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Statistics on companies’ and nonprofits’ use of public relations resources and budgets [Study]

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microphoneA recent study on how much corporations and nonprofits spend on public relations staff, press release services, outside public relations firms, digital and print-related public relations and other areas of public relations shed some light on practices within the industry.

Amongst the highlights in the report:

Some results weren’t surprising including those showing that publishing and media companies dominated the issuing of news releases.

  • Publishing and media companies issued the most press releases, 150 on average, while finance and business services companies issued the fewest, a mean of 29.4
  • Companies spent a mean of $53,404 on outside news release services, including email and print distribution, database and list provision service and editorial help, in 2012-13 thus far

Two companies dominated news release services:

  • 45 per cent of companies in the sample have used BusinessWire for  news release services
  • 44 per cent of organizations with annual revenue between $50 million and $250 million have used PR Web

While it may not be a surprise that all of the healthcare-related companies and 75 per cent of the manufacturers sampled had a separate public relations budget, it may surprise some that:

  • 57 per cent of nonprofit companies have a separate public relations budget
  • 40 per cent of the manufacturers and 36 per cent of the nonprofits in the sample use Vimeo in their public relations efforts

Social media continues to make strides into PR departments, with:

  • 35 per cent of company PR departments tweeting multiple times per day
  • 41 per cent of organizations considered the use of LinkedIn as critical to their public relations efforts

Conferences and conference appearances absorbed:

  • A mean of 14 per cent of their staff

Scale, as one might think, considering larger organizations ability to integrate more channels, means more use of video and webcasts:

  • 83 per cent of companies with over $2 billion in revenue in the sample maintain one or more repositories or databases of video, podcasts and/or webcasts about the company’s products that can be used for marketing and public relations purposes

In financial and business services, companies spent:

  • A mean of $47,500 on public relations firms and consultants in the past year

If you’re interested in more information related to the study, contact Primary Research Group.

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Written by johnrondina

June 4, 2013 at 7:00 pm

To the letter: How board letters can speak to stakeholders

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typeDeal with the issues before the issues you didn’t deal with become the issue

One of the most contentious issues for stakeholders is executive compensation. Prudential Financial is doing things right according to Laura Rittenhouse and Amanda Gerut. Prudential took on the subject of executive compensation, and changes they made to compensation.

Prudential board lead independent director, James Cullen, sent a letter to shareholders adding to the board’s letter. A simple step forward most companies don’t do.

Cullen talks about how his role fits into the board’s agenda, and how he works as a go-between for board chairman and independent directors.

Truth and its affect on stakeholders

In a world where too many stakeholders see less than best practices used in IPOs, the marketing of hot products and coverage of business generally, truth in investor communications makes investors take notice. Warren Buffett says, speaking on behalf of Berkshire Hathaway:

… as a company with a major communications business, it would be inexcusable for us to apply lesser standards of accuracy, balance and incisiveness when reporting on ourselves than we would expect our news people to apply when reporting on others … The CEO who misleads others in public may eventually mislead himself in private.

Buffett’s philosophy stands out:

  • Go beyond what’s required
  • Report what’s most beneficial to stakeholders
  • Focus on what’s best in the long-term for your organization and  reputation

Truth builds trust. Trust between companies and stakeholders is one of the most important aspects of business communications today. It’s important because of how trust has declined since the financial crisis.

Truth and building trust are the right things to do. A simple Google search on “investors” and “executive compensation” turns up too many companies having faced or facing stakeholder ire. Amidst the new investor activism, Rittenhouse lauds Prudential’s focus on compensation and sees it as much more than just lip service.

Letters to the board are an excellent tool for engaging disenchanted investors.

Leading by being

Allstate went further this year. Its board letter pointed out specific pages in its proxy explaining performance stock awards and CEO compensation.

Compensation and governance: an area where many fear to tread. But companies who deal with these issues don’t only look like thought leaders – they are thought leaders.

In 2011, Allstate’s say-on-pay result was about 57 per cent. Tom Wilson, CEO and chairman, along with company management teams, engaged with institutional investors after the 2011 meeting. The board then included a letter to shareholders in the annual report and proxy package.

Allstate got an enormous vote of confidence: 92 per cent support from investors in the next annual say-on-pay vote.

