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An Idea for When the Market is High

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

Last night I was at the Towson University International Markets Summit.  I’m grateful to the students for inviting me, as it is an honor.  During the presentation, I mentioned the book “Accounting for Value” by Stephen Penman.  I reviewed the book two years ago.  A great book, and one that should lead readers to modify their views on value investing.

But one aspect of the book was easy to implement, he cited his paper that you can read here, Returns to Buying Earnings and Book Value: Accounting for Growth and Risk.  Buy the stocks that are the cheapest as measured by the highest quintiles of book value to price, and trailing twelve month earnings per share to price.

I ran this analysis for all US-traded stocks with over $100 million of market capitalization.  Here are the results:

CompanyTickerIndustryCountryB/PE/P
Petrobras Argentina SA ADRPZE0606 – Oil & Gas – IntegratedArgentina

1.26

7.95

Pampa Energia S.A. (ADR)PAM1203 – Electric UtilitiesArgentina

0.83

11.41

OMV AG (ADR)OMVKY0609 – Oil & Gas OperationsAustria

1.13

11.33

Validus Holdings, Ltd.VR0709 – Insurance (Life)Bermuda

1

13.3

Everest Re Group LtdRE0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)Bermuda

0.88

15.35

Maiden Holdings, Ltd.MHLD0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)Bermuda

0.93

10.11

Montpelier Re Holdings Ltd.MRH0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)Bermuda

0.99

11.83

Axis Capital Holdings LimitedAXS0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)Bermuda

1.01

13.2

Platinum Underwriters HoldingsPTP0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)Bermuda

1.02

11.25

White Mountains Insurance GrouWTM0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)Bermuda

1.07

8.49

Aspen Insurance Holdings LimitAHL0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)Bermuda

1.12

9.61

Assured Guaranty Ltd.AGO0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)Bermuda

1.18

18.59

Partnerre LtdPRE0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)Bermuda

1.23

10.75

Argo Group International HoldiAGII0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)Bermuda

1.27

11.55

Endurance Specialty Holdings LENH0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)Bermuda

1.31

12.55

Gerdau SA (ADR)GGB0121 – Iron & SteelBrazil

1.32

6.84

Gafisa SA (ADR)GFA0215 – Construction ServicesBrazil

2.04

15.52

Petroleo Brasileiro PetrobrasPBR0606 – Oil & Gas – IntegratedBrazil

1.67

13.2

Telefonica Brasil SA (ADR)VIV0915 – Communications ServicesBrazil

0.85

7.58

Companhia de Saneamento BasicoSBS1209 – Water UtilitiesBrazil

0.89

8.57

Endeavour Silver CorpEXK0118 – Gold & SilverCanada

0.89

9.9

Teck Resources Ltd (USA)TCK0124 – Metal MiningCanada

1.33

6.84

TransGlobe Energy CorporationTGA0609 – Oil & Gas OperationsCanada

0.85

10.03

Granite Real Estate InvestmentGRP.U0933 – Real Estate OperationsCanada

0.87

7.53

Brookfield Office Properties IBPO0933 – Real Estate OperationsCanada

1.08

10.08

Boardwalk REIT (USA)BOWFF0933 – Real Estate OperationsCanada

1.14

11.54

Greenlight Capital Re, Ltd.GLRE0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)Cayman Islands

0.9

19.45

Sinopec Shanghai PetrochemicalSHI0103 – Chemical ManufacturingChina

1.52

11

Yongye International, IncYONG0103 – Chemical ManufacturingChina

1.65

43.36

China XD Plastics Co LtdCXDC0109 – Containters & PackagingChina

1.13

22.71

Lihua International IncLIWA0127 – Misc. Fabricated ProductsChina

2.31

41.21

Xinyuan Real Estate Co., Ltd.XIN0215 – Construction ServicesChina

5.22

42.83

China Automotive Systems, Inc.CAAS0415 – Auto & Truck PartsChina

0.99

11.04

China Petroleum & Chemical CorSNP0609 – Oil & Gas OperationsChina

0.87

10.11

Concord Medical Services HldgCCM0806 – Healthcare FacilitiesChina

3.06

12.45

China Telecom Corporation LimiCHA0915 – Communications ServicesChina

1.17

7.03

Xueda Education Group (ADR)XUE0969 – SchoolsChina

0.84

6.63

Changyou.Com Ltd (ADR)CYOU1018 – Computer ServicesChina

1.23

20.92

Nam Tai Electronics, Inc.NTE1024 – Electronic Instruments & ControlsChina

1.11

21.58

Jinpan International LimitedJST1024 – Electronic Instruments & ControlsChina

1.7

13.36

Semiconductor Manufacturing InSMI1033 – SemiconductorsChina

0.96

8.06

China Eastern Airlines Corp. LCEA1106 – AirlineChina

1.05

12.11

China Southern Airlines Co LtdZNH1106 – AirlineChina

1.7

13.19

Guangshen Railway Co. Ltd (ADRGSH1112 – RailroadsChina

1.34

6.64

Axa SA (ADR)AXAHY0709 – Insurance (Life)France

1.19

9.46

Volkswagen AG (ADR)VLKAY0412 – Auto & Truck ManufacturersGermany

0.94

9.73

Allianz SE (ADR)AZSEY0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)Germany

0.92

11.08

E.ON SE (ADR)EONGY1203 – Electric UtilitiesGermany

1.28

8.17

National Bank of Greece (ADR)NBG0727 – Regional BanksGreece

2

131.03

Capital Product Partners L.P.CPLP1118 – Water TransportationGreece

0.83

10.36

Safe Bulkers, Inc.SB1118 – Water TransportationGreece

0.83

11.99

StealthGas Inc.GASS1118 – Water TransportationGreece

1.32

9.08

Navios Maritime Holdings Inc.NM1118 – Water TransportationGreece

1.32

13.4

Sun Hung Kai Properties LimiteSUHJY0215 – Construction ServicesHong Kong

1.44

15.22

Hysan Development Company LimiHYSNY0215 – Construction ServicesHong Kong

1.66

20.18

Tai Cheung Holdings Ltd (ADR)TAICY0215 – Construction ServicesHong Kong

2.11

34.38

Le Gaga Holdings Ltd ADRGAGA0509 – CropsHong Kong

1.55

14.63

Bank of East Asia Ltd. (ADR),BKEAY0727 – Regional BanksHong Kong

0.85

8.78

Iao Kun Group Holding Co LtdIKGH0912 – Casinos & GamingHong Kong

1.36

12.89

Cheung Kong (Holdings) LimitedCHEUY0933 – Real Estate OperationsHong Kong

1.16

11.07

Seaspan CorporationSSW1118 – Water TransportationHong Kong

1.05

15.2

Magyar Telekom Tavkozlesi NyrtMYTAY0915 – Communications ServicesHungary

1.34

6.66

XL Group plcXL0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)Ireland

1.12

11.72

Fly Leasing Ltd(ADR)FLY0939 – Rental & LeasingIreland

1.3

17.39

Ellomay Capital Ltd.ELLO1033 – SemiconductorsIsrael

0.93

10.95

FUJIFILM Holdings Corp. (ADR)FUJIY0112 – Fabricated Plastic & RubberJapan

1.55

6.64

Kobe Steel, Ltd. (ADR)KBSTY0121 – Iron & SteelJapan

1.47

14.7

Mitsui & Co Ltd (ADR)MITSY0218 – Misc. Capital GoodsJapan

1.33

13.26

Wacoal Holdings Corporation (AWACLY0403 – Apparel/AccessoriesJapan

1.45

7.14

Toyota Motor Corp (ADR)TM0412 – Auto & Truck ManufacturersJapan

0.82

10.5

Honda Motor Co Ltd (ADR)HMC0412 – Auto & Truck ManufacturersJapan

0.92

7.61

Nissan Motor Co., Ltd. (ADR)NSANY0412 – Auto & Truck ManufacturersJapan

1.11

10.04

Nomura Holdings, Inc. (ADR)NMR0718 – Investment ServicesJapan

1.09

10.18

Mizuho Financial Group Inc. (AMFG0727 – Regional BanksJapan

1.13

14.9

Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Grp,SMFG0727 – Regional BanksJapan

