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It’s no national secret that my investment accounts are largely flush with cold hard cash. As I write this post my brokerage accounts have a total net liquidation value of $102,000 (rounded number). Of the total liquidation value I have $39,000 invested, with the remaining $63,000 sitting in cash. Most of the personal finance bloggers out there would likely advise me to continue putting money to work regardless of the fact the stock market is at ALL TIME HIGHS.
However, I have a much different philosophy. I agree that the market has had an incredible run over the last 6+ years. The market has more than tripled since its 2009 low of 666. With a high of 2118 from February, this translates into approximately a 21% compounded growth rate over the 6 year period. That is an incredible and very impressive run. It’s true that the markets tend to over correct on both the upside and the downside. So it should not be much of a surprise that we have experienced such large gains these past 6 years (compared to the historical average of about 8%).
(By the way, when I refer to the “market,” I am talking about the S&P 500 as my benchmark. This index represents the 500 strongest companies in the United States and is typically the index most people are talking about when referring to “the market”).
I am by no means a technician but I do like looking at charts to get a visual of performance. Looking at the picture above, the trend is looking a bit parabolic and I think we can all agree that markets do not go up in a straight line.
My Investment Philosophy
A few months ago I started a series on the 10 rules I live by when it comes to investments (I haven’t done a good job detailing the rules beyond #1 yet, but I will, I promise). Rule #2 on the list says to “sell into strength.” This is hard for most people to do. It’s as equally hard as Rule #1 that says to “buy into weakness.”
Many people didn’t buy at the 2009 bottom or as the market was falling because of the fear of loss. They had just seen their investments cut in half. Why would they put more money at risk? The media scared them so much that many even sold their positions and took the loss. Or even if they held on they didn’t have any money available to take advantage of low prices, because they were always told to be fully invested.
The sagest advice when it comes to investing is to “buy low and sell high.” Everyone has heard this mantra, yet most people do the exact opposite. It’s really easy to do once you realize how hard it is AND once you put rules in place to keep you honest.
Like buying into weakness (rule #1), selling into strength (rule #2) is equally as hard. And again, it stems back to fear. This time it is not the fear of loss, but the fear of missing out. Herd mentality kicks in and retail investors get burned. Think about it, the money managers out there have a vested interest in keeping you fully invested. They don’t make money when you’re not invested in their mutual fund that they get to charge you fees on.
So what do you do then?
You have to systematize your investing.
You need to create rules around how you operate.
You need to take the emotion out of the equation.
You need to make some common sense observations.
You need to have cash on hand to take advantage of opportunities (like market corrections that are guaranteed).
You need to be a little contrarian.
You need to ignore the news.
You need to start looking at investing as a pure numbers game.
You need to reject the herd mentality.
You need to be patient for opportunity.
I have been following my own rules over the past 6 months by “selling into strength” and raising cash for better prices that lie ahead. I don’t know when those better prices will come; all I know is that the only way I will take advantage of them is if I have the cash to do so. All of this money is in pre-tax accounts, so I don’t need to worry about tax consequences. Over the course of the last 6 months I have gone from being 80% invested to now only around 40% invested.
Now for the $63,000 question
How do you know when to put your money back into the market?
It is the same question I struggle to answer on the upside. There is no crystal ball. I am not naive enough to think that I can time market tops and bottoms. But I have learned to pick my spots, but not through blind faith. I turn to the options market where probability gets assigned to different price levels.
Here is something I shared over on 1500days.com back on March 26, 2015. As I wrote it, the S&P 500 was at 2054. It is non-news related and all numbers:
1 – There is a 60% probability that the S&P 500 touches 1,850 by year end, which would represent about a 10% correction (or about 204 points) from the current reading above (and a 13% correction from all-time highs).
2 – There is a 35% probability that the S&P 500 touches 2,250 by year end, which would be about 9.5% higher (or about 196 points) than the current index reading above.
