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Archive for December, 2012

Evaluating Regulated Financials

Saturday, December 29th, 2012

Dear readers, I repost here an edited version of what I shared with a Linked-in group:

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I took Benefit-Cost Analysis from Dr. Hanke of Johns Hopkins in 1980, and so I never gained the benefit of his current proprietary tweaks to the Discounted Cash Flows model for stock valuation.  That said, application of DCF to any regulated financial company is difficult, because not all of the capital is free to be deployed into investment in new business, stock buybacks, or dividends.

The level of required capital at a regulated financial varies with the risks of the blocks of business (liabilities) that it underwrites, the assets they buy with the proceeds from the liabilities, and the cash flow, currency and other mismatches between the assets and the liabilities.

The marginal amount of capital for new business and investments may be significantly different than what is required for old business.  So here is my question to the group, especially the students, to think about: how would you apply your DCF model to a situation like this?

Notes, Mostly on Financials

Three final notes: 1) If you want to experiment with this, here are five very different insurers that are my current favorites: RGA (life reinsurance), ENH (P&C insurance & reinsurance), AIZ (Life, P&C, Warranties, Pensions & Individual Health), SFG (disability), & NWLI (Life insurance and annuities sold to foreigners for flight capital).  Try applying the model to one, and see what you get.

2) Most real risk in large financials does not come from inadequacy of capital, but from borrowing short and investing/lending long.  The key measure is whether an institution has enough high-quality short-term assets to meet a run on the institution, where those that supply funds to the institution demand them back at the same time.

With life insurance companies, failures occasionally happen from a run on the company (General American and ARM financial in 1999), but more often, because regulators think the capital base has shrunk too much because of bad credit risks, and take the company into conservation. (Pacific Standard, Confederation, Kentucky Central, near-miss w/The Equitable, etc.)

With P&C insurers and reinsurers, failure happens because bad underwriting leads to a shrinkage of capital, and the regulators take them into conservation. (Think of Reliance and Saul Steinberg, though a lot of reinsurers were de facto bankrupt in the mid-1980s, but the regulators didn’t catch them.)

With small banks and thrifts, it’s credit problems versus capital.  Liquidity does not usually play a role because of deposit guarantees.

With large banks, it is illiquid and longer assets versus short financing.  In the recent crisis, much of that came from financing mortgage inventories in the repurchase market, where financing had to be renewed daily, and margin requirements in derivative financing that had to be adjusted daily.  In the latter case, a credit downgrade would trigger a need for more capital to be put up as margin, just at the time when liquidity was scarce.  In the former case, deteriorating prices for the assets financed in the repurchase market led to an increase in the capital haircut, requiring more liquidity out of the borrowers at the time they could least afford it. (AIG, Wachovia, Countrywide, etc.)

Finally, remember that the financial markets are talkative.  No one wants to hold unsecured credit from a bank they think will go broke, so if there is a reasonable doubt on failure, liquidity dries up because other banks stop dealing with you (Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, etc.)

As an example in my own life, back when I managed and traded corporate bonds back in 2002, when the market was feeling a lot of stress, I joked with my broker, “Hey, is XYZ Corp trading flat yet?”  (With most corporate bonds, when you settle a trade, the pro-rata portion of the next interest payment is added to the price.  A bond like XYZ Corp, when its solvency is doubtful, the dealers start settling bond trades assuming it will not make another payment.)  He told me that it was not trading flat.  The high yield manager, Ed, sitting next to me, after the call ended said, “Just a matter of time.”

Half an hour later, my broker that talked with before called me back, and in an edgy voice said “XYZ Corp is now trading flat!” and quickly ended the call.  Ed looked at me and said, “Dave, don’t do that again.”

Liquidity is plenteous when you don’t need it, and scarce when really needed.  Remember that when investing in financials.

3) The Baltimore CFA Society gives significant discounts for students that want to attend our meetings.  $10 gets you a $30 meal and an interesting speaker or two, so consider yourselves invited.  Next meeting on January 11th is one of our bigger ones.  You even get to meet the aforementioned “Ed.”

Full disclosure: long RGA, AIZ, NWLI, ENH, SFG

Sorted Weekly Tweets

Saturday, December 29th, 2012

Before I give you the Tweets, I just want to tell you that I will be blogging  this fine accounting conference on IFRS/ US GAAP.  Those that want to attend at a discount can use this code Aleph10 to save 10%.  CFAs get a code that saves 20%.  I think the conference will be valuable, so I will be heading up to NYC on January 10th.  See you at NYSSA’s conference center near Times Square.

Now for the Tweets:

THE FISCAL CLIFF!!! AUGH!!!

 

  • The Fiscal Cliff Could Last Forever http://t.co/ay6gKOrc The upward curve in entitlement expenditures could make “fiscal cliff” normal $$ Dec 28, 2012
  • Fed Helps US Dance on Ceiling http://t.co/g2X0UijU Seiniorage revenue (stealth tax on savers) keeps the deficit lower than otherwise $$ Dec 27, 2012
  • Grand Bargain Shrinks as Congress Nears US Budget Deadline http://t.co/Dr2GCk6l No incentive 4 either side 2 do a deal $$ #shiftblame Dec 26, 2012
  • No Fiscal Cliff Deal Could Cause Jails To Release Inmates http://t.co/07gm3Drm We need less costly alternatives 2 incarceration $$ Dec 25, 2012
  • Campaign on US Debt Gains Steam http://t.co/CwdnN21X “4 the longest time, nobody cared, nobody listened-it was 15 years of irrelevancy.” $$ Dec 24, 2012
  • Cliff Would Strike Low Incomes Hard http://t.co/aEENGola Difficult 2 say who would b most affected if we went over the fiscal cliff $$ Dec 24, 2012

 

China

 

  • China Tightens Rules for Internet Users http://t.co/HRACEhue Problem: very difficult to enforce when u have so many users $$ Dec 28, 2012
  • Chinese Scholars Demand Communist Leaders Relax Their Grip http://t.co/1bdCHHDL They think another Cultural Revolution can’t happen?… $$ Dec 28, 2012
  • Billionaire Princelings Ruin a Chinese Vision http://t.co/mTHFPt8R Crony capitalism w/Chinese “Communist” characteristics ->princelings $$ Dec 28, 2012
  • 3rd&last long article on Chinese political succession: Xi Jinping Relations Reveal Fortunes of Some Elite in China http://t.co/iFz7e6dg $$ Dec 27, 2012
  • Heirs of Mao’s Comrades Rise as New Capitalist Nobility http://t.co/ALYa5e7V It’s becoming an aristocracy in China & will that last? $$ Dec 27, 2012
  • Defying Mao, Rich Chinese Crash the Communist Party http://t.co/UTcNO2oj Looong article on wealthy in China gaining political power $$ Dec 27, 2012
  • Too big to fail? China’s wealth management products stir debate http://t.co/UM5Z5vxr China gets its turn to decide: bailout or failure? $$ Dec 26, 2012
  • Bell tolls for Beijing’s Drum Tower homes http://t.co/SJrkVhXO Forced evictions from old homes to enhance a touristy area in Beijing $$ Dec 24, 2012

 

Michael Pettis

 

