• AAII Model Portfolios
  • Model Stock Portfolio: Beating the Benchmark Is Nice, But a Loss Isn't

    by James B. Cloonan

    Model Stock Portfolio: Beating The Benchmark Is Nice, But A Loss Isn't Splash image

    There has been little reprieve from the downward forces on the stock market.

    The drop has not only been deep, but also wide. It seems every sector is being hurt, and most commodities are weaker as well.

    I certainly don’t feel able to predict when the upturn will begin, or whether the recovery will be dramatic or very gradual. I do believe it will definitely come.

    Year-to-date (February 28), the Model Shadow Stock Portfolio is outperforming the general stock market. The Model Portfolio is down 12.5%, compared to a loss of 18.2% for the benchmark S&P 500 fund (VFINX). While outperforming the benchmarks is nice, you can’t pay bills with it.

    Historical performance records can be seen in Table 1 and Figure 1.

    Portfolio Changes

    Table 2 highlights the activity in the Model Shadow Stock Portfolio over the most recent quarter.

    Table 3 shows the current holdings with their status.

    Table 4 lists the rules that the Model Shadow Stock Portfolio follows.


    Over the most recent quarter we sold:

    • Golfsmith International Holdings (GOLF),
    • Hardinge Inc. (HDNG),
    • Haverty Furniture Companies (HVT),
    • Johnson Outdoors (JOUT), and
    • Rocky Brands (RCKY).

    All of these stocks were sold because of negative earnings when they were on probation.

    On the Buy Side

    Once again, our most recent portfolio screening turned up many more candidates than we could use—a total of 87 stocks qualified using our basic criteria. As you might expect, the qualifiers came from stocks whose prices dropped, rather than book values going up in the price relative to book value criteria.

      Avg An’l
    Ret Since
    Incep (%)*
    Annual Rate of Return (%)
    2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 1998 1997 1996 1995 1994 1993
    Shadow Stock Portfolio 10.7 -12.5 -50.8 -1.8 29.4 17.9 43.7 73.1 10.8 21.4 -7.7 0 -8.9 44.3 22.3 20.7 2 32.3
    S&P 500 (VFINX) 5.2 -18.2 -37 5.4 15.6 4.8 10.8 28.5 -22.1 -12 -9.1 21.1 28.6 33.2 22.9 37.4 1.2 9.9
    Vanguard Small Cap (NAESX) 5.5 -21 -36 1.2 15.6 7.4 19.9 45.6 -20 3.1 -2.7 23.1 -2.6 24.6 18.1 28.7 -0.5 18.7
    DFA US Micro Cap (DFSCX) 7.5 -23.5 -36.7 -5.2 16.2 5.7 18.4 60.7 -13.3 22.8 -3.6 29.8 -7.3 22.8 17.6 34.5 3.1 21

    For the Model Shadow Stock Portfolio additions, we picked three qualifying stocks that also have significant dividends that currently appear to be safe.

    Company (Ticker) Reason
    Golfsmith International Holdings (GOLF) negative earnings
    Hardinge Inc. (HDNG) negative earnings
    Haverty Furniture Companies (HVT) negative earnings
    Johnson Outdoors (JOUT)  negative earnings
    Rocky Brands (RCKY) negative earnings
    Cascade Corp. (CAE)  
    Ennis Inc. (EBF)  
    Standex International Corp. (SXI)  
    Stock Split
    Saga Communications, Inc. (SGA) distributed a reverse stock split of 1-for-4 on 1/28/2009

    Dividends have not been a criterion in the past, and are not a permanent change in the selection process. But in this extended wait for a turnaround, it seems sensible to receive a little bit of income during the wait; the dividends also serve to help slow further price reductions.

    The additions to the portfolio are:

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    • Cascade Corp. (CAE),
    • Ennis Inc. (EBF), and
    • Standex International Corp. (SXI).

    Details of each are shown in Table 3.

    What Next

    The country is engaged in a great debate about what our government should do—if anything—to stimulate the economy. Everyone seems to interpret economic history in a way that justifies their opinions.

    In any event, there is already government intervention and there will be more over the next three months. Hopefully there will be more direction in the economy and the stock market when I write the July column.

    In the meantime, we will update portfolio performance data on AAII.com each month.