So the expected return if you are committing new capital looks like this:
Expected Return = (35% x 196) – (60% x 204) = 68.6 – 122.4 = -53.8
Expected ROI = (2054 – 53.8)/2054 – 1 = approx -2.6% (that’s a negative return)
I know my bank is only paying me 0.5% interest on my cash and making extra payments on my mortgage is saving me 3.675% interest. That sure seems like a better return than -2.6%…and that’s why I am not investing new capital at this time.
As you can see from the example above, the options market is pricing in a much higher probability that the market will trade down 10% vs. trading up 10%. I actually think that the probability is a bit higher than 60% that we will trade down by 10% by the end of the year. But I have no control over the probabilities; I can only make a plan based on the numbers.
My first target to deploy some cash will be at 10% off of all-time highs (current all-time high is 2,118). And I have a tiered approach to deploying the capital at various levels:
Tier 1 = 10% correction from all-time highs (1,906) = deploy 10% of cash
Tier 2 = 20% correction from all-time highs (1,694) = deploy 25% of cash
Tier 3 = 30% correction from all-time highs (1,482) = deploy 40% of cash
Tier 4 = 40% correction from all-time highs (1,270) = ALL IN, deploy remaining 25% of capital
This does not mean however that I will not deploy capital in other sectors that may be presenting opportunities to buy into weakness. A perfect example of this was oil and the related ETF’s. I actually shared an example of how I took advantage of buying into weakness here. It is a classic example of how years of growth can be decimated in months, presenting incredible risk/reward opportunities.
In the short-term I do risk underperforming the markets, but in the long-term I know that better prices lie ahead.
Unlike many, I don’t have an issue of holding onto cash. I am not scared of inflation eating away at my purchasing power, nor am I in fear of missing out. It all comes back to numbers and common sense to me.
Here is a good analogy – think of market direction in terms of a baseball and gravity. Imagine you’re given a baseball and asked to throw it straight up in the air as high as you can. However, before you do, you are offered the opportunity to bet how high you can throw the ball before it comes crashing down to earth due to gravitational forces as the energy you transferred to the ball fades.
You are given a sheet with different vertical distances and asked how much you are willing to bet at each distance. Let’s say it looks something like this:
- 10 Feet
- 50 Feet
- 100 Feet
- 150 Feet
- 200 Feet
- 250 Feet
- 300 Feet
- 350 Feet
- 400 Feet
- 450 Feet
- 500 Feet
Now unless you have some super human strength I am willing to bet that your bet will get closer to zero the closer you get to 500 feet. Deep down you know that at some point the force of gravity is going to out power the force you applied to the ball when you threw it up in the air.
The markets work the same way. In market speak gravity is mean reversion.
Do you have a unique approach to the market? Or do you just follow the buy and hold philosophy?
– Gen Y Finance Guy
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I definitely employ the buy and hold philosophy. I don’t meddle with my finances, switch things up, look for the hottest new buys or anything of the kind. I will leave that level of more detailed financial management to those that are smarter (or, as the case may be, riskier) than I am. I believe that I will probably do more harm than good getting too involved with my investments, so I just buy them and let them do their thing. Buy and build. Buy and build. Buy and build…all without a second thought.
It’s worked absolutely wonderfully thus far.
The most important thing is to have a philosophy and strategy that you are willing to stick too over long time periods.
I have always been more active than most investors because I absolutely staying engaged with the financial markets.
I personally like to buy into weakness and sell into strength. Both of which can be very subjective, so I definitely risk underperformance by freeing up cash at these levels.
While cash builds up from additional monthly contributions, I will continue to sell puts at prices I am interested getting long at.
On the other end of the spectrum I am about to ramp up investment in the commercial real estate space in a private REIT. The risk/reward looks better to me.
I don’t expect to change anyones mind or convince them that my way is better than any other. But I am working on a cool study that shows the returns over the last 15 years if you were to just follow a traditional buy consistently regardless of what the market is doing vs. buying only on down days.
Spoiler alert is that the returns are 3X investing only on down days vs buying all days.
At the end of the day I think consistency is key in whatever you investment philosophy is.
I believe time in the market is more important than timing the market. I would be very very skeptical of assigning precise probability numbers based on options. Do not forget that since most people are risk averse, they value put options higher than call options.
