We pray the Lord of investments restore the days of honesty for the sake of us feeble investors.
The finance industry, like every other fee-based industry, is littered with all sorts of pretentious words. Bullshitspeak is the lingua franca in this space.
- “professionally selected assets”
- “risk assessment algorithm”
- “best-fit funds”
- “timing the market”
- “competitive returns”
- “diversified portfolio”
- “professionally-managed funds”
- “impressive audited track records”
I’ll add more when I see them.
But there was a black swan.
IPS Millennium Fund, an equity mutual fund, was brutally honest in its financial disclosure in the late 90s; it was one for the religious books.
Mr Robert Loest, the founder and portfolio manager of IPS Millenium Fund, was described to have “low tolerance for stupidity and a pathological aversion to pussyfooting around the truth.” He’s dead now, though.
Before you read, note that the following statement by the company was made near the peak of the Internet bubble, when everyone was trying to buy stocks of the “hottest” tech startups that promised some crazy returns.
Here you go:
First of all, stock prices are volatile. Well, duh. If you buy shares in a stock mutual fund, any stock mutual fund, your investment value will change every day. In a recession it will go down, day after day, week after week, month after month, until you are ready to tear your hair out, unless you’ve already gone bald from worry. It will insist on this even if Ghandi, Jefferson, John Lennon, Jesus and the Apostles, Einstein, Merlin and Golda Maier all manage the thing. Stock markets show remarkably little respect for people or their reputations. Furthermore, if the fund has really been successful, you might be buying someone else’s whopping gains when you invest, on which you may have to pay taxes for returns you didn’t earn. Just try and find somewhere you don’t, though. Dismal.
While the long-term bias in stock prices is upward, stocks enter a bear market with amazing regularity, about every 3 – 4 years. It goes with the territory. Expect it. Live with it. If you can’t do that, go bury your money in a jar or put it in the bank and don’t bother us about why your investment goes south sometimes or why water runs downhill. It’s physics, man.
Aside from the mandatory boilerplate terrorizing above, there are risks that are specific to the IPS Millennium Fund you should understand better. Since most people don’t read the Prospectus (this isn’t aimed at you, of course, just all those other investors), we thought we’d try a more innovative way to scare you.
We buy scary stuff. You know, Internet stocks, small companies. These things go up and down like Pogo Sticks on steroids. We aren’t a sector tech fund, we are a growth & income fund, but right now the Internet is where we think most of the value is. While we try to moderate the consequent volatility by buying electric utility companies, Real Estate Investment Trusts, banks and other widows-and-orphans stuff with big dividend yields, it doesn’t always work. Even if we buy a lot of them. Sometimes we get killed anyway when Internet and other tech stocks take a particularly big hit. The “we” is actually a euphimism for you, got it?
We also get killed if interest rates go up, because that affects high dividend companies badly. Since rising interest rates affect everything badly, we could get killed even worse if the Fed raises rates, or the economy in general experiences higher interest rates beyond the control of those in control, or gets out of control. Whatever.
Many of the companies we buy are growing really fast. Like, 50% – 100% per year sales growth. Many of them also don’t make any money, although they may be relatively large companies. That means they have silly valuations by traditional valuation techniques. We don’t know what that means any more than you do, because we have never seen anything like the Internet before. So we might overpay for these companies, thinking we are really smart and can get away with it because they are growing so fast. It doesn’t take a whole lot for these companies to drop 50% or more, because nobody else knows what they are worth either. Received Wisdom can turn on a dime in this business, and when that happens prices fall off a cliff.
Even if we were really smart and stole these companies, if their prices run way up we are still as vulnerable as if we were really dumb and paid that high a price for them to start with. If we sell them, you will get pretty irritated with us come tax time, so we try not to do any more of that than we have to. The pole of that strategy, though, is that if we are really successful, you will have a lot of downside risk in a recession or a bear market. Bummer.
Finally, if you haven’t already grabbed the phone and started yelling at your broker to sell our fund as fast as possible, you should understand the shifting sands of technology. It doesn’t take billions of dollars to start a high tech company, like it did U.S. Steel or Ford Motor. Anybody can do it, and everybody does. Many of our companies are small, even though they dominate their market niche. It’s much easier for a new technology to blow one of our companies out of the water than it was in the old days of canal, mining, railroad and steel companies.
Just so you know. Don’t come crying to us if we lose all your money, and you wind up a Dumpster Dude or a Basket Lady rooting for aluminum cans in your old age.
The 619 moment:
Please e-mail us if we haven’t scared you enough, and we’ll try something else.
The fund went on to raise $200 million and lost most of it when the tech bubble burst in 2000.
At least they warned you – and tried to scare you away. But, alas, you failed to listen.