Performance review May 2014 – Comment “Leave the driver in the bag”
May was a strong month for the Benchmark (Eurostoxx50 (Perf.Ind) (25%), Eurostoxx small 200 (25%), DAX (30%), MDAX (20%)) with a gain of 3,2%. The Portfolio made 0,8%, an underperformance of -2.4% in May. YTD, the portfolio is up 9,2% against 5,3% for the benchmark. Interestingly, the portfolio was up every single month this year whereas the benchmark only was positive in February and May.
Best performer in May were the 2 Russian stocks (Sberbank +21,2%, Sistem +20,4%), Koc Holding (+8,6%) and Cranswick (+5,6%), loosers were Portugal Telecom (-12% without dividend), IGE & XAO (-5,4%) and TGS Nopec (-5%).
Portfolio transactions May
Major transactions in May were:
– Sale of second half of the Sias Position at 8,75 EUR (and missing the 5% rally in the last 2 days…..)
– Purchase of TRY 2020 Depfa Zerobond
– Increase of LT2 Depfa 2015
Cash is now at ~10% plus the 5% in the LT2 Depfa 2015 which I consider “cash equivalent”. The portfolio as of May 31st can be seen as always under the “Current Portfolio” page.
Comment: “Leave the driver in the bag”
Anyone who plays golf (yes, I play as well but badly….) likes to swing with the biggest club, the driver. If you hit the ball right, you hear a satisfying sound like “Ziiiinggg” and the ball goes really far. The problem ist the following: For most golfers it is quite difficult to control the direction. On the other hand, especially for players with high (bad..) Handicaps, you need the distance in order to have a fair chance for a good score.
More often than not, especially if you play on older golf courses, you are faced with a similar view from the tee-off:
Trees to the left, trees to the right and only a very narrow fairway and you cannot see the flag. If you hit the ball into the trees, you might not be able to find it and you get a penalty, destroying your chances on a decent score. Or you find the ball, but you need several strokes to get out of the trees again.
The much more reasonable strategy for an average golf player is to use a shorter club where the distance is much shorter but you have better control on the direction. Yes, if you hit the driver straight, you will be much better off than with the iron, but ane iron gives you a much higher probability to stay on the fairway. For professional players, this is a quite common problem. Especially if you play tournaments over 4 days where every stroke counts, one bad hole (out of 72) can kill the whole tournament. So professional golf players have to be pretty good in probablilities. They have to assess constantly what club gives them the overalll probability to get the best total score from any situation.
So why do I tell this “golf stories” ? The answer is easy, an investor is facing the almost same problems than a professional golf players. You can make really risky investments, like for instance a concentrated position in an expensive growth stock which would be the stock equivalent of a driver. Or a super cheap “deep value stock” with management problems and a high debtload. Great upside potential but also big risk the end up in the “trees”. As in golf, the investment environment plays a big role in deciding what amount of risk to take. When markets are cheap in general, then taking risk makes more sense as you are facing a nice and wide fairway.
If valuations are high and a lot of strange things are going on, you might want to leave your driver in the bag and use the investment equivalents of short woods or irons, like smaller positions and more defensive stocks.
The current market environment, especially in the “developed” markets with low yields to me looks very similar to the narrow fairway from above. Relatively high valuations, experiments from central bankers etc etc. in my opinion is faced best with a more “controlled” game, like smaller position more diversification, a prudent cash position and uncorrelated risks. Otherwise the risk of permanent loss of capital and missing the “Cut” is real.
What we actually see in the markets is currently the opposite. Especially pension funds, insurance companies and sovereign wealth funds are “taking out the big clubs” by increasing the risk of their portfolios to compensate for low yields. Suddenly real estate, private equity, high yield corporate bonds and illiquid infrastructure loans are considered perfect investments for conservative pension funds and life insurance companies. Those investors are betting fully on being able to “Control the driver” whereas in reality they might not even had a practice swing before. In my opinion there is a high risk that many or most of those investors will find themselves “in the trees” at some point in the future and cursing themselves for not being prudent before.
So my advice for anyone would be: Now is not the time to “swing for the fences”. Try to stay in the middle of the investment fairway with controlled (and known) risk taking. Don’t take badly priced illiquidity risk and/or credit risk. Don’t buy badly managed companies or troubled business models with concentrated position. On the other hand, don’t stop “the game” completely but play patiently and wait for the “wide fairways” i.e. low valuation environments in order to bring out the driver again.