-62). At that time, 10-year Treasury bonds were still yielding 7.5-8% and investors wondered where interest rates were going.
Buffett’s Annual Letter: Forest for the Trees
There is an old expression, “You can’t see the forest for the trees.” After reading through Warren Buffett’s 2018 Annual Letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders twice, we fielded questions from the media folks who reviewed the annual letter by focusing on very small trees mentioned by Buffett.
Channeling Warren Buffett
The most popular missives we write are associated with Warren Buffett’s annual letter to shareholders and the annual shareholder meeting in Omaha. This year we thought it would be fun to channel Mr. Buffett and attempt to write his letter for him.
Ph.D. in Used to Be
A popular song and a recent article in The Wall Street Journal reminded us of Edmund Burke’s quote and how important history is to the long-term success of common stock ownership.
All the Outcomes are Unknown
We go through life being taught far more certainty than is actually present. Life isn’t black and white, but instead various shadings of grey that end in black or white, only after the fact.
We See Dead Stocks
Financial euphoria episodes are a common occurrence in investment markets and the U.S. stock market. When a new one comes along, market participants accelerate their enthusiasm toward the end, which makes the shares of companies involved dead to us.
Dr. Jekyll Economy Meets Mr. Hyde Markets
In the famous book, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were one human being with a split personality. Dr. Jekyll healed people and Mr. Hyde murdered them. This economic environment and the U.S. stock market have the same kind of split personality.
Price for Clarity
The market hates ambiguity. That’s what we’re told, and on any short-term basis, we can see the market vote accordingly. In a world where investing has morphed towards algorithmic trading systems influencing daily volatility, many have come to accept this as a reasonable truth and participate by selling when things lose clarity or piling in when visibility is perceived.
C.I.a.P. Meets C.R.a.P.
Amazon recently announced that they are combing through the list of things they warehouse and sell to determine which items “can’t realize a profit” (C.R.a.P.).1 We found it very interesting how they are determining which items to pare from their website list.
Academia vs. The Real World – Part 2
We are revisiting our discussion of what the real world is like versus what academics claim in papers and debates. A good way of putting this is “Academia has a tendency, when unchecked (from lack of skin in the game), to evolve into a ritualistic self-referential publishing game.”
Academia vs. The Real World – Part 1
In preparation for a talk, I began to review Sir John Templeton’s track record with the Templeton Growth Fund (TEPLX), which he managed from 1954 to 1991. At the age of 34, with a father that broke into the investment business in 1980, I was very aware of Templeton’s success in his career, but unaware of how the results came to his clients.
The Tortoise Can Beat the Hare
Jessie Livermore was one of the greatest investors of all time. In the book, Reminiscences of a Stock Operator, Livermore explained that the single activity that made him the most money was, “sitting on my hands.”
Well Known Facts Can Hurt You
Our long-time readers are aware that we analyze the U.S. stock market through the prism of what we call “well-known facts.” A well-known fact is a body of economic information which is pretty much known to all market participants and has been acted on by almost everyone with available capital.
If I Fell, Again
Investors have called their five-year love affair with technology stocks into question over the last 35 days. For this reason, we at Smead Capital Management are calling in John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s beautiful ballad “If I Fell” to help answer the following questions.
Housing Consensus Dead Wrong
Most people tend to see what’s right in front of them, especially when it comes to housing affordability. Consider that most of the media organizations in the U.S. reside in the expensive coastal cities. These cities are suffering a decline in home values and contributing to a discussion on what higher home prices and higher interest rates could do to the number of new homes built nationwide.
Jerry Maguire Stock Market
The actor, Tom Cruise, is as enigmatic as the U.S. stock market. He has made many terrific movies over the years and today’s stock market reminds us of his classic sports movie, Jerry Maguire. Jerry was a top sports agent for a large agency and then suddenly, out of nowhere, was dumped out on the street with one client and a top college recruit to work with.
South Sea Forecast: Stockjobbing Becomes Technology
In 1720, the South Sea Bubble arose from what seemed to be good intentions. The South Sea Company was given an exclusive monopoly on the Spanish Americas in exchange for assuming a large part of England’s debt. The debt holders received preferred shares in the South Sea Company that paid 6% interest.
