This is the fourth year publishing our March Madness Investing Bracket and we begin this years edition by wondering why is it one of the most popular investing articles on the internet? Every year this article gains in popularity and one of the best forms of a compliment is imitation. It's actually quite flattering that others are now creating similar "investing brackets." Is it that America is captivated by a single collegiate basketball tournament or is it that people want to know what the next hot stock is?
We believe the answer lies in the fact that people love excitement and surprises. It's also human nature to root for the underdog and many times those two themes can certainly play out on the basketball court as well as on the stock market floor. Much like two college basketball teams that never play each other our imaginations are swept up in wondering who will "win" between a relatively unknown penny stock or a popular stock that has the media in a frenzy.
You may be asking what does a basketball tournament have to do with managing your portfolio or the investment world in general? At first glance it may not, but we thought we would have a little fun and couple it with some asset allocation parallels. After all, there are many folks who have simply thrown their hands in the air at one time or simply succumb to the notion that investing is like educated gambling. There could be some truth to that depending on your approach.
For those of you who are not familiar with the NCAA and its annual basketball tournament there are 68 teams selected and each is seeded according to their results throughout the regular season and their relative rankings. Every March the NCAA holds a single elimination tournament to crown the number one team. Part of the appeal of such a tournament is that theoretically any team that makes the "big dance" has a shot at winning it all. Each and every year there is a proverbial "Cinderella" team that surprises everyone including all the "so-called" experts. Prior to the tournament there is always plenty of banter and opinion on who wasn't invited or further arguments around the seeding of the teams that did make it. That's where we see a parallel of sorts to investing and having to make decisions among the multitudes of investment choices. With so many investment choices available, there are also as many differing opinions.
Without ruining the surprise of wins it all this year…let's just say that it's very much like the #1 seeded Wichita State Shockers. As it relates to college basketball, here is a lesser-known school that has run the table and come into the tournament with an undefeated record. Although stocks don't necessarily have a win-loss record attached to them, one of our #1 seeded stocks is very much like Wichita State and we also believe if they had a mascot you may be "shocked" to learn who wins it all.
Before we begin digging into each "region" of our bracket, let's please revisit something everyone claims they know but so very few actually follow with consistent discipline - asset allocation.
If you have ever looked at a chart of all the different asset classes and how they perform year to year…there is rarely a pattern or consistent way to determine next years "winner":
For the purposes our annual investing bracket we have "seeded" or ranked four major asset classes (like the regions) and chosen several individual picks within each. There is some basic science applied to this process. We consider how the "pick" did over the past 12 months and also how it had trended over the past three months. In some cases we gave a lower performing investment a higher seed if it was trending well with recent strength or was more consistent over a longer period of time.
Each asset class (large cap, small cap and mid cap, bonds/alternatives, international) was ranked and then corresponding seeds were assigned to "picks" that we are either adding to the portfolio or establishing new positions in. Note that we're not highlighting 68 new investments and will only discuss some investments that we are either actively involved in or looking to add to most portfolios.
OK...Let's dig into some of the key match-ups and explain why our Final Four going into Q2 2014 looks the way it does (CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE ENTIRE BRACKET):
What we typically do here is break down this fairly "efficient" asset class and choose some favorite companies within the 10 major economic sectors. For the sectors that we favor right now we have selected a few individual companies to consider. We'll do the same thing for a few Small and Mid Cap companies in the other regions.
Key match-ups and seeds:
Let us begin by saying that obviously "past performance can't predict future performance" but the bracket aims to highlight stocks that have either shown tremendous performance or ones that could be very undervalued and have strong recovery potential in the year to come. We've also included a number of companies in sectors we see continued strength in over others that may lag in the near-term. There are 10 major economic sectors but what you'll find in the Large Cap "region" as well as the others, is that we favor ones that are either innovative (Technology) or defensive (Consumer Staples). At the end of this contest we believe a combination of those two will prove to add the most value to portfolios.
