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Should You Be Fully Invested?



November 15, 2013 – Comments (2) | RELATED TICKERS: BRK-A

Board: Berkshire Hathaway

Author: mungofitch

What are people's thoughts on the general concept of being fully invested when you can find stocks that meet your minimum return requirements? If an investor truly has, for example, a 10% hurdle, it is foolish to me to be sitting in tons of cash now as I believe there are plenty of stocks to meet that return requirement, when managed as a portfolio, and impossible to consistently time the market.

Good question.

Bear in mind that a lot of people in the investment management industry have a very high motivation to advocate being fully invested. So, beware the "expert", but especially beware the expert who is not disinterested. It's interesting to note that Berkshire has quite a lot of cash, for example.

I like to be fully invested because I'm greedy, and I like to have a pile  of cash because it's so darned handy when great opportunity comes up. I squared that circle by selling some stock, buying in the money calls, and leaving the cash I raised sitting there. The calls control the upside on somewhat more stock than I sold, so in one sense I'm now long with leverage. In another sense my portfolio has a 1/3 cash allocation. Perhaps this is the worst of both worlds, I dunno. It does have the advantage of not having to answer the tough question you post.

I think the best answer is to assess the return between now and (say) eight years from now on your cash. The more sure you are that at least some good things will be very much cheaper at some point between now and then, the more certain it is that the cash allocation will pay off. This requires knowing yourself well enough to know that you will be able to act the next time things look really scary. Consider: the market could be flat for 6 years, fall by half in 1 year, then rebound to where it is now. Sitting on cash till somewhere in the vicinity of that market bottom will have a great 8 year return. (9.1%/year compounded, plus 6 years of interest and 2 years of dividends)

One can't be very sure at all about what the market will do or when, but it's not so hard to come up with a "good enough" estimate of how overvalued it is and the consequent likely spread of outcomes in the next several years based on the valuation of the typical firm. The longer it is till the next bear, and the shallower it is, the higher the opportunity cost on cash.  But imagine this conversation having happened in 2007. Foregone profits are not the same as losses. For the broad market I think that being fully invested made sense in Q1 2009, but not now. For some very specific names? It will take an intellectual outlook  beyond the next bull/bear cycle—basically being happy to ignore a bear—for it to make sense.



2 Comments – Post Your Own

#1) On November 16, 2013 at 1:41 AM, reddingrunner (92.71) wrote:

Over the long term (e.g. your lifetime) the greater the proportion of equities to cash you hold, the greater will be your returns.  Period.  Hold cash if it makes you feel better, but mathematically the more you hold the lower your returns... unless you are capable of consistently calling a bottom.  Maybe you will be, somebody has to be the first.

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#2) On November 16, 2013 at 2:03 PM, Mary953 (84.97) wrote:

How much do you have to invest?  How much risk are you willing to take before you start losing sleep?  Do you have a broker or team of experts that you can trust and that have proven themselves?  Do you have years til retirement/college for the kids or are you into those years?  Are you comfortable with buying on margin, using puts, calls, etc or do you buy and hold?  Are you looking at a timeframe of weeks, months, decades?

There are few if any "one size fits all" answers unless, of course, you have access to a time machine.   I prefer to keep a bit of 'dry powder' available, but there are so many good investment ideas...

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