Ben asks the primary dealers' opinion on QE2; how discouraging is that?
Steve Cook on Disciplined Investing


Have You Seen This?


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Have You Seen This?

This weekend is my college fraternity pledge class annual reunion.  We leave mid afternoon and won’t return till Sunday eve.  Hence, there won’t be a Closing Bell Saturday.

The Market

    More churning yesterday.  Investors did react to a great jobless claims number by pushing stock prices up in the early morning trading; then the reality of the uncertainties of QE2, the election and foreclosure-gate kicked in (again). Stocks retreated into afternoon and closed mixed (DJIA 11113, S&P 1183).  That leaves them solidly in the current trading range (9645-11257, 1042-1220) and my hypothetical re-setting up trend (10448-13710, 1090-1494).

    Volume was flat; breadth improved a bit; the VIX moved up (again) marginally but remained within the boundaries of its current down trend.

    Gold also had second thoughts about QE2 and rallied 20+ points.

    Bottom line: the directionless volatility of the past two weeks continues and I think that it probably remain so at least until we get the Fed’s QE2 plan next Wednesday.  My focus is still on 11257/1220 on the upside and 10725/1149 on the downside because I think that how stocks behave at those levels will tell us much technically about future Market direction.  Beyond that, I don’t want to do anything in a churning Market like we now have.


    As I noted, the sole economic stat of the day was a big positive; that is, if you believe the economy is and will continue to improve.  Initially, investors greeted it with favor.

    But then, news that the Fed was canvassing the primary (bond) dealer community for their opinion on the proper magnitude of QE2 started sinking in and a little schizophrenia developed.  And small wonder.  The Fed is asking the primary dealers’ opinion on the size of QE2?  Are you sh**in’ me, Lou?  I thought the Fed [and its house full of analysts] was the expert.  I thought that it had access to [economic] data that no one else has.  Why then is it asking a group with a material economic interest in the size of QE2 [the larger it is, the more commissions and trading profits], how big QE2 should be?  Can you say conflict of interest?  Any doubt about the collusion between big government and big banks to the detriment of the electorate/economy as a whole?  Any doubt why I think QE2 is a negative for the economy?  As far as I am concerned, it is a miracle the Market wasn’t down a couple hundred points on this news. (pardon my rant; I feel better now)

    Doug Kass on QE2 (medium):

    Bottom line: Houston, we have a problem: the Fed and the Administration are packed with bureaucrats/academics who have never had a job in the private sector, have never been exposed to the necessity of making a payroll, managing inventory, seeking capital to fund R&D/capital expenditures etc. but have a wealth of book learning and zero common sense.  That is why the government bailed out a financial system racked with fraud and incompetence, continues to subsidies it via a monetary policy that destroys average Americans’ savings and why the Fed has the audacity to invite the fox into the hen house.  Yet despite these massive headwinds to the natural forces of our free market economy, it is recovering; and that speaks volumes about its potency and the character of its participants (you and me).  Let’s hope the electorate fully exercises the force of restraint, delivers a stern message November 2 and that Bernanke et al gets the message.  As I have said before, the shape of the new government and of QE2 could have a material impact our Economic and Valuation Models.

   Thoughts on Investing—from the Apprenticed Investor

Last week, we reviewed five of the top 10 things investors say and do that ultimately undermine their investing success. This week, we continue the process.

6. 'This stock looks cheap down here.'

Any time you hear this tidbit, you can bet that either 1) the stock just got killed because of some awful news, or 2) it's in the midst of a long and relentless downtrend.

Don't confuse stock price with value. This was especially true in 2001 after all the prior splits. Sun Microsystems (SUNW) is a perfect example. Monday's closing price  of $3.89 may sound inexpensive, but don't forget the five splits between 1995 and 2000; back them out, and the stock is $124.48. Same $13.25 billion dollar cap, but it doesn't sound so cheap minus the splits.

Of course, some stocks do actually get cheap "down here." But it has nothing to do with the numerical price.

7. 'This fund did great last year.'

This is the flip side of "looks cheap down here." It comes up whenever someone is considering putting money into a mutual fund.

It is the investing kiss of death.

Studies have demonstrated that last year's hot fund is this year's loser. The prior year's performance is the single worst indicator of the next year's numbers.