Let's get into our brackets:
Any investor who looks at Disney and thinks it is only about Mickey Mouse, animated movies and amusement parks is fooling themselves. The company operates in five key business segments: Media Networks, Parks and Resorts, Studio Entertainment, Consumer Products and Interactive Products. Disney has many well known companies and brands such as ESPN, the ABC Family, 14 theme parks and resorts around the world and a highly successful music and movie franchise. Two of the more recent acquisitions that many analysts expect to fuel future growth are the Muppets and Lucasfilm. The entire Star Wars franchise is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Disney with new movies already in development.
Mylan Incorporated is a global pharmaceutical company known for developing, manufacturing and distributing generic and specialty drugs. They currently offer over 1,100 different products covering a variety of therapeutic categories. They have a robust offering of generic drugs and figure to be a solid company as the United States fully transitions into "Obama Care." One concern that investors need to be concerned with any pharmaceutical company is how new drugs are reviewed by the FDA or other agencies they have to work with around the globe. Negative headlines can send a stock like MYL into a tailspin. MYL has done a fantastic job of expanding its distribution so that it is truly a global company and should continue to perform well going forward.
This match up is a tough one and Disney gives Mylan all it can handle. It comes down to the wire with Disney pulling out the victory. We are basing this on the fact that Disney has so many new projects in the works and its management team has proven to be of the highest quality.
Many consumers will simply look at these two companies and proclaim that each of their products is innovative and also a work of art. When the passion gets feverish on companies like this it's usually a sign to take precaution. Each of these two stocks (and companies) could easily be criticized as being cultish…and that's quite frankly our fear in owning too much of either one. That being said, however, nobody can deny that both Apple and Tesla are changing their respective markets and it's foolish to ignore their investment potential.
Tesla's meteoric rise in stock price may simmer down some but we believe there are enough catalysts to have them beat Apple this year and most other Large Caps. Tesla has 10,000 pre-ordered cars on their next generation model. They're smart in pricing the first Model S at a price point that not everyone can afford. The popularity is more than a fad and these cars are selling like hotcakes domestically and making considerable progress in Europe. In six years they expect to sell over 500,000 cars a year and that goal will be met along with their costs becoming more scalable with the Gigafactory that's currently being built (lithium-ion battery factory).
Although we give the edge to TSLA over APPL here, those looking for innovation at a more traditionally perceived value might want to hang on to their Apple shares. They're down -6.1% YTD but the stock still trades at about 13 times earnings and rewards you with a 2.3% dividend. The biggest factor that can give Apple a chance to run north of $600/share this year is their challenge to prove (again) that it is still innovative. Much of this is perception and hinges on it delivering with the launch of iTV, wearable technology like the iWatch, or the much anticipated 1Phone 6 that will be rolled out later this year.
Large Cap Summary:
"Don't drink and drive" but seeing Constellation Brands (NYSE:STZ) meet up with Tesla actually speaks to a couple of our major themes we see developing this year. For one, we believe it's important to look ahead in markets like this. At the beginning of a bull market almost every stock seems to get a lift. With all of the money the Fed has printed via quantitative easing we simply don't fully trust this market. The correction that really has yet to fully develop WILL come and we're confident it's going to happen this year. When, not if, it does happen, we want to buy companies that will either handle stormy waters well or sail fast ahead once things calm down.
Having a #1 and #2 seed face each other is our way of saying we think Large Cap is fairly predictable this year. Constellation Brands is a wine company and marketer of imported beer in the United States. A stock that has appreciated about 78% over the past year should not trade at a price earnings ratio of under 10 but it does. Owning this company is a smart bet but if you're on the same page with us and think stocks that are innovative will win, don't count out Tesla. As we've noted above, we believe there are several catalysts to propel Tesla higher which is why we have it going all the way to the finals.
Lastly, keep in mind that we can't touch on every company listed in these brackets but there are some real values here that aren't getting any love from us or the markets as of late. Specifically, look at Target (NYSE:TGT) which we have written about before. This is a stock that will make its way back but in our opinion that won't happen in 2014. It will take some time but add companies like this to your shopping list for when the broad market pulls back. The same goes for Mattel (NASDAQ:MAT) although this company could easily have been picked to advance another round. MAT could very well be the deepest value in this entire bracket trading at roughly 13.2 times earnings relative to its peer average of 20.2. Their near-term weakness is an opportunity to open a position and while you're patiently looking to add more on market dips you will be rewarded with a 4.04% dividend.
