Monday, May 23, 2016

Adjust The Portfolio

Peter Lynch is probably one of the most famous investors ever.

As the head of Magellan Fund for 13 years, he averaged returns of 29.2% annually. Assets under his management swelled from $18 million to $14 billion. Like a good athlete he left at the top - the size of the fund nearly too large to continue such incredible gains.

Lynch wrote several books on investing and I read a few. I won't say my investment prowess even came close to his.

Not even close.
Peter Lynch

Lack of trust, lack of research, lack of time ...

But the one maxim that Lynch repeated over and over in his writings was to buy what you know.

Lynch would watch the consuming habits of his wife, his kids, his friends - and ask about the products or services that were being purchased and why. Then he'd take a look at the sector, and the companies in that sector to determine whether a company was under valued based on his criteria.

It's really a simple evaluation. Basically, Lynch was interested in the early consumer adoption of a product to predict whether a company making that product would be successful.

The key, according to Lynch, is to buy what you already know and watch the cycles...

With that in mind, I'm intrigued by workers' compensation insurance at this point in time.

Work comp, as we know, is highly cyclical. While the rest of the economy cycles, work comp seems to have higher highs, and lower lows.

The mantra, of course: buy low, sell high.

The trick for investors is to spot the beginning of an up cycle, and it seems like we're entering that phase now.

NCCI, in its last state of the industry observation, noted that carriers for the first time in decades are posting combined ratios below 100. That means they're making underwriting profits - which is nearly unheard of in work comp.

That the business community is tolerating rates and premiums supporting an underwriting profit is unique; work comp carrier profits are typically the product of savvy investments. But investment returns lately have not been good because conservative products, e.g. bonds, have been suppressed by unprecedentedly low interest rates.

There are several trends emerging, though, that fare well for carriers.

In big states California and New York, the minimum wage will increase a third to $15/hour over the next several years. Quite simply, this just means more premium money into carrier coffers because policies are tied to payroll. The more payroll, the bigger the premium, the more money into the insurance company treasury.

In addition, the Department of Labor's recent change to exempt vs. non-exempt/overtime regulations means hundreds of thousands of individuals will see an increase in wages; again, more money in payroll means bigger premiums which means more money to the insurance companies.

The seventh or eighth largest (depending on who is measuring) economy in the world, California, is adding more jobs, faster, than any other state in the nation. The latest unemployment statistics put the state at 5.3% unemployment. More telling, employment in California increased 2.8% in the last twelve months, compared to 1.9% nationally. In addition, most of those jobs are in low risk sectors like IT, or professional services. And the most populous areas, the Bay Area, Los Angeles and Orange Counties, are seeing unemployment rates well below the national average...

Finally, interest rates are poised to head up. After seven years of near zero interest on Federal Treasury Bonds, the mainstay of the investment community, Wall Streeters are seeing signs that the Federal Reserve is getting ready to slowly raise rates as the global economy starts warming up - and there's no reason not to believe that it will since American consumers will, at least for a short period of time, have a bit more purchasing power due to the aforementioned increases in minimum wage and overtime.

So, lots of fresh money will be heading into insurance company treasuries.

But what about paying out that money in claims?

Here's what we know on a national basis: frequency continues to decline reflecting safety and the ongoing shift in the economy to office-type work; work comp medical inflation is at an historic low (unlike the general health sector); and severity is at an all time low.

So, the work comp line is going to be flush with cash for a few years until those high wage claims start hitting the books - which means that carriers will be investing more money into better instruments to make more money before it is needed to pay claims, thus greater dividends to investors which makes the stock prices go up.

Now, I could be a complete investing moron - certainly my track record does not speak to any Lynch-style wonderment.

And economists who watch the insurance industry, like the great Bob Hartwig, may disagree with my analysis.

But, if we follow Lynch's advise, this is something we know. Seems like a good time to adjust the portfolio...


  1. What is it that you did not like about my comment David? It was nice and on point, with no cussing in it? Just asking, what's up with the censorship of an adversely injured workers thought's on the issue? Or was it just a glitch on your end?

    1. Hi Darren - I did not delete any comments. I received copies of them to my mail account as you posted. Some technical glitch? I will post as a separate reply because it is too big for this field.

    2. Thanks David. I know your really good about allowing our views to be heard. Im not sure why some post seem to post, while others don't. Just goes to show that even computers are not infallible. Peace and thanks.

  2. Darren Fonzseau has left a new comment on your post "Adjust The Portfolio":

    So profiting off the misfortune and misery of your fellow man is once again a profitable endeavor these days? Good to know.

    It all reminds me of the blood diamond import trade business a few years back. I hear it was a lucrative investment tool as well for some folks, but that did not make it anymore morally , socially, or ethically acceptable.

    Not that Im against investments or profits, just I as a worker, I would never want my 401k or retirement funds invested in any thing that profits off the misfortune, misery, or the blood of others. But if folks really feel the need to profit off the misery of others, the way the workers comp industry does, then by all means go fourth and prosper.

    Im sure the private equity firms, as well as the IME Dr's, and the firms that employ them, are all making a killing in the market these days. At least that's what I have learned from the Wall Street Journal, and lawyers who are reporting on the issues are saying. I would love to say that I heard this from the boy's at NPR and ProPulica, but nope, it's other reporters,and news outlets, sharing some of the same facts with folks today.

    See for your self what other reporters besides the NPR folks are saying about the workers comp industry and its profiteers here.

    Work Comp Cost-Containment: IME Company May Fetch Billions
    Posted on May 2, 2016 by Rod Rehm

    In January, I wrote about how workers’ compensation has a cost-containment industrial complex that not only harms workers but also is a potential profit generator for groups like private-equity firms.

    Im not saying that the ProPublica/NPR folks have not tried to tell us about this out of control profiteering, at the injured workers expense either. For they did try to tell us all. Just many folks in the industry did not like what they had to say. So it's nice to know their not the only news source out their, reporting the facts about workers compensation to our Nation. You do remember what the NPR/ProPublica folks had to say about all this profiteering at the injured workers expense, and who they said was profiting off it all, right? If not you may want to check our their article here.

    ‘All of This Because Somebody Got Hurt at Work’
    Hummer limos, go-go dancers, a live alligator and glowing aliens in spandex at the national workers’ comp and disability expo. Journey into the little-known workers’ comp industrial complex.
    by Michael Grabell

    It's nice to know that workers compensation insurance is such a great investment opportunity these days. One just has to wonder, after reading the many news reports regarding the subject, in the main stream media, is at who's expense is it so profitable? The injured workers and employers? Who are both being intently fleeced out of the good's and services paid for, by many of those who make up the insurance industry? One really does have to ask one's self, before under taking such an investment.

  3. Above comment from Darren Fonzseau continued:

    It would be one thing if it were only the NPR/ProPublica folks telling us about the workers compensation industry's woe's, but it's many other independent news sources and pro injured workers organizations, as well. Take WILG for one example.

    While all this profit off the misery of our fellow man may be nice for some. It's not for me. Nor was it for a man who walked our earth a few years back in time. I wish more men of today could learn and live by what Gandhi had to say.

    "I must reduce myself to zero. So long as a man does not of his own free will put himself last among his fellow creatures, there is no salvation for him." Gandhi

    Just saying, as always, peace and thanks for keeping us all informed about workers comp and it's profitability potential these day's. Im sure your corporate sponsor's like Sedgwick insurance, will give you a big attaboy on this one. Peace