Saturday, October 30, 2010

Portfolio Update October,2010

Another very busy month for me and hence could not spend enough time researching stock ideas. Still I did find an opportunity to put some cash to work.

St. Joe (ticker: JOE) stock dropped due to a short thesis presented by David Einhorn. I also found out that T2 partners are also short St. Joe. On the other hand Bruce Berkowitz(FAIRX) at fairholme capital and Michael Winer(TAREX) at Third Avenue have been bullish about its long term potential and have JOE in their portfolio as a long term holding.

Since I have followed all of the above investors for quite some time I know their respective investment styles.Both T2 and Greenlight are long/short funds and they do trade in and out of their positions quickly to take profits or if a better idea shows up or if their thesis is wrong. While both Bruce and Michael tend to make long term bets and are willing to wait for the investment thesis to work out. So to agree with the short or long thesis on JOE you need to know your own investment time horizon.

I personally like to make very few bets and feel guilty if I am doing lot of trading. My favorite stock would be the one which I never have to sell(besides for tax reasons). So I don't mind if St. JOE is dead money for sometime since I do have ample cash in the portfolio to invest. I don't know much about true value of St. Joe and this purchase is a pure call based on my trust in the fund managers that own it. If in future they trim their position that would be a red flag and I may sell out of this position also.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Total Return vs IRR

As you might know I use IRR to state my portfolio returns. But it is a bit misleading. For example on September 30th of 2010 my IRR return stood at +19.9% YTD vs -3.49% for the S&P 500 index. But if you check any other website you will see that S&P 500 returned +2.34% during that time frame.

The difference arises from the fact that IRR takes into account the cash flow decisions you make i.e. buying and selling of stocks during the time frame as well as penalizes you for holding cash.

Even though the IRR makes it difficult to compare my returns with other portfolio returns I believe its a better metric for me to judge my performance. This method not just gives weight to my stock selections but timing of purchase and sale.

Following is a discussion of various ways to measure returns from

Portfolio Returns
When portfolio performance is evaluated, the return should be concerned with the total change in wealth. One common measure of this change is Total Return, which is a generic term that defines performance as the change in the total dollar value of an investment over a given period of time. This methodology captures both the income component and the capital gains (or losses) component of a return. The two elements are reflected in the changing value of the portfolio, assuming dividends are reinvested.

Therefore in the simplest case, the market value of a portfolio can be measured at the beginning and ending of a period, and the rate of return can be calculated as:

This calculation assumes that no funds were added to or withdrawn from the portfolio by the investor during the measurement period. If such transactions occur, the portfolio return, as calculated, may not be as accurate a measure of the portfolio’s performance. For example, if the investor adds or subtracts funds during the measurement period, use of this equation would produce inaccurate results, because the ending value was not determined by the appreciation/depreciation of the portfolio’s holdings. Instead, any cash flows in or out of the portfolio, excluding dividends, will alter the value of the portfolio, which does not reflect the performance of the holdings.

Although, a close approximation of portfolio performance can be obtained by backing out transactions within a given measurement period timing issues will still create a degree of error in the return. The following two means of return measurement help alleviate these problems and when compared, provide valuable insight into your portfolio:

Total Return
Total Return is a common performance methodology applied by mutual funds, because it does not consider the effect of investor cash moving in and out of a fund. Since managers do not have control of cash flows this method allows for the evaluation of their investment management skill between any two time periods without regard to the total amount invested at any time during that period. Basically, Total return is independent of the total amount invested.
To generate Total returns apply the fund’s share price or NAV to the formula provided in the Portfolio Returns section. The NAV is calculated by dividing the total value of the fund’s underlying holdings by the number of shares outstanding. When an investor purchases or sells shares in the fund the number of shares in the market is re-calibrated to maintain the NAV value. So while the assets under management fluctuate, the adjustment to shares outstanding insure that the NAV values used in the Total Return formula do not reflect the movement of cash in or out of the fund.
For instance, for a one year period the total return for a fund could be 25%. However, this does not consider that during this year the funds assets shrunk from $1 billion to $330 million.
In the following illustration, we demonstrate how the Total return is calculated with cash flows occurring in four different periods. In addition, let’s assume other funds performed better than Fund XYZ, which resulted in net asset outflows. By reading down each column you can see how the fund performs, as well as the fall in assets under management.
Using the total return calculation we would give equal weighting to each time period in calculating the annualized return:

Personal Returns
Personal Returns measures the actual return earned based on the beginning portfolio value and on any net contributions made during the period. Therefore, how an investor exercises control over cash flows is crucial in assessing their investment skill. Once again we will demonstrate using the table from above, but apply the Personal Return methodology to the figures.
On a more technical note, the true definition of the Personal return is the discount rate that equates the cost of an investment with the value of the cash generated by that investment period. So, by setting the above equation to 0 the result will provide the value for “r”, which represents the discount rate that will provide a net present value cash flow equal to zero.
The final step to Personal return is:

To make the point even clearer if we were to reverse the order of the (%) gain or loss by quarter you can see how the Personal Return is adversely affected by smaller returns on the larger initial balances.

Comparing Returns
Clearly the examples provided above show significant differences between the two methodologies. However, this is not always the case. Sometimes the two may be very similar depending on distributions and cash flows. For instance, if there are no transactions related to a particular holding in your portfolio then the two returns will be the same. The same holds true for your portfolio, which is why we only provide one set of figures for Watchlist portfolios.
So, in a three month period a holding will have the same Personal and Total return if:
• No shares are purchased
• No shares are sold
• No dividends are re-invested
A gap between Personal return and Total return indicates how well investors timed their stock purchases and sales. When the Personal return is less than Total return it means that investors didn’t participate equally in the portfolio’s monthly returns. In other words, the investor purchased a holding after a big run up or held on too long before selling as the share price fell. This sometimes happens when investors chase returns and assets flow into holdings when their performance starts to peek. This effect can be exacerbated when investors aim to break even and refuse to sell a losing holding.
On the other side of this, when Personal return is greater than total return it means that an investor participated in a holdings upswing or sold their position before the price hit a downswing. This can happen when investors are committed to a diversified strategy and continue to invest new monies into a holding, even when its style of investing has gone out of favor.
It is important to remember that if you want to compare the performance of your portfolio to an index, mutual fund or another portfolio that you use Total return figures and not Personal returns. This is based on:
• Indices calculate their performance based on total return methodology
• Mutual Funds calculate their performance based on total return methodology