EC HH Forks In The Road

We have written profusely about the investment myopia of today which has focused on “growth at any price companies” without regard to profits or free cash-flow. We do this because we know success in investing requires a healthy degree of discomfort for it to be profitable, and we know how much comfort today’s investor has found by owning what has worked.

These later stages of a mania do a good job of wearing down even the most ardent apostate. For many, it becomes natural to yield to the tunnel vision thinking which Sir John Templeton says leads to the four most expensive words in the English language, “this time it’s different.”

One important preventative cure to defend from this type of financial euphoria is memory. We need to remember the larger picture of market history, yet we don’t need to look too far back for useful perspective. Money flows are one prism to see where past manias went parabolic and then fizzled out, and recent examples remind us of Robert Frost’s “two roads” that diverge in the woods.

Consider 2011, where the market became surrounded by thick “woods” in very tall forests. The S&P 500 lost 19.4% from the April peak until the October trough. Like today, the world became fixated on the idea of a recession (double-dip in that case) and the end of the anemic economic expansion. Money flowed heavily into the “fear-trade” and “flight to quality” ideas. The 10-year Treasury bond yield took a swan dive from 3.74% to 1.72%, causing the bond price to spike up 18.5%. Gold had one of the more spectacular moves it has ever had, appreciating an eye-popping 45% intra-year and attracted massive amounts of money into the yellow metal.

As gold peaked above $1,900 an ounce (today it is around $1,200), the SPDR Gold ETF (GLD, the most popular vehicle utilized to “invest” in gold) vacuumed up more money than any other ETF in the world. By late August of 2011, it captured $77.5 billion in assets, about $1 billion more than the S&P 500 SPDR (SPY)  which tracks the broad stock market. As of today, the Gold ETF has around $28 billion in assets, and the S&P 500 SPDR ETF has $270 billion. Divergent roads were taken, and the crowd was proven woefully wrong. Despite the best advertising efforts of G. Gordon Liddy and singer Pat Boone, the mania was over. The portfolios of enthused gold bugs were crushed. Taking the road less traveled would have made all the difference.

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Disclaimer: The information contained in this missive represents SCM’s opinions, and should not be construed as personalized or individualized investment advice. Past performance is no ...

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William K. 2 months ago Member's comment

Quite educational, reminding us that emotion is not a good leader for making financial decisions. Of course, I already knew that but many folks seem to ignore reality in favor of emotions.

Cyrus Smith 2 months ago Member's comment

"GLD, the most popular vehicle utilized to “invest” in gold"

I was never a fan of this paper gold fund. This is a fund promising "oh yea, we're backed by 700+ tons of gold for sure!" but then flips around denying you the rights to any of it. No real options to even verify a single 'bullion'. There are many other red flags attached to GLD's holdings too.