The SweetSpot® Investment Strategy
“Do not start the Star-Spangled Banner on too high a note.”
It’s easy to see that the best time to invest in stocks is at the end of a down market — prices only go up from there. The end of a down market is reached when people have been selling for some time until, eventually, the selling is done (or overdone). The next person who wants to buy will have to offer a higher price. The downward trend reverses and a bottom is formed.
We want to find that bottom. How do we do it?
First, let’s sort the global investment universe into its component industries and regional markets — call them “sectors.” Each sector is moving within its own economic cycle — going strong, going bust, or going nowhere. Then, we’ll just follow the money. Money moves into each sector and money moves out, like the movements of the tides. We’re looking for the lowest of the ebb tides. Those are the sectors that are most likely to be at or near the “sweet spot.”
The Sweet Spot
In stock investing, the sweet spot is that point in a market cycle where a downward trend begins to level off — for the first time in a long time, potential rewards now outweigh potential risks. At the sweet spot, the market is saying something like, “Things can’t get any worse and they’ll never get any better” (which is silly if you think about it).
“When everybody thinks alike, everyone is likely to be wrong.”
~ Humphrey B. Neill (The Art of Contrary Thinking)
The human drama has just about played out, dampening the downward pressure. Even if more bad news emerges, the worst has already been factored into the price, so nothing much happens. But if the news is unexpectedly good, the trend reverses upward and a new market cycle is born:
Let’s buy several of the most unloved sectors from the previous year. We know the market has shunned these sectors for a reason — we’ll be ready to hold our noses as we place the trades. Tax-loss selling and “window dressing” (pros selling losers to get them off the books) occur in November and December, often depressing the prices of already-beat-up sectors even further, so we’ll base our picks on end-of-year numbers. We’re hoping to see a last-minute selling frenzy in what we’re about to buy.
It can take a long time to recover from extreme circumstances, so we’ll give our sectors three years or longer to turn things around. Let’s perform the same exercise one year later, buying a like number of additional sectors, and again the year after that. At that point we’re holding a diverse basket of positions. At the end of the third year we’ll sell what we bought in the first year, using the proceeds from those sales to fund the purchases for the upcoming year. We’re left with a nicely diversified, self-perpetuating portfolio that lets us turn our attention to other matters the rest of the year.
The SweetSpot® Investment Strategy has been traded in real time since December 1998. (SweetSpot’s complete track record can be found here.) In 17 years, SweetSpot’s average annual gross returns have outpaced those of its market benchmark by 8.4 percentage points (+13.1% to +4.6%).  That’s pretty special; it’s a rare strategy that can beat the market  over time by just one or two points per year. Furthermore, a look at historical numbers showed market-beating returns going back to 1989, the earliest it would have been possible to trade the strategy using sector funds . Looking at each year’s picks together as one three-year trade, every completed trade through 2013 outperformed the market.*
In the shorter term, returns have been more sedate. Such periods are inevitable for any strategy that seeks to outperform the market — including the best long-term performers. Historically, SweetSpot has tended to deliver some of its strongest returns after the strategy has tread water for any length of time.
Research performed in 2014 showed that SweetSpot’s edge is alive and well (see “The Review“). The 2015 SweetSpot portfolio holds more positions bought four or more years ago than any portfolio that came before. When real-time and backtested trades from 1989-2013 were combined and sorted by trade year, here’s what we saw:
“People don’t need extraordinary insight or intelligence. What they need most is the character to adopt simple rules and stick to them.”
Benjamin Graham (Warren Buffett’s mentor)
When we factor in the many advantages SweetSpot offers that are unrelated to charts or numbers, the SweetSpot approach to investing looks as special as ever….
Getting Rich is Not Our Goal
Imagine that you put forth much effort to get rich, only to find that being rich made you no happier:
Most SweetSpot investors are not seeking riches (but if we were, SweetSpot might well be our method of choice). We simply want our investments to help us meet our future material needs instead of sabotaging them. We don’t count on our investments to make us happy; we just want them not to make us unhappy. We’re happy about our chances going forward….
