Something to think about… if you really can’t buy index funds – Part 2

Plenty of people refuse to buy index funds.

They feel that they can invest with individual stocks, and beat 90 percent of investment professionals—on their own. With a portfolio of indexes, you would beat 90 percent of the pros over your lifetime, so based on deductive reasoning, if you think you can beat an indexed portfolio after fees and taxes, then you’re making a wager that you can beat 90 percent of the folks who pick stocks for a living.

I’m not going to rain on that parade, if that’s what you think. In fact, I may be able to help you out.

Beating the Dow with Bonds gets my vote as one of the classic investment books of all time. Whether you buy into author Michael O’Higgins’ strategy or not, it’s tough not to come away impressed by his clear sense of how the stock and bond markets work. And over a lengthy period of time, it’s tough to argue with a strategy that has compounded very strong results…and would have easily beaten a diversified portfolio of index funds.

I’m not going to get into the details of his strategy—for that, I strongly recommend that you buy the book.  But I do want to examine the results of his “Beating the Dow with Bonds” method, which directs investors into either 30-year bonds, one year T-Bills, or the Dogs of the Dow.

I’ll be comparing the historical returns of the following:

1. The Dow Jones Industrial returns

Vs.

2. O’Higgins’ “Beating the Dow” strategy (a strategy explained in his 1991 book, Beating the Dow and popularized since then as “Dogs of the Dow”)

Vs.

3. O’Higgins’ “Beating the Dow with bonds” strategy (explained in his 1998 book, Beating the Dow with Bonds)

And I’ll compare the results annually, from 1972 to 2010, using O’Higgins’ book as a source (until 1998) coupled by an email communication with Mr. O’Higgins, to update the results to June 2011.

I’ve highlighted the years where O’Higgins’ “Beating the Dow with bonds” strategy would have beaten the returns of the Dow Jones Industrials.

Year Ended

Dow Jones Industrial Returns

Dogs of the Dow strategy

Beating the Dow With Bonds strategy

1972

18.21%

22.16%

5.37%

1973

-13.12

19.64

6.76

1974

-23.14

-3.8

-3.8

1975

44.4

70.1

70.1

1976

22.72

40.8

40.8

1977

-12.7

4.5

4.5

1978

2.69

1.7

1.7

1979

10.52

9.9

9.9

1980

21.41

40.5

40.5

1981

-3.41

0

13.25

1982

25.79

37.4

156.12

1983

25.68

36.1

10.03

1984

1.05

12.6

20.44

1985

32.78

37.8

106.9

1986

26.92

27.9

5.92

1987

6.02

11.1

5.21

1988

15.95

18.4

8.99

1989

31.71

10.5

45.25

1990

-0.58

-15.2

0.33

1991

23.93

61.9

35.79

1992

7.35

23.2

7.82

1993

16.74

34.3

39.47

1994

4.98

8.6

7.15

1995

36.49

30.5

85.11

1996

28.61

26

5.49

1997

24.74

20.02

29.22

1998

17.9

12.3

23.83

1999

26.9

-4.5

-22.04

2000

-4.41

10.21

33.81

2001

-5.36

-3.96

-1.12

2002

-14.92

-10.54

1.75

2003

27.79

22.45

1.19

2004

5.16

12.01

1.30

2005

1.65

-0.63

-0.63

2006

19.05

42.0

42.0

2007

8.84

4.24

4.24

2008

-31.69

-47.82

-47.82

2009

21.92

19.12

19.12

2010

14.1

16.20

16.2

6/1/2011

7.21

9.21

9.21

Cumulative Return

+4,317.88%

+19,096.58%

+48,384.68%

Since 1972, the strategy outlined in Beating the Dow with Bonds beat the Dow Jones Industrial returns 65 percent of the time.

But it’s the cumulative, comparative returns that look most impressive, with O’Higgins’ strategy up +48,384.68 percent, versus 4,317.88 percent for the Dow.

Have a look at the comparative numbers again. No, there’s no typo there.

Why have these returns beaten the market so handily?

