Rank #1: #104 - Ken Fisher - “If You’re Worried About What Things Are Going to Be Worth Next Week…You’re Going to Make Yourself Way Poorer 20 Years from Now"
In Episode 104, we welcome the legendary, Ken Fisher.
Meb starts with a quick word of congratulations to Ken, as his firm just passed $100B in assets under management. The guys then discuss Ken’s interest in fishing with a bow and arrow, which eventually morphs into a conversation about a millionaire who allegedly hid a million dollars somewhere in the Rockies, leaving clues to treasure-hunters searching for it.
The guys then jump into investing, discussing Ken’s early days in launching Fisher Investments. They touch upon one of Ken’s early claims to fame, championing the price-to-sales ratio. This leads to a conversation about being factor agnostic, which includes some interesting takeaways from Ken on capital pricing.
Soon, Meb brings up Ken’s book, Debunkery, and asks about one of its points: namely, the misbelief by so many investors that bonds are safer than stocks. What follows is a great commentary by Ken about short-term volatility risk versus opportunity cost risk. When you look at longer, rolling time periods, it becomes clear that stocks are far less risky than bonds. And in the long term, stocks are less risky than cash. Ken tells us that in his business, it’s his job to focus his clients on the longer-term.
Next, the conversation takes an interesting turn, touching upon the explosion of tech science, and how it’s affecting our lives, as well as the capital markets. It bleeds into Meb suggesting that older investors tend to become more conservative or pessimistic, and so they tilt away from equities, and whether that’s a behavioral challenge Ken has to address with his clients. Ken gives us his thoughts, concluding with that idea that people need to be relatively comfortable in capital markets with things that are generally uncomfortable.
The conversation then veers into politics and the effects on the market. Ken tell us that when you look at presidents and market history, our system gives presidents much less power to affect markets than most people believe.
Meb jumps to Twitter questions, bringing up one that wonders how to position yourself in the end of a bull market. Ken gives us a fascinating answer which I’m going to make you listen to in order to hear, but it tends to focus on large cap and quality.
There’s way more in this great episode: capital preservation and growth… volatility (a great quote from Ken “volatility is your friend, it’s not your enemy, if you use it correctly”)… the media’s impact on investor perception… the Fed and sovereign balance sheets… the senate bill trying to eliminate the ability of public companies buying back their own stock in the marketplace… housing (and the need to account for the full housing costs when calculating returns)… and of course, Ken’s most memorable trade.
What are the details? Find out in Episode 104.
Rank #2: #18 - Rob Arnott - "People Need to Ratchet Down Their Return Expectations"
Episode 18 is packed with value. It starts with Meb asking Rob to talk about market cap weighting and its drawbacks. Rob tells us that with market cap weighting, investors are choosing “popularity” as an investment criterion more so than some factor that’s actually tied to the company’s financial health. What’s a better way? Rob suggests evaluating companies based on how big they are instead (if you’re scratching your head, thinking “size” is the same as “market cap,” this is the episode for you). Is this method really better? Well, Rob tells us it beats market cap weighting by 1-2% compounded. Then Rob gives us an example of just how destructive market cap weighting can be: Look at the #1 company in any sector, industry, or country – you name it – by market cap. Ostensibly, these are the best, most dominant companies in the market. What if you invest only in these market leaders, these #1 market cappers, rotating your dollars into whatever company is #1? How would that strategy perform? You would do 5% per year compounded worse than the stock market. Now slightly tweak that strategy. What if you invest only in the #1 market cap company in the world, rebalancing each year into the then-#1 stock? You’d underperform by 11% per annum. Meb then moves the discussion to “smart beta.” Why is Rob a fan? Simple – it breaks the link with stock price (market cap), enabling investors to weight their portfolios by something other than “what’s popular.” But as Rob tells us, there are lots of questionable ideas out there masquerading as smart beta. The guys then dive into valuing smart beta factors. Just because something might qualify as smart beta, it doesn’t mean it’s a good strategy if it’s an expensive factor. Next, Rob and Meb turn their attention to the return environment, with Rob telling us “People need to ratchet down their return expectations.” All of these investors and institutions expecting 8-10% a year? Forget about it. So what’s an investor to do? Rob has some suggestions, one of which is looking global. He’s not the perma-bear people often accuse him of being. In fact, he sees some attractive opportunities overseas. Next, Meb asks Rob about the idea of “over-rebalancing.” You’ll want to listen to this discussion as Rob tells us this is a way to amp up your returns to the tune of about 2% per year. Next up? Correlation, starting with the quote “The only thing that goes up in a market crash is correlation.” While it may seem this way, Rob tells us that we should be looking at “correlation over time” instead. Through this lens, if an asset class that normally marches to its own drummer crashes along with everything else in a major drawdown, you could interpret it more as a “sympathy” crash – selling off when it shouldn’t; and that makes it a bargain. Does this work? It did for Rob back around ’08/’09. He gives us the details. There’s way more, including viewing your portfolio in terms of long-term spending power rather than NAV, the #1 role of a client advisor, and even several questions for Rob written in by podcast listeners. What are they? Listen to Episode #18 to find out.
Rank #3: #39 - Ed Thorp - “If You Bet Too Much, You'll Almost Certainly Be Ruined”
In Episode 39, we welcome the legendary Ed Thorp. Ed is a self-made man after having been a child of The Depression. He’s a professor, a renowned mathematician, a fund manager who’s posted one of the lengthiest and best investment track records in all of finance, a best-selling author (his most recent book is A Man for All Markets), the creator of the first wearable computer, and finally, the individual responsible for “counting cards.”
Meb begins the episode in the same place as does Ed in his new book, the Depression. Meb asks how that experience shaped Ed’s world view. Ed tells us about being very poor, and how it forced him to think for himself, as well as teach himself. In fact, Ed even taught himself how to make his own gunpowder and nitroglycerine.
This dovetails into the various pranks that Ed played as a mischievous youth. Ed tells us the story of dying a public pool blood-red, resulting in a general panic.
It’s not long before we talk about Ed’s first Las Vegas gambling experience. He had heard of a blackjack system developed by some quants, that was supposed to give the player a slight mathematical advantage. So Ed hit the tables with a strategy-card based on that system. At first, his decisions caused other players at the table to ridicule him. But when Ed’s strategy ended up causing him to hit “21” after drawing 7 cards, the players’ opinions instantly changed from ridicule to respect.
