The Poor Investor – Investigatory Value Investing

"Faber est suae quisque fortunae" -Appius Claudius Caecus

Tag Archives: sell in may and go away

Who You Know or What You Know?

I’ve recently finished my MBA and am now searching for employment opportunities. In this search I’m reminded, quite starkly, of the oft-quoted phrase, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” The great thing about the stock market is that it works in exactly the opposite way. In the stock market, it’s not who you know that matters but what you know. The market, as Ken Fisher puts it, is “The Great Humiliator” and does not care who you are or who you know, “it wants to humiliate everyone.” In fact, who you know often works against you and may even entice investors towards illegal activities, as exemplified recently by a few well-known individuals.

The “what you know” I’m referring to here is your own analysis of individual companies and the markets in general. In fact, if you would have listened to common wisdom (the “who”) you might have sold in May, went away and missed out on a 2.1% gain in the S&P 500. You might have missed the boat on Apple at around $427 a share when everyone was claiming the sky was falling only to watch it rise to $633 a share, a lost opportunity of $206 per share. Once, when I was new to investing, I told a friend not to invest in Sirius XM when it was trading around $0.30 per share and he missed out on a potential 10-bagger. Or, you might have listened to friends who told you to buy Facebook when it first went public at $38 per share only to watch it drop to $18 in the first three months.

Nothing works better in investing than coming up with your own conclusions. For one, you won’t have the conviction in the company you are buying if you go based off of someone else’s recommendation. Even if someone is spot on about a company’s valuation and tells you that company X will go from $5 a share to $15 a share—even if this person is absolutely right and has a compelling enough reason— are you going to be able to hold the company’s stock when it goes from $5 a share to $1 a share before it goes up to $15 a share? Will you really have that level of discipline and, more importantly, trust in someone else’s judgment? Only by doing your own analysis, coming up with your own valuation and buying a company that you have strong conviction in because you put in the hard work will you be able to hold through the downs (or buy more) and not sell too early during the ups. This person’s recommendation may be 100% accurate but you might be enticed to sell at $7 for a $2 gain because you just won’t have the commitment you would have had if you came up with the idea in the first place.

Secondly, if your investment is in a company someone else recommends, you probably won’t have any idea of what to look for when things are going south. Are insiders selling? Did a member of management leave? Is this good or bad? How do you know if you didn’t investigate the company thoroughly? Now, say, the company has to raise funds by issuing stock— is this good? Was this part of the company’s plan all along? If you weren’t following the company, if you didn’t do your homework, you wouldn’t have any idea on these questions or any others. There won’t be any tip-offs to tell you when things are going well or if the management is running the company into the ground when you don’t put in the long hours of work it takes to investigate a company thoroughly enough to have conviction in it.

These are just a few of the reasons why you need to think for yourself when it comes to investing. This is why I don’t like recommending companies, it takes away from a core part of what will make someone a successful investor. I like to use companies as examples to illustrate ideas and how to think about companies, not as advice for what to buy. And with that, I will leave you with a quote from the Oracle of Omaha himself:

“You have to think for yourself. It always amazes me how high-IQ people mindlessly imitate. I never get good ideas talking to other people.”  -Warren Buffett

“Sell in May and Go Away!”

After reading this week’s Barron’s I saw an interesting little chart that showed the growth of $100 if the “sell in May” strategy were followed, also known as the Halloween indicator (original research paper).  Surprisingly, if you had followed a strategy of investing $100 in the S&P 500 since 04/30/45 during October – April periods versus May – September periods, your $100 would have turned into $9329 in the former period versus $99 in the latter.

The chart in Barron’s:

One would think, after seeing this chart, that selling in May, or maybe even April to get ahead of the curve, would be a prudent investment strategy.  However, if you extend the timeline out a bit more you get a picture that looks like this (this chart uses May-Oct. and Nov.-April, however, it is more representative due to the fact that the months are split 50/50, as opposed to 58/42 in the above chart):

Now, you may have noticed that November – April still outperformed.  However, clearly, if you had ignored the period from May – September you would have missed out on some nice gains during this time frame, as a buy-and-hold strategy through all periods worked best.  But what is the difference in periods due to?  If you look at the average returns by month since 1925, you’ll see quite readily:

It seems one of the major culprits is September.  So why not sell in September?

As Ken Fisher points out in his book “Debunkery,” from which this chart was first found, the two worst Septembers (which are notably in the May – October period) were down 29.6% in 1931 and 13.8% in 1937, due to the Great Depression.  All other months, on average, offered gains over the long haul.

What else accounts for the big downtrend in the May – October period:

  • Panic of 1901: May 17, 1901
  • Panic of 1907: October 1907
  • Black Monday: October 19, 1987
  • Friday the 13th mini-crash: October 13, 1989
  • Economic crisis in Asian: 1997 mini-crash: October 27, 1997
  • September 11th attacks: September 11, 2001
  • Internet bubble bursts: October 9, 2002
  • Global Financial Crisis starts: September 16, 2008
  • 2010 Flash Crash: May 6, 2010

To name a few…

Who is to say the next big stock market crashes won’t happen to coincide with April or July, the best performing months on average?

Bottom line: Don’t rely too much on statistical anomalies and try to “time the market” or you might be left holding the bag.

—-Written by: The Poor Investor

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