Frank. K. Martin, author of A Decade of Delusions: From Speculative Contagion to the Great Recession, based on a collection of his annual reports to his clients at Martin Capital Management, concludes his cautionary tale of tumult in American finance this way:
"All along this journey, of which the 12 years covered in the book constitute but a passage, I've taken solace as well as found courage for my convictions, in knowing that the road I'm taking has never been, nor ever will be, crowded.''
Martin picks one wild decade to reflect upon: from 1998, when the Standard & Poor's 500 stock index rose by 26.7 percent, "achieving a record setting fourth year in a row of gains in excess of 20 percent,'' through February 2008, "the year in which the Bubble burst in utter chaos'' leading to the Great Recession. Martin calls it "the worst decade, market-wise, in more than 100 years.''
While ruin and social upheaval were a reality for many by the end of the decade, Martin's "fiercely independent'' investment philosophy guided Martin Capital Management clients to solid investment returns, says John C. Bogle, founder of The Vanguard Group, in the book's foreword.
The proof is in the pudding, Bogle says, and Martin backs that up: "We finished among the leaders over the most challenging investment decade in our lives,'' and "our 10-year results eclipsed those of two of the most esteemed mutual-fund giants, Sequoia and Longleaf Partners.''
How'd MCM do it? By thinking well beyond the moment--"fear and greed don't carry much weight in the long term,'' says Martin. Be rational, avoid emotional reactions, he advises. A role model is Warren Buffett, one of "the great value investors (who) seem to be more capable of repeating outperformance than random luck would suggest. Buffett is simply the most conspicuous example.''
Not all the decade's years were good, and some of his clients and colleagues flinched--in 2006, MCM's total account performance was "a paltry 0.7 percent."
But Martin didn't waver: "(the) equity securities we wanted to own have a much greater than usual margin of safety embedded in their purchase price, resulting at one point in equities dropping to 30 percent of total assets."
Holding its own relative to the "carnage'' around it, MCM's equity performance in decisive 2008 went this way: Equities -21.5 percent, and total account -7.8 percent (as compared to the S&P 500's -38 percent, with relative performance at 29.2 percent).In 2009, MCM equities performed at 51.4%, and total account at 21.6 percent, compared with S&P 500 at 26.5 percent, for a relative performance of -4.9 percent. MCM bettered the S&P 500 by 7.5 percent compounded annually over 10 years.
Martin quotes Albert Einstein on the subject: "The most powerful force in the universe is compound interest.''