    Company (Ticker) Current
    52-Week Market
    ($ Mil)
    AeroCentury Corp. (ACY) 7.04 18.44 7.04 10.9 2.5 0.3 0.0  
    Allion Healthcare (ALLI) 3.81 7.45 2.60 98.9 14.7 0.6 0.0  
    Avalon Holdings Corp. (AWX) 1.34 6.24 0.92 5.1 5.8 0.1 0.0  
    Books-A-Million (BAMM) 2.50 9.88 1.70 39.5 3.5 0.4 8.0  
    Cascade Corp. (CAE)* 14.26 53.76 13.87 154.8 4.0 0.6 5.6 currently qualifies
    Cobra Electronics Corp. (COBR) 0.89 4.40 0.75 5.8 nmf 0.1 18.0 earnings probation (2007q4)
    D&E Communications (DECC) 5.97 10.68 5.42 86.3 nmf 0.5 8.4 earnings probation (2008q2)
    Ennis (EBF)* 7.43 19.92 7.06 192.1 4.6 0.5 8.3 currently qualifies
    Flexsteel Industries (FLXS) 5.17 14.50 5.17 34.0 47.0 0.3 10.1 currently qualifies
    Greenbrier Companies (GBX) 1.93 28.88 1.86 32.2 2.4 0.1 8.3  
    Hastings Entertainment (HAST) 1.95 8.91 1.26 19.5 3.8 0.2 0.0  
    L.S. Starrett Company (SCX) 5.60 28.50 5.60 37.1 4.2 0.2 8.6 currently qualifies
    Marlin Business Servs (MRLN) 2.92 9.33 1.19 35.7 7.0 0.2 0.0  
    Nu Horizons Electronics (NUHC) 1.57 6.99 1.00 29.2 14.3 0.2 0.0  
    P&F Industries (PFIN) 1.00 7.00 0.80 3.6 nmf 0.1 0.0 earnings probation (2007q4)
    Paragon Shipping (PRGN) 3.25 22.61 2.25 88.2 1.3 0.3 61.5  
    Providence Service Corp. (PRSC) 2.41 31.36 0.68 29.7 nmf 0.6 0.0 earnings probation (2008q3)
    RCM Technologies (RCMT) 1.09 5.18 0.77 13.9 15.6 0.2 0.0  
    Rex Stores Corp. (RSC) 6.86 21.15 5.52 65.5 10.6 0.3 0.0  
    Saga Communications (SGA) 3.13 26.72 3.12 13.2 1.4 0.1 0.0  
    Shoe Carnival (SCVL) 6.47 18.45 6.05 82.3 8.5 0.4 0.0 currently qualifies
    SigmaTron Int’l (SGMA) 1.55 7.30 1.27 5.9 nmf 0.1 0.0 earnings probation (2008q4)
    Standard Motor Products (SMP) 1.61 10.02 1.54 30.1 7.3 0.1 0.0  
    Standex Int’l Corp. (SXI)* 8.55 30.00 8.11 105.6 5.6 0.5 9.8 currently qualifies
    SureWest Communic’ns (SURW) 10.33 19.08 7.25 144.1 86.1 0.5 0.0 currently qualifies
    Tufco Technologies (TFCO) 4.48 7.49 1.77 19.4 34.5 0.5 0.0  
    Willis Lease Finance (WLFC) 8.49 14.00 7.41 74.7 3.1 0.4 0.0  

    Explanation of Notes

    Approaching Size Limit: Stocks are sold if their market capitalization goes above three times the initial maximum criterion. The current market capitalization maximum for initial screening is $200 million. Stocks are marked “approaching size limit” if their current market cap exceeds 2½ times the initial criterion, or $500 million.

    Approaching Value Limit: Stocks are sold once their price-to-book-value ratio goes above three times the initial criterion. The current initial price-to-book ceiling is 0.80. Stocks are marked “approaching value limit” if their current price-to-book-value ratio exceeds 2½ times the initial criterion, or 2.00.

    Currently Qualifies: Stock still qualifies as a buy when the screen is run with current data. Stocks that don’t currently qualify as a buy are held until they meet one of the sell rules.

