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8 Investing Lessons Learned From Fantasy Football

Summary The importance of analogies. Fantasy football’s lessons for lifetime profit. One last word. Everyone loves a colorful analogy. I suppose that is because a well-placed and entertaining analogy provides a more memorable imprint on the receiving brain than a simple statement does. I’m a big fan of melodrama, so it definitely appeals to me. To say “Seeing John Major govern the country is like watching Edward Scissorhands try to make balloon animals” (Simon Hoggart) is much more interesting than saying that you are very displeased with the inept manner in which John Major is running Great Britain (in the 90’s). Because, well, sometimes you just need to say something ridiculous to cut through the mundane. In general, I spend most of my down time reading articles and opinions about two things: finance and fantasy football. Musings on the interconnectivity between two very different things as I did while thinking about colorful analogies, I came to the realization that fantasy football and investing contain many common themes. I’ve been reading Matthew Berry’s Love/Hate (and everything else he writes – Thanks for all you do, TMR!) religiously for years on ESPN, so a few of these will reference some well-known nuggets of wisdom that he frequently drops. Unfortunately, 2015 fantasy football is ending for the year. Perhaps you brought home the bacon this year with a fantasy championship. Perhaps you drafted Eddie Lacy (the Kinder Morgan (NYSE: KMI ) of 2015) and never recovered. Hopefully these things will help with your drafting next year. I know they’ve been helpful to keep in mind while building my portfolio. Without further ado, here are eight lessons fantasy football teaches the investor: 1: Tune Out The Noise Perhaps the most important virtue of a stock picker is discipline. If you don’t have the conviction to stick with your analysis of a company in the face of setbacks, musings, downgrades, and Jim Cramer, you will hamstring yourself for future earnings. Similarly in fantasy football, there is always a lot of noise when it comes to matchups or weather. While these are important considerations, sometimes people will bench a stud because of a matchup (Julio Jones vs. Josh Norman last week), or other such things. You can’t let the overabundance of available information make you doubt yourself. This leads us straight to #2 … 2: Start Your Studs Everyone wants to make money fast. The allure of penny stocks is watching those big percentage gains during heady bull markets. The flip side of the coin is the important part: without concrete earnings prospects and realistic business models, penny stocks are 99.9% of the time just a roulette spin. Investing has risk involved, but long-term gains mean taking on educated risk based on strong fundamentals or viable prospects. Companies with long history of earnings growth and (as a bonus) uninterrupted dividends are your stock “studs”. Your studs are your guys that you can rely on to achieve above-average points week in and week out. When the playoffs come around, the most commonly given advice is “start your studs.” Those guys got you there, and you need to rely on them to continue to perform. Bortles, while not a high draft pick, was a stud, currently 5th among QBs in fantasy points and total yards, and behind only Cam Newton and Tom Brady in touchdowns. What’s in a name, anyway? 3: Don’t Overpay For A Name (click to enlarge) A name brand doesn’t guarantee safety by any means. I think a lot of investors learned that from Kinder Morgan this year, as the largest energy infrastructure and third-biggest outright energy company in the North America saw its stock price lose 61% in six months. Make sure you are doing your thorough due diligence and don’t get caught up in a name. I hate posting the picture above. As a Green Bay native exiled to D.C., putting Aaron Rodgers under that title wounds me to the bowels of my heart. The fact is, the Packer passing game has been a sore disappointment for awhile now, and playing Rodgers in your fantasy playoffs likely ended them prematurely for you. I know it did for my team Davante’s Inferno (on a related note I wish Davante Adams could catch footballs). 4: “Prove It” They say “Buy the rumor, sell the news”. This is the opposite of what a long-term investor ought to do. Realizing short-term gains in this manner can’t hold a candle to unlocking long-time value form a great company that grows earnings. As an added negative, if you buy the rumor and the news contradicts it, you’ll find yourself in a losing position very quickly. Buying and selling frequently is a great way to erode capital. In fantasy football, it’s good to give a player coming off an injury or big-game-out-of-nowhere a week on your bench to prove he is legit. Bishop Sankey, a popular sleeper last year who disappointed, scored 21 points in Week 1. He was likely picked up and immediately started by many. In Week 2 he scored a measly 4 points; in fact, the entire rest of the year combined he has 25 points. Alshon Jeffery (using a Bear to make up for the Rodgers above) never recovered from his injuries this year, and was a huge disappointment when he played. 5: Coaching Matters Every company has a CEO, a CFO, and a slew of other executives that guide the company according to the path they have in mind and the over the obstacles that arise. How those executives view the company and the emphasis that they place on the paths of revenue available to the company has a huge impact on future earnings. In addition, how they determine the best value to shareholders (i.e. buybacks, dividends, M&A, etc.) will impact you directly. A coaching change can have a huge impact on a franchise. With Andy Reid in town in Kansas City, you know that when Jamaal Charles goes down with an injury, he’ll plug in the next guy as a workhorse. Some coaches place more emphasis on certain positions (or the other side of the ball, even), so it is an overlooked point of vast import to know the head coach’s mindset when drafting members or claiming waivers for your fantasy football team. 6: Waivers = The “Bargain Bin” Stocks, like football players, have “floors” and “ceilings”, downside and upside. A well-balanced portfolio, accounting for risk appetite (usually correlated to one’s age), will contain some stocks that have “breakout” opportunities. Favorable macroeconomic tailwinds, business cycle gyrations, and friendly legislation can all raise the ceiling for a stock’s projected capital appreciation. Unfavorable elements can lower the floor, making downside movement more risky. The waiver wire makes or breaks championships. David Johnson was 2% drafted at the beginning of the year, was the player with the highest representation on ESPN championship teams (42.2% owned as reported by Keith Lipscomb). Waivers are where the bargains are; Waiver pickups can swing from a low ceiling, low floor to high ceiling high floor with just one injury to a key starter. 7: Diversify Your Positions Diversification is Investing 101. Spread your investments among different sectors/cap size companies/asset classes in order to maximize return and minimize risk. Some would say that if you can be disciplined while stocks are tanking over-diversification is “di-worsification”, leading to sluggish returns over time. Still, fear is a powerful agent, so having some green among the red can be a huge comfort, and can help one avoid panic-selling. In my opinion, a team should have a blend of top-tier players spread across different positions. I believe having one stud QB, RB, and WR is better than having three stud WRs in a standard league. For instance, taking two RBs in the first/second pick is generally viewed as a “safe play” on draft day. This year that would have absolutely killed you. 8: Buy Low, Sell High (click to enlarge) The most obvious advice in history, buy low/sell high is still the most important. Understanding valuations and being able to part with a stock you have come to love (because of how good to you it has been) is hard to do. Similarly, buying an unloved stock beaten down by news or rumors can be hard, as no one wants to try and catch a falling knife. Being able to judge what “low” and “high” mean in so many unique circumstances is a consummate skill. Every player that is lighting it up will normalize to the mean. Brady was a fantastic draft pick: a Hall of Fame quarterback with a Hall of Fame coach who was ticked off at bureaucratic debate and punishments levied. He had fire in his eyes, and that came out on the field. There came a time where his perceived value was higher than his average output, and that was the time to trade him away for someone with a lower perceived value but higher average value. It’s important to be active in your management, just as it is in stocks. Conclusion Lessons can be crossover between many different media. These eight lessons form a great platform of basic directives for investing, and as a bonus you have some things to think about for fantasy football next year as well! I hope everyone enjoyed the lighthearted article; its important change gears a bit at times. Please let me know how you liked it in the comments. Thanks to Seeking Alpha for letting me go nerdy on two different levels simultaneously.

