Special Situation Quiz Question; An Overcrowded Trade

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 Rags make paper,
Paper makes money,
Money makes banks,
Banks make loans,
Loans make poverty,
Poverty makes rags.
-Anonymous

Interview at Special Situations Hedge Fund

You have been working so hard to have an interview with Buffo and Greensplat Special Situations Hedge Fund and now you are in their offices.   The interviewer sits down and then asks, “Can you please tell me what you think was the greatest special situations trade/investment of the past thirty years and what was the catalyst for the trade?”  Hint: This made huge multiples on the original capital.  Few recognized the opportunity until too late.

An overcrowded trade in the search for yield. http://truecontrarian-sjk.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

THE FIRST AND THIRD SHALL BE FIRST, WHILE THE SECOND SHALL BE LAST (August 1, 2016): There is a fascinating pattern to the trading during the first seven months of 2016. The strongest sectors by far have exclusively been silver and gold mining shares, in that order, followed primarily by other commodity producers and mining-related emerging-market equities. The second-biggest percentage winners have mostly been high-dividend, low-volatility assets including consumer staples, utilities, REITs, tobacco shares, telecommunications companies, and long-dated U.S. Treasuries. The third-best performers of 2016 have been mostly energy companies and a variety of emerging-market stocks and bonds.
This is puzzling is because the first and third groups are inflation-loving assets, whereas the second group performs well when deflation reigns. How can the financial markets be both inflationary and deflationary?
The deflation trade is nearly over, but it has remained in a bull market due to huge inflows from investors desperate for yield.
High-dividend and low-volatility assets including FXG and XLP (consumer staples), IYR and RWR (REITs), XLU, IDU, FXU, and VPU (utilities), along with TLT and ZROZ (long-dated U.S. Treasuries) have been among the second-best performers of 2016. They have also been among the top winners of the past five years. Many of those who have retired or who need to pay their monthly expenses have become overly dependent upon income-producing investments to generate yield. That’s fine as long as high-dividend assets are either bargains or reasonably priced, but it creates a dangerous situation when they are trading at all-time highs even compared with previous historic peaks. There have been all-time record inflows into high-dividend and low-volatility funds which have far outpaced their previous records. A person who has retired with a half million or a million dollars might perceive that he or she “needs income” in order to maintain a basic lifestyle, and most of these investors don’t realize that if everyone goes to their financial advisors and wants the same level of “safe” income then they are all going to end up owning the exact same assets. What would be reasonable for a tiny minority of investors has become an inevitable catastrophe since millions of others are acting similarly without realizing the consequences of collectively being in such an overcrowded trade.
The inflation trade has only been in a bull market since January 20, 2016, and has a long way to go to recover its losses since April 2011.
Unlike most high-dividend assets which had bottomed in the first quarter of 2009, most commodity producers and emerging markets had been in severe downtrends from April 2011 through January 20, 2016, and even after their subsequent strong rebounds remain far below their previous peaks. Earlier this year, many of these assets completed multi-decade nadirs, with some of them touching levels not seen since the 1970s. Therefore, they remain substantially below fair value. Silver and gold mining shares including GDXJ, SIL, GLDX, SILJ, and GDX have tripled on average in just over a half year, and have thereby outpaced nearly all energy producers which had initially rallied but have gone out of favor along with most emerging-market equities during the past several weeks. This has created the best bargains for those assets which are in the process of completing important higher lows including URA (uranium), GXG (Colombia), FCG (natural gas), and FENY, a more diversified and less volatile fund of energy producers.
The Daily Sentiment Index for crude oil, indicating the percentage of traders who are bullish toward any asset, plummeted to 10% at the close on Monday, August 1, 2016. This is an incredibly low level for anything which is in a primary bull market, as energy commodities have been since February 11, 2016. The shares of energy producers mostly approached or reached multi-decade bottoms on January 20, 2016. Whenever it is possible to buy at higher lows during a major uptrend, this is ideal because a sequence of several higher lows is often followed by an accelerated rally.
The high-dividend and low-volatility bull markets are very stale and incredibly popular, while few know about the uptrends for commodity producers or emerging markets.
Almost everyone knows that high-dividend shares have been the biggest winners of the past several years and are still eager to jump aboard the bandwagon, while few realize how overcrowded this bandwagon has become. Historically, the most wildly trendy and popular trades have always proven to be disappointing. Although it is rarely compared with the internet bubble of 1999-2000, the Nifty Fifty overvaluation of 1972-1973, or the blue-chip top of 1929, high-dividend and low-volatility names have become the bubble of the decade. The total assets in USMV, a frequently-touted low-volatility fund, have tripled in one year. Just as in 2000, almost no one who has invested in these securities realizes that they can lose half or more of their money. Almost no analysts, even those who know how overvalued these popular securities have become, can emotionally imagine them plummeting. They might know intellectually that it is possible, but they can’t really imagine it happening any more than anyone at the beginning of the century could envision the Nasdaq plunging by more than 75% within three years. Alas, a similar fate awaits those who are participating in high-dividend and low-volatility shares and funds.
Just because you’re in the water to get exercise doesn’t mean you can ignore the great white sharks.
When I point out the dangerous of owning high-dividend and low-volatility shares, I often hear the refrain that “I’m not in these due to their extreme popularity” or “I only own these to generate the income I need to pay my expenses.” The market won’t treat you differently just because your motivations are allegedly pure. You might be the nicest person on your block, you might generously donate to charities, and you might frequently help old ladies to cross busy streets. Even if you’re swimming in the water just to get your daily exercise, you’re not magically exempt from being eaten by hungry great white sharks that are lurking nearby. If any given trade has become desperately overcrowded, then no matter why you’re involved in it, you’re going to be as badly hurt as the ignorant buyer who is doing it to keep up with his poorly-informed friends. As Warren Buffett has stated, when we strip off the clothing and pretense, we’re all fully exposed underneath. When the U.S. housing bubble collapsed in 2006-2011, as it about to do again in 2016-2021, it won’t spare those who are nice to animals or who do good deeds. I will discuss real estate in more detail in the near future.