  • Pettis: …illicit money out of China totaled US$420 billion in 2010… 94% of the illicit $$ flows occur through mis-invoiced trade Dec 22, 2012
  • Wow. Pettis: Trade misinvoicing is the preferred method of transferring illicit capital from all regions except the MENA region Dec 22, 2012
  • Pettis: problem is the inexorable tendency of the current development model 2generate debt faster than it generates debt-servicing capacity. Dec 22, 2012

 

Rest of the World

 

  • Euro Zone Set to Continue Contraction http://t.co/rFOZlSjy Successful austerity eliminates much debt for small GDP losses; but this? $$ Dec 28, 2012
  • Cinnabon Finds Sweet Success in Russia, Mideast http://t.co/IFewJw5p Interesting print&video interview; they customize 2 local tastes $$ Dec 28, 2012
  • Putin Set to Sign Russian Adoption Ban http://t.co/ODMcwtTP The kindness of the wicked is cruel, Pr 12:10b $$ Dec 27, 2012
  • Betting on Yen to Fall Further in 2013? Think Again http://t.co/38zvTYmk Depends on how much expectations change in the race 2 the bottom $$ Dec 27, 2012
  • Iran Says ‘Irresponsible’ GCC Raises Regional Tensions http://t.co/Xqut7V9z Iran cries “foul” when the Sunnis take them seriously $$ Dec 26, 2012
  • GCC to Form Unified Military Command Amid Iran ‘Threats’ http://t.co/EBO0aaaW Great, not. The Sunnis join forces to fight the Shia $$ Dec 25, 2012
  • Norway Looks to Spread Wealth to US http://t.co/qsDYlE3o Norway’s SWF likes 2 buy irreplaceable real estate; lotsa kronor 2put 2work $$ Dec 25, 2012
  • Deciphering the Decline in Spanish Mobile Accounts http://t.co/ckXo2TT7 Mobile subscriptions usually 1 of last things to go when $$ tight Dec 24, 2012
  • Yen Weakens to 20-Month Low on Abe’s BOJ Pledge; Euro Up http://t.co/aEENGola The race to the bottom continues, w/Japan running hard $$ Dec 24, 2012
  • Looting Tests Leader in Argentina http://t.co/mhwSo7AG Yes, cry 4 Argentina. What should b a wealthy place suffers from bad leaders $$ Dec 24, 2012

 

Fixed Income & Real Estate

 

  • Housing Wealth and Wage Bargaining http://t.co/etoJ7w7A When people think they r going to lose their houses they get desparate $$ Dec 28, 2012
  • Gross Doubles New York Bet as California Loses Lead http://t.co/l0w0wBJr NY is less of a dirty shirt than CA $$ Keeps adding to Munis Dec 27, 2012
  • Mortgage-Bond Sales Soar on Fed’s Refinance Push http://t.co/xX7Do3TY “Sales of U.S.-

backed mortgage bonds soared to a three-year high” $$ Dec 27, 2012

  • A Banner Year for Riskiest Debt http://t.co/zdb83zAa End of Affair With Corporate Bonds http://t.co/rkb2jdtZ 2013 should b ok $$ Dec 27, 2012
  • Home Prices Hit a Milestone http://t.co/cwpVuhfn Nice Graphic: http://t.co/sQggRNj8 Portrait of a dead cat bounce $$ Dec 27, 2012
  • Home-Price Gains Pick Up as US Real Estate Market Rebounds http://t.co/8ZHWeMkU Too early to say much about this dead cat bounce $$ #mew Dec 26, 2012
  • ‘Hope Note’ Strategy Is @ Times Hopeless http://t.co/5TDgdL6z 0% certificate that if everything works perfectly, might get a recovery $$ Dec 24, 2012

 

Stocks, Industries, and Market Dynamics

 

  • Refiners Beating Exxon Join Pipeline Boom for Lost Margin http://t.co/VdzNxkn4 Oil Boom Spurs New Investment http://t.co/4pGXup4P $$ Dec 28, 2012
  • Look at this graph of Barrick Gold Corporation $ABX http://t.co/T4DD2JYU Is the main reason 4 underperforming $GLD rising mining costs? $$ Dec 27, 2012
  • ICE Chief Challenges Stock Views of Trading http://t.co/9OvrtlSF Now watch $CME buy out $NDAQ & we can transform mkts, but2 what end? $$ Dec 27, 2012
  • Garbage Time http://t.co/deDDfsmp @reformedbroker on the lack of liquidity/activity @ year-end. Every real player is looking forward $$ Dec 27, 2012
  • Gus Sauter is at the Vanguard of Roping In Trading Costs http://t.co/OtLi9XBk Sauter likes HFT, uses algorithms 2 lower Vanguard’s costs $$ Dec 27, 2012
  • SEC going high-tech with real-time trade data http://t.co/AWpNNDjd The SEC can get some really fancy tools, but can they use them well? $$ Dec 27, 2012
  • It’s Time for Cramer 2 Short His Show http://t.co/QZ4UUqFF Cramer invests differently than his show; show on how he invests would b dull $$ Dec 26, 2012
  • How to Tell When a Stock Buyback Is Good for Investors http://t.co/SnnQeDoV If price rises on the announcement, it is usually LT good $$ Dec 24, 2012
  • Retiring Vanguard CIO Gus Sauter Looks Back http://t.co/q9rUbE0L A true titan of mutual funds as Vanguard served clients, not Vanguard $$ Dec 22, 2012

 

Macroeconomics And the Fed

 

  • The Mythology of Chained CPI http://t.co/UbtRkVAF Better to cut benefits directly, & not b sneaky by making a technical adjustment $$ Dec 27, 2012
  • Puzzle of weak investment jeopardizes growth rebound http://t.co/7ya8nkks People & firms will not invest 4 the future if present is weak $$ Dec 27, 2012
  • Push for Cheaper Credit Hits Wall http://t.co/48PKxWSf Watch the Fed push on a string; my aren’t they diligent? $$ #untestedtheories Dec 24, 2012
  • Evans Won New Fed Consensus Linking Rates to Unemployment http://t.co/NOelrxXm One day we will call bad economic ideas “Evans.” $$ Dec 24, 2012
  • Usage: “Where did you ever come up with an Evans like that?” “I was so embarrassed for him. At the meeting, he uncorked a real Evans.” $$ Dec 24, 2012

 

Other

 

  • Curbs on Smokers Continue to Grow http://t.co/8APeHuzz I’m allergic 2 cigarette smoke, but we r disadvantaging smokers 2 much $$ Dec 28, 2012
  • Perfect 10? Never Mind That. Ask Her for Her Credit Score. http://t.co/LWb4B7lE Even true love can be thwarted by a lousy credit score $$ Dec 27, 2012
  • 2013 Threats Predictions from McAfee, 16 pages PDF http://t.co/atec8Hpm Introduction article here: http://t.co/LTcjeTxR Surf carefully $$ Dec 27, 2012
  • Anatomy of an Air Attack Gone Wrong http://t.co/EBt24vfj A botched attack on a terror suspect kills 12 civilians & destroys a community $$ Dec 26, 2012
  • Do Unmarried Poor Have Bad Values or Bad Jobs? http://t.co/ukj2Mg99 Only 57% of couples in the program were still together after 3 yrs $$ Dec 26, 2012
  • The Great Chicago Christmas Credit Card Fiasco of 1966 http://t.co/zKR9oFjr Figures it would happen in Chicago, a sandbox 4 corruption $$ Dec 25, 2012
  • NY, Unlike Most States, Treats Education Achievements & Even Talents as Property to Be Divided Between Spouses http://t.co/totejhuX $$ Dec 25, 2012

