“[Certainty can] seem like a good idea, but actually lead us into trouble… The story here revolved primarily around the stochastic nature of product development… Succeeding in product development requires the discovery and exploitation of options where there is an asymmetry to the payoff function.” […]
- Equity investments into upstream oil and gas companies are largely levered commodity price plays; long-term total returns barely offset the carry costs of taking a long position in oil futures.
- There are multitudes of ways by which experts seek to forecast future commodities prices; most don’t work.
- The failure of forecasting should not be surprising if the Efficient Market Hypothesis is even partly correct.
- Even barring market efficiency, behavioral models provide ample reason for the widespread inaccuracy of forecasts.
- The idea that commodities prices — including oil — follow a random walk is both overwhelmingly supported by evidence and practical.
Figure 1: Black Gold
Source: Andy Thomas. Black Gold
Evidence overwhelmingly supports the notion that investments into upstream oil and gas producers are basically levered commodity price plays. This, and the fact that commodities producers are price-takers, indicates that petroleum economics are overly levered to commodities prices. It should follow, therefore, that an ability to accurately predict petroleum prices could result in advantageous market timing — i.e. investments in the right petroleum producing assets during the right times in the cycle. As a result of this ostensible potential for riches, prognosticators have devised multitudes of ways to forecast oil prices. Unfortunately, most of these efforts fall short of useful — no known forecasting approach, not even futures strip prices, significantly outperforms the assumption that price evolutions are random walks using out-of-sample data. This failure is not surprising, however, if we are to believe even a watered-down form of the Efficient Market Hypothesis (EMH).
Date of Source: 12 Apr 2016
As quants, we’re all aware that every model has a shelf-life… a similar pattern applies to the world of data. Rare, unique and proprietary data eventually diffuses and becomes commonplace, easily available, edgeless data. The best analysts constantly reinvent their models, to avoid their inevitable obsolescence. Today, they’re venturing into the world of alternative data as a new source of alpha. […]
- Valero (VLO) is conservatively valued on an absolute basis according to a Discounted Cash Flow Analysis.
- VLO is conservatively valued on a relative valuation basis against its peers group.
- Conservative valuation reflects expected margin contraction. Even though analysts’ 2015 earnings estimates are still biased high, ample margin of safety makes VLO a long-term HOLD.
- If/when estimates do come down, VLO is a BUY on the dip.
- Although good things are more likely to happen to conservatively valued stocks, a separate thesis is needed to indicate how management would unlock value.
In the world of investing and corporate finance, the Efficient Market Hypothesis (EMH) casts a long shadow. EMH states that a sufficiently liquid market reflects the “correct” price at all times. Since efficient markets factor in all known and relevant information at all times, it is therefore practically futile to attempt to predict the future direction of market prices. In other words, a blindfolded monkey throwing darts at the Wall Street Journal has about the same chance as beating the market averages as any professional investor. At one extreme, the founder of Vanguard Investments Jack Bogle revolutionized the mutual fund industry around cheap indexing, which he posited as the solution to efficient markets. At the other, Warren Buffet’s seminal essay, The Super-Investors of Graham and Doddes-ville, defends the notion that right-headed investors can carve out a significant edge [1. The Super-Investors of Graham and Doddes-ville]. In the middle, you have the greater majority of investors who will likely cede that both extremes contain some amount of the truth. Even 2013 Nobel Laureate Eugene Fama, of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, who is credited with developing EMH, has stated that “[asset prices] are typically right and wrong about half the time” [2. The Super-Brainy Quote]. Being able to determine when they are right and when they are wrong is the holy grail to traders and investors alike. In order to investigate how correctly assets prices reflect all known information, we must develop an intuition and methodology for estimating the fair value of an asset. As we will discuss, just because a methodology is descriptive does not mean it is predictive (i.e., correlation does not imply causation).
After recently having completed testing on a general method of discounted cash flow (DCF) analysis for estimating a broad basket of stocks’ intrinsic values, I became more concerned with “quality”. While DCFs remain the foundation of any sound business valuation, I discovered they are highly sensitive to the assumptions and data used. Slightly changing a minute detail can drastically influence the result causing an attractive investment to all of sudden seem not so attractive and vice versa. While relative valuation methods were a natural alternative (Wall Street’s preferred choice, in fact) to circumvent the sensitivity issues, I was inclined to believe that an ability to define robust ‘quality factors’ would complement the ideological purity of the discounted cash flow approach much better. The purpose of this discussion is to demonstrate that a good company can indeed also be a good investment.
In this post, I present a case that alpha can be gleaned from publicly available SEC Form 13-F data. Traditionally, pundits looked at commonalities in institutional top-holdings by dollar amount. Research suggests that these aggregated top holdings among many institutions can be indicative of their “best ideas” (1). That may be all good and well, but common sense indicates that the best leads should come from a good institution’s top holdings per unit of capacity. For my institution, I use RenTec because:
a.) they are quantitative and therefore it may be easier to find commonalities in their holdings; and,
b.) they have consistently delivered exceptional returns.
I believe that their “best ideas” should be those positions in which the position size is largest relative to capacity because a moderately-sized holding for a small float stock is much more indicative of expected risk-reward than a relatively much larger position in a relatively much larger float stock. Additionally, focusing on a single institution (rather than many) allows us to ask the all-important “why” by determining if there are any commonalities in their top holdings. Understanding the “why” might us allow us to move beyond “piggybacking” off of quarterly 13-F data, and understand what drives the decisions of the best in the industry. I argue that if we can deconstruct some of the decision-making criteria, we can use this for finding our own unique source of alpha.
I used to think of myself as contrarian, but after completing my most recent research project, “Grading the Gurus” (which I presented at the last MBIIM) , I now realize that I only appear to be a contrarian. I’ll spare you the discourse on how I came to that for now, but I’ll make sure to include it in my closing remarks.
For those who were unable to join us last Sunday, I thought I would summarize the presentation and the following discussion. Without further ado…
INTRODUCTION TO ‘THE PROBLEM’
Like my previous post says, “I have often wondered if it makes any sense to pay attention to investing gurus.” And there certainly are a lot of them. Most of which seem to promise you that they’ve found the “secret” to easy money, whether that be a method of valuing companies or assessing the market’s future direction. However, evidence suggests otherwise as it has been proven that 85% of mutual funds have underperformed “dumb” index funds over the last 40 years. This means that all those fancy folks that went to fancy schools and wear fancy neckties are not as smart as “passive” investors. Therein lies the problem…