This Time, It’s Personal

Not too long ago, we were reviewing the retail segment of the Consumer Services sector (which happens to be one of my favorite sectors to research – so much more interesting than Industrial Materials. Ball bearings? Kill me now.) We were discussing the relative merits of Target versus Wal-Mart, always a lively debate. After a careful dissection of each company’s fundamentals, financial strength, and growth prospects, the committee voted to sell Target and move the proceeds into Wal-Mart, as the latter looks like the better investment. And I, in my role as impartial provider of research, wholeheartedly agree with that decision.

However, as a consumer and Target devotee I find it difficult to reconcile this with my personal feelings. I avoid Wal-Mart like the plague. To be fair, Wal-Mart does provide a plethora of goods and services for a low price, something that everyone needs when times are tough (and even when they aren’t). I just don’t like the idea of buying tires and grapes at the same store.

My point (and I do have one) is that it can sometimes be difficult to put personal ideas/prejudices/feelings aside when evaluating investments. At what point do you let those biases influence your portfolio? It all depends on how strongly you feel about them, in my opinion. Take the Target/Wal-Mart example. As an investor, do I really feel so strongly about my shopping experience that I would eschew buying WMT stock in favor of TGT, regardless of the fact that WMT clearly looks more attractive? Definitely not. I have no problem (in my mind) being a shareholder of one and a customer of another, hypocritical as that might seem. I might draw the line at buying the stock of a tobacco company, though, even though the fundamentals look fabulous. Of course, I am invested in several different mutual funds, any of which may own stock in tobacco companies, and I have to admit I have not checked into that, nor do I care to as long as the funds are performing well. I realize that’s completely illogical, but as I am a human and not a Vulcan, I’m allowed to be illogical.

Some investors, on the other hand, feel more strongly than I do about their individual stocks AND their mutual fund holdings, which leads us into the realm of Socially Responsible Investing, a topic to be more fully addressed in a future blog (I can’t use up all my topics at once, you know). At the moment, I’ve got to run to Target to buy 3 things I need and about 20 that I don’t.


Sarah DerGarabedian

Research and Trading Associate

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Stock Certificates

Decades ago it was the norm to issue a stock certificate to account holders which represented their stock purchase. When you sold shares you had to send your stock certificate to your broker, signed on the back indicating the shares were sold, and then the broker would send them off to the transfer agent. Whole departments were in charge of handling stock certificates. Those people lost their jobs when the practice was eventually changed to the Direct Registration System where your shares were registered in your name and were issued, transferred and sold electronically without using a paper stock certificate. This method, still used today, is safer and certainly more efficient. There is usually a fee to get a stock certificate today.

From time to time old stock certificates are found in safe deposit boxes or clients remember they have them “somewhere.” You can recover lost certificates, albeit with a bit of paperwork. If the company is still in business you can just sign the back of the certificate and send it to your broker to be deposited into your account. If the account holder is deceased, more paperwork is required to deposit the shares in an account. Oftentimes we find that the company no longer exists. Some historical stock certificates become collectables, but not many. In the case of a stock split, you may find that you have 100 shares in the form of a certificate and another 100 shares in book entry.

If you have stock certificates, a good plan would be to deposit them in your brokerage account.

Barbara Gray, CFP®

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News on Cost Basis

Cost basis is a hot topic around here lately due to a recent announcement that starting in 2011, all custodians (such as Schwab, Fidelity, and T.D. Ameritrade) will be required by the IRS to report a stock’s cost basis on their statements. In 2012 they will be required to report the cost basis for mutual funds, and in 2013, for bonds. This is good news for you because it makes tax reporting easier; it is not so good news for the custodian.