Small Cap And Mid Cap-
The Mid Cap and Small Cap bracket is typically where we find a stock that emerges, surprising everyone and posting very impressive results. This year we truly have a "Cinderella story" as Synta Pharmaceuticals (SNTA) comes out of the pack to represent this section of the tournament as a #12 seed. Typically we won't load up on a position like this for clients but with a price under $5 this is a stock we can nibble at and add to certain accounts that need additional small-cap exposure. We had a position similar to this last fall when we purchased Arena Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:ARNA). Over the course of approximately a month and a half the stock posted returns of nearly 40%. Stocks in this bracket can move very quickly but investors also need to exercise patience due to increased volatility in the Small and Mid Cap space.
Key match-ups and seeds:
This match up features two companies that have both been on impressive runs the last 12 months. Spirit Airlines has become a leader in discounted travel and First Solar is a leader in solar energy. SAVE is up over 30% year-to-date and over the last 12 months they have posted returns in excess of 130%. The airline has introduced the club concept similar to another stock we have owned over the years, Costco (NASDAQ:COST). For $59.95 customers can become a member of the "$9 Fare Club" which allows them access to lower airfares and deals on baggage and other additional expenses the airline passes on to travelers. SAVE does a great job of managing expenses but the one variable they can't control is the rising price of fuel. Airlines will typically lock in pricing months if not quarters in advance and this can have a profound impact on quarterly profits.
First Solar has also posted some impressive returns. Year to date FSLR is flat but over the last 12 months they are up over 100%. FSLR has an international marketplace that they should be able to take advantage of across the globe. FSLR has posted returns that separate it from the rest of the solar energy companies, which have become a bit trendy over the last several years. The company has posted a profit each of the last six quarters and eight out of the last 10 quarters. SAVE is dependent on the U.S. consumer while FSLR has positioned itself as a leader on a global scale. SAVE currently has a P/E of 24.5 while FSLR is at 14.8. Here are two quality companies with impressive returns but the future looks brighter for FSLR and they move on in this tournament.
One of the prevalent themes we are focusing on in 2014 is the fact that we're beginning the sixth year of a bull market and it won't last forever. We of course have no idea as to how much longer this market could run higher but the one thing that is obvious is that it's getting long in the tooth. In summation, let's just say this market feels frothy. For those who understand market cycles you will know that small caps typically are the first to lead the early stages of a bull market and they are also the first to fall as a bear market approaches. Small cap led all asset classes last year and even though there could be more steam left in this asset class we will place our bets on larger and more established asset classes going forward which is why mid cap get the nod in 2014.
#2 Under Armour (NYSE:UA) vs #12 Synta Pharmaceuticals
Upset alert…or is it? Under Armour has been a fantastic growth story but when a market is already defying odds and stubbornly refuses to correct, you might be best served by avoiding overvalued stocks. UA is trading at a P/E of almost 80 so investors are paying about triple of what they would for other peers in this category. We're actually impressed that UA continues to do well and weathered a rough stretch of bad press during the Sochi Winter Olympics. Our main issue here is that the overall market is getting way ahead of itself and stocks like UA are the most vulnerable during a pullback.
Synta Pharmaceuticals not only knocks off UA but we have this small biotech company going all the way to our Final Four. SNTA is down about -51% the past year and is searching to replace its CEO who resigned earlier this month. That's actually when this company hit our radar. Here's a stock trading under $5 where several analysts are still extremely bullish on it and maintain a $16 price target. This past September the FDA granted SNTA fast-track designation for its drug Ganetespib. This unique drug attacks cancer in alternative ways than other traditional treatments and drugs. The drug inhibits a molecular chaperone called Heat Shock Protein (Hsp90). In preclinical trials the drug has shown to reduce the most aggressive traits in tumors such as spreading to other areas of the body, showing resistance to chemotherapy, or generating new blood vessels.