Framing the News
As contrarian investors and students of group-think crowd psychology, we look for investment opportunities in the way news is framed. There is an old Mark Twain saying, “Lies, damned lies and statistics.” We believe investors are getting mislead by statistics surrounding the U.S. economy and we will seek to dispel erroneous assumptions in search of long-term gains in the stock market.
Road Not Taken
We have written profusely about the investment myopia of today which has focused on “growth at any price companies” without regard to profits or free cash-flow. We do this because we know success in investing requires a healthy degree of discomfort for it to be profitable, and we know how much comfort today’s investor has found by owning what has worked.
Crowded Trade Exit
The recent action in the stock market seems to be governed by crowd psychology and reminds us of a theory we created in college called the “coat theory.” Back in the 1970s, the fraternities and sororities at my alma mater hosted several mixers so the students could get to know each other better.
Big Tech’s Three Identical Strangers
The U.S. government must determine how to deal with the negative consequences of some of the last decade’s most successful internet-based businesses. Alphabet, Facebook and Amazon grew up as strangers and have developed monopolies in search, social media and in e-commerce.
Disciplined Opportunism: Templeton and Price Revisited
For Templeton and Price to execute a “new era” approach today, we believe they would likely advocate avoiding the S&P 500 Index, mutual funds and ETFs, emphasizing growth stock investing and they would be very careful with ownership of anything related to technology. Price recognized that growth eras don’t continue forever and Templeton went wherever he thought he could make great money buying companies at depressed prices with positive economics. We believe our eight criteria for common stock ownership will shepherd us through this “new era.”
The Temperature of Market Leadership
At Smead Capital Management, we want to avoid excitement and expense in the marketplace. When a sector of the stock market gets white hot, there are usually a few stocks which dominate the market activity and see explosive price appreciation. We like to think that one of them becomes the thermometer of the market, in effect showing the temperature of the stock market.
Smoked in 1999 or Vaped in 2018 What You Pay Buying Shares Matters
It is no secret that the U.S. stock market has been completely addicted to discounting the future success of the most popular technology stocks. Momentum-based growth investing has had many bouts of success in the past, but this is the first episode in an era where indexed mutual funds and exchange traded funds (ETFs) were the largest aggregate owners of the largest capitalization companies.
Investment Humility and Economic Recovery
We make every effort to understand the way that investors go to extremes over what we call the “well-known fact” in the stock market. A “well-known fact” is a body of economic information which is known to virtually everyone in the marketplace and has been acted on by anyone with capital.
The Jim Carrey Parable
Today’s popular stocks have literally overwhelmed the stock market in the last four years and six months. To understand today’s financial euphoria, we will analyze three terrific movies made by the actor, Jim Carrey. In Liar Liar, The Truman Show and in Bruce Almighty, we learn morals which we believe should guide us in the long-duration investment process.
Global Dominance via Stocks, Not War
In the 1960’s, the slogan “Make Love, Not War” became a rally cry for anti-war protestors, but also typified their free love expression. They used the slogan to explain the harshness of the situation in Vietnam and to be countercultural to the capitalist and traditional way of life they saw in American society.
The stock market has put on quite a show over the last decade. Including dividends, domestic stocks have nearly quadrupled since the bottom in March 2009. Most of the crowd missed the best parts of the broader show, but that hasn’t stopped the excitement being built around the encore.
The Voting Machine vs. The Weighing Machine
The patriarch of value investing, Ben Graham, once said, “In the short run the market is a voting machine, but in the long run it is a weighing machine.” His statement is just as profound as the day it was first spoken. However, it is timelessly mystifying to most investors.
2018: The Math is Simple
We believe the math of common stock investing is pretty simple. When you buy a stock without leverage, you can only lose your original investment. Your gains can be unlimited over the longest term (long duration). Most of the benefit (90%) of diversification is reached by owning a twelve-to-eighteen stock portfolio...
Zero Cost of Capital
Massive investor popularity can produce some pretty strange circumstances in the U.S. stock market. Mark Twain said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes!” Today’s strange occurrence has been called a “zero cost of capital” and it rhymes with what happened in 1999-2000.
Imagining the Stock Market in Ten Years
What will the next ten years look like in the U.S. stock market? As we often do, we refer you to one of our favorite songs, “I Can Only Imagine,” and a book by George Friedman, The Next 100 Years. We believe the best performing securities of the next ten years will be very different from the securities and the sectors which currently capture the “popular imagination” of investors.
Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting 2018: A Mirage of Feelings
Much like the 1975 Billboard top ten hit song, Feelings, Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger laid out their feelings on a variety of issues in Omaha at the Berkshire Hathaway (BRKB) Annual Meeting. We believe even the greatest investors of all time are being influenced by a mirage.
Stretching for Gilded Poles
Elon Musk is possibly the most interesting man in the world, in our opinion. His nobility comes from his past as a founder of PayPal, but his popularity only grows in this era as he seeks to tackle big projects that include the car business, space, mass transit and other subjects.
Mr. Market Grasps the Esoteric
We are reminded of Ben Graham’s Mr. Market analogy. In his analogy, the stock market is like having a business partner (Mr. Market) who offers to either buy or sell his half of the business to you, based on how the business is doing.
The Good Shepherd Investor
David was the King of Israel and the writer of many of the Psalms. He spent his formative years as a shepherd and framed his life’s work around the key concepts from his profession. Herds were the primary form of wealth back then, while common stocks are a primary form today.
Is Good Health Worth the Cost?
Healthcare companies overcome great risks to succeed, but can gain incredibly profitable businesses in the process.
The Heart of the Matter
I came across a book titled The Matter of the Heart by Tom Morris that is a great history of the medical accomplishments and advances for the human heart. Mr. Morris details eleven operations and their evolutionary success over the course of the book.
Betting Against the Flows
Money flowed into passive investment vehicles at an ever-increasing rate in 2017. It was a record year for these products designed to replicate a stock market index and agnostically own a basket of securities without discretion.
The World is Not Enough
A few weeks ago, I caught myself pulled in by an old James Bond classic, The World is Not Enough, starring Pierce Brosnan. In the movie, an oil heiress, Elektra King, is kidnapped. While in captivity, she becomes a victim to Stockholm Syndrome and plots with her captor to destroy an oil pipeline running to the Bosphorus Sea. There is a scene in the movie that encapsulates where we are in today’s stock market environment.
Buffett Whispers of Danger
In the 2017 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Letter, Warren Buffett told us what he is doing, and, in as quiet a voice as he could use, what he says to do. Our readers will not be surprised at our summation of Buffett’s letter, but here we go anyway.
In the movie, Minority Report, Tom Cruise plays a policeman in a world where crimes are predicted ahead of time. Cruise’s character gets accused of a future murder and he is forced to work incredibly hard to acquit himself of the anticipated crime.
Buffett’s, Bezos’ and Dimon's Tapeworm
Warren Buffett, Jeff Bezos and Jamie Dimon recently announced that their three companies will form a non-profit entity to attempt to drive down healthcare costs for them and possibly other companies. In the process of making the announcement, Buffett called the healthcare sector of the U.S. a “hungry tapeworm” in the economy.
Value Investing’s Dark Hour
Is the underperformance by most large-cap value investing strategies in this lengthy bull market the “darkest hour” for value investors? This is the longest underperformance stretch of four relatively poor stretches for value in the last 80 years.
Risk is Not High Math
Long term success in common stock ownership is much more about patience and discipline than it is about mathematics. There is no better arena for discussing this truism than in how investors measure risk. It is the opinion of our firm that measuring a portfolio’s variability to an index is ridiculous, because it is impossible to beat the index without variability.
As we enter 2018, numerous uncertainties are dominating the minds of American citizens and investors. We are happy to weigh in on what we consider to be both un-useful and useful uncertainties as they pertain to long duration ownership of common stocks.
Confusing Brains with a Bull Market
It is hard to think about 1981, my first full year in the investment business. Three-month Treasury bills were paying 18%, longer-term Treasury bonds yielded 15% to maturity and cheap stocks got 20% cheaper. In the summer of 1981, we saw a stock market decline from an already depressed market trading at eight-times after-tax profits down closer to six times.
Gold Rush to Tech Rush
Over the weekend I stopped to watch the last part of a James Stewart Western called, The Far Country. It was the story of two cattle drivers who took their cattle all the way to the Yukon to get a piece of the late 1890’s Klondike gold rush.
A massive amount of stock market capitalization is tied up in companies based on both their potential market share and hypothetical future profits. The popular arguments in their favor come from looking at a company’s total addressable market (TAM). Sky high price-to-earnings ratios and massive capitalizations are common in companies with a large TAM as we finish up 2017.