The reason is that cost basis is not quite as straight forward as many people think. A lot of times an investor believes that what they paid for the stock is the basis and that’s the end of the issue. But in reality, it can get complicated. What if you bought the stock multiple times over the years and subsequently sold a portion of the stock? Did you sell the initial lot that you purchased, or a later lot that you purchased, which was most likely purchased at a different price? The custodian must determine which accounting method they will use in such cases: HIFO (Highest In, First Out), LIFO, (Lowest In, First Out), or Average Cost. With mutual funds, once you use one method for a particular fund, you must continue using that method.

If you buy your stock or funds at your current custodian, they will have a designated way of tracking this and automatically do that for you unless you instruct them otherwise. If you transfer assets to that custodian, however, you will need to provide that cost basis to have it appear on your statement. You will have to ensure that you have adjusted the cost basis accordingly for spin-offs, splits and mergers and reinvested dividends (reinvested dividends increase your basis). There are software and web sites that can determine the adjusted basis for you. If you have all of the necessary information: original amount of shares purchased, price and date, as well as the information regarding subsequent sales, your Parsec advisor can help you determine the cost basis.

Harli L. Palme, CFP®
Financial Advisor

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Now that we’ve discussed beta and the Dividend Discount Model (DDM), I’d like to introduce you to one of my favorite equations, the CAPM (that’s pronounced cap-m, and it’s an acronym for “Capital Asset Pricing Model”). Right now, you’re probably asking yourself, “What sort of a person has a favorite equation?” As much as I hate to admit it, when I’m studying for the CFA exam and I come across the equation’s individual components in a practice question (Risk-free rate? Check. Beta? Check. Market risk premium? Check), I can hardly contain my excitement.

OK, so I’m slightly prone to hyperbole. But it is a very useful tool for asset valuation, and one of its merits is its simplicity. The equation is basically that of a simple linear regression, which you might remember as the equation of a line (y = mx + b). Here, “b” is the risk-free rate (the rate of return on a risk-free asset, like a Treasury bill), “m” is beta, which is a measurement of an asset’s systematic risk (see my earlier blog on beta for a more thorough explanation), and “x” is the market risk premium, or the difference between the market return and the risk-free rate of return. Plug in the variables, do a little calculation, and the result is an asset’s required rate of return, r.   

So what does this tell you? Probably that you have long since forgotten the equation of a straight line. But other than that, you might notice that the CAPM required rate of return is dependent on the equation’s inputs. For example, holding everything else constant, a higher beta will result in a higher required rate of return. That makes sense, because a higher beta indicates a higher level of systematic risk, and you would expect to be compensated for taking on more risk by the possibility of earning a higher return. We can even go a step further and tie in to the DDM, because r (the required rate of return, which can be calculated via the CAPM) is part of the DDM equation. The DDM tells us that, all else equal, a higher r will result in a lower intrinsic value.  If the stock price is higher than its intrinsic value, you may deem that stock to be overvalued.

Of course, a model can’t be this gorgeous without making a LOT of simplifying assumptions. For example, the CAPM assumes that all investors have identical expectations, and that there are no taxes or transaction costs (what a wonderful world it would be, right?). Nevertheless, the CAPM has played an integral part in the development of modern portfolio theory since its introduction in the early 1960s. Plus, I just HAD to tell someone about my favorite equation. Of course, now that summer is here, I can put aside the study books and turn my attention to other matters of great importance. Now, where did I put that issue of Us Weekly?

Sarah DerGarabedian

Research and Trading Associate

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I Hear You, Stock Market Futures, but I am Not Listening

Every morning I come into work and set about reading the morning news. Whether it is the Wall Street Journal online, MarketWatch News, or, I peruse the stock market and business news to see what kind of rollercoaster the day will be. One thing that strikes me as ironic is how the daily stock market futures article gets my blood racing, at the same time that I write it off completely.

Speculators and hedgers enter into stock futures contracts in order to hedge against an existing asset or liability exposure, or often, to profit off of the direction of the stock market. To the parties of the futures contract there is either a payoff, or amount owed, depending on the subsequent direction of the stock market. Stock futures prices indicate if investors on the whole believe that the stock market will be higher or lower. What investors believe will happen changes by the second, as evidenced by the fluctuating stock market index futures.