 

Comments & Replies & Retweets

 

  • Just had a great time w/ @japhychron & @Daily_Pinch $$ RT @japhychron: Getting ready to meet @AlephBlog @ Starbucks http://t.co/f7k3gCTY Dec 28, 2012
  • Gas. Large family only buys 7 gals milk/wk max $$ RT @fundmyfund: what would cause more distress for american households? $6 gas or $6 milk. Dec 28, 2012
  • @mattrixDOTinfo @fundmyfund We had eight (5 adopted) — we briefly maxed out @ 8 gals/week, only 5 @ home now but bigger, so 7 gals/wk 4 us Dec 28, 2012
  • Fiscal Cliff: Boo! Dec 28, 2012
  • RT @randomroger: Fiscal Cliff: Boo! Dec 28, 2012
  • @DavidSchawel Mostly a fair observation, the only exception is that if u think the economy will shift & u r right, the returns can b big $$ Dec 28, 2012
  • @tarhinitrade @ReformedBroker Sound money allows businessmen to be more rational & enterprising. Also, macroeconomists r pretend 2 know $$ Dec 28, 2012
  • @XacAngXiangYin You’re welcome. China is fascinating to me. Dec 28, 2012
  • Just bought: ‘Financial Fine Print: Uncovering a Company’s True Value’ by Michelle Leder via @amazon cc: @footnoted $$ http://t.co/VKc1jdRp Dec 28, 2012
  • ‘ @TheStalwart Yeah, watching $LLL run higher over the last few months. Glad I didn’t sell. FD: + $LLL $$ Dec 27, 2012
  • So far people don’t seem 2b panicking. $$ RT @Alea_: We’ve Already Gone Over the Fiscal Cliff http://t.co/LyzU2bqo from: @cabaum1 Dec 27, 2012
  • @jucojames Thanks, that helps. Dec 27, 2012

·  @dpinsen @footnoted The price of helium is ballooning ;) Dec 26, 2012

  • @TheStalwart Not much, man. Stocks are likely to sell of a little on the open. Bonds will rally a little. Dec 26, 2012
  • @BUDDIEE18 You have clever phrasing but you don’t have proof. Dec 26, 2012
  • ‘ @Jesse_Livermore @scott_matagrano I know one or two guys that do it professionally; I just don’t know how they get the borrow Dec 26, 2012
  • ‘ @BUDDIEE18 You may find this difficult to believe, but $TSM has a really strict policy against market manipulation for its writers Dec 26, 2012
  • ‘ @scott_matagrano Promoted penny stocks are better: -93%/yr if you can get a borrow. http://t.co/jJ79L4Ac Dec 26, 2012
  • “Given the predominance of S-T $$ in professional $$ mgmt, I think most smart $$ is slow $$. But if…” — David_Merkel http://t.co/04qie15E Dec 26, 2012
  • Excitement @ the Merkel house today: a water main breaks, brings 5 trucks & 10 men paid triple 2 avoid annoying relatives & icky food $$ Dec 25, 2012
  • Make that 6 trucks. De bossman jus showed up, so the fine art of sitting around ceases, & swing around in2 what is loosely called action $$ Dec 25, 2012
  • @rudibest Reminds my of an article I wrote in 2009 called, “Voted for Change, Got Bush-Plus” & it has only been more so since then $$ Dec 24, 2012
  • Well said. The law was against them from the start $$ RT @munilass: Congratulations @CalPERS on your new status as Just Another Creditor Dec 22, 2012

 

 

Wrong

 

  • Wrong: High-Frequency Trading Prospers at Expense of Everyone http://t.co/jG4mgsRt This just looks like intelligent arbs doing business $$ Dec 27, 2012
  • Wrong: People Hate Losses & That Affects US Budget Talks http://t.co/uDNqcQeE Not good logic. More like envy 2 deny other side a win $$ Dec 25, 2012
  • Americans Miss $200 Billion Abandoning Stocks http://t.co/vO4s2t4S Better H/L: Open end Mutual Fundholders Miss $200B Abandoning Stocks $$ Dec 24, 2012
  • Wrong: India’s Unfinished Journey to Economic Success http://t.co/CnJ7I69y Gary Schilling’s musings on India in need of cultural reform $$ Dec 22, 2012

 

FWIW

 

  • My week on twitter: 53 retweets received, 57 new followers, 33 mentions. Via: http://t.co/SPrAWil0 Dec 27, 2012

 

 

Why do Value Investors Like to Index?

Friday, December 28th, 2012

I think I had some good things to say in the last post, but one commenter disagreed, and he had some good things to say:

Unfortunately, the premise of this article is completely flawed, as it assumes all “indexes” are simply S&P 500 or Total Stock portfolios. You are no doubt aware that Vanguard has Large/Mid/Small VALUE indexes as well, right?

Further, for someone wanting more pure, targeted, and consistent exposure to the lowest priced value stocks, the “enhanced” index funds from DFA are close to unbeatable. Sorting on a simple metric of price/book and holding approximately the cheapest 25% (as opposed to 50% for Vanguard and most Value ETFs) of stocks in the respective asset class (while trading patiently, using fund cash-flows to rebalance, lending securities to earn additional revenue), DFA’s large/small value funds in the US, Int’l, and EM markets have trounced their active manager competition. Here are the stats on the % of active value funds in each asset class over the last 10 years (through November) that have been OUTperformed by DFAs simple “structured” approach, which for all intents and purposes are index funds:

US Large Value (DFLVX) = 90%
US Small Value (DFSVX) = 83%
Int’l Large Value (DFIVX) = 91%
Int’l Small Value (DISVX) = 100%
Emerging Mkts Value (DFEVX) = 97%

And not that it matters much, as these percentages are so high to begin with, but these #s don’t include survivorship bias — something on the order of 40% of value managers that existed 10 years ago have gone out of business, so this outperformance is only measured as a % of those professional value managers that survived!

Somewhere, over some periods, I am sure we can find some value managers who have outperformed an intelligently structured value index portfolio, but the numbers are so small as to be almost irrelevant, and there is no persistence going forward in the # who have been able to pull off the feat.

No, the case is actually quite clear, “active” value investing is dead. All investors would be much better off simply holding broadly diversified, structured/indexed VALUE portfolios. And stop confusing “indexing” with “cap weighted total market index portfolios”. There are a lot of index funds beyond the Russell 3000 and S&P 500.

His main point is well taken.  Active long-only value managers have not done well versus the indexers.  I’ve stated that at other times.  This is also true for hedge fund managers, where survivorship bias is even worse.

That said, I have a few objections.

1) Index investing by its nature follows the return factors incorporated into their index (if cap-weighted) or enhanced index (if not).  Factors go in and out of favor.  Some factors are seemingly permanently in favor, like value, small size, low Net Operating Assets, and price momentum.

Occasionally, those factors can be overinvested, like in August 2007.  That doesn’t mean the factors should be abandoned — weak holders are getting shaken out.

