Facebook shareholders should be cheering. And if you don’t own FB, you should be asking yourself why not. The company’s platform investments continue to draw users, and advertisers, in unprecedented numbers.
With permission: Statista
People over 40 still might text. But for most younger people, messaging happens via FB Messenger or WhatsApp. Text messages have thus been declining in the USA. Internationally, where carriers still frequently charge for text messages, the use of both Facebook products dominates over texting. Both Facebook products now are leaders in internet usage.
And as their use grows, so do the ad dollars.
With permission: Statista
As this chart shows, in 2017 ad spending on digital outpaced money spent on TV ads. And TV spending, like print and radio, is flat to declining. While digital spending accelerates. And the big winner here is the platform getting the most eyeballs – which would be Facebook (and Google.)
Looking at the trends, Facebook investors should feel really good about future returns. And if you don’t own Facebook shares, why not?
Leaders like to be deciders. Most leaders think of themselves as decision makers. In 2006 President George Bush, defending Donald Rumsfeld as his Defense Secretary said “I am the Decider. I decide what’s best.” It earned him the nickname “Decider-in-Chief.” Most CEOs echo this sentiment. Most leaders like to define themselves by their decisions.
But whether a decision is good or not is open to interpretation. Often immediately after a decision things may look great. It might appear as if that decision was obvious. And often decisions quickly make a lot of people happy.
As we enter the most intense part of the U.S. presidential election, both candidates are eager to tell potential voters what decisions they have made – and what decisions they will make if elected. And most people will look no further than the immediate expected impact of those decisions.
AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File
It takes time to determine the quality of any decision.
However, the quality of most decisions is not based on the immediate, or obvious, first implications. Rather, the quality of a decision is discovered over time, as the consequences are revealed – intended and unintended. Because quite often, what looked good at first can turn out to be very, very bad.
The people of North Carolina passed a law to control the use of public bathrooms. Most people of the state thought this was a good idea, including the governor. But some didn’t like the law, and many spoke up. Last week the NBA decided that it would cancel its All-Star game scheduled in Charlotte due to discrimination issues caused by this law. This change will cost Charlotte about $100 million.
That action by the NBA is what’s called unintended consequences
. Lawmakers didn’t really consider that the NBA might decide to take its business
elsewhere due to this state legislation. It’s what some people call, “Oops. I didn’t think about that
when I made my decision.”
Often unintended consequences are more important than first reactions to decisions.
Robert Reich, Secretary of Labor for President Clinton, was a staunch supporter of unions. In his book Locked in the Cabinet, he tells the story of visiting an auto plant in Oklahoma supporting the local union. He thought his support would incent the company’s leaders to negotiate more favorably. Instead, the company closed the plant. Laid-off everyone. Oops. The unintended consequences of what he thought was obvious support led to the worst possible worker outcome.
President Obama worked Congress hard to create the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, for everyone in America. One intention was to make sure employers covered all their workers, so the law required that if an employer had health care for any workers he had to offer that health care to all employees who worked over 30 hours per week. So almost all employers of part time workers suddenly said that none could work more than 30 hours. Those that worked 32 (four days per week) or 36 suddenly had their hours cut. Now those lower-income people not only had no health care, but less money in their pay envelopes. Oops. Unintended consequence.
President Reagan and his First Lady launched the “War on Drugs.” How could that be a bad thing? Illegal drugs are dangerous, as is the supply chain. But now, some 30 years later, the Federal Bureau of Prisons reports that almost half (46.3% or over 85,000) of inmates are there on drug charges. The U.S. now spends $51 billion annually on this drug war, which is about 20% more than is spent on the real war being waged with Afghanistan, Iraq and ISIS. There are now over 1.5 million arrests each year, with 83% of those merely for possession. Oops. Unintended consequences. It seemed like such a good idea at the time.
This is why it is so important leaders take their time to make thoughtful decisions, often with the input of many other people. Because the quality of a decision is not measured by how one views it immediately. Rather, the value is decided over time as the opportunity arises to observe the unintended consequences, and their impact. The best decisions are those in which the future consequences are identified, discussed and made part of the planning – so they aren’t unintended and the “decider” isn’t running around saying “oops.”
Think hard about the long-term complications of any decision.
As you listen to the politicians this cycle, keep in mind what could be the unintended consequences of implementing what they say:
- What would be the social impact, and transfer of wealth, from suddenly forgiving all student loans?
- What would be the consequences on trade, and jobs, of not supporting historical government trade agreements?
- What would be the consequences on national security of not supporting historically allied governments?
- What would be the long-term consequence of not allowing visitors based on race, religion or sexual orientation?
- What would be the consequence of not repaying the government’s bonds?
- What would be the long-term impact on economic growth of higher regulations on banks – that already have seen dramatic increases in regulation slowing the recovery?
