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“Sell Everything!”

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Rick Kahler MS CFP

[By Rick Kahler MS CFP]

“Sell Everything!”

That’s the advice to investors from RBS, a large investment bank based in Scotland, which issued the dire recommendation to its customers on January 8th, 2016.

The warning urged investors to sell everything except high-quality bonds, predicting the global economy was in for a “fairly cataclysmic year ahead …. similar to 2008.” They said this is a year to focus on the return of capital rather a return on capital.

Stunning

I was first stunned that a respectable investment bank would issue such a radical recommendation. Then I was amused at my own surprise. I had momentarily forgotten this is logical behavior for a company whose profits depend on its customers actively buying and selling. It is not legally required to look out for customers’ best interests and has no incentive to do so.

Clearly, the time-honored way of earning market returns over the long haul is to diversify among asset classes, rebalance religiously, and always stay in the markets. The research is overwhelming that shows those who attempt to time the markets have significantly lower returns over the long haul than those who don’t.

Example:

For example, according to a study by Dalbar, Inc., over the last twenty years the average underperformance of investors and advisors that timed the market was 7.12% a year.

What’s so bad about trying to minimize loses and selling out when things begin looking scary?

Nothing. Who wouldn’t want to exit markets just in time to watch them fall so low that you could sweep up bargains by buying back in? Therein lies the problem: not only do you need to get out on time (not too early and not too late), but you must then know when to get back in.

The Crystal Ball

The only way I know to do this is to own a crystal ball, which the economists at RBS apparently possess.

Here are a few of the things they say to expect:

  • Oil could fall as low as $16 a barrel.
  • The world has far too much debt to be able to grow well.
  • Advances in technology and automation will wipe out up to half of all jobs.
  • Global disinflation is turning to global deflation as China and the US sharply devalue their currencies.
  • Stocks could fall 10% to 20%.

Prediction

The last prediction was the one that grabbed my attention. Given the comparison of the coming year to 2008, I expected a forecast of a significantly greater drop in stocks, say 40% to 60%. Comparatively, their forecast of 10% to 20% seems almost rosy.

While RBS is particularly gloomy, bearish forecasts have also been issued by other investment brokerage firms, including JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Barclays, Deutsche Bank, Societe Generale, and Macquarie.

Just for perspective, here’s a look as reported by The Spectator at previous predictions from Andrew Roberts, the RBS analyst who issued the recent dire warning. In June 2010, he warned,

“We cannot stress enough how strongly we believe that a cliff-edge may be around the corner, for the global banking system (particularly in Europe) and for the global economy. Think the unthinkable.” In July 2012, he said, “People talk about recovery, but to me we are in a much worse shape than the Great Depression.”

Incidentally, one thing Roberts did not predict was the meltdown of 2008.

***

212_1

“Sell Everything?”

***

Assessment

The inaccuracy of earlier dire predictions should encourage physicians and all investors to stay the course.

As usual, chances are that those who diversify their investments among five or more asset classes and periodically rebalance their portfolios will come out on top. The odds greatly favor consumers who ignore doom-and-gloom warnings, especially from those whose companies may profit from investor panic.

Conclusion

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***

Beware Medical and Money Management ‘Groupthink’

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Helping Doctors Understand Peer Comparisons

By J. Wayne Firebaugh CPA, CFP® CMP™

By Dr. David E. Marcinko MBA, CMP™

Source: http://www.CertifiedMedicalPlanner.org

More than a few mutual, hedge and endowment fund managers have noted that they commonly compare their endowment and portfolio allocations to those of peer institutions and that as a result, allocations are often similar to the “average” as reported by one or more surveys/consulting firms.

One interviewed endowment fund manager expanded this thought by presciently noting that expecting materially different performance with substantially the same allocation is unreasonable. It is anecdotally interesting to wonder whether any “seminal” study “proving” the importance of asset allocation could have even had a substantially different conclusion. It seems likely that the pensions and funds surveyed in these types of studies have very similar allocations given the human tendency to measure one-self against peers and to use peers for guidance.

This is a truism in medicine as well as the financial services sector.

Understanding Peer Comparisons

Although peer comparisons can be useful in evaluating your portfolio, or your hospital or medical practice’s own processes, groupthink can be highly contagious and dangerous.

For historical example, in the first quarter of 2000, net flows into equity mutual funds were $140.4 billion as compared to net inflows of $187.7 billion for all of 1999. February’s equity fund inflows were a staggering $55.6 billion, the record for single month investments. For all of 1999, total net mutual fund investments were $169.8 billion[1] meaning that investors “rebalanced” out of asset classes such as bonds just in time for the market’s March 24, 2000 peak (as measured by the S&P 500).

Of course, physicians and investors are not immune to poor decision making in upward trending markets. In 2001, investors withdrew a then-record amount of $30 billion[2] in September, presumably in response to the September 11th terrorist attacks. These investors managed to skillfully “rebalance” their ways out of markets that declined approximately 11.5% during the first several trading sessions after the market reopened, only to reach September 10th levels again after only 19 trading days. In 2002, investors revealed their relentless pursuit of self-destruction when they withdrew a net $27.7 billion from equity funds[3] just before the S&P 500’s 29.9% 2003 growth.