What I think is ideal is going from reading these letters to seeing how governance translates into performance and strategic execution at the company …

Laura Rittenhouse

Boards overseeing strategy and executive compensation: Greatest value add

Rittenhouse says board letters that engage stakeholders in how the the board is overseeing strategy and executive compensation have the greatest value add. Since investors are often most concerned about these areas, it’s clear they should take prominence, and:

  • Reflect a strategy where truth in communications is important
  • Uphold and enhance organizational reputation through actively listening to what is most important to stakeholders and acting on those issues

Action without listening looks a lot like obfuscation to stakeholders. Listening and then acting strategically reflects serious thought leadership.

Focusing on short-term gain too often leads to long-term pain. You can talk about leadership ad infinitum, but actually leading resonates with stakeholders. Win someone’s trust and you win someone’s heart.

If this sounds too touchy-feely, consider the touch and feel of being perceived as an organization that doesn’t tell the truth. Consider the effect on your brand, performance and reputation.

As Buffett and Rittenhouse point out, deceiving stakeholders is deceiving yourself. Informing stakeholders speaks to your ability to strategize and perform.

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To the letter: How truth speaks to stakeholders

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Technological change is blasting us forward and continues to solidify the role reputation and trust play for typeorganizations of all kinds. Even some news organizations, entities multiple stakeholders look to for unbiased information, can succumb to what is less than best practice.

According to Gallup, distrust in the media has hit a new high, with 60 per cent saying they have little or no trust in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately and fairly. Pew found almost “one-third of the respondents (31%) have deserted a news outlet because it no longer provides the news and information they had grown accustomed to”.

In the New York Law Journal, 2009 was referred to as “the Year of Investor Anger”. FAIR Canada published a report in 2011 called A Decade of Financial Scandals highlighting fraud as a problem and making recommendations for prevention, detection, prosecution and compensation. Edelman‘s recent study on trust revealed trust in banking and financial services has dropped 50 per cent even amongst global, informed publics.

Against this backdrop, where investors both small and institutional are looking for a return but also an investment they can believe in, Laura Rittenhouse looks beyond what is reported in most public companies’ financials. She looks for innovation in communications.

Rittenhouse writes about CEO communications. She focuses on strategy, culture and performance with the idea of truth key in her audits.

Truth as competitive advantage

Today, forward-thinking companies are embracing the opportunity to really “talk” to investors and other stakeholders. There’s so much noise surrounding annual general meetings and annual reports that investing in communicating regarding contentious issues pays dividends.

An organization that sees the light on corporate transparency thinks in a more holistic way. Organizations stepping forward to be thought leaders are creating best practice not rushing to engage in best practices because others have already set the agenda for them.

Truth in reporting is so obvious that it bears more focus. Sometimes, it’s the obvious issues that fall out of the cross hairs of what’s important for managements to do.

Richard Edelman notes how logic becomes oxymoron:

[CEOs demand] … less regulation while CEOs suggest that enforcement of the new regulations has restored trust; this is a baffling logic problem.

Yet this is part of the duality of the human being. Although we know what’s right, we don’t always do what’s right.

Anyone who doubts what negative sentiment or negative media attention can do when an organization is held up to pursue less than best practices, and what that can do to reputation, might want to take a look at what legislators are calling “egregious” and “outrageous” regarding Apple’s “web of tax shelters”.

[While other companies have taken advantage of loopholes,] … I’ve never seen anything like this, and we don’t know anybody who’s seen anything like this.

              — Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations

Business culture suffers due to lack of transparency. The reputation of business is left to the media which will tend to focus on the worst rather than the best. The media plays a vital role in highlighting tremendous failures in business but it’s up to businesses that are engaging in innovative practices to tell their story.

Business needs to get better at communicating. Business needs to communicate true innovation and best practice. It may have been the best of times with respect to some companies, but the organizations that showed up most often in the wake of the financial crisis are the ones that reflect a “worst of times” operational execution.

In such an environment, companies operating in a forward-thinking manner will be best positioned to gain from stakeholders’ need for a positive story. While it’s important to reveal worst practices, corruption and other failings, there’s a decided human need for the positive, for the feel-good story wrapped in the long-term resilience of truth.