- What would be the long-term consequences on food production, housing and lifestyles of failing to address global warming?
Business leaders should be very aware of the long-term consequences of their decisions. Every time a decision is necessary, is the best effort made to obtain all the information available on the topic? Are inputs and expectations obtained from detractors, as well as admirers? Is there a balance between not only what is popular, but what will happen months into the future? Did you consider the potential reaction by customers? Employees? Suppliers? Competitors?
There are very few “perfect decisions.” All decisions have consequences. Often, there is a trade-off between the good outcomes, and the bad outcomes. But the key is to know them all, and balance the interests and outcomes. Consider the consequences, good and bad, and plan for them. Only by doing that can you avoid later saying “oops.”
The vast majority of individual investors have no idea how to pick stocks. So they often let someone else invest for them, and pay a hefty fee of anywhere from 1% to 5% of their assets annually. Or they buy some sort of fund or portfolio index, where they pay the fund manager usually more than 1% of assets for managing the fund. In the worst case, they pay the financial advisor their fee, and then the advisor buys a fund for the investor – which has that investor paying anywhere from 2% to 8% or even 10% of assets annually for investment advice.
Yet, we know that few asset managers can beat “the market,” whether measured by the DJIA (Dow Jones Industrial Average) or the S&P 500. A study in Europe showed no active manager beat their benchmark over 10 years, and in the U.S. 80% to 90% of fund managers failed to do as well as their benchmarks. And there are studies showing that even if a manager beats their index, after accounting for management fees and costs the investors almost never beat the market.
Any individual could buy the market index by simply opening an on-line account at any discount brokerage, for a very small cost, and buying the exchange traded fund (ETF) for the Dow (DIA – often called “Diamonds”) or the S&P (SPDR – often called “Spiders”). Thus, individual investors can do as well as the “market” at very, very low cost. Most academics will tell investors to not try and beat the market, because the market is wildly inefficient and investors are always without full knowledge of the company, and thus buy these indices.
But most investors are lured by the notion of “beating the market” so they pay the high fees in order to – hopefully – have someone do a better job of investing. And they end up disappointed.
Investors can “beat the market,” but it requires a different approach to investing than fund managers use. And it is far more suited to individuals, with long-term horizons – and it avoids paying those outrageous financial services fees. To be a long-term high-return investor individuals simply need to invest in trends.
247wallst.com published an article stating the editors had seen a report published by Jefferies, sent to them by Bloomberg, which claimed that 20% of all the gains in the total stock market since 1924 (some 93 years) were created by a mere 14 stocks. This sort of blows up all academic theories about investing in portfolios, as it drives home that most market returns are driven by a small collection of companies. Individuals would be better off if they invested in just a few stocks, rather than all stocks. But this means you have to know which stocks to own.
You would think this might be hard, until you look at the list of 14. There is a striking pattern. All were simply the biggest, most powerful companies leading an important, large trend. So if you identified the trend, and invested in the largest company creating that trend, you would do really well. And because these are large companies, investors aren’t carrying the risk of small companies that could be competitively destroyed by larger players. Interestingly, identifying these trends and the large players really isn’t that hard. Nor is it hard to recognize when the trend is ending, and it is time to sell.
We can understand this by looking at the list of 14 not by how much market gain they created, but rather historically when the majority of those gains occurred.
People have enjoyed smoking tobacco since at least the 1500s. Long before anyone knew about the chemical affects and shortened lifespan people simply enjoyed the practice of smoking and the impact nicotine had on them. As tobacco spread from France to England, eventually it moved to the U.S. and was the first ever cash crop – grown in America for sale in Europe. For literally hundreds of years the trend toward tobacco consumption grew. So, it is easy to understand why investing in Phillip Morris, which was renamed Altria, was a good move. As long as people kept buying more cigarettes investing in the largest cigarette company was a good way to increase your returns.
For hundreds of years people used whale oil and similar animal products for candles and lanterns. Wood and coal were used for cooking. But then in 1859 oil was successfully found, and it changed the world. Oil was far cheaper to produce than animal or vegetable oils and burned more consistently at a higher temperature than those products, wood or coal. And that unleashed a trend toward hydrocarbon production leading to the birth of countless new products. It would not have been hard to see that this trend was going to be very valuable. Thus two other names on the list pop up, Exxon and Chevron. These companies are successors of the original Standard Oil founded by John Rockefeller – which created tremendous returns for investors for many years as oil consumption, and production, grew.
Hydrocarbons were a tremendous contributor to the industrial revolution, allowing manufacturers to use engines in new products, and to improve their manufacturing. One of the earliest, and soon biggest, manufacturers was General Electric, another big value producer on the list of 14. And one of the biggest industrial revolution gains was the automobile, where General Motors became by far the largest producer. Investors who put money into the industrial revolution and the trend toward making things – especially cars – came out very well by buying shares in these two companies.
