Category Archives: History

Case Study on Natural Gas/Shale Industry; Buffett Reads

Shale gas is not a revolution. It’s just another play with a somewhat higher cost structure but larger resource base than conventional gas.

The marginal cost of shale gas production is $4/mmBtu despite popular but incorrect narratives that it is lower. The average spot price of  gas has been $3.77 since shale gas became the sustaining factor in U.S. supply (2009-2017). Medium-term prices should logically average about $4/mmBtu.

A crucial consideration going forward, however, will be the availability of capital. Credit markets have been willing to support unprofitable shale gas drilling since the 2008 Financial Collapse.  If that support continues, medium-term prices for gas may be lower, perhaps in the $3.25/mmBtu range. The average spot price for the last 7 months has been $3.13.

Gas supply models over the last 50 years have been consistently wrong. Over that period, experts all agreed that existing conditions of abundance or scarcity would define the foreseeable future. That led to billions of dollars of wasted investment on LNG import facilities.

Today, most experts assume that gas abundance and low price will define the next several decades because of shale gas. This had led to massive investment in LNG export facilities.

(CSInvesting: You should read Mr. Berman’s full report at the link below.  He uses history to debunk long-term prediction models and shows the common sense of looking at markets through the long lens of history.  The assumption of abundant natural gas could be wrong–many “experts” are not even thinking of vastly different outcomes to their models.)

Excellent interview:


Excellent investment letters from Moran Creek

Are these sustainable competitive advantages ?

A great read on investing:

The World is Cyclical; Valuation in a World of Zero Interest Rates

Cyclical Markets











The NASDAQ bubble showed the highest P/E ratios in stock market history due to low or no earnings technology companies.

Kopernik 1Q 2017 – Conference Call – Final  Worth a read–note high and low market cap sectors of the market (see page 9)–a proxy for expensive and cheap.  A search strategy.

Time in a Bottle – Final A good discussion of valuation methods in an era of distorted interest rates.

Join  A discussion of how to understand interest rates and gold.  Note the analysis using data going back 90 years.   Do not use a small smaple size.

Also, see ETF Weapons of mass destruction FPA 1Q2017 Commentary   Recent Greenblatt talk at Google.

Cargo Cults


The first principle is that you must not fool yourself–and you are the easiest person to fool.

A Real Cargo Cult

An example of cargo cult analysis would be expecting to predict future market returns from P/E Ratios or believing you can pick money managers who can overcome a 2% and 20% hurdle vs. a low-cost index fund. See pages 21-24:Berkshire Hathaway AR 2016. Why Buffett is winning his $1 million dollar bet against fund of funds manager, Ted Seides.


The cargo cult mindset — mindlessly aping something without understanding *how* it works — is rampant. E.g. young people who “go to college” and end up unemployed or making minimum wage. They’re not much different than the islanders who made fake airplanes and control towers based on simple observations.

“So I wish to you—I have no more time, so I have just one wish for you—the good luck to be somewhere where you are free to maintain the kind of integrity I have described, and where you do not feel forced by a need to maintain your position in the organization, or financial support, or so on, to lose your integrity. May you have that freedom.”

If we look at the active management world, we see many (most?) asset managers don’t have such freedom. It’s for that reason that Jeremy Grantham believes career risk is what dominates investing. Better to be wrong collectively and focus on relative returns, right?

Fast-forwarding some years, we see Feynman having such freedom during the investigation of the cause of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster; he was an effective investigator precisely because he wasn’t beholden to NASA and was motivated by the pursuit of truth. His “Appendix F” in the Rogers Commission Report is another must-read:

Feynman eschewed the “standard” investigative approach and instead wandered around and talked to engineers and technicians, to the consternation of Rogers and others. (Didn’t W.E. Buffett and/or one of his associates do something similar after the Salad Oil Swindle hit AMEX in the ’60s? He saw that actual AMEX customers didn’t much care, so decided to go ahead with his investment.)

