Why It’s Time to Think Like a Roman

Years ago, when I was earning my master’s degree from the London School of Economics, I was known to skip out of lectures a little early on Fridays, throw on a backpack, and do some exploring on the weekends.

With just about anywhere in the U.K. or Europe accessible within a few hours, my decision on where to go was usually made by price. (I was, after all, on a grad student’s budget.)

Train tickets to northern England were cheap, so one September weekend I decided to hike along Hadrian’s Wall, the ancient boundary between Roman Britain and the barbarian north.

The wall stretches for 73 miles, mostly through sparsely inhabited farmland. It’s beautiful – in a harsh, rugged sort of way.

“Why here?” I asked myself as I hiked the Hadrian’s Wall Path.

There were other sites that could’ve worked as a defensive fortification. The island is thinner and a wall would be easier to defend further north in the Scottish lowlands. Or why not simply forget the wall, push northward, and conquer all of Scotland too?

No one really knows why the Romans built the wall exactly where they built it, but I have my own theories.

It came down to an analysis of risk versus reward.

Any military excursion puts lives and treasure at risk. But the added return of pushing into modern-day Scotland was minimal. (And the Scots wouldn’t invent golf or Scotch whiskey for another thousand years.)

Financing a war where the only spoils would be sheep and a craggy, windswept land inhabited by barbarians made little sense. The Romans were far better off drawing lines and consolidating what they already had.

That’s basically how I feel about the high-yield corners of the stock market right now.

It’s not that I think a crash is necessarily imminent; if I did, I’d recommend to my Peak Income readers that we lighten up on our existing income-producing positions, and I am distinctly not doing that…

This is more a feeling that, at current prices, the potential upside of adding new positions might not be worth the potential downside, particularly now that we’re in one of the market’s most dangerous seasonal periods.

Major corrections can come at any time of year, of course, but they tend to happen around September and October.

And, furthermore, we now have 22 open positions in the portfolio, many of which are recent additions. Before I added anything new this month, I thought it reasonable, and smart, to let what we have season a little.

So, in this month’s issue – in a more detailed and comprehensive way than I ever have before – I go through our existing portfolio recommendation by recommendation, to review why we own what we own and what our game plan should be going forward.

If you aren’t already a subscriber, it’s a perfect time to try Peak Income. If you missed it, I give “buy” or “hold” signals for all 22 positions in our model portfolio, and I re-recommend one of my earliest picks, laying out all the reasons for all the moves.

What I also really tried to drive home in the September issue is why bond yields are extremely important to what we do. All income-focused securities tend to react similarly to market conditions, which makes sense. They’re subject to the same buying and selling pressures from investors.

Lower bond yields mean higher bond prices… and higher prices for anything tied to bonds. A lot of our success so far in Peak Income – we currently have three positions with greater than 20% gains, seven others in double-digits, and only one showing a loss – has come from being willing to buy what I call “private income funds” at times when other investors panicked about falling bond prices.

Their overreaction was our opportunity.

Today bond yields are higher than they were two weeks ago, but the trend throughout 2017 has been one of falling yields.

I’m always looking out for catalysts that might cause yields to spike. And, at the moment, our biggest risk, oddly enough, is a functional government.

One of the reasons bond yields have slumped is that Mr. Market is losing faith that the pro-growth Trump agenda, including tax cuts, will pass. Slower growth means lower inflation, which, in turn, means lower bond yields and higher bond prices.

So a do-nothing government actually works in our favor.

I’m not going to suggest we sell everything and run for hills if Congress and President Trump suddenly discover how to work together. But I’d definitely be on high alert for a yield spike and would likely keep our stop-losses even tighter than usual.

That, too, is risk versus reward thinking, and it’s why I sometimes need to remind myself to do as the Romans did.

Charles Sizemore
Editor, Peak Income

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About Author

Charles Sizemore is a research analyst with Dent Research. His primary research focuses on income, retirement strategies and fundamentals.