Stock market futures indicate what direction stocks will go at the open of the market. But this is often then extrapolated into the general investing world as the tell-tale sign of what is to come for the remainder of the day and into the near future, many times turning out to be incorrect. If you come into the office every morning, every Monday through Friday of your life and read these articles, you can’t help but see the fickleness of the investors. One day the market is sure to drop into the abyss, other days it is off to the races. And no matter what is predicted, the journalist writing the article can always find some money manager somewhere to agree with what the stock futures may predict and give his or her reason for that.

Day after day the articles regarding stock futures are always the same, in that they always change. This is not to say that long-term, large macroeconomic forces do not affect the market, they most certainly do. But as a long-term investor it is my job to look beyond the day-to-day fluctuations, plan for broader market swings, and stay grounded, not letting emotions take over. However, the sentient being that I am makes this difficult, as I worry about my client’s money, emotions, and financial needs. So the article of the day, whether good or bad, gets my heart pounding a little, even though I realize its relevance is small in the big picture.

This represents to me perfectly what is so inherently frustrating about the stock market. Day to day the movement of stocks is uncertain, but you feel confident based on the news of the day of how stocks will move. You are sure you should be buying. But the next day the news leads you to be sure that you should be selling. Your emotions are high. Logically, academically, statistically, you know that the daily, weekly and monthly predictions are irrelevant and that the long-term outlook is what will have the greater impact on you financially if you are a well-diversified long-term investor. So if you feel unsettled or excited by the daily news, read for interest or understanding, then close the web browser and choose not to make sweeping changes to your portfolio that day.

Harli L. Palme, CFP®
Financial Advisor

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Is Buy and Hold Dead?

I was reading The Wall Street Journal the other day, and an article caught my eye (“More Investors Say Bye-Bye to Buy and Hold,” April 8, 2009).  The premise was that some investors are beginning to trade more frequently for a variety of reasons, from attempting to recoup losses to trying to profit from short-term price movements in individual issues. 

This reminds me of the infamous Business Week cover story “The Death of Equities,” which ran in 1979.  Over the next 20 years, the stock market had a total return of +17.9% annually, the highest in modern history.  People who changed their approach out of frustration or panic, or after reading that article, missed out on substantial gains over the following years.

In down markets, people are understandably worried, and all sorts of investment strategies appear out of the woodwork.  As of the end of 2008, large company stocks had the worst 10 year returns since 1926, when the Ibbotson data series begins.  This includes the Great Depression.  In such an environment, some people are tempted to abandon long-term investing in favor of some different, often self-destructive, approach.

At Parsec, we do not engage in market timing, or dramatic shifts in our clients’ asset allocation based on the mood of the day.  We do believe in a low-turnover approach, but our portfolio strategy is more sophisticated than a pure buy and hold.  A buy and hold strategy does not answer the important question, “When do I sell?”  There are two primary types of trades that we make in client accounts:  trades at the block level and trades at the individual client level.

In a block trade, we are selling a particular security across all client accounts.  Our conviction regarding that security’s merit as a long-term investment has changed.  The trade may be at a profit or at a loss, but our Investment Policy Committee has determined that there are better opportunities elsewhere.

The second type of trade we make is at the individual client level.  When we review client portfolios, we ask ourselves “How can I make this portfolio better?” This may encompass reducing an individual stock position that is overweight, or correcting an overweighting or underweighting in a particular economic sector.  When an individual stock exceeds 5% of a client’s portfolio, it is our policy to reduce the position unless there is a client-specific reason not to do so.  There may be an opportunity to improve diversification, to add a new investment idea, or to increase portfolio income.  If there is no trade that we find compelling, then we take no action.  Although it can be difficult, oftentimes the right thing to do is to do nothing at all. 

We believe that a buy and hold strategy combined with a sell discipline, broad diversification and avoiding market timing will allow our clients to prosper over the years ahead. 

