Sandstorm Back of the Napkin Valuation

We last discussed Sandstorm (SAND) here:

I did a back of the envelope valuation here: Sand Report

Buffett on Start-Up Investing

CS of Buffett Filter on Catastrophic Risk

The above is an example of how Buffett would approach a “start-up”.  You can assume that he would almost 99.9999999999999999% pass on all opportunities.

Gold Allocation


Today the Fed reports it holds 8133 tonnes of gold, worth $349.4  billion at $1,330 an ounce, which equals 7.9$ of the Fed’s reported $4.4 TRILLION in liabilities.  The current model suggest a 56% weighting of gold to 44% holding of S&P 500.

CFA Seminar on Financial History; Bubble Studies; Advanced Study in Human Action

Seminar of Financial History

In an age when an algorithm is the main competitor for many fund managers, what can we know that they don’t? Algos understand the data trail of history, but this trail provides only limited insight into the key lessons of financial history for investors. In this talk, first provided at the 62nd Annual CFA Institute Financial Analysts Seminar, Russell Napier discusses those 21 most important lessons from financial history that allow human beings to profit at the expense of the machines.    1 Hour on-line seminar Feb. 1, 2018. Register ( I believe it is free:

Regardless of whether you can attend, read relentlessly about financial, economic, and common history.   Note what Jim Grant of Grant’s Interest Rate Observer says:

But our main goal is to tell you the next important event in the markets. And sometimes we succeed.

– As with the tech bubble in 1999
– The 2008 mortgage crash
– The 2009 recovery in financials
– And the 2012-13 rise in house prices

How have we been so prescient over the years?
We don’t have fancy, financial computer models or a team of MBAs and Ph.D.’s to help us make these predictions. And we don’t have access to any kind of special information.

But we have been immersed in the markets for over 30 years. And we’ve studied the financial history of the past 200 years. None of which guarantees clairvoyance—nothing does. What we do claim is the capacity to see the present in the context of the helpful lessons of the past.

Like when we warned about the mortgage debt bubble in September 2006.

From the Sept. 8, 2006 Grant’s:
“Overvalued,” we, in fact, judge trillions of dollars of asset-backed securities and collateralized debt obligations to be, and we are bearish on them. Housing-related stocks may or may not be prospectively cheap; they at least look historically cheap. But housing-related debt is cheap by no standard of value. For institutional investors equipped to deal in credit default swaps, there’s an opportunity to lay down a low-cost bearish bet.

Bubble Studies

368353935-GMOMeltUp   J. Grantham says that the current market does not YET show the characteristics of a bubble despite being highly valued.

Referenced study in the article: Bubbles for Fama 2017 and gmo-quarterly-letter

and more of interest: faang-schmaang-don-t-blame-the-over-valuation-of-the-s-p-solely-on-information-technology


Update (1/10/2018) Runaway Train – Dec 2018

Advanced Seminar in Human Action

12/06/2017  Mises Institute
Arguably one of the greatest thinkers of the twentieth century, Ludwig von Mises created a framework for all of economic science beginning with the simple axiom that individuals act. In his magnum opus, Human Action, he described economics as a branch of the theory of human action and stressed how broadly it spans, far beyond a discussion of mere money and prices. Mises said, “Economics must not be relegated to classrooms and statistical offices and must not be left to esoteric circles. It is the philosophy of human life and action and concerns everybody and everything. It is the pith of civilization and of man’s human existence.” For Mises, it was imperative that everyone learns economics, calling it “the main and proper study of every citizen.”

Human Action is a challenging read. With over 800 pages of dense material, study tools are very helpful. The course, Advanced Seminar in Human Action, is a useful addition to other materials like the Human Action Study Guide.
In this course, leading Austrian economists walk the student through Human Action a chapter at a time.

If you’ve ever wanted a push to help you get through the book or if you’ve wondered about your own reading of the material, here is your opportunity to study Human Action with David Gordon, Joe Salerno, Jeffery Herbener, Peter Klein, Guido Hülsmann, and Mark Thornton.

Human Action by Ludwig von Mises is available for free on and for purchase as a paperback and hardcover in the Mises Bookstore.