    Earnings Probation: If last 12 months’ earnings from continuing operations are negative, the stock is put on probation; if a subsequent quarter has negative earnings prior to 12-month earnings becoming positive, the stock is sold. The date within the parentheses lists the calendar quarter during which the company first reported negative trailing 12-month earnings.

    Not Qualified as a Buy for 2 Yrs: Stock has not met the buy criteria for over two years and can be sold if cash is needed.

    Table 4. Model Shadow Stock Portfolio Rules

    Purchase and Sales Rules

    Stock purchases must meet these criteria:

    • No bulletin board or pink sheet stocks will be purchased.
    • Price-to-book-value ratio must be less than 0.80. (Figure will change gradually with changes in overall market values.)
    • Market capitalization must be between $17 million and $200 million. (Figure will change gradually with changes in overall market values.)
    • The firm’s last quarter and last 12 months’ earnings from continuing operations must be positive.
    • No financial stocks or limited partnerships will be purchased.
    • No stocks on foreign exchanges or ADRs will be purchased because of different accounting and/or withholding tax on dividends.
    • The share price must be greater than $4.
    • In order to reduce trading by avoiding stocks that are forever marginal, any stock that was sold within two years will not be rebought.
    • Note second item under Stock Order Guidance concerning spreads when buying shares.
    • Price-to-sales ratio must be less than 1.2. (Figure may change gradually with changes in overall market values.)

    Stocks are sold if any of the following occur:

    • If last 12 months’ earnings from continuing operations are negative, the stock is put on probation; if a subsequent quarter has negative earnings prior to 12-month earnings from continuing operations becoming positive, the stock is sold.
    • The stock’s price-to-book-value ratio goes above three times the initial criterion.
    • Market capitalization goes above three times the initial maximum criterion.
    • After two years, sell if not qualifying as a buy currently. (But do not sell until there is a qualified stock to buy.) The two years should be measured from the last time the stock qualified, not from when you purchased it.

    Stock Order Guidance

    • These rules are for general guidance. Your own experience, market conditions and the size of the position will impact your own decisions. The results in the model portfolio were obtained while sometimes paying more.
    • Market orders are not used. Instead, if the quoted bid-ask spread is less than 2% (ask price minus bid price, divided by ask price), place a limit order at the ask price for a buy and at the bid price for a sell. If the bid-ask spread is more than 2%, try to place a limit order between the bid and ask prices to keep transaction costs low. If necessary, build a position gradually. With low commissions, it is often better to place partial orders than to try to establish a large position all at once. Be patient.
    • Be careful if the average daily number of shares traded is not four times the amount needed for your position. It may be too difficult to get in and out of the position, but you may be able to grow the position gradually and sell gradually.
    • For NASDAQ stocks, it appears to be better to use day orders. If the order is not filled, it is placed again with a slight adjustment. For NYSE and Amex stocks, good-till-canceled GTC orders are used to keep a place in line in the specialists’ books. If the market isn’t close to the desired price, the price is adjusted in a few days with a new GTC order.
    • If price changes cause a stock to become ineligible (due to changes in price-to-book-value ratio or market capitalization) when only part of the order has been filled, stocks already purchased are kept but the balance of the order is canceled.

    Management Rules

    • Equal dollar amounts are invested in each stock initially.
    • Decisions are made only at the end of each quarter. In order to react to the majority of earnings reports as soon as possible, quarterly reviews are made in February, May, August, and November.
    • Best judgment is used for tenders or mergers, but all criteria must be obeyed.
    • At the end of a quarter, if receipts from stocks sold exceed requirements for new purchases, the excess receipts—up to 5% of the portfolio’s value—are kept in cash until the next quarter. If the excess receipts are greater than 5% of the total portfolio value, the amount above 5% is distributed to smaller holdings that still qualify as buys. Efficient quantities are purchased: If over 10% of the portfolio is in cash, the price-to-book-value ratio can be moved up, but never over 0.90.
    • At the end of a quarter, if receipts from stock sales are insufficient to buy all newly qualifying stocks, purchases are made in order of lowest bid/ask spreads.
    • Note that if you are managing your own portfolio, it should consist of at least 10 stocks. If you are developing the portfolio gradually, you can do it stock by stock, but don’t put more than 10% of your funds in each additional stock. More than 20 stocks is not needed until the portfolio exceeds $1 million.


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