According to Bloomberg the worlds top tech stocks have gained $1.7T in value in the beginning of the year…….
Whilst wading through all the associated bibs and bobs that accumulate when you are away, this article popped into my feed this morning. For those too lazy to read it and I wouldn’t blame you it is a mild hysteria piece by Fairfax on the collapse of China’s state owned energy producers – PetroChina. Apparently, the collapse in value is so large (about $1.04T) that you could buy every listed company in Italy should you so desire and according to the chart below the wipeout is impressive when compared to standard units of value such as the net worth of the worlds 12 wealthiest people.
Much of the blame for the collapse is placed upon China’s drive to become clean and green using alternative energy technologies (something our politicians are too stupid to think about), the collapse in the price of oil and the coming rise of the electric car. However, to my way of thinking there are two things missing in the story. The first is that the bulk of the destruction in shareholder wealth occurred in the first month of trading – PetroChina has been a dog since it listed. So this is the death of a thousand cuts not a decapitation. This is that same old story of investors get sold a pup , investors hang on forever, stock dies a slow death and there is bitching and moaning. This is nothing new, the Western archetype for this was undoubtedly Enron. I am quite certain there are brokers telling local investors to hang that it will get better because good stocks always get better.
This slow demise can be seen in the chart below.
The second aspect that is neglected in the story is that this is China where everything is on a size and scale that often defies belief. In thinking about writing this piece I was actually wondering whether the scale of things in China actually defeats Western thinking – we are thinking at a different speed than is needed for dealing with China. Everything about China is massive as you would expect of an emerging superpower that is backed by an estimated 1.3B people. This point was also brought home to me when I caught up with a friend over the weekend and was discussing how Chinese tourists seem to have a love for shopping in London (particularity Burburry) and he said he wasn’t quite certain what to make of it. My response was simple – China is 17% of the worlds population so we had all better get used to it. And that includes journalists who need a new frame of reference when thinking about scale.
Virtu Financial—one of the world’s largest computerized trading firms—made money every trading day last quarter. The problem is that it made less of it than in the past, as volatility in the financial markets has dried up in recent months. Big price swings are good for high-frequency trading strategies, as machines can swoop in and take advantage of market shifts.
While many high-frequency trading shops are secretive about their results and plans, Virtu is listed in New York, so its required updates provide a view into the state of the industry. The company’s profit from trading fell in just about every category last quarter, with net income from currencies and commodities taking the biggest hit, each declining some 30% versus the same quarter last year. The company’s share price fell by 8% in early trading.
More here – Quartz
In my junk folder I have for the past upteen decades been getting random charts by a group called Chart of the Day. Surprisingly, I dont get them everyday – so the implication that you get a chart everyday that is interesting is perhaps a little bit of an oversell. This morning I go the following piece of wisdom –
This chart as the title suggests looks at the S&P 500 PE ratio back to the turn of the century. Putting aside the obvious gaping methodological flaws such as the S&P500 was only started in 1957 I do always find these sorts of things interesting. Markets and their history should be a topic of investigation for every trader, simply because there is nothing new. Bubbles and crashes have been a feature of markets since they began and the driving force behind such things has always been the capriciousness of market participants. Curious as to what our own market looked like I dug up some data from the folks at Market Index and plotted the local PE ratio against the All Ords to see what I could see.
On the chart above I dropped a series of vertical lines – the three black ones denote a time when valuations according to the markets PE ratio could be considered extreme, the red one is the GFC. Pundits who look at valuation models work on the notion that markets or their component equities have a fair valuation and deviations from this point indicate that something is either overvalued or undervalued. Decisions are then made upon this interpretations. The first black line is easy to identify – its the 1987 crash. The second one took me a little while to remember until I remembered the tail end of the 1991/2 recession combined with the banks nearly sending themselves under after property bit the dust. The third black line is the tech wreck, The question when looking at any methodology is what value does it add to your decision making. This is an important question since our decision making is bounded by the time we have to make the decision, the amount of information we have and our cognitive ability. None of these components can be infinite so our decision making is always somewhat half arsed. However, we need to add to this the notion of decision fatigue. It is estimated that during an average day we make anywhere between 20,000 and 25, 000 conscious and unconscious decisions and each of these decisions extracts a toll. Decision making is not a free ride, everything has a cost. Therefore efficiency of decision making is of paramount importance. If you have to force a decision then you are merely adding to your own mental loading without achieving anything.
As to whether the chart above tells me anything I dont already now about market extremes is doubtful As to whether it adds anything to my overall view of the world and approach to trading I am certain it doesn’t. But your mileage may vary.
I am not one for historical comparisons because they are largely specious and mostly irrelvant but this one gives a nice bit of history that I lived through so consider it a nostalgia piece.
