The Single Most Amazing Thing I've Ever Learned About Finance

Doc's note: This week in Retirement Millionaire Daily, I'm sharing some of our most popular essays of 2017.

Today, I'm sharing an essay from my good friend and Stansberry Research founder Porter Stansberry. Porter discusses the importance of risk-adjusted position sizing and explains the easiest way to apply it today. This essay was originally published in 2015, but it's important to protect your portfolio all the time... even when we're in a bull market.


What I (Porter) am going to tell you today could make you more money, over time, than any other advice you'll ever receive from me or anyone else.

But that will only happen if you're willing to read carefully and genuinely think about the concept I'm writing about.

I believe today's recommendation will make you more money than anything else I've ever recommended before. And I'm 100% certain that the overwhelming majority of you will never do it.

It's simple. It's incredibly safe. And it will make you truly huge amounts of money. But I know you won't do it...

What if I told you that there's a way to instantly turn terrible investors into good investors?

What if I told you that there's a way to turn good investors into great investors overnight?

What if I told you that this has nothing to do with what stocks you buy?

What if I told you that this has nothing to do with trailing stops?

This idea is the single most amazing thing I've ever learned about finance.

It's also the hottest area of financial research among academics and top quantitative hedge-fund managers right now.

Most people would never share this idea with anyone because it's incredibly valuable. It's a secret that transforms losing investment portfolios into winners. It has nothing to do with what stocks you buy. And it has nothing to do with what stocks you sell... or when you sell them.

I'm talking about using risk-adjusted position sizing. Let me explain what that is and why it works so well to improve actual investor results.

For many years, I've seen in our portfolios that almost all of our best-performing investments are low-risk. That means these were investments in big, dominant, slower-growing businesses with good balance sheets and brands.

These stocks have a few standout quantitative traits aside from these qualitative basics that can help you identify them in advance. First, they pay good dividends and have a long history of growing those payouts over time. And second (and this is far less understood by most investors), their share prices aren't volatile. Their stock prices tend to move around a lot less than the market as a whole. That's because they have a stable cohort of investors who own the company – investors who are unlikely to sell.

Academics measure this advantage by comparing the daily volatility of a company's share price with the volatility of the S&P 500 Index, which is made up of the 500 largest publicly traded companies in America. (This measure is called "beta.") Stocks with a volatility equal to the S&P 500's average are awarded a volatility score of "1."

That is, the volatility of these stocks is perfectly correlated with the market as a whole. Stocks that move around more have higher betas. So a company that is 50% more volatile than the S&P 500 would have a beta of 1.5. A company that is two times more volatile than the S&P 500 would have a beta of 2, and so on.

Don't let the math or the Greek letter (beta) intimidate you. There's nothing hard to understand about the idea that high-quality, dividend-paying businesses, which are more likely to do well over the long term, are more likely to have dedicated investors who aren't constantly trading in and out of stocks. As a result, the share prices of these businesses will tend to move around a bit less – or even a lot less – than the average large company in America.

Sure, you can sometimes find a few – a precious few – big winners, like Steve Sjuggerud's original recommendation of Seabridge Gold. But over roughly the last 20 years, the overwhelming majority of our best recommendations have always been low-risk (and low-volatility) stocks.

Most of these stocks have betas that are much lower than the market as a whole. McDonald's, for example, has a beta that is roughly half the market's average (0.63). Likewise, Automatic Data Processing (0.85), Altria (0.86), and Hershey (0.81) are extremely low-volatility stocks. This is numerical proof of the steady nature of their businesses and the "wise hands" that own the shares. These are the folks you want to invest alongside.

While I've known about this concept for a long time, I didn't have firm proof that applying these ideas to actual investor accounts would make a substantial difference in performance. But now I do.

At our conference last week in Las Vegas, TradeStops founder Dr. Richard Smith revealed a fascinating study he had just completed using actual investor accounts. The study was done on 40 real-life investor accounts, some of which contained total assets in the millions of dollars. Richard explained...