2) Every investment strategy has a “carrying capacity.”  Indexed strategies are larger, as are value strategies.  But there is some point where value as a whole can be overinvested.  Value can become “too cool” for a time, and can get relatively overvalued.  Some market participants look at the range of P/E, P/B, or P/S ratios.  When they are thin, value is overpriced.  It’s like being a bond manager, and doing an up-in-credit trade, except that this is an up-in-growth trade: buy higher growth stocks when the difference in P/Es  and other valuation factors is relatively small.

3) Yes, I know about the many subindexes that underlie the whole of indexing.  That wasn’t my point in the prior article.  Indexers need some amount of valuation oriented  investors, whether they are portfolio managers, or that they investors willing to take the whole company private, or a public company that acquires it.  If everyone indexed to the market as a whole, there would be no price signals.  Yes, with subindexes, that is not so, but the more money you pour into a subindex, the greater the likelihood of overvaluation.

4) There is the possibility of an indexing bubble.  An indexing bubble would have a situation where stocks in major indexes are overvalued relative to companies that are not in indexes.  now, it’s hard to imagine an indexing bubble, because there is no leverage involved, and little speculation.  Now for subindexes, relative over- and undervaluation is normal.

Just as in commodity markets, you have commodities that trade on futures markets, and end up in indexes, and those that don’t, because they are less liquid, fungible, deliverable, etc.  Often the relative price difference between what is easily tradable can be an indicator of whether excess liquidity has warped prices beyond their fair value.  This can happen with stocks as well, where stocks less held by indexes those more held by indexes.

There will probably come a time when those that have invested in index funds have to liquidate to meet their long term goals, and there will not be enough new money to absorb the selling.  Unless this is disproportionately true of index investors (unlikely, but possible), this would be a whole market phenomenon.

The broader question is related to the markets as a whole.  Since most stock investing is done on an unlevered basis, the overall ability to hold a diversified stock portfolio comes down to time preference.  There is what stock investors as a group should have as their time-preference, which is largely based off of demographics.  The there is how they behave when markets get hot (optimism -> time preference lengthens) or cold (pessimism -> time preference shortens).  Note that this is the opposite of the way that absolute value investors behave.

Now, here is one problem with my thesis: DFA and Vanguard are clever traders.  In really small stocks, DFA is virtually a market maker and picks up some alpha doing it.  In my investing, I actually like it when Vanguard or DFA is a large holder, because it is an indicator of neglect.

Here’s the second problem with my thesis: the fees of active managers are too high.  Even if active managers can pick up on some inefficiencies, will it be enough to overcome their fees?  On average, impossible.  So I appreciate what the commenter said, even as I ply my trade as an active manager.  You need some degree of active management in the markets to keep prices in rough line with valuations.

And, maybe, just maybe this means that indexing will have to get to be a much larger proportion of the markets before active managers would have alpha after fees as a whole.  Until then, passive investing is a great way to go for most investors.

Follow-up from “On Watchlists”

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

Before I start this evening, I wanted to point out something that the Googlebots dragged in.  It’s a list of all the RSS feeds currently created for Aleph Blog.  Note: I only created two of those, the main feed, and the comments feed.  The others were created by readers.  To that end, if you want a specialized Aleph Blog feed, there is probably a way to create it.  Suppose you want all my articles on insurance or personal finance, but not my icky macroeconomics posts.  There is a way to do it.  So if you only want a *part* of the Aleph Blog, set up a customized RSS feed.

One more unrelated trivia question: as of the end of 2011, how many states does Berkshire Hathaway have an insurer domiciled in?  The answer did not surprise me, but it was interesting learning the answer.

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Here’s a comment from a reader on yesterday’s post:

Love the blog, and really appreciate each new submission you create.

I’d love to hear more about “valuation metrics, sentiment variables, and other factors.” Are these quantitative formulas that I could adopt for myself? I like the idea of ranking your current and prospective holdings. What method do you use to assign a value to each company for grouping?

First you need to read this article of mine.  As for valuation metrics, I use past earnings, forward earnings, book value, Free cash flow, and sales — I give higher weights to free cash flow, book value, and sales.  Earnings are more commonly manipulated.

Other variables: one year price momentum, four-year price momentum, insider buying/selling, yield, neglect ($ volume traded versus market cap), realized stock price volatility, net operating accruals, asset growth and sales growth.

I adjust the weightings period by period.  The changes usually aren’t big, but I adjust the weights to reflect what is out of favor.

For values that are infinite, I input 999.  One more note: I use the ranks of each variable against the stocks owned and contenders, not the actual value to do my rankings.

Here’s a comment from another reader on yesterday’s post:

A bit off topic, David, but something I’ve been thinking about:

Given your comments about incremental improvements, what do you think about the idea that investment manager performance should be judged not by the returns of the portfolio, but by the returns of the new ideas and sold ideas versus the static portfolio? i.e. measure the value of the decisions made recently versus those made in the past?

Given the wide availability of 13-Ds and our ability to copycat others with low-turnover strategies, might this not be a better measure of the value investors are getting for the fees they’re paying?

I do one unusual thing with my stocks.  I list them by order of purchase.  Why? It gives me a feel for whether old or new ideas are working.  But my experience has been that stocks I sell tend to do badly, with some exceptions.  Please don’t talk to me about the sale of NTE, which I sold because the management became more aggressive, and I did not like that.  I really failed there.

But here is the problem: investment managers choose the overall bias that they invest toward.  They should bear some responsibility for their choices, unless they have a fleet of funds that cover almost all relevant areas.

In my own investing, I have not seen any difference over the long haul regarding my new investments versus older investments.  There are times when new or old do better, and times where they are pretty similar.  Since I score my investments quarterly, older investments have to show promise regularly.  Those that show less promise get tossed.  Those with more promise get kept.

The important thing in investing (leaving aside tax implications) is focusing forward.  If something is cheap relative to prospects, don’t sell it.  It is far better to simply understand which of your existing investments are the most marginal in expected returns, so that you can use those as a source of cash when you find promising opportunities.

Full disclosure: long BRK/B

On Watchlists

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012

Before I start this evening, a quick story:

One day in March, I got an e-mail from an older gentleman, and he said, “Hi, my name is XXXXXX.  Please call me.”  The name sounded familiar but I couldn’t place it.  So I called him, and he asked, “I own a decent amount of Berkshire Hathaway.  Can you explain to me why the value of the put options Buffett sold have risen from 3Q11 to 4Q11?”  After talking to him for a little bit, he said, “So you really don’t know.”  I replied, “Yes, I don’t really know, but give me a couple of hours, and I can give you a decent answer.”  So I told him I would give him an answer via e-mail, and follow with hardcopy.  As it was, we were both wrong, the value of the put options had fallen.

But then it hit me why the name was familiar — he was one of the Superinvestors of Graham-and-Doddsville.  You never know where you might go, or who you might meet just because you write some obscure blog.  Oh, yeah, you might just get to go to the US Treasury, and meet you-know-who. ;)

And now a question from a reader:

I’ve learned a lot from your blog. Thanks for the effort you put in to maintain it. (Today’s post was great… was just listening to my Intelligent Investor CD while driving last night and was thinking about how Graham talks about the need to be businesslike when investing).

