Wednesday, December 14, 2005

S&P 500 Index, Consistency, and Hot Stove Lids?

TraderMike posted a link to an article by Jon Markman titled, "The S&P 500 is a mutual fund - and a bad one." Before I begin my rant...first read the article. Really read it. Such things as:
"One myth that appears to be imploding along with the market is the notion that investors should “passively” buy the market via the S&P 500 Index ($INX) rather than buying individual stocks."

"This is not just a question of one company picking better stocks than the other. It’s a question of a flawed design that rewards sector momentum over common sense. Unlike most index publishers, such as the Nasdaq and Dow Jones, Standard & Poor’s adds and subtracts stocks from its three broad indexes -- the large-cap 500, the Midcap 400 ($MID.X) and the Smallcap 600 ($SML.X) frequently in accordance with a largely subjective list of criteria that includes market capitalization, liquidity and their representation of industrial sectors."

"It’s the latter criteria that got S&P into trouble in 2000 as it tried to keep pace with the explosive 1999 performance of the tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 ($NDX.X). Every month a number-cruncher at S&P adds up the total capitalization of all 9,000 or so stocks traded on U.S. exchanges, and determines the percentage representation of each broad industrial sector, such as technology, health care and capital goods. After technology stocks roared into favor in the late 1990s, S&P found that the market had given an 18% weighting to tech stocks while its index only had a 14% weighting. So the committee considered itself obligated to raise its weighting in tech stocks in short order."

"In 2002, S&P has continued its tradition of adding fast-rising stocks in the most popular industrial sectors to the S&P 500. In time, we will determine whether they were reflecting economic changes or simply the market momentum of regional banks, real-estate investment trusts, insurance and home improvement products. Top adds so far, in order of inclusion, are Plum Creek Timber (PCL), Ace Limited (ACE), Rational Software (RATL), Marshall and Ilsley (MI), First Tennessee National (FTN), American Standard (ASD), BJ Services (BJS), Apollo Group (APOL) and Simon Property Group (SPG)"

Markman posted this article in June 2002.Yes, 2002. Just 4 months before the bottom of the 2000 decline. Now, take a look at those stocks Markman mentioned being added to the index back in 2002.

Every single one of them are up and up pretty good I might add since their inclusion. Oh, sorry...Rational Software was bought by IBM and First Tennessee National by First Horizon...so they didn't go up as much as the others. But, a 100% hit rate isn't too shabby for a bad mutual fund as Markman calls it.

What does this say about Markman's theory on the S&P 500? His all-knowing implications of we'll just see how badly you fail by adding fast-rising stocks in the most popular industrial sectors? Hmmm...

I think Markman suffers from what most investors including myself suffer from...lack of consistency. That's why you have to admire a guy like Roger Nusbaum over at Random Roger's Big Picture. I've read his blog over a year now and he has stuck to the same investing approach month in and month out. Market does great or market does bad...he's the same. He might suffer from a lack of exciting material to write about at times...but better for that to suffer than his or his client's returns. There's a lot to learn from that approach.

Consistency. How do you become consistent like Roger? How do you get to the point of knowing your investment methodology will work long-term? And then trusting it despite what Mr. Market throws at you?

Maybe this quote will help...
"We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it — and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove lid. She will never sit on a hot stove lid again — and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore." -- Mark Twain

Are we too focused on the hot lids of 1929-1932, 1969-1970, 2000-2002? Does that explain Markman's rant and his ever changing cycles shared with Neiderhoffer?

Have we forsaken consistency for market strategies that avoid those hot stove lids? Buy gold...market looks weak. Inflation rising. Warning, warning, warning Will Robinson. When the lid proves cold...what are we left with?

Or is our focus only on the cold stove lids? Buy the bull...everything looks great. The flowers are blooming and there's not a cloud in the sky. We're in stage 4 of the business cycle and firing on all pistons. Charge! When you burn your tail on the eventual hot lid with too much money on the line...what are you left with?

Maybe we narrow our focus and reduce the duration of our holdings hoping to side-step all lids regardless of hot or cold? Never sitting long enough in one spot even if that means we never sit down at all? Churn.

Perhaps Twain had it right...understand the market is filled with hot and cold lids (stocks). And that's it. Nothing more and nothing less. Focus on the goal at hand...finding a place to sit your money. If the plate is hot...get up and move to the next spot. Never sit long enough on a hot lid (cut your losses) nor put enough weight down on all lids (position sizing) to get burnt badly. Find a place to sit and do what cats do best...sleep (compound).

Goodnight,

MT

4 comments:

Roger Nusbaum said...

Wow, thank you for the kind words!

I really am like a slice of dry toast or a bowl of steamed rice (lol).

Happy holidays

Dan McCarthy said...

nice post. i'm also not a fan of the s&p. i finally got around to posting again... and for some reason the thoughts kept coming, so I've posted twice today. One is actually also about indexing so I thought you might find it interesting.

How are things coming? I hope the model is coming together well :)
-Dan

Michael Taylor said...

Hey Roger, hope things are going well.

You cracked me up on the food reference. :)

Happy Holidays!

Mike

Michael Taylor said...

Hey Dan, glad you're writing again. I'll check out your posts pronto.

Things are going good...but not in the original direction I had planned. And the model I was working on is part of that redirection. More on that in a later post.

Hope things are going well!

Take care,

MT