Rittenhouse is a big proponent of a new wave of letters from directors and boards. She feels it’s a “powerful opportunity” to make a statement about governance.

A letter may be traditional but it’s impact can be revolutionary. Truth is the revolution. Companies need to tell the truth not only for the advantages truth will bring from a long-term operational point of view, but because it’s absolutely the right thing to do.


Part Two: Why boards need to deal with the issues

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The galactic magical mystery tour

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Near-Earth Object

Coming soon through a portal in space near you

The tweeters guide to the galaxy (and beyond)

Every key message is a ride through a solar system. Every message is a galactic magical mystery tour. Every message is you.

Whether you are government, nonprofit, corporate, small business or just an individual, you can reach a digital world you couldn’t before.

The message

Messages leave their creators. They reach inside and outside of time and space. Messages create cosmologies.

Messages leave this plane and come back to it. They have huge orbits.

Some will collide with other bodies and become titanic. Others will fizzle and burn out on re-entry. Some will be lost in the cosmos.

Tools that convey messages are now more virtual than concrete. These tools are part of something bigger. Call it SocialMind.

Messages. They soar across space and time and land with great impact. They are digital comets and meteors. Asteroids.

What do they carry? What do they convey?

By surpassing writing, we have regained our wholeness, not on a national or cultural but cosmic plane.

— Marshall McLuhan

Near Earth Messages (NEMs)

Research has shown that water may have been brought to Earth by asteroids.

Asteroids may have played their part in creating us. The dinosaurs may have been destroyed by something hurtling toward and then impacting with Earth, but the ancestor(s) of that Near Earth Object (NEO) that came screaming toward Earth may have also created the dinosaurs. NEOs may have first brought life to Earth.

Our messages now hurl around us. The hope is that they land with impact. That they create something great.

Metaphors: How we tell our stories

There will always be stories to tell

Imagine you couldnetmulti see tweets blasting around.  Imagine they had tails like comets. While the tails of comets are created by melting ice, imagine that the tails of tweets are the lifetimes of messages.

Some tales are bigger than others. Some tales are mothers.

Many writers and speakers in the personal development field talk about why your targets should be big. Why not?

Shoot high. Shoot for the stars. Message the multiverse.

There will always be enough criticism around to pull you down. But some of this criticism will help you improve. That’s why we call it constructive. There’s a valuable place for contrarian thinking. Brain trusts are built on the strength of voices in collaboration.

We won’t always agree, but we will get to a solution, and that solution will be better for the analysis that gave birth to it.

Imagine tweets as the creation of new cosmologies. Mothers that give birth. New worlds. Worlds within worlds. Ideas. Stories.

Going far out …

We want to go far out. Humankind crawled up onto the sands of some primordial beach in a time before mechanical clock faces. The only mechanism for measuring time was the sun. We crawled forward and transformed into cave-dwellers, hunter-gatherers. Inevitably, we pushed.

Antonioni, the great filmmaker, called “cinema’s preeminent poet of the modern age” said he looked toward a highly industrial landscape and saw something human there. While human activity can sometimes leave us in despair, Antonioni saw, within industry, hope.*

The multiverse becomes a hive of industry

2 [mass noun] hard work:the kitchen became a hive of industry

— Oxford dictionary

Hope. While we struggle to achieve whatever we’re destined to become in the next hundred years, in the next thousand, what is absolutely undeniable, is that our ideas are circulating at the speed of light all around us at this moment.

And the next. And the next. And the next.

It’s not just in the next hundred years — it may be in the next hundred minutes. Or seconds.

Every second, 750 tweets hurtle by. Sixty-five million total tweets a day. What do they contain?

Some will criticize, especially what they deem as the more insipid tweets, but, isn’t that like saying books have no value because the medium was corrupted by a poor writer? Some will say tweets are affecting our psychology, dumbing us down with endless “top” lists, etc., but isn’t that absolving us of responsibility?

For every criticized use, for every negative effect, isn’t it up to us as human creators to discover a way to use a medium to benefit, to increase knowledge, to inspire?

Imagine an alien intelligence, light years beyond our technology. If such an intelligence looked at the messaging of this world, now, what would it think?

Would it marvel at the infancy of the creation of the digital technologies we are now beginning to harness, to understand and to use? Would it wonder at what we are bound to become?