In the grand scheme of things, the worst S&P 500 can do is go to zero. So your risk is 2100 points.
If you get a total return of 7%/year ( capital gains + dividends) for the next 30 years, your upside is roughly 14,800 points to 16,800 points.
Now if you believe S&P 500 won’t return much per year for the next 30 years, then you should not buy stocks at all.
If you believe stocks will return more than 7%/year, then you might fiddle and 1) time it right if stocks drop, OR 2) you might miss out on the future upside. Either way, you are willing to risk missing out on 14,800 points because you want to buy a few hundred points cheaper. That doesn’t seem like a good risk/return tradeoff.
We really come from two different schools of thought on this. I happen to be a probability based investor and almost all of my positions originate from selling options. It would be hard to compare your investment strategy of buy and hold (largely passive) to mine of selling option premium (much more active) and being very opportunistic in stocks I hold for any length of time.
Here are the issues we would have to work through to reconcile our views:
1 – Active vs. Passive Investing
2 – Fundamentals vs. Probabilities
3 – Duration
4 – Dollar Cost Averaging
5 – Premium Selling
At the end of the day I think all of your points make sense in the context of the buy and hold passive investment strategy.
“Do not forget that since most people are risk averse, they value put options higher than call options.”
You are very correct. This is another reason why I only buy into weakness. It sounds like you are at least familiar with options pricing. Option premiums get inflated when the market is falling do to fear of collapse. It makes for great premium selling opportunities.
Here is an interesting video for you to check out: http://ontt.tv/1C1Ppqz
I am typically a buy and hold guy, but there are times (like this weekend) where I feel like selling everything. These moments are fleeting and are low probability events, however they are real nonetheless. The thought of have 12 years of covered expenses readily available and completely risk free is very compelling. In fact as I type this, I am thinking about dumping everything again. Like you have said before, you can’t lose money taking a profit. There are profits all over my portfolio and they keeping telling me to pull the trigger. 🙂 Again, there is a low probability that I follow through. I guess I should reread The Black Swan by Nassim Taleb.
It’s not an easy or innate thing to do. At the end of the day you have to do what is best for you and congruent with your investment philosophy and strategy.
The Black Swan was a great book, I have it in the audio version.
I agree with many of your ideas and philosophies, but as a long-term investor I can’t hop aboard this train. I do have fairly substantial amount of un-invested cash myself, though it’s for short term need (home purchase, wedding, etc.).
Trying to time the market is not a good idea.
Also, I would hope that you have some deeper analysis to your plan, deeper than “we’re at an all time high and it can’t go up forever”. How does employment rate, recent earnings releases, international economies, politics, etc. play into your thought process? How do all those things play into your probabilities? Obviously, I’m not asking you to answer, but I imagine these are things that you’ve considered.
Also, even if you’re pretty spot on with your assessment of the economy and can accurately predict future earnings, GDP and profitability of the macro-economy, and I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but there’s a saying that the market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent.
Good luck to you though and hope it works out!
Thanks for the comment. Sounds like you have some exciting life events coming up with the house purchase and the wedding (congrats).
I know the ole adage better than most “trying to time the market is like trying to catch a falling knife”. To you my strategy looks a lot like timing the market, but it works for me. I only invest on down days (buying into weakness). And although I have large amounts of cash, I also sell puts at prices that are in the direction I think the market is headed. It allows me to stay in the game and collect some option premiums while I wait for the market to come to me.
I am not delusional enough to think that I can call the absolute top or bottom of any market, nor would I try.
Now I know my next comment is going to be very disappointing to you. I tend to believe that the markets are efficient and that everything is already priced in when it comes fundamentals; like the ones you mentioned in your comment above. Like you, I have a hard time jumping on the bandwagon of buy and hold. That train just isn’t my style, but I won’t argue its merits and historical performance.
The markets could continue to rise way longer than expected but I have chosen my spot to lighten up and the spots where I will reload. The targets on the downside are subject to change as or if we continue to make new highs. I am just unwilling to commit capital at all time highs and believe that the prudent thing to do is sell into strength to lock in gains.