1.28

16.67

Mitsubishi UFJ Financial GroupMTU0727 – Regional BanksJapan

1.53

13.67

Nippon Telegraph & Telephone CNTT0915 – Communications ServicesJapan

1.39

8.93

ORIX Corporation (ADR)IX0939 – Rental & LeasingJapan

0.98

7.59

Ternium S.A. (ADR)TX0121 – Iron & SteelLuxembourg

0.89

7.61

ING Groep NV (ADR)ING0709 – Insurance (Life)Netherlands

1.14

9.46

VimpelCom Ltd (ADR)VIP0915 – Communications ServicesNetherlands

0.93

13.67

ASM International NV (ADR)ASMI1033 – SemiconductorsNetherlands

1.01

74.95

Petroleum Geo-Services ASA (ADPGSVY0612 – Oil Well Services & EquipmentNorway

0.81

9.85

Banco Latinoamericano Comerc EBLX0727 – Regional BanksPanama

0.85

8.39

Compania de Minas BuenaventuraBVN0118 – Gold & SilverPeru

1.18

10.05

OFG BancorpOFG0727 – Regional BanksPuerto Rico

0.93

11.04

Popular IncBPOP0727 – Regional BanksPuerto Rico

1.52

19.77

Triple-S Management Corp.GTS0806 – Healthcare FacilitiesPuerto Rico

1.79

12.52

LUKOIL (ADR)LUKOY0606 – Oil & Gas – IntegratedRussian Federation

1.91

19.08

China Yuchai International LimCYD0218 – Misc. Capital GoodsSingapore

1.2

15.34

Net 1 UEPS Technologies IncUEPS0703 – Consumer Financial ServicesSouth Africa

0.91

6.79

POSCO (ADR)PKX0121 – Iron & SteelSouth Korea

1.72

6.97

Shinhan Financial Group Co., LSHG0727 – Regional BanksSouth Korea

1.24

8.42

Woori Finance Holdings Co., LtWF0727 – Regional BanksSouth Korea

1.91

9.86

SK Telecom Co., Ltd. (ADR)SKM0915 – Communications ServicesSouth Korea

0.89

11.87

Repsol SA (ADR)REPYY0606 – Oil & Gas – IntegratedSpain

1.06

7.93

Transocean LTDRIG0612 – Oil Well Services & EquipmentSwitzerland

1.14

9.54

ACE LimitedACE0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)Switzerland

0.84

10.92

Allied World Assurance Co HoldAWH0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)Switzerland

1

11.73

United Microelectronics Corp (UMC1033 – SemiconductorsTaiwan

1.3

8.02

Silicon Motion Technology CorpSIMO1033 – SemiconductorsTaiwan

1.96

19.74

BP plc (ADR)BP0606 – Oil & Gas – IntegratedUnited Kingdom

0.85

15.1

Noble Corporation PLCNE0612 – Oil Well Services & EquipmentUnited Kingdom

1.08

10.05

Subsea 7 SA (ADR)SUBCY0612 – Oil Well Services & EquipmentUnited Kingdom

1.09

7.02

ENSCO PLCESV0612 – Oil Well Services & EquipmentUnited Kingdom

1.11

12.2

Rowan Companies PLCRDC0612 – Oil Well Services & EquipmentUnited Kingdom

1.3

6.71

HSBC Holdings plc (ADR)HSBC0727 – Regional BanksUnited Kingdom

0.94

8.09

Vodafone Group Plc (ADR)VOD0915 – Communications ServicesUnited Kingdom

1.47

31.68

J Sainsbury plc (ADR)JSAIY0957 – Retail (Grocery)United Kingdom

0.96

10.57

Global Ship Lease, Inc.GSL1118 – Water TransportationUnited Kingdom

2.11

16.62

Cliffs Natural Resources IncCLF0124 – Metal MiningUnited States

1.87

12.76

M.D.C. Holdings, Inc.MDC0215 – Construction ServicesUnited States

0.91

23.28

M/I Homes IncMHO0215 – Construction ServicesUnited States

0.92

27.21

URS CorpURS0215 – Construction ServicesUnited States

1.16

7.02

Mestek, Inc.MCCK0218 – Misc. Capital GoodsUnited States

0.98

11.53

General Motors CompanyGM0412 – Auto & Truck ManufacturersUnited States

0.83

7.98

Rocky Brands IncRCKY0418 – FootwearUnited States

1.21

6.82

Johnson Outdoors Inc.JOUT0430 – Recreational ProductsUnited States

0.87

7.83

LeapFrog Enterprises, Inc.LF0430 – Recreational ProductsUnited States

0.89

17.58

Yasheng GroupHERB0509 – CropsUnited States

11.77

70.4

Seaboard CorporationSEB0515 – Food ProcessingUnited States

0.82

6.77

John B. Sanfilippo & Son, Inc.JBSS0515 – Food ProcessingUnited States

0.84

8.55

Omega Protein CorporationOME0515 – Food ProcessingUnited States

1.01

12.24

Ennis, Inc.EBF0518 – Office SuppliesUnited States

0.92

8.43

ACCO Brands CorporationACCO0518 – Office SuppliesUnited States

1.01

11.07

Universal CorpUVV0524 – TobaccoUnited States

0.93

10.8

Hess Corp.HES0609 – Oil & Gas OperationsUnited States

0.86

12.86

Approach Resources Inc.AREX0609 – Oil & Gas OperationsUnited States

0.93

9.48

Equal Energy Ltd. (USA)EQU0609 – Oil & Gas OperationsUnited States

0.96

9.38

Sandridge Mississippian TrustSDT0609 – Oil & Gas OperationsUnited States

1.49

63.59

PHI Inc.PHII0612 – Oil Well Services & EquipmentUnited States

0.85

8.96

Medallion Financial CorpTAXI0703 – Consumer Financial ServicesUnited States

0.94

9.13

CIT Group Inc.CIT0703 – Consumer Financial ServicesUnited States

0.96

7.26

Goldman Sachs Group IncGS0703 – Consumer Financial ServicesUnited States

0.97

10.16

Ellington Financial LLCEFC0703 – Consumer Financial ServicesUnited States

1.04

13.7

Walter Investment Management CWAC0703 – Consumer Financial ServicesUnited States

1.11

23.94

Chimera Investment CorporationCIM0703 – Consumer Financial ServicesUnited States

1.12

11.58

PHH CorporationPHH0703 – Consumer Financial ServicesUnited States

1.19

9.68

EZCORP IncEZPW0703 – Consumer Financial ServicesUnited States

1.58

7.55

WellPoint IncWLP0706 – Insurance (Accident & Health)United States

0.89

9.52

Employers Holdings, Inc.EIG0706 – Insurance (Accident & Health)United States

0.93

10.46

Reinsurance Group of America IRGA0706 – Insurance (Accident & Health)United States