This was the basis from which Ed would create his own counting cards system. Meb asks for a summary of how it works. Ed gives us the highlights, which involve a number count that helps a player identify when to bet big or small.
Meb then asks why Ed decided to publish his system in academic journals instead of keeping it hush-hush and making himself a fortune. Ed tells us that he was academically-oriented, and the spirit of science is to share.
The conversation turns toward the behavioral side of gambling (and investing). Once we move from theory to practice, the impact of emotions plays a huge role. There’s a psychic burden on morale when you’re losing. Meb asks how Ed handled this.
Ed tells us that his early days spent gambling in the casinos were a great training ground for later, when he would be “gambling” with tens of millions of dollars in the stock market. He said his strategy was to start small, so he could handle the emotions of losing. As he became more comfortable with his level of risk, he would scale his bets to the next level, grow comfortable, then move up again from there. In essence, don’t bet too much too fast.
This dovetails into the topic of how to manage money using the Kelly Criterion, which is a system for deciding the amount to bet in a favorable situation. Ed explains that if you bet too small, won’t make much money, even if you win. However, “if you bet too much, you’ll almost certainly be ruined.” The Kelly Criterion helps you determine the appropriate middle ground for position sizing using probabilities.
It turns out that Ed was so successful with his methods, that Vegas changed the rules and eventually banned Ed from their casinos. To continue playing, Ed turned to disguises, and tells a fun story about growing a beard and using contact lenses to avoid identification.
Meb tells us about one of his own card-counting experiences, which was foiled by his partner’s excessive Bloody Mary consumption.
Next, we move to Wall Street. Meb brings up Ed’s performance record, which boasts one of the highest risk-adjusted returns of all time – in 230 months of investing, Ed had just 3 down months, and all were 1% or less. Annualized, his performance was over 19%.
Ed achieved this remarkable record by hedging securities that were mispriced – using convertible bond and options from the same company. There was also some index arbitraging. Overall, Ed’s strategy was to hedge away as much risk as possible, then let a diversified portfolio of smaller bets play out.
Meb asks, when you have a system that has an edge, yet its returns begin to erode, how do you know when it’s time to give up the strategy, versus when to invest more (banking on mean reversion of the strategy). Ed tells us that he asks himself, “Did the system work in the past, is it working now, and do I believe it will it in the future?” Also “What is the mechanism that’s driving it?” You need to understand whether the less-than-desired current returns are outside the range of usual fluctuation. If you don’t know this, then you won’t know whether you’re experiencing bad luck (yet within statistical reason) or if something has truly changed and your “bad luck” is actually abnormal and concerning.
Next, Meb asks about Ed’s most memorable trade. You’ll want to hear this one for yourself, but it involves buying warrants for $0.27, and the stock price eventually rising to $180.
There’s plenty more in this fantastic episode, including why Ed told his wife that Warren Buffett would be the richest man in America one day (said back in 1968)… What piece of investing advice Ed would give to the average investor today… Ed’s interest in being cryogenically frozen… And finally, Ed’s thoughts on the source of real life-happiness, and how money fits in.
The show ends with Meb revealing that he has bought Ed and himself two lottery Powerball tickets, and provides Ed the numbers. Will Ed win this bet? The drawing is soon, so we’ll see.
All this and more in Episode 39.
Rank #4: #49 - Steve Sjuggerud - “This is Not What the Peak of a Bull Market Looks Like"
In Episode 49, we welcome Dr. Steve Sjuggerud. The conversation begins with Meb and Steve reminiscing about the origin of their friendship, which dates back some 10 years. This leads the guys into Steve’s background, and how he transitioned from being a broker into being the highly-popular investment newsletter writer he is today.
Meb asks Steve to describe his investing framework. Similar to Meb, Steve likes both value and trend. Specifically, he looks for 3 things: assets that are “cheap,” “hated,” and “in an uptrend.” This methodology applies to all sorts of asset classes. The guys dig deeper into value and trend, leading to Steve ultimately to say, “If I had to choose between one or the other, I would actually choose momentum over value.” Meb agrees.
Next, Meb asks how the world looks to Steve today. Is he buying? Defensive? Where’s he looking? And so on…
Steve tells there are always reasons to sell or stay out of the market. Despite this, Steve’s thesis is that interest rates will stay lower than you can imagine, longer than you can imagine. And this will drive asset classes higher than we can imagine. We’re still not at absurd equity levels yet here in the U.S. – Steve says we’re maybe around the 7th or 8th inning of this bull market. But the biggest gains can often come at the end of a bull market, so there’s potentially more significant room to run.
As the guys discuss this, the conversation tilts toward investor sentiment. They agree that irrational exuberance for this bull market simply doesn’t exist right now. There’s no euphoria. Steve sums it up simply: “This is not what the peak of a bull market looks like.”
Yeah, valuations are high, but interest rates are near historic lows. Relative to bond yields, the equity values are far more reasonable. Investors need to compare returns to what you can get through other asset classes.
The guys jump around a bit, touching upon the warning signs Steve will look for to tip him off as to when to bail on U.S. stocks, a discussion of the Commitment of Traders report and how to use it, and then a discussion of U.S. housing and how it’s a solid investment right now because housing starts are nowhere near what they need to be to equalize supply and demand.
The guys then turn toward foreign equities, where it appears that value and trend are lining up. Foreign has been cheap for a while, but it’s been underperforming. And now that appears to be changing. Meb asks Steve to tell us what he’s seeing – it generally boils down to one big thing: China.
You’ll definitely want to listen to this part of the discussion, as Steve tells us about a revolution in mobile payments that’s already happened in China (and will likely happen here in the U.S.). But beyond that, Chinese stocks as a whole are now incredibly cheap. Even better, there are going to be tailwinds of adding Chinese stocks to a major index. I won’t get into the details here, but the analogy the guys use is having the teacher’s manual of a high school textbook with all the answers ahead of time. Best of all, Steve gives us the names of some actual ETFs that may benefit from this trend.
There’s much more in this value-packed episode: gold and gold mining stocks… Steve’s investment in St. Gaudens coins… Steve’s surfboard and vintage guitar collections (including the story of a $30K guitar he bought and later sold for $72K)… And of course, Steve’s most memorable trade – which involved a painful 50% loss for Steve and his subscribers, all stemming from the lie of a certain global politician.
