What I've Learned The Past Two Days

Includes: FDP, SAB
by: David Merkel, CFA

I was a little ahead of the market yesterday, say 10-15 basis points ahead of the S&P. Leading the charge were Fresh Del Monte (NYSE:FDP) (my current largest loser), and Grupo Casa Saba (NYSE:SAB) (what a great undiscovered stock).

Fresh Del Monte was upgraded from underperform to neutral after their less bad earnings. Grupo Casa Saba reported excellent earnings. They run drugstores in Mexico, an excellent industry for a country with a growing middle class. For my balanced mandates, I kicked out the QQQQs that I bought yesterday. The rally wasn’t as big as the reduction in short term risk implied by the VIX.

At RealMoney.com, I had a post late in the day called, “What I Have Learned Over the Past 36 Hours.” It attempted to put forth a dozen things that have been revealed since the recent crisis hit. Here’s an explanation:

  1. China sneezes; the world catches cold. If we needed any proof that America no longer solely dominates the global scene we saw it on Tuesday.
  2. Systemic risk may or may not be a problem now, but a lot of people acted like it was a problem. Thus the rallies in the currencies used to finance the carry trades. The Yen and the Swiss Francs are good hedges here. I am more dubious about long Treasuries, though not long TIPS. (It was neat to see the rallies in the yen and swiss francs. Thne long bond fell more today than the carry trade currencies did.)

  3. The current equity market infrastructure is marginal to handle the volume of the last two days. Given the nature of modern finance, major errors are not acceptable. I got off a couple of good trades as a result of the accident, but those trades were accidental as well.
  4. The lack of human intermediaries with balance sheets leaves markets more volatile than before. It genuinely helps to have someone who can stop the market at certain volatile points, and then restart with an auction so that a fair level can be determined after news gets disseminated. Also, liquidity providers show their value in a crisis.
  5. Algorithmic trading and quantitative money management is making stock price changes more correlated with one another than they used to be. Markets behave differently in normal times, and under stress. The methods that make money when the market is calm exacerbate volatility when market stress appears

  6. Panic rarely pays.
  7. Patience usually pays.
  8. Diversification pays.
  9. In a crisis, strong balance sheets and free cash flow are golden. During times of stress, these four bits of wisdom pay off. They protect an investor from his own worst temptations.
  10. People want the Fed to loosen more than the FOMC itself does. The FOMC doesn’t care about weak GDP if labor employment is robust. The FOMC certainly doesnot care about te stok market unless i affects the banking system, which is unlikely.
  11. The oscillator is not oversold, yet. Sad, but true. We have a decent number of days in the rear-view mirror that aren’t so bad. The intermediate-term panic level is not high.
  12. What do you know? Cyclicals are cyclical. I’m just glad I didn’t get kicked worse yesterday. That’s the danger in playing cyclical names. I take my risk therethough, rather than in growth that might not materialize.

All this said, I feel well positioned for the next few trading sessions. I am working on my quarterly portfolio reshaping, which will take out a few companies, and replace them with cheaper companies in industries with more potential. Once I complete that analysis, you will hear about it on RealMoney and here.

Disclosure: Long SAB, FDP