No Pain, No Gain: The Only Cure For Low Bond Returns Is Rising Rates

Summary High on the list of investor fears heading into 2016 is a “rising rate” environment. Over longer-term time frames, it is the level of interest rates, not their direction, that is the most important driver of returns. The low yields of today portend lower long-term returns. The only way out of this situation is pain, with rising rates leading to short-term losses but the promise of higher. High on the list of investor fears heading into 2016 is a “rising rate” environment. Déjà vu indeed. This has been a concern among investors for years now. With the Federal Reserve increasing interest rates this month for the first time since 2006, these fears have only been exacerbated. When it comes to investing in bonds, are these fears warranted? At first blush, they would seem to be. As bond prices move in the opposite direction to interest rates, rising rates can be a short-term headwind for bond returns. As we will soon see, though, the key to this sentence is short-term. Over longer-term time frames, it is the level of interest rates, not their direction, that is the most important driver of returns. We have total return data on the Barclays Aggregate US Bond Index going back to 1976. Since then, bonds have experienced only 3 down years: 1994, 1999, and 2013. In each of these years interest rates rose: 239 basis points (2.39%) in 1994, 151 basis points in 1999, and 74 basis points in 2013. (Note: the worst year for bonds was -2.92%, incredible when you consider that the fear of bonds today exceeds the fear of stocks). While certainly a factor over a 1-year time frame, when we look at longer-term returns the direction of interest rates becomes less and less important. The most important driver of long-term bond returns is the beginning yield. Why? Simply stated: when bonds approach maturity, they move closer to their par value and the short-term gains or losses from interest rate moves disappear. What you are left with, then, is the compounded return from the starting yield and reinvestment of interest. The relationship is immediately clear when viewing the chart below which displays starting yields by decile (lowest decile = lowest starting yield) and actual forward returns. The higher the starting yield, the higher the forward return and vice versa. (click to enlarge) The close relationship between beginning yield and future return has persisted throughout time. While rising rates can be challenging for bond holders over short-term periods, they are a positive for investors over longer periods as interest payments and maturing bonds are reinvested at higher yields. (click to enlarge) From 1977 through 1981, the yield on the Barclays Aggregate Bond Index rose each and every year, moving from 6.99% at the beginning of 1977 to 14.64% at the end of 1981. Over this 5-year period, bonds were still positive every year though performance was subpar. How was this possible? Again, the starting yield of 6.99% provided a cushion for returns as did the reinvestment of interest/principal at higher yields. The short-term pain from the rise in yields from 1977-1981 would lead to long-term gains for bond investors. The next five years would witness the highest 5-year annualized return in history at nearly 20%. This was achieved due to high starting yields and a decline in rates over that subsequent period, with the beginning yield again being the most important factor. No Pain, No Gain As I wrote back in May (see “Bond Math and the Elephant in the Room”), bond investors today are faced with their most challenging environment in history. The low yields of today portend lower long-term returns. The only way out of this situation is pain, with rising rates leading to short-term losses but the promise of higher future returns. If investors were objective and rational, then, the greatest fear would not be “rising rates” but a continuation of the lowest yield environment in history. Or worse still, “falling rates” from here which would provide a short-term boost to returns only to guarantee even lower long-term performance. This writing is for informational purposes only and does not constitute an offer to sell, a solicitation to buy, or a recommendation regarding any securities transaction, or as an offer to provide advisory or other services by Pension Partners, LLC in any jurisdiction in which such offer, solicitation, purchase or sale would be unlawful under the securities laws of such jurisdiction. The information contained in this writing should not be construed as financial or investment advice on any subject matter. Pension Partners, LLC expressly disclaims all liability in respect to actions taken based on any or all of the information on this writing. CHARLIE BILELLO, CMT Charlie Bilello is the Director of Research at Pension Partners, LLC, an investment advisor that manages mutual funds and separate accounts. He is the co-author of three award-winning research papers on market anomalies and investing. Mr. Bilello is responsible for strategy development, investment research and communicating the firm’s investment themes and portfolio positioning to clients. Prior to joining Pension Partners, he was the Managing Member of Momentum Global Advisors previously held positions as an Equity and Hedge Fund Analyst at billion dollar alternative investment firms. Mr. Bilello holds a J.D. and M.B.A. in Finance and Accounting from Fordham University and a B.A. in Economics from Binghamton University. He is a Chartered Market Technician and a Member of the Market Technicians Association. Mr. Bilello also holds the Certified Public Accountant certificate.