Which politician and which lie? Find out in Episode 49.
Rank #5: #90 - Dan Rasmussen - “The Crown Jewel of the Alternative Universe is Private Equity"
In Episode 90, we welcome Founder and Portfolio Manager of Verdad, Dan Rasmussen.
We start with a brief walk-through of Dan’s background. It involves a Harvard education, a New York Times best-selling book, a stint at Bridgewater, consulting work with Bain, then his own foray into private equity.
Turning to investments, Meb lays the groundwork by saying how many people misunderstand the private equity market in general (often confusing it for venture capital). He asks Dan for an overview, then some specifics on the state of the industry today.
Dan clarifies that when he references “private equity” (PE), he’s talking about the leveraged buyout industry – think “Barbarians at the Gate.” He tells us that PE has been considered the crown jewel of the alternative world, then provides a wonderful recap of its evolution – how this market outperformed for many years (think Mitt Romney in the 80s, when he was buying businesses for 4-6 times EBIT), yet its outsized returns led to endowments flooding the market with capital ($200 - $300 billion per year, which was close to triple the pre-Global Financial Crisis average), driving up valuations. Today, deals are getting done at valuations that are nowhere near as low as in the early days. And so, the outsized returns simply haven’t existed. Yet that hasn’t stopped institutional investors from believing they will. Dan tells us about a study highlighting by just how much institutional managers believe PE will outperform in coming years…yet according to Dan’s research, their number is way off.
Dan then delves into leverage and the value premium, telling us how important this interaction is. He gives us great details on the subject based on a study he was a part of while at Bain Consulting. The takeaway was that roughly 50% of deals done at multiples greater than 10x EBITDA posted 0% returns to investors, net of fees.
Meb asks about the response to this from the private equity powers that be… What is their perspective on adding value improvements, enabling a higher price? Dan gives us his thoughts, but the general take is that doing deals at 10x EBITDA is nuts.
Next, the guys delve into Dan’s strategy at Verdad. In essence, he’s taking the strategy that made PE so successful in the 80s and applying it to public markets. Specifically, he’s looking for microcap stocks, trading at sub-7 EBITDAs, that are 50%-60% levered. With this composition, this mirrors PE deals.
The guys then get neck-deep in all things private equity… control premiums, fees, and illiquidity… the real engine behind PE alpha… sector bets… portfolio weights…
Meb and Dan land on “debt” for a while. Dan tell us how value investors tend to have an aversion to debt. But if you’re buying cheap companies that are cash-flow generating, then having debt and paying it off is a good thing. Debt paydown is a better form of capital allocation than dividends or buybacks because it improves the health of the biz, leading to multiple expansion.
The guys cover so much ground in this episode, it’s hard to capture it all here: They discuss how to balance quantitative rules with a human element… The Japanese market today, and why it’s a great set-up for Dan’s PE strategy… Rules that should work across geography, asset classes, markets, and time… Currency hedging… And far more.
For the moment, we’re still ending shows with “your most memorable trade.” Dan’s involves a Japanese company that had been blemished by a corporate scandal. Did it turn out for or against him? Find out in Episode 90.
Rank #6: #60 - William Bernstein - “The More Comfortable You Are Buying Something, in General, the Worse the Investment It's Going to Be"
In Episode 60, we welcome the great William (Bill) Bernstein.
Bill starts by giving us some background on how he evolved from medicine to finance. In short, faced with his own retirement, he knew he had to learn to invest. So he studied, which shaped own thoughts on the matter, which led to him writing investing books, which resulted in interest from the press and retail investors, which steered him into money management.
After this background info, Meb jumps in, using one of Bill's books "If You Can" as a framework. Meb chose this as it starts with a quote Meb loves: "Would you believe me if I told you that there's an investment strategy that a seven-year-old could understand, will take you fifteen minutes of work per year, outperform 90 percent of financial professionals in the long run, and make you a millionaire over time?"
The challenge is the "If" in the title. Of course, there are several hurdles to "if" which Meb uses as the backbone of the interview.
Hurdle 1: "People spend too much money." Bill gives us his thoughts on how it's very hard for a large portion of the population to save. We live in a consumerist, debt-ridden culture that makes savings challenging. Meb and Bill discuss debt, the "latte theory," and the stat about how roughly half of the population couldn't get their hands on $500 for an emergency.
Hurdle 2: "You need an adequate understanding of what finance is all about." Bill talks about the Gordon Equation, and how investors need an understanding of what they can realistically expect from stocks and bonds - in essence, you really need to understand the risks.
Meb steers the conversation toward investor expectations - referencing polls on expected returns, which are usually pegged around 10%. Using the Gordon Equation, Bill's forecast comes in well-below this (you'll have to listen to see how low). The takeaway? Savings are all the more important since future returns are likely to be lower.
This leads to a great conversation on valuation and bubbles. You might be surprised at how Bill views equity valuations here in the U.S. in the context of historical valuation levels. Bill tells us to look around: Is everyone talking about making fortunes in stocks? Or quitting good jobs to day trade? We don't see any of these things right now. He's not terribly concerned about valuations.
Hurdle 3: "Learning the basics of financial and market history." Meb asks which market our current one resembles most from the past. Bill tells us it's a bit of a blend of two periods. This leads to a good discussion on how higher returns are more likely to be coming from emerging markets than the U.S.
Hurdle 4: "Overcoming your biggest enemy - the face in the mirror." It's pretty common knowledge we're not wired to be good investors. So Meb asks the simple question why? And are there any hacks for overcoming it? Or must we all learn the hard way?
Unfortunately, Bill thinks we just have to learn the hard way. He tells us "The more comfortable you are buying something, in general, the worse the investment it's going to be."
Bill goes on to discuss the challenge of overconfidence and the Dunning-Kruger effect (there's an inverse correlation between competence and belief one has in their competence). Meb asks if there's one behavioral bias that's the most destructive. Bill answers with overestimating your own risk tolerance. You can model your portfolio dropping 30% and think you can handle it, but in when it's happening in real time, it feels 100% worse than how you anticipated it would.
Hurdle 5: "Recognize the monsters that populate the financial industry." Basically, watch out for all the financial leeches who exist to separate you from your money. Bill tells us a great story about being on hold with a big brokerage, and the "financial porn" to which he was subjected as he waited.