*Past performance is not an assurance of similar future returns.
1] SweetSpot’s reported track record relates to trades that were entered and exited in real time on the dates indicated. All reported returns, both gross and net, assume the reinvestment of dividends and other fund distributions. Gross returns show SweetSpot’s record in identifying investment candidates compared with buying and holding a representative market-index fund. Net returns show what an investor would have earned after SSI’s current one-percent advisory fee is deducted. SweetSpot investing is about the method and not the manager. Reported returns do not reflect the effects, if any, of material market or economic conditions on trade sizing or intra-trade activity that might have affected actual returns for better or worse.
 Performance is expressed as the dividend-adjusted percentage returns an investor would have achieved if she had entered each trade at the beginning of the trade period and exited at the end, neither adding nor selling any shares along the way. Returns are measured against the corresponding dividend-adjusted returns of a representative market-index ETF(s). From 1998-2006, SweetSpot trades were selected from a universe of mostly domestic Fidelity sector funds, making the U.S. stock market — as represented by the S&P 500 SPDR ETF (SPY) — the appropriate benchmark for that period. SweetSpot converted to a global program in 2007, and 2008 was the first year that a majority of portfolio holdings were drawn from a global universe. At that time SweetSpot’s benchmark became the global stock market. Before 2009 there was no ETF available to investors that tracked the global stock market. Therefore, global market returns corresponding to SweetSpot trades entered in 2007 and 2008 are represented by the combined performance of the three pre-existing ETFs that together comprised the global stock market, in proportion to the size of their constituent markets:
1) S&P 500 SPDR ETF (SPY) (U.S. stocks);
2) iShares MSCI EAFE ETF (EFA) (foreign developed-market stocks); and
3) iShares MSCI EMIF ETF (EEM) (emerging-market stocks).
Beginning with trades entered in 2009, SweetSpot’s global benchmark became the iShares MSCI All Country World Index ETF (ACWI).
 Backtesting has certain inherent limitations, meaning that most strategies fall short when investors attempt to duplicate backtested results. Here, however, while the backtest showed a clear advantage over the market, SweetSpot’s real-time results far exceeded what the backtest would have predicted. The backtest merely confirmed that the strategy would have achieved market-beating returns over a longer time horizon than the period in which it has been actively traded. Still, no representation is made that investors will see profits similar to either actual or hypothetical past results.
The principal member of SweetSpot Investments LLC (SSI) is Neil Stoloff, a former federal environmental lawyer and a student of investing for over 25 years. Since 2005, Neil has had most or all of his personal equity assets invested in The SweetSpot® Investment Strategy.
The SweetSpot Portfolio’s past trading record is reported here. Proprietary information that would identify open Portfolio positions is omitted.
SweetSpot Investments LLC is a registered investment adviser in the State of Michigan, USA, and is authorized to do business under various exemptions in other States and foreign Nations. The firm will not solicit or accept business in any jurisdiction in which it is not properly qualified to conduct business. None of the information presented here constitutes a recommendation that any particular mutual fund or exchange-traded fund, portfolio of funds, transaction, or investment strategy is suitable for any specific person. To the extent that any such information is deemed to be investment advice, it is impersonal in nature.
The SweetSpot Portfolio’s past performance is not an assurance of similar future returns. It should not be presumed that current or future trades will be profitable or will equal or exceed the returns of past trades. Money invested in the stock market is risk capital that can be lost. SweetSpot’s reported track record relates to trades that were entered and exited in real time on the dates indicated. All reported returns, both gross and net, assume the reinvestment of dividends and other fund distributions. Gross returns show SweetSpot’s record in identifying investment candidates compared with buying and holding a representative market-index fund. Net returns show what an investor would have earned after SSI’s current advisory fee and trading costs are deducted. SweetSpot investing is about the method and not the manager. Reported returns do not reflect the effects, if any, of material market or economic conditions on trade sizing or intra-trade activity that might have affected actual returns for better or worse. See more-detailed disclosures in SSI’s Form ADV Part 2 brochure.
Sketches from behaviorgap.com are reproduced here with the permission of the artist, Carl Richards.