1.08

7.49

American Equity Investment LifAEL0709 – Insurance (Life)United States

0.86

16.77

Protective Life Corp.PL0709 – Insurance (Life)United States

0.92

9.76

FBL Financial GroupFFG0709 – Insurance (Life)United States

0.96

9.73

Unum GroupUNM0709 – Insurance (Life)United States

0.98

9.55

Assurant, Inc.AIZ0709 – Insurance (Life)United States

1

9.67

Lincoln National CorporationLNC0709 – Insurance (Life)United States

1.07

9.76

Symetra Financial CorporationSYA0709 – Insurance (Life)United States

1.23

8.64

CNO Financial Group IncCNO0709 – Insurance (Life)United States

1.29

12.39

Imperial Holdings, Inc.IFT0709 – Insurance (Life)United States

1.38

37.03

National Western Life InsurancNWLI0709 – Insurance (Life)United States

1.63

10.85

Genworth Financial IncGNW0709 – Insurance (Life)United States

1.72

6.87

Fortegra Financial CorpFRF0712 – Insurance (Miscellaneous)United States

1.28

8.18

Allstate Corporation, TheALL0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)United States

0.82

8.75

HCC Insurance Holdings, Inc.HCC0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)United States

0.82

8.92

State Auto Financial CorpSTFC0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)United States

0.83

6.92

Stewart Information Services CSTC0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)United States

0.83

7.96

Safety Insurance Group, Inc.SAFT0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)United States

0.84

7.39

Investors Title CompanyITIC0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)United States

0.86

9.85

First American Financial CorpFAF0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)United States

0.87

6.75

American Financial Group IncAFG0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)United States

0.87

9.15

ProAssurance CorporationPRA0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)United States

0.87

10.86

Old Republic International CorORI0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)United States

0.88

10.53

Selective Insurance GroupSIGI0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)United States

0.9

8.51

Horace Mann Educators CorporatHMN0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)United States

0.91

9.6

Kemper CorpKMPR0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)United States

0.95

9.64

Baldwin & Lyons IncBWINB0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)United States

0.98

9.42

Hanover Insurance Group, Inc.,THG0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)United States

0.99

9.44

Alleghany CorporationY0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)United States

1.01

9.15

EMC Insurance Group Inc.EMCI0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)United States

1.02

9.88

United Fire Group, Inc.UFCS0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)United States

1.05

10.3

Navigators Group, Inc, TheNAVG0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)United States

1.09

7.68

Cna Financial CorpCNA0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)United States

1.1

8.15

American International Group IAIG0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)United States

1.34

12

American National Insurance CoANAT0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)United States

1.4

8.99

MBIA Inc.MBI0715 – Insurance (Property & Casualty)United States

1.45

10.86

FBR & CoFBRC0718 – Investment ServicesUnited States

1.03

29.21

KKR Financial Holdings LLCKFN0718 – Investment ServicesUnited States

1.05

11.24

NASDAQ OMX Group, Inc.NDAQ0718 – Investment ServicesUnited States

1.13

6.66

Piper Jaffray CompaniesPJC0718 – Investment ServicesUnited States

1.17

7.42

Primus Guaranty, Ltd.PRSG0718 – Investment ServicesUnited States

1.25

50.12

Arlington Asset Investment CorAI0718 – Investment ServicesUnited States

1.28

11.6

Oppenheimer Holdings Inc. (USAOPY0718 – Investment ServicesUnited States

1.34

6.71

CIFC CorpCIFC0718 – Investment ServicesUnited States

1.73

9.51

JPMorgan Chase & Co.JPM0724 – Money Center BanksUnited States

0.98

7.39

First National Bank AlaskaFBAK0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.81

6.61

Old National BancorpONB0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.81

7

Sandy Spring Bancorp Inc.SASR0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.81

7.28

TowneBankTOWN0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.81

7.52

Fidelity Southern CorporationLION0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.81

10.35

Central Pacific Financial CorpCPF0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.81

21.18

Cascade BancorpCACB0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.81

22.18

LCNB Corp.LCNB0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.82

6.69

S & T Bancorp IncSTBA0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.83

7.38

Great Southern Bancorp, Inc.GSBC0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.83

8.55

ESB Financial CorporationESBF0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.84

6.88

WesBanco, Inc.WSBC0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.84

7.15

Trustmark CorpTRMK0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.84

7.28

KeyCorpKEY0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.84

7.3

MidWestOne Financial Group, InMOFG0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.84

8.77

Bar Harbor BanksharesBHB0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.84

9.1

Seacoast Banking Corporation oSBCF0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.84

21.31

First Bancorp IncFNLC0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.85

7.39

Mercantile Bank Corp.MBWM0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.85

9.45

Heritage Financial Group IncHBOS0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.86

7.23

MainSource Financial Group IncMSFG0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.86

7.33

Norwood Financial CorporationNWFL0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.86

7.9

Fulton Financial CorpFULT0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.87

6.82

Pulaski Financial CorpPULB0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.88

6.85

Washington Federal Inc.WAFD0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.88

6.87

International Bancshares CorpIBOC0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.89

7.93

Lakeland Bancorp, Inc.LBAI0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.9

6.84

Northrim BanCorp, Inc.NRIM0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.9

7.67

BCB Bancorp, Inc.BCBP0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.9

7.91

ACNB CorporationACNB0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.9

8.14

Intermountain Community BancorIMCB0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.9

9.74

First Financial CorpTHFF0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.91

7.44

Farmers & Merchants Bancorp InFMAO0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.91

7.8

Southeastern Bank Financial CoSBFC0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.91

11.29

Isabella Bank CorpISBA0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.92

6.95

First Merchants CorporationFRME0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.93

6.76

Wintrust Financial CorpWTFC0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.93

7.12

First Citizens BancShares Inc.FCNCA0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.94

7.57

Firstbank CorporationFBMI0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.94

8.03

Century Bancorp, Inc.CNBKA0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.95

10.72

Central Valley Community BancoCVCY0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.96

6.62

PNC Financial Services Group IPNC0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.96

8.94

American National BankShares IAMNB0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.96

9.01

Capital One Financial Corp.COF0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.97

9.95

Provident Financial Services,PFS0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.99

6.92

NASB Financial, Inc.NASB0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

0.99

11

Flagstar Bancorp IncFBC0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

1.01

21.87

First Defiance FinancialFDEF0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

1.02

8.35

MidSouth Bancorp, Inc.MSL0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

1.03

6.96

C&F Financial CorpCFFI0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

1.04

13.4

First Community Bancshares IncFCBC0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

1.05

7.25

Provident Financial Holdings,PROV0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

1.05

8.78

Chemung Financial Corp.CHMG0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

1.06

6.7

Territorial Bancorp IncTBNK0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

1.08

7.23

Berkshire Hills Bancorp, Inc.BHLB0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

1.09

6.61

Regions Financial CorporationRF0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

1.09

7.73

Old Second Bancorp Inc.OSBC0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

1.1

113.32

Farmers Capital Bank CorpFFKT0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

1.14

7.7

Premier Financial Bancorp, IncPFBI0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

1.18

10.46

FIRST FINANCIAL NORTHWEST, INCFFNW0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

1.18

14.46

Intervest Bancshares CorpIBCA0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

1.19

8.37

MBT Financial Corp.MBTF0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

1.23

28.89

New Hampshire Thrift BancshareNHTB0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

1.26

7.66

MVB Financial CorpMVBF0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

1.29

10.03

Citigroup IncC0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

1.3

8.73

Susquehanna Bancshares IncSUSQ0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

1.31

8.42

QCR Holdings, Inc.QCRH0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

1.44

12.41

First Niagara Financial GroupFNFG0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