The teachers are excellent and Human Action is the Magnum Opus of Ludwig von Mises.  The book is a DIFFICULT read but there is a study guide, lecture videos, and lecture slides for all the chapters of the book.  You will have a strong grounding in economics and improve your reading and critical thinking skills, but if you are a beginner, I would opt for

Kiril Sokoloff; Bitcoin Investing

An agnostic interpreter of what the markets are telling us.
CSInvesting: Note how he understands the cycles in commodity prices (oil)

Explore extensively here:

I recommend listening to the interviews several times over the next few days. Note how you can apply what he says.  His understanding of European history (many centuries of horrific wars) will probably mean that many European states will want to remain in the European Union–thus, a weaker dollar than expected.

Note the date Dec 2016


Munger rips bitcoin

The Experts Are Wrong Again

Bloomberg December 2015: But Societe Generale predicts gold will be a casualty of the rate hike, falling below $US1000 an ounce, to $US955 by the end of next year.

Head of global asset allocation Alain Bokobza says looking at the 2016 panorama, in which US interest rates tighten and the economy fares reasonably well, “that does not argue for a higher gold price.”

“Gold will be a casualty.”

CSInvesting: The purpose of this post is to remind you of ignoring expert advice and to do your own analysis.  The above comment by Bokobza is meaningless blather.   He is simply spouting the consensus view that rising rates mean a declining gold price since gold has no yield.    Beware of simple narratives.

The assumption “Fed rate hikes equal a falling gold price” is not supported by a shred of empirical evidence. On the contrary, all that is revealed by the empirical record in this context is that there seems to be absolutely no discernible correlation between gold and FF rate. If anything, gold and the FF rate exhibit a positive correlation rather more frequently than a negative one!    Source:

And today:

More here: Gold and the Federal Funds Rate and Gold and gold stocks Dec 26 2017

UPDATE: Interesting Read

  1. Update: David Collum’s 2017-Year-In-Review-PeakProsperity-final
  2. david_collum-30_years_investing
  3. 2016-Year-In-Review-PeakProsperity

Interview of David Collum:



Einhorn on Critical Thinking

Multiple Delusions: Paper Wealth, A Booming Economy, and Bitcoin

Let us not, in the pride of our superior knowledge, turn with contempt from the follies of our predecessors. The study of the errors into which great minds have fallen in the pursuit of truth can never be uninstructive.”
– Charles Mackay

Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

A good read on investor psychology by John Hussman:

Be careful not to blindly label every steep chart a bubble; it leads to sloppy thinking.

Just remember what the current stock market feels like with its low volatility and steady rises because this is what a bear market FEELS like (Video link):

Why Ackman struggles:     Hint: he overpays.

Intrinsic Value–Objective or Subjectively Determined? Bitcoin

A Discussion about Whether Austrian Economists and Value Investors Agree on How Intrinsic Value is Determined.

CSInvesting: Understand that Intrinsic Value is SUBJECTIVELY determined while prices are set by the marginal buyer and seller.  All an investor does is compare price to value.

Essentially, value investing focuses on the comparison of a good’s intrinsic value and its market price and recommends investing in it as long as the asset’s value exceeds its price given a margin of safety.

The first article says in summary: value investing and Austrian economics are nevertheless incompatible, particularly given that value investing’s definition of value contradicts the Austrian value concept.

End-the-Myth-On-Value-Investing’s-Incompatibility-with-Austrian-Economics-by-Olbrich-et-al   I would skim this article.

An Austrian economist who is also a value investor, Chris Leithner rebuts the above statement: “Value investors’ conception and assessment of value are congruent with the Austrian School’s.”

“A value investor” measures value by one of two methods:

  1. First, he/she values a company according to the external prices of its assets. He/she observes, for example, that X Ltd owns quantity Y of land, and that such land has a market price of $Z per hectacre.
  2. Second, the value investor makes plausible (based, perhaps, upon past experience and/or domain specific expertise) assumptions about a company’s future cash flows and, using some rate, discounts them to the present.  He might do these calculations in his head or on a spreadsheet.

The Hinge between the theory of Value and the Practice of Value Investing.

