Cycles and Sickles


In addition to wishing you a Happy New Year, we want to talk here about doing smart things on your account.

Everyone wants their portfolio to go up.  That part of our job description is simply enumerating fair expectations on your behalf.  Because we are Registered Investment Advisor under the Investment Act of 1940, our fiduciary duty to you is to act solely in your best interest to determine the best way to deliver on that expectation.  That’s our deal, and how we effect that end keeps us up at night with the trade-off that if I do it well it does not have to keep you up.

One of those ways is picking the right investments, which we suppose is hard enough by itself.  However, even if we took the right investments, that’s only part of the story; you have to act on those investments the right way.  If you are a farmer, you have to plant the right cash crops if you want to do well.  However, even if your crop yield is good, you’re not done.  No money arrives in the bank unless you successfully harvest that crop.  You have to put a sickle to that wheat or it will rot in the fields.  Prepping, planting, fertilizing, cultivating are all necessary, but (as they say) not sufficient.

The same thing for investments.  Investments, however, have the additional peculiarity of going in cycles, though not at the same time (in industry parlance, they have imperfect covariance).  In the United States stock markets, equities were up in 2013 and 2014 (dividends excluded, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA), was up 26.5% and 7.52%, respectively)[i].  Alternatively, international developed markets were up in 2013 by a nice amount (20% ‘ish), but are down 4-7% in 2014.  Lastly and no surprise with the lack of robust consumer buying in the developed world and the lowered commodity prices with energy prices noticeably in a glut, emerging market companies have experienced a down-cycle in both 2013 AND 2014.  Thus, we have the cycles spoken of, all with no prediction of trends that will play out in 2015.

What is the right thing to do now?  Staying on the farm vernacular, the best thing would be to take lemons and make lemonade.  If US prices are up, we should shave off a bit of the froth while times are good, and buy into the Developed and Emerging Markets.  This is not ‘betting’ but simply using all the soil available and planting in some areas while we harvest in others.  The correct Asset Allocation for you has already been determined but that does NOT mean doing nothing.  Contrarily, we use the natural ebb and flow of markets to try to take some of the risk out of your portfolio while still preserving the earning power we seek to beat inflation.

(That said, somewhere along in here one ought to take note of the fact that the real, inflation-adjusted prices of both oil and gold—at nominal levels of $60 and $1,200 respectively—are around half what they were at their 1980 peaks.  The S&P 500 at 2,000 stands at about five times its inflation-adjusted year end 1980 price, and has paid a ton of dividends in the interim.  Which was the superior inflation hedge? Ah, but we digress.)

Ying and yang.  Fear and greed.  Cycles and sickles.  The optimum answer is not to have one without the other, but to seek balance and use the best of both worlds.

[i] Dow Jones Industrial Average Yearly Returns and Overseas Indexes (from the website