For such an intelligence, would we hang in space like the totemic baby in 2001?

If the medium is the message, is the message still not the message, too?

The birthmark of an idea

Astronomical bodies crash together sometimes increasing their size. The medium doesn’t remove the impact.  The media increase the creative explosion that creates a lasting crater. The creative explosion is the birthmark of an idea so powerful that it can’t be contained.

… Coming back to Earth

Integrated messages create one hell of an impact crater.

And then life is born in the minds of many human beings. Ideas go like lifeforms into the minds of many people, they influence and then they change.

How will those people alter those messages? Will they create something new?

Some of these ideas will even be used to criticize social media.

Our understanding of messages, especially in the digital context, and the new social vehicles that carry the messages, and the next vehicles that will carry messages, is in its infancy.

We’re learning to listen, and we’re learning to talk. We’re growing up really fast.

What are we saying?

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The social multiverse at work?

A friend of mine sent me the following, startled at how similar the beginning of it was to my pieces on the social multiverse. Interesting …

How Twitter Is Reshaping The Future Of Storytelling


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*Red Desert [Criterion Collection] interview with Antonioni conducted by Jean-Luc Godard

Written by johnrondina

April 30, 2013 at 7:13 pm

The impact of social media on investor relations

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netmultiHow has social media affected the communications world with respect to investor relations?

Disclosure and necessary tools

Have a look at a graphic representing tweets launched into the communications stratosphere. Visualize the potential impact of social technologies.

Can investor relations (IR) exist today without taking advantage of what digital has to offer?

Recently, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in the U.S. has decided that social media is a necessary tool when it comes to disclosing key information. Companies can use social media, but they need to tell investors where they can find key information about operations.

As we begin to use these tools more, as a generation grows up used to them, and they evolve, the impact of social media becomes increasingly apparent:

Social media, like any nascent technology, will have its successes and failures, but criticism sometimes misses the evolution in communication:

Social tools are quickly establishing their relevance. Studies continue to show and to project the impact on business of transformative collaborative tools. And now the SEC has acknowledged that they hold relevance for investor relations.

(Two interesting visualizations of tweets.)

“Perfectly suitable” but not if access is restricted

Critics of the SEC were calling the regulatory body a dinosaur struggling to keep up with changes in the playbook of communications. George Canellos, acting director of enforcement at the SEC, said regarding the policy change: “Most social media are perfectly suitable methods for communicating with investors, but not if the access is restricted or if investors don’t know that’s where they need to turn to get the latest news …”

Of course, there are different kinds of investors, and not all investors have the same access to information. Organizations like FAIR Canada are working hard with multiple stakeholders, including regulatory bodies, to advocate for and help assure a level playing field for all investors.

The stakeholder is the message

Companies need to share information with stakeholders. Stakeholders are increasingly flexible, technologically-savvy, and as anyone who’s done research on digital technologies or social media can tell you, they want information the way they want it, when they want it, and, often, as fast as possible.

The stakeholder is the message. And the future is about listening and interacting. But is this true of stakeholders in all their incarnations? Will less social-savvy investors be at a disadvantage?

Most large companies are already actively listening to social chatter. How will the smaller investor cope?

Listening to the voice of the multiverse

Listening, monitoring messages in the digital multiverse is, and will become, increasingly important. It’s social media’s incredible speed and accessibility that makes it an important channel of information on a company or issue. You only need to focus on Royal Bank’s recent experience with outsourcing, and the resulting firestorm, to see that this is true.

Monitoring for issues related to IR is crucial.

Multiportal conversation

One of the cornerstones of communications is that an organization deserves to tell its story, but now that communications has tools like social media, it’s important to remember that public relations is a conversation. It is dialogue.

  • Conversation is now multiportal
  • Conversation resembles multiple “worlds”:
  1. Information is accumulated, digested and shared very quickly
  • Information can be accessed by almost any individual or organization in near real-time, and then sent out to more new “worlds”, where:
  1. The process might repeat again and again, exponentially

If you’re not part of a two-way conversation, then, what does this say about your organization?

Questions, questions, questions

Can less social media-savvy investors cope? Do they want to cope in this environment?

Then again, did storytellers want to cope with the printing press?