I had a question about your investing process, specifically how you track stocks that look interesting to you.

For instance, I use value line and I flip through the pages on a daily basis, jotting down interesting tickers in a notebook. I then go to a few scans and watchlists, again jotting down tickers I’d like to research further. After that, I take my list of tickers and do some brief research to determine if they should go on my watchlist. This is where I need to change a few things. I use Morningstar to track my watchlists, which is great because it keeps track of all of the financial data automatically, but the problem is that as my watchlist grows, I find certain cheap stocks on the list but I can’t recall why I put them there. There is no spot for notes on Morningstar’s watchlist, so I thought about using a google spreadsheet, but I really don’t want two different things to track.

Walter Schloss was famous for not owning a computer and simply flipping through value line. There must be a simpler way to track stocks that look interesting!

Just wondering if you could share any thoughts on how you track potential stocks and how you refine your watchlist if it starts to get too large. Thanks David.

I don’t have a permanent watchlist.  I generate ideas three ways:

1) I read a lot of articles.  When an idea sounds clever, I write it on a small piece of paper and set it in a pile to age.

2) I study industries more than companies, and look for strong companies in weak industries, and levered companies in industries that are likely to remain strong for awhile.  I use Value Line here, and screen for companies that might yield a 15%/year return, while being above average in terms of balance sheet strength.

3) I read through the 13Ds of a group of ~75 investors that I respect, and look at the companies that are large holdings relative to market cap that are still being acquired.

Then I take all of my ideas once per quarter, shortly after the 13Ds are filed, and compare them against existing portfolio holdings against a variety of valuation metrics, sentiment variables, and other factors.

I then rank all of the companies as a group, looking at where the middle company in my existing portfolio is.  Companies I don’t own that are above it are candidates for purchase.  Companies I own that are below the middle portfolio company are candidates for sale.

I then sit down and analyze, and pair off stocks to sell versus stocks to buy, unless there is some reason to increase or decrease the number of stocks in the portfolio, which is usually around 35.  Presently it is 34.  I  buy/sell 2-3 stocks per quarter.  That keeps things fresh, but allows me to hold companies for longer periods of time.  (My turnover is 25% of the open end mutual fund industry.)

After I make my series of buys and sells, I throw all my work away, and start accumulating data for the next quarter.

My sense is that it pays more to think of your portfolio versus candidates than to track candidates.

The main idea here is that we should always be improving the character/quality of the portfolio.  Trade things that are worse for things that are better.  Human beings can do that trade.  What is hard is for people to assemble the best stocks.  Getting a bunch of “pretty good” stocks can be done, and it does not mean they will outperform all the time.  Getting a portfolio of all of the best stocks is impossible.

So think economically — try to improve your portfolio regularly, regular incremental improvements yield a large economic improvement over a market cycle.  At least, that has been my experience. :)

Why do Value Investors Like Indexing?

Tuesday, December 25th, 2012

In general, most value investors like indexing.  Buffett and many others agree on this.  But why?

1) Most value investors that I have known want ordinary people to have an option of doing pretty well, without investing with them, because the minimums are too high — investing in index funds fits that.  Further, Vanguard, who acts in the interest of their investors is an excellent institution.  If I could have a fund there and be paid 10-20 basis points, I would do it in a heartbeat.

2) The second reason is less noble.  We like less competition.  Index money is thought-free money with respect to company and sector selection.  The more of a company that is held by index investors, the greater the probability that it is mispriced.

Now, that is not necessarily so crass on our part.  Look, good investing for most people is like holding a second job.  Do you really want to devote that much of your life to seeking out bargains?  Not many will want to do that.  (Note: there is a side benefit to doing value investing, no matter what sort of firm you work for.  You learn to think like an intelligent businessman — most employees don’t do that.  The ability to think like a intelligent businessman sets you up for greater responsibility, because you can not only do your task, but you can consider the deeper questions of business, making you a prime candidate for a promotion.)

But… there is another venue for mispriced stocks.  Some large stocks don’t get into the index because they are foreign, or have a large amount of the stock owned by a control group, which makes them less liquid.  The main idea is that stocks that few people think about are less liquid, and more likely to be mispriced, but the question remains: are they mispriced high or low?

That is the question for the value investor, and not for those that buy stocks as commodities, as many index investors do.

Book Review: The Snowball, Epilogue

Tuesday, December 25th, 2012

After I finished last night, I realized I had a few more things to say.  First I need to correct what I wrote in part two regarding the separation of Buffett and Susie.  Here’s some help from one of my readers:

I do have a bone to pick with your review of the Snowball, part two: in describing the Buffett’s separation and arrival of Astrid Menks, you have substituted your own judgment for that of Schroeder and Buffett, without making it clear that it is your own viewpoint.  I certainly understand your assessment of the marriage and perhaps your desire to defend Buffett, as he is someone you clearly respect (as do I).  But Buffett’s own view, expressed in the book that Susie’s leaving was “99% [his] fault”.  Schroeder also indicates that Buffett was quite difficult, and of course, he was totally driven, and in any case, not terribly emotionally supportive.

The ethical judgments that I made in parts two & four were mine.  They were not those of Alice Schroeder, Buffett, or anyone in Buffett’s family.  That said, because of the role I play in my church, I have had to counsel some people on marriage.  My results have been good, bad, and indifferent.  Usually I think that I have been called in on the late side, when hope is almost non-existent.  Better to call in a counselor on the early side.

I have known many men, and some women who I would call “pieces of work,” where they are very difficult to get along with.  I’ve seen cases where the spouses of such people succeed, and more where they failed.  In marriage, it takes two to make a failure, leaving aside adultery and desertion.

My opinion is this: if Susie could bear with it for 20 years, she could bear with it for 40 or more.  Buffett was maturing emotionally, and was better able to interact with others.  Susie missed the best years of Warren.

As it is, children are affected even if adults when parents separate; they become more prone to divorce.  Buffett’s children had their own marital problems.  It also doesn’t help when you didn’t get a lot of attention from your father when young.

On the Patience of Buffett

Buffett does not have to deploy capital; he does not have to grow.  He can live with a lot of cash on hand, earning zero.  He knows human nature.  As a group, we tend to panic every five years or so.  Buffett picks up a lot of bargains, whether by sector, or across the market as a whole.  He finds good companies that are out-of-favor, and he gives them a good home.  This is very different than how most people invest.

Buffett waits until he sees a return on book capital with reasonable certainty that exceeds his threshold, and then he buys aggressively.  He can do that because he has a balance sheet, and he has simple goals for return on capital.   So long as he continues to be careful he never has to worry about insolvency — his balance sheet is conservative.

Final note on Religion

Because of who I am, I was interested in how Buffett’s and Susie’s parents viewed religion.  Buffett and Susie were a lot like my in-laws: raised in the church, but turned against God.  There was something in the era, as people sought bad interpretations of the Bible so that they could live their own way, and not God’s way.

Quibbles

Already expressed.  This is a great book if you are looking to read about the life of Buffett, rather than the aspects of Buffett’s investing that you can’t imitate.

Who would benefit from this book:  This book will not help you invest like Buffett, unless you are bright, and know all of the details that lay behind Buffett’s strategies.  This book is the best to help you know Buffett the man.  It is a great book.  If you want to, you can buy it here:The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life.