John Burr Williams in his The Theory of Investment Value, 1938 wrote, “With bonds, as with stocks, prices are determined by marginal opinion…..Concerning the right and proper interest rate (discount rate), however, opinions can easily differ, and differ widely….Hence those who believe in a low rate will consent to pay high prices for bonds…while those who believe in a high rate will insist on low prices…Thus investors will be bullish or bearish on bonds according to whether they believe low or high interest rates to be suitable under prevailing economic conditions.   As a result, the actual price of bonds….will thus be only an expression of opinion, not a statement of fact.  Today’s opinion will make today’s rate; tomorrow’ opinion, tomorrow’s rate; tomorrow’s opinion, tomorrow’s rate; and seldom if ever will any rate be exactly right as proved by the event.

How then does Warren Buffett define and measure value? In his 1994 Letter to Shareholders he writes:

We (Charlie Munger and I) define intrinsic value as the discounted value of the cash that can be taken out of a business during its remaining life.  Anyone’s calculation intrinsic value necessarily comes up with a highly subjective figure that will change both as estimates of future cash flows are revised and as interest rates move.  Despite its fuzziness, however, intrinsic value is all-important and is the only logical way to evaluate the relative attractiveness of investments and businesses.

Graham, by the way, would agree with the definition of intrinsic value but he would doubt whether investors could usefully apply it. (Ben Graham, 1939)  “The rub,” writes James Grant in the 6th Edition of Security Analysis (2009), page 18, “was that, in order to apply Williams’s method, one needed to make some very large assumptions about the future course of interest rates, the growth of profit, and the terminal value of the shares when growth stops.”

The entire article by Chris Leithner is an important read: Value Investing and Austrian Economics Leithner


Certainty is not certaintude–Oliver Wendell Holmes

  1. Bitcoin Certitude is not certainty
  2. Bitcoin Adoption and Usage
  3. The Promise and Peril of Bitcoin

The video below–though choppy in the first few minutes–is worth hearing about the psychology of market bubbles.   The interviewer of Bob Moriarty is ignorant of basic economics (Can prices EVER go below the cost pf producing a useful/needed product? Yes or No), but you can follow the discussion.  Note the pushback of the interviewer who is also an owner of bitcoins to Moriarty’s questions.  The psychology is fascinating–the will to believe and suspend judgment.

Other Comments

Bitcoin is up more than 2,000 percent in the last year and now trades above $17,000. Bitcoin futures trading launched this week on the Cboe exchange, gaining more than 19 percent Monday in the first full day of trading.
There are now 1,358 cryptocurrencies in existence, according to CoinMarketCap. Other digital currencies such as ethereum are better designed for programmable “smart contracts” and have quicker transaction times versus bitcoin.

Bitcoin’s scalability is another issue. There is technical limitation on how many transactions that can be processed at the same time. Partly as a result, widespread use of the cryptotcurrency for payments has not occurred yet.
So cryptocurrency investors must honestly ask themselves, is bitcoin really changing the word through blockchain technology innovation or is it mainly speculative asset? It’s the latter.

Kynikos Associates short-seller Jim Chanos, lauded for his prescient negative calls on Enron and Tyco, compared bitcoin to previous fads.

Bitcoin “is a speculative mania. It’s Beanie Babies,” he said at a Schechter event in Detroit, Michigan Wednesday, referring to the toy fad craze during the 1990s.
DoubleLine Capital CEO Jeffrey Gundlach criticized the lack of analytical rigor in the recent “nice round number” $1,000,000 price targets for the bitcoin, which is reminiscent of previous speculative blow-offs.

“I have no interest in this type of maniacal type of trading market,” he said on CNBC Wednesday.

Hedge fund manager Seth Klarman, the value investing giant who often draws comparisons to Warren Buffett, wrote in his classic “Margin of Safety” book an illuminating parable warning against speculation:

“There is the old story about the market craze in sardine trading when the sardines disappeared from their traditional waters in Monterey, California. The commodity traders bid them up and the price of a can of sardines soared. One day a buyer decided to treat himself to an expensive meal and actually opened a can and started eating. He immediately became ill and told the seller the sardines were no good. The seller said, ‘You don’t understand. These are not eating sardines, they are trading sardines.’