Bill Hansen, CFA

May 15, 2009

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Our Investment Process – A Behind the Scenes Look

As a Parsec client, you receive quarterly statements from us which list your individual holdings – stocks, bonds, mutual funds, exchange traded funds, and other securities, combined in a way that is appropriate for your individual situation. But how did we select those particular securities, and what is our ongoing review process? You may be surprised to find out that Parsec has a dedicated team of people who are involved in the day-to-day process of identifying, reviewing, and selecting the securities that you see on your statements. In this article, we will focus on individual stocks, as they constitute the majority of our clients’ assets.

Our process is heavily rooted in fundamental analysis, which means that we look at an individual company’s earnings, cash flow, debt, and profitability measures, compared to similar companies operating in the same industry. These data come directly from the company’s financial statements, and are combined to form various ratios such as price to earnings (P/E), price to free cash flow (P/FCF), debt to equity (D/E), and return on equity (net income/equity). We also use consensus estimates (for measures such as 5-year earnings growth rate forecasts), third party research (Value Line, Standard and Poor’s, Argus, Credit Suisse), recent news, and regulatory filings to flesh out the quantitative data.

In general, we look for financially strong companies that are market leaders, with high-quality balance sheets, stable earnings growth, above-average profitability, and sound management. We compare each company to others in the same industry, as well as to an industry average, so that the fundamentals can be evaluated in the context of that particular type of business.

Based on our research and analysis, we have compiled a list of securities from which an advisor builds your portfolio. We monitor the prices of the securities on this list throughout the day, as well as any news regarding these holdings. In addition, every security in our coverage universe is formally reviewed at least 3 to 4 times a year, and more often if circumstances dictate. Each week, Mark Lewis and I (collectively known as the Research and Trading department) gather information for a group of companies in a particular sector. We analyze the data and submit it to the other members of the Investment Policy Committee (IPC) for review.

Parsec’s IPC consists of eleven members, nine advisors and two research and trading associates (the latter are non-voting). Committee terms are for one year at a time, but advisors may remain on the committee for longer if they wish (the two research and trading associates are permanent members, as are the CEO and one of the managing partners). Every Tuesday morning, the committee meets to discuss each company and vote on a recommendation: buy, sell, or neutral. If the committee votes to sell a stock, the Research and Trading department initiates a block trade across all discretionary client accounts so that the committee’s convictions are effected on a firm-wide basis in an orderly and timely fashion. When the trade is executed, all accounts participating in the trade receive the same price.

Over the past year, as the credit crisis has unfolded, the economy has worsened, and markets have exhibited abnormal volatility, you may have noticed more trading activity in your portfolio as we seek to implement our convictions in response to rapidly-changing conditions. However, of the approximately 80 buy-rated securities that we cover, there are many companies that have been rated a ‘buy’ for a long time and are considered core holdings. You are undoubtedly quite familiar with their names, as you see them on your statements quarter after quarter, and you may have wondered what we do in the way of ongoing research and due diligence. Hopefully, this glimpse into our investment process assures you that we are reviewing those companies as well as the ones garnering more media attention, and will continue to do so, day in and day out.

Sarah DerGarabedian

Research and Trading Associate

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Dividend Discount Model

Part of my job here at Parsec is to perform due diligence on the securities we cover, and I was just in the middle of reading up on Colgate when I thought to myself, “How can I possibly put this off for a little while longer? I know! I’ll write something for the blog.” I think I’ll talk about a little term people in the investment biz love to throw around – “undervalued” (and its sinister twin, “overvalued”).

I’m currently in the midst of studying for Level II of the CFA exam (I believe Dante includes this in the ninth circle of hell) which focuses heavily on security valuation. I’ve noticed that the answer to just about every question is, “discount the future cash flows.” The basic premise is that a security (or a company, or a capital project) should be worth the present value of its future cash flows. Present value means that, thanks to inflation, a dollar ten years from now will be worth a lot less than a dollar today. I guess that’s why my mom could ride a bus, see a movie, eat a hot dog, and buy her first house for just a nickel way back when. Therefore, a security (let’s take a dividend-paying stock, for example) should be worth something equivalent to all of its future cash flows (i.e., dividends) adjusted to today’s value.

