The essential difference between market followers and sound analysts is the former follow short-term momentum and the latter long-term directional changes. I embrace the second responsibility. Brexit, in my opinion, is the beginning milestone on the march to an era of more freedom of consumption and investment which will lead to better lives for many Europeans. Note I am focusing on people not present political countries.
The Perils of Over-Confidence
The focus on the needs and desires of most people is exactly what the expert class was not doing. They did not see or hear what the working class and much of the middle class were saying. The colossal surprise of the upset is only a surprise in that the expert classes of economists, political scientists, politicians, portfolio managers, senior investment people and media pundits had never considered that they were wrong. They had no plan “B.” In the US Marine Corps young officers are instructed you will only be judged on what you execute which will largely be plans “B,C,D, E, or F.”
This tendency of overconfidence will be part of a panel discussion this week at the New York Society of Securities Analysts celebrating the work of Benjamin Graham, the father of value investing. At the meeting I will be focusing on mistakes investors make keying off some of the mistakes that Berkshire Hathaway has made over the years. I have been asked about the single biggest cause of professional investment mistakes. I will discuss the overconfidence which has led to sizable losses. A similar pattern was in evidence in the London approach to Brexit.
What Actually Happened: A tale of Three Countries
In Great Britain the London-centric experts thought the campaign would be won focusing on the fear of economic disruption. They were not listening to the people of the North of England and Wales who were primarily concerned with the loss of national sovereignty in terms of immigration and Brussels’ determined justice and procedures. These working classes and much of the middle class were fed up with what they perceived was likely to happen to them.
One of the signs of this great division with those who wished to remain is the number of voting districts where the winning side polled more than 60%. We are used to seeing a split in many voting areas similar to the final 52/48%. The wider spread indicates to me that both sides were effectively only talking to their own and not engaging with the sizable undecided or opposed. The London-centric people initially bet over 90% of the money with the book makers that they would win only in the last few hours of the referendum, bet 90% on Brexit. (Too bad the Londoners didn’t know their history. More on that later.) Since the bulk of the more active institutional and trading money is intellectually based in London, over the preceding days they were heavily buying securities and sending similar thoughts to other markets. Interesting when the shock of the results became clear, the UK stock market declined one of the smaller falls in the world in part because only 35.5% of the indices’ revenues were domestic to the UK.
German investors suffered a 12% decline in part because 72.4% of their revenues are international in scope. One corollary measure is in the US, the Vanguard Europe ETF fell 11.3% as noted by my friend Jason Zweig.
In the US with approximately 70% of our revenues produced domestically, the main stock averages fell in the neighborhood of 3%.
This needs to be put into perspective. First, the decline essentially corrected the last several days’ rise based on our trading fraternity believing what they were hearing from London as well as significant short covering by hedge funds and similar traders. I believe the over 600 point fall in the Dow Jones Industrial Average was caused by the absence of short covering and algorithm-driven quant funds that sold as various price levels were violated. People at JP Morgan believe that from this source some $25 billion dollars were thrown on the market. If there is a continuation of the sharp decline they are looking for up to $300 billion more to be added to the market.
For those of a trading mentality I suggest at some point a near-term bottom will be reached, possibly on Monday. Current prices for many securities are back down to the bottom of their recent trading ranges which could well hold. If these trading bottoms do not hold further, declines will find other bottoms. Whenever the bottoms are found, subsequent rises could be dramatic because of the absence of positioning capital on trading desks.
While I recognize a potential trading opportunity, at the moment I do not see a substantial reason to change fundamental investment strategy. In terms of our four chamber TIMESPAN L PORTFOLIOS® I might adjust the second chamber or the Replenishment Portfolio’s equity trading account to either take advantage of some cheaper merchandise or reducing risk if there are more violations of support levels. I would not change either the Endowment or Legacy Portfolios.
Londoners Had the Answer
The intelligentsia in London had the answer if they knew where to look. I do not know whether or not the restaurant that was in the downstairs floor of the residence of Karl Marx is still functioning. One evening my wife Ruth and I climbed the rickety stairs to his apartment which still had no electricity. At the request of the German Communist Party, Karl Marx authored the Communist Manifesto in early 1848. (A side note: because of his subversive activities in Europe he was never allowed to become an English citizen even though he was buried there.) He believed that it was in England that the revolution of the proletariat would begin because of its class structure.
The main reason to focus on Karl Marx is the year 1848. This was the year of some 50 revolts by the working and middle classes throughout Europe and Latin America. These brought down a number of governments including in France. There was widespread dissatisfaction with the political leadership. Nationalism was on the rise in France, Germany, Netherlands, Denmark and Italy among other places. The violence of the revolts and the desperation of the people led to massive migration into “the new world” which in one generation proved to be a major brain drain. Lenin summed up what happened. “There are decades when nothing happens and there are weeks when decades happen.” (Courtesy of John Mauldin)
Perhaps the bureaucrats in Brussels and the current political leaders on the Continent are now seeing the risk to their structure. As is natural their first instinct is to punish the interloper, the second is to become defensive and the third hopefully to negotiate and evolve. Possibly Dr. Brendan Brown of Mitsubishi UFJ Securities is correct when he says. “The referendum result marks the start of A European journey out of a failed EU. Britain is in the lead…There are serious grounds for hope (for) greater economic and political freedoms, prosperity and European harmony.” Greater Europe has for centuries developed official and more informal trade patterns that has produced satisfactory results both in peace and war and I would expect that to continue. In that light I believe that Europeans need the British as much if not more than the British need various European elected and non-elected states.
What to Do?
Many of the better US managed international funds have significant portions of their portfolios invested in Europe. I suspect over time these will be good investments and could find places within sound Endowment and Legacy Portfolios. For those whose preference is individual financial services securities, on a long-term basis they may wish to examine INVESCO, Franklin Resources, and Goldman Sachs all three are long term positions in our private financial services funds and have been under pressure recently. There are similar long-term attractive non-US domiciled financial service companies that I will be happy to discuss with our readers.
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A. Michael Lipper, C.F.A.,
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All Rights Reserved.
Contact author for limited redistribution permission.