There's way more in this episode: Bill's thoughts on robos... What Bill thinks about any strategy that moves away from market cap weighting (Bill thinks "smart beta" is basically "smart marketing")... How buying a home really may not be a great investment after all... Cryptocurrencies... and even Meb's "secret weapon" of investing.
All this and more in Episode 60.
Rank #7: #17 - Michael Philbrick, Adam Butler, and Rodrigo Gordillo - It's About Risk Allocation, Not Capital Allocation
Episode 17 starts with the guys from ReSolve discussing how they view asset allocation and top-down investing. They start with the global market portfolio which is the aggregate of what every investor in the world owns, yet interestingly, nearly no individual investor allocates this way. They then adjust the global market portfolio by striving for balance, specifically, risk parity. They discuss how leverage enables an investor to scale risk and target a specific volatility level, therein equalizing the portfolio. Risk parity gets you to start thinking about risk allocation instead of capital allocation. And this is helpful as “you’ve always got something killing it in your portfolio…and always got something killing you.” The topic then moves to valuation. The guys from ReSolve tell us how they see today’s market—near the peak of a cycle and expensive relative to history. What does this mean for returns over the next 10-20 years? They think 1-2% real. This leads to a discussion about the Permanent Portfolio and its pros and cons in various markets. Then Meb doesn’t miss the chance to bring up gold, as he suggests Canadians love their natural resources (ReSolve is based in Canada). Next, Meb asks the guys their thoughts on currencies. Here in the U.S., it’s rare that we factor currencies into our investing decisions, but it can be more of an issue for many non-U.S. investors. The conversation circles back to risk parity, this time in the context of bonds, and where yields might be going over the next 5-10 years. There’s plenty more, including managed futures, assorted risk premia, and an announcement from the ReSolve guys about a new service offering. What is it? Listen to episode #17 to find out.
Rank #8: #115 - Steve Glickman - Opportunity Zones: Ultimately, If You Hold for…10 Years or More…You Don’t Pay Any New Capital Gains – Ever
In Episode 115, we welcome entrepreneur and opportunity zone expert, Steve Glickman.
Meb jumps right in, asking “what is an opportunity zone?”
Steve tells us about this brand-new program that was created this past December. Most people don’t know about it yet. It was the only bipartisan piece of the Investing in Opportunity Act, which was legislation packed into the tax reform bill.
Opportunity zones were designed to combine scaled investment capital with lower-income communities that haven’t seen investment in decades. You can essentially roll-over capital gains into opportunity funds – special investment vehicles that have to deploy their capital in these pre-determined opportunity zones. It could be a real estate play, a business venture play, virtually anything as long as the investment is in the opportunity zone and meets the appointed criteria. And the benefit of doing this? Steve tells us “ultimately, if you hold for…10 years or more in these opportunity zones…you don’t pay any new capital gains – ever.”
Meb hones in on the benefits, clarifying they are: a tax deferral, a step-up in basis, and any gains on the investment are free of capital gains taxes. He then asks where these zones exist now, how one finds them, and how they were created.
Steve tell us the zones exist in every US state and territory, including Puerto Rico – in fact, the entire island of Puerto Rico is now an opportunity zone. Steve goes on to give us more details.
Soon, the conversation turns toward the problem these opportunity zones are trying to solve – the growing inequality in America. As part of this discussion, Steve tells us about his group, EIG. He created it to work on bipartisan problems that had private sector-oriented solutions. He wanted to address the unevenness of economic growth in the US – why are some areas getting all the capital, while others are getting left behind?
Meb points the guys back to opportunity zones and how an investor can take part. He asks what’s the next step after selling all my investments for capital gains. What then?
Steve tells us all the capital has to flow through an opportunity fund. It can be a corporation or partnership, include just one investor or many, can be focused on multiple investments or just one…. Most people have identified a project in which they want to invest, but some groups are now creating funds to raise capital, then will find a deal. Steve provides more details on all this.
There’s way more in this special episode: the two industries that the government won’t allow to be included in opportunity zone investments… The three different tests for how a business qualifies as an opportunity zone investment… What regulatory clarity is currently missing from the IRS… The most common naysayer pushback they’re hearing… The slippery issue of gentrification… And far more.
Opportunity zones have the potential to be a game-changer for many investors. Get all the details in Episode 115.
Rank #9: #77 - Tobias Carlisle - “In Order to Find Something Genuinely Undervalued...There's Always Something that You Don't Like"
In Episode 77, we welcome author and asset manager, Tobias “Toby” Carlisle.
After discussing Toby’s background, including his time as an M&A lawyer and what drew him to investing, we jump into his latest book, The Acquirer’s Multiple.
Toby tells us that the book describes a simple way to find undervalued companies. In essence, you’re trying to find a company trading below its intrinsic value. This is how to get a great price as a value investor. Of course, you get these prices because things don’t look too rosy with the stock – there’s usually a crisis or some hair on it, so to speak. Toby tells us “In order to find something that is genuinely undervalued…there’s always something that you don’t like.”
This leads into a great conversation about what Warren Buffett seeks in a company, versus what Toby, through the Acquirer’s Multiple, seeks. While Buffett looks for wonderful companies trading at fair prices, Toby seeks fair companies trading at wonderful prices.
Toby goes on to tell us that for a company, there are two sources of value – the assets it owns, and the business/operations itself. You have to look at both together. Buffett looks at wonderful companies at fair prices, and is willing to pay a premium to book value, but that’s generally because Buffett is able to ascertain that the stock is worth even more. Joel Greenblatt took this idea and ran with it in his book, The Little Book That Beats the Market. The idea relies on buying companies with high returns on investing capital (ROIC). But Toby thought “what if you can buy at the bottom of a business cycle?” You could likely get better returns by buying very, very cheap, hence his focus on fair companies at wonderful prices.
The guys then discuss the merits of a high ROIC. Toby tells us that a high ROIC is meaningless absent a moat or competitive advantage. Don’t misunderstand – a high ROIC is incredibly valuable, but it has to be protected.
This dovetails into a fun stretch of the interview when the guys discuss the old Longboard study about how only a handful of stocks truly outperform… a study from Michael Mauboussin, which points toward the power of “mean reversion”… how a historical backtest of “excellent” companies (high returns on equity, assets, and invested capital) actually underperformed “un-excellent” companies – which were generally defined as being incredibly cheap. The reason? Mean reversion.