SNTA has also shown some unusually heavy insider buying this past year after the stock got clobbered. Stocks like this that have no current revenues and a large cash burn can obviously be speculative but each and every year it's typically a biotech company that makes a huge splash with an advancement of a groundbreaking drug.
Small And Mid Cap Summary:
Mid cap and small cap stocks should ideally each have their own bracket but for lack of space we will group them together as we have in years past. It can be difficult comparing a company with a market cap of $150 million (small cap) to one that is $9 billion (mid cap) but there are similar match ups in the NCAA tournament; just look at this year with Woffard taking on Michigan. Individual stocks dominate this portion of our tournament this year as the market cap indexes (VO and VB) get knocked out early. Investors that exercise patience and thoroughly research positions can be rewarded in this space. Stocks like Synta Pharmaceuticals and J2 Global Inc. (NASDAQ:JCOM) that have compelling stories, unique products and superior management can make a run and pull off some impressive wins.
We believe a changing of the guard is about to take place. Domestic markets just enjoyed the best year since 1996 and that led many investors to resort to old habits and exit international markets since they underperformed the US on a relative basis in 2013. The majority of investors ignore international investing or simply don't allocate enough towards it. More than half the world's opportunities are overseas (58%) so for one to not have exposure here is a major mistake. Toward the tail end of last year we began discussing the merits of investing more into emerging markets. Unless you've been asleep you will certainly know that this asset class has been stung and it's partly for that reason that we view it as a huge opportunity. Recall that emerging markets trounced all asset classes from 2003 to 2007 but then lost -53.18% in 2008. The following year emerging markets bounced back over +79%! Should we run away from that volatility? Let's take a look at what the rest of 2014 has in store for us…
Key match-ups and seeds:
Recently we wrote about Frontier Markets and specifically mentioned Africa (read "the Guide" pg 4). The population growth that Africa is currently experiencing positions it as a force over next few decades. There are certainly several different headwinds that the continent will have to face but demographics lead us to believe that there will be dynamic growth in the future. There is no doubt that there will be individual stocks that will benefit from this growth but for now we will focus on utilizing a broad ETF to capture future opportunities - AFK.
Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria is the second largest Spanish-based bank. This international banking group has a huge footprint with exposure to Europe, South America and North America. While this stock has weathered the financial crisis in Europe fairly well there is much more that needs to be taken into account when looking at BBVA. The upside to a bank like this is limited as it is closely tied to the various economies that it operates within. BBVA has significant exposure to both Argentina and Turkey - the two worst performing currencies against the Euro in the entire world.
The other concern with a bank like BBVA is they often try to be all things to all people and eventually end up tripping over their own feet.
Looking forward the future is much brighter for AFK. It's important to keep in mind that an investment like this will be more of a long-term investment and to expect considerable volatility. Africa emerges from this matchup with a commanding second round win.
Rio Tinto is a stock we have owned in client portfolios over the last several years. This international mining company is split into several different divisions: Aluminum, Copper, Diamonds, Minerals, Energy and Iron Ore. The Iron Ore division has historically been among the top revenue producing groups for the company. Goldman Sachs and other analysts are forecasting a decline in the price of Iron Ore over the next two years which will clearly impact Rio Tinto.
Vanguard Emerging Markets ETF is one of the largest and most well known ETFs in this space. This ETF offers broad exposure to emerging market companies with over 900 different stocks. Vanguard manages this ETF and charges only 0.15% while offering a yield of 2.87%. Not only is this ETF diversified by country and region it also offers industry diversification to its shareholders. When you consider all the rapidly changing global headlines, a broader approach like this can be the best way to add emerging markets exposure to a portfolio. It can be a daunting if not flat out impossible task to predict which specific countries will perform well and which will be a disappointment. Based on the diversification and growth ahead in the global markets, VWO emerges as the winner in this matchup. RIO is certainly not being written off as an investment but in this case VWO emerges victorious, knocking out the higher seed.
