Industry Ranks January 2012

I’m working on my quarterly reshaping — where I choose new companies to enter my portfolio.  The first part of this is industry analysis.

My main industry model is illustrated in the graphic.  Green industries are cold.  Red industries are hot.  If you like to play momentum, look at the red zone, and ask the question, “Where are trends under-discounted?”  Price momentum tends to persist, but look for areas where it might be even better in the near term.

If you are a value player, look at the green zone, and ask where trends are over-discounted.  Yes, things are bad, but are they all that bad?  Perhaps the is room for mean reversion.

My candidates from both categories are in the column labeled “Dig through.”

If you use any of this, choose what you use off of your own trading style.  If you trade frequently, stay in the red zone.  Trading infrequently, play in the green zone — don’t look for momentum, look for mean reversion.

Whatever you do, be consistent in your methods regarding momentum/mean-reversion, and only change methods if your current method is working well.

Huh?  Why change if things are working well?  I’m not saying to change if things are working well.  I’m saying don’t change if things are working badly.  Price momentum and mean-reversion are cyclical, and we tend to make changes at the worst possible moments, just before the pattern changes.  Maximum pain drives changes for most people, which is why average investors don’t make much money.

Maximum pleasure when things are going right leaves investors fat, dumb, and happy — no one thinks of changing then.  This is why a disciplined approach that forces changes on a portfolio is useful, as I do 3-4 times a year.  It forces me to be bloodless and sell stocks with less potential for those with more potential over the next 1-5 years.

I like some technology names here, some energy some healthcare-related names, P&C Insurance and Reinsurance, particularly those that are strongly capitalized.  I’m not concerned about the healthcare bill; necessary services will be delivered, and healthcare companies will get paid.

A word on banks and REITs: the credit cycle has not been repealed, and there are still issues unresolved from the last cycle — I am not interested there even at present levels.  The modest unwind currently happening in the credit markets, if it expands, would imply significant issues for banks and their “regulators.”

I’m looking for undervalued and stable industries.  I’m not saying that there is always a bull market out there, and I will find it for you.  But there are places that are relatively better, and I have done relatively well in finding them.

At present, I am trying to be defensive.  I don’t have a lot of faith in the market as a whole, so I am biased toward the green zone, looking for mean-reversion, rather than momentum persisting.  The red zone is pretty cyclical at present.  I will be very happy hanging out in dull stocks for a while.

P&C Insurers and Reinsurers Look Cheap

After the heavy disaster year of 2011, P&C insurers and reinsurers look cheap.  Many trade below tangible book, and at single-digit P/Es, which has always been a strong area for me, if the companies are well-capitalized, which they are.

I already own a spread of well-run, inexpensive P&C insurers & reinsurers.  Would I increase the overweight here?  Yes, I might, because I view the group as absolutely cheap; it could make me money even in a down market.  Now, I would do my series of analyses such that I would be happy with the reserving and the investing policies of each insurer, but after that, I would be willing to add to my holdings.

Do your own due diligence on this, because I am often wrong.  One more note, I am still not tempted by banks or real estate related stocks.  I am beginning to wonder when the right time to buy them as a sector is.  As for that, I am open to advice.



About the Author

David Merkel
David J. Merkel, CFA, FSA — 2010-present, I am working on setting up my own equity asset management shop, tentatively called Aleph Investments. It is possible that I might do a joint venture with someone else if we can do more together than separately. From 2008-2010, I was the Chief Economist and Director of Research of Finacorp Securities. I did a many things for Finacorp, mainly research and analysis on a wide variety of fixed income and equity securities, and trading strategies. Until 2007, I was a senior investment analyst at Hovde Capital, responsible for analysis and valuation of investment opportunities for the FIP funds, particularly of companies in the insurance industry. I also managed the internal profit sharing and charitable endowment monies of the firm. From 2003-2007, I was a leading commentator at the investment website RealMoney.com. Back in 2003, after several years of correspondence, James Cramer invited me to write for the site, and I wrote for RealMoney on equity and bond portfolio management, macroeconomics, derivatives, quantitative strategies, insurance issues, corporate governance, etc. My specialty is looking at the interlinkages in the markets in order to understand individual markets better. I no longer contribute to RealMoney; I scaled it back because my work duties have gotten larger, and I began this blog to develop a distinct voice with a wider distribution. After three-plus year of operation, I believe I have achieved that. Prior to joining Hovde in 2003, I managed corporate bonds for Dwight Asset Management. In 1998, I joined the Mount Washington Investment Group as the Mortgage Bond and Asset Liability manager after working with Provident Mutual, AIG and Pacific Standard Life. My background as a life actuary has given me a different perspective on investing. How do you earn money without taking undue risk? How do you convey ideas about investing while showing a proper level of uncertainty on the likelihood of success? How do the various markets fit together, telling us us a broader story than any single piece? These are the themes that I will deal with in this blog. I hold bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Johns Hopkins University. In my spare time, I take care of our eight children with my wonderful wife Ruth.