……The Nikkei stock index rose more than 900% in the 15 years before it finally topped. It was a frenzy powered by a belief that Japan Inc. was on its way to taking over nearly every major industry worldwide. The stock market bubble was further fueled by a massive real estate bubble at least twice the size of the one the US experienced in the 2000s. Tokyo alone became more valuable than all the land in the US. In short, it was the product of a tsunami of monumental and concurrent events that are unlike anything present in the US today…..
It is hard to comprehend the apprehension that was rolling around markets and the business world with what was called the coming Japanese century. There was a belief that just 45 years after the end of the Second World War that Japan would rule the investment world. Even popular fiction writers such as Michael Crichton got in on the act with his novel Rising Sun. Japan was the flavour of the month, we were both fascinated and frightened.
I was mucking around on the Valuer Generals site the other day searching for historical bits and pieces relating to my property when I noticed that the VG kept historical records on their estimation of the median house price in Melbourne. One of the things I have always found difficult in real estate is not the paperwork, the land rats, tenants, maintenance or the incredibly primitive way that houses are actually sold but rather the paucity of data that surrounds their instrument. Reliable and consistent data seems to be very hard to find and this was an issue I found when I was looking the the VG estimations – I couldn’t get them to tie in with other bits and pieces I found. However, only the VG site had any depth of historical information. Imagine trying to deal in a stock that had half a dozen conflicting prices from different sources, none of which you could actually deal in because prices are largely made up and then trying to find out what the price was five years ago only to get another half a dozen differing prices. It seems as if the real estate market is deliberately set up to be obscure and in some ways reminds me of an embryonic options market where those involved either didn’t understand their market very well or were being deliberately opaque.
Out of curiosity I downloaded the VG’s median house price data just to have a look at the trajectory. Because I am frequently bored I like to look at the history and structure of various markets – too few people are actually students of the markets they operate in. As such they miss out on a large number of free lessons that can short cut their process. No one makes original mistakes in their investing, everyone has made the same mistakes before you and the lessons from these mistakes can often be found in the data. Whilst mucking around with the data I remembered that the ASX often produces a comparison between the returns that are generated by various investment categories. I have always thought that these comparisons had a flaw in that they relied upon simple average returns, looking at averages is fraught with danger because they can be extremely misleading. Which is why managed funds constantly quote them.
As an extreme example consider the following investment scenario. I discover a magic fund with brilliant marketing material and on day one of year one I invest $100,000. In the first year the fund makes a return of 100% and I think I am a genius. In the second year the fund loses 50% and naturally I think the fund manager is an idiot but I am consoled by the fact that the year before I made 100%. When I present this scenario to people I ask them what the average rate of return is for those two years and most people answer correctly – it is 25% (100%-50%/2). I then ask how much have I made on my original $100,000 and I generally get an answer in the ball park of $100,000 x 25%pa. These guesses range from $125,000 to $150,000 as people try and do a compound interest calculation in their head. The truth is I have made zero – in the first year I doubled my money and in the second year I halved my money thereby returning me to my starting point. Yet my average return is 25%. This is why when looking at returns we have to be careful about using a long term average to generate an idea of how much we would have made. It is better to look at each individual piece of return data and assign a dollar value to it. This way you can build some form of equity curves which gives you a lot more information as to the trajectory of the value of your investment.
For a bit of fun I decided to take the data from the VG’s site and apply the returns from the All Ordinaries Total Return Index to their initial starting capital of $75,500 and see what the comparison between the two was. In effect I built an equity curve for the median house price and an identical investment into a surrogate ETF.
I have to admit I was a little surprised at the size of the differential because when you hear talk of comparisons between the two investment vehicles the impression you get is that the returns are quite close and that with the runaway bull market in housing that property has been the place to be for long term passive investing. Plotting data like this enables you to get a sense of the trajectory of price and to me two things are immediately apparent. Equities are more volatile in terms of a passive investment and this volatility is apparent in the impact of the GFC. Property moves a little like a truck, slow and steady whereas equities tend to throw themselves around a little. However, the shocks are not as severe as I thought they would be, 1987 is a blip that doesn’t appear and the tech wreck was a mild impediment. What did do the damage was the GFC and this is the problem with a simple buy and hold methodology.
To compensate for this volatility and to give a more real world flavour to our surrogate ETF I dropped the loss from the GFC to 10% from the historical 40.38% which is reflective of what actually happened when our macro filters kicked in and dropped us out of the market. The result of this simple fix is interesting.
The dramatically different result is simply a function of controlling runaway losses and not allowing them to have a detrimental impact upon your equity. Such a technique is not rocket science but it does seem sufficiently difficult that it eludes all professional money managers.
Despite what the data says I am doubtful that it will convince die hard property advocates of anything – people with firm opinions are immune to data and it is hard to break the emotional bond that people have with actually owning something. And that is not really the purpose of the exercise as the advantages of equity investing over property investing are many , manifest and quite easy to elucidate. But is does serve as a salutatory lesson in what the differing mechanisms of presenting returns can tell us. It also tells us in no uncertain terms as to why the worlds second richest individual is a share investor and not a property investor.