A Matter of Principles

There’s no getting around it – yesterday was an ugly day in the stock market. A sea of red throughout the day that turned crimson into the close. October is certainly living up to its reputation as the worst month of the year for stocks:

  • The S&P 500 has closed lower in 13 of the last 15 sessions.
  • Through 18 trading days in October, the S&P has made a 1% intraday move nine times.
  • The Dow has now given back all of its gains for the year.
  • The VIX – a.k.a. the “Fear Index” – is now above 25, more than double its level at the beginning of the month.

Punishment in equities has been broad and swift. Take a look at the month-to-date returns for a sampling of equity ETFs:

Source: YCharts. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. Indices are not available for direct investment. Index performance does not reflect the expenses associated with the management of an actual portfolio.

Large, Small, Value, Growth, U.S., International – there has been nowhere to hide. And those “FAANG” stocks you keep reading about in Barron’s? They got bit too.

Source: YCharts Past performance is not a guarantee of future results.

It’s periods like the one we’re in now where it’s customary for financial advisors (us included) to send out “One-Percent Letters” in an effort to assuage our clients’ (assumed) fears about the recent sell-off. And to be clear, we have absolutely no argument against this exercise. Done effectively, it often achieves the intended objective of calming investor nerves by:

  • Providing historical context
  • Recognizing the media noise for what it is
  • Reinforcing concepts like diversification and risk management
  • Dissuading people from succumbing to their worst behavioral instincts
  • Tying everything back to a broader, long-term financial plan

That said, this is not one of those letters. Rather than spill more ink on what is happening in the market and what it might mean in the short term, we thought this would be a timely opportunity to share with you Huber Financial’s Investment Principles. Our principles have evolved over the course of our thirty years of serving clients, but it wasn’t until recently that we decided to put pen to paper and write them down. We ended up with fourteen of them and feel that they truly encapsulate how we think about constructing thoughtful portfolios designed to maximize our clients’ odds of achieving their desired long-term outcomes.

Principle OneShades of Grey
Active versus passive, traditional versus alternative, cheap versus expensive – all examples of black and white thinking that are too simplistic for the complexity of investing. When context matters, respect the grey zone.

Principle TwoMarkets are Smart
Financial markets are very efficient. Not perfectly so, of course, but enough to eliminate any low-hanging fruit. The market is collectively smarter than any of us are individually. We must demonstrate humility in our actions and understand that “edges” in investing are few and far between.

Principle Three | Focus on Factors
If asset classes are food, then factors are the underlying nutrients. Macro factors – such as interest rates, inflation, liquidity, credit and economic growth – and style factors – such as value, momentum, quality, volatility and size – are the building blocks of returns.

Principle FourNo Investment is an Island
Like all complex systems, portfolios aren’t single investments but rather intricate webs of raw materials, each influencing the other. The merits of any particular investment, therefore, must be weighed not only in isolation, but also in the context of how it fits and interacts with the rest of the portfolio.

Principle FiveFrictions Matter
Tax drag, trading costs and anything else that deters from efficiency should be closely scrutinized because over time, these frictions can accumulate and become costly to the investor. It’s what you keep, not what you earn, that matters.

Principle SixMarkets Change, People Don’t
Economies go through expansions and recessions. Markets go boom and bust. The root cause in each instance is different, but the human element is constant: fear, greed, hope, envy. Markets are continually evolving, but human nature is unlikely to change.

Principle SevenExpectations over Forecasts
The stock market crashes from time to time. The stock market is going to crash next year. The former is an expectation, the latter is a forecast. Expectations are grounded in history and examined through a probabilistic lens. Forecasts require a crystal ball. Better to be vaguely right than precisely wrong.

Principle EightData Drives Decisions
Stories are incredibly powerful. Statistics can feel cold and impersonal. Unfortunately, for investors, letting the narrative overwhelm the numbers is a recipe for disaster. The best investors apply a dispassionate and objective lens to their analysis.

Principle NineA Whole Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts
Diversification comes in many flavors – sectors, asset classes, geography, styles and strategies. It is often referred to as the only free lunch in investing. A truly diversified portfolio has no single point of failure. It is robust and resilient to any number of unknown future outcomes.

Principle TenNo Silver Bullets
There is no reward without risk, or returns without volatility. The holy grail of all of the upside and none of the downside is pure fiction. The secret to success is not to avoid risk, but to take intelligent risks that have historically been compensated.

Principle ElevenLet Compounding Run Wild
The power of long-term compounding cannot be overstated. There is a reason it is referred to as the Eighth Wonder of the World. It is why time in the market is vastly more important than timing the market. Investment decisions should be made with an “own” not “rent” mentality.

Principle TwelveDare to be Different
Above average results don’t come to those who always run with the crowd. A differentiated approach will feel uncomfortable at times, but that is by design. Choose unconventional success over conventional failure.

Principle ThirteenStrong Beliefs Loosely Held
Conviction is healthy but rigidity can be limiting. A healthy dose of skepticism is a virtue. Regularly challenge preconceived beliefs and have a willingness to give up your sacred cows.

Principle FourteenStand on the Shoulders of Giants
Decades of academic research and real-world experience have led to groundbreaking innovations and a deeper understanding of what makes markets tick. There has never been a better time to be an investor.

These principles serve as our compass and our anchor when we are making investment decisions on your behalf. Particularly during turbulent times, having a set of deeply rooted principles is paramount to long-term success. Now is as good a time as any to remind ourselves of the pillars that define our beliefs and guide our actions.

Disclosure: Huber Financial Advisors, LLC is an investment advisor registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission. This material is for general educational purposes only and is not intended to provide investment or tax advice. Always consult your investment or tax professional for advice on your particular situation. This material is derived from sources believed to be reliable, but its accuracy and the opinions based thereon are not guaranteed. The opinions and comments expressed in this article may not accurately reflect those of Huber Financial. Investing involves risk including the possible loss of principal. Past performance does not guarantee future results.