The Aleph Blog » Blog Archive » The Best of the Aleph Blog, Part 2

The Best of the Aleph Blog, Part 2

This second period goes from May to July 2007.  Here we go!

A Modest Proposal to Raise Taxes on Mr. Buffett (and me)

Points out how the problems with the tax code are really more about defining income rather than tax rates.  It is easy for the rich to defer/shelter income — far better to tax increases in net wealth, and tax all people like traders, who are marked-to-market at the end of each fiscal year.

Talking to Management

One of my “labor of love” pieces written for RealMoney — five parts, dealing with how to interrogate management teams.  A lot of the game is asking the wrong questions, and seeing how management answers them.

Back From Bermuda

Uh, this post made me persona non grata in Bermuda for 2-3 years.  I think I could return now.  Part of the difficulty was that I was not told that sessions were supposed to be “off the record.” That said, my blog was the most popular blog in Bermuda for a day.  Apologies, HF, and thanks for inviting me; sorry to embarrass you.

Thinking About What Might Blow Up

Fascinating to see all of the markets that were going to blow up within 15 months trotted out for display.  Also, the basics of my theory on how one detects bubbles.

What Brings Maturity to a Market

Failure brings maturity to a market; risk-based pricing follows the realization of risk.

PIMCO in Theory and Practice

Important piece, because people watch PIMCO on the tube, and think that they make money off of their economic predictions, which are often wrong.  PIMCO is really a bunch of intelligent fixed income quants, who make their money off of mispriced out-of-the-money volatility.

Private Equity: Short Term versus Long Term Rationality

Analyzing comments of Cramer and others as to when the Private Equity bull market would end.

Speculation Gone Wrong, Or, Tops are a Process

I was commenting on how it is hard it is to call a top, because they are processes rather than events.  Who can tell how long foolish liquidity can last?

Trailing E/P as a Function of Treasury Yields and Corporate Spreads

Part one on my “Fed Model.”  Analyzing secondary factors in stock and bond performance.

Subprime Credit, Illiquidity, Leverage, Contagion and Concentration

I suggested that a small number of players would get hit by losses in subprime.  True enough, but what I did not know was how much risk was still being held by investment banks.

Efficient Markets Versus Adaptive Markets

A post I cite frequently, mainly for the joke at the end, but a post that tries to make the point that markets are not fully efficient, but they are somewhat efficient.

Quantitative Analysis is not Trivial — The Case of PB-ROE

In some environments, PB-ROE and low P/E investing will be similar, but that will not always be true. Do not accept a false simplification, even though it may be true at present. The PB-ROE model is richer, and works in more environments, after adjusting for the limitations listed above. PB-ROE is a very useful tool, and not “gobbledygook.”

Defends the PB-ROE model while admitting its limitations.

The “Fed Model”

Defends a version of the dividend discount model, and shows the simplifications that the “Fed Model” imposes are unrealistic, while showing that a more realistic model can add value over the long run.

A Fundamental Approach to Technical Analysis

Tries to explain how an intelligent fundamental investor would think about technicals, particularly in markets that are less liquid.

Twenty-Five Ways to Reduce Investment Risk

This article got me an invite to write an article for a Canadian business magazine.  But this article encapsulates the many ways I think about risk in investing.

Dissent on Dividends

Roger Nusbaum ably pointed out how demographics favors an increasing amount of dividends being paid to retiring Baby Boomers.  That is true.  We have ETNs being set up to do that (beware of Bear Stearns default risk), and hedge fund-of-funds crowding into strategies that synthetically create yield.  Beyond that, we have Wall Street creating funky yield vehicles that gyp facilitate the yield needs of buyers (while handing them capital losses).

My main point is this.  Approach yield the way a businessman would.  If you see an above average yield, say 4% or higher, ask what conditions could lead them to lower the yield. History is replete with situations where companies paid handsome dividends for longer than was advisable.

Back in 2002, I heard Peter Bernstein give an excellent talk on the value of dividends to the Baltimore Security Analysts Society.  At the end, privately, many scoffed, but I thought he was on the right track.  I still like dividends, but I like businesses that grow in value yet more.  Aim for good returns in cash generating businesses, and the dividends will follow.  Stretching for dividends is as bad as stretching for yield on bonds.  That extra bit of yield can be poisonous, leading to capital losses far greater than the incremental yield obtained.

Dividends are good, but they are a very imperfect way to approach the market.

Is the S&P 500 30% undervalued?

A somewhat whimsical piece that looked at implied equity volatility alone, and suggested that either the equity market was low, or equity volatility was high.  The truth was neither.  Equity volatility would blow out and go higher still, along with credit spreads.  Fortunately I was not dogmatic about my model’s conclusions.  I was more bearish in general in late July.


So much for that era.  It was an interesting time as the bubble neared its apex.

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One Response to The Best of the Aleph Blog, Part 2

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David Merkel is an investment professional, and like every investment professional, he makes mistakes. David encourages you to do your own independent "due diligence" on any idea that he talks about, because he could be wrong. Nothing written here, at RealMoney, Wall Street All-Stars, or anywhere else David may write is an invitation to buy or sell any particular security; at most, David is handing out educated guesses as to what the markets may do. David is fond of saying, "The markets always find a new way to make a fool out of you," and so he encourages caution in investing. Risk control wins the game in the long run, not bold moves. Even the best strategies of the past fail, sometimes spectacularly, when you least expect it. David is not immune to that, so please understand that any past success of his will be probably be followed by failures.

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