Leverage Risk


We have looked at leverage multi currency investing in recent messages so I wanted to share my reply to this reader’s question.

Thanks for the info Gary. I would love to attend one of your workshops and would love to learn how to make more dollars. I used to trade in the stock market with put and call options on stocks and currency and lost a lot of money. This has left me  gun shy about “investing”.

Any suggestions of where to start? Regards,

Here is my reply.

We just completed a three day course with Jyske Global Asset Management (JGAM) showing why 80% to 90% of the people who trade futures and options lose all their money.

Those who trade options and/or futures contracts or highly leverage investments are not investing.  They are in the business of speculating.

Here are three simple facts that can help understand the difference between investing and speculating.

The first fact is that really safe investments earn about 3%.

This fact was confirmed by Alan Greenspan in his excellent book, “Age of Turbulence” when he wrote: “A major aspect of human nature-the level of human intelligence-has a great deal to do with how successful we are in gaining the sustenance for survival. As I point out at the end of this book, in economies with cutting-edge technologies, people, on average, seem unable to increase their output per hour at better than 3% percent a year over a protracted period. That is apparently the maximum rate at which human innovation can move standards of living forward. We are apparently not smarter to do better.”

That’s a huge fact to understand about investing.

Overall we should expect the global economy to grow at about 3%.

This gives us a baseline for how much an investment should grow.

If an economy rises faster than 3%, it is distorted. During early stages of excessive growth, investors will be attracted. Shares will rise faster.

If the economy remains robust, shares become overbought. Then watch out! A correction will come.

This leads us to the next fact which is “all investments have risk”.

Rather than wasting time trying to avoid risk…which cannot be done, investors should look at three risk elements instead.

#1: How much risk is there in any particular investment?

#2: What perceptions do the market have of the risk?

#3: What risk premium is due?

Bank accounts and government bonds, for example, are perceived as the safest investments (especially if government guaranteed). A look at their long term history shows that they pay about 3%. So if a bank account or government bond pays less…in the long term it’s bad. If it pays more…that’s better. Yet the idea is that bank accounts will not really make money. They will just keep up with growth…at 3%.

To get real growth requires taking risk. If an investment appears to be less safe it will pay more than 3%. This is called a risk premium.

Bonds pay more than bank accounts because they are perceived to be less safe.

Stocks pay more than bonds because they are perceived even riskier.

Over the long run, bonds issued in countries and currencies perceived to be stable pay 5% to 7%.

Stocks in major countries should pay 7% to 10% annual return in the stock market as a function of global growth, long term earnings growth plus risk premium (above bank accounts and bonds).

Emerging market stocks pay more than major market stocks. Emerging market bonds pay more than major markets bonds.

To attain higher growth than 7 to 10% investors must either increase risk, trust luck or spot distortions.

Investments that are leveraged offer even more profit potential but only at equal increased downside risk.

Finally we come to the third fact. Periods of high performance are followed by times of poor performance… and vice versa.

In the times of global panic that we have seen in recent years, all markets tend to drop.

This is good because the market is almost always wrong. Most investors always try to avoid risk. Most investors dump their wealth into investments that are perceived to be safe. This creates excessive demand and lowers value and actually makes the perception wrong.

Knowing this helps wise investors spot trends created by distortions so they can get higher paying investments without extra risk.

Recently we have looked at several reasons why the recent period of high performance investors have enjoyed in the US equity market may be followed by low performance.

One needs to beware of seasonality.

One needs to beware of the downwards pressure on equities in the upcoming economic cycle.

So if you are an investor and are tempted by the upswing in equity markets to become a speculator… beware.

Gary

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