Mama said there'll be days like this

by William Smead, Smead Capital

We are nearly five months into 2016 and will call on the great singing group, The Shirelles, to explain what has been going on in the U.S. stock market:

“Mama said there’ll be days like this
There’ll be days like this, my mama said
I went walkin’ the other day, yeah
Everything was goin’ fine
And then I met a little boy named Billy-Joe
And then I almost lost my mind”

This market is bedazzled by revenue growth stories in an economy that has lacked pizazz. It isn’t “Billy Joe” who has market participants “losing their minds,” it is Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Reed Hastings and Elon Musk. While we seek out already profitable companies that fit our eight criteria for stock selection, most market participants are looking for companies with maximum business momentum. They are drawn to corporate players in the latest edition of what we are calling “tech arrogance.” To us, tech arrogance is the idea that technology is an end in itself and that nothing can stand in its way.


“My eyes were wide open
All that I could see, yeah
The chapel bells were tollin’
For everybody but me
But I don’t worry ’cause
Mama said there’ll be days like this
There’ll be days like this, my mama said”

Our “eyes” are “wide open” to what is working in the current environment. There has been a sizable bounce in energy, utilities and consumer staples stocks. To us, this shows that investors clearly think the rebound in oil prices circa 2009-2010 from $32 to over $100 per barrel is being repeated. They want to hear “chapel bells” if oil rebounds to $60 and holds there. They want the current boom-bust cycle to be over much sooner than the historical 7-10 year time frames.

When it comes to buying stocks for dividend yield only, we refer to Ray Devoe who said, “More money has been lost chasing yield than at the point of a gun.” The easy way to understand this is to watch what the “smart beta” ETF firms are advertising on the financial news programs. The hot categories are yield and low beta. These same firms were hot for Japan and small-cap Europe one year ago. However, expensive staple stocks are “For everybody but me.” We’d much rather own a wonderful company in biotech/pharma at 14 times First Call 2016 estimates like Amgen (AMGN) with a 2.6% dividend than pay 22 times estimates to get a 3% dividend from a staple stock.

Let’s stop the music at this point in the discussion to remind folks of a few facts we believe. First, every long duration common stock picking organization has to choose their “days like this.” We choose to underperform futuristic momentum markets and are not interested in capital-intensive and labor-intensive businesses which require us to be right on macro-economic predictions. Second, we like the compounding affect from long holding periods. Pretty much all stocks that outperform over ten years have at least two patches of poor stock price performance. Third, Warren Buffett says that “excitement and expense” are the enemy of our common stock portfolios. The only way to avoid the cold stretches in the stock market is to practice higher turnover and to hold a great deal of cash. We are not willing to spend our investors’ money on trading costs or volunteer them to pay the capital gains taxes that go with it. Lastly, we don’t believe anyone does well with market timing.

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