How does social affect reputation or risk mitigation for companies? Do stakeholders perceive you as having the ability to respond in a crisis? To listen? What does it say about your thought leadership? About advancing your organization, and advancing its most important resource, its people, within your sector?

You can find social media users amongst investors, both institutional and retail, customers, and analysts, but how level is the playing field when it comes to those who are less social-savvy?

The conversation over social disclosure is going on whether companies or other stakeholders take part or not. Not only is it multiportal — it’s multidirectional.

At the time of writing, a case of tweet-hacking set the whole conversation on its ear. The Associated Press (AP) was hacked, a fake tweet was sent out saying there had been explosions at the White House resulting in $136 billion evaporating from the stock market although the market bounced back after the tweet was discovered to be a fraud.

Speed is both advantage and disadvantage when it comes to social. The AP event guarantees an ongoing discussion on the use of social media and reinforces regulators’ philosophy of using social technologies as part of the integrated flow of communications.

The AP Twitter hacking will draw increasing attention to issues of security. But Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and news wire services, as well as emails, can, and have been hacked, too.

It’s clear we’ve entered into a brave new world of digital communications where the speed of our technologies will accelerate the speed of the debate on our technologies.

Inherit the feedback

Social channels provide an interesting arena for obtaining feedback. Some feel it’s the best feedback money can buy: direct customer feedback from specific and broad stakeholder groups. And it’s cost-effective. 

In the Royal Bank case, information about what was happening was posted via social media. But the creators of the Facebook page weren’t random individuals, or even disgruntled customers. They were employees, part of a key stakeholder group.

Information is power. But increasingly, information is becoming an exponent of conversations. Debate is a necessary tool. It’s how we advance.

Yet the lightning strike of the AP event, and its resulting effect on the markets, can’t be ignored.

Justin Fox, in a recent Harvard post, said: “… history, data-crunching, and informed opinion — (it’s) intended to be consumed and debated by an audience … far beyond (insert your academic [or other] stakeholders here) …”

Restricting communication, access to information and people networks is something I doubt you would champion as a sound business practice for the 21st century … You can resist, but your competitors and customers are moving ahead.

— Mike Langford

Investor relations might not be able to shrink from social channels even if it wanted to. Some critics will say IR should embrace social channels. It’s true that adding social media to an IR website opens new avenues for disclosure and transparency. While it’s important to have contingency plans for crises and miscommunication or poor communication, that’s true of all channels in public relations.

Social conversations and what it is to be “informed”

Shrinking away from social conversations, from the debate about what’s right regarding the future, on any issue, from dialoguing about what it is to be “informed” and how to actively listen in an increasingly digital world, might lessen the ability to formulate a sound strategy for the future. Today, it’s hard to imagine that social media won’t be involved in the future of IR.

The debate is sure to be an interesting one, and like the technology itself might be ever-evolving.

Companies worry about litigation, media flare-ups and reputational damage. But shrinking away from social lessens your ability to compete as a thought leader. Thought leadership is the evolution of conversations.

Thought leadership helps set the agenda for debate for future practice. If you’re not part of the debate, then it’s hard to claim leadership.

Has anyone ever really created a sound strategy for the future by avoiding societal debates? By avoiding internal organizational opinions?

While companies worry about disgruntled employees or consumers doing damage to corporate reputations through social media, the Royal Bank situation proved that anyone can set up a Facebook page presenting their “voice”. This isn’t new. Websites have existed for awhile.

The only thing that’s changed is the medium for the message. And the speed media can be set up at.

One thing social definitely can do is empower individuals by giving them platforms that are fast and accessible, platforms they may not have had previously, platforms with reach.

What about the advantages social media may have for IR? Best practices suggest there should be a social media policy in place at every organization to clarify things.

Many organizations are leveraging the collaborative advantages of social to learn what they already know. Organizations are enabling themselves to share information more broadly within their structures.

Because what you know may not be what I know, even though we work a cubicle away from one another.

Fear of technology, and its impact on stakeholders

Is an organization that’s shrinking away from the newest and fastest channels of communication an organization that’s going to look like it has something to fear? Fear of a social planet: What does that say to your stakeholders?

Engagement, sales, customer service, feedback — the processes that social media impacts are many. None of this is static, the processes are evolving. It’s important to remember this.

