Stock Market Window Dressing: The Art of Looking Smart!
As investors, and we all are investors these days, it is important that we understand the idiosyncrasies of the Stock Market pricing data we use to help us in our decision making efforts. On Wall Street, investing can be a minefield for those who don't take the time to appreciate why securities prices are at the levels that appear on quarterly account statements. At least four times per year, security prices are more a function of institutional marketing practices than they are a reflection of the economic forces that we would like to think are their primary determining factors. Not even close... Around the end of every calendar quarter, we hear the financial media matter-of-factly report that Institutional Window Dressing Activities" are in full swing. But that is as far, and as deep, as it ever goes. What are they talking about, and just what does it mean to you as an investor?
There are at least three forms of Window Dressing, none of which should make you particularly happy and all of which should make you question the integrity of organizations that either authorize, implement, or condone their use. The better-known variety involves the culling from portfolios of stocks with significant losses and replacing them with shares of companies whose shares have been the most popular during recent months. Not only does this practice make the managers look smarter on reports sent to major clients, it also makes Mutual Fund performance numbers appear significantly more attractive to prospective "fund switchers". On the sell side of the ledger, prices of the weakest performing stocks are pushed down even further. Obviously, all fund managements will take part in the ritual if they choose to survive. This form of window dressing is, by most definitions, neither investing nor speculating. But no one seems to care about the ethics, the legality, or the fact that this "Buy High, Sell Low" picture is being painted with your Mutual Fund palette.
A more subtle form of Window Dressing takes place throughout the calendar quarter, but is "unwound" before the portfolio's Quarterly Reports reach the glossies. In this less prevalent (but even more fraudulent) variety, the managers invest in securities that are clearly out of sync with the fund's published investment policy during a period when their particular specialty has fallen from grace with the gurus. For example, adding commodity ETFs, or popular emerging country issues to a Large Cap Value Fund, etc. Profits are taken before the Quarter Ends so that the fund's holdings report remains uncompromised, but with enhanced quarterly results. A third form of Window Dressing is referred to as "survivorship", but it impacts Mutual Fund investors alone while the others undermine the information used by (and the market performance of) individual security investors. You may want to research it.
I cannot understand why the media reports so superficially on these "business as usual" practices. Perhaps ninety percent of the price movement in the equity markets is the result of institutional trading, and institutional money managers seem to be more concerned with politics and marketing than they are with investing. They are trying to impress their major clients with their brilliance by reporting ownership of all the hot tickets and none of the major losers. At the same time, they are manipulating the performance statistics contained in their promotional materials. They have made "Buy High, Sell Low" the accepted investment strategy of the Mutual Fund industry. Meanwhile, individual security investors receive inaccurate signals and incur collateral losses by moving in the wrong direction.
From an analytical point of view, this quarterly market value reality (artificially created demand for some stocks and unwarranted weakness in others) throws almost any individual security or market sector statistic totally out of wack with the underlying company fundamentals. But it gets even more fuzzy, and not in the lovable sense. Just for the fun of it, think about the "demand pull" impact of an ever-growing list of ETFs. I don't think that I'm alone in thinking that the real meaning of security prices has less and less to do with corporate economics than it does with the morning betting line on ETF ponies... the dot-coms of the new millennium. [Do you remember the "Circle of Gold" from the seventies? Isn't GLD, or IAU, about the same thing?]
As if all of these institutional forces weren't enough, you need also consider the impact of tax code motivated transactions during the always-entertaining final quarter of the year. One would never suspect (after watching millions of CPA directed taxpayers gleefully lose billions of dollars) that the purpose of investing is to make money! The net impact of these (euphemistically labeled) "year end tax saving strategies" is pretty much the same as that of the Type One Window Dressing described above. But here's an off-quarter buying opportunity that you really shouldn't pass up. Simply put, get out there and buy the November 52-week lows, wait for the periodic and mysterious "January Effect" to be reported by the media with eyes wide shut amazement, and pocket some easy profits.