1.45

8.28

First Citizens Bancorporation,FCBN0727 – Regional BanksUnited States

1.5

9.95

Farmers & Merchants Bank (LongFMBL0909 – Business ServicesUnited States

0.98

8.05

Kelly Services, Inc.KELYA0909 – Business ServicesUnited States

1.02

7.21

Lakes Entertainment, Inc.LACO0912 – Casinos & GamingUnited States

1.01

14.29

Black Box CorporationBBOX0915 – Communications ServicesUnited States

1.38

7.36

Iridium Communications Inc.IRDM0915 – Communications ServicesUnited States

1.72

10.16

Courier CorporationCRRC0927 – Printing & PublishingUnited States

0.86

6.72

CSS Industries IncCSS0927 – Printing & PublishingUnited States

1.08

7.53

Blackstone Mortgage Trust IncBXMT0933 – Real Estate OperationsUnited States

0.87

145.18

New York Mortgage Trust IncNYMT0933 – Real Estate OperationsUnited States

0.88

14.44

PennyMac Mortgage Investment TPMT0933 – Real Estate OperationsUnited States

0.89

13.15

Starwood Property Trust, Inc.STWD0933 – Real Estate OperationsUnited States

0.94

7.84

Capstead Mortgage CorporationCMO0933 – Real Estate OperationsUnited States

0.99

7.31

Dynex Capital IncDX0933 – Real Estate OperationsUnited States

1.02

12.82

Two Harbors Investment CorpTWO0933 – Real Estate OperationsUnited States

1.04

16.24

American Capital Agency Corp.AGNC0933 – Real Estate OperationsUnited States

1.05

14.81

Apollo Commercial Real Est. FiARI0933 – Real Estate OperationsUnited States

1.09

7.4

MFA Financial, Inc.MFA0933 – Real Estate OperationsUnited States

1.09

9.89

Anworth Mortgage Asset CorporaANH0933 – Real Estate OperationsUnited States

1.1

9.07

Resource Capital Corp.RSO0933 – Real Estate OperationsUnited States

1.16

9.91

Rent-A-Center IncRCII0939 – Rental & LeasingUnited States

0.97

8.84

Willis Lease Finance CorporatiWLFC0939 – Rental & LeasingUnited States

1.31

9.51

Biglari Holdings IncBH0942 – RestaurantsUnited States

0.83

23.81

Rick’s Cabaret Int’l, IncRICK0942 – RestaurantsUnited States

0.92

8.66

PCM IncPCMI0948 – Retail (Catalog & Mail Order)United States

1.09

7.11

Trans World Entertainment CorpTWMC0963 – Retail (Specialty Non-Apparel)United States

1.68

7.37

TravelCenters of America LLCTA0963 – Retail (Specialty Non-Apparel)United States

1.76

7.55

Tech Data CorpTECD0966 – Retail (Technology)United States

0.87

7.43

hhgregg, Inc.HGG0966 – Retail (Technology)United States

1.32

6.67

Ingram Micro Inc.IM1015 – Computer PeripheralsUnited States

0.84

6.68

Key Tronic CorporationKTCC1015 – Computer PeripheralsUnited States

0.93

9.42

Xerox CorpXRX1018 – Computer ServicesUnited States

0.89

8.31

VOXX International CorpVOXX1024 – Electronic Instruments & ControlsUnited States

1.57

10.96

OmniVision Technologies, Inc.OVTI1033 – SemiconductorsUnited States

0.91

8.46

Benchmark Electronics, Inc.BHE1033 – SemiconductorsUnited States

1

9

JetBlue Airways CorporationJBLU1106 – AirlineUnited States

0.85

6.84

Republic Airways Holdings Inc.RJET1106 – AirlineUnited States

1.42

12.1

SkyWest, Inc.SKYW1106 – AirlineUnited States

2.19

8.93

Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings,AAWW1109 – Misc. TransportationUnited States

1.49

10.44

International Shipholding CorpISH1118 – Water TransportationUnited States

1.67

7.41

Gas Natural IncEGAS1206 – Natural Gas UtilitiesUnited States

0.89

6.75

What are my surprises here?

  • My but there are a lot of foreign companies in this list, far more as a percentage than the 3575 total companies I started with.  It seems that foreign companies are cheap.
  • Now, that said, accounting standards are tighter in the US than elsewhere, and particularly, be careful on Chinese companies.  Many of them are scams.
  • There are a lot of financial companies listed.  I would note that earnings quality for financial companies is often poor, so don’t go “hog wild” buying financial companies.

All that said, this could be a good list for starting due diligence, and I will use at least some of this in my next selection of companies for my clients.

What’s that, you say?  Do I and my clients own any of these firms?  Yes we do.  Of the 38 stocks in my portfolio, 11 of them pass this screen, and here is the summary:

Full Disclosure: Long ENH, SNP, GTS, LUKOY, BP, ESV, RGA, AIZ, NWLI, IM, XRX

On Approximate Valuation Methods

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

The growth of corporations is always constrained by something.  The trick is figuring out what the “something” is.  Tonight, I am here to simplify it for you.

Financial businesses that are regulated

We value these via book value or tangible book value.  Capital levels constrain business growth, so look at the return on equity to help modify what the proper valuation level should be.  Book value and return on equity are what govern.

Non-financial businesses that are regulated, such as utilities 

Look to the rate base that the regulators use.  Book value might be a good substitute, but look to see how companies might invest to increase their “rate base.”  Market Cap as a ratio to what the regulators allow profits on would be ideal.

Unregulated businesses that are mature

These are governed by sales per share, calculating the price-to-sales ratio.  In general, it is wise to buy these when the P/S ratios are low, and sell them when they are high.

Unregulated businesses that are not mature

This is the complex part of valuation, but in this case the PEG Ratio makes sense.  Companies that grow their earnings rapidly can justify high P/E multiples, but in general they need to grow earnings more rapidly than their P/E ratio expressed in percentage terms.

I don’t invest in many immature businesses, so this is not so relevant to me.  I look for places where businesses are neglected, and I buy, while selling businesses that are more then fully valued.

Summary

Think about compounding.   Ask what will best compound the growth of your capital.  I suspect that it will resemble what I have written here.  Focus on compounding and ignore Modern Portfolio Theory.  Compounding is real business.  MPT is fakery from men who could not build a business.

Sorted Weekly Tweets

Saturday, April 12th, 2014

US Policy & Politics 

  • Nearly Half of Dodd-Frank Rules Still Unwritten http://t.co/TwzSawT298 Experiment of regulation by study committees continues albeit slow $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • Banks Given Two Extra Years to Fully Comply With Volcker Rule http://t.co/XVfO9CKMm7 Banks prefer abolition; Fed offers a delay $$ #more? Apr 12, 2014
  • How Big Banks Created a Fed to Serve Their Own Interests http://t.co/tUlNYE3px5 Fed almost always ends up being a shill 4 the banks $$ $XLF Apr 12, 2014
  • Angry students snap photos of lunches, tell Michelle Obama: ‘You call this a [expletive] lunch?’ http://t.co/PY4gfa90oI Food Nazis r mean $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • On equal pay for women, Obama challenges GOP to ‘join us in this the 21st century’ http://t.co/wthQJKwsOO White House has own disparities $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • When the Messenger Is Worth Shooting http://t.co/GGuAxpkizc Fewer & fewer people think teaching financial literacy 2 avg ppl works $$ $SPY Apr 12, 2014
  • Republicans should be friendly to markets, not to business http://t.co/YXEWNr9MEh Big business excellent at co-opt laws 4 their own good $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • Maybe a Gender Pay Gap Is OK http://t.co/2rtYIZ6MFo This argumentation isn’t new; economists have been making this argument since the 70s $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • The Best SEC Money Can Buy http://t.co/wbwBB0CYd4 @ritholtz on Jim Kidney’s excellent retirement speech on the SEC which is worth reading $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • Food Price Shock, 2014 Edition http://t.co/u79xlrwK1I Note that the last time this happened, wars & other pains hit developing world $$ Apr 12, 2014