Finally, we get to The Acquirer’s Multiple. Toby tell us you’re trying to find the real earnings of the business. The guys touch on lots of things here – why Buffett & Munger actually don’t prefer this multiple… a comparison between The Acquirer’s Multiple (AM) and Greenblatt’s Magic Formula… and an example from Toby about the power of the AM using the stock, Gilead.
The guys then discuss implementation, including how many stocks you should hold to be diversified. They also touch on the Kelly criterion – how much of your bankroll you should bet on any given stock or investment. This leads to an interesting story about how Ed Thorp showed that the Wall Street quants were using Kelly incorrectly. The guys agree that “half-Kelly” tends to work pretty well.
The conversation drifts toward valuations, with Meb feeling angst about how nearly all institutional investors believe future returns will be below-average. The contrarian in him is excited. Toby tells us that every metric he looks at says we’re overvalued. Therefore, we should be cautious, but then again, Japan got to a CAPE of 100 and the US has been to 44. You just don’t know when to get out, and there’s no right answer…
The guys hop back into The Acquirer’s Multiple, discussing how to avoid the value trap… marrying momentum to it… how value is sitting on about a decade’s worth of underperformance… and whether the AM works globally.
The guys eventually switch gears, and turn toward Toby’s private “special situations” fund. In essence, Toby looks for situations when there’s a corporate act, say, a board-level decision to buy or sell a company, or pay a special dividend, or buy back a material amount of stock. He then tries to arb it. He gives us any example of how he made money using the strategy back when Obama was attempted to stop corporate reverse-mergers. But in all cases, Toby is still looking for undervalued, cheap investments.
There’s tons more in this episode: the “broken leg” behavioral problem… how investors trying to improve upon the Magic Formula tend to vastly underperform the Magic Formula left alone… how professional investors tend to behave just as poorly as non-professionals… what Toby is working on/excited about right now… and of course, Toby’s most memorable trade. It involves a basket of net-cash biotechs. While he made over 200%, if he hadn’t tinkered, he could have made 750%.
What are the details? Find out in Episode 77.
Rank #10: # 6 - Three Concepts That Investors Get Wrong
Do you know which three concepts most investors – retail and professional alike – get wrong? One is asset allocation; two is a bit different – it’s actually a lack of awareness of a type of investment that actually pays you to own it (confused?); third is a misconception about dividends and dividend stocks. Diving in, when it comes to asset allocation, different institutions and money managers often suggest significantly different asset allocations. So which allocation is the most effective? Turns out that’s the wrong question. There’s a far more important issue lurking here. Meb will tell you what it is. Next, we move on to a discussion few investors know about. It involves a way to be paid to own a fund. Interested? Finally, Meb risks alienating more than a handful of listeners by presenting an unorthodox perspective on dividend investing. But if you’re a dividend investor, you need to hear what he’s saying. Turns out there’s a tweak on a traditional dividend strategy that produced significantly better results when back-tested. Learn what this tweak is, and far more, on Episode 6 of The Meb Faber Show.
Rank #11: #53: Radio Show: Cheapest Countries Right Now for New Dollars
Episode 53 is another “radio show” format. This means we tackle a handful of topics from Meb’s blog and tweets.
TOPIC 1 – VALUATIONS
3 DIFFERENT TAKES ON CURRENT VALUE PICTURE:
Meb’s recent blog post “A Bar Too High” indicated that for stocks to meet expectations over next 10 years, valuations must rise to highest they’ve ever been in history. With a current CAPE ratio of 29, that means the stock market multiple needs to INCREASE to all-time 1999 bubble highs to meet investor expectations. He thinks tepid growth is more realistic.
On the other hand, James Montier, member of the asset allocation team at the Boston-based asset manager GMO, is convinced that the US stock market is in bubble territory. However, European equities aren’t particularly cheap, either. Only emerging markets value-stocks appear vaguely attractive to him. Investors should be patient and hold a lot of cash in their portfolios in order to be able to buy when markets are correcting.
What would make the US equity market attractive again – how much would it have to correct? To get back to our sense of fair value tomorrow, it would have to fall by more than 50%. Then we would be on average valuation, which again we estimate based on profitability going back to normal.
A third option from a reader question: “Lately there seems to be a lot of talk about CAPE measure not being as meaningful as many seem to think that it is because the very low yields on bonds and full pricing of bonds are basically changing the overall risk adjusted returns landscape. I think the point people are making is that stocks are fairly priced for current overall market conditions, despite many indicators which suggest that prices are historically high.”
Three viewpoints – how does Meb see them all? You’ll hear his take.
TOPIC 2 – INVEST IN SINGLE STOCKS AT YOUR PERIL
A new study by finance professor Hendrik Bessembinder, called “Do Stocks Outperform Treasury Bills?” found that while investing in the overall stock market makes sense, individual stocks resemble lottery tickets: A very small percentage of winning stocks have done splendidly, but when gains and losses are tallied up over their lifetimes, most stocks haven’t earned any money at all. What’s more, 58 percent of individual stocks since 1926 have failed to outperform one-month Treasury bills over their lifetimes.
Professor Bessembinder found that a mere 4 percent of the stocks in the entire market — headed by Exxon Mobil and followed by Apple, General Electric, Microsoft and IBM — accounted for all of the net market returns from 1926 through 2015. By contrast, the most common single result for an individual stock over that period was a return of nearly negative 100 percent — almost a total loss.
Given all this, what reason is there for the average retail investor to be in specific equities instead of broader sector and index ETFs?
TOPIC 3 – VOLATILITY
We'll post a chart about our current low volatility – actual U.S. stock market volatility going to back 1928 has only been lower about 3% of trading days.
How does Meb interpret this – do these low readings mean a reversion is likely? Or is it the opposite – more of a trend approach where objects in motion tend to stay in motion?
Also, how would an investor act upon this using a tail-risk hedging strategy involving puts?
There’s plenty more and a handful of rabbit holes in this radio show episode, including investor sentiment, the name of Meb’s new child, how to avoid value traps, and yes, as the title suggests, the cheapest countries in the market today.
What are they? Find out in Episode 53.