As the industrial revolution grew the middle class emerged, enjoying a vast improvement in quality of life. This led to the trend of consumerism, as it was possible to make things much cheaper and distribute them wider. Three of the biggest companies that promoted this consumer trend were Johnson & Johnson, Proctor & Gamble and Coca-Cola. All were in different product markets, but all were very big leaders in the growth of consumer products for a 1900s world (especially post-WWII) where people had more money – and the desire to buy things. And all three did very well for their investors.
Soon a new trend emerged with the capability of electronics. First came the advent of instant, modern communications as the telephone emerged. Regardless the cost, there was high value in being able to communicate with someone “now” even if they were in a distant location. Investors in Alexander Bell’s AT&T did quite well as phones made their way across America and around the world.
Soon thereafter mechanical adding machines were greatly improved by using electronics – initially relays – to make tabulations and computations. IBM was an early developer of these machines for commercial use, and very quickly came to dominate the market for computers. It was not long before every company needed a computer, or at least access to use one, in order to compete. Investors in IBM were well rewarded for spotting this trend.
As the market for consumer goods exploded Sam Walton recognized the inefficiency of retail product distribution. He discovered that by owning more stores he could negotiate better with consumer goods manufacturers, purchase products more cheaply and sell them more cheaply. He created the trend toward mass retailing driven by efficiency, and he rapidly demonstrated the ability to drive competitors completely out of many retail markets. Investors who identified this trend toward low-cost retailing of a wide product array made considerable gains by purchasing Wal-Mart shares.
As computers became smaller the market expanded, leading to the development of ever smaller computers. Microsoft created software allowing multiple manufacturers to build machines with interoperability, allowing it to take a dominant position in the trend to computers so small every single person could have one – and indeed eventually felt they could not live without one. Microsoft investors made huge gains as the company practically monopolized this trend and created the personal compute marketplace.
It was Apple that first recognized the trend toward mobility being created by ever faster connection speeds. Mobility would allow for radical changes in how many product markets behaved, and investors who saw this mobility trend were amply rewarded for investing in Apple – the company that became synonymous with internet-enabled products.
And as computing mobility improved it created a trend toward buying at home rather than going to a store. Mail order had almost entirely disappeared, due to lack of timely product fulfillment. But with the internet as the interface, coupled with modern, highly efficient transportation services, Amazon was able to give a rebirth to shopping from home and the e-commerce trend exploded. Investors that recognized Amazon’s vastly lower cost retail model, coupled with the infinite prospects for product variety, have been rewarded for investing in the large on-line retailer.
These 14 companies created 20% of all stock market gains across nearly a century. And each was the dominant competitor in a major trend. Several are no longer on the trend, and even a couple have filed bankruptcy (like AT&T and GM), thus it is easy to recognize why some have done far less well the last decade. The world changed and their business model which once produced excellent returns no longer does. But savvy investors should recognize when a trend has run its course, and drop that company in favor of investing in the leader of a major, new trend.
All investors should be long-term investors. Trying to be a market timer, and a trader, is a fool’s errand. To make high investment returns requires taking a long-term (multi-year) view – not monthly or quarterly. Therefore it is important that when investing in trends they be big trends. Trends that will have a large impact on every business – every person. Trends that can generate tremendous returns for many years.
Not everyone can be a stock picker. Therefore, most investors should probably have a goodly chunk of their money in an ETF. That can be done easily enough as described above. But, if you want to increase your returns to beat the market the key is to invest in companies that are large, and the leaders in a major trend.
What are the big trends today? There is no doubt “social” is a huge trend. How every business and person interacts is changing as the use of social tools increases. This is a global phenomenon, and it is a trend with many years left to extend its impact. Investing in the market leader – Facebook – shows good likelihood of obtaining the kind of returns created by the 14 companies discussed above.
What other trends can you identify that have years yet to go? If you can spot them, and invest in a dominant, large leader then you just may outperform nearly every active fund manager trying to get you to pay their fees.
(Photo: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
“Get the assumptions wrong and nothing else matters” – Peter F. Drucker
President Donald Trump made it very clear last week that his administration intends to build a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. And he intends to make Mexico pay for it. He is so adamant he is willing to risk U.S./Mexican relations, canceling a meeting with the Mexican president.
Unfortunately, this tempest is all because of a really bad idea. The wall is a bad idea because the assumptions behind this project are entirely false. Like far too many executives, President Trump is building a plan based on bad assumptions rather than obtaining the facts – even if they belie his assumptions – and developing a good solution. Making decisions, and investing, on bad assumptions is simply bad leadership.
