Content provided by Rusty Vanneman, CFA, CMT, Chief Investment Officer
I’m often asked by investors, now that I have 30 years in the industry under my belt, how I have changed as an investment professional over the years.
It’s a good question and, frankly, it should be asked of every investment manager and advisor. The answers will likely be nuanced and perhaps not as easy to discern as trying to find the difference in the following photos:
Could you spot the difference?
So, how have I changed as an investment professional? At the core, I think I have always been a value-oriented investor with a contrarian sensibility. That has never changed. My personal attributes and my mission haven’t changed either.
While my analytical and portfolio management skills have surely been refined by years of experience, including multiple bull and bear markets (both in absolute and relative terms), I don’t think my peers, associates, or clients from the early years in my career would be surprised at what they see in me now.
What has changed the most is I have come to fully realize that being a good investment professional isn’t just about a number or portfolio return. The true goal is creating success for investors through my overall portfolio management. That means building attractive portfolios and providing the necessary communication and service to support the investors’ experience.
Let’s break that last sentence down.
I believe an attractive portfolio behaves as an investor expects. It doesn’t surprise or disappoint investors. The portfolio behavior is key. Does it behave as expected when prices move higher? Does it behave as expected when prices move lower? Surprising behavior, even when the markets go up, doesn’t necessarily provide comfort.
Creating an attractive portfolio goes beyond the selection of stocks and bonds. It also involves communication. Some recent feedback from advisors was that our investment team’s communication at CLS was commonsensical and transparent. Bam. That’s exactly what we strive for.
I believe successful communication should:
Early in my career, when I worked at Fidelity Management and Research in Boston, I had an opportunity to ask the head of the department, Gary Burkhead, who had such notables as Peter Lynch, Jeff Vinik, Joel Tillinghast, Will Danoff, and many other great investment minds and managers work for him, what made a great manager. He said it wasn’t the brilliance of managing a portfolio, it was the ability to communicate and keep investors confident and comfortable in their capabilities through all market environments. I always remembered those words. But, to be honest, I didn’t completely embrace them until years later when I learned that success wasn’t determined in my portfolio’s returns, but in my clients’.
Content provided by Robyn Murray, Freelance Writer
It takes a lot to get Patty Colombe down. Naturally sunny and cheerful, Colombe believes in staying positive in the face of adversity.
But, she’s had her share of trials. Over the last few years, Colombe lost her mother and nearly lost her grandson in a car accident. “When mom got sick and Dylan got hurt,” she recalled, “that was life changing.”
It all happened around the time Colombe started at CLS Investments as an administrative coordinator. It’s a position that requires taking care of people, and as a natural caregiver who likes to see the best in others, she’s a perfect fit.
Patty Colombe was born in Iowa, but she’s spent most of her life in Omaha, Neb. Her father sold life insurance and was transferred to the city when she was 7 years old. Her mother stayed home with her three daughters until they were in high school. Then she went to work at an ophthalmologist’s office as an administrative assistant.
Colombe is the youngest of the three daughters and — she added with a grin — “Dad’s only son.” A lifelong tomboy, Colombe says she was always the one called on to help her father with household projects. “Whenever there was something needed to be done,” she said, “I’d be out there swinging a sledgehammer or doing something in the yard.” Colombe’s outgoing personality also comes from her dad. “When my father entered a room, you knew he was there immediately,” she said.
Colombe took her first job when she was 14 manning the counter at Dairy Queen. At 15, she went to work for Hickory Farms and stayed there until she graduated high school. She later worked for a heavy duty parts supplier. But, after she was married with two small children at home, she decided — in a typically resourceful move — to run a daycare out of her house so she could be with her kids.
When her children were older, Colombe took a job as a sales assistant for an agricultural company. She didn’t stay in that position long. “I kept fixing computers,” she said, “so, they stole me out of sales and moved me to IT.” Colombe was ultimately promoted to IT manager and was in charge of 13 locations and 728 users.
But after 20 years there, the company was sold to China and started outsourcing positions. Colombe was laid off, and that was the beginning of some profound shifts in her life.
One of those shifts happened when her grandson crossed the street at a busy intersection in West Omaha. He was with a group, but he and a friend were trailing a little behind. The driver didn’t see them. She hit the two boys at 45 miles per hour. Dylan flew into the air, and his friend crashed into the windshield and hood of the car.
“But they had angels,” Colombe said. “There was a doctor and a nurse right there. Everyone got out of their cars, and they told them what to do with the boys while they called an ambulance.” Dylan’s friend is still getting facial reconstructive surgery, but he’s OK. Dylan spent three weeks in the hospital and three more at a Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln, and then went home in a wheelchair.
It wasn’t long after that Colombe’s mother became ill and went into hospice. Just a few months later, she passed away.