I don’t expect and will not even try to change anyone’s mind on this. I can only share my own philosophy and my approach to taking risk in the financial markets.
Your quote: “there’s a saying that the market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent”
I would argue that this saying is really geared toward short sellers. Having lots of cash is the definition of being solvent, so I don’t think there is any risk there. However, I will be the first to admit that I risk under performing the general market while I wait for better prices. I have no idea how much longer this market can keep going higher, I just no longer like the risk/reward.
The risk of an investment changes over time. When you buy a stock for say $100/share, your risk is only $100. But when it’s now worth $300 and you decide to leave the investment on your risk is now $300.
Thanks again for stopping by.
Did you read Malcolm Gladwell’s most recent book? I can’t remember the name, but the book discusses a firm that does nothing but buy and sell options. Their philosophy is that the only thing that is guaranteed is that the market will crash at some point.
They made something like 100X between 2008- 2010 as the stock market crashed and was slow to recover. Since that time they’ve lost a little money every day as the stock market increased. It seems like you might like to learn more about that, and possibly round out your theory of options.
I will have to check it out.
Sounds like those guys are taking a play out of Nassim Taleb’s book with respect of investing for Black Swan Events.
Derp- it is Taleb, but in “What the Dog Saw” he profiles exactly how much Taleb and his firm made.
Have you considered buying some Bonds with your cash? As the stock market plummets, the bond value will likely increase. You can then sell some of the Bonds and buy more Stocks.
I personally would not touch bonds with a 10-foot pole right now. I know in a theoretical world bonds should hold their own when stock prices collapse. However, we have rates at all-time lows and if the market does start puking, do rates go lower? Bonds have an inverse relationship to the direction of interest rates. So the only scenario that I see bonds increasing in value is with rates going lower…which I think is highly unlikely. Unless we want to follow the lead of other countries around the globe that have taken rates negative.
There is also a scenario I see playing out where both bonds and stocks fall together.
The other thing to consider is if we do start raising rates towards the end of the year, there is likely large declines ahead for bond holders. Of course this can be overcome by holding bonds to maturity.
I would much rather use the capital to sell puts at prices that interest me. So based on this post, my tier 1 entry level is around 1,900 or about $190 on the SPY ETF.
So to sum up my response I look at two options: TLT (20 yr bonds) and SPY (S&P 500)
1 – I could invest in TLT and collect a 2.5% dividend
2 – Or I could sell January 2016 puts at the $198 strike and collect $7.50 or about about 4% return on risk (compares to 2.5% dividend)
I prefer option 2. My effective long price if the option is exercised would be $190.50. If not than I just keep the premium and do it again.
p.s. I don’t like bonds, but as a bond supplement I am making extra payments on my mortgage saving 3.675% interest which is better than what the 30 year bond is yielding.
Thanks for the detailed reply. You certainly have a lot more knowledge about it than me.
I currently have 30% in VAB and 70% in VXC in both my RRSP and TFSA (Roth/IRA for you guys). I can’t bet against the market even though I know that markets goes up and down.
For me, time in the market is everything. It’s a “lazy” approach but it is proven to work over a long run.
I look forward to hearing your updates on a regular basis!
Oh snap! Somebody just questioned a core finblog commandment! I tip my hat to you, good sir. Though a self-professed market newbie, I have come to believe that it IS possible to beat the market if you’re smart and do enough research. AND I have hard data to back this up. Boom: http://awealthofcommonsense.com/buffetts-performance-by-decade/
This isn’t to say buy-and-hold is a bad philosophy. On the contrary, the vast majority of investors are probably wise to stick to it, as it’s super simple and has provided great yields over time. I’d tuck my grandmother into buy-and-hold. But a small portion of investors can beat the market if they possess both smarts and confidence.
The same people who blindly rail against non-passive investing are doing the same thing as the Dave Ramsey all-debt-is-bad movement. It’s overattachment to truism, yet it does need speaking as over 80% of Americans really are irresponsible with their credit cards. But it’s also without any nuance whatsoever, and as Buffet shows above, nuance can mean hundreds of additional basis points to those curious enough to explore it and bold enough to follow its logic.