The stated claim is Mexico is sending illegal immigrants across the border in droves. These illegal immigrants are Mexican ne’er do wells who are coming to America to live off government subsidies and/or commit criminal activity. The others are coming to steal higher paying jobs from American workers. America will create a h
Unfortunately, almost everything in that line of logic is untrue. And thus the purported conclusion will not happen.
1. Although it cannot be proven, analysts believe the majority (possibly vast majority) of illegal immigrants enter America by air. There are two kinds of illegal immigration. President Trump’s rhetoric focuses on “entries without inspection.” But most illegal immigrants actually arrive in America with a visa – and then simply don’t leave. These are called “overstays.” They come from Mexico, India, Canada, Europe, Asia, South America, Africa – all over the world. If you want to identify and reduce illegal immigration, you need to focus on identifying likely overstays and making sure they return. The wall does not address this.
3. More non-Mexicans than Mexicans were apprehended at the U.S. border – and the the number of Mexicans has been declining. From 1.6 million in 2000, by 2014 the number dwindled to 229,000 (a decline of 85%). If you want to stop illegal border immigrants into the U.S., the best (and least costly) policy would be to cooperate with Mexico to capture these immigrants as they flee Central America and find a solution for either housing them in Mexico or returning them to their country of origin. It is ridiculous to expect Mexico to pay for a wall when it is not Mexico’s citizens creating the purported illegal immigration problem on the border.
4. In 2015 over 43,000 Cubans illegally immigrated to the U.S. – about 20% as many as from Mexico. The cost of a wall is rather dramatically high given the weighted number of illegal immigrants from other countries.
5. The number of illegal immigrants living in the U.S. is actually declining. There are more Mexicans returning to live in Mexico than are illegally entering the U.S. Between 2009 and 2014 over 1 million illegal Mexican immigrants willingly returned to Mexico where working conditions had improved and they could be with family. In other words, there were more American jobs created by Mexicans returning to Mexico than “stolen” by new illegal immigrants entering the country. If the administration would like to stop illegal immigration the best way is to help Mexico create more high-paying jobs (say with a trade deal like NAFTA) so they don’t come to America, and those in America simply choose to go to Mexico.
6. Illegal immigrants are not “stealing” more jobs every year. Since 2006, the number of illegal immigrants working in the U.S. has stabilized at about 8 million. All the new job growth over the last decade has gone to legitimate American workers or legal immigrants working with proper papers. Illegal immigration is not the reason some Americans do not have jobs, and blaming illegal immigrants is a ruse for people who simply don’t want to work – or refuse to upgrade their skills to make themselves employable.
7. Illegal immigrants in the U.S. is not a rising group – in fact most illegal immigrants have been in the U.S. for over 10 years. In 2014, over 66% of all illegal immigrants had been in the U.S. for 10 years or more. Only 14% have been in the U.S. for 5 years or less. We don’t have a problem needing to stop new illegal immigrants (the ostensible reason for a wall). Rather, we have a need to reform immigration so all these long-term immigrants already in the workforce can be normalized and make sure they pay the necessary taxes.
8. The states where illegal immigration is growing are not on the Mexican border. The states with rising illegal immigration are Washington, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, Massachusetts and Louisiana. Texas, New Mexico and Arizona have seen no significant, measurable increase in illegal immigrants. And California, Nevada, Illinois, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina have seen their illegal immigrant population decline. A border wall does not address the growth of illegal immigrants, as to the extent illegal immigrants are working in the U.S. they are clearly not in the border states.
Good leaders get all the facts. They sift through the facts to determine problems, and develop solutions which address the problem.
Bad leaders jump to conclusions. They base their actions on outdated assumptions. They invest in the wrong places because they think they know everything, rather than making sure they know the situation as it really exists.
America’s “flood of illegal immigrants” problem is wildly overblown. Most illegal immigrants are people from advanced countries, often with an education, who overstay their visa limits. But few Americans seem to think they are a problem.
Most border crossing illegal immigrants today are minors from Central America simply trying to stay alive. They aren’t Mexican criminals, stealing jobs, or creating a crime spree. They are mostly starving.
President Trump has “whipped up” a lot of popular anxiety with his claims about illegal Mexican immigrants and the need to build a border wall. Interestingly, the state with the longest Mexican border is Texas – and of its 38 congressional members (36 in Congress, 2 in the Senate and 25 Republican) not one (not one) supports building the wall. The district with the longest border (800 miles) is represented by Republican Will Hurd, who said “building a wall is the most expensive and least effective way to secure the border.”
Good leaders do not make decisions on bad assumptions. Good leaders don’t rely on “alternative facts.” Good leaders carefully study, dig deeply to find facts, analyze those facts to determine if there is a problem – and then understand that problem deeply. Only after all that do they invest resources on plans that address problems most effectively for the greatest return.