Indexing Doesn’t Win When It’s Implemented Via A High Fee Advisor

I’m a big advocate of indexing strategies because they’re low fee, tax efficient and diversified approaches to allocating one’s savings. But I see a worrisome trend in the asset management business – high fee advisors endorsing low fee indexing and selling it as something different from “active” management. We should be very clear here – these high fee advisors are not much different than their high fee active brethren. The asset management business has experienced a huge shift in the last 10 years. Trillions in fund flows have moved from high fee mutual funds into low fee ETFs and index funds. The evidence behind low cost indexing has become virtually irrefutable at this point. You don’t get what you pay for.¹ In fact, in many cases you get what you don’t pay for. Unfortunately, as fund fees have declined the average management fee at the advisor level has remained relatively high. Over the last 10 years we’ve seen a huge shift in the way asset management firms generate revenue. As mutual funds grew in popularity in the 90’s many of these firms used to charge commissions or advisory fees (usually in excess of 1%) and the fund company charged you an expense ratio on top of that (also 1% or more). Most investors in a mutual fund housed at a big brokerage house were seeing 2% or more of their total return sucked out in fees. Investors in a closet index fund housed at a discount broker were still seeing a 1%+ drag on their returns. As the indexing revolution has swept over these firms the high fee closet indexing mutual funds have been increasingly swapped out for the low fee index funds. But the high fees are still there. They’re just lower high fees than the outrageous 2%+ fees that were once there. Unfortunately, what we’re seeing across the business today often involves an advisor who charges the same 1%+ fee that the mutual fund charged, but they’re selling it within the “low fee indexing” pitch. So, what you actually end up owning is a low fee indexing strategy wrapped inside of a high fee asset management service. In other words, you end up with a fee structure no different than the investor who owns the high fee mutual fund in their own discount brokerage account. The chart above shows the impact of a diversified portfolio with an average annual return of 7% in a low fee index relative to the same portfolio with a 1% and 2% fee drag. Over the course of 20 years your $100,000 investment is a full 40% lower after the 2% fee drag and 18% lower with the 1% drag. In other words, over a 20 year period you’re handing over upwards of $100,000 for a service that is now being done by truly low fee advisors like my firm, Vanguard, Schwab and the Robo advisor firms. It’s true, as Vangaurd has noted , that a good advisor can contribute up to 3% per year in added value, but in a world of low cost “good” advisors you should still be cognizant of the cost of an advisor. And to be blunt, this 1% fee structure is an antiquated fee structure and it won’t continue. To be even more blunt – investors should be revolting against it given their options. We can’t control the returns we’ll earn in the financial markets. But we can control the taxes and fees we pay in those accounts. As the investment landscape shifts and you review your 2016 finances don’t find yourself in a backwards service paying high fees for something that is now being done by a multitude of firms in a truly low fee structure. ¹ – Shopping for Alpha – you get what you don’t pay for , Vanguard