How in the world do you calculate this, you wonder? Until recently, I thought it was a matter of going to the Bloomberg terminal and typing in a few commands. Thanks to my exam prep, I have learned that it can actually be calculated with something called a “pencil.” There are many ways to calculate fair value, one of which involves the dividend discount model, or DDM. The DDM requires several inputs, among them our good friend beta, swirls them all around and spits out a price. If the price (also called intrinsic value or fair value) is higher than the security’s current market price, the stock is undervalued. That means that the value of its future dividends in today’s world is higher than what you’d pay for it in the market. It’s like finding a pair of Manolos on Ebay for $100 when you know they retail for a good $400 more (I am still kicking myself with my cheap Payless shoes for letting those slip away). Conversely, if the DDM gives you an intrinsic value lower than the current market price, the security is overvalued. As with any mathematical model, the output is only as good as the input, and the resulting value estimation is sensitive to changes in any of several assumptions (EPS and dividend growth rates, beta, the market risk premium, etc.).

Well, I better get back to my Colgate research. I think it looks undervalued, but I need to do some more analysis. If anyone needs me, I’ll be under my desk discounting future cash flows.

Sarah DerGarabedian
Research and Trading Associate

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Article from Associated Press, Feb 24, 2009

I read this article the other day and thought it relative to the current market situation so I am passing it on in this blog. Hope you find it interesting.
Q: How does this drop compare with others?
A: At its low on Monday, the Standard & Poor’s 500 index was down 52.5 percent from its October 2007 peak. That makes it the third worst bear market since 1929. But the speed of the fall is the real story. In the past, it’s taken 21 months for stocks to fall this far. This time it only took 13 months.
The drop in stocks has also been playing out all around the world.
“The swiftness and the severity of this bear market I think were unprecedented — partly the global nature of it,” said Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at Standard & Poor’s.
Q: The drop was fast but it still feels like stocks just can’t pull higher. Is this downturn longer than normal?
A: Since 1932, this is the longest time stocks have spent near a market bottom, according to Marc Reinganum, director of quantitative research and senior portfolio manager for Oppenheimer Funds.
Q: What has needed to happen in the past to turn a slumping stock market around?
A: Wall Streets need some source of hope. It could be as simple as one bit of news that acts as a catalyst for a rally. Investors will pounce once they believe the economy is poised to turn higher. But first, pessimism has to be running so high that many investors simply want to walk away.
Because many investors are laying bets for the months ahead they often look beyond the news of the day. So the market can recover well before the economy as a whole.
In the past 60 years, the S&P 500 has hit its low a median five months before the recession has ended and nine months before either corporate earnings have hit bottom or unemployment has peaked, according to S&P.
Q: What are the signs of a bottom?
A: A market bottom can bring punishing drops in prices, heavy trading volume and a large number of stocks that hit new lows. The cathartic sell-off is like a brush fire that drives many investors from the market but clears room for a recovery.
“Bear markets don’t end in whimper. They usually end with a crash,” Stovall said.
Q: What might a recovery look like?
A: That’s the good part. History shows that the rallies coming out of a bear market are far stronger than most advances.
Curtis Teberg, portfolio manager at the Teberg Fund, likens the market’s fall and recovery to a basketball thrown hard at the ground: The ball’s ascent is fastest right after it begins its bounce and its climb slows as it gets higher.
“The biggest bounce will come immediately and whoever is there will get to participate,” he said.
In bear markets since 1932, the S&P has gained an average of 46 percent in the 12 months after stocks hit bottom. The gains range from 21 percent to an incredible 121 percent.
Q: The slide has been so unnerving. Should I even bother to wait for a rebound?
A: Sticking around can pay off for those with the time. In the first year of a recovery investors have recouped an average of 82 percent of what they lost in the entire prior bear market, according to Stovall.
“Unless you believe that the world economy will stop and that all stocks will go to zero, one of these days this bear market will end,” he said.
Nervous investors should decide how soon they need the money. Stocks are for long-term investing. For those who can wait, cashing out at the market’s lows will only lock in the losses.
“It certainly is not the time to say ‘OK, I’m going to put everything in today,'” said Teberg. Instead, he recommends investors put one foot in the market at a time with money they won’t need right away. That way they can take advantage of deals on beaten-down stocks without risking too much at once.
Teberg is less nervous about the market at these levels than when stocks were at their peak in late 2007.
“At some point in time we will again see the market at those levels, which means there is a 100 percent gain for those who are willing to get into the market.” Investors just have to be willing to wait, he said.
“This market has never gone straight up or straight down forever.”