Full disclosure: I borrowed it from the local library.

If you enter Amazon through my site, and you buy anything, I get a small commission.  This is my main source of blog revenue.  I prefer this to a “tip jar” because I want you to get something you want, rather than merely giving me a tip.  Book reviews take time, particularly with the reading, which most book reviewers don’t do in full, and I typically do. (When I don’t, I mention that I scanned the book.  Also, I never use the data that the PR flacks send out.)

Most people buying at Amazon do not enter via a referring website.  Thus Amazon builds an extra 1-3% into the prices to all buyers to compensate for the commissions given to the minority that come through referring sites.  Whether you buy at Amazon directly or enter via my site, your prices don’t change.

Book Review: The Snowball, Part Four

Saturday, December 22nd, 2012

One thing I did not leave clear from my prior writing: Buffett does not think in terms of market value. He thinks in terms of book value, and how to compound it. That is how I think the markets as well. I think of the markets like a businessman does, and so does Buffett.

Why should being a businessman, and being an investor be so different? Answer: they should not be thought of differently. This is why value investors look at the returns relative to the price they paid.

Buffett as an Investor

Buffett had a strong grounding in probability. Whether it was with stocks, or at the racetrack, he was smart enough to find an edge.

He was also wise enough to understand the concept of discounting. Discounting is the cousin of accumulation. One looks forward, the other looks backward.  Buffett understood when it was smart to receive cash and distribute cash. He knew what a dollar was worth. He knew when the dollar was worth in the future. This grounded his sense of investing.

He invested in many industries: Newspapers, Utilities, Insurance, Furniture, Jewelry, Pipelines, Railroads, Manufactured Housing, Coke, Shoes, Textiles, and Airlines.

He also sought a margin of safety. What would be the maximum bad outcome if he invested in a company? If you can limit the downside, you have the capability of making money on the upside.

Buffett also like to play Bridge. Bridge is a complex game; you do the best if you bid to take the amount of tricks that you will actually take. Bridge favors people who can estimate well, and Buffett is one of those people.

Buffett is a very bright guy. Very, very bright.

Buffett and Business Ethics

Buffett is an ethical businessman. Probably one the most difficult parts of his life was when he was chairman of Salomon Brothers. In that situation, he had to play a delicate game trying to satisfy the regulators in Washington, DC, and satisfy investors who held the stocks and bonds of Salomon Brothers. This was a very difficult task, but Buffett performed extremely well. In some ways, I think this is the highlight of his career. I think this, because the regulators were stacked against him, and he succeeded in a large measure. Without Buffett, Salomon Brothers would have been bankrupt. Buffett triumphed against both economic and political forces.

And at the time he did that, he made Salomon Brothers a far better place. He stressed ethics above economics. Bravo! That is what needs to happen in almost all corporations United States now.

Now, when his son Howie had troubles ADM, Buffett had considerable advice for his son but he did not demand that Howie do it he said. But Howie listened to his dad and left ADM before the crisis erupted. As a result, Howie’s reputation stayed clean.

In general, Buffett was a Boy Scout when you consider business ethics. But when you consider other aspects of ethics, he was not so.

Politics

Buffett’s father was one of the most conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives. As a boy, he campaigned for his father. He switched his political views after he married Susie. After he married Susie, the first thing was opposing racism. That was a really good thing, and both he and Susie did many good things in integrating our society.

This is hard to impress on the black children that I have adopted. With no large amount of racism, it is hard to explain to them what others went through 50-150 years ago.

But I disagree with Buffett who bought the concept of the population bomb from Paul Ehrlich. People are born with a mouth and brain. The brain is far more important than the mouth. No matter how much the population grows, we will find ways to make our resources stretch further. The largest scarcity on earth is good ideas.

Munger and Buffett led the way in California on the issue of abortion. To me, this is the worst thing about them. Life begins at conception. Every embryo has unique DNA. Embryos begin most of their adult human actions between two and three months after conception. It is cruel to abort them. Much as people mourn the deaths of six and seven-year-olds in Connecticut, we kill far more children when prior to birth, by a factor of 10,000.

Buffett also favored taxing the wealthy. But most of his tax proposals would not tax him. This is the most hypocritical part of Buffett. He could pay extra tax to the government off of his embedded gains in the stock that he holds of Berkshire Hathaway. Berkshire Hathaway itself could just pay off their deferred tax liabilities. But he doesn’t do that. Instead, he asks others to pay what he will not.

Food

Though I like all kinds of food, I find it amusing that Buffett does not want to eat anything that a three-year-old does not eat. I also find it amazing that he is still alive following such a diet.

That’s one of the cute parts of the book – watching when Buffett turns away food, and the efforts that they make to provide hamburgers and steaks to him in areas where that is harder to achieve.

Summary

I’ve tried to give you all the main themes of the book The Snowball. The biggest theme of the book revolves around Buffett’s first wife Susie. For more than 20 years, Susie was the core of Buffett’s life. She gave him a life after the harsh treatment his mother gave. But after many years of marital neglect, she left him, and that is to her discredit. (Of course, Buffett could have solved this by spending less time on business and more time on his marriage.)

Then when Susie died, that was the next largest theme of the book. She did not care for herself well, but Susie was beloved by almost everyone mentioned in the book.  I wonder at an alternative history where Susie stayed at Warren’s side, and sang without leaving him.  Warren might have done better, far better.

Warren Buffett is an amazing man, and I look up to him, leaving aside his ethical lapses.  This book is the best book that describes him of all the books that have been written about him.  Alice Schroeder did an excellent job on this book.  Warren Buffett should be grateful to Alice Schroeder for this book.  It gives a fair but believable representation of his life.

On Game Theory and Politics

Saturday, December 22nd, 2012

Game theory has always been relevant to American politics, and politics generally.  The basic rule in a multiple player game is “create a coalition that has a majority of the voting interest,” and you win.  Because of division of powers, in the US, this is more complex than in a parliamentary setting.  But let’s take as an example the US House of Representatives.

Imagine for a moment that the House has the following breakdown:

  • 45% Democrats
  • 45% Republicans
  • 10% t-party Republicans

I don’t think that set-up is far from the truth, but how would anyone get a majority there?  In this stylized example, there are only three ways to do it:

  • Democrats ally with Republicans, and the center rules. “La grande coalition”
  • Democrats ally with the t-party — good luck with that.
  • Republicans ally with the t-party. (And any proposal gets shot down by Obama, if not the Senate.)

The fourth possibility is that nothing happens, which has been my default view for some time, and we go over the cliff and hit the debt ceiling.

This is why a small part of our legislators can play such a big role.  One can argue that it is unfair, but they are playing by the rules, and the results are not all that different from what European countries with multiple parties experience.  You have to assemble a coalition in order to govern.  Often it is one small party near the center or the edges that holds the balance of power.

Thus, in  situation like this, how could it get resolved? Obama needs to talk to the Tea Party and agree to something mutually acceptable.  Ronald Reagan reached across the aisle to Democrats.  Bill Clinton did deals with Republicans.  Obama needs to do a deal with the t-party, or strike a deal that non t-party Republicans and Democrats could accept.