Market Impact

  • Hedge Fund Industry Growing With Pensions To Thank http://t.co/RF2FTh3YsD Probably a mistake as hedge funds tend not 2b good w/volatility $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • Hedge Funds Unwind As Growth To Value Rotation Intensifies http://t.co/XoK1RFKiAg As growth stocks correct, hedge funds chase performance $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • How Money Managers Fight Their Emotions and Sometimes Lose http://t.co/J0KH06m12P Too Bold? Not bold enough? Tough 2strike right balance $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • The Buys You Can’t Make Yourself http://t.co/0swRNG0Eyo @reformedbroker points out the value of @MebFaber ‘s global value ETF $GVAL $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • Humble Student of the Markets: A quant lesson from a technician http://t.co/svQilIRW4m Useful way to understand indicators & mkt regimes $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • 2014 crash will be worse than 1987′s: Marc Faber http://t.co/Guil41sSvP Bold w/respect to timing &severity of the next crisis, prob wrong $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • Do ‘rising rate’ ETFs really protect investors? http://t.co/tcx2p4qtuc I would b wary here; additional yield often carries hidden risks $$ Apr 12, 2014

Rest of the World

  • Kuroda Seen Brewing Yen-Weakening Surprise Action http://t.co/fVpFvwEiJz Don’t b shocked if the BOJ does yet more to weaken the yen $FXY $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • This is the bank to watch for a Chinese credit implosion http://t.co/sKL9NPruZz Minsheng is an aggressive lender 2the most dodgy credits $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • China’s steelmakers have branched out into shadow banking—which is funny since they owe $484B http://t.co/Z1IzHBJJ7G Brief stmt of prob $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • China Pizza Passion Has Fonterra Riding Mozzarella Wave http://t.co/J4605GnGK4 Pizza is so different than traditional Chinese food $$ $YUM Apr 12, 2014
  • Ukraine’s Rust Belt Faces Ruin as Putin Threatens Imports http://t.co/7BYk6ULy3t Russia has more ec influence on Ukraine thn US on Russia $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • Saudi Banks Reject Algosaibi Meeting on $5.9B Default http://t.co/6eZwowBlZW Islamic finance struggles w/debt that isn’t debt but is debt $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • Lavender-Filled Teddy Bears From Tasmania Are a Big Hit in China http://t.co/ubhWoUSnQz Bobbie Bear touches the hearts of Chinese ladies $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • Top economists warn Germany that EMU crisis as dangerous as ever http://t.co/gsqrbZ5ox0 Overall & banking leverage still higher than safe $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • Fracking’s hottest year in China http://t.co/5xVoKK6K0d China finds gas & tight oil in their shale formations. Who knew? $$ $FXI $XLE Apr 12, 2014

Companies & Industries

  • Time Inc. to Raise $1.4B in Debt for Spinoff http://t.co/8QUGvyKhrv I would b careful here; levering up old media not a recipe 4 success $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • Vox Takes Melding of Journalism and Technology to a New Level http://t.co/YdMuuu0ZQC Vox Media creates a content mgmt system 4 journalism $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • Trailer Parks Lure Wall Street Investors Looking for Double-Wide Returns http://t.co/zym4OmSDP5 Poor people have a hard time moving $$ Apr 12, 2014

Other

  • Stay-at-Home Moms Rise in Reversal of Modern Family Trend http://t.co/sCBErpTIhk Children deserve attention to help them grow up $$ $SPY Apr 12, 2014
  • More Moms Staying Home, Reversing Decadeslong Decline http://t.co/w7bnhw8tQd Value in efforts 2 produce better children w/more parenting $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • Font War: Inside the Design World’s $20M Divorce http://t.co/4YpYf1x5UN Not clearly spelling out a partnership agreement: font of trouble $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • Windows XP Goes Dark; Will Hackers Be Lurking? http://t.co/GPBJKpzdhf XP has been debugged; odds of significant holes are low $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • After Heartbleed Bug, A Race to Plug Internet Hole http://t.co/HCBfcHBl5O A significant part of internet affecting privacy had a hole $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • Global solar dominance in sight as science trumps fossil fuels http://t.co/BZOdAVwYbA Can capture 31% of sun’s energy with a 111V Solar Cell Apr 12, 2014
  • At Gross’s Pimco, El-Erian Says ‘Different Styles’ Stopped Working Well Together http://t.co/vRqPfRA67m Oil & water eventually separated $$ Apr 12, 2014

Wrong

  • Unsafe: Greece Plans to Issue Long-Term Bond on Wednesday http://t.co/X4gnld481q Lust 4 yield guides the behavior of debt investors $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • Misleading: Oklahoma Swamped by Surge in Earthquakes Near Fracking http://t.co/nHfPIWys3q All quakes r little which avoids big quakes $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • Wrong: Are Safer Cars Worth the Money? http://t.co/1N0Y9aklJb Misapplies benefit-cost analysis; may b cheaper ways 2 save more lives $$ $F Apr 12, 2014

Retweets, Replies & Comments

  • ‘ @foxjust Nice going; EEBS is breaktakingly honest with respect to earnings manipulation. cc: @jciesielski $$ Apr 12, 2014
  • RT @ReformedBroker: Reminder: The Fed’s own economic forecasts are basically worse than your dog’s. http://t.co/uLYirMA5zB Apr 09, 2014

I’m Not in This for Love

Friday, April 11th, 2014

Much as I appreciate those who like what I write at this blog, I don’t write to be loved.  I don’t write to be hated, either.  I am sensitive to what people think of me, but not to the degree that it changes what I write.

I may have nonconsensus views on:

  • The Federal Reserve
  • Gold
  • Social Security & Medicare (and their cousins around the globe)
  • The current Bull Market in Stocks and Corporate Bonds
  • Long Treasuries
  • and more…..

But I write what I write to disclose the truth.  I am an active equity manager, but I encourage people to use passive investing via index funds, unless they can find a manager who can reliably obtain outperformance.

I don’t blog for economic advantage.  If I wanted to do that, I could channel a wide variety of ideas on investing that are popular, but I know are marginal at best in terms of effectiveness.

Some friends of mine have told me, “Why don’t you write about companies that you own, or companies that look attractive to you?”

I’ve been burned by doing that.  For every ten that you get right, you get the same response from every one you get wrong.  As with most of the web, the complainers dominate.  That’s why I don’t trot out many individual stock ideas.  It’s not that I don’t have them, but I only share them as a group, not as a single idea, most of the time.

Summary

I’m here to tell the truth, even if it cuts against my own short-term economic interests.  Most of the time, I adjust my portfolio so that it is ready for everything, but sometimes I delay, because I know that changes in the market usually happen slowly.

I do not write to be popular.  I write to change the consensus, unlikely as that will be.  Finance is a perverse area of life where fear and greed take over.  And with academics, they have these lame models that are fit for Vulcans (maybe) but not humans (and certainly not Ferengi).

We need new models that reflect the fear-greed cycle, and make valuation a significant input in risk assessments.

I’m not in this for love; I only want to change the way that we view investment decisions.

To Live off of, and Die from, the Equity Premium and Alpha

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

I’m working on my taxes.  I’m not in a good mood.  Okay, writing that made me chuckle, because I am usually in a good mood.

