Category Archives: Risk Management

Op. Leverage; Geico and Berkshire Case Study; In Gold We Trust; Overconfidence

ego

Mauboussin on Operating Leverage is a review on margins and operating leverage.  I recommend reading pages 19 to 21 in addition to my prior post: ROIC and more

Berkshire CS_wedgewood partners 1st quarter 2016 client letter

geico case study and presentation 2016

Incrementum-signal-768x439

Do not focus on forecasts but learn from history and economics about gold: In_Gold_we_Trust_2016-Extended_Version

In_Gold_we_Trust_2015-Extended_Version (Referenced in 2016 Ed. Why miners struggled to gain investor respect.)

Avoid Overconfidence

A lesson in trading

A lesson in valuation

It is never different this time

Happy Fourth of July Holiday.  

I will answer the option questions upon return.

Time for Review: Behavioral Portfolio Managment

book cover

Video on Behavioral Portfolio Management

Emotional crowds dominate market volatility (nothing new here). Emotions trump arbitrage.  If you learn anything from this post may it be that you concentrate on your best ideas and do not overdiversify beyond ten or twelve stocks.  Also, understand randomness. Teams hurt performance. Avoid closet- indexers.

See slide 6 for a summary: 10495_Howard Presentation Slides

Behavioral Portfolio Management A research paper

T Howard CFA Behav PM   Short article

And here is a secret not to be shared with others: If you are going to have a behavioral edge, then don’t do what the mass of investors are doing–invest with a at least a five-year time horizon so you can give mean regression to work if you buy non-franchise companies (assets like cyclcial mining, manufacturing, etc.) or allow your franchise companies time to compound because of a slow mean reversion.

nyse-ftse-stock-holding-period

global-stock-holding-periods

But holding stock five years or more is SCARY because of the VOLATILITY.  Not so:

cotd-returns

The enemy

Don’t Believe the Hype

“First, never buy a bank at twice its book value, Number two, don’t trust any bank with a superior earnings record, Number three, you are buying a pig in a poke because the assets are inherenetly unanalysable… ”  “Then there are the contra rules, ” He went on, “such as the inability to earn exponential rates of return except through recklesness or fruad.” Also,” said Tisch…”a really smart person says to himself at a certain point that your pricing is set by the stupidest person in the market,” It is the marginal lender who makes the marginal loan at a bargain-basement rate, and it is impossible to compete with that optimist.

James Grant “Banking with Tisch” (October 6, 1986)

Theranos misled me

And that brings us to the lunatic valuation of the FANGs (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google), which was also on display again this week. To wit, 100X+ PE multiples are always and everywhere a deformed artifact of central bank driven Bubble Finance, not the emission of an honest capital market.

The fact is, the greatest technology-based businesses of modern times accomplished its dramatic growth spurt in just over 20 quarters between 2011 and 2015. That was after the i-Phone incepted and the i-Pad worked up a serious head of steam.

Now Apple is pancaking or worse, and it is hard to believe that gimmick products like Apple Watch or Oculus can fill the hole from the fast fading i-Pad and the stalling i-Phone. No harm done, of course, and its entirely possible the APPL will have another modest growth run.

But here’s the thing. Apple essentially proves you can’t capitalize anything at 100X except in extremely rare cases because of the terminal growth rate barrier. That is, after a few years of red hot growth almost every large company’s organic growth rate bends toward the single digit path of GDP.

Fangs and Monetary Fools

 

oil historical

I’m wondering if people may take the wrong message from this chart.  Here’s my read:

The high prices in the beginning were due to oil being a very desirable but very scare resource.  Drilling only began in 1859 and the technology was primitive and inefficient.

Then entered J.D.Rockefeller, who brought major efficiencies to the industry and increased refining capacity to the point where it was in excess of that needed for kerosene (used in lamps), and so the price plummeted.  There was another brief spike in price as Rockefeller gained what amounted to monopoly control of the industry in the late 1870s, and new applications for oil were found.

Thereafter, the price plunged due to improved efficiency and competition from other areas and abroad.  Oil traded in a fairly broad but well-defined range for the next 60 years, depending on prevailing business conditions.  The wide swings in prices during this period suggest that there is a positive feedback mechanism involved in the prices.  Low prices make energy less expensive, which promotes increased economic activity, which increases demand, which causes higher prices, which quenches economic activity, which reduces demand, which reduces prices…

After WWII, with the discovery of the huge Arabian oil fields (as well as others) and the emergence of the US as the guarantor of stable world prices, there emerged a period of remarkable price stability from roughly the end of WWII onwards.  Stability resulted from increases in demand being met with increases in supply at current prices, coupled with the price stability resulting from the Bretton Woods monetary system.

