In Defense Of Playing Defense (Part 3)

My Comments: On Wednesday I usually talk about Globla Economics. Today, however, I’m less concerned about emerging markets than I am the evolution of ideas that influence what is happening on Wall Street. Yes, it’s influenced by the hiccups we see in emerging markets globally but the political and economic forces at work in this country suggest the potential for something dramatic.

That’s a mouthful to absorb. What I hope you will get from these comments from Erik Conley is that being defensive right now with respect to your money is a good thing. I know I am with my money.

by Erik Conley, 9/18/2018

Summary
I lay out the case for playing smart defense in order to fill the hole that’s left open with the Buy & Hold approach.

When the stakes are high, it makes sense to have a contingency plan in place.

It is reasonable to expect that a solid Plan B could reduce the downside of these bear markets by at least 50%, which would have the effect of shortening the time it would take to reach one’s goals.

This idea was discussed in more depth with members of my private investing community, The ZenInvestor Top 7.

In part 1 of this series I posed the following question:
What would you do if you found out that your entire approach to investing was wrong? I said that this happens more often than you might think, and for a good reason. The investment advice industry, and the major financial media outlets, work hard to create the impression that the Buy & Hold method is far superior to any other approach that an investor can choose. But is this true?

In part 2 I closed with this thought:
The solution to managing risk with a B-H approach is to play smart defense. What’s that? My version is having a rules-based Plan B that is designed with one purpose in mind – shortening the amount of unproductive time that is wasted with a B-H approach.

Today in part 3, I will lay out the case for playing smart defense in order to fill the hole that’s left open with the B-H approach. Note that I’m not calling for anyone to abandon their B-H approach, especially if it’s been working well for them. What I’m proposing is adding a defensive piece to the B-H approach. Here’s how.

When the threat of a new recession, or a new bear market, is sufficiently high – turn to your Plan B.

Fans of the comedy show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia have come to know how the gang operates. After sitting around their (empty) bar and tossing around ideas about how to get people to come in and spend money, they finally agree on a Plan.

Each week the plan that the gang dreams up is more outrageous than the last one, and the plans never seem to work. What’s missing is that they never have a Plan B in case Plan A blows up, as it inevitably does. Maybe if they took the time and effort to make a backup plan, they could someday fill the bar with paying customers.

Here’s another couple of examples. Football coaches always have a Plan B ready to go if their original game plan isn’t working. Soldiers on the battlefield would never think about venturing beyond the compound without having a Plan B and a Plan C in place.

You get the idea. When the stakes are high, it makes sense to have a contingency plan in place. So what would a Plan B look like for a B-H investor?

Plan B. A rules-based, systematic procedure that is clear and concise – leaving nothing to chance.

Here are some of the steps that a B-H investor can take to manage downside risk.
• Sell your worst-performing holdings, and allow your best-performing ones to run. Review this monthly or quarterly.
• Set up news alerts on your main holdings. At the first sign of a regulatory body asking questions about accounting irregularities, misbehavior in the C-Suite, or a bad miss on an earnings report, sell first and ask questions later.
• If one of your companies announces a dividend cut, sell first and ask questions later.
• If you catch wind that the company may not be able to meet a loan recall, or roll over a line of credit, head for the door.
• If the company brings in a new CEO who has no experience in the business involved, leave quietly.
• If the CFO gives evasive or confusing answers to analyst questions on a conference call, sneak out the back door.

Macro signals
As I said earlier, recessions and bear markets are killers, especially when looked at from the perspective of time lost. The B-H promoters claim that there has never been a 20-year period in the market when investors lost money. This is true. But is it relevant? I think not, and here’s why.

We invest to grow our purchasing power. It’s that simple. But we don’t have an unlimited amount of time to accomplish this. There have been 4 really bad bear markets in the last century, and each one of them brought pain and suffering to investors. None of them suffered more than the true believers in B-H.

The investment business will tell you that bear markets are just part of the game, and if you are patient, you will recoup your losses in due time. This is another example of the mythology of B-H. It’s partly true, but it’s irrelevant. This approach requires you to sit back and watch as your life savings spend 10, 15, 20 years or more “under water.” When you finally get back to even, there is no getting around the fact that you have just wasted a significant amount of time getting to your ultimate goal, which is financial independence and security.

“Time is the one resource that can never be renewed. Once it’s gone you can never get it back.”

Major bull & bear markets throughout history
The table below shows all of the major bull and bear markets since the Great Crash of 1929. It shows what was happening at the time to cause the bear markets, the losses suffered by investors, the loss of time, the macro environment that was present during each event, and the bull market recoveries that followed.

According to my analysis, a B-H investor would have earned an average annual return of about 9.7% throughout this entire period. That’s not bad at all. But it would have taken much longer to reach her investing goals if she simply rode out all of the ups and downs along the way.

It is reasonable to expect that a solid Plan B could reduce the downside of these bear markets by at least 50%, which would have the effect of shortening the time it would take to reach one’s goals.

For example, an investor who used a simple moving average crossover system as a way to reduce equity exposure would increase their returns from 9.7% to 11.6% per year, over the entire time frame.

An investor who systematically avoided the worst parts of economic recessions, and the bear markets that accompany them, would have achieved an annual return of 12.22%.
And an investor who used both the recession warning model and the bear market probability model would have achieved an annual return of 14.10%.

The reason for these better outcomes is based on the fact that markets go through long periods of over-valuation and under-valuation, and an astute investor will pay attention to which environment is in play at all times. Today the market is somewhat overvalued, so it makes sense to reduce exposure to the riskiest parts of the capital markets.

Likewise, in 2003 and 2009, the markets were very undervalued, and it made sense at that time to increase exposure to the risky end of the market. This is not rocket science. It’s just common sense.

Everybody is a Buy & Hold investor until their account value starts going down.

Where do we go from here?

In the next installment, I will present a few options for playing smart defense. Moving average crossovers are one. Mean Reversion is another. Sector rotation is a third. They are all defensive strategies that can be part of a solid Plan B.

See you next time.

Note from TK: Read Mr. Conley’s original article HERE.

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