Posts filed under “Apprenticed Investor”
Ritholtz: Admitting my 2014 mistakes
Washington Post, March 22, 2015
“Pain + Reflection = Progress.”
— Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates
2014 is behind us, and before the first quarter sneaks by, I am obligated to offer my annual admissions of error.
One of my biggest peeves about finance is that there is little or no accountability on Wall Street, and even less in the media. My response has been to call out people who make terrible, money-losing market predictions and other financially dangerous mistakes. You might remember my column earlier this year where we noted that“Forecasting is marketing.”
1. Owning up to your own mistakes is how to you become better: When it comes to investing, there is always room to refine your approach and improve the decision-making process.
2. It is important to recognize that failure is part of the process. In the world of investing, you must expect to be wrong .
3. Anyone who does a mea culpa is forced to stop lying to himself about how great he is. You are not a genius stockpicker, market timer, macro-pundit, whatever. You are not infallible (and neither am I). Admitting your own errors keeps you humble and grounded.
With that introduction behind us, let’s get right to this year’s errata.
Taxing traders. Last summer, I pointed out the enormous burden short-term traders face: They have to overcome a 30 percent capital gains taxwaiting for them each year. If markets average about 10 percent gains per year, traders need to consistently generate 13 percent gains in order to generate on an after-tax basis what long-term indexers get.
Yes, the indexer beats the active trader — but he does not escape his eventual meeting with the taxman. As I noted in a subsequent column, the passive index investor is likely to owe a 20 percent capital gains tax when cashing out. Although that is better than 30 percent, it’s not nothing. Remember, though, that long-term investors typically draw down 4.5 percent per year in retirement, so their tax bite is going to be lower, and they can expect to benefit from continuing appreciation of their passive portfolios. Nevertheless, omitting the 20 percent tax was an error.
Kickstarting Oculus. In 2012, Virtual reality headset maker Oculus Rift raised $2.4 million on Kickstarter. Then last year, Facebook purchased it for $2 billion. I thought that was a pretty raw deal for the early “backers” (as Kickstarter calls them) of Oculus, and I said as much under the headline “Attention Suckers: Please Send Us Your Money.” There was a minor flare-up in comments, but that was pretty much it.
Until earlier this year, when Oculus founder Palmer Luckey called me out on Twitter, and we debated whether the billion-dollar sale was fair to the original backers. Luckey argued the backers understood they were not getting any equity (it’s in Kickstarter’s terms of service); they are really donors and know this ahead of time. Some folks call this “altruistic lending.”
To my Wall Street eyes, Kickstarter still looks like thinly disguised angel financing — the earliest stage, or “friends and family,” capital raise — regardless of what the fine print says.
However, with Oculus, it was clear that game developers were pre-ordering a developers kit, and not making an investment. Luckey tweeted “People kicked in cash explicitly to get VR development hardware. Nobody was looking at it as an angel round.” (He noted that the kickstarter money was used to build an already developed hardware product, not fund a new company.)
I went back and reread the history — from the original Kickstarter posting, to the subsequent developments, to the Facebook acquisition. And you know what? He was right, and I was wrong.
The Robbins alternative portfolio. Last year, I had issues with Tony Robbins’s new book, “Money: Master the Game.” His core “All-Weather” portfolio was very heavy on bonds and commodities, both of which just had legendary run-ups. Robbins made a rookie mistake: He was “form-fitting” his portfolio to what had already occurred rather than look forward. And I said as much.
Then I countered by creating a classic 60/40 portfolio, using inexpensive exchange-traded funds. Somehow, I overlooked emerging markets in my portfolio construction. This was not a purposeful decision but simply a deadline-driven mistake. Indeed, we own EM equities for our clients — they are much cheaper than stocks in the U.S. or other developed nations. They have been lagging underperformers over the past few years, but we understand that mean reversion will eventually correct that lag.
The portfolio should have looked like this:
20 percent total U.S stock market
5 percent U.S. small cap value
10 percent Pacific equities
10 percent European equities
10 percent Emerging Market equities
5 percent U.S. REITs
10 percent U.S. TIPs
10 percent U.S. high yield corp bonds
20 percent U.S. total bond
Barron’s on housing. It seems that every other year or so Barron’s prints a big cover story about a bottom in housing. And every time, I mock its track record and take the opposite side of the trade. It has been easy money!
Last year, I got cocky: I challenged Barron’s writer Jonathan Laing to a friendly wager: A NYC lunch for four, restaurant chosen by the winner, tab picked up by the loser, on that 5 percent per annum housing increase.
Housing surprised me: S&P Case Shiller reported that for 2014, housing gained 4.46 percent for the year . . . and although 4.46 percent is not 5 percent, it’s so damned close that my technical victory was really a spiritual win for Laing.
Wrong on gold. Just kidding! Every negative thing I wrote about gold last year was totally right. Every. Single. Word.
Errors are an opportunity to learn something new — about yourself, your process and sometimes even about the markets. And as I learned many years ago when I began on a trading desk: Although it is okay to be wrong, it is not okay to stay wrong.
My motto is “Fresh mistakes, every year.” Come back next year for a whole new list.
We are down to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA’s men’s college basketball tournament, otherwise known as March Madness, which depending upon your perspective is either the most exciting month in sports or the American collegiate plantation system writ large. As is my wont, I seek out lessons in what I see, hunting for parallels in sports, politics, et…Read More
> My Sunday Washington Post Business Section column is out. Its time for my annual mea culpas from last year. I like what the editors did with the print version headline: As neither of us is infallible, here are my mea culpas from 2014. Here’s an excerpt from the column: I have been performing…Read More
Many metrics can be used to value markets. Which should you trust? Barry Ritholtz Washington Post, March 7 2015 “Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.” — John Kenneth Galbraith Let’s take a look…Read More
> This morning in my Sunday Washington Post Business Section column, we look at the issue of how expensive U.S. stocks are. There are several ways to determine this, fraught with the potential for error. If you want to determine how cheap or expensive the stock market is, I suggest three commandments to consider: ●Thou shalt…Read More
Much of the financial world is all abuzz over the 50th annual letter to shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway, released this past weekend.Financial journalists, amateur Buffett sleuths, Graham & Dodd aficionados and just about everyone I know spent some quality time this weekend with this letter. They are all trying to identify that one pearl of wisdom that…Read More
What do falling oil prices mean for the U.S. in the short and long term Barry Ritholtz Washington Post, February 14 2015 Since early 2014, the price of oil has plummeted. It peaked last year at $105 a barrel and is now about $50.The consumption and production of energy is a major…Read More
My Sunday Washington Post Business Section column is out, where we look at the impact of energy on the Economy. The print version had the full headline “The oil supply, energy demand and a rip-roaring U.S. dollar: What it means for your portfolio” while online had the shorter What do falling oil prices mean for…Read More
Now before I commit blasphemy, a few words: I am as close to being a Boglehead as you will find, without actually being one. The bulk of my portfolio is in passive indexes. Most of the assets I manage are in a broad allocation model. This is a tribute to the wisdom and teachings of investing…Read More
> My Sunday Washington Post Business Section column is out. This morning, we look at why It’s time to market forecasters to admit the errors of their ways. It is yet another look at the parade of really bad forecasts we get treated to constantly in the world of investing and finance. Here’s an excerpt…Read More