Does Past Success Change Future Returns?

One of the top money managers and deep thinkers of our time, Howard Marks says the ultimate market truths are:

  1. Public psychology determines price action in short-term perspective.

Psychological and technical factors can swamp fundamentals. In the long run, value creation and destruction are driven by fundamentals such as economic trends, companies’ earnings, demand for products and the skillfulness of managements. But in the short run, markets are highly responsive to investor psychology and the technical factors that influence the supply and demand for assets. In fact, I think confidence matters more than anything else in the short run. Anything can happen in this regard, with results that are both unpredictable and irrational.

2. Most things will turn out to be cyclical and eventually mean-revert.

In investing, as in life, there are very few sure things. Values can evaporate, estimates can be wrong, circumstances can change and “sure things” can fail. However, there are two concepts we can hold to with confidence: • Rule number one: most things will prove to be cyclical. • Rule number two: some of the greatest opportunities for gain and loss come when other people forget rule number one.

Marks also believes that past performance impacts future performance in a big way:

If everyone likes it, it’s probably because it has been doing well. Most people seem to think outstanding performance to date presages outstanding future performance. Actually, it’s more likely that outstanding performance to date has borrowed from the future and thus presages subpar performance from here on out.

In the quote above, Howard Marks talks about assets. Does the same principle applies to trading and investing systems? In business, when a company has very high-profit margins, it attracts competition, which eventually significantly reduces those margins.

What happens if too many people start to apply the same market strategy? Usually, that same strategy stops to work for awhile. Faced with poor returns, many will move on and try something new. Then, all of a sudden that same strategy miraculously starts to work well again. This is a basic market principle – anything that works well for the long-term, has to go through short-term periods of not working (losing money).

If everyone becomes a value investor, deep value opportunities will become more scarce. They will likely come once every five or ten years near the bottom of big bear markets. Traditional, long only value investing is hard during prolonged bull markets when a lot of money chases very few good opportunities. Warren Buffett realized relatively early in his career that value investing is not scalable. Then, he switched to buying great businesses at reasonable prices. A true value investor is basically forced to look for short opportunities during much of his career while he is waiting for the next bear market to create incredible long opportunities.

What happens if everyone becomes a momentum investor? Does momentum investing stops working or price trends last even longer and deliver even higher returns? Or maybe, trends become shorter in duration, but a lot more intense and as a result, we see moves that used to take a year to happen in one or two months?

When happens if most people become passive indexers? Correlations are likely to rise further, which means that great businesses will become very attractive deals during market corrections and crappy companies will overshoot to the upside during bull markets and eventually turn into great short opportunities.

In the financial world, you have two basic choices:

  1. Stick to one market approach and go through periods of big drawdowns.
  2. Have several approaches and apply the one that best fits the current market.

I am not saying that one of those approaches is right and the other is wrong. One requires less time and efforts. Thr other significantly reduces drawdowns and potentially can deliver higher returns. One is a science and the other is an art. Art is usually a lot harder.

My strategy is to be flexible and adapt to the ever-changing markets.

What Can We Learn about Trading from Warren Buffett and Jeff Bezos

At the beginning of his career, Warren Buffett was a value investor. At some point, he realized value investing cannot scale after certain capital size is reached. Then, he started to buy great businesses at a reasonable price.

I like businesses I can understand. It is not an easy business for competitors to enter. I look for a competitive advantage – cost, brand; share of mind is priceless and better than market share. How much could anyone hurt them if they had a billion or 10 billion dollars. If they can’t make a dent, I am in.

I want to know what a business will look like 10 years from now. If I can’t see them where they will be 10 years from now, I don’t buy them. We are buying a piece of a business. You will do well if the business does well if you didn’t pay too high of a price.

The best thing that happens to us is when a great company gets into temporary trouble…We want to buy them when they’re on the operating table.

Jeff Bezos manages Amazon the way Buffett invests nowadays. He asks the question what is not likely to change ten years from now and builds his operations on those principles.

I very frequently get the question: ‘What’s going to change in the next 10 years?’ And that is a very interesting question; it’s a very common one. I almost never get the question: ‘What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?’ And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two — because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time. … [I]n our retail business, we know that customers want low prices, and I know that’s going to be true 10 years from now. They want fast delivery; they want vast selection. It’s impossible to imagine a future 10 years from now where a customer comes up and says, ‘Jeff I love Amazon; I just wish the prices were a little higher,’ [or] ‘I love Amazon; I just wish you’d deliver a little more slowly.’ Impossible. And so the effort we put into those things, spinning those things up, we know the energy we put into it today will still be paying off dividends for our customers 10 years from now. When you have something that you know is true, even over the long term, you can afford to put a lot of energy into it.

