About Fat Tails and Market Timing

Morgan Housel has an interesting post comparing investing in startups with investing in established publicly traded large-cap companies. To summarize his points:

Both types of investing rely on a small percentage of positive outliers that will account for most of the profits. VC investing is considered riskier because of the velocity of the wealth creation and destruction involved. A VC fund can lose everything or make a 10X return on capital in a few years:

A VC portfolio can go from a standing start to a point where two-thirds of your companies have whiffed and one or two knock it out of the park in three or four years.

In public equities that same distribution can take 10 or 20 years to play out.

That’s the risk difference between the two asset classes. It’s not how the individual companies perform. It’s the amount of time it takes for those companies to log their performance. VC is just like investing in public equities, but at 5x speed.

If VC generates higher returns than large-cap public equities, it’s not because investors have to endure more risk. They just have to endure about the same amount of risk crammed into a much shorter period. Which is hard. There’s a cost to it. You pay for it, not with money but with worry and doubt.

I want to make three points that add to his analysis:

  1. It is not that private startups grow wealth a lot faster than publicly traded large caps. The first are apples, the second are oranges. It’s a lot harder to achieve a 100% annual sales growth when you are already a 100-billion dollar company. Startups are by definition smaller companies and can grow a lot faster. Yes, some startups go up 100X in a few years and publicly traded companies might need 20 years to achieve similar returns, but the former enrich only a small number of people and the latter provide that opportunity to millions of investors.

2. Investing in startups does not necessarily involve more volatility and stress for any of the sides involved. VCs don’t need to report quarterly earnings. They have the luxury of a long-term capital. Yes, they send the occasional annual letters to their general partners, but no one expects from them wonders in a short period of time. Their investors know they might need to wait seven to ten years before they see a substantial return or any money back.

Compare VC partners’ situation to publicly-traded large caps. The latter give detailed reports on a quarterly basis and are covered by hundreds of analysts on a daily basis. Meeting Wall Street’s short-term expectations is a priority for most. Public companies’ investors have the luxury of liquidity, which is a double-edged sword if you don’t know what you are doing.

3. Timing matters a lot, in both private and public investing.

One of the most important questions that angel and VC investors ask startups is “Why now?”. Is the world ready for your product or service? There were hundreds of internet video startups in the late 90s and early 2000s, but most of them failed, because the tech infrastructure was not ready to support them. Youtube was founded in February 2005 and it was bought just a year and a half later by Google for $1.65 billion. It was an all-stock deal, so Youtube’s founders had the opportunity to make even more money. Google went up 250% in the next ten years.

You can achieve angel investing returns in public markets after big corrections. The bigger the correction, the bigger the opportunities afterward. If you look at the best-performing stocks of the past 10 years, you will notice that not a single one of them has delivered a 100X return. Netflix went up 44X, Priceline went up 30X, Amazon went up 20X. Only 29 stocks went up more than 10X between 2007 and 2017. Public markets were close to all-time highs in 2007. If you measure performance since the financial crisis lows in March 2009, you will find hundreds of stocks that went up 20x, 30X, 50X in the next five to eight years. There are some that even went up more than 100x.

Two Themes Have Defined Trading In Early 2017

The major stock market indexes continue to consolidate mostly through time. Small caps are underperforming large caps, which has made chasing breakouts challenging in many occasions. We haven’t seen any strong buying pressure so far in 2017. There has been a little uptick in selling pressure, but nothing major.

sp500-vs-sp500-stocks-14d-rsi-above-70-params-x-x-x-x
sp500-vs-sp500-stocks-14d-rsi-below-30-params-x-x-x-x

Two major trading themes have defined 2017 so far. I don’t know if this will continue to be the case in the near future:

  1. Weak U.S. Dollar, strong emerging markets. The U.S. Dollar is down 2% year-to-date. For the same period, emerging markets (EEM) are up 5.5%, Brazil (EWZ) is up 13%, China (FXI) is up 5%, gold (GLD) is up 5.6%, gold miners (GDX) are up 14%.
  2. Large-cap tech stocks are significantly outperforming. The Nasdaq 100 (QQQ) is up 4% while Russell 2000 (IWM) is down 1% year-to-date.

We have just entered a new earnings season. Thousands of companies will provide new information about the state of their business. As a result, we will see the formation of many new trends, both up and down trends. New trends mean new opportunities.

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

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15 Things I Learned from the Book Reinvent Yourself

This is the first book I read in 2017. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Here are my favorite takeaways:

  1. We are what we experience every day:

“You are not just the average of the five people around you. You’re the average of the five habits you do, the things you eat, the ideas you have, the content you consume, etc.”

2. Learning never stops.

“Many people die at 25 but are not put in the coffin until 75. The learning stopped for them early.”

3. Quantity might lead to quality:

“Try many things. One thing I realized is that quantity equals quality. People think it’s one or the other but it’s not. When you have a quantity of ideas and things you are trying, you will find quality.”