Investing Like the Mafia 2017
As famed market strategist Richard Bernstein has pointed out, investors should pattern common stock selection after the investment style of the Mafia. What causes the Mafia to get such good returns? How do they spot opportunities? Why should we as investors in publicly-traded common stocks emulate their behavior near the end of 2017?
Today’s Financial Euphoria
All major financial euphoria episodes hold aspects in common. Among our favorite books on investing is John Kenneth Galbraith’s A Short History of Financial Euphoria. More than any other economist, we admire his understanding of the connection between the securities markets and the economy.
Rise of the Rest
The first time I read Forbes magazine was in 1980 as a brokerage trainee in New York City. I was fascinated by the company stories and the way the top investment disciplines were analyzed. In the 100th Anniversary Issue—published in September 2017—over 100 successful business and investment people wrote a short essay.
Buying Value in a Good Ol’ Bull Market
Many well-regarded experts have weighed in on the length and the pricing of common stocks eight and one half years into this bull market. They range from the dire warnings of perma-bears like Marc Faber to more reserved warnings from Howard Marks and Robert Shiller.
Value’s Lazarus Moment
In the Bible, Jesus arrives to help his friend Lazarus a few days after he had already died. His friends Mary and Martha were very disappointed because they thought all hope was lost. As the story goes, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.
Large-Cap Value Farming
Value investing is very similar to farming. A farmer needs fertile ground, well-planted seeds, unshakable patience, loads of sunshine, watering and weeding, as well as a great deal of courage and faith to succeed in the long run. Today, we believe that investors need to reexamine the benefits of a value investing approach toward the end of an era which has rewarded growth stock investing.
We Didn’t Start the Fire
What should long-duration common stock owners like us do with the news of the horrific flood in Texas, the Category 5 hurricane in the Caribbean, the heightened tensions created by North Korea’s Dictator, Kim Jong-un, and the 8.1 magnitude earthquake in Southern Mexico? What is wise behavior in a more volatile stock market environment created by outside events?
Intense Bargain or Value Trap?
As value managers, we are often asked if a company whose stock price is down substantially is a value trap. This is especially true when we are auditioning new holdings. We like to buy a company with a long history of success when it falls deeply out of favor for one reason or another.
Foregone Conclusions Become Well Known Facts
We’ve heard Warren Buffett continue to repeat an important phrase, “what the wise man does in the beginning, the fool does in the end.” This begs the question, when does a foregone conclusion become what we call “a well-known fact”?
Death of the Internal Combustion Engine
The stock market is discounting an accelerating rate of technological change in our society. A mad dash by investors is anticipating a world organized like “The Jetsons” cartoon from my childhood. We thought it would be useful to look back at other points in time where great technological change was anticipated and see how that worked out for S&P 500 Index investors.
Get Rich Slowly
A Forbes article of July 1974 profiled John Templeton and highlighted some of the wisdom he implemented in his investment process. The article touched on his discipline of consistently praying to God “for wisdom and clear thinking” at the start of each directors meeting for the Templeton Growth Fund.
What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger!
As we look out into the second half of 2017, it is important to understand that we believe the U.S. stock market has tried to “kill” investor enthusiasm. We would argue this enhances the position of the value-oriented and long-duration equity manager in a way that that doesn’t kill us and makes us “stronger.”
Hey, You, Get Off My Cloud
Walmart (WMT) recently made it clear to vendors that they should “get off” Amazon’s Cloud. This was one of two announcements which speak to the competitive landscape of business in the U.S. The other announcement came earlier when Amazon (AMZN) disclosed an agreement to buy Whole Foods (WFM) for $42 per share in cash.
The General Theory of Reverse Float
During the most-recent Berkshire Hathaway Shareholder Meeting, Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger reiterated a point during the question and answer portion that has stuck with us. We feel compelled to share what we learned.
The Only Game in Town
At the end of my freshman year in college (1977), my brother-in-law’s twin brother called me to ask if I wanted to go to the sixth game of the NBA Finals in Portland. I was a huge Trailblazer fan and was thrilled to sit in the top row of Memorial Coliseum, which held 12,665 fans. Not only was it an unbelievable experience for a lifelong fan (the Blazer’s won), but it was even more powerful because professional basketball was “the only game in town.” No other major professional sport (football, basketball, baseball) existed in Portland in 1977 and there is only one in town today.