Both Buffett and Bezos look for long-term sustainable competitive advantages that are very likely to pass the test of time.

Is your trading system developed on principles that are not likely to change ten years from now?

Is your approach based on an understanding that the market is constantly changing and different markets need to be approached with different setups? This requires having a portfolio of different setups and knowing when to use them.

Do you have methods that will find big future winners on a regular basis? The names of future winners will be different than the ones today, but they will have something in common.

Do you have a clearly defined plan to Take advantage of the inevitable market corrections, sector rotations, institutions’ buy and sell decisions, price trends, momentum, volume and price range expansions?

Do you realize that correlations and volatility spike during market corrections and no amount of plain vanilla asset diversification will save your portfolio from a deep drawdown? Are you prepared to stomach 20%, 30%, 50% drawdowns or do you have a way to make them a lot smaller?

Check out my book: Top 10 Trading Setups – How to find them, When to trade them, How to Make Money with them

Five Stocks Doubled in the Past Three Months. What Did They Have In Common?

Here are five of the best-performing stocks for the past 3 months:

AKAO +347%

CALA +254%

ESPR +196%

TELL +189%

AAOI +115%

What did they have in common?

  1. All of them started their move with a huge volume range expansion. We are talking a 8% price gain on at least 10X their average daily trading volume.
  2. All of them offered several secondary entry points – after their big range expansion, they had one or more periods of range contraction, followed by another range expansion.

Position traders look for big 50% to 200% multi-week moves. Swing traders look for hundreds of 5% to 20% short-term moves in a year – those moves typically last between one and 15 trading days.

If you are a position trader, you should be looking for huge volume range expansions in bull markets.

If you are a swing trader, you should be looking for range contractions in stocks with an already established price momentum; stocks that started their ascent with a big-volume breakout and kept going higher.

Some patterns tend to repeat over and over again but they don’t work all the time. Not working all the time is a prerequisite to being profitable over time. The trick is to know when they are more likely not to work.

I talk in more detail about the above-mentioned setups in my book:

Top 10 Trading Setups: How to Find them, When to Trade them, How to Make Money with them

 

The Best-performing Stocks for the Past Ten Years

29 stocks went up more than 1000% in the past decade. One of them is an airline. I guess going to Hawaii has been really popular. Seven of the top ten performers are Internet stocks. The other three are biotech companies. It was the decade of Internet and drugs.

What do all of the above stocks have in common, other than being able to grow their earnings and sales in an impressive manner? They spend a lot of time on the 52-week highs list and set up multiple times.

The U.S. stock market indexes bottomed on March 9th, 2009. A couple days later, two stocks broke out to new all-time highs. Both of them went up more than 10x after their breakouts. One was Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, which was acquired in 2015. The other one was Netflix. Netflix went up 44X in the past decade and today it is a 62-billion dollar company. In 2000, Blockbuster refused to buy Netflix for $50 million, because “it was a very small niche business”.

How to Turn 5k into 30 Million

Home Depot (HD) closed at all-time highs today. $5000 invested in Home Depot when it went public in 1981 is worth about $30 million today.

Turning 5k into 30 million for 35 years means that HD compounded at an average annual rate of 28%.

28% annual appreciation for 35 years is very, very rare. To compare to some of the best-performing stocks of all time: 5k invested in Microsoft in 1986 is worth about $4.85 million today. 5k invested in Walmart in 1975 is worth about 29 million today. 5k invested in Applied Materials (AMAT) in 1975 is worth about 22 million today.

Finding a stock that has the potential to compound at 28% annually for 35 years is close to impossible and probably, it won’t be repeated ever again. Holding such a stock for 35 years might be even harder.

What if instead of finding a stock that can compound annually at 28% for 35 years, you find a stock that can go up 28% this year? And then you repeat the exercise every year for 35 years, one stock at a time? It won’t be easy, but it is also a lot more manageable. Compounding can be magical.

1562 stocks went up more than 30% in the past 12 months. 334 went up more than 100% for the same period.

Check out my newest book: Top 10 Trading Setups – How to find them, when to trade them, how to make money with them.