Like sardine traders, many financial-market participants are attracted to speculation, never bothering to taste the sardines they are trading. … trading in and of itself can be exciting and, as long as the market is rising, lucrative. But essentially it is speculating, not investing. You may find a buyer at a higher price—a greater fool—or you may not, in which case you yourself are the greater fool.”


The ART of Contrary Thinking

When everyone thinks alike, everyone is likely to be wrong.

If you wish to keep from guessing wrong, learn to think contrarily.  –Humphrey Neill

CSInvesting: Humphrey Neill wasn’t advising to blindly go against the “crowd” but to think things through rationally.   For example, investors might be excited by the new invention of the air conditioner, but the second-order effects were more powerful like increase in demand for real estate in Southern cities in the USA.

The BOOK: NEILL(H_B_)-The_Art_of_Contrary_Thinking_(1985)

Critique of the book 2016-07-29_BR_ML

Contrary thinking in action….

Has Apple Stock Peaked?
December 3, 2012|by Timothy Lutts

Has Apple (AAPL) Stock Peaked?
In the Footsteps of Coca-Cola
The Next Apple?

Everybody knows Apple.
With more than 85 million iPhones sold, $156 billion in annual revenues and a market capitalization that recently hit $660 billion, Apple is the second most respected brand on the planet. Number one is Coca-Cola.

But what does that mean for investors?

It means there’s a chance that investor perception of the company is so high that all the big investors already own as much Apple as they can carry. It means there’s more potential selling pressure on Apple’s stock than buying pressure. And that means there’s a good chance the stock has topped!

Now, some investors, looking at numbers alone, will disagree.

They’ll point out that the company is still growing fast, that the third quarter saw revenues grow 27%, and earnings grow 23%, and that analysts are expecting 12% growth in 2013 and 18% in 2014. Then they’ll point to the stock’s forward PE ratio of 12 and say, “Apple is cheap!”

But using numbers alone is a mistake in evaluating growth stocks, particularly exceptional growth stocks like Apple.

For example, we at Cabot did very well recommending way back when the company (selling only books) was still unprofitable, and most bean-counters wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot pole. We jumped on little Crocs (plastic shoes!) and rode it to the moon. And we did very well with ridiculously “expensive” First Solar, in part because we sold early, while its business was still booming, but its stock was on the skids. We could have justified owning none of those stocks if all we looked at were numbers.

Bottom line: to make money in exceptional growth stocks, you can’t just look at numbers; you’ve also got to look at momentum and sentiment.

But before I get deeper into Apple’s case, I want you to study this long-term chart of Coca-Cola (KO–see above) (the number one brand in the world today), spanning the years from 1965 to the end of 1985.  See at the top of this article.Note the earnings line, with each dot marking a quarterly earnings figure. It’s a steady uptrend, with the exception of a sharp dip in late 1974 and a stumble in 1981-1982. Then look at the dividend line; Coke’s dividends were increased every year, like clockwork. Finally, observe the price line, noting that Coke’s price peaked in late 1972 and didn’t exceed that level until late 1985, 13 years later.

The explanation for those “lost 13 years” lies not in the numbers; it lies in crowd psychology, and specifically, in the investing environment of the times. Coca-Cola was one of the Nifty Fifty, popularly regarded as one-decision stocks that you would simply buy and hold forever. (Others in this august group included Digital Equipment, Eastman Kodak, J.C. Penney and Simplicity Pattern).
Well, for investors who truly had the patience and guts to hold Coke through those lost 13 years, it worked out okay. But most investors don’t work with that kind of time horizon. Most investors can’t hold five years without seeing a profit—and they shouldn’t have to!

The truth is, the extreme popularity of those stocks (call it reverence, even), was a sign of their potential to top. But it was very hard for investors to see it then!
So, getting back to Apple, I’ve already mentioned the stock’s high regard among the general public; it’s the number two brand in the world. Among institutional investors, it’s regarded as royalty, providing both a dividend and spectacular growth. In fact, if you manage institutional money, owning AAPL has become almost a requirement in recent years, and the result of all that buying power is that even after the recent correction, AAPL is still up 45% for the year!
But when everyone who might buy a stock has bought it, what happens?
The same thing that happened to Coca-Cola in 1972.