We put together a group of 40 real-life portfolios – real buy and sell data from real investors. I asked my team to back-test all of our different stop-loss and position-sizing strategies against these real portfolios to see which of our tools made the biggest difference in performance... And I was amazed to see that there was one tool that improved investment performance more than anything else: volatility-based position sizing. If you only ever pay attention to one thing that I have to say, this is it – use volatility-based position sizing.

What exactly is volatility-based position sizing? It's using the volatility of a stock to determine how much of it you should own relative to your portfolio. The goal is to have the same amount of risk in every stock you own. To accomplish that, Richard (who went to Cal-Berkeley and has a PhD in math) built an algorithm that determines the total volatility of your portfolio and then tells you how many shares to buy of a given stock so that your portfolio is "risk-weighted," with each position carrying the exact same amount of risk.

It sounds complicated, but it's simple: The formula just makes sure you don't buy too much of a risky stock, and helps you buy more of the high-quality, safe stocks that we recommend. It allows you to buy the kind of "story" stocks that investors are always attracted to, while making sure you don't risk too much in those kinds of ideas.

To back-test the strategy, Richard took the 40 investor portfolios and figured out how much of each stock these investors would have bought if they had built risk-weighted portfolios instead of using their actual allocations. Just making this one change – changing the amounts of shares they bought – almost doubled the average returns of the portfolios he studied.

Richard didn't change the stocks they bought. He didn't change when they bought or when they sold. He only changed the relative amounts of each investment. And just making that one change saw the average return go from 6.7% to 12%. No other form of portfolio management – not even smart trailing stops – made as big of an impact.

Why did causing investors to focus on volatility work so well? Because volatility (as measured by beta) is a great indicator of risk. Colleges still teach that in the financial markets, risk equals reward. That might even be true in a lab setting. But it's not true at all with real live human beings. Most investors who set out to practice "buy and hold" investing end up doing "buy and fold." That is, they end up selling at precisely the wrong time... when fear in the market is peaking.

Richard is building a new tool for his best clients at TradeStops – a volatility-measuring and risk-allocation function. You'll simply link your existing portfolio with his website, hit a button, and learn how risky your current portfolio really is. Hit another button, and Richard's software will show you how to balance that risk evenly across all of your existing positions – telling you exactly how many shares of each stock you should own.

I firmly believe there is nothing else you can do more easily and more safely to vastly improve your actual investment performance. It might be impossible for you to get rid of all of your bad investment habits. But using Richard's risk-balancing technology can at least show you exactly how much risk you're taking... And you can manage those risks far more effectively.

Doing so is worth huge multiples of the cost of using Richard's system, which you can even join on a lifetime basis. Over time, it will render the cost essentially meaningless. This new risk-measurement and balancing tool will be operational before the end of this year... and it will initially only be available to his lifetime subscribers. It will join a huge suite of services that Richard offers individual investors, giving them the same kind of risk-management tools that professional investors enjoy, including specialized, volatility-based trailing stops. In my mind, there is no logical reason to not use these tools... unless you want to continue making poor returns and suffering terrible losses.

If I told you I could double your investment returns... even turn losing portfolios into winning portfolios... just by altering the position size of the stocks you select, you probably wouldn't believe me. But that's exactly what Richard's volatility-based position-sizing tool did.

Here's one example, No. 438. (The investor account names were hidden and each account was assigned a reference number.) This investor had $434,000 in his account. Over the period of the study, he lost 23.1% of his savings – just more than $100,000. That's a massive, horrific loss.

But using Richard's volatility tool to change the position sizes of his actual investments, his portfolio would have produced a total return of $59,494 (a gain of 13.7%). Note: This simulation did not change the stocks purchased or the timing of the buys and sells. It merely changed the position sizes by equalizing the amount of risk in each position.

Here's a simple question: Are you going to begin calculating your position sizes by knowing the beta of your entire portfolio and adding new positions only by equalizing the risk of each new stock?

If the answer is yes, the only way I know to get the tools you need is to sign up with TradeStops. Richard will make it as easy as hitting one button to know how many shares to buy, for any stock, to equalize the risk with your other positions. And he can show you the same thing across your entire portfolio so that you can rebalance to get started. Click here to get access to TradeStops.


Porter Stansberry

August 28, 2017