That said, I am curious to hear more of what you plan to do with this cash. Perhaps pick up a solid portion into peer to peer loans? 🙂
I knew this post would get some flack for going against one of the most ingrained pillars in the community. It’s as if I just cheated on the entire community and to be honest it’s fun 🙂
I actually have a much bigger cash problem than $63,000. I also have about $40,000 in the bank that we were going to be using a grip of for a 2nd property, but have decided to not take on any more leverage. Starting in May I will have an additional $4,000/month to figure out what to do with (About $2k/month to retirement accounts and $2K/month to bank account).
Starting this month I started an auto contribution to Prosper of $500/month.
I also just opened an account with a private Commercial REIT that you will be hearing about on the blog soon. I plan to send $1,000/month there. We will be using the money we had planned for a 2nd property here.
But you bring up a good idea. I don’t like bonds, but I did notice that Prosper allows you to open up an IRA account, so I could roll over some money from one of my other accounts. Something to think about there in addition to the after-tax account I have. Or I could divert contributions for my wife’s IRA to this account. Or a combination of both. Would not mind having $10-$20K in the P2P space.
You have any other ideas?
Personally, I’d be curious to see you increase your investment above $5,000 since those A-grades can be a bit boring and a 5K lump sum would allow you to include all the grades, like a few high-yield Ds and Es. You can try setting Prosper’s Automated Quick Invest (AQI) to do it for you: http://www.lendingmemo.com/cash-drag-automated-investing/
However, LendingRobot’s tool is better as it picks up more loans (and is free for accounts below $10K, 0.45% thereafter.
yep Warren Buffet outperformed the market for a long time.. Michael Jordan was also a great basketball player.. perhaps if you practice really hard you can also be like Mike.
it will be very interesting to see how long you have to wait on the sidelines and how large your opportunity cost ends up being. There are a lot of folks that have been waiting for the correction for 2 – 3 years now.
also – how do you have exact probabilities of gains / declines in the index.. curious as to the source and why you believe it to be true.
Under performance is definitely a risk in the short term. I agree that it will be very interesting to see how long this rally lasts.
First I would point out that I don’t think there is such a thing as an exact probability. Probabilities are based on the option pricing model. I use Think Or Swim and the platform actually calculates them for you. They are no holy grail, but they are a part of my rule based investing style. You can check out this short video on probability analysis: http://tlc.thinkorswim.com/center/video/videos/Probability-Analysis
Also keep in mind I am not trying to convince or tell anyone to follow me on this 🙂
Everyone should follow a plan that fits their own needs and philosophy.
I never understood why people flock to the stock market while a company is doing particularly well. I know that they are just hoping to then get in on the middle floor (rather than ground) while the stock keeps going up. But it just seems questionable.
I find it even funnier when people desperately sell off when companies dip down. Isn’t that the time to buy in? Assuming, of course, that there isn’t legitimate concern for the company’s future.
It’s because of herd mentality and the fear of missing out. I actually have a study I am working on that will show what making one small change in investment strategy could do for your returns. And that change is only buying stocks on down days. The best time to buy stocks is when they are down.
You can eliminate the risk of one company going bust by only investing in index ETF’s.
GenY, this is very interesting. What happens when you put in your $ at the low, and then the market rebounds to newer highs. Do you sell? When do you sell?
In any case, good luck to you!
First I don’t think I will ever be able to buy the absolute low, but if I did it would be total luck. When it comes to selling, I usually let the market dictate that.
You ask a very good question. At some point you just have to pick your spots (part art part science). I do this by selling calls against my positions, and the market will tend to make the decision for me.
Also a third of the cash I have now is from contributions over the last 6 months. I contributed about $13K to my 401K over the past 6 months and about $7K to my wife’s IRA. The remaining $43K is for positions I had on that got called away from the calls I had sold.
I will also add that this is a leading post that will get into what I do to continue participating in market gains without holding stock.
