The Blue and Yellow Can | Eric Cinnamond

This excellent post from Eric Cinnamond at Palm Valley Capital sums up the challenges facing value investors in our post-QE world:

Last week my son and I went for a bike ride. Before departing, I noticed the chain on my bike was a little rusty, so I sprayed it with WD-40. My instinctive response can be traced back to my childhood and growing up in a WD-40 family. We put it on everything. In addition to our bikes, we sprayed it on window tracks, saws, locks, nuts and bolts, lawnmowers, and anything else that squeaked, rusted, or was stuck. If it was edible, we’d probably have put it on our pancakes!

When I became a small cap analyst in 1996, I was thrilled to learn WD-40 (symbol: WDFC) was a publicly traded company. In fact, it was one of the first stocks I followed and recommended. WD-40 is a classic high-quality small cap that possesses many of the attributes we seek…..

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Investing in Real Estate

In Monday’s update, we compared investing in stocks to investing in financial securities and concluded that stocks offer better long-term performance. Today, we use long-term data series for US and Australian real estate to evaluate their comparative performance.

US real estate data was sourced from Prof Robert Shiller, who created the Case-Shiller Index series. The chart below shows that US home prices from 1933 to 2023, a period of ninety years, appreciated to 69.5 times their original value.

Home Price Index

Adjusting for inflation, we get real appreciation of 2.9 times.

Again, CPI seems to understate inflation. Comparing the home price index to Gold, rather than CPI, provides a more accurate measure of appreciation in real terms. Gold appreciated 94.5 times over the same period, so the home price index actually lost value.

Calculation: 69.5/94.5 = 0.735 (i.e. a 26.5% loss of value)

Comparing data sources

A second source of home price data compares median prices, based on sales of existing homes, from 1953 to 2023. That shows growth of 22 times over the past seventy years, which is close to the Home Price Index appreciation of 21.25 over the same period.

Median Home Prices, Existing Homes


Australian housing data is harder to come by but we found an excellent source of long-term median house price data in the 2007 UNSW thesis of Dr Nigel David Stapledon. Using data from within the thesis, we were able to adjust nominal house prices to reflect constant quality (house values with no improvements) below.

Median Home Prices, Existing Homes, Constant Quality

Australian house prices appreciated 191.4 times between 1933 and 2006.

Unfortunately the data ends there, so we had to calculate a weighted average of median houses for 2007 to the present.

CoreLogic kindly provided us with values for their hedonic Home Value Index (for 5 Capital Cities) which also adjusts for quality:

Property Type	31/01/2007	31/07/2023
Houses		$399,182	$891,747

The gain of 2.23 is slightly higher than the 2.14 calculated from weighted average data for the 8 capital cities provided by the ABS.

Median Home Prices, Weighted Average of 8 Capital Cities

We opted for the higher figure from CoreLogic as likely to be more in line with the earlier Stapledon data. That gives a total nominal gain, adjusted for quality, of 426.8 for the ninety years from 1933 to 2023.

The price of Gold fines was fixed at £6-3/9 per troy ounce fine according to the Sydney Morning Herald on 2 January 1933, that converts to 12.375 Australian Dollars. Total gain for Gold in Australian Dollars over the past ninety years is therefore 232.9 times (A$2881.90/12.375).

We calculate the real gain for Australian house prices as 1.83 times over the past ninety years (426.8/232.9).


The US Home Price Index lost 26.5% in real terms, over the past ninety years (1933 – 2023), when compared to Gold.

The S&P 500 appreciated 6.8 times over the past ninety years when measured against Gold, and 9.7 times compared to US real estate (Home Price Index).

Using Gold as the benchmark, we conclude that Australian real estate prices appreciated faster than US real estate over the past ninety years, growing 1.83 times in real terms, whereas the US depreciated to 0.735 of its original real value.

We suspect the difference is largely due to the substantial fall in US real estate values after the 2008 sub-prime crisis, whereas Australian home prices continued to grow. We expect that performance of the two will converge in the long-term.

Lastly, when measured against Gold, US stocks outperformed Australian real estate. The S&P 500 grew 3.7 times against Australian home prices, in real terms, over the past ninety years.

This does not mean that we should ignore real estate as an investment medium. But a portfolio concentrated in real estate, without diversification into stocks and precious metals, could underperform in the long-term.


Why invest in stocks?

Some clients are understandably nervous about investing in stocks because of the volatility. Invest at the wrong time and you can experience a draw-down that takes years to recover. Many shy away, preferring the security of term deposits or the bricks and mortar of real estate investments.

The best argument for investing in stocks is two of the most enduring long-term trends in finance.

First, the secular down-trend in purchasing power of the Dollar.