In my opinion, these returns have done so well because they’ve relied on a contrarian nature…coupled with common sense. Investors are generally ruled by fear and greed—and I’m including the talking heads and analysts on television and newspapers as part of the general herd. When stocks perform well, most people pile money into them. O’Higgins’ mechanical strategy dictates common sense over an emotional knee-jerk reaction, prompting investors to buy whatever asset class has recently under-performed: either the worst performers in the Dow at the time (the Dogs of the Dow) or long-term treasuries or T-Bills.

But since the publication of O’Higgins’ 1998 book, how did the strategy do?

O’Higgins’ strategy, since 1998, beat the market (as measure by the Dow) 57 percent of the time. But the year 2008 sank the strategy, putting it behind the market, since 1998, on a cumulative basis.

This begs the question. Will this strategy beat the markets going forward? Or are the long term results a statistical fluke? You tell me.

I do think that Michael O’Higgins is probably a genius, and that he’s definitely a man to follow if you want to try beating the market on your own. In fact, I couldn’t recommend a better guide.

In part 3 of this series, I’ll explain O’Higgins’ latest strategy, which is also contrarian. And if its future results echo his past results, it might be worth tuning in.

Part 1Part 2Part 3

 





Andrew Hallam

I’m a financial columnist for Canada’s national paper, The Globe and Mail, as well as for AssetBuilder, a financial service firm based in Texas. I’m also the author of Millionaire Teacher: The Nine Rules of Wealth You Should Have Learned in School (2nd Ed. Wiley 2017) and The Global Expatriate’s Guide To Investing: From Millionaire Teacher to Millionaire Expat (Wiley 2015). My mission is to educate, motivate and inspire people on basic retirement planning and best practices for investing, using evidence-based strategies. I’m happy to comment on your questions. However, please read the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and the Comments Policy.

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11 Responses

  1. DIY Investor says:

    In trying to beat the market you have to be able to accept some years where you underperform. This is when emotions can come into play and get people to second guess themselves – especially if it happens early on.

    In your table, you seem to have picked up duplicate returns for some years .

    Support for O'Higgins approach also come from academic studies that show low p/e stocks tend to outperform over the long term

    • You're right Robert. O'Higgins' BTDWB strategy called for owning the Dogs of the Dow during some years, hence the duplicate returns when that occurred. is that what you were referring to?

  2. Contrarian investing is the only way to beat the market long term. You have to buy what is out of favor and wait for it to recover. Chasing trends or hot stocks only ends in permanent loss of capital.

    • Hey Biz, you and Robert are both right. As you've both alluded to, going contrarian is psychologically tough, and when it doesn't work out over the short term, many people capitulate. But you have to think differently to beat the market; you're right.

  3. Marco says:

    Hi Andrew,

    I'm aware of his two books but does he have a third out? If so, I can't find any reference to it.

    Anyway, his strategies are simple and effective. Sometimes all it takes is a simple strategy to beat the market.

    Marco

    • Hey Marco,

      He's actually in the process of writing his third book. But I'm not sure when he expects to have it completed. I'll keep you posted if I find out more.

  4. Kunwak says:

    I guess that MOAR should be right up your alley, it being based on ETFs 😉 One thing I was surprised by is the high percentage of GLD in it. Given the 150% run up in GLD over the past 5 years, does it really fit the contrarian investing idea?

  5. Hey Kunwak,

    It sounds like you're already familiar with his new strategy. And you do bring up an excellent point about gold not being contrarian today. I do know that Michael O'Higgins bought gold for his personal account back when it was about $286 an ounce, and he wrote about it then, as undervalued, in the Gloom, Boom and Doom Report.

    But you're right about gold not being a contrarian investment today. Time will tell how well his latest strategy does. I'll be revealing that strategy to other readers soon. Thanks for your comment.

  6. Gibor says:

    As per link below the book is on sale from 5/17/2011.

    http://www.harpercollins.com/books/Beating-Dow-Re

  7. Gibor says:

    Andrew, just wondering if O'Higgins strategy was ever applied to TSX?

  8. Hey Gibor,

    Thank you for the link to O'Higgins' revised edition of Beating the Dow. Despite having a number of email exchanges with him, I had no idea that he revised it.

    As for applying his strategy to the TSX, I think that it would yield similar results, and I do recall (at one time) seeing something in print about it. But I can't remember where and when I read it.

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