If you had not eyeballed our bracket and figured out that the "Wichita State" of the group is Monitise, allow us to explain why it not only will surprise you but most of the investing world. Most conservative investors wouldn't buy an international company that trades for just over $1.20. Ironically, we bet those same investors would perk their ears up to learn of a company that is already working with over 300 of the world's leading banking and financial institutions and is basically pioneering the mobile banking platform that will be the norm for years to come.
Don't be misled to think that Monitise is an experiment or a shaky start-up. There is a reason why Visa (NYSE:V) has a 13.6% interest in the company and in our opinion there is a huge likelihood that the company could be acquired in the next year or two. Instead of investing in a stodgy bank that will probably do no better than the broad market, look to a company that is leading the industry of mobile finance. If you haven't noticed people do far more than make phone calls from their smartphones and this company is extremely well positioned to benefit from this trend.
Before we move on let's not ignore the dark horse that MONIF knocks off… #12 seeded Mexico. Why are we suggesting that an ETF tracking a broad base of Mexico's equities will do well? The odds and current performance don't look so hot. EWW is down -14.5% over the past year while the US was up +20.60% over the same stretch. This is more than a contrarian play. The next time you read an article about the economic slow down in China and how that rattles world markets, we want you to remember our recommendation and thoughts on EWW. In our opinion Mexico is the future of manufacturing. As China does simmer down much of the early growth shift that will occur will get picked up by other parts of the global economy. The US will get some of it but it's actually Mexico that is best positioned to benefit in the earlier stages of this shift. Mexico continues to build new manufacturing plants and they're not small lemonade stands. Companies like Nissan, Honda, Volkswagen and Mazda are all planning on building sizable plants in Mexico over the next two years. We have EWW beating out our main Emerging Markets ETF of VWO as well as dead money like Japan (NYSEARCA:EWJ). If you're a long-term investor seeking exposure to emerging markets you need to consider EWW. Mexico boasts some of the most attractive demographics with a young population (55% are 30 years old or younger) and a very decent political climate compared to almost any other emerging market economy. We especially like it at its current P/E of just over 8 and it also sports a dividend yield of 2.21%.
Here's the bottom line with this region of our bracket… It's where the most overall value is. Take for example, Russia (NYSEARCA:RSX), which is making perhaps the biggest headlines of any global situation right now. The recent development of Crimea seceding from the Ukraine to become part of Russia is adding fuel to a fire between the West and Russia that hasn't been sparked since the Cold War. We have commented repeatedly on our belief that Emerging Markets offer the most growth opportunities of any investment in the world. Taking that a step further there are certain Frontier Markets in our opinion will outperform the US over the next decade. Even in the near-term we are shifting portfolio allocations with a heavier weighting toward international exposure with instruments like VEU.
Bonds are typically the component of the average portfolio that gets the least amount of attention. The usual approach is to buy a mutual fund or an ETF and simply let it ride. Then along comes 2013. Investors were forced to look at their fixed income positions as volatility and negative returns dominated headlines last year. Fixed income is often referred to as your "sleep at night" money but last year it was anything but that. This section of the bracket presents a new story in 2014 as some unique strategies make their mark and post some surprising wins.
Key match-ups and seeds:
Before we dive into this portion of the bracket we need to point out that we have some first time participants in our bracket. Specifically we have a mutual fund and an actively managed strategy in this section. For those of you who know us we're not fans of most mutual funds and this is a first in the four-year history of the bracket.
We are not going to focus on many specific match-ups but rather touch on a few major themes that are developing. Last year proved to investors that it was time to take a new approach with the fixed income allocation of their portfolio. As we've written on many occasions we do not manage portfolios built out of mutual funds - each carrying a different commission along with other miscellaneous fees. There are certain environments, however, where a manager with a proven track record and the expertise to navigate quickly changing environments can truly bring value to the table.
Due to space we are also including alternative strategies in this section of the bracket. Simply calling these "alternative" can be a bit misleading as they can offer exposure to commodities, currency exchanges, real estate, hedge funds and even long and short strategies. Currently we recommend that about 15% of a portfolio should be dedicated to alternative investments. We view these as a hedge to the risk associated with both the Equity and Bond markets as there is very little if no correlation.
