Swings and roundabouts

The spectre of economic and market meltdown continues to recede after the panicky final quarter of last year. We now have an accomodating Fed, better than expected economic growth in the US, progress in trade negotiations with China and an imminent no-deal Brexit looking less likely. Valuations for high quality shares are becoming pretty demanding in some cases but not outlandishly so. I’m becoming more confident that 2019 is likely to be a good year for equities. There’s certainly been quite a steaming run so far. I’m pleased to be up about 10% but this doesn’t seem to be that special – the S&P 500 is up 12% after one of the best starts to a calendar year ever! Continue reading

Benchmarks for valuing growth

When making investment decisions, I focus much more on whether a business is high quality than on its valuation. However, I don’t think this means that valuations should be ignored entirely. Sometimes even high quality businesses become overvalued. In practice I am often put off buying businesses where the valuation doesn’t seem to be justified by the growth prospects. But I’ve found this very hard to judge – am I getting it right? Continue reading

SYK bought

It’s been a very positive start to 2019 for stock markets on both sides of the pond. There has been a fairly relentless rise since the Christmas Eve low. It’s starting to feel like the worst of the correction may be behind us. However, in the short term we seem to be near a point of inflection, with the US indices bouncing around near the 200 day moving averages and the FTSE not far behind. As ever, it could go either way from here. Either way, I’m feeling vindicated in my decision to remain fully invested through the recent volatility. I might have gained in the short term from selling out but it would have been bloody hard to decide when to get back in. Continue reading

Are corporate profits sustainable?

Next time your investments are on a roll and you catch yourself feeling the familiar symptoms of overconfidence, I recommend you check out the Hussman Fund’s market commentary. I’ve found the relentlessly bearish perspective put forward in all of Hussman’s articles to be a sobering antidote to any euphoria I might be feeling at the time. I disagree with some of the reasoning and certainly with the conclusions, but he does raise an issue that piqued my interest and is the subject of this post. Aggregate corporate profit margins are about as high as they’ve ever been. How sustainable is this?

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Unforced errors

Part of the rationale for starting this blog was that it would provide some discipline against acting impulsively and making unforced errors. I’m far from immune from fear and greed and the powerful impulses to act these emotions can generate. In the past I’ve occasionally succumbed to bouts of panic or impatience and made some pretty bonkers decisions as a result. Committing myself to record all of my trades and justify the rationale behind them publically provides a mechanism to restrain myself – it’s much easier to behave like an idiot when you think no-one is watching. Continue reading

Tea leaves and entrails

I could feel the uncomfortable prickling of sweat on my back as I peered through the smoke at my host. The scrawny tattooed shaman was excitedly prodding at the embers of the now-extinguished fire and etching out strange patterns in the sand with a burnt bit of stick. Every so often he would look up at me and solemnly utter incomprehensible phrases, waiting for me to acknowledge with a nod. I could pick out a few words from his unfamiliar dialect: ‘candlestick’, ‘shoulders’. However, I did not understand their meaning. My guide had warned me not to question the shaman as he worked. The guide would translate for me later.

After a few minutes of this the shaman began to get agitated. He had carved out a large cross into the ground and was repeating the same phrase again and again, looking up at me with a troubled but imploring expression. I looked at my guide who was also starting to look worried: ‘he says there is a Death Cross. Bad news coming. Maybe the Fed. We must go. Now’

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Yo-yo markets

The market outlook feels like it has improved a little over the last couple of weeks. There has been quite a bounce since the start of the year, the Fed has signalled more accommodating monetary policy and there seems to be progress of sorts in trade negotiations between the US and China. No doubt this is just a temporary high point before the volatility resumes, but it is starting to feel like the worst may be behind us (touch wood).

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