Let me divide my working life into four segments:

  • 1986-1998: Actuary — reasonably well paid, and significantly underpaid compared to the value I delivered.
  • 1998-2007 — Investment risk manager, Mortgage bond manager, Corporate bond manager, and Senior Analyst at a long/short hedge fund.  Paid well for my efforts, and the  rewards to clients were far more than what I was paid.
  • 2007-2010 — Almost no pay, as I deal with home issues, provide research to a small minority broker-dealer, and try to gain institutional asset management clients.  Living off of assets from earlier days.
  • 2010-2014 — Living off of asset income as I slowly build a retail and small institutional client base for my value investing.

The last two periods are the most interesting in a way, because I was drawing more income from investments than I was from any other source.  Even during my time at the hedge fund, I made more money from my own investing every year than I was paid, and I was paid well.  That said the mid-2000s were a hot time, particularly if you made the right calls on a growing global economy.

My net worth today is roughly where it was at the peak of the markets in 2007, despite my low wage income.  I have been bailed out by the returns of the equity market and my alpha.

This is not a comfortable place to be, because general equity returns are not predictable, and alpha, though I have had it for years, is not predictable either.  That said, my client base has been growing, and in another year or so, my practice should support my family even if the markets don’t do well.

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

Though I just told a story about me, the real story isn’t about me.  Think of all of the people who are trying to manage their lump sum in retirement.  They are relying on strong equity markets; they are hoping for alpha.  They are not ready for setbacks.

Unless you are seriously wealthy, when you are not receiving reliable income from a wage-like source, you can feel like you are in a weak position. I have felt that on occasion, but in general  I have not worried.

I write this because equity outperformance over bonds will likely be limited over the next ten years.  I peg equities at about a 5%/year average nominal return, with a diversified portfolio of bonds at around 2-3%/year.  Also the ability to add alpha is limited, because alpha is zero in total, and are you smart enough to find the managers that can do it?

In desperate times desperate men do desperate things.  Low interest rates are leading many to speculate more than they ordinarily would.  Equity allocations go higher.  Allocations to “alternatives” go higher.  People start using nonguaranteed income vehicles as if they had the structural protections of bonds.

As I always say, be careful.  Those trying to manage a lump sum for income in retirement are playing a dangerous game where if you try to draw more than 3.5%/year with regularity will prove challenging, because that is playing at the boundary of what the assets can deliver, and leaves little room for an adverse scenario.  Be careful.

Tower Group Errata

Monday, April 7th, 2014

I try to run an ethical blog here, so when I make mistakes, I admit them.  In this case, I don’t think the errors make a lot of difference to the investment decision, but I will confess to being wrong on  details in my last post.  I made the statement:

Though there are no financing contingencies to this deal, ACP Re can walk away with no penalty if it merely wants to do so.

That’s wrong.  ACP Re can walk away of its own accord if there is a material adverse change, and under some conditions, they would receive a breakup fee.  As such, it is not a “free look.”  But it is one-sided in this sense: if the reserves are too low, ACP Re can declare a material adverse change.  If they are fair or high, ACP will happily do the merger and enjoy the profits.

On the delay of the 10-K, which is more than a month late, I repeat that most of the figures in the balance sheet are easy to calculate.  I was trained as an actuary, albeit a life actuary, though I was an insurance buy-side analyst for 4.5 years.  The difficult question with any P&C insurer is whether the reserves are correct, and even actuaries inside a company are never fully sure of the reserves.  That’s why reserves at P&C insurers are usually set conservatively, even though GAAP says to use best estimate.  It is not a bad thing to bend GAAP accounting to be conservative, and be slow in recognizing income.

My experience with insurers that are tardy with their financials is that it is wise to steer clear.  Aggressive insurance management teams tend to go through a string of corrections before the financials are set right.

Between 1998-2000, I used to do arbitrage on small deals.  On net, I did fair with it, but the deals where I lost, you could feel a kind of “sag” where you would not ordinarily expect it.  Good arb deals show strength after an initial period of selling by those that do not want to hang around for the arb.

Now, I don’t think my reasoning is depressing the stock price, but it is interesting that the stock price keeps heading lower, and slowly.  I have a saying that slow moves tend to persist, while fast moves tend to mean-revert.

I don’t have any inside information, but this situation feels bad.  Ordinarily with takeovers, the bid for stock is far more firm.

Full disclosure: No positions in any of the companies mentioned

Best of the Aleph Blog, Part 24

Friday, April 4th, 2014

These articles appeared between November 2012 and January 2013:

On Time Horizons

Investment advice without a time horizon is not investment advice.

This Election Will Solve Nothing

So far that is true of the 2012 elections.

NOTA Bene

We need to add “None of the Above” as an electoral choice in all elections.

Eliminating the Rating Agencies, Part 2

Eliminating the Rating Agencies, Part 3

Where I propose a great idea, and then realize that I am wrong.

The Rules, Part XXXV

Stability only comes to markets in a self-reinforcing mode, from buy and hold (and sell and sit on cash) investors who act at the turning points.

The Rules, Part XXXVI

It almost never makes sense to play for the last 5% of something; it costs too much. Getting 90-95% is relatively easy; grasping for the last 5-10% usually results in losing some of the 90-95%.

Charlie Brown the Retail Investor

Where Lucy represents Wall Street, the football is returns, and Charlie Brown is the Retail Investor. Aaauuuggh!

On Hucksters

Why to be careful when promised results seem too good, and they get delayed, or worse.

Bombing Baby BDC Bonds

Avoid bonds with few protective covenants, unless the borrower is very strong.

On Math Education

Why current efforts to change Math Education will fail.  Pedagogy peaked in the ’50s, and has been declining since then.

On Human Fertility, Part 2

On the continuing decline in human fertility across the globe.

If you Want to be Well-off in Life

Simple advice on how to be better off.  Warning: it requires discipline.

Young People Should Favor Low Discount Rates

If we had assumed lower discount rates in the past, we wouldn’t have the problems we do now.  (And maybe DB pensions would have died sooner.)

Problems in Life Insurance

On why we should be concerned about life insurance accounting.

Investing In P&C Insurers

On why analyzing P&C insurers boils down to analyzing management teams.

Selling Options Cheaply (Did You Know?)

Naive bond investors often take on risks that they did not anticipate.

Book Review: The Snowball, Part One

Book Review: The Snowball, Part Two

Book Review: The Snowball, Part Three

Book Review: The Snowball, Part Four

Book Review: The Snowball, Epilogue

My review of the most comprehensive book on the life of Warren Buffett.

On Watchlists

How I met one of the Superinvestors of Graham-and -Doddsville, and how I generate investment ideas.

Why do Value Investors Like to Index?

How I admitted to not having  a correct perspective on value indexing.

Evaluating Regulated Financials

Why regulated financials are different from other stocks, and how to analyze them.

Locking in a Smaller Loss

Why people are willing to lock in a loss against inflation, because of bad monetary policy.

Why I Sold the Long End

Great timing.

The Evaluation of Common Stocks

Value investing is still powerful, but the competition is a lot tougher.

The Order of Battle in Financial Planning for Ordinary Folks

The basics of personal finance

Sorting Through the News

How to use my free news screener to cut through the news flow, and eliminate noise.

On Financial Blogging

So why do we spend the time at this?

Matching Assets and Liabilities Personally

How to manage investments to fit your own need for cash in the future.

Penny Wise, Pound Foolish

How short-sighted, incompetent managers destroy value.

Expensive High Yield – II

No such thing as a bad trade , only an early trade… high yield prices moved higher from here.

2012 Financial Report of the US Government

Chronicling the financial promises made by the Federal Government

On Insurance Investing, Part 1

On Insurance Investing, Part 2

On Insurance Investing, Part 3

The first three parts of my 7-part series on how to understand this complex group of sub-industries.

How to Become Super-Rich?

Even Buffett didn’t get super-rich by only investing his own money.  He had to invest the money of others as well.  The super-rich form corporations and grow them; they build institutions bigger than themselves.

