Frank Boland's blog

Frank Thoughts: The Start of Technology

As I pulled into the parking lot of Pier 4 on the Boston harbor, I was stunned by what I saw. To my right were two colossal ocean liners, each about 1,000 feet long. The ships had large flags reading, “Welcome to DEC World.” It was 1987 and Digital Equipment was then a 14-billion-dollar computer company, second in size only to IBM. The ships had been hired to be used as hotels because every hotel in Boston was full; over 42,000 people had arrived in the city that week as “DEC World” guests.

Frank Thoughts: Bear and Bull Market Cycles

Since 1956 there have been 10 bear market cycles when the market declined 20% or more. The first one led to the ensuing 1957 bull market that would give birth to the modern investment business. It also pioneered a new sector, then called electronics, now known as technology. In 1958, Jerry Tsai was chosen to manage the new Fidelity Capital Fund. Roland Grimm – the Fidelity Trend Fund manager – would tell me years later, “We had just 25 million under management and lost money every day we were open.” But that new bull market changed the investment business forever.

Frank Thoughts: The Sell Discipline

It is always after a stock’s decline that one discovers the reason it had previously been going down. The more parabolic (straight-up) a stock’s previous assent has been, the greater the need for a sell discipline. If you’re an investor on your own, or are looking to hire a portfolio manager, you or they must have a SELL discipline. We certainly know this from the extent of declines occurring in the current bear market. The average stock is down 30%!  Percentage declines of 50%-90% are common.

Frank Thoughts: The Past, The Present

The last time the Federal Reserve was faced with raising interest rates - on a secular basis - was almost 60 years ago. Of course, no one could have imagined, three generations later, it would happen again. Both times it was thought to be a cyclical or “transitory experience.” In 1965 Fed funds were 1% on a 17-year journey to 20%! This resulted in the stock market going through several cyclical bull and bear markets going nowhere until 1982. Current Fed chairman Jerome Powell was 12 years old when it started. This time Fed Funds were lower at .0% on the way to … and for how long?

Frank Thoughts: Creative Destruction

When a phrase of two words becomes famous, it’s not only apt to be truthful but powerfully accurate.  “Creative destruction” was first articulated by Austrian economist Joseph Schumpter in 1942. He used the phrase to describe capitalism.  It meant any innovation in the manufacturing process which increased productivity. Schumpter intended the phrase to describe what he called, “the essential fact about capitalism.” To him it was the crucial reality of how capitalist economies evolve and grow.

Frank Thoughts: The Gifted Ones

Those who are born mathematically “gifted” often develop an elitist attitude. Society reinforces that with movies such as “A Brilliant Mind” (John Nash) and “The Theory of Everything” (Stephen Hawkins). M.I.T. Professor Paul Samuelson personified this cultural mindset when he said, “When the worst economics grad student leaves M.I.T. and goes to Harvard, both of the departments’ averages go up.” As you may know, Samuelson taught in the 20th century at a time when economics was heavily mathematical winning the Nobel Prize in economics in 1970.

Frank Thoughts: The Deception of Numbers

In the last century, one could walk into a building and see plant and equipment. That’s not possible in today’s knowledge/service-based economy. Assets are “soft,” even invisible. The result is that we are forced to trust the validity of published numbers. However, given the deceptions that occurred with Enron and WorldCom, we know it is risky. It’s often revealed in bear markets. Computer Sciences was the first software fraud to be charged with a false statement of profits (2.8B) in 2006. The next major fraud will once again be in software.

Frank Thoughts: Rising Interest Rates and Dispersion

A pale green Pontiac Bonneville had just pulled up to the front of my parent’s two family house. The car was a “monster.” It “dripped” of chrome and weighed in excess of 5,000 pounds. At the time, I was a 12 year-old caddy as was Peter Lynch. It was 1955 and that car was a major status symbol. The man who owned the Bonneville had been an army buddy of my father’s ten years earlier in the war. But that day he was an investment salesman selling a “Contractual Plan” for Fundamental Investors, a mutual fund. A product that cost 8.5% a year. Not 1%.

Frank Thoughts: The ARK Hedge Fund

As you might recall, Cathie Wood’s ARK Disruptive Innovation fund was up an amazing 60% in 2020.  The S&P 500 was up 16% that year. Thus the fund outperformed the S&P 500 by 46%! Last year it was down 25% underperforming by 50%. But that’s not why I consider the actively managed ETF a hedge fund. It’s because it has the macro based investment style that is often used by hedge funds.  Macro is a top down style attempting to identify a global event that could occur.

Frank Thoughts: The Sophistry of ETFs

Bank of America recently published a chart showing the entire history of long-term interest rates. The piece was titled “The 5000-Year View of Rates & the Economic Consequences.” While not from the dawn of time, it is from the dawn of civilization starting in ancient Suma. The chart showed short- and long-term rates through this time period.

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Do we have the capability to eliminate booms and busts in economic activity? The answer in my judgment is no, because there is no tool to change human nature. Too often people are prone to recurring bouts of optimism and pessimism.

– Alan Greenspan