The direction an organization takes regarding social disclosure says a lot about the confidence the organization has in itself, in its people, and ultimately, in its business model.

How forward-thinking do organizations embracing social media look compared to their peers who aren’t using social tools?

It’s normal that such a disruptive process gathers attention. Critics serve a valuable function in helping to refine the steps that are creating our future. Critics focus on transparency and more level playing fields.

“An integral part of the distribution platform”

Business Wire chairwoman and CEO, Cathy Baron Tamraz, recently said:

Protecting our clients’ sensitive information is at the core of what we do, and we’ll continue to do that in the most secure and innovative way possible … Social media can be a valuable part of the investor relations ecosystem, but it should not be the core. Social media has been an integral part of our distribution platform for many years … However, we are wary of unintended consequences by limiting access to a single site that doesn’t have the security, reliability, or interface to reliably serve the entire investment community.

Best practices do indeed mean you should use all the communications channels you can flow responsibly.

Social disclosure is at a very interesting point in its brief history. How will regulatory bodies in Canada respond in light of the SEC’s decision especially with respect to future policy?

By its very nature, social media can create tremendous conversation and debate. Through its incredible speed and accessibility, it can help put ideas forward on its use with respect to disclosure. In effect, social technologies can help promote or criticize social media as tools of disclosure.

The Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) provided the following as the current best practice approach:

  • If management of a reporting issuer becomes aware of a material change or a material fact, they should disclose it in a news release (through a widely circulated news or wire service) before posting the information on the issuer’s Twitter account, Facebook page or website
  • In any social media post, include a link to the news release or other disclosure document containing the detailed disclosure
  • Reporting issuers should establish policies on the use of Facebook, Twitter and other social media (see the guidance on corporate disclosure policies, quiet periods, electronic communications and rumours in sections 6.2, 6.9, 6.11, 6.12 and 6.13 of National Policy 51-201)
  • The issuer’s policies should address what disclosure can be made in a Facebook or Twitter post and who is authorized to make those posts and what pre-clearance they need.

 You can find OSC policy on what is “generally disclosed” here.

What do you think regarding the current and future impact of social media on IR?

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Written by johnrondina

April 25, 2013 at 7:00 pm

One sector is the loneliest number when it comes to investing

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Will all the gold that glitters glitter less?

Will all the gold that glitters glitter less?

My last post, One stock is the loneliest number when it comes to investing, made the case for why you shouldn’t own one stock as an investor. Diversification is an important part of your investment planning.

Similarly, today’s activity in the gold market, and really, the last few years, has demonstrated why single sectors present significant dangers to investors who overweight them.

Gold is having a massive down day. It’s dropped nearly 10 per cent as of this writing — in one day — the most since the early 1980s.

The writing was on the wall a long time ago. In Gold riot, I discussed why gold had much risk built into it for investors, especially when few were talking about this risk.

Here’s a quote from Warren Buffett as posted on my blog from a few years ago:

Buffet on gold:

“(Gold) gets dug out of the ground in Africa, or someplace. Then we melt it down, dig another hole, bury it again and pay people to stand around guarding it. It has no utility. Anyone watching from Mars would be scratching their head.”

Ah, the Ziggy Stardust gold analysis …

In Fortune, Buffett recently said:

“You could take all the gold that’s ever been mined, and it would fill a cube 67 feet in each direction. For what that’s worth at current gold prices, you could buy all — not some — all of the farmland in the United States,” Buffett said. “Plus, you could buy 10 Exxon Mobils, plus have $1 trillion of walking-around money. Or you could have a big cube of metal. Which would you take? Which is going to produce more value?”

A very, very interesting illustration …

Anyone who paid attention to the wisdom above, to the valuations that Buffett drew attention to, would have known that there was huge risk in gold.

Forget all the reasons you’ve heard over the last few years for why gold was a great buy. History has proven that reasoning wrong.