Barbara Gray, CFP®

[Advisor] is a registered investment advisor. This Article is being provided for informational purposes only, does not constitute investment advice and does not necessarily represent the opinions of [Advisor]. Nothing in this Article should be interpreted as implying the performance of any client accounts, or securities recommendations. [Advisor].does not provide any guarantee, express or implied, that the information presented is accurate or timely, and does not contain inadvertent technical or factual inaccuracies. The past performance of securities is no guarantee of their future result. The value of an investment may fall as well as rise, and investors may not receive the full amount of their principal at the time of redemption if asset values have fallen.

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The Story of Beta


You may be familiar with the term beta as it’s used in valuing investments. At the very least, if you’re at all comfortable with the Internet (and I assume you are, as you’re reading this blog) you can look it up and find out that it’s a measure of systematic risk. Great! That’s like my husband telling me that bike part over there is a derailleur. Now I know what it is, but I have no idea what it does or how it works with the rest of the bike (though I do know how to spell it, which is no small accomplishment). You may have even been at a party talking investments with someone (whose returns are “fabulous”) when they start tossing out terms like beta. You find yourself nodding along, silently wishing you could clock the guy with your derailleur.


So, what is beta? Well, it’s the Greek letter “b”, which you may remember from college. Not because you took Greek in college, but because your school had a “Greek system” (which is how institutes of higher learning keep you from graduating on time and therefore make more money). As I mentioned earlier, in the context of valuing investments, beta measures systematic risk. Unsystematic risk refers to risk that you can diversify away – industry risk, for example. If you had all your money invested in bank stocks last year, please accept my condolences and go fix yourself a nice, strong drink. If, however, you had a diversified portfolio of financials, consumer goods and services, healthcare, energy, industrials, etc., the returns in sectors such as healthcare and consumer goods would have mitigated (to some degree) the losses in the financial sector. The other type of risk is systematic, or market risk, which cannot be diversified away. Recessions (as we are painfully aware) affect the entire market regardless of business type, industry, and country, and even a properly diversified portfolio cannot escape all risk.


Beta is a number that measures market risk for a particular security. As a baseline, the market has a beta of 1. If a security has a beta of 1, its price is expected to move with the market. If it is less than 1, the price is expected to move less than the market. If it is greater than 1, the price is expected to move more than the market (for example, a beta of 2 indicates a security should move about twice as much as the market).


So now you know what it is and what it measures. The insatiably curious may also want to know how these numbers are derived. For all two of you out there, I will try to make the explanation as short and sweet as possible. Basically, it’s calculated using something called linear regression, which is nothing more than trying to make a straight line out of a bunch of data points that look like buckshot. If you regress the returns of a security against the returns of the overall market, you will get an equation for a line that represents the “best-fit” line through the data points. Beta is the coefficient in the equation that makes it all work.


I hope that was illuminating, and that you haven’t fallen asleep on your keyboard. If you have any questions involving derailleurs, please contact my husband.


Sarah DerGarabedian

Research and Trading Associate



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