4. On mentoring:

“Believe it or not, sometimes it’s just as good (often better) to read all of their materials rather than be directly mentored.”

5. On how to be creative:

“People say, “Everything has already been written.” Everything has already been said. But that’s a lie. I think every outline has already been written. But each human has a unique fingerprint. Just putting that fingerprint on an outline makes it yours, different, unique. And through practice and vulnerability, you make that fingerprint something others want to see.”

6. On how to sell:

“If I want to sell an idea, if I want to convince, if I want someone to like to me, I have to figure out how to connect.”

7. On how to find your unique niche:

“It’s hard to be the greatest at any one endeavor, but by combining passions, it’s much easier to be the greatest in the world at the intersections of those passions (because there are billions of things that can intersect, you can find your own place in the “long tail of passion” to be the master of).”

8. Ideas are not enough. Turn them into a product or a service:

“But the only thing that gets results is action. Not a single ounce of greatness in history ended with thoughts. It happened with hands. With actions.”

9. On asking the right question:

“Money is a side effect of trying to help others: of trying to solve problems. So many people ask, “How do I get traffic?” That’s the wrong question. If you ask every day, “How did I help people today?” then you will have more traffic and money than you could have imagined.”

10. On how to diversify our life:

“When people associate the worth of their lives with any one activity, it’s deadly. We have to celebrate what we’re good at. But also celebrate other things in life the love of another person. Our friends. Something funny. I always have to tell myself to diversify my celebrations. Celebrate the small. Not always the big. “Meaning” is not just a victory. Meaning is a way of life.”

11. Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice with the clear goal of getting better every day does. Some people say that they have 10 years of experience, but they have actually repeated their first year ten times.

“It’s not about 10,000 hours. It’s about 10,000 hours where you practice with intent.”

You have to constantly come up with new metrics to measure yourself, to compete against yourself, to reach beyond your last plateau.

12. A good story can open many doors:

“For 5,000 years or longer, humanity has driven forward with storytelling. Too many people forget that but the only way to really communicate effectively is through a story.”

13. On how to raise money for your startup:

Too many people say, “I have an idea. Now I need funding.” Don’t do that anymore. Stop it! Say instead, “I’m already doing this. Here are the 10 or 20 things I’ve done so far. Here are the results. Are you in?”

14. There are only two types of decisions in life. Fear of losing and fear of missing out are everywhere in life.

“There are only two types of decisions: decisions made out of fear and decisions made out of growth.”

15. Never let a good loss go to waste

“I still don’t like to lose. I hate it. It’s the worst feeling. But I never let a good loss go to waste. The only way to learn is to study something you never knew before. Losses are the maps that point you to what you never knew before.”

Source – Altucher, James (2017-01-05). Reinvent Yourself. Choose Yourself Media / James Altucher. Kindle Edition.

Do Moving Averages Matter?

Some say that moving averages don’t matter because they just represent the average price for a given period. If enough market participants and algos believe they matter, their actions will impact the market. It is not what you believe matter that matters. It is what the market believes. The market doesn’t consist of just you. It consists of many people, institutions, and algorithms. Time and time again, the market has shown that moving averages can play a pivotal role in a trend. Moving averages are not flawless. As it is with any other tool in the market, they only work well in certain markets. They are just one way to make sense out of a noisy market. They work better in trending markets and not at all during range-bound choppy markets.

Buying the Blood on the Street Is Easy Only in Hindsight

In his latest post, Frank Zorrilla makes an astute observation that the four best-performing ETFs year-to-date were all down several years in a row heading into 2016.

The best performing single ETF’S this year have been KOL (+108%), GDXJ (+107%), EWZ (+83%), and GDX (+72%).

Recent data by Dimson, Marsh, Staunton database, showed median country returns of 8.74% (all years) and 15.94% after three down years in a row, both suggest that you will double the median return of all years if you own a country ETF that is down three years in a row.  It’s a very rare occasion that only happens 3% of the time.

If you take a closer look at this year’s top ETF gainers, you will notice that they were not down three years in a row. They were down 4 or 5 years in a row in the midst of a powerful bull market. Anyone who thought they were a great bargain in early 2014 or early 2015, bought too early and saw another 40% to 60% decline before there was finally a more sustainable relief rally. It doesn’t matter if you just manage your own money or other people’s money. You cannot lose 50% on a position in a bull market and remain in business.

The best performing industries in any given year are usually the ones that surprise the most. What are the type of industries no one expects to substantially outperform? The ones that were down a lot several years in a row and the ones that were up the most several years in a row. In the first case, no one really cares about those industries. They are not simply hated, they are ignored. In the second case, no one believes that their upside run can continue any longer.

There is not one sure recipe for finding the best performing industries every single year. Sometimes, they come from the bottom of the pit. Other times, they come from the top. We have to be flexible and willing to continually adjust to ever-changing market cycles.

Take a look at the long-term charts of the above-mentioned sectors. Each candle represents one year of price action.

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kol

gdx

ibb