“Losing my job after 20 years, and then having all that happen . . .” Colombe trailed off. “The people are so nice here. It’s a wonderful group of people.” Her new colleagues at CLS kept her busy and gave her their support. She recalls coming to work shortly after the accident and being encouraged to go home and be with her family. “Family is very important here,” she said. “Everybody goes home and appreciates what they have at home, as well as what they have here.”
Today, Colombe’s grandson is playing baseball again, and her father recently celebrated his 87th birthday.
“Within that story,” she said, “is a story of survival.”
Colombe says she’s taken lessons from the experience. “You’ve got to like what you’re doing, and you can’t spend a whole lot of time worrying about the stupid stuff.” At CLS, she loves what she’s doing — and that’s mainly because she gets to take care of people. “I love people,” she said. “There’s something different about everyone. And most everyone, there’s something good.”
Colombe supports CLS’s CEO, Ryan Beach, and the CIO, Rusty Vanneman, as well as the Portfolio Management Team. She schedules calendars, makes travel arrangements, and files expenses. She also keeps the portfolio managers on top of their writing tasks and takes tedious assignments off their desks. “Little things,” she said. “I just help get their ducks in a row.”
Colombe’s ability to take care of things was noted in a recent strengths finder assessment at the company. She was the only employee with “Arranger” as her No. 1 strength. Arrangers, the description says, are organized and flexible. “They like to determine how all the pieces and resources can be arranged for maximum productivity.”
Colombe emailed the description to me. She doesn’t like talking about herself. She’s a doer, not a talker, she says. But, that’s why she gets things done. And, why Vanneman says she’s become an indispensable member of the team.
“I’m a caregiver,” she said. “I like to take care of things.”
Content provided by Rusty Vanneman, CFA, CMT, Chief Investment Officer
Years ago, I worked with bond and currency traders around the world (mostly in New York City, Chicago, and London), providing trading recommendations and market commentary every 20 minutes during market hours. The work environment was fast-paced, fun, and absolutely awesome in terms of being totally immersed in the markets. I learned a ton and made many friends that I still have today.
But, that frenetic approach to the markets is nothing like how I invest these days, professionally or personally (which both are basically the same). It’s also not how I recommend anybody invests. It’s simply too crazy and demands too much time, emotion, and expense. It’s a tough game to play, and particularly so for any duration. There aren’t many old traders.
(To be clear on definitions, I define trading as an inherently short-term activity. One may hold a position for only days, or as short a time period as minutes or even seconds. Investing meanwhile, is a long-term activity, measured in years, if not decades).
Nonetheless, there were many valuable principles I learned that influence how I think about the markets today. Here are three market maxims, and why I think they’re important:
This is probably one of the most important keys to successful trading or investing.
For starters, many investors simply hold on to their losing positions too long, letting them get much deeper in the process. They might be emotionally attached to the position. Or, they have too much pride. Or, they don’t want to be wrong. In some cases, substantial losses result, often sabotaging overall portfolio returns. There is no reason this should happen in a taxable account. One could simply harvest tax losses to offset future realized gains. If the positions are held in non-taxable accounts, there should still be a disciplined process in place that will help investors get out of losing positions. Stop losses, regular reviews, or checklists are three tools that could be used.
Losses are not the only problem. Many investors like to realize gains in winning positions too quickly. From an emotional standpoint, it’s often satisfying to take the gain. It’s a win! Money in the bank. But, most successful investors attain success from their long-held positions. The big winners have an outsized impact on their overall portfolio success.
2. “The market moves in the direction that causes the most pain.” Or, on a related note: “What is comfortable is rarely profitable.”
Consensus thinking is wrong so often on Wall Street, it is amazing people continue to invest in what they think is “safe” by investing in what is popular. In my experience, the market moves in the direction most don’t expect — the direction that causes the most pain.
This actually makes sense. When there is an imbalance of emotion in a particular investment and investors are positioned accordingly, expectations make the investment become vulnerable to a reversal.
For instance, if most investors think a particular technology company will continue to grow at a spectacular earnings growth rate (let’s say 50% for example, which would be a supremely high expectation since the average company has pulled in earnings growth closer to 6% over the last 90+ years), they may bid up the company’s stock price and valuation. So, what happens when the growth rate is actually 50%? Perhaps not much. It was already priced into the stock price. Now, what if the growth rate is only 40%? That is still spectacular growth, but it’s below the stock’s expectations and what valuations warrant, so it’s probably a poor result for those who own the stock. And, what if earnings growth falls toward the long-term average — like all companies ultimately do? Not good.
3. “The train has left the station.”
This saying is a favorite of mine. It may not be as popular as the maxims above, but it captures a key principle behind many successful investments. And, quite frankly, it’s fun to say.
As it relates to investing, this saying refers to a situation where a particular asset class hasn’t gone anywhere in a while (it’s at the station), but has finally started to move and is likely ready to embark on a major trip. Many relative, value-oriented managers, such as CLS Investments, like to buy assets that have underperformed recently and are now undervalued and priced for relatively superior returns moving forward. Once the market starts to reverse the prior underperformance and appears to potentially (hopefully) have a long run of good performance ahead, then “the train has left the station”.
