On Countercyclical Investing, China Easing, Why Commodities and an Ayurvedic Approach to Sleep Disorders -Part 4!

From: Aditya Rana
Date: Sat, Jun 9, 2012 at 2:28 PM
Subject: On Countercyclical Investing, China Easing, Why Commodities and an Ayurvedic Approach to Sleep Disorders -Part 4!


“No guts, no glory” is an oft repeated remark which is applicable to a wide variety of situations in life, and holds true for investing as well. Rob Arnott, the CEO and founder of the financial advisory and money management firm Research Affiliates and a leading proponent of the concept of fundamental indexing (which weights stock portfolios based on a set of fundamental factors rather than market capitalization as favoured by the standard indices) makes a convincing case for investing when the markets conditions are most unfavourable and thereby achieving superior returns over the long run. To summarise:

-While people generally measure wealth based on the dollar value of the portfolio, they believe that it is better to measure wealth in terms of the real spending that the portfolio can support over its lifetime. The concept is termed “sustainable spending” .

-The implications of this are somewhat counterintuitive – if under a bull market the prices of all stocks in the portfolio double, while dividend yields fall in half, we are not really better off as the long-term sustainable spending of the portfolio has not really changed. We are better off only if we liquidate the portfolio and spend immediately.

-Bull markets are therefore not good for those who are net savers and are building portfolios to service future needs, as it actually costs more to purchase the same real income stream over the course of the bull market.

-Conversely, investors panic at market troughs (like in early 2009) because they feel that their assets have been wiped out. That is only true if they liquidate their assets and spent immediately. For buy-and-hold investors the real income stream was higher in 2009 than in 2007.

-Market sell-offs actually provide opportunities to increase sustainable spending by judiciously rebalancing portfolios between asset classes and within asset classes, particularly for volatile assets like equities.

-Temporary losses of capital are rebalancing opportunities while permanent losses of capital are a disaster and can arise from temporary losses which are made permanent by selling at the trough.

-Analysing the 10 bear markets (with losses larger than 30%) over the past century, the average loss is a debilitating 46% real return loss occurring usually within a period of two years.

-Meanwhile, the peak to trough decline in real dividends during these bear markets was a scant 3% , on average. During the Great Depression, the drop in real dividends was 25% compared to a devastating 80% real loss on the portfolio value, and was the single worst outlier in a century.

-On average, real sustainable spending was lowered only slightly during these 10 bear markets, and recovered by 35% off their lows during the ensuing 5 years after the market trough. Additionally, real dividends achieved new highs, rising by an average of 29% compared to the previous peak. During the recent financial crisis, US stocks fell by 51% while the real dividends actually grew by 4%.

-Investors who focused on the level of real spending, rather than market prices, were able to view the worst downturns in market history as periods of minor disappointment rather than disasters. However, this requires courage and the ability to ignore headlines, brokerage reports and our natural human instinct to sell.

-Real sustainable spending can be increased during market downturns by rebalancing into higher-yielding assets after they have suffered precipitous drops, funded by selling assets which have performed much better. Such an approach would have necessitated a switch from equities into bonds in 2000, and a switch back into equities in 2009.

-The focus on sustainable spending would also necessitate rebalancing within asset classes like equities – for example, the Fundamental Index approach would trim holdings in stocks which have outperformed the market and suffered drops in real dividend yields, switching into stocks with higher yields and thereby raising the yield on the portfolio.

-Historically, the rebalancing between value and growth stocks based on relative performance over the preceding two years have, on average, raised yields on stock portfolios by about 4% in the US, and by about 6.5% in non-US developed stock markets. The increase in spending power has occurred three-fourths of the time, 24 out of 33 years in the US and 22 out of 28 years in international markets.

-The recent crisis offers an exceptional opportunity to rebalance into recently savaged deep value stocks in Europe and the emerging markets. Their March 2012 rebalancing was able to boost dividend yield from 3.8% to 4.2%, resulting in a 10% raise in income.