The next significant break came with the “Arab Oil Embargo(s)” of the 1970s.  While there was an obvious political context here, the other part of the equation was that US production was peaking.  There was a short respite once political conditions improved, but the underlying dynamic was that some of the important producers, the US in particular, were unable to keep up with local demand.

This situation became global in the early years of the 21st century, as demand in emerging economies ramped-up, while at the same time production from important established fields was in decline.  New fields were found, but were typically much more expensive to exploit than the earlier fields.  Since that time, the supply/demand dynamic has been at play, with price increases driven by increased cost and limited supply, and price declines being driven by poor economic conditions caused by the heretofore high prices.  The feedback cycle outlined above is in full play, this time with prices being in a generally upward trend due to generally scarce supply at lower price levels.

My reason for pointing this out is that I’m not sure that identifying $47 as an average price is very meaningful.  The bottom line is that demand for oil will be robust whenever prices allow for it, while supply at any given level will become scarcer as the “low-hanging fruit” is picked clean.  My contention is that major price volatility with a generally upward trend is what we have to look forward to.  This will continue until something happens to fundamentally change either the positive feedback mechanism or the fundamental long-term supply/demand relationship.  So the $47 average price may be of historical interest, but may be of limited applicability going forward. (from an anonymous commentor).

 

Stockman is too optimistic

Analyzing Banks and Liquidity; Precious Metals and 2016

Surgery

Katalepsis and liquidity  Understand what drives banking soundness and liquidity.

MM on Gold A different perspective

macrocosm

Where we are and What WILL Happen INEVITABLY

austrian_business_cycle_theory

Short summary of ABCT

Dan Oliver of Myrmikan Capital (Video must watch!)

So as EBITDA for companies begins to flatten out and/or decline while corporate interest burdens rise as high yields rise, then the cash to service debt declines. The capital investments made while interest rates were low draw on capital that is NOT there since credit is not based on real savings. Mal-investment shown in massive overcapacity and declining demand (consumer demand was never at the appropriate level due to central bank intervention and distortion of interest rates) in commodities causes equity holders to be wiped out and banks to teeter.  The Fed will respond reflexively as it has over the past 101 years.

More here: Liftoff_Myrmikan Capital Dec 17 2015 

Unambiguously Good_Myrmikan Jan 22 206

Gold senses the danger as it rises relative to commodities (commodities are sold to raise money).  Gold is not rising (yet) in terms of dollars because fiat dollars are in an epic short squeeze–there are only $4 trillion of base money with which to service $90 trillion of debt–tightened by recent Fed action.  When defaults occur and/or the Fed creates the dollars to try to stop the collapse of banks and borrowers, gold will rise against the dollar.  This has been the pattern over the past 4,000 years.

The ancient Greeks discovered that debt could magnify wealth. The debtor feels richer from the use of the borrowed property, while the lender feels richer from the compounding interest yielded by his claim. Both indulge in consumption more freely. As long as the accumulating claims remain contingent, the bubble grows. But, eventually, someone asks to be paid, and the expanding claims on wealth must be reconciled to tangible wealth, much of which has been consumed.

The first recorded credit bubble popped in 594 B.C. Athens. Threatened with a civil war of creditor versus debtor, the Athenian ruler Solon pulled down the mortgage stones to free the debtors and devalued the drachma by 27% to relieve the bankers. Every credit collapse since – from the Panic of A.D. 33 to John Law’s Mississippi Bubble to the Great Depression and many others besides – has followed Solon’s template of debt default and currency devaluation.

“The natural remedies, if the credit-sickness be far advanced, will always include a redistribution of wealth: the further it is postponed, the more violent it will be. Every collapse of a credit expansion is a bankruptcy, and the magnitude of the bankruptcy will be proportionate to the magnitude of the debt debauch. In bankruptcies, creditors must suffer.” – Freeman Tilden, 1936

And against what is currency and debt devalued? Carl Menger, founder of the Austrian School of economics, was the first to explain that money is liquidity and that gold is the most liquid asset. Thus, gold has served as the reference point of value since the origins of money and is that against which currency must be devalued to relieve debts. Paper promises depreciate.

