Several years ago I wrote a review of Michael O’Higgins book, Beating the Dow With Bonds. O’Higgins made a name for himself with his Dogs of the Dow book. Both systems are filled with errors. The following review came to mind as I read Jim Sloan’s article, “ ”
Here is the review I wrote several years ago. I concur with Sloan that now is a time to be cool on bonds.
“Are you interested in spending thirty minutes per year in order to trounce the Dow Jones Industrial 30 stocks by a factor of eighteen over a 29-year period? Michael O’Higgins, in his recent book, “Beating The Dow With Bonds”, lays out a seventeen step method for doing just that, beating the Dow using a nearly risk free method. All the necessary information to follow O’Higgins new strategy is available in Barron’s Market Week, and it will not take more than 20 – 30 minutes per year to make the calculations. What really grabs the reader is the stellar performance of this investment approach. Table 9.1 on page 150 contains all the data needed for analyzing O’Higgins new tactics. The cumulative return with this new system is 47,886 percent versus the DJIA’s return of 2,640 over the same twenty-nine year time period. O’Higgins is well known as the co-author of “Beating the Dow.” In BTDWB, he compares this new strategy with his former Dogs of the Dow approach. The results are impressive, as the new strategy will generate, as mentioned above, a 47,886 percent return versus 12,377 percent for a Beating the Dow Five-Stock’s. Another advantage for this new investment scheme is, this can all be accomplished with less risk. O’Higgins asks the question, “Are these results too good to be true”? He claims they are not. On closer examination, these results are too go to be true.
The strategy necessary to accomplish such outstanding returns requires one to look up some easy to find data in Barron’s. First, identify the S&P Earnings Yield % and compare this value with the 10-Year U.S. Government T-bond Yield to Maturity after making a minor adjustment of adding 0.30% to the T-bond Yield. If the S&P Earnings exceed the adjusted bond yield, then it is time to select the five Dogs of the Dow (DOD) stocks. O’Higgins reviews the DOD process he originally laid out in his first book. If the adjusted bond yield is higher than the S&P 500 yield, then it is time to look up information on the ‘Gold Indicator’. If the one-year change in the price of gold is higher than it was one year ago, then invest 100 percent of your portfolio in U.S. Treasure bills due to mature a year from now. If the one-year change is lower than the price of gold one year ago, then invest 100 percent of your portfolio in the highest yielding U.S. government zero coupon bonds available that are due to mature in twenty years or more. O’Higgins lays out all seventeen steps (there are actually about eleven or twelve critical steps) in great detail. The above description is only to explain the bare bones approach of his recent thesis. Note that the 0.3% correction is a “soft” number. Reading O’Higgins one might accept this as a rigid value.
One becomes suspicious of this strategy when O’Higgins moves investors out of the stock market beginning in 1981 and keeps them in either bonds or T-bills right through the greatest bull market of the century. How can this be so? It all comes down to uncommonly outstanding performance in two of the 29 years; his 30-year zero coupon bonds yielded 156.12% and 106.90% in 1982 and 1985, respectively. If one returns those stellar bond years to the DJIA return of 25.79% (1982) and 32.78% (1985), according to O’Higgins figures, then the DJI and BTD 5 Stocks both will out-perform O’Higgins new strategy. To build an overall investment philosophy where two years of outstanding performance is the key kicker is truly data mining.
Following O’Higgins BTDWB method, I ran the numbers for two consecutive weeks late in 1998. One week I was in 30-year Zero Coupon Bonds; the next week I was in stocks. Where you will have 100% of your portfolio positioned depends on the week you make your assessment. O’Higgins BTDWB strategy is simple and purports to generate excellent returns, both enticing to the novice investor. Nevertheless, it is a flawed system. With interest rates where they are today, it is highly improbable followers of this system will see future returns match the high historical returns. In addition to the fundamental flaws of this investment strategy, BTDWB needed a keener eye when it came to editing the book. Examples of this showed up on page 48, where the Price to Sales Ratio is given as: “To get the price to sales ratio, divide the sales per share figure by the stock’s current market price”. Price to Sales is the reciprocal of what is stated. Graphs are consistently lacking in fundamental information. On page 50, no units are provided for the y-axis and one of the graph lines is missing as there is a Small Cap value of $4,495.99 floating in space at the northeast corner of the graph. In Chapter 4, a brief case is made for investing in small cap stocks. O’Higgins tells us he will address, in the final chapter, when to be in small cap stocks. He never follows through with this information. The graph on page 106 does not contain any identifying information on the y-axis. Chapter 11 is nothing but filler. These are examples of numerous errors in the book.
Overall, “Beating the Dow with Bonds” is an interesting but flawed read. Both the novice and experienced investor would do well to go back to the fundamental analysis and hard work involved in investing. Forget the quick and simple methods espoused in the popular press.“