It stops going up, and to some extent—every stock is different—it goes down.
Now, I have no doubt that Apple (the company) will continue to grow revenues and earnings for years to come. I’ve been an Apple user since 1987, when I bought a Macintosh SE for Cabot (to join our IBM Displaywriter—Google that!). Today I use a MacBook Pro, an iPad and an iPhone on a daily basis, and I expect to be an Apple user to the day I die, benefiting from the company’s legendary ability to make complicated technological interactions simple.

Nevertheless, I’m bearish on Apple (AAPL) stock today and here’s why.
There’s a dirty word to describe what happens when a company’s growth slows, and when the perception of the company’s future becomes just slightly tarnished. As that word spreads, and as those perceptions spread, the stock slowly collapses, as the supply of stock (potential sellers) overwhelms demand (potential buyers).

The Dirty Word
The word is deceleration, which is a fancy phrase for slowing down. And Apple is decelerating! That third quarter earnings growth of 23% followed second quarter earnings growth of 20%. Those were the slowest quarters since mid-2009! And looking forward, the projected 12% growth in 2013 is even slower, though 18% for 2014 provides hope.

Now, 12% growth is nothing to sneeze at; many companies would kill for 12% growth. And 18% is excellent! But it’s quite a comedown from the nine consecutive quarters from 2010 into 2012 where Apple’s earnings grew more than 50%! It’s deceleration.

And that brings us to the stock’s performance, which is where the rubber meets the road. Because more important than numbers, more important than sentiment, is the stock’s actual performance. So here’s Apple’s chart, since the 2009 bottom.

As on Coke’s chart, you see the earnings line, trending higher, but rounding somewhat recently; that’s the deceleration of earnings. There’s no dividend line on this chart; Apple’s dividend history is short but healthy. But there is another line on this chart and that’s the RP line. RP stands for Relative Performance; it depicts the performance of the stock relative to the broad market.

Note that over the past four years, whenever AAPL corrected, its RP line basically flattened out (ignoring the tiny weekly movements). But in this year’s correction, AAPL’s RP line turned down, and for eight weeks, AAPL performed worse than the overall market.

Now, this underperformance alone is not the kiss of death. Many stocks can pull out of similar corrections and move out to new highs.

But look back at Coke’s chart. If you look at the RP line, you’ll see the same pattern! From 1964 through 1973, KO was pretty healthy, beating the broad market overall, and holding its own in corrections. But after 1973, as sentiment turned, and the selling pressures slowly overwhelmed buying pressures, KO’s RP turned clearly negative, beginning a pattern that lasted many years longer than most investors could stomach.

And that’s very likely where AAPL is today.
So when you put it all together…
• The extremely high market cap
• The extremely positive public opinion
•The extremely high level of institutional ownership
• The deceleration of earnings growth
• The weakening relative performance line
…it looks ominous.

Now, big, well-respected stocks don’t collapse overnight. To the contrary; when a high-quality stock like Apple pulls back, you’ll hear a new chorus of “It’s a great value down here” and “Buy the dips.” But as time goes by, and the stock fails to return to its old highs, those choruses fade, and the stock falls slowly out of the limelight—just like Coca-Cola did in the 1970s.

Stepping back to look at the big picture, it’s worth remembering that investing is not a science. Uncertainty is a given.

But to be a successful investor, you need to put the odds in your favor, and today, the odds are not good for investors in Apple.  See more


You might have sold out of a uniquely profitable company as AAPL went on to triple over the next five years!~


Excellent Investing Video (Templeton, Buffett & Wilson)


Yes, I will still post on Sandstrom Gold (SAND) but another day.

The interviewer, “Adam Smith,” says the similarities among the investors are:

  • They have independence of mind
  • They trust their perceptions
  • They stick to what they know
  • They are intelligent
  • They have fun

After viewing the video, whip out a piece of paper and quickly jot down what EXACTLY can YOU use in your own investing approach?  Be specific! STOP! Take a walk for 20 minutes, then write down some more thoughts.   See the video again.  What can YOU implement?

I will post my thoughts next week.