-This rebalancing approach as illustrated by the Fundamental Index, has resulted (since 1964) in a 0.7% higher dividend yield than a market cap weighted index plus a 1% higher annualized growth rate in dividends.

-Countercyclical investing requires courage, and if one is able to do it in a disciplined and contrarian manner, it provides the ability to achieve a steady increase in sustainable spending while letting others invest for comfort.

An intriguing argument which is counterintuitive but does make sense and is actually supported by historical data and investing experience. Our natural tendency is to chase the winners, and while that may work for specific stocks over certain periods, being a “contrarian armed with a calculator” is what works over time. This approach requires courage and the discipline to stick with the process through “thick and thin”. In previous newsletters, I have made the case for using market downturns to add exposure to the Indian, Chinese and European stock markets. As long as this is done within the context of a diversified portfolio, it is very likely to yield dividends over time.

The recent cut in interest rates by the PBOC marks the commencement of an easing cycle to arrest the downturn in the economy. The turn in the growth of money supply in China has typically led rallies in various assets across the world- the first one occurred in late 2004 when M2 growth rate accelerated until around mid 2006, during which period gold prices went up around 65% and the S&P 500 went up 20%. In the second period of acceleration from late 2008 to late 2009, gold was up 65% and the S&P500 was up 15%. We are now at one of these inflection points (see graph below).

China’s M2 Monthly year-over-year growth (Mike Krieger)

-While a lot of attention has been paid to the impact of the European crisis on Chinese exports, they have a relatively small impact on the GDP (as the chart below exhibits) . What matters are investment and consumption and government policies have a big impact on investment and thereby the ability to influence GDP growth.

-Commodity prices have been down sharply this year, mainly from better weather and a slowing of demand in emerging markets. However, as emerging market pursue stimulative policies to boost growth, commodity price are likely to resume their uptrend . This is supported by long-term charts (see below) on commodities which point towards the latest downturn being a correction in a secular bull market which has at least a few more years to go.

-And finally, if you had any doubt about the paradigm shift in commodity prices (as argued by Jeremy Grantham and summarised in a previous note), please take a close look at this really long-term (since 1749) chart on commodities. Please note the three upward structural shifts in prices- the first in the early thirties following the dollar devaluation against gold, the second one in the early seventies following the replacement of the gold standard by the dollar standard, and the third one in the early 2000s following the commencement of the Fed’s “easing-on-market falls” programme. As long as central bank easing continues, commodities, being a hard asset, are likely to be in an uptrend.

An Ayurvedic Approach to Sleep disorders – Part 4 (Dr. Vasant Lad):

In previous newsletters we covered the relationship between sleep disorders and depression. We now cover the relationship between sleep disorders and migranes. Migranes are a vata-pitta (air-fire doshas as pertaining to bodily constitution) type of disorder. They are more common in women, and in people with pitta constitutions, especially perfectionists, compulsive types or type A personalities. There are two main theories regarding the causes of migraines:

-The blood vessels (rakta) expand due to the hot quality of pitta, exerting pressure on the nerve fibres (majja) causing pain. This is the cause of pitta type migraines.

-The blood vessels (rakta) contract due to the cold attribute of vata, blocking the flow to a part of the brain (majja) causing pain. This is the cause of vata type of migraines.

One of the main causes of sleep disorders is aggravated vata pushing pitta in rasa (plasma or cytoplasm)-rakta and majja (bone marrow and nerves) dhatus (bodily tissues). People with disturbed sleep patterns are prone to migraines. Migraines can cause visual impairment as they are important part of the majja dhatu.

Causative factors of Migraines:

-Disturbed sleep

-Emotional factors

-Food allergies and intolerances.

-Coffee, Chocolate, Cola drinks, Citrus fruits, Sour foods.

Symptoms of Vata-type Migraines:

-Throbbing pulsating pain

-Cluster headaches


-Gas and bloating

Symptoms of Pitta-type Migraines:

-Sharp pain

-Excessive sweating



-Flashes of light

To be continued.

Stay cool in the summer!




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