The Product that Never saw the Light of Day

On the Variable Annuity product that would simply be a tax scam.  Later I would learn that product exists now, just not in the form I proposed 8 years earlier when it didn’t exist.

Best of the Aleph Blog, Part 23

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

Before I start this evening, I would like to explain some of the reasons for these “Best of the Aleph Blog” articles.  I write these no closer than one year after an article was written, so that I can have a more dispassionate assessment of how good they were.  I write these for the following reasons:

  • Some people want a quick introduction to the way I think.
  • Some publishers on the web want additional copy, and I let them republish some of my best pieces.
  • One day I may bundle a bunch of them together, rewrite them to improve clarity, and integrate them to create a set of books on different topics.
  • One of my editors at RealMoney once shared with me that I was one of the few authors there whose articles got re-read, or read after a significant time had passed.  This is meant to be mostly “timeless” stuff.
  • New readers might be interested in older stuff.
  • I enjoy re-reading my older pieces, and sometimes it stimulates updates, and new ideas.

Anyway, onto this issue of the “Best of the Aleph Blog.”  These articles appeared between August 2012 and October 2012:

On Credit Scores

Why credit scores are important; make sure you guard yours.

Retail Investors and the Stock Market

On the pathologies of being an amateur investor when there are those who will take advantage of you, and you might sabotage yourself as well.

On the Poway School District

Goes through the details of how a school district outside San Diego mortgaged the future of the next generation who will live there, if any will live there.

Using Investment Advice, Part I

Using Investment Advice, Part II

Using Investment Advice, Part III

Using Investment Advice, Part IV

A series of articles inspired by what I wrote at RealMoney, encouraging people to be careful about listening to advice in the media on stocks, including those recommended by Cramer.

The Future Belongs to Those with Patience

On why patience and discipline are required for good investing.

What Caused the Crisis?

A retrospective, if somewhat controversial.

On the International Business Machines Industrial Average

Replace the DJIA with a new cap-weighted index of the 30 largest capitalization stocks.

How Warren Buffett is Different from Most Investors, Part 1

How Warren Buffett is Different from Most Investors, Part 2

You have to understand Buffett the businessman to understand Buffett the investor.

Volatility Analogy

How an interview I messed up led to an interesting way to explain volatility.

Spot the Gerrymander

Eventually we need to eliminate gerrymandering — hey, maybe we can do that at the future Constitutional Convention.

Reforming Public School Testing

Creating exams where you can’t study for the test; you can only study.

Carrying Capacity

Governments imagine that they can shape outcomes, and in the short-run, they can.  In the long-run, the real productivity of the economy matters, and only those that can make it without government help will make it.  Whatever government policy may try to achieve, eventually the economy reverts to what would happen naturally without incentives.  There is a natural carrying capacity for most activities, and efforts to change that usually fail.

Actuaries Versus Quants

On why Actuaries are much better than Quants

Neoclassical vs Austrian Economics

Applying math to economics has been a loser.  Who has a consistently good macroeconomic model?  No one that I know.  Estimates of future GDP growth and inflation are regularly wrong, and no one calls turning points well.

The Dilemma of Adding Yield

A quick summary of risk in bonds, and why additional yield is often not rewarded.

The Dilemma of Adding Yield, Redux

On working out the pricing between discount, premium, and par bonds.

Too Much Investment

Investment is a good thing, overinvestment is a bad thing.

Got Cash? (Part 2)

On Buffett and others carrying cash to give themselves flexibility.

Set it and Forget it

On what uneducated investors should do.

Forest Fires and Central Banking

Short piece pointing out that small crises are needed to prevent huge crises.

Match Assets and Liabilities

Total Return Versus Long Liabilities

Cash flow matching has often been sneered at as an investment policy.  I explain why such a view is naive, not sophisticated, and definitely wrong.

The Rules, Part XXXIV

“Once something is used for hedging purposes, it becomes useless for predictive purposes.”

Why I LOVE Blogging

On the downsides of blogging, and why they aren’t so bad.

Higher Taxes, Inflation, Default (Choose One)

Coming to a country near you, and soon!

On the Virtue of Hard Questions for Young Analysts

How young analysts toughen up through hard competitions.

Dealing in Fractions of Sense

On how to reform High Frequency Trading

Yield is the Last Refuge of Scoundrels

Far from offering high price appreciation, it is far easier to cheat many people by offering a high yield, because average people look for ways to stretch their limited resources with a tight budget.

The Stock Market Is Rigged! The Stock Market Is Not Rigged!

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

After the announcement of Michael Lewis new book (which I don’t have a copy of, and I am not asking for one), together with a variety of interviews, he declared that the stock market is rigged.  This is a convenient finding that will gladden the hearts of many who have tried the markets and lost.  The trouble is, there are ways in which the market is rigged, and ways in which it is not.  There are ways to avoid much of the rigging, if are knowledgeable, disciplined and in control of your emotions.

Let’s start with a story.  My oldest son was an intern at a hedge fund that I worked at during a summer of high school.  He sat in with analysts, portfolio managers, and our trader.  He remarked to me, “The trading part seems like a lot of fun.”  I said to him, “Jason is a skilled trader, is good at discerning market conditions, and is able to trade our positions without divulging too much of what we want to do especially when stocks aren’t liquid.”

Another story: When I was a bond manager, and had to trade my portfolio (this is pre-TRACE where actual pricing data was scarce to anyone except the brokers who could see the inter-dealer market prices) realizing that the big brokers knew more than me, the regional brokers did not, and the little specialty brokers knew their niche at most, and nothing else.  I got very good at sniffing out potential trades, to the point where a number of my brokers would run ideas past me.  Most would not fly, a few would.

I learned that I had to be careful what I said and how I said it, because this was a voice-to-voice market, and not electronic.  Markets change when new information arrives.  I remember how delicate I had to be when I owned 35% of an illiquid bond that we liked, and I needed to sell it down without spooking the market.  I did it by telling the potential buyers that I really liked the bond, had no reason to sell it, but that I was a businessman, and would be willing to part with a few (million) bonds at a slightly higher price, more at a higher price, and a significant amount (20% of the issue) at a price that discounted most of the excess value of the bonds.  The bids came in, and I got the significant amount price, and  at a much higher price than had been previously seen for the bonds.

Now if I had done a “market order,” and said to a broker, “Sell half of the block at the current price,” I would have gotten a much lower price.  That would have signaled desperation.

Another thing from voice-to-voice trading, I would tell my brokers what I was doing with the proceeds of a sale.  I did not want them to think I had any special information that they did not have.  ”We need to raise cash to pay benefits.”  ”I see a class of bonds that are really cheap, and I need liquidity to do so.”  When I said those things, they were true, but it was like showing four cards of my poker hand, and hiding the fifth, the most critical card.

Information changes markets.  The reason that I mention bond trading, even though my target is stock trading, is that it was a *far* more rigged market because it was dealer-driven, and voice-to-voice.  It was far easier to lose to more skilled brokers, than trading stocks online today.

Now, Michael Lewis alleges that the market is rigged because there are clever high-frequency traders who trade quickly when they get significant information.  What information?  Market orders.  Market orders scream, “I gotta buy/sell the stock NOW!”  Motivated buyer, motivated seller?  That can change a market, if briefly.

Time for embarrassment.  I learned this one the hard way.  I was doing microcap value 1993-1998, with some significant success, but one day I slipped, and entered a market order for 1x the daily volume of a stock.  The stock’s price doubled before the order was fully filled, and then sank back down to very near where it was before I bought it.  To add insult to injury, the company was eventually a “take-under,” where control shareholders bought it out at a price even below that.