We highlight this early match-up because we have admittedly never liked gold as an investment until recently. Don't fool yourself into stories that gold is the textbook and age-old inflation hedge. This only happened during one decade but financial journalists have falsely shared this perception enough times that it become factual to most readers. If you tell yourself a lie enough times you and others may eventually believe it to be true. In any case, read our current and past opinions on gold and you'll see why we believe you may want to finally have some exposure to it in 2014.
The Vanguard REIT Index gets a strong No. 2 seed and although we have it losing to gold we could make a case for it making a much stronger run in our bracket. Many experts wrote off REITs for a long time after they turned in the best performance of all asset classes over the past 10 years. Even passive investment managers who claim not to time markets basically cut bait on REITs toward the end of last year. Guys like Larry Swedroe, for example, made strong arguments that of course seem logical with rates on the rise and a natural opportunity to take profits to reallocate elsewhere. Guess what? ETFs like VNQ are up +9.7% YTD and they still should be a part of your portfolio.
#2 "Active Fixed Income": Who is the new guy?
Cal Poly San Luis Obispo has fielded its first ever team in this year's NCAA bracket. On the investment side of things we also introduce a newcomer to the bracket but they do NOT have a losing record as do the Cal Poly Mustangs. "Active Fixed Income" is about breakeven for the year but that's actually impressive as it relates to the overall bond asset class. We are giving this investment a rather nebulous name in fairness to our clients. We're currently implementing a series of actively managed strategies within the fixed income asset class to get in front of what could be the most frightening stretch of bond performance in history. All of the "experts" bark about interest rates on the rise but try and name any who have given you a viable solution on how to position yourself aside from (1) shortening duration or (2) reducing exposure? Those aren't solutions, they're clear as day obvious statements.
When you think of bonds as well as alternative investments this year, we want you to remember this:
"The lightning bolt that you do NOT see is the one that kills you."
What investors need in this environment is not a "Jack of all trades" or a fund that is constrained to certain fixed income instruments. You need bond management that is nimble, proactive and that will position the portfolio to hedge risks. Again, even though this investing bracket is a fun annual exercise, we reserve the right to not disclose which investment we are using for our own clients.
Final Four Summary:
This years Final Four Investing Bracket leaves us with three No. 1 seeds and one No. 12 seed as the proverbial "Cinderella" team. While every year should bring us a new champion, we're still noticing some similarities from years past and our previous investing brackets. For one, some of the picks in this bracket got eliminated early but are here for a reason. A company like Target, for example, never made it out of the first round but we have it in our bracket because it will eventually recover from the current PR mess that it's in as well as hopefully manage its Canadian operations more successfully. In other words, never count out a great name because it's being beat up right now - today's loser is very likely a deep value and one that performs well later on. Secondly, always remind yourself that you can miss picking the overall winner but still do well by having a solid "Sweet 16" finish. In the case of this year's bracket notice that of our final eight "teams" only one is an index. What are we suggesting with that?
Our overall belief is that on most years the data shows that most investors who passively manage their portfolios by using indexes will beat actively managed funds than those who try to pick individual winners. If you have read many of our other articles you will know that we often remind people that stock picking is often futile. Although it can be fun and exhilarating it's much like gambling. Most folks are better served by building a well diversified portfolio that lowers the idiosyncratic risks of choosing a Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO) over a Pepsi (NYSE:PEP) or a Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) over a Merck (NYSE:MRK). Over 90% of the performance in a portfolio is determined by the asset class and allocation you have selected, not the stocks you rolled the dice on.
Enjoy the tournament and check in with us if you have questions on any one of these investments. We'll also update the bracket in a few months to let our readers see how these picks performed over the remainder of 2014.
Disclosure: I am long IVV, VO, VB, VWO, BND, VNQ, CLNE, RIO, MONIF, PCY, SLV, GLD, SBUX, LQD, JNK, TIP, VEU. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it. I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.