In Appendix F, Feynman uses basic engineering concepts and “numbersense” to expose NASA’s defective management culture. The disparity between the engineers’ estimate of flight risk and NASA management’s is astounding. The lesson here is that you oftentimes don’t need very much to sense-check, or falsify your hypothesis — the whole being generally right instead of precisely wrong concept. Going back to the Salad Oil Swindle, the whole thing would’ve never happened if anyone involved decided to reconcile the deposit receipts (known) to the USDA report on national salad oil production (known) to see how the receipts were inflated to the point of absurdity. Looking back at various case studies of failed investments, how often were the warning signs staring us right in the face if only we thought to look?

Since this is an investing website, we might modify Feynman’s closing sentence to something like, “For a successful investment, economic reality must take precedence over public relations, for you cannot fool everyone forever.”

A Strategy for Resource Stocks; Investing Course

A Strategy for investing in highly volatile, cyclical stocks

Once again, gold, silver and their mining stocks are selling off for whatever reason: risk-on as money floods into the stock market, rising nominal yields, 95% certainty of a (meaningless) 0.25% interest rate hike, momentum–take your excuse. The main point is to know your companies (valuation) and wait for sales like you do at the grocery store.   This week we are having a sale on some miners.

As Sprott’s Rick Rule often says, “If you are not a contrarian in the resource sector, you are a victim.  The above video is provided to show a particular investing strategy when your quality miners are selling off to prices where you estimate a margin of safety.  However, it doesn’t mean you predict THE exact bottom.  If your holding period is three-to-five years, you can occasionally pick up cheaper merchandise. Use prices to your advantage, not disadvantage.  I also wouldn’t be surprised to see the miners sell-off further because of their highly volatile nature–huge operational and asset-based leverage–when gold or silver goes up or down, both the price of their product goes up or down and the value of their reserves.  Never expect exact timing–a fool’s game.  Also, miners are impacted by the cost of their inputs, so a rising gold/oil ratio is a positive, for example.

What about the gold price in my assumptions?   I am assuming gold is money (“All else is credit”–JP Morgan) and thus I can benchmark it against world currencies. Gold has been THE strongest money relative to all other currencies for the past 20 years, 30 years, 40 years, 50 years, 100 years.  Gold is THE only money and store of value that can’t be created out of electronic bits like FIAT MONEY.  The stability of available supple is what makes gold the premier money. Of course, due to LEGAL TENDER LAWS, gold is not a currency in the U.S., except that may be changing in some states like Arizona:

In fact, gold (originally silver) is the only Constitutional money allowed–!/articles/1/essays/42/coinage-clause

You can get a historical overview of gold’s‘ price history below. Notice a trend? Now view the miners in perspective.

P.S. Let me know if anyone wants to see a NPV case study on a miner.

Designing an analyst course

My goal is to organize a comprehensive analyst course using the best investors’ teachings and lectures. For example, Buffett, Munger, Graham, Fisher, Tweedy Browne, Walter Schloss, Klarman, and many others etc.  Why not use original sources of the best practitioners?  This is the course I wish I had twenty years ago.  It will be Buffett and Munger teaching not me.

The course would cover search, valuation, portfolio management, and you (how to improve decision-making).   There would be different modules continuing articles, case studies, videos from Columbia Business School and others. We would go from DEEP VALUE to FRANCHISE INVESTING.   Valuing assets to assessing franchises. Understanding reversion to the mean and slow reversion to the mean.  You need to understand that when a moat is breached-watch out! Note Nokia in cell phones.

I would have to make it a private web-site because of copy-right.   This would be more of like a private study place, library, and discussion area for learning.   There could be a in-person value class in some convenient location depending upon interest once folks have had a chance to go through the modules.

For example, putting ebitda into perspective might be a mini-module on a sub-set of cash-flow:   Now, if you scroll down to the last link, you can see that it was taken down.   With a private web-site, you would see this:

Let me know your thoughts because this would be a huge project to complete.  What focus do YOU want?   How would YOU design and make the course.

