The Endless Summer

The Endless Summer (1966) is the crown jewel to ten years of Bruce Brown surfing documentaries. Brown follows two young surfers around the world in search of the perfect wave, and ends up finding quite a few in addition to some colorful local characters (Endless Summer). Well, summer has officially ended with the Labor Day celebration. Traditionally, for Americans it marks a change in attitudes and latitudes, from leisure, play and vacation, to work, school, and more serious attitudes. With the entrance of fall comes September and October. While October is considered to be the “cruelest” month for investors, September is actually the worse month statistically for the stock market. That said, October has been the most spectacular with two crashes, the end of the 1990 bear market, the “Crashette” of 1989, and a few nasty setbacks in the 1970s. We reflected on the endless summer on our recent six hour plane ride from San Francisco. Our problem was that we were sitting next to a person who did not bring any reading material. All he wanted to do was talk. In a bar, or other situations, we are always able to get up and move to another location, but on a plane you are trapped. Normally, when confronted by someone who is interested in talking, and asks us what we do, we tell them we are auditors for the IRS and that usually ends the conversation. Failing that, we revert to writing and tell our inquisitor we have a deadline and cannot talk. Thus defensive writing was invented.

During the plane ride we also recalled some comments from our departed friend, Ray Devoe, who was considered to be one of the best writers, and best strategists, on Wall Street. It was back in 1997 that Ray wrote:

Against the Gods by Peter Bernstein is probably the most difficult books I have ever read. Not that the style or content makes it hard to read, but so many points made by Peter got me thinking extensively and then writing out lengthy notes to myself about the points he made. Perhaps “difficult” is not appropriate – if “time consuming,” “provocative,” and “thought inducing” could be rolled into one phrase that might do it. Throughout the book he makes the point that risk cannot be avoided, only shifted. This is not a book that “New Era” investors would enjoy. One quotation that every new investor should keep in mind is, “At the extremes, the stock market is more likely to destroy fortunes than make them. The stock market can be a risky place if one does not manage risk.” This will come as heresy to those who believe that 1) the only risk is being out of the market and/or 2) there is no risk in stocks held over the longer term, only short-term volatility.

The book states unequivocally that individuals are risk adverse financially. They will always attempt to avoid risk WHEN THEY ARE AWARE THAT RISKS EXSIST. His conclusion is that “Losses will always loom larger than gains,” which has been reinforced by behavioral scientists. The public may have one attitude about pain when paper profits are being eroded, but when actual losses are incurred the pain can become physical. I know this from personal experience. Steve Leuthold’s “Perception for the Professional” cites financial behaviorists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, who have estimated that the pain of losses is over three times as great as the pleasure from gains.

We revisit Ray Devoe’s sage writings this morning because we continue to stress how important it is to “manage risk.” We emphasized this point following the Dow Theory “sell signal” of September 23, 1999, and again with the Dow Theory “sell signal” of November 21, 2007.