Revisiting Buffett’s 1999 Warning: Interest Rates, Orgies, and Value
We thought it would be very helpful to review Warren Buffett’s argument in 19991, the last time there was very high expectations attached to technology stocks and to the overall level of common stock prices. We will reference Buffett’s quotes by the year he said them. The sections labeled 2017 offer our current observations on the markets and thoughts from respected experts.
Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting 2017: Four Keys for Investors
Each year we like to drill down on the wisdom imparted by Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger at the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting. This year, we thought there were four key takeaways we can consider in running our portfolio of common stocks at Smead Capital Management.
Why is the Stock Market’s Biggest Tightwad Buying?
As many of you know, we admire Warren Buffett and his “sidekick,” Charlie Munger. They seek out quality businesses at bargain prices and have a stunning record of success. Both personally and with stock ownership, they are notorious tightwads with their own money and the money of our common stock holding, Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.B).
Like a good attorney, we rarely ask a question for which we don’t have the answer. In the case of looking at sentiment in the economy and in the stock market, we like watching to get a feel for what our professional and individual investor clients are going through to see if it matches what we are hearing and seeing.
Own Meritorious Businesses—Not Stock Markets
The current circumstance in the U.S. stock market reminds us of the mid-1960s. We thought it would be helpful to review what was going on back then and what took place in the following 16 years. It makes us believe that you want to own wonderful businesses and de-emphasize trust in the stock market’s ability to meet the financial goals of long-duration investors.
Private Equity Masquerade
March 10, 2017 was the 8th anniversary of the bull market in stocks that began in 2009. While the economic recovery from that same period has been labeled many things including “muddle-through”, “new-normal”, or other various metaphors suggesting anemia, the stock market recovery has been quite the opposite.
Hard Day's Night
On a recent business flight, I watched The Beatles documentary (Eight Days a Week) which featured the song “A Hard Day’s Night.” The movie chronicled, via previously unseen footage, the early years of The Beatles and the mania surrounding their tours and albums. This documentary and song could teach us about how to navigate the stock market in the U.S. and what demographics mean to American culture and economic trends.
A Market of Extremes
A number of factors in the U.S. stock market are at historical extremes. We at Smead Capital Management like to look for what we call "well known facts" in the marketplace, also thought of as areas of extreme optimism and pessimism.
Should $20 a Barrel Be the Real Price of Oil?
In September of 2010, we argued that oil prices were trading on psychology and entrenched beliefs, and could possibly have a real price of $10 per barrel. Investor bullishness was driven by the belief in peak oil theory, the slow transition to electric and hybrid engines, and the use of the commodity oil as an investment in the China boom.
Our Place in This World
At a recent industry conference, we were confronted by a chart, a presentation and a song. In early 2017, we find ourselves in an investment world where the merit of stock picking and "active" portfolio management are challenged regularly, which has contributed to a mass exodus of assets from "active" funds to low-cost index portfolios.
In a recent TV appearance on CNBC, the legendary portfolio manager, Bill Miller, argued in favor of owning shares of Amazon (AMZN) because of the immensity of their "addressable markets." As contrarian investors, this got us thinking about our three core tenets of investing, what markets we want to address, and how to spot industries which are near what Sir John Templeton called "the point of maximum pessimism."
The Grand Divorce
Every great growth company hopes to make the transition from fast growth pioneer to sustainable growth blue chip. When the transition occurs, a grand divorce happens between the price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio and the future success of the business. What made us think of this was the annual forecasting dinner of the CFA Society of Seattle on the evening of January 19, 2017.
The Frightful Five and Investors’ Lament
We are great admirers of the writing of the elite business publications like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. They recently stepped into one of our favorite subjects, technology company hegemony, which has developed in the business world in recent years.
Outlook 2017—How Markets Work
Certain economic concepts have been a source of frustration to investors over the years. The movement of bond prices up or down to bring existing bonds in line with prevailing interest rates would be one example.
Mean Reversion and The Bell Curve
Over a three-year time period, stock prices tend to mean revert. This has spawned numerous investment approaches which try to squeeze capital gains out of those reversions.
