Thursday, October 17, 2013

Macro vs Micro: A Study in Economics (and Investments)

If you think back to your college economics class, you'll remember the difference between macroeconomics and microeconomics. Microeconomics is the study of people and businesses with respect to the decisions they make regarding the allocation of resources and pricing of goods. Macroeconomics is the study of the economy as a whole including entire industries and economies.* In simpler terms, micro is looking at individuals or specific companies where macro is looking at the big picture. When you research an investment, whether it be a stock, bond, ETF, mutual fund or any other security, you must look at the specific investment as well as the entire market as a whole. Macro and micro forces affect the price of securities on a daily basis.

Let's look at an example. Suppose you wanted to invest in a company that supplied parts or machinery to the oil industry. The individual management of the company would be important to you to ensure effective leadership going forward. The financials of the company would be important to make sure the company will grow, be profitable and which will increase the stock price over time. The product line and the pricing would be important to you so that you would be confident that this company could compete well for new business. The reputation of the company would be important in helping it grow. These are all factors that the individual company can control in some way. Can the company control the price of oil? No! Would the price of oil affect the sales of this company? Yes!

This company you are researching may be the best managed supplier to the oil industry and it might be the most competitive company in its field. But if the price of oil were to suddenly drop precipitously, this company's sales might also drop substantially because oil companies would drill and pump less oil at lower prices. Actually, at this time oil companies are producing and refining more oil than ever before because of the continued high market prices. Market forces drive prices up as well as down. What we are saying is that the stock price for the company you are researching may rise or fall based on macroeconomic conditions that have nothing to do with its own management and financials. This means you are investing in not only the individual company stock but the oil industry and the U.S. economy (and world economy) as well.

Timing is critical to making a sound investment. It is our belief that money is made when a security is purchased not when it's sold. The price at the time you sell a stock represents the proceeds you will receive upon the sale. The profit you make depends on the price you paid when you bought the stock. The key to any successful investment strategy is the discipline behind it. Warren Buffett invests in companies that he can understand, that are superbly managed and which are highly competitive in their respective industries. Once he invests he is committed for long term. He knows that the decision to invest was made based on a sound discipline and that over time his investments will perform. His track record is pretty remarkable.

Building a solid portfolio that outperforms the market is not easy. If it was every investment manager would outperform his/her respective benchmarks. Comparing your investment returns to some outside benchmark is not as relevant as it used to be. Would you happy losing only 10 percent of your portfolio value in a year where the overall market went down 20 percent? No! Simply outperforming some index is not enough. Buying the right stock at the right time and holding on to it will yield great value over time. Sometimes stocks move quickly and sometimes they take a long time to move. By investing in well managed competitive companies that have solid financials you give yourself the ability to outperform the average companies. We strive to do this for our clients every day. We focus on solid investments that we believe will perform well in the long-term no matter what the macro market forces do in the short-term.

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