My view here is different than most, but in my view there are two more intransigent parties here: Obama and the t-party.  If the the non-t-party Republicans and Democrats in the House could agree, that proposal could go through the Senate, and be signed by the President.  Boehner should not negotiate with Obama, but Pelosi.

The alternative is going over the fiscal cliff, which I have argued for a longish amount of time might not be so bad, though Congress will regret ceding control of spending to he Executive Branch.  At least the budget will be balanced, and we will have more certainty on economic policy.  Also, it will force a better negotiation, and sharpen the concerns of voters.

=–=-=-=-==–==-=-=-=-=-=-=–=-==-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

If we really want to improve our nation, we need to take action to remove the entrenched powers of the Republicans and Democrats, so that other parties can get some representation.  We need to have laws such that anyone can submit a redistricting map, and so long as the map meets the test of other laws, the map with the shortest amount of internal boundaries wins.  Maryland, which is a poster child for corruption, would be far better governed if the power was taken out of the hands of entrenched political interests, and given back to the people.  Or at least a computer, which can be neutral.

Governments mostly reflect cultures, leaving aside gerrymanders and such. If we want to improve the US, we need to improve our own moral nature individually.  If we are weak and lazy as individuals, so will our government be, and it will be our fault collectively that we let a great nation fail.  If a culture fails, the nation will not be far behind.

 

Sorted Weekly Tweets

Saturday, December 22nd, 2012

Macroeconomics

 

  • Here’s my plan for reducing the deficit: http://t.co/XJPjf8A5 #mydeficitplan via @wsj Draconian, I know, but the budget shoould b balanced Dec 21, 2012
  • Canada’s exports crucial as sluggish growth continues: IMF http://t.co/iIOJ6PoF Bank of Canada should raise rates 2 reduce excessive debt $$ Dec 21, 2012
  • Everything You Need To Know About the Economy in 2012, in 34 Charts http://t.co/aXnjSkR0 Good stuff; could have been formatted better $$ Dec 21, 2012
  • Fiscal Cliff’s Dirty Secret: It’s Not About Taxes At All, But Too Much Spending http://t.co/UY8rKW9h We need 2 deal w/SS, Medicare & Defense Dec 20, 2012
  • We’ve Nationalized the Home Mortgage Market. Now What? http://t.co/YSCrvVmK Congress loves 2 have cows around that they can milk for $$ Dec 20, 2012
  • EU Banking Re-Unions http://t.co/khSA0co0 The lack of a timetable indicates that things aren’t really finalized; not sure this will fly $$ Dec 20, 2012
  • ‘Spending Cuts’ Lose Something in Translation http://t.co/DYFxVMno Only in DC is reducing planned growth in spending called a cut $$ Dec 20, 2012
  • Money Funds Brace for Flood http://t.co/4J7VWuxx MMFs r between a rock & a hard place: loose Fed policy & regulatory over-reach $$ Dec 20, 2012
  • Wall Street’s Biggest Geniuses Reveal Their Favorite Charts Of 2012 http://t.co/at12mMsV Very long, but lots of good stuff $$ Dec 20, 2012
  • My forward estimates, derived from TIPS are rising, 2014 inflation, and 2018-2022 inflation. The latter has… http://t.co/tgrGfiDG Dec 19, 2012
  • Estimated 2018-2022 inflation rate continues to rise: http://t.co/ebqeM5KJ Stagflation may be coming. cc: @federalreserve #stagflation $$ Dec 19, 2012
  • Estimated 2014 inflation rate continues to rise: http://t.co/ZrvIc5Nk Stagflation may be coming. cc: @federalreserve #stagflation Dec 19, 2012
  • Economics may be dismal, but it is not a science http://t.co/I6B9LbSw No universal economic theory, & new economic thinking must be eclectic Dec 18, 2012
  • Fisher: Fed Risks ‘Hotel California’ Monetary Policy http://t.co/fRKOYl9d When the Fed starts 2 tighten, it will b hard 2 do $$ Dec 17, 2012
  • FDIC Guarantee Program Set to Expire After Senate Block http://t.co/qPdQNWQF Will squeeze the short end of the yield curve further $$ Dec 17, 2012
  • US Banks Lack Liquidity to Withstand Crisis, Study Says http://t.co/psmQEP1z Liquidity mismatches r pernicious; key risk gets ignored $$ Dec 17, 2012
  • Mkts r discounting mechanisms. Temporary events like bond ratings, debt ceiling & fiscal cliff should not affect market much $$ Dec 17, 2012
  • So, as an example, if the govt runs a deficit, it should not stimulate much b/c people discount future econ adjustment b/c of more debt $$ Dec 17, 2012
  • Same 4 monetary policy; the Fed can “stimulate” as much as it likes; mkt players discount the future removal of policy, inflation, etc. $$ Dec 17, 2012
  • Cliff? What Cliff? http://t.co/QEvklDQU Or maybe, just maybe investors don’t care whether we go over the “fiscal cliff” or not. $$ Dec 17, 2012

 

Stocks & Sectors

 

  • There are 272 gold & silver companies trading on US exchanges or OTC. 59 of them have mkt caps > $100M. 22 of them have mkt caps > $1B $$ Dec 21, 2012
  • Aviva Sells US Life Business to Apollo for $1.8B http://t.co/UqM2kqyr When Aviva bot Amerus, I said that they overpaid massively. Proof $$ Dec 21, 2012
  • Value Investing In Practice: A Conversation About Oaktree Capital http://t.co/4FVok5wz Good value investing does not hyper-diversify $$ Dec 20, 2012
  • ICE in Deal to Buy NYSE http://t.co/ik348vsZ New era; expect 2c more deals like this. As an aside average holders of $NYX stock lost $$ Dec 20, 2012
  • Buffett’s Leading The Corporate Buyback Surge http://t.co/U3piJgDv He has the $$, & 1.2x BV is a defensible floor ||| FD: + $BRK.B Dec 19, 2012
  • Investment Fads and Themes by Year, 1996-2012 http://t.co/cvLFKyRE @reformedbroker on what the broad themes this year & back to 1996 $$ Dec 19, 2012
  • Alterra up after deal, analyst positive on Bermuda peers http://t.co/Y5jTB40c Room 4 a new round of consolidation. $MKL buys $ALTE $$ Dec 19, 2012
  • $ALL Bets on Home Insurance as Stock Rally Withstands Sandy http://t.co/XBQOOSB5 Insured damages (excl flood) low4 Sandy; premratesflat $$ Dec 19, 2012
  • Stocks Held Hostage as CEOs Plan Spending Cuts http://t.co/5c7nBKAS It is difficult to avoid deflation; so much uncertainty presently $$ Dec 18, 2012

 

Credit & Fixed Income

 