Rank #12: #124 - Howard Marks - It's Not What You Buy, It's What You Pay for It That Determines Whether Something is a Good Investment
In Episode 124, we welcome legendary investor, Howard Marks. Meb begins with a quote from Howard’s new book, Mastering the Market Cycle, and asks him to expound. Howard gives us his top-line take on market cycles, ending with the idea that if you understand them, you can profit from them.
Meb follows up by asking about Howard’s framework for evaluating where we are in the cycle. Rather than look at every input as individual, Howard looks at overall patterns. What is the collective mood? Or is it depressed, sad, and people don’t want to buy? Or is it buoyant? Second, are investors optimistic and thrilled with their portfolios and eager to add more, therein increasing risk? Or are investors regretful and hesitant, burned by recent experience? Then there are quantitative aspects – valuations, yield spreads, cap rates, multiples, and so on. All of these variables help give Howard a feel for whether assets are high- or low-priced.
Next, Meb asks Howard to use Oaktree’s actions during the Financial Crisis as a real-world example of how an investor could act upon cycles. Howard tells us there are two parts to what happened during the Crisis – what Oaktree did during the run-up to the meltdown, and then what it did during the event itself. In short, Oaktree was cautious during the lead-up. They raised their standards for investments. Why? Howard notes that they didn’t know ahead of time how bad things would be. Rather, they were hesitant because they looked at the securities being issued, and it seemed that every day, something was coming out that didn’t deserve to be issued. This was a tip-off.
Then the event happened, culminating in Lehman bankruptcy, and that’s when Oaktree became very aggressive, buying half a billion dollars each week for 15 weeks. Howard tells us that, yes, our job as investors is to be skeptical, but sometimes that skepticism needs to be applied to our own fears. In other words, skepticism also might appear like “no, that scenario is too bad to actually be true.”
Meb notes that the challenge is investors want precision, picking the exact top and bottom. But this isn’t really how it works. Meb asks if there a time when Howard felt he misinterpreted a point in the market cycle.
Before answering Meb’s questions, Howard agrees that trying to find the bottom or top is a huge mistake. He notes that trying to find the perfect day upon which to buy or sell is impossible. In terms of potentially misreading the cycle, Howard tells us that Oaktree has been perhaps too conservative over the last few years, so they haven’t realized all the gains of the market. That said, he stands by his decision telling us, “anybody who buys or holds because of the belief that something that’s fully valued will become overvalued…is embarking on a dangerous course.”
Meb asks how Howard sees the world today.
Howard tells us we’re in the 8th inning of this bull market. Assets are highly priced relative to history. People are bullish. Risk aversion is low. He notes it’s a time for caution – but – we have no idea how many innings there will be in this game.
What follows is a great conversation about bull markets, what ends bull markets, and how to implement market cycles into an investment approach. The guys touch on investor exuberance… whether markets need to be exuberant for a bull market to end… bullish action despite bullish temperament… the need to “calibrate” your portfolio… and the average investor’s ability to live with pain.
There’s so much more in this episode: How Howard’s market approach has evolved over the years… how “it’s not what you buy, it’s what you pay for it that determines whether something is a good investment or bad investment”… Howard’s thoughts on contrarian investing… and, of course, his most memorable trade. This one yielded him 23x.
What are the details? Find out in Episode 124.
Rank #13: #47 - Ric Edelman - “47% of the Occupations in America Will Be Gone Within 15 Years"
In Episode 47, we welcome New York Times bestselling author, Ric Edelman.
We start with some quick background on Ric, but then jump into the main topic: the future of technology and how it will affect our lives.
In essence, the future is going to look far different than what we’ve known. The tendency is to believe that the future will be similar to what our parents and grandparents experienced as they aged. A linear progression – school, work, retirement, death.
Ric tells us this is going to change. The linear lifeline is going away. It will more resemble school, work, back to school, a new, different career, then a sabbatical, more school, and so on… Think of a lifeline that’s more cyclical.
What’s the reason? Well, we’re going to be living far longer. Technological and health care advances mean we’re going to be far more vibrant much later in life, so this will change everything we know about retirement and our traditional life-paths.
The guys then dig into the role that technology and robots will play in all this. Robots are going to eliminate numerous existing occupations. On the other hand, new jobs and skill sets will be created, but we’ll have to go back to school to learn them.
Meb ask Ric to dive deeper into this “loss of jobs” forecast, as it’s a common source of concern for many people.
Because of computers’ increased capacity, robots will be able to do jobs that humans do – and not just “factory line” type jobs. Any jobs that are repetitive in nature are at risk – which means white collar jobs too; for example, certain types of legal work. As another example, did you know that computers are already writing news articles? There’s a program that currently writes sports stories, and apparently, readers can’t tell the difference between a human and computer author.
Ric tells us “According to Oxford University, 47% of the occupations in America will be gone within 15 years.”
So what can you do to protect yourself from being replaced by a robot?
There are 4 skill sets that will give you an edge: thinking, managing, creating, and communicating. These four things will be the most difficult for computers to do.
The conversation bounces around a bit before the guys dig deeper into how working has changed over the years – and how it will continue to change. This leads into a conversation contrasting the “New York model” with the “Hollywood model.”
In essence, the New York model is “one job.” You do a given thing with same people for the same customers for decades. With the Hollywood model, you have a group of people who come together for one project, though they’re likely working on multiple projects at the same time. You’re using your skills in a wide variety of activities at the same time. We’re moving toward a Hollywood model.
Meb asks how this view of the future impacts asset allocation.
There are two big ways: One, we need to increase our allocation to stocks far more, and maintain it for much longer. Most peoples’ asset allocation models are flawed in this manner.
Two, we need to re-think the types of companies that are in our portfolios. Most of these businesses were likely built for the 20th century – and if so, they’re at risk of failing in the 21st century. As an example, think Kodak that went bankrupt when it couldn’t transition and monetize newer technologies. Ric mentions Tesla and AirBnB as two examples of 21st century companies.
This leads into a discussion about an ETF that targets only 21st Century companies. You’ll want to hear this topic.
There’s way more in this episode: behavioral challenges for investors and the role that an advisor should play in helping… an irrevocable trust, created by Ric, that’s helping parents save money for their children… the challenges facing Social Security given our much longer life-spans… Even why personal finance isn’t taught in schools, despite being one of the most critical skills our kids should learn.
So why isn’t it taught? Hear Ric’s thoughts in Episode 47.