“The faith is lost. All with one impulse people rush to seize the gold itself as the only reality left—not only people as individuals; banks, also, and the great banking systems and governments do it, in competition with people. This is the financial crisis.”
– Garet Garrett, 1932   

Source: http://www.myrmikan.com/port/

GYX_gold_140116

The sequence repeats: a boom based on ponzi finance (fractional reserve banking, fiat currency, etc.) causing a distortion in the production structure, and then bringing on the inevitable bust.

Structure of production

Does anyone see ANY OTHER outcome besides either a credit or currency collapse?   Reward!

Revaluation: Gold Revaluation

How tough it is to pick stocks

P.S.: I will be sending out value vault keys soon.   I usually wait for a que to develop. Thanks for your patience.

When’s the Crash?

Dow and Q

spy

The cyclicality of markets and risk

I have been sour on a majority of the general “market” since the end of 2013 as anyone following this blog would know, but that doesn’t mean ALL stocks are overvalued, but just that risk in general may be mispriced.   The Q represents for me an arbitrage between buying the asset or selling stock.  I don’t know if a big bear market is coming (no one does) but 20% to 40% declines shouldn’t be surprising when prices are bid up on easy credit (ZIRP and BURP).

Q is high

A Ticking Time Bomb

Certain pundits say a market can be “overvalued for years” but risks rise as market “internals” such as credit spreads widen. Bubble and Bust

Distortions and Time Preference

Note how commodities gain on gold during the boom and decline during the bust phase of the cycle. Proof of gold as money and how extremely distorted cycles have become Boom and Bust Indicator

GYX_gold_140116

Have a Good Weekend!

PS: Good example of fracking economics: Oil Markets PZENA

More on the Capital Cycle

FMQ for blog

We last left off here: follow-the-capital-cycle-as-a-contrarian

Gold and the capital cycle_2 Edward Chancellor discusses the fall-off in supply in precious metals which bodes well for FUTURE profits for miners.

The future turn in oil prices: http://www.resilience.org/stories/2016-01-12/arthur-berman-why-the-price-of-oil-must-rise

Over or mal-investment in the commodity cycle: Commodity Crash due to Monetary Supernova_Stockman

Buy disappointment and sell popularity  Don’t do this reflexively but place into context.

Peabody from hero to zero_case_resolution_fictconsulting

FCX_AR_2014 Note the increase in the rapid increase in assets before the stock price collapse. Note the research on how rapid asset growth usually precedes declines in future profitability  Robin Greenwood Investment and Ship Prices and asset_growth

Follow the Capital Cycle as a Contrarian

Stanley

Ed Chancellor on the capital cycle…

From his introduction to Capital Returns: Investing Through the Capital Cycle: A Money Manager’s Reports 2002-15, which was released in hardcover today (Dec. 2015):
Typically, capital is attracted into high-return businesses and leaves when returns fall below the cost of capital. This process is not static, but cyclical – there is constant flux. The inflow of capital leads to new investment, which over time increases capacity in the sector and eventually pushes down returns. Conversely, when returns are low, capital exits and capacity is reduced; over time, then, profitability recovers. From the perspective of the wider economy, this cycle resembles Schumpeter’s process of “creative destruction” – as the function of the bust, which follows the boom, is to clear away the misallocation of capital that has occurred during the upswing.

The key to the “capital cycle” approach – the term Marathon uses to describe its investment analysis – is to understand how changes in the amount of capital employed within an industry are likely to impact upon future returns. Or put another way, capital cycle analysis looks at how the competitive position of a company is affected by changes in the industry’s supply side. In his book, Competitive Advantage, Professor Michael Porter of the Harvard Business School writes that the “essence of formulating competitive strategy is relating a company to its environment.” Porter famously described the “five forces” which impact on a firm’s competitive advantage: the bargaining power of suppliers and of buyers, the threat of substitution, the degree of rivalry among existing firms and the threat of new entrants. Capital cycle analysis is really about how competitive advantage changes over time, viewed from an investor’s perspective.

  1. Follow the capital cycle as a contrarian (well worth STUDYING!)
  2. Gold miners in the capital cycle (part 2)

http://www.marathon.co.uk/global-investment-review.