Net Neutrality or Level Playing Field
It was announced on December 15, 2016 that the current Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Thomas Wheeler, would be stepping down as of January 20, 2017. He has been the lead arbitrator and backer of a concept called “Net Neutrality.”
Rising Rates Meet Nesting Urges
We at Smead Capital Management are in the camp of long-duration investors who believe we’ve entered an extended period of intermittent interest rate increases, a reversal from the 35-year era of intermittent declining rates we have experienced since 1981.
Analysts Expose Intermediate Tops
As long-duration common stock pickers we seek to buy meritorious companies which fit our eight criteria for stock selection.
Ooh, What a Lucky Man He (Trump) Was
During our discussions with clients in October we were asked repeatedly what the outcome of the Presidential election would do to our investments.
Presidential Investing: Sell Joy, Buy Misery
As an observer of ten presidential election cycles while working in the investment business, we thought it would be a good thing to give the current stock market environment some historical context.
Unlocking the Animal Spirits
The term “animal spirits” is a way to describe what drives human behavior to consume, take risk and engage the instinctual proclivities that are natural to economic living.
The 70-20-10 Rule
As a young stockbroker in the 1980’s, I was hungry for disciplines which could help me make money for clients. One of the most sensible things I came across was a theory by an investor that we refer to as the 70-20-10 rule.
Just One Look
We have a severe housing shortage in the U.S. which will take years to solve. It should drive economic growth for the next decade, provide good quality jobs and promote confidence which we’ve lacked since the financial crisis of 2007-2009.
Groupthink in the Death Zone
Bo Knows Good Companies are Rare
Mark Twain Says Pile Out
The Shot Heard Around The World
The Equity Valuation Paradox
Unseen Risks for Investors
Insatiable Demand for Safety
Tug of War
The Day the Globalization Music Died
The Coming Housing Boom: Millennials in Exile
Billy Joel and the Art of Investing
Mama Said There'll Be Days Like This
Warren Buffett on Hyperactivity
Good News in Newspapers?
Baseball and Investing: The Hunt for the Best Pure Hitters
Wise Beginnings and Foolish Endings: 1Q 2016 Newsletter
Portfolio Management: Which Risks to Take
Toll Bridge Stocks: Don't Just Do Something, Sit There
Political Punching Bags
Berkshire Hathaway Annual Letter: Cheap and Wonderful
The Waiting is the Hardest Part
The Big Long
Revenge of the Nerds
2016: The Year of the Foolish Critic
Breaking Up Is Hard To Do
Stock Market Control
Historical Rates Impact Common Stocks
Innovation and Scotch Tape
Drilling for Oil on Wall Street
We’ve Only Just Begun
Contentiousness Du Jour
3Q 2015 Smead Capital Management Quarterly Newsletter: The Red, Green, and Beige Room
What’s the Market's Biggest Risk?
Stuck in the Middle with You
Competing with the Alpha and the Omega
The Earbud Stock Market
Security Valuation: What Can Microsoft and Walmart Teach Us about Amazon?
Video Didn’t Kill the Radio Star
China’s Command Economy: The Gift That Keeps on Giving
Solomon's Long Duration Investment Wisdom
The 1982 Playbook
Peter Lynch on Today
Frank Sinatra on the Reinvestment of Unrealized Gains
Interest Rates Affect on Intrinsic Value
No Looking Back in Stock-Picking
Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice: Buffett’s 50th Shareholder Meeting
Crouching Tigers, Hidden Assets
Could Aflac’s Contentiousness Spell Wealth Creation?
1Q 2015 Newsletter: Eliminating the Confusion about Active Equity Management
Common Stocks: A Garden of Wealth Creation
Should You Buy in to Oil’s Secular Bear Market?
Buffett on the Value of Patient Optimism
Find Hated, You May Find Wealth
Keynesian Contrarianism: Where is the Minority Today?
Woody Hayes on Portfolio Management
The Cacophony of Earnings Announcements
Will Millennials Drive in 2-0-1-5?
Are Macroeconomists Rebuilding a Wall of Worry?
Those of you who follow us at Smead Capital Management know that we believe in the idea that good markets die on too much affection and continue due to a lack of affection. You also know that we want to own wonderful companies for a long time and do so through regular stock market corrections/bear markets over the years. Since the stock market bottom in March of 2009, this secular bull market has climbed on a wall of worry and on a lack of optimism.