The movement of gold as reflected by the SPDR GOLD TRUST (GLD)

As in many things, now that the stratospheric valuation in gold has been beaten down badly, gold is cheaper (down almost 18 per cent year-over-year). What the future holds is unknown. But what hasn’t changed is the following:

  • Single sectors expose you to great risk if you haven’t built a well-diversified portfolio
  • “Hot money” moves fast and takes few prisoners when it leaves a sector

Gold may be much cheaper now than it was a few years ago, but gold is only a compelling buy if the future shows it to have been cheap. Meanwhile, are there other companies out there that are actively engaged in producing goods or services that will have a better chance of creating value in the future?

By way of comparison, from gold’s peak a few years ago, the returns on dividend-payers in the U.S., Canada and globally look spectacular. The “fear trade” (buying gold) has been a poor investment.

Markets will correct. It’s inevitable. You can do your part protecting yourself by making sure you have a diversified portfolio.

Do you?

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Get the balance right

A simple way to arrive at the right asset allocation for your portfolio

Plan like a pension fund manager when it comes to your investment portfolio

Let’s think about assets

Asset allocation: Diversification is king

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Written by johnrondina

April 15, 2013 at 2:35 pm

One stock is the loneliest number when it comes to investing

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recordThe U.S. markets have had a great run this year. They may be entering a phase of correction as I write.

Some stocks affect markets more than others.

Falling back to Earth

Remember Apple — everybody’s darling? Have a look at a post  from back in April, 2012.

What goes up spectacularly, can come down spectacularly

Over one year, Apple fell nearly 40 per cent from its peak. While Apple may have done very well long-term, if you held Apple over the last year, you’re investment dropped 40 per cent from its high. It acted as a drag on the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq just as it lifted both during its run. That’s 40 per cent of your investment or very nearly the amount the broad markets came down during the financial crisis, an amount that caused many investors to rethink their risk tolerance.

One, is indeed, the loneliest number

You should never hold just one stock, no matter how well it’s done. Sure, you can do very well, but what some forget is that your risk goes into the stratosphere with your investment.

Apple as case history

Apple’s downturn presents a strong argument for diversification.

Steve Job’s heirs were being advised to sell Apple and diversify even before Apple hit an all-time high. But that story didn’t capture much attention.

One is the riskiest number

The reality is, that in investing, one is the riskiest number. There’s a reason most investment professionals own anywhere from 30 to 300 stocks or more in a broadly based portfolio. Broad indices may even go as high as 500 stocks (S&P 500) or 1,000 or more (Russel 1000).

Grow slow**

And this is why diversification is so important. While it’s true everyone’s a winner while they’re winning, it’s also true that spectacular runs in individual stocks can come to an end.

Apple’s future? Unknown. But principles of diversification are well-known, tested over time, and retested. There are aberrations, but even better, investors sleep at night when they know their risk tolerance.

As Apple stalled, the broad market accelerated

We may be overdue for a correction. U.S.-based indices like The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) hit a record while the broad S&P 500 fell from its nominal high recently. Both indices have performed very well.

Both indices were bargains after ten years of relative underperformance, especially compared to the Canadian market and a soaring Canadian dollar. After the financial crisis, and the ensuing market correction, few wanted U.S. stocks (or any equities). But they were extremely cheap.

Is big better?

As money came out of Apple, the broad markets took off. We’re not just talking big … Apple had reached monolithic proportions. Articles like this are often a warning to investors. A warning that often goes unheard.

Can’t you just see Tim Cook breaststroking through cashmoney? I can.

— The Atlantic

Was Apple absorbing a lot of investment capital? Considering the huge cash position Apple held (over $100 billion U.S.) was that capital being used well or was it being used as a buffer against the inevitable slide in Apple stock?

Investors looked out at investment opportunity, increasing competition for the iPhone and decided to take profits and put their money in more companies in different businesses. After all, while some may argue the opposite, does any country create lasting success through the overwhelming dominance of one company in its markets?

The history of antitrust law would say no. You be the judge.

You’re risk tolerance may be severely tested only once every ten years, but when it is, what you thought you knew about yourself can change as fast as the passage of that ray of light that just went by but left the sun eight minutes ago.

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* Based on an average basket of Canadian dividend-payers

** Recent activity in gold adds fuel to a philosophy of owning dividend-payers during tough times, the dangers of volatility for investors who haven’t diversified and the perils of overweighting one speculative sector or stock, no matter how “safe” the crowd thinks it is

Written by johnrondina

April 8, 2013 at 2:35 pm

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