Dollar Purchasing Power

Inflation has been eating away at investors’ capital for more than ninety years. Purchasing power of the Dollar declined from 794 in 1933 to 33 today — a loss of almost 96%. That means $24 today can only buy what one Dollar bought in 1933.

The second trend, by no coincidence, is the appreciation of real asset prices over the same time period.

The S&P 500 grew from 7.03 at the start of 1933 to 4546 in June 2023 — 649 times the original investment.

S&P 500 Index

Gold data is only available since 1959. In April 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 6102, forbidding “the hoarding of Gold Coin, Gold Bullion, and Gold Certificates” by US citizens. Americans were required to hand in their gold by May 1st in return for compensation at $20.67 per ounce. Since then, Gold has appreciated 94.5 times its 1933 exchange value in Dollar terms.

Spot Gold Prices

Over time, investing in real assets has protected investors’ capital from the ravages of inflation, while financial assets have for long periods failed to adequately compensate investors in real terms (after inflation). The chart below compares the yield on Moody’s Aaa corporate bonds to CPI inflation.

Moody's Aaa Corporate Bond Yield & CPI


Purchasing power of the Dollar depreciated by 24 times over the past ninety years due to inflation. Adjusting for inflation, the S&P 500 has grown to 27 times its original Dollar value in 1933, while Gold gained 3.9 times in real terms.

We would argue that the consumer price index understates inflation. Gold does not grow in value — it is constant in real terms.

If we take Gold as our benchmark of real value, then the S&P 500 has grown 6.8 times in real terms — a far more believable performance.

Stocks are a great hedge against inflation provided the investor can tolerate volatility in their portfolio. How to manage volatility will be the subject of discussion in a further update.



Forecasting risk

The danger with forecasting is that our analysis may be accurate, based on the evidence at hand, but the outcome may be completely different because of some unforeseen event. Someone at a live food market in Wuhan develops a respiratory fever, crude oil falls to minus $37 per barrel, the Fed dumps $3 trillion into financial markets in just three months, China imposes economic sanctions on Australian coal, and Russia launches a full-scale invasion of Ukraine — all of these events are unforeseeable and likely interconnected.

So why do we persist in making forecasts and basing investment decisions on them?

Consider the alternative.

An inability to make forecasts would destroy the global economy. A farmer consults weather forecasts when planning what crops to plant, how much to plant, and what fertilizers are required. A retailer may similarly consult economic forecasts when making decisions to stock her shelves. Forecasts are necessary to plan for future events, whether they be crop harvests, retail sales or longer-term investments.


We need to recognize the uncertainty surrounding forecasts. The more complex the environment, the higher the degree of risk.

Attempting to accurately forecast future events is futile. And anchoring investments to a particular outcome is risky. It is safer to simply estimate whether the risk of a particular outcome is high or low.

For example, we may believe that the risk of a hard landing in the next 12 months is high and position our investments accordingly. But bear in mind that no particular outcome is certain and we need to retain sufficient flexibility to adjust our strategy if the probability of an alternative outcome should increase.

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” ~ Samuel Clemens

Strong hands or weak hands

“Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”  ~ Oscar Wilde

Strong hands are long-term investors, including most institutional investors, who focus on intrinsic value and are insensitive to price.

Weak hands and leveraged investors are highly sensitive to price. They follow the news cycle in an often unsuccessful attempt to to time purchases and sales according to short-term, often random, fluctuations in price.

Weak hands respond emotionally to price movements — making it difficult to be objective in  their decisions to buy or sell — while strong hands focus on dividends and other measures of long-term value.

Strong hands recognize that the biggest obstacle to sound investing is their own emotional response to rising or falling prices. Weak hands submit to the psychological pressure, make frequent buy and sell decisions, and find it difficult to be objective. Strong hands detach themselves as far as possible from the price cycle and the emotional pressures that accompany it.

At the peak of the investment cycle, weak hands pay way above fair value for stocks, while strong hands resist the urge to buy when price exceeds their own objective view of long-term fair value.

Fair Value

As confidence decays and prices fall, weak hands are shaken out of their positions. Margin calls force some to liquidate while others sell through through fear — failing to recognize that anxiety is the primary cause of falling prices. Some try to hold on to their positions but eventually succumb to the pressure. The mental anguish of watching their stocks fall often drives them to sell at way below fair value — just to end the pain.

Strong hands are patient, independent of the herd, and unmoved by the wild emotional swings of bull and bear markets. They wait for stock prices to fall to below fair value, when opportunity is at its maximum. Stocks that are gradually recovering from a steep sell-off and scarce retail buyers are signs that a bottom has been reached.

