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The Sandy Spring Way

The most important news last week may have actually happened this past weekend.

May 7th, 2012 | By Beau Mercer

On Sunday, voters went to the polls in France, Greece, and Germany and the results could have a major impact on world markets. French voters sent incumbent president Nicholas Sarkozy packing and, instead, elected Socialist Party candidate Francois Hollande. Hollande “has pledged to shift the burden of economic hardship onto the rich and to resolve the protracted euro sovereign-debt crisis by softening the current prescription of austerity,” according to The Wall Street Journal. While his strategy is debatable, it will likely cause a rift with Germany and add uncertainty to recent eurozone agreements.

Greek voters also went to the polls and “delivered a stinging rejection of the two incumbent parties, with many people casting ballots for smaller, far-left and far-right parties,” according to the The Wall Street Journal. This, too, will likely result in more political and economic uncertainty. And in Germany, incumbent Angela Merkel’s party suffered some setbacks in state elections.

What’s leading to all the angst in Europe? Here are three things:

  1. Recession fears – 11 European countries have now experienced two consecutive quarters of economic contraction.
  2. Unemployment fears – the unemployment rate across the eurozone is at a record high.
  3. Business confidence fears – April’s read on the manufacturing PMI for the eurozone – a measure of confidence among businesses – fell to the lowest since June 2009.
    Sources: MarketWatch, The Guardian

The bottom line is citizens are voting for change, but “political realities will complicate even more what is an already delicate economic and financial outlook for Europe, the world’s largest economic area,” according to Mohamed El-Arian, CEO and Co-CIO of PIMCO, as reported by CNBC.

These elections show that the economic crisis that began in 2008 is still rippling throughout the world.

Data as of 05/04/12 1-Week YTD 1-Year 3-Year 5-Year 10-Year
Standard & Poor’s 500 (Domestic Stocks)

-2.4%

8.9%

2.2%

14.7%

-1.9%

2.7%

DJ Global ex US (Foreign Stocks)

-2.1

6.7

-15.7

9.6

-5.6

4.8

10-year Treasury Note (Yield Only)

1.9

N/A

3.2

3.2

4.6

5.1

Gold (per ounce)

-1.2

4.4

6.7

21.8

19.0

18.1

DJ-UBS Commodity Index

-2.5

-2.5

-18.8

5.8

-4.7

3.5

DJ Equity All REIT TR Index

-0.6

12.9

9.7

28.8

0.4

10.5

Notes: S&P 500, DJ Global ex US, Gold, DJ-UBS Commodity Index returns exclude reinvested dividends (gold does not pay a dividend) and the three-, five-, and 10-year returns are annualized; the DJ Equity All REIT TR Index does include reinvested dividends and the three-, five-, and 10-year returns are annualized; and the 10-year Treasury Note is simply the yield at the close of the day on each of the historical time periods
Sources: Yahoo! Finance, Barron’s, djindexes.com, London Bullion Market Association
Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Indices are unmanaged and cannot be invested into directly. N/A means not applicable.

WHAT DO DOTS HAVE TO DO WITH BEING A BETTER INVESTOR?

In his fascinating new book, Imagine: How Creativity Works, author Jonah Lehrer describes the creative process and what steps we can all take to be a little more creative. One of those steps is to talk to more people and expose yourself to new situations. By “colliding” more often with people who are not like you and throwing yourself into new environments (like a foreign country), your mind will come up with more new ideas than you could have thought of on your own.

And, while business owners may not like this, Lehrer’s research suggests, “The most important place in every office is not the boardroom, or the lab, or the library. It’s the coffee machine.” It’s those casual conversations with colleagues that generate new interactions and spark ideas.

This leads to an important point about investing.

Brian Uzzi, a professor at the Kellog School of Management, studied the instant messages (IM) sent by traders at a large hedge fund over an eighteen-month period. As reported in Lehrer’s book, these traders sent more than two million messages over that period and the average trader was involved in 16 different IM conversations simultaneously – talk about multitasking! Essentially, these traders were rapidly communicating with each other and trying to make sense of the latest news so they could profitably trade on it.

As summarized by Lehrer, Uzzi concluded, “The best traders were the most connected, and people who carried on more IM conversations and sent more messages also made more money.” Further, Uzzi said, “The act of investing is like solving a difficult puzzle. These traders are trying to connect the dots. Because the traders are listening to their network, they manage to accomplish what they could never have done by themselves.”

In essence, successful investing partly relies on “connecting the dots” of information that bombard us. While we’re not day traders like the people Uzzi studied at the hedge fund, the concept of connecting the dots still applies – albeit on a much longer timeframe. And, to connect the dots, we have a large network of colleagues who can help us separate the daily noise from what’s truly meaningful.

Weekly Focus – Think About It

“Everyone who’s ever taken a shower has had an idea. It’s the person who gets out of the shower, dries off, and does something about it who makes a difference.”
–Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari, Inc. and Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza-Time Theaters