How To Lose Money Consistently; A Contrarian Speaks

First, I get my stock tips from experts.

Second, I wait until the recommended stock goes up after the broadcast tip to make sure the trend is your friend.  Who needs to understand accounting anyway or the present value of free cash flow.  I mean understanding the magnitude and sustainablility of free cash flow or how the business makes money is old news.  Compare expectations versus funamentals?  I go with price because price is all.

I don’t need to think probabilistically because there are sure things like following Jim Cramer’s recommendations.

I am often wrong but never in doubt.

What behavioral biases? I am right, always right.  I don’t need losers like you second guessing me.

Now why would I blindly follow Jim Cramer?  The most important part of investing is having someone to blame when you lose money.  I typically lose 9 out of ten times and my losses are triple my wins.   Consistency wins!


Please read: http://ericcinnamond.com/parachute-pants/   A fantastic blog of knowledge from an experienced investor.

This article hits home because I have also felt the pain of being a contrarian as anyone who types in “gold stocks” in the search box can see.

How To Lose Money Consistently; A Contrarian Speaks

I bought AG in mid-2014 at $8, then $4.50, then $3. Over two years, I was down over 45% based on my average price.  Clients screamed. One said that if my IQ was higher, he could call me stupid.   One client took out an insurance policy on me and told me that I might have an accident.   Now all is forgiven. Yes, I have sold some AG but still retain a position because conditions haven’t changed, but the price has begun to discount the good news. Risk is higher now than in 2015. Yet, there doesn’t seem to be a mania into these stocks–so far.  But mining stocks are burning matches where their assets deplete and deplete.  You have to jump off the train when people are clamouring for these companies.

Parachute Pants

Did your parents ever tell you not to worry about what other people think? I remember my mother telling me this when I was in eighth grade. I’m not sure if she was simply giving good advice or trying to talk me out of buying parachute pants. In the early 80’s parachute pants were a must have for the in crowd. I wanted to fit in, but my mom convinced me it wasn’t necessary to act and dress like everyone else. In hindsight, good call mom. Now if only she would have talked me into cutting off my glorious “Kentucky waterfall” mullet! The pressures of conforming and fitting in don’t go away after eighth grade – it sticks around many years thereafter. Investing is no different.

In the past I’ve discussed and written about the psychology of investing and the role of group-think. The pressure to conform in the investment management industry is tremendous, especially for relative return investors. As their name implies, these investors are measured relative to the crowd. One wrong step and they may look different. Looking different in the investment management business can be the kiss of death, even if it’s on the upside. If a manager outperforms too much, he or she must have done something too risky or too unconventional. For some relative return investors being different (tracking error) is considered a greater risk than losing money. Losing client capital is fine as long as it’s slightly less than your peers and benchmarks. From what I’ve gathered over the years, to raise a lot of assets under management (AUM) in the investment management industry, the key is looking a little better, but not too much better, and definitely not a whole lot worse.

How did we get here? Since my start in the industry, relative return investing has gradually taken share from common sense investing strategies such as absolute return investing. How well one plays the relative return game is a major factor in determining how capital is allocated to asset managers. I believe this is partially due to the growing role of the institutional consultant and their desire to put managers in a box (don’t misbehave or surprise us) and turn the subjective process of investing into an objective science. Institutional consultants allocate trillions of dollars and are hired by large clients, such as pension funds, to decide which managers to use for their plans. The consultants’ assets under management and their allocations are huge and have gotten larger over time, increasing the desire by asset managers to be selected. This has increased the influence consultants have on managers and how trillions of dollars are invested.

During my career I’ve presented hundreds of times to institutional consultants. While I have a very high stock selection batting average (winners vs. losers), my batting average as it relates to being hired by institutional consultants is probably the lowest in the industry. It isn’t that they don’t understand or like the strategy. In fact after my presentations I’ve had several consultants tell me they either owned the strategy personally or were considering it for purchase. Although they appreciated the process and discipline, they couldn’t hire me because I invested too differently and had too much flexibility and control (for example, no sector weight and cash constraints). In other words, they liked the strategy, but they were concerned that the portfolio’s unique positioning could cause large swings in relative performance and surprise their clients. In conclusion, in the relative return asset allocation world, conformity is preferred over different, as investing differently can carry too much business risk (risk to AUM).

Over the past 18 years the absolute return strategy I manage has generated attractive absolute returns with significantly less risk than the small cap market. Isn’t that what consultants say they want – higher returns with lower risks? Yes, this is what they want, but they want it without looking significantly different than their benchmark. This has never made sense to me. How can managers provide higher returns with less risk (alpha) by doing the same thing as everyone else? Maybe others can, but I cannot. For me, the only way to generate attractive absolute returns over a market cycle is to invest differently.

Investing differently and being a contrarian is easy in theory. When the herd is overpaying for popular stocks avoid them (technology 1999-2000). Conversely, when investors are aggressively selling undervalued stocks buy them (miners 2014-2015). It’s not that complicated, but in the investment management industry, common sense investment philosophies like buy low sell high have been losing share to investment philosophies and processes that increase the chances of getting hired. Instead of asking if an investment will provide adequate absolute returns, a relative return manager may ask, “What would the consultant think or want me to do?” I believe the desire to appease consultants and win their large allocations has been an underappreciated reason for the growth in closet indexing, conformity, and group-think.

In my opinion, the business risk associated with looking different has reduced the number of absolute return managers and contrarians. And some of the remaining

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