There just may not be a method to actually decipher the true value of a share of common stock. Is market price a function of company fundamentals, artificial demand for "derivative" securities, or various forms of Institutional Window Dressing? But this is a condition that can be used to great financial advantage. With security prices less closely related to those old fashioned fundamental issues such as dividends, projected profits, and unfunded pension liabilities and perhaps more closely related to artificial demand factors, the only operational alternative appears to be trading! Buy the downtrodden (but still fundamentally investment grade) issues and take your profits on those that have risen to inappropriately high levels based on basic measures of quality... and try to get it done before the big players do. To over simplify, a recipe for success would involve shopping for investment grade stocks at bargain prices, allowing them to simmer until a reasonable, pre-defined, profit target is reached, and seasoning the portfolio brew with the discipline to actually implement the profit taking plan.
Yeah, I do miss the days when there were just stocks and bonds, but maybe I'm just a bit too old fashioned. Interesting place Wall Street...
How To Invest in Gold
The diversified portfolio has a small position in the gold market. For some investing in gold means holding gold coins. Some speculators buy gold contact futures on the commodity exchange. Future contracts are risky because you are betting that the price of gold will go higher in the future. The contract requires a relatively small up front payment, but there can be daily fluctuations that require you have funds to back the dips in the price of daily gold.
The reasons investors have been interested in gold is that the old reasoning was that if the stock market was down the gold market was generally up. This reasoning has become a possibility, but not an axiom of the current marketplace. The weakness in the dollar generally brings a surge in the price of gold. The current price for gold is in the range of $670. Prices have fluctuated within a range of $664 and the current high of $672. Traders think gold could easily go as high as $1,000 an ounce.
Investing in gold stocks and precious metal index funds can be purchased through a stock broker. A stock broker specializing in this area is very important because the investment needs savvy investment advice. Most of the larger brokerage houses have individuals that are specialized in the area of commodities and precious metal stocks.
There are certain international gold stocks that are noteworthy. A Canadian based international player in the gold market is Agnico-Eagle Mines. It trades on the New York Stock Exchange and the Toronto Stock Exchange under the stock ticker AEM. The stock is also sold on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. This company has more than a thirty year history in the production of gold. Since the 1970s AEM has produced over four million ounces of gold. The company is international and has operations in Canada, United States, Mexico, Sweden and Finland.
Other noteworthy gold stocks include; Barrick Gold Corp, Goldcorp Inc., Kinross Gold Corp., and Newmont Mining. All of these gold stocks are currently trading on the upside, but it is advisable for all investors to make sure these stocks fit your investment risk potential.
In recent years the price of gold has been as low as the $450 an ounce range. Since the late 1970s gold has made huge profits for holders of gold. The key to owning gold is to know the various resistance points and to assess the global market for the use of gold. It is used primarily in jewelry manufacturing and other types of manufacturing. Currently in India there is a small slow down in the use of gold for jewelry making. The same applies to a degree in China. Whether it is enough of a slow down to effect the price of gold is uncertain.
Investors who trade in gold should seek the advice of an analyst that can factor in all the various aspects that effect the price of gold. If you own gold as a hedge against a weak dollar you should look for any strengthening in the dollar. The important thing to remember is to gage your investment in gold to a level that you are comfortable. If you bought spot gold at $600 an ounce, you might consider a rise to $720 a good profit. The ride to $1,000 an ounce may be bumpy and there is no telling when it will reach that level if it does as speculators have gambled.
There are numerous gold mining stocks on the market and if you are interested in a small investment you can find these stocks in the $5 to $12 range The smaller gold mining stocks do carry a risk because a great deal of overhead goes into making a mining company profitable.
The range of risk and amount you decide to invest in gold is a personal choice. It is always advisable to seek the expert advise of a stock expert or commodity expert before leaping into this market. Another sage piece of advise I learned is to trust my sense of cashing out before the price of gold drops significantly due to outside pressures or manipulations.