Don’t use market orders.  If people stopped using market orders, much of the advantage of high frequency trading would go away.  Use limit orders, and wait for your price, at the risk of the trade getting away from you in the short run.

Also, use orders that disguise your size and price you are willing to buy/sell at.  Reserve and discretionary orders are useful weapons to disguise your intent.  Also, get a low cost broker that charges commissions on a per share basis, and break up your trades into smaller chunks that are more easily digestible by the market.

But while trading is a large portion of the stock market reason to exist, it does not comprehend the true value of stocks.  There is a saying, and it is true: you don’t make money when you trade; you make money while you wait.

The stock market will not make any more value than the cash flows that get distributed by the businesses comprised there.  Some individuals may prosper from momentum trading, but it is at the expense of other investors, not the company.

The waiting game is not rigged.  As companies make money, and reinvest/distribute it wisely, value is built.  This is Ben Graham’s “weighing machine” versus the trading market’s “voting machine.”  In the short-run, trading dominates.  In the long-run, corporate value generation (or lack thereof) dominates.

Never Bring a Knife to a Gunfight

But there is away that the market is significantly rigged, but it is lodged in human nature, and not lodged in nefarious fellows who pick off little bits of value off market orders (a trifling amount of the value gained for longer-term investors).  Most of the people who believe the market is rigged are those who haven’t studied the market enough and thought it would be easy.  It’s not easy; and if you think that it is easy, you will be skinned.

Much money for less skilled investors gets lost as a result of buying near peaks (greed, or late imitation), and selling near bottoms (fear, or  capital preservation).  If you don’t have skill, far better to buy and hold, with a moderate asset allocation to stocks, thus moderating volatility, and moderating fear and greed in the process.

Have healthy respect for your competition.  Even the best investment organizations know that their edge in the market is limited.  Few pursue every possible advantage; the best understand this is a game where you win by applying your limited advantage where it is strongest, and stay neutral or out where there is no advantage.

Though professionals may be somewhat prone to many of the same pathologies as retail investors, and have the further disadvantage of putting a lot of money to work, still, the professionals apply basic principles day after day, and make the market the hard-to-get-an-advantage place that it is.

Rigged?

So is the market rigged?  It depends who you are.  If you understand your limitations, do your due diligence, and control your emotions, then no, the markets are not rigged.

If you naively presume that you can make money in the markets without adequate study, discipline, experience, etc., eventually the markets will seem rigged.

And if you are a short-term trader, the high frequency traders have eliminated a lot of the low hanging fruit.  The high frequency traders are a reason for even traders to lengthen their time horizons, and use trading tools that disguise their efforts.

For me, the markets are not rigged.  They are highly competitive.  I keep applying my edge, realizing that I don’t know it all, and focusing on investments where my differential knowledge may make a difference.

My summary is this: the markets are not rigged.  They not efficient; we don’t know what that means.  The markets are highly competitive, and that makes them tough.

PS — with thanks to my friend Josh Brown, whose clever piece made me decide to write this.  My conclusion is a little different, but at base I think we agree.

Return to Tower Group

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

A while ago, I wrote a piece on Tower Group after its stock price imploded, before it went down more, and attracted an acquisition offer from entities affiliated with the main owner of AmTrust Financial Services for $3/share.  Here’s another letter, from a different respective reader:

Hello, David:

I’ve been a longtime reader of your columns (back to RealMoney) and have a lot of respect for your opinion as an investor and analyst, particularly your insights into insurance companies.

Merger arb has been a (small) part of my toolkit for the last 15 years but haven’t yet seen an insurance merger quite as complicated as TWGP’s acquisition by ACP Re and AFSI.  With an 8% discount to the offer price and about 4 weeks until the shareholder meeting, this one looks intriguing.

There’s a (wordy) analysis of the deal terms here:  http://seekingalpha.com/article/2106193-towers-merger-offers-opportunity-for-double-digit-annualized-returns .

A couple of specific questions about the deal, if you feel inclined to respond:

1.  Does Karfunkel’s potential conflict of interest in selling the part of TWGP he doesn’t want (commercial, personal) to the publicly traded company he chairs (AFSI) raise enough of a red flag that regulators may intervene?

2.  Are the NOLs owned by TWGP usable by ACP if there is a reverse takeover (TWGP the surviving entity) under Bermuda law?

3.  Does the price at which Karfunkel is selling the pieces to public entities using mostly public shareholders’ money raise any red flags to you?

As I said, I respect and enjoy your work and hopefully you enjoy it enough to continue.

First I will handle the questions.  Then I will hand out a few opinions.

On question 1, the answer is not likely.   The regulators will disallow any situation where an acquisition would significantly impair the ratio of capital to required capital to bear risk [RBC].  Now, shareholders could be another matter.  In this acquisition, two public companies that the Karfunkel families control are buying up the renewal rights to Tower Group Commercial Lines business (AmTrust Financial – AFSI), and Personal Lines business – (National General Holdings Corp - NGHC, which recently went public).

With renewal rights, the AFSI & NGHC acquire the assets and the right to renew existing business at terms mutually acceptable to clients & companies, but they do not acquire anything that pertains to claims from business existing prior to the deal.  In return, they pay money to ACP Re, Karkunkel’s private company owned by his grantor trust.

On question 2, the answer is not likely.  When Argonaut bought out PXRE in a reverse merger, the NOLs were disallowed.  Now, I’m not a tax expert, so maybe someone reeeeally clever can fox their way around this, but to me the answer is no.

On question 3, the answer is I don’t know.  The public companies that he controls have the advantage that they aren’t taking on much risk in a renewal rights transaction.  Whether they are paying the right price or not depends heavily on whether the reserving for claims at the Tower Group entities is overstated or understated.  Prior under-reserving may not have been fully corrected.  With smaller companies near bankruptcy, like Tower Group, there is the risk of death via many cuts.

That brings me to my main insight.  Though there are no financing contingencies to this deal, ACP Re can walk away with no penalty if it merely wants to do so.  If they find a material adverse change, the deal can die, and TWGP will have to pay ACP Re a breakup fee.

Like Fairfax Financial’s offer to buy Blackberry, Prem Watsa had the equivalent of a “free look.”  Tower Group is desperate enough that they gave a “free look” to the Karfunkels and their allied companies.  The deal is not a lock, and a lot depends on what is written when the late 10-K is finally filed.

Why delay the 10-K?  My best guess is trying to get the claim reserves right.  After having to revise reserves twice before, the odds of further revisions are significant.  You have to understand that claim reserves for P&C companies are not a science, particularly for long-tailed lines, and Tower Group was overly aggressive in those lines.

But delay in filing the 10-K is not a positive sign.  If you have confidence in the actuarial analysis of reserves, why delay the filing?  Every other aspect of a P&C insurance company can be calculated within a few weeks of the year’s end.  No mysteries, except for the reserves.

So, if ACP Re concludes that the likely claim payments from the legacy business are likely to be larger than the net amount they are paying for the legacy business ($67 million), ACP Re can walk away, with no breakup fee.  In that scenario Tower Group could head to bankruptcy.

So, when I consider the arbitrage opportunities available by buying Tower Group common stock, I would pass.  As a rule, I don’t short, though I would be tempted to do so here.  Tower Group is a very complex company for its size, and as such, I have less confidence in its financials.  Complexity in financial companies creates inflexibility, which can lead to trouble when regulators deny moving cash from one company to another, which might lead to default on debts.

Avoid this situation, and all of the companies involved.  Buffett has his “Too Hard” pile.  This one is too hard, because no one can know the claims that will be paid from aggressively written legacy business.

Full disclosure: no positions in the companies mentioned

 

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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