I’d be hard pressed to keep all that cash as cash! It seems like there’s always reasonably priced stocks around if you look hard enough. I’d either both stocks outright or use it as buying power to sell puts. I guess I’m of the mindset that it largely comes down to time in the market, but I’d stack those odds a little more in my favor by choosing my entry points.
Do you ever go against the odds and buy a strangle? I had a friend do that on a Google earnings and lost $300 on the put side but made $7000 on $400 on the call side. I might be tempted to try a few of those with that kind of money! Good luck!
You are headed in the right direction. This post will be my lead into selling puts at spots where you want to get long. First I had to ruffle a few feathers in the community to test long held beliefs to get people thinking, not to change their minds. Just to get them thinking. My cash will not sit idle for months 🙂
With the exception of the occasional put spread I never buy options. I prefer to have positive theta working for me.
I am pretty sure TastyTrade has a market measure on buying strangles vs. selling them that shows the performance over the long-run.
Thanks for stopping by.
I’m not going to judge in either direction, but rather what would I do if I had 63K in cash in my brokerage account with the intention to invest in the stock market. I would do one of 2 things, invest the entire 63K today in a Total Stock Market index/S & P Index or if I was being really cautious and thought the market was going to have a correction, I would read about 10 different articles that tell me to get my money in today then buy and not look back. Best of luck sir, let’s hope Mr. Market is in your favor.
Thanks Even Steven!
Soon I will talk about selling puts at levels I would like to get long (an other ways to use my capital and active options trading). This was really just a lead in to get everyone all puffed up 🙂
I only shared one side of the coin.
I agree. Market cap/GDP and cyclically adjusted price to earnings ratios both indicate the market is overvalued (those are my favorite macro valuations). The M&A market is going crazy, though, which generally drives up share prices. But I’m seeing very few take-privates, and lots of stock-for-stock mergers.
That said, I’d still probably recommend that people continue to dollar cost average into low-cost ETFs.
I am actually working on putting together a 15 year analysis on a buy and hold strategy for one of my accounts that I may just deploy. It hasn’t really been my style, but with some tweaks and my own spin it just may suit my fancy. May even get some love back from the “Buy & Hold” crowd.
Since I know I committed a cardinal sin or two. Not only did I sell but I am have a lot of idle cash just sitting there with no job.
I won’t spoil the results until the post is ready to be published. But it is a bit more active on the acquisition of stock, and requires buying only on down days. The return differential will blow your mind.
I just follow the timeless rule of investing as much as I can and being CONSISTENT every pay period, etc. and live my life believing that money is not mine. Over-time (30-35 years later), it will have grown in value as the stock market has evidenced. Do you still believe this timeless rule is valid?
I do think that over a long enough time frame that you could put money in at any price and make money. However, I don’t believe it is the only way.
You really have to find what works for you.
Great post, and I agree with you that there’s a lot more downside than upside left in today’s market.
I’m not quite at $60k in cash, but I’m working towards building up the stash day by day. I’m still buying some equities here and there but am going to hold out for better opportunities, for the most part.
Your patience will pay off, no doubt. Markets go up but they always come back down in due time.
Thanks FI Fighter!
I am ready to load up as soon as opportunity presents itself 😉
Interesting and I agree with your thoughts. I have been always thinking of stashing some cash lately although I can’t really stop myself buying more quality stocks that look attractive compared to other stocks. Haha Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
My pleasure BSR!
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I just read this off the re-tweet and was curious. It’s now been a year since the last comments. We you able to buy in when the market corrected to 1830 in February or are you waiting for a better time?
I tend to still believe in a continuous investment strategy but I have focused a lot of my investments in the beat down, energy, oil & gas markets.
Hey Fit Saver – I didn’t catch the bottom of that move, but I did stick to the plan and put money to work in the low 1,900’s. Like you I also put on a few positions via OIH and XLE to take advantage of the weak oil prices. However, my cash position has only gotten bigger since then so, although I have more money to work, a larger % of my portfolio is still sitting in cash waiting for better prices.