  • Swaps ‘Armageddon’ Lingers as New Rules Concentrate Risk http://t.co/QK3s19Hz Clearinghouses r not a panacea; it is possible 4 them 2 fail Dec 21, 2012
  • Americans Hacked Don’t Know Chamber Left Them Alone http://t.co/DSBDUijq Common programs place yr computr @ risk; CoC defends SW makers $$ Dec 21, 2012
  • The Indianapolis 500 of Corporate Bonds Yields http://t.co/dCamXED3 Too much $$ flowing into corporate credit; feels like 2006 Dec 20, 2012
  • India Cash-for-Gold Loans Hide Shadow-Banking Risks http://t.co/BGnO4YWI 2much lending creates a mess; 2much secured lending creates a panic Dec 20, 2012
  • Pimco Sees Spreading Slowdown Boosting [Australian] Bonds http://t.co/oDFSkGoF Pimco buying the debt of fringe developed nations $$ Dec 19, 2012
  • CAB Legislation Expected in January http://t.co/TSuxBmM4 California legislation proposed 2 limit issuance of Capital Appreciation Bonds $$ Dec 19, 2012
  • Why China May Be Facing US-Style Credit Crunch http://t.co/99xMzC3M “To some extent, this is fundamentally a Ponzi scheme,” [Xiao] said. $$ Dec 19, 2012
  • Pimco’s Gross Cuts Back on MBS http://t.co/4FaxLTKq Lightening up on MBS & Corporates, buying developed fringe, sticking w/TIPS $$ Dec 19, 2012
  • Mind the rate risk http://t.co/nVqjlWW9 Rates may stay low 4 a while, but when they run up, total returns could b worse than 1994 $$ Dec 19, 2012
  • Spain House Prices – Deconstructing Spain http://t.co/7ARRPZqS Housing prices continue 2fall, more foreclosures, setting up bad bank fund $$ Dec 17, 2012

 

Energy

 

  • Valero Received Approval 2 Ship US Crude 2 Quebec Refinery http://t.co/ojABCqu1 Could b start of something big: US exports oil FD:+ $VLO Dec 20, 2012
  • Extracting shale oil from a Dead Cow http://t.co/bok4bNE7 Interesting: after the expropriation of Repsol that oil majors line up4more $$ Dec 20, 2012
  • Gasoline at US Pumps Drops to Lowest in a Year on Supply Gain http://t.co/4pI5SXiV Good news coming to users of refined fuel products $$ Dec 19, 2012
  • California refiners dreamin’ of shale oil face hurdles http://t.co/vJgiW4rm Many efforts t get cheap oil 2 CA; $24/bbl price difference $$ Dec 17, 2012

 

Other

 

  • CEOs Concerned about the Time and Cost of Implementing Predictive Analytics http://t.co/QcABrcFH Big data facilitates cluster pricing $$ Dec 20, 2012
  • In the Flesh: The Embedded Dangers of Untested Stem Cell Cosmetics http://t.co/de2aio1V Adult stem cells can do as much harm as good $$ Dec 19, 2012
  • The First Time Tech Ruined the Music Business http://t.co/d0RE4002 As technologies improve all manner of “rights” issues crop up $$ Dec 18, 2012
  • Advisers Question Modern Portfolio Theory http://t.co/lLbCVvgL Look through the security 2 the underlying economics of the investment $$ Dec 17, 2012
  • Twitter has started rolling out the option to download all your tweets http://t.co/IIOVO6mJ Not common yet, but may b coming soon $$ Dec 17, 2012
  • Schools Safer Than 1990s as Educators Anticipate Killers http://t.co/aQaB6G6Q Students r far less likely2b killed in school than elsewhere Dec 17, 2012
  • Highest-Paid California Trooper Is Chief Banking $484,000 http://t.co/JwgYWfg2 Giving officers comp time rather than $$ 4 unused vacation Dec 17, 2012
  • ‘Followers for sale’: Twitter’s very own black market http://t.co/HKCqo074 Fake Follower Check will estimate how many followers r real $$ Dec 17, 2012
  • SEC Says Asset Firm Manipulated Trades to Enrich Some Clients http://t.co/L8IJQ77k I remember their ads, proclaiming their track record $$ Dec 17, 2012

 

Wrong

  • Bad idea: Africa Dreams of Building Telescopes to Study Space http://t.co/gSwkKIBs Would make more sense 4 Africa to fix agriculture $$ Dec 20, 2012
  • Wrong: US should intervene in Nagorno-Karabakh process at the highest level http://t.co/2tJTKtht We should stick 2r own business $$ Dec 18, 2012
  • Wrong: This is why I generally don’t like Quartz; pretending to be smart $$ RT Our favorite charts of 2012 http://t.co/w2bvLDvX Dec 18, 2012

 

Replies & Comments

  • “This would have been a better article if you had put separators between each graph/explanation.” — David_Merkel http://t.co/uoMy61H1 $$ Dec 21, 2012
  • @EddyElfenbein Thanks, Eddy. Dec 19, 2012
  • @geekpryde Hey, thanks for the kind words, I appreciate that you follow me. Dec 19, 2012
  • @VIXandMore Ludwig is letting us down, and 3 days after his birthday. Call Schroeder ;) Dec 19, 2012
  • @Alea_ Cool new avatar, I like it Dec 19, 2012
  • @Money_in_Stereo Well said, though I am not an expert there. Thanks for sharing that. Dec 18, 2012
  • @BarbarianCap Hint: if company is offering u a nice buyout, they r offering less than its worth, unless u no more about when u will die $$ Dec 18, 2012
  • @volatilitysmile @carney I knew a close adviser of Mozillo; he told me stories of how disconnected Angelo was w/reality in 2009 $$ Dec 17, 2012
  • @nicster There have been many changes, but they are all local, and don’t make the news. US Govt was stupid on the shoe bomb. Local better $$ Dec 15, 2012

Retweets

  • Amazing RT @moorehn: “the average lifespan of American musical superstars in the pop, rock and rap genre is only 45.” http://t.co/uXVNuStF Dec 20, 2012
  • Practically. Old bond mgr rule: underweight the most rapidly growing debt class $$ RT @ToddSullivan: didn’t they already do student loan? Dec 20, 2012
  • Remember deriving formula when younger $$ RT @munilass: Twelve Days of Christmas and tetrahedral numbers http://t.co/VVNnyU2V (via @ptak) Dec 20, 2012
  • You can say that again $$ RT @japhychron: @AlephBlog Always funny the way they call economics a science. Studying people is anything but. Dec 18, 2012
  • Banks are insolvent & w/large & rapidly growing budget deficit $$ RT @FGoria: DJ: Cyprus May Be Days Away From Default — Fin Min Official Dec 17, 2012
  • Sad & dumb $$ RT @carney: You’d never guess who has a completely self-serving & bonkers theory of the financial crisis. http://t.co/LIAd8WqB Dec 17, 2012

 

Twitter Summary

  • My week on twitter: 72 retweets received, 1 new listings, 85 new followers, 132 mentions. Via: http://t.co/SPrAWil0 Dec 20, 2012

 

Disclaimer


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.


Also, though David runs Aleph Investments, LLC, this blog is not a part of that business. This blog exists to educate investors, and give something back. It is not intended as advertisement for Aleph Investments; David is not soliciting business through it. When David, or a client of David's has an interest in a security mentioned, full disclosure will be given, as has been past practice for all that David does on the web. Disclosure is the breakfast of champions.


Additionally, David may occasionally write about accounting, actuarial, insurance, and tax topics, but nothing written here, at RealMoney, or anywhere else is meant to be formal "advice" in those areas. Consult a reputable professional in those areas to get personal, tailored advice that meets the specialized needs that David can have no knowledge of.

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