At CGI Las Vegas I listened to a presentation by John Del Vecchio from Ranger Alternatives. John manages the Ranger short book and has a strong background in accounting forensics. Specifically finding stocks with low earnings quality before the market does and building short positions based on that information.
John referenced some stats from a Blackstar Funds paper on the return distribution of the Russell 3000 index between years 1983-2006. The paper calls this non-normal distribution the The Capitalism Distribution.
Russell 3000 stats 1983-2006
39% of stocks were unprofitable investments
18.5% of stocks lost at least 75% of their value
64% of stocks underperformed the Russell 3000
25% of stocks were responsible for all of the market’s gains
An enterprising investor after reading this might be diligently researching the 25% responsible for all the markets gains. Surely these are the cream of the crop.
What a difference a day makes
The paper also gives us a sampling of some of the best performing stocks during that time period and their performance after the peak:
It would be interesting to see out of the 25% that made up 100% of the gain in 1983-2006, how many companies would still be worth owning today. Looking at that list there are a couple. Of course there are some that would have resulted in a permanent loss of capital and some that are not permanent losses yet but for which the immediate future is not bright. Lets take a quick look at a couple…
If you had bought GE on 01/03/83 at its closing price of 91.75, split adjusted (48:1) each share would be worth around $670 today. I figure thats about 8.3% compounded annual gain. If you had sold that share before the market drop you would have approximately 3x that amount somewhere around 12.5% compounded annually. Not including dividend payments. While GE is a mess today, its fair to say you could of done worse things than buying a share of GE in 1983.
If you had bought MSFT when they went public on 03/13/86 at $28, split adjusted (288:1) each share would be worth around $8000 today. Around %29.3 compounded annually. Not including dividend payments.
This data reinforces a couple of points that I need to remind myself of.
1. Don’t fall in love with cigar butts. Size the positions appropriately, sell them when they reaches intrinsic value and take your profit.
2. Paying a fair price or reasonable premium for a great business with a great moat and management can pay off big over long periods of time. Identifying those companies is extremely hard to do well.
This post was written in November 2009 for my old blog compoundinglife.com. I am working my way through importing the old posts.