Amateurs versus Professionals [is there such a thing?]

Although it is easy to dismiss the travails of mutual fund investors as representing only the performance of amateurs, it is important to remember that institutions are not automatically immune by virtue of being managed by investment professionals.

For example, in the 1960s and early 1970s, common wisdom stipulated that portfolios include the Nifty Fifty stocks that were viewed to be complete companies.  These stocks were considered “one-decision” stocks for which the only decision was how much to buy. Even institutions got caught up in purchasing such current corporate stalwarts as Joe Schlitz Brewing, Simplicity Patterns, and Louisiana Home & Exploration.  Collective market groupthink pushed these stocks to such prices that Price Earnings ratios routinely exceeded 50 [nothing in the internet age]. Subsequent disappointing performance of this strategy only revealed that common wisdom is often neither common nor wisdom.

The Bear Sterns Example

Recall that The New York Times reported on June 21, 2007, that Bear Stearns had managed to forestall the demise of the Bear Stearns High Grade Structured Credit Strategies and the related Enhanced Leveraged Fund.  The two funds held mortgage-backed debt securities of almost $2 billion many of which were in the sub-prime market.  To compound the problem, the funds borrowed much of the money used to purchase these securities.  The firms who had provided the loans to make these purchases represented some of the smartest names on Wall Street, including JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, and Deutsche Bank.[4]  Despite its efforts Bear Stearns had to inform investors less than a week later on June 27 that these two funds had collapsed. The subsequent fate of these firms, and the history of the past two years, need not be repeated to appreciate that the king surely had no clothes.

Assessment

What broader message lies in this post relative to such medical initiatives as P4P, various clinical quality improvement endeavors and benchmarks, hospital peer-review, PROs, Medicare compliance, etc?  

Conclusion

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References


[1]   2001 Fact Book, Investment Company Institute.

[2]   Id.

[3]   2003 Fact Book, Investment Company Institute.

[4]    Bajaj, Vikas and Creswell, Julie. “Bear Stearns Staves off Collapse of 2 Hedge Funds.” New York Times, June 21, 2007.

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Bank Deals Similar to Goldman Sach’s Gone Awry

Other Major Banks Participated, Too?

By Marian Wang, ProPublica – April 16, 2010 1:36 pm EDT

As you may have heard, or read on this ME-P, Goldman Sachs is being sued for fraud [1] by the Securities and Exchange Commission [2] for allegedly misleading investors about a deal that Goldman helped structure and sell. In the civil suit, the SEC specifically faulted Goldman for failing to disclose that a hedge fund was helping create the investment while betting big the deal would fail.

According to the SEC, Goldman Sachs knew about the hedge fund’s bets, knew it played a significant role in choosing the assets in the portfolio, and yet did not tell investors about it. (Goldman Sachs has called the SEC’s accusations “completely unfounded in law and fact.” And in another more detailed statement [3], it said it “did not structure a portfolio that was designed to lose money.”) 

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=Goldman+Sachs&iid=8541566″ src=”0/4/f/8/The_Goldman_Sachs_7d6f.jpg?adImageId=12513388&imageId=8541566″ width=”380″ height=”568″ /]

In ProPublica

As we reported at ProPublica last week, many other major investment banks were doing a similar thing [4].

Investment banks including JPMorgan Chase [5], Merrill Lynch [6] (now part of Bank of America), Citigroup, Deutsche Bank and UBS also created CDOs that a hedge fund named Magnetar was both helping create and betting would fail. Those investment banks marketed and sold the CDOs to investors without disclosing Magnetar’s role or the hedge fund’s interests.

Here is a list of the banks that were involved [7] in Magnetar deals, along with links to many of the prospectuses on the deals, which skip over Magnetar’s role. In all, investment banks created at least 30 CDOs with Magnetar, worth roughly $40 billion overall. Goldman’s 25 Abacus CDOs — one of which is the basis of the SEC’s lawsuit — amounted to $10.9 billion [8].

One reporter Jake Bernstein explained the investment banks’ disclosure failures on Chicago Public Radio’s This American Life [9]:

On the Magnetar Hedge Fund

The role of Magnetar, both as equity investor and in their bets against the very CDOs they helped create were not disclosed in any way to investors in the written documents about the deals. Not the marketing materials, not the prospectuses, not in the hundreds of pages that an investor could get to see information about the deal was it disclosed that it was in fact Magnetar who’d helped create the deal, and who’d bet against.

That is, of course, along the lines of what the SEC is suing Goldman Sachs for now. The SEC’s suit also says CDOs like the ones Goldman built “contributed to the recent financial crisis by magnifying losses associated with the downturn in the United States housing market.”

Notably, the SEC did not sue the hedge fund [10] involved in Goldman’s Abacus deals — Paulson & Co. — or its manager, John Paulson. Instead, it’s going after Goldman. And as we pointed out in our reporting, there’s no evidence that what Magentar did was illegal [11].

Assessment

We’ve called the major banks involved in Magnetar CDO deals to see if they were concerned about similar lawsuits. Thus far, Bank of America, Citigroup, Deutsche, Wells Fargo (which bought Wachovia) and UBS have responded and have all declined our requests for comment. Here is Magnetar’s response [12] to our original reporting.

Conclusion

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