8 responses to “Special Situation Quiz Question; An Overcrowded Trade

  1. Best special situations trade – easily the default swaps of 2006-08 a la Paulson, Burry, Eisman, etc. Catalysts the defaults of homeowners, and not even as many as one would’ve expected given the “all mighty AAA safety” ratings.
    Gave multiples upon the multiples of capital invested.

    • Yes, Michael Burry went through EACH adjustable rate mortgage and saw that the majority of them would reset in 2007. Then cascading defaults because there ALREADY was rising defaults with rising home prices–some of the NINA and NINJA borrowers were deadbeats.

      It was ironic in the movie that one of Burry’s investors said they didn’t want him to make MACRO bets. Burry’s bet wasn’t a bet; it was a certainty. When the twerp from Goldman said that home prices had NEVER gone down nationwide, I guess he forgot to read about the 1930’s Depression or the Panic of 1873.

      • He still had to convince his investors not to withdraw their funds and also had to have enough liquidity to pay the premiums until the trade panned out. Just because you know something will happen, does not mean you know when it will happen. Holding or even adding to a trade as it moves against you is tough.

        • The movie portrayed the AGONY of knowing you are probably right but the market moves against you while your investors scream for their money back and send you death threats.

          Believe me, I know the feeling owning gold and silver junior miners through 2014 and 2015 and parts of 2013. Now patience is paying off in CLD. Such is the life of contrarian investing.

          Now asset plays aren’t the only bargains. Is FB a bargain compared to twenty years from now. Ditto Paypal? I don’t know, but there are many ways to be an investor as long as you pay the right price for your risk tolerance. Growth investors defer to management. While most “value” investors are accountants who buy cheap assets then must redeploy capital when the margin of safety closes. Or you buy companies that are faster, better, please their customers better.

  2. Greatest special situations trade/investment of the past thirty years:
    Ackman buying bankrupt General Growth Properties equity. Made 100x his money.

    Catalyst for the trade:
    Participation in the reorganization process.

  3. First, just what is meant by a “special situation”? Convention has not jelled sufficiently to permit a clear-cut and final definition. In the broader sense, a special situation is one in which a particular development is counted upon to yield a satisfactory profit in the security even though the general market does not advance. In the narrow sense, you do not have a real “special situation” unless the particular development is already under way.

    • Type in Graham and special situations on this blog to read his definition.

      Typically, an announced corporate action like a spin-off, divestiture, and/or merger will create a special situation.

      The corporate action (partially separate) from the whims of the outside market–usually. Forget the semantics but focus on the underlying economics of the transaction and the timing/risks associated with each step. Announcement, vote, completion.

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