Here’s Why Insurance Stocks Have Been Rising Like Crazy Lately

The FED induced zero interest rate environment is affecting our lives in more ways than you can probably imagine. One of the most affected industries is insurance:

The fundamental business of insurance is to collect premiums, invest them for a period of time, and then pay out a portion of the money in claims, while earning a small profit margin along the way. Yet when interest rates are so low, insurance companies are forced to collect more in premiums to fund future benefits (since they can’t bridge the gap with investment growth), and in some cases the prospective return on premiums is so low there isn’t even room left for the company to retain a margin for both risk and profits; the end result is that insurers are changing or eliminating many lines of insurance.

As noted previously in this blog, the low interest rate environment has already helped to drive a number of long-term care insurance companies out of the marketplace entirely, and all of the remaining companies now charge dramatically more to offer what coverage they do. Estimates from the AALTCI suggest that every 1% decline in interest rates has driven up the cost of long-term care insurance premiums by 10%-15% over the past decade. Various policy options have been curtailed as well; it is likely that by the end of the year, lifetime benefits and limited-pay policies will no longer be available at all.

Higher premium will boost insurance companies’ short-term earnings substantially. The market realized that 6-9 months ago, when many of the insurance stocks started to break out to new 52 week highs from good technical bases. Rising expectations for U.S. housing market recovery have also been a factor in this re-pricing process.

You could sit and complain about the increase of your insurance rate or you could pay attention to the 52-week high list to figure out where else the market thinks there will be changes in the economy. There is one basic law in business – one company’s rising costs are another company’s rising revenue and more often than not, the market does a very good job of identifying which the winners and the losers are, long before they become mainstream news.

This is not to say that the market is flawless forecasting indicator. It is not and there are times when it is very wrong and driven by animal instincts, but it is one of the best discounting mechanisms we have.

All the Talk About Potential Inflation And Yet Gold Has Done Worse than the S&P 500 Since the Lows of March 2009

QE1, QE2, QE3 and all other garden variety monetizing efforts have certainly left their mark on the U.S. dollar, which has lost 20% of its value since March 2009 lows. But why is gold underperforming equities then? It turns out that Buffett is right again:

My own choice: Investment in productive assets, whether businesses, farms, or real estate. Ideally, these assets should have the ability in inflationary times to deliver output that will retain its purchasing-power value while requiring a minimum of new capital investment.

Whether the currency a century from now is based on gold, seashells, shark teeth, or a piece of paper (as today), people will be willing to exchange a couple of minutes of their daily labor for a Coca-Cola or some See’s peanut brittle. In the future the U.S. population will move more goods, consume more food, and require more living space than it does now. People will forever exchange what they produce for what others produce.

Four Common Trading Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

1) Not Having a Method – if you don’t stand for something, you stand for nothing. If you don’t know where you’re going, you will get to nowhere. Define yourself and go a step further – follow your own plan, because if you don’t have a plan, you will become part of someone else’s plan:

If you don’t understand why you are in a trade, you won’t understand when it is the right time to sell, which means you will only sell when the price action scares you. Most of the time when price action scares you, it is a buying opportunity, not a sell indicator. – Martin Taylor

2) Trading too big – you will exit because of fear, not because your thesis was proven incorrect. Define an amount you could afford to lose, a price level where your thesis will be invalidated and based on that data come up with the right position size for you. For example, if you risk $1000 per idea and your stop is $2 below/above your entry, you could only afford 500 shares. ($1000:2)

Traders focus almost entirely on where to enter a trade. In reality, the entry size is often more important than the entry price because if the size is too large, a trader will be more likely to exit a good trade on a meaningless adverse price move. The larger the position, the greater the danger that trading decisions will be driven by fear rather than by judgment and experience. – Steve Clark

3) Overtrading – How frequently we open new positions is defined by our market approach. In any case, less is more, no matter what your time frame of operation is.   Don’t get me wrong, you need more than one idea, just because it could go bust for various unforseen reasons no matter the homework you’ve done. But taking any signal and spreading your energy and capital in too many directions is rarely a wise move. Stick to what you know, stick to what is working and don’t chase rumors and ideas you have zero edge at.

Sometimes the best trade is not to take any new trades at all and stick to what you already have. I know how tempting it is, especially in a bull market, when everything is breaking out all over the place. You feel like a kid in a candy store and don’t know where to go. Pick one or two spots and just go there. Don’t try to get them all. You can’t. You won’t. (unless you’re a computer)

The major reason behind mistakes N2 and N3 is usually overconfidence. It is essential to have some confidence in order to follow your plan and take your signals, but above the reasonable level, it turns against you. Overconfidence is the single biggest reason why experienced traders and investors lose money. The moment you start to believe that your success is due to your genius and not due to your carefully thought out and tested market approach, you have already lost.

4) Watching your stocks too closely – granted if you are an intraday trader, this is part of your job, but for longer time frames of operation, watching too closely is detrimental. Give your trading ideas some room to breath and don’t watch every tick.

Staring at the screen all day is counterproductive. He believes that watching every tick will lead to both selling good positions prematurely and overtrading. He advises traders to find something else (preferably productive) to occupy part of their time to avoid the pitfalls of watching the market too closely. – Jack Schwager about Steve Clark

Watching your stocks too closely could certainly have negative consequences on performance. You end up overtrading. You buy new, lousy setups you don’t need and close positions that are doing perfectly well, just because of a small tick against your position. Being too close to the market is like being on a diet and spending your time at the finest cake bakery. It is hard not to nibble on something.

In the words of Warren Buffett, if you spend enough time in a barbershop, sooner or later you will decide that you need a haircut. (even if you are bald).

Paraphrasing Soros – You go to work every day thinking that you have to do something. As a result, you often do stupid things out of boredome, when you would be better off just sitting on your hands. I go to work only when there is something to do, only when it is worth doing so. As a result, I have learned to distinguish the important from the ordinary days and I know when to put the extra effort.

If you are a swing trader or an investor, find something worthwhile to do instead of starring at your stocks all day. Writing, reading, exercising, competitive eating…whatever floats your boat.

It is not the lack of knowledge that hurdles most market participants. It is its application in the real world. Everyone knows what needs to be done in order to lose weight, but how many have the discipline to actually follow their own plan.

All quotes are from: Schwager, Jack D. (2012-04-25). Hedge Fund Market Wizards. John Wiley and Sons. Kindle Edition.