Gary Smith, a professor at Pomona College in California does very interesting studies on stock markets. One of his creations is a FUN Index of catchy stock symbols, tagged to American stocks. He asked his finance students to pick their favourite stock symbols among the 33,000 ticker symbols that have been used by companies over the years. The students chose 74 with symbols like MOO, HOG, and JAIL. Smith took that selection and tested their performance over a 20-year period. Surprisingly, the FUN Index beat the Nasdaq/NYSE index portfolio by a huge margin. Could clever symbols be used as tools to predict the future performance of stocks?
The main problem with the study is what statisticians call survivorship bias. The FUN Index was selective, based on what the students thought was funny. Several memorable symbols were left out, such as FAX and GROW. Also, some 65% of the stocks in the FUN Index no longer trade (for example, GEEK, BEER, and LUCK), or have merged with another company. This was another way in which the survivorship bias crept in. Besides, for every winner like YUM, GOLD, KEY and LU, you have losers like DRUG, WIN, MAD and ASAP. Surely, you cannot escape the fundamentals of a company. But once you have done your basic research, a unique symbol may offer an edge. Maybe a smart company tends to choose a smart symbol.
How is wine as an investment?
“First Growth Bordeaux of 1990 vintage has beaten the S&P 500 hands down over the last 15 years.” Internationally, arguments like these float around in favour of wine as an investment. With the help of selective facts you can argue that fine wine is a better investment than stocks. Changes in the price of wine has no correlation to stocks and offers diversification of assets. There is even a “pseudo stock exchange” called www.WorldWineXchange.com which offers a secure trading platform in fine wine to international buyers and sellers on a real-time, first-come, first-served basis. Go to their site and you will see a “wine price ticker” running across the bottom of the web page. The commission is a fat 5% of the total transaction, charged from the buyer and seller. The exchange links wine merchants and stockists with wine buyers and arranges settlements between its members transaction-by-transaction.
In early 2002, The International Herald Tribune wrote: “while stock markets around world are struggling with the threat of global recession, wine is emerging as a sort of ‘safe haven’ investment. In the weeks following the September 11 attacks in the United States, some investors had taken big positions in wine, a commodity that has shown a historic tendency to rise in price over time… The Internet has helped to make wine investing more accessible. Investors can compare prices and order online. Wine brokers will then hold the bottles for them in a bonded warehouse until they decided to either sell it, or drink it… Whether they get into it as a hobby or a serious investment - fine wine buyers are betting that their investment will get better with age.” In fact, serious wine investors see a supply of fine wines from good years constantly shrinking, pushing prices ever higher.
Thanks to this widespread global interest, there are offshore funds investing in fine wines. The World Wine Exchange offers a Fine Wine Investment Service called The Wine Portfolio. The Vintage Wine Fund is a Cayman Islands-based investment company, established to invest in fine wine with the objective of steady, high capital growth. It is managed by OWC Asset Management Limited, which is regulated by the Financial Services Authority (FSA) of UK.
Studying the investment strategy of the fund is one of the best ways to learn what to do when you are investing in wine on your own. According to the fund, it “invests in top wines from many different regions. Due to the large size of production, Bordeaux forms a significant proportion of the Fund; however, the top wines from Burgundy and the Rhone valley can show spectacular returns and while not available in the same quantity as Bordeaux, are an important part of the Fund. There are very exciting wines being produced in Tuscany and Piedmont which regularly merit inclusion. Other regions including Champagne, Spain, Portugal, California and Australia are also considered.” How well has the fund done? Since 2003, it has earned 6.22%, 2.12%, 11.18% and 18.92% in 2006 year-to-date. These returns are not bad. But even if they are, you can lift your spirits by opening the collection and drinking it! You cannot do that for any other asset - stocks, bond or gold.
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