Rank #14: #84 - Howard Lindzon - “I Think There's So Many Ways the Markets are Rigged That I Think It's Best to Just Follow Along the Trends"
In Episode 84, we welcome investor and entrepreneur, Howard Lindzon.
Howard starts by giving us his background. He was a broker who felt the pain of the ’87 crash. In the aftermath, he got the angel investing and entrepreneurial bugs. He’s currently an investor in Robinhood, and he started StockTwits – which you might think of as Twitter-for-finance. He also runs a fund, Social Leverage.
Given that Howard has spent plenty of time in the public markets, Meb starts by asking about his public market framework, and how he approaches markets today.
Howard tells us that he likes to see which investments are doing well, then try to join in – in his words “classic trend following.” He uses the analogy of the great white shark and the pilot fish. Howard is a pilot fish, following the great white. He likes this approach as “there’s so many ways the markets are rigged that I think it’s best to just follow along the trends.” Howard believes this approach of following the great whites also works in the private markets.
Meb asks about something Howard wrote in regards to learning to invest – it was something along the lines of “open an account, lose money, get a mentor.” Howard expounds on that, focusing on how everyone needs a mentor. Howard wants to help other investors through his own writing and advice. He references Millennials, and how he wants to use tools to help them.
Meb asks Howard’s advice for people who want to learn to be better investors, and how to find a mentor. This leads to a conversation about Howard’s site, StockTwits. Whereas Wall Street felt that people wouldn’t share quality investment information (just keep it to yourself so only you can benefit), Howard felt that many people would want to share their good ideas. Many of these people do exactly that on StockTwits. So, Howard suggests finding someone there that matches your own investing style and temperament, who has a consistent, good track record, and just follow along.
Meb asks which gurus Howard suggests following these days in order to get great information. Be sure to listen to this part to get the specific names.
Next, Meb transitions the guys toward private investing. He asks for an overview on the blurring of the lines between private and public markets, and the development of the seed stage being open to individuals.
Howard tells us things changed in 2007/2008 – it was “the cloud” that was the catalyst, bringing down the costs of starting a company. He says now we’re in a transition stage where many private companies are actually staying private for too long. He references Uber, saying how it feels a bit late for it to go public, but it’s too big to be private.
Meb asks about the realities of private market investing for listeners, noting how some of our pasts guests have had different opinions. Howard has some helpful thoughts you’ll want to hear, but he notes that to be a great angel investor, you need to invest over multiple generations – 20 years or so. You need this time to see an overall crop of investments work out.
This leads into a discussion of Howard’s fund, Social Leverage. Howard gives us the details as to what they’re looking for, as well as the fund goals.
As always, there’s plenty more, including a discussion of when Bitcoin was less than $1, Howard’s publication, The Peloton, and, of course, his most memorable trade. Not investing in Twitter and Zynga when he had the chance comes to mind.
Hear all the details in Episode 84.
Rank #15: #92 - Andrew Tobias - “There Are Just A Few Things You Really Need to Know About Investing, and They Don't Ever Change"
In Episode 92, we welcome investor, author, and activist, Andrew Tobias.
Meb starts by asking Andy about his background and introduction to investing. Andy gives us his origin story, with highlights including collecting stamps, an early introduction to the stock market, a trip behind the Iron Curtain which led to a brief dalliance with Communism, then his becoming a paper millionaire due to some creative accounting (then those monies disappearing). It’s a fascinating look back.
Next, Meb recalls a survey we conducted some quarters ago, soliciting readers’ favorite investing books of all time. Andy’s book from 1978, The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need, turned out to be high on that list. Meb asks Andy to explain the thesis of the original book, and whether there have been any significant changes in subsequent editions.
Andy tells us “There are just a few things you really need to know about investing, and they don’t ever change. The problem is it’s hard to get people to really grab onto them.” He goes on to say that investing isn’t like cooking or chess, where the more you read/learn, the better. Instead, with investing, the more you read, the more you can get yourself into trouble. He gives us an example using commodity speculating. Given that so much about investing remains constant, Andy’s revisions in subsequent editions haven’t been too substantial.
Meb pushes a bit more, asking if there’s any subject about which Andy has changed his mind since the original publication.
Andy tells us he’s become a bigger fan of special opportunity investing. Most people aren’t looking for this type of thing. So, Andy discusses putting 80% of your portfolio into inexpensive index funds, but spreading the remaining 20% over 5-6 really interesting, exciting speculations. Most will go to $0, but maybe you hit with one or two, and those proceeds offset the losses and more. Plus, this satisfies the need to have something more exciting to do with your money.
Meb agrees with this idea, and asks about Andy’s speculative process – is it rooted in quant or is there a discretionary component? Andy answers by giving us an example with Support.com.
Next, the guys discuss valuations, comparing where we are now to where we were back in the early ‘80s. It seems we’re flip-flopped a bit in terms of interest rates and equity valuations.
This segues into private investing, with Andy telling us about how came to own farmland. Turned out to be a great investment, buying at $500 an acre and selling years later at $3K an acre. Meb agrees farmland is a great asset class, but it’s hard to allocate toward.
This dovetails into a few other private investments in which Andy has participated, most notably “Honest Tea,” which was purchased by Coca Cola, as well as a small, musical comedy, which went on to play on multiple continents over many years.
The guys bounce around a bit here, discussing the need to spread your bets in private market investing… lockups… the benefit of illiquidity… binary thinking… Andy’s firsthand experience with selling way too early…
There’s plenty more in this episode, including Andy’s concerns for our existential future, his most memorable trade, and finally, a product he endorses which might help tackle dementia and improve reflexes. Apparently, Tom Brady swears by it.
What are the details? Find out in Episode 92.
Rank #16: #3 - Where Are the Best Global Values Right Now?
Is right now a good time to be in U.S. stocks? What about global stocks? Well, the answer in large part depends on the specific market’s valuation. Start investing in an overpriced market and your returns will likely be small. Start in a cheap market, and it’s more likely you’ll enjoy outperformance. So where are we today? And what does it mean for where you should be invested? Meb tells us in this episode, pointing out the most expensive and cheapest markets around the globe. He also asks “What percentage of your stock allocation is in the United States?” Want to know the average answer Meb gets when he asks that question to professional money managers? The answer will surprise you. Find out what it is on podcast #3.