Have a great weekend!

Fidel Castro and a Glimpse of Cuba



Must Read:







a-glimpse-of-cuba   Let the Cubans tell you their stories.

Cuba in socialist context:


Case Study of a 100 Bagger: Middleby



How many lessons can you pull out of this case study?

Also, a must read on finding fanatics:

More studies:

SEARCH STRATEGY: Look off the beaten path (Joel Greenblatt)


Mining for Gold; Secular vs. Cyclical


I’m addicted to placebos. I’d quit but then it doesn’t matter–S. Wright

Secular vs. Cyclical and more


A Money Problem


We Don’t Have a Wage Problem; We Have a Money Problem

FYI: GAAP Acccounting gatech_finlab_lifo_42216

I’LL BE BACK; Meanwhile Keep Learning


John Chew asked me to post while he goes through his stem cell transplant.  He says, “I’ll be back.” He thanks the many readers for their kind words of encouragement. 

His hospital roommate. John may opt for a radical new therapy.

Unfortunately, John challenged the status quo so he may have to be hospitalized longer.  Sign up to Farnam Street Blog

Novagold Annual Report 2015 This annual report’s shareholder letter including the links provides an excellent example of how several investors view the capital cycle for an asset.  History does provides a guide. Worth a look

Sign up: to receive reading links like:

    1.   Overcoming Their Fears 
    3.   3 Critical Things An Investor Needs – Capital Exploits
    5.   Unique Behind The Scenes Look Into Buffett’s Process – Vintage Value (must read)
    6.   Andy Groove And The Iphone SE – Ben Thompson
    7.   How Maritime Insurance Built Ancient Rome – Priceonomics
    9.   How Buffett And Munger Differ In The Way They Think – Outlook Business
    10. Podcasts: Conversation with Bethany McLean A fantastic interview for aspiring analysts. Her book on Fannie and Freddie seems like a must read!
Ackman: PSH-Annual-Report-12.31.151 See the section on Valeant.
A short summary of the tug of war over Valeant. Setting aside the noise about fraud, greed, and accounting issues, The Valeant Casino, this is a company that financed fast asset growth with cheap debt (at the time) while taking advantage of the flawed quasi-socialized medical system in the US.   Valuation depends on a normalization of true long-term cash flows–VRX_Update_StillOverpriced_2016-03-15 and EV_EBITDA_Misses_the_Point (View video on valuation and ROIC below for more context). The beneficiary of medical care does not DIRECTLY pay ALL of the costs. Who would be willing to accept a $1,000 tube of anti-fungal cream for their itchy feet if a third-party didn’t pay? See Dying with dignity.

Meanwhile……be wise not smart and stay-thirsty-my-friends-3


So you’re Michael Burry who gets his hair cut at Supercuts and doesn’t wear shoes and you know more than Alan Greenspan?

Michael Burry: Yes.

I Saw the Crisis Coming (Michael Burry vs. Alan Greenspan)

A Review:

A lesson on the MBS crisis

Peter Schiff howling about the coming housing bust:

and see the results: aerial-photos

Lake Las Vegas/Macdonald Ranch 05.2012

The movie provides a case study in belief in authority and incentive-based bias.   See how many more biases you can pick out:

The movie can’t cover all the reasons behind the housing/debt crisis, but you will get a sense of what great investors have to go through when they take a massively contrarian position.  Note that Michael Burry started becoming worried about housing in 2003. Why?   He asked himself the simple question: How come real estate prices are RISING or NOT going down in Silicon Valley during the biggest tech bust in history during 2001/2002?

More on Burry

BURRY_2000 Annual Letter






Mike Burry Lettersw


I remember being in the president’s office at Merrill Lynch in 1999 to see about selling and the president pointed out through the glass partition to his trading floor and said see my risk team?   They are the best in the business!