A good example, particularly in recent quarters, is emerging markets. After lagging for many years, emerging market stocks have started to outperform handily. We hope the train left the station for emerging markets last year and the sector has a long journey still to go.
The trading experience in the early years of my career helped me learn many techniques of successful (and not so successful) trading and investing and helped inform and shape my decision-making process. The maxims above are three of the most impactful I’ve learned thus far. Stay tuned for more in future blogs!
Content provided by Robyn Murray, Freelance Writer
Bailey Neben was scanning the Babson College alumni directory when she realized she was just one of 13 Nebraskans to ever attend the Boston-based university. Who were these fellow Cornhuskers? What drove them to the East Coast? Did they ever go back home? She started wondering about this small circle and wanted to know more. She also wondered if anyone in the group might be able to connect her to opportunities in the real world. So, she decided to reach out. She sent a note to each name on the list, and — happily for CLS — one of those names was Rusty Vanneman.
“Bailey impressed me from the start,” Vanneman said. “She is bright, eager, and full of energy.” They met in person at the CLS office over her winter break. “At first, I was just contacting him to find out his story,” Neben said. “How did he get to Babson and when did he go back to Nebraska? Then it became: ‘What am I doing over the summer?’” As sophomore, Neben presents herself with confidence and poise, taking charge of a room and articulating her thoughts and ideas with self-possessed style. She is concentrating in accounting and finance at Babson, leaving both doors open while she figures out which career path suits her best. Today, she is wrapping up an internship at CLS where she split her time between sales and portfolio management. More doors left open: two of many she is likely to have in her future.
“I wanted to break out of my box”
Neben grew up in Waverly, Nebraska. It’s a small town of about 3,700 people just outside Lincoln. She attended the same school for 11 years and saw the same faces every day. “I was with the same 140 people in my class my entire life,” she said. She noticed the people who graduated ahead of her stuck within their own familiar circle, and she wanted something more. “I wanted to break out of my box,” she said, “and meet new, different people that weren’t from Nebraska.”
So, Neben decided to head to the East Coast. She wanted to be near a big city where there was always something to do and opportunities abound. She was drawn to Babson because of the college’s focus on academics. She’d always been good at math, so she knew she wanted to do something with numbers. In high school, she had taken an accounting course that she loved where she had to manage a fake company’s books. It was a two-month project that she finished in two weeks. “I did that for hours at home just because it was fun for me to do,” she said.
Going to Babson was tough at first. She had to make new friends, and for the first time in her life she couldn’t turn to her parents or older sister, who she has always looked up to, for help. “It was a big change for me,” she said. “But it gave me some independence.” The transition was helped by the amount of diversity at Babson. Neben knows the figures by heart: Babson is 30% international students; within domestic, it is 50% multiracial with 48 states represented. “It gave me a new perspective on all the other things that are out there,” she said.
Neben soon settled in. She joined a sorority and Babson’s theater group and became a career advancement ambassador, giving campus tours and meeting alumni. But, she was still thinking about the Nebraska alumni. Her meeting with Vanneman had gone well; he had offered her an internship back home, and she was excited to take it.
She began at CLS in May. Her internship is part sales and part portfolio management. On the sales side, she’s helped get proposals out to advisors and put together a list of self-directed plans. “Jobs that make [the sales team’s] lives easier,” she said. In portfolio management, she has helped Kostya Etus write a paper on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) investing and Josh Jenkins work on a CLS certification project. She’s hoping it will be complete by the end of the summer so she can see the end result of her work. “It’s been amazing,” she said. “I don’t think any of my friends have internships where you’re actually doing real things.”
Neben says she’s also learned about what it takes to work in an office — an environment she thought would be very different from the collaborative atmosphere at CLS. “I was thinking it would be more cutthroat,” she said. “But everybody’s friendly and very professional at the same time.” She said she’s grateful to the team for helping her every way they can — even making introductions to people outside the office that have already led to new opportunities. “It’s not just about them,” she said. “It’s about me, too, and I’m grateful for that.”
Vanneman says Neben has exceeded even his “lofty expectations.” “I always expect members of my team to give 100%, which Bailey was able to do from nearly day one,” he said. “She has been a very high producer, in addition to being fun to be around.”
Before Neben leaves CLS, she’ll spend a few days in the accounting department getting a feel for how things work there. She’s still not sure which way she’ll go. She enjoys accounting because it’s straightforward and focused on rules and processes, but she likes finance too because it’s the opposite: different every day and subject to market whims and global events. The portfolio management team is “definitely not doing the same thing every day,” she said, “which is really intriguing.”
Next summer, Neben hopes to secure an accountancy internship through Babson, so she can get a proper feel for that side of the financial world. In the meantime, she has a few words of advice for the next intern at CLS: “No question is a small question,” she said. “And take as much work as you can.” In other words: Open as many doors as possible.