Some funds did well because their niche was hot that year. It could be a region -- last year, it was energy, a few years before that, Russia. Sometimes a sector is the flavor of the month. Defense was recently the darling of the moment.

Funds that represent niches often outperform in some years and badly underperform in others, as the factors leading to their outperformance were aberrational and often unlikely to repeat. That's why chasing last year's news usually results in poor performance.

In September 2002, Bill Gross' (PTTAX)Pimco Total Return bond fund passed the (VFINX)Vanguard S&P 500 fund to become the biggest fund in the world. That was an example of investors piling into a "hot" sector and nailing the top of the bond market; it was also a month away from the bottom for equities.

Avoiding funds that did great last year should not be confused with funds that did great "last decade." Good money managers consistently post good results, with low drawdowns and lowered volatility. These managers don't have the aberrational years when they are up and then down huge.

Funds such as these are good places to put your managed money .

8. 'I'm a bull.' (or 'I'm a bear.')

I never understood these dogmatic declarations; investing is not college -- you don't have to declare a major.
Hypothetical question: Your get into your car to run some errands. Are you a "green" or a "red"? Do you make up your mind and simply drive through the next red signal, just because you are a green? Do you come to a dead stop -- regardless of the color of the signal -- because you're a "red"?

It's a ridiculous question. You look at the color of the light and either step on the gas or the brake. The market is the same way -- when market sentiment, valuations and monetary policy are in your favor, you get long. When they are not, your portfolio should be more defensive.

9. 'I don't want to take a loss.'

A variation of "I'm waiting for the stock to come back to break-even," but with a new added factor: self-delusion.
Brace yourself for the bad news: You've already taken the loss. Just because you haven't yet sold, the position is irrelevant.

A key to successful investing is being honest with yourself. By saying they don't want to take a loss, investors are not admitting two things. First, that they made a mistake; they bought something and it went down. Fess up to it.

Secondly -- and this is even more important -- losses are a part of investing. The best stock-picker in the universe buys stocks that go down. That doesn't matter; what does is whether you recognize that reality and have a plan in place to deal with it.

10. 'I got a great stock tip.'

Stock tips  are the last refuge of equity scoundrels. It's lazy, irresponsible and just plain foolish.

The plain truth is that the vast majority of "tips" are for horrific little stocks that don't have a snowball's chance in hell of ever amounting to anything -- at least not on a sustainable basis. In fact, many so-called tips are nothing more than the work of stock touts -- paid weasels whose sole job in life is to run up the price of some worthless piece of junk so unscrupulous sellers can exit at a desirable price. The "tip" investor is usually left holding the bag.

Ask yourself the following of all tipsters: What's their motivation? How good is their information? (If it's too good, well, then you shouldn't be using it anyway.) What is their track record?

I never trade on tips, but I have a network of other pros whom I regularly swap ideas with. This is very different than a "tip."
I deal with one trader who knows the gaming sector inside out -- that's his expertise. He's helped make his (and my own) clients a fortune. Another is an analyst (Charlie Wolf of Needham) who covers the PC sector -- he got me into Apple (AAPL) at the bottom and out of Dell (DELL) at the top. I sift through Cody Willard's telecom universe for ideas I like, and then run these through my own discipline.

I rely on far too many brilliant people to list them all. But I've tracked these sources for years, and I keep a log of every "tip" I get.

I missed lots of opportunities doing so, but avoided even more dogs. When Doug Kass tried to steer me away from AOL a few years ago at $52, I didn't know his track record well enough to heed his advice. That was 35 points ago; fortunately, I got stopped out for "only" a $3 loss. Had I known this person better, I might have heeded the advice.

But that's part of the game of investing...


   This Week’s Data

    The initial third quarter gross domestic product estimated growth rate came in a +2.0%, in line with expectations; the associated chain weighted price index was reported at +2.3% versus forecasts of +2.0%.  (1) this number fits our economic forecast perfectly; (2) I doubt that it will cause the Fed to lower its goal for QE2.

    More on foreclosure-gate (long, but worth the read):
    Rail traffic continues to improve (chart):

    Housings ‘shadow inventory’ (medium):



Thoughts on what this country needs post election (long):

    On Obama’s appearance on Jon Stewart’s show Wednesday night (long and not funny):

Posted 10-29-2010 8:20 AM by Steve Cook