Recency bias

One of the key benefits of years of investing, through several stock market cycles, is the ability to recognize the familiar signs of euphoria in a bull market and despondency in a bear market. When it seems that the bull market will never end, that is normally a sign that risk is elevated. Conversely, opportunity is at its maximum when an air of despair and despondency descends on the investing public.

Don’t confuse price with value

Price seldom equates to value.

Short-term investors confuse price with value, making them vulnerable to wild price swings which can weaken the resolve of even the most hardened investors.

Long-term investors hold the majority of their investments through several  investment cycles, pruning only those stocks where long-term revenue growth or profit margins have been permanently affected and are unlikely to recover.

Supply and demand

Many readers are familiar with supply and demand curves from basic economics. For those who are not, here’s a quick refresher:

  • The supply curve, represented by the red line on the chart below, represents the quantity available for sale (bottom axis) at any given price (left axis). The higher the price, the greater the supply.
  • The demand curve, represented by the blue line on the chart below, represents the quantity that buyers are willing to purchase (bottom axis) at any given price (left axis). The lower the price, the greater the demand1.
  • Price is determined by the intersection of the two curves, maximizing the value achieved — at quantity sold (Q1) and price (P1) — giving value of Q1*P1.

Supply & Demand

Bear markets

In a bear market, the supply curve moves to the right as weak hands are influenced by falling prices and a negative media cycle. Note that the bottom end of the curve shifts a lot more than the top — strong hands are relatively unmoved by market sentiment.

Price falls steeply, from P1 to P2, as weak hands increase the quantity available for sale. Volume sold increases from Q1 to Q2.

Bear Market

We need to be careful not to equate the price at P1 or P2 with value. They may reflect the marginal price at which you can acquire new stock (or sell existing holdings) but they do not reflect the price at which strong hands are prepared to sell. That is why takeover offers are normally priced at a substantial premium to the current traded stock price. If you had to increase the quantity that you want to purchase to Q3, you would have to move up the supply curve, to the right, and price increases to P3 in order to attract more sellers2.

Market capitalization, likewise, is simply the number of shares in issue multiplied by the current traded stock price and is not a reflection of the intrinsic value of a company.


Investors need to have a clear idea of their investment time frame and adjust their approach accordingly.

One of the worst possible mistakes is indecision. If undecided, you are likely to be caught between two stools, buying late in an up-trend and selling late in a down-trend.

If you are a weak hand, it is far better to recognize that. Resist buying near the top of the cycle; apply sound money management — position-sizing is vital if you are focused on price; sell early, at the first signs of a bear market; and never, ever trade against the trend.

If you are a strong hand, never confuse price with value. Focus on dividends and other long-term measures of value; stay detached from the herd; and have the patience to wait for opportunity when prices are trading at way below fair value.

“The stock market remains an exceptionally efficient mechanism for the transfer of wealth from the impatient to the patient.”

~ Warren Buffett



  1. Discussion of inelastic supply curves and negative-sloping demand curves is beyond the scope of this article.
  2. P3 will shift to P3′ in a bear market.


Hat tip to RBC Wealth Management for the investment cycle chart to which we added fair value.


Long-term trends: Battery electric versus hydrogen

Scania EV

The shift towards sustainable transport systems is growing, with progress being made in electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cells as alternatives to carbon fuels.

Heavy Transport

The major obstacle with heavy transport has been low battery range and lengthy charging times for electric vehicles (EV), leaving hydrogen fuel cells as the obvious choice.

Now, Sweden’s Scania AB, one of the world’s largest truck and bus manufacturers, is shifting emphasis to EV. Citing progress in battery technology — energy storage capacity per kg, charging times, charging cycles and economics per kg — Scania expects electrified vehicles to account for around 10 percent of their total vehicle sales volumes in Europe by 2025. And as high as 50 percent by 2030.

Hydrogen Fuel Cells

“Scania has invested in hydrogen technologies and is currently the only heavy-duty vehicle manufacturer with vehicles in operations with customers. The engineers have gained valuable insights from these early tests and efforts will continue. However, going forward the use of hydrogen for such applications will be limited since three times as much renewable electricity is needed to power a hydrogen truck compared to a battery electric truck. A great deal of energy is namely lost in the production, distribution, and conversion back to electricity.

Repair and maintenance also need to be considered. The cost for a hydrogen vehicle will be higher than for a battery electric vehicle as its systems are more complex, such as an extensive air- and cooling system. Furthermore, hydrogen is a volatile gas which requires more maintenance to ensure safety.” (Scania, January 19, 2021)

The Volkswagen AG-owned heavy vehicle manufacturer does, however, note that stationary fuel cells will still play an important part in electric charging systems. Especially in areas with abundant renewable energy, and in rural areas off the main electricity grid.


Electric vehicle technology has progressed much faster than hydrogen fuel cells and is the clear leader in the race for sustainable transport systems.