Rank #17: #57: Radio Show: Meb's 17 Different Million-Dollar Fintech Ideas
Episode 57 is another "radio show" format, yet this one is different than our others.
In this episode, Meb discusses his 17 different "million-dollar" fintech ideas. In essence, Meb has had various business ideas over the years which he's wanted to pursue, but hasn't had the time. Some he's tweeted about, some he's blogged about, others he's kept to himself. But in Episode 57, he'll run through all 17, diving into more detail.
Can a listener take one and run with it? Sure. Let us know how it works out! Or work on it with us. We're open to ideas.
Either way, here are the 17 concepts:
- Our new "podcast compilation" idea
- Liquid alts newsletter
- Quant backtester
- Tax harvesting
- Best ideas newsletter
- Research boutique for crowdfunding companies
- Syndicate podcast/newsletter
- Ruykeyser reborn
- The Street 2.0
- Tactical roboadvisor
- Free Acorns/Stash clone
- Free ETF trading brokerage
- FreeShares ETFs
- Quant cookbook
- The "Forever" fund
Are all of these ideas good? (We have our doubts...)
But find out for yourself in Episode 57.
Rank #18: # 7 – Playing Defense Against Black Swans
With Brexit rattling the markets recently, it’s a good time to revisit the discussion of “black swans” (not that Brexit was a black swan, despite catching many investors off-guard). So what exactly is an investing black swan? And is there anything you can do to protect yourself from one? That leads Meb into a discussion of outliers – specifically, how your returns would look if you missed out on the 10 best market days, but also avoided the 10 worst market days. From there, we discuss a way to help protect your wealth from the biggest drawdown-days in the market. (Hint – it’s how Paul Tudor Jones avoided the ’87 crash, and something you can easily implement in your own account today.) From there we move to actionable takeaways for listeners – after an extended down-period, what markets and/or countries might be cheap and starting to enjoy an uptrend, which would make them good investments right now? And finally, you’ll hear how Meb just lost his entire Kansas wheat crop, destroyed by a fire from an exploded combine. Black swan event? Find out on Episode #7.
Rank #19: #119 - Tom Dorsey - Fundamentals Answer the First Question 'What Should I Buy?' The Technical Side Answers the Question "When?'
In Episode 119, we welcome entrepreneur and technical analyst expert, Tom Dorsey.
Meb begins by asking about a book which Tom claims had a tremendous influence on his entire life. From this, Tom tells us the story of being a young broker, eventually introduced to a book called The Three Point Reversal Method of Point & Figure Stock Market Trading by A.W. Cohen. After reading just the first paragraph, the clouds on Wall Street parted and he saw clearly. In the end, it’s the irrefutable laws of supply and demand that cause prices to change.
Meb asks for more details, so Tom tells us how Point & Figure charting was created in the early 1900s. You’re watching the up and down movements of an asset – those movements represented by Xs and Os. You’re looking for patterns in these up and down movements.
Meb asks how one goes from charting these Xs and Os into building an actual strategy. Tom gives us an example using just two stocks, Coke and Pepsi. He walks us through how we would analyze the price movements relative to one another to determine which one might be the best investment at that moment. It’s a discussion of relative strength investing.
Meb asks if this approach means an investor can totally ignore fundamentals and value. Tom tells us that fundamentals answer the first question – what should I buy? But relative strength answers the question, when should I buy? You can be a value investor, but you may not want to be the typical value investor who buys a value play, sits back, and waits for a long time before other people see that he’s right. Tom would rather get the stocks that are ready to move now. So, he tells us to take the fundamentals and work from there.
Next, the guys get into a discussion that bounces around a bit: smart indexing… the beginnings of ETFs at the Philadelphia Stock Exchange (Tom was in the middle of it from basically the beginning)… and how 92% of active managers never outperform the S&P. But this last point dovetails into a broader conversation of whether “the S&P” can beat “the S&P”. The topic touches on the difference between cap and equal weighting, as well as myriad other indexes that might exist within the broader S&P universe. One of the takeaways is that index investing can be harder than you might think. He suggests looking at all the indexes, then using relative strength to narrow it down.
Meb asks what the world looks like to Tom today. What areas are showing the most strength? Tom tells us the strength has been in small caps for a few years now. Value has been hurt, which points toward the problem with value – the asset can be down and out, but still not move north as you want it to.
There’s plenty more: the various ways to implement a relative strength strategy… Tom’s affinity for selling covered calls… the benefits of automated investing… how Tom’s team is beginning to apply their strategies to crypto… and an upcoming investing forum Tom will be a part of consisting of five market veterans with a collective two-hundred years of market experience.
And of course, we have Tom’s most memorable trade. This one involves 10 shares of a certain biotech stock that raced higher and made a huge difference for one of Tom’s friends in need.
Get all the details in Episode 119.
Rank #20: #80 - Claude Erb - “It Is Possible That We're in the Middle of a Period in Which Gold Becomes the New Frankincense"
In Episode 80, we welcome commodities and gold expert, Claude Erb.
As usual, we start with Claude’s back-story, but it’s not long before the guys jump into investing, with Meb asking about Claude’s general framework and view of the markets.
Claude tells us there are three concepts that guide his broad investing thinking: first, framing investment opportunities in terms of price/value relationships; second, the concept that no one gives away anything of value for free; and third, the idea that there really is no difference between a successful traditional fundamental approach to investing and a successful quantitative approach to investing.
This leads into a quick conversation about how market wisdom compounds over the years, but it’s not long before the guys jump into the topic of “gold.” Claude and his writing partner, Campbell Harvey, wrote the seminal paper, “The Golden Constant”, which explored the possible relationship between the real, inflation-adjusted price of gold and future real gold returns. Meb mentions how gold elicits far more emotion in investors than nearly any other asset, with different investors having an array of reasons or themes as to why they own gold.
Clause gives us some great commentary on the link between fear and gold, touching upon VIX contracts, volatility, and even Buffett’s and Dalio’s take on gold. The guys continue with the gold discussion, with Claude referencing some of the concepts from “The Golden Constant”. All you gold bugs (and historians, for that matter) won’t want to miss this.
There’s way more in this episode, including a discussion of commodities, various practical takeaways, and Claude’s thoughts on something called “the sequence of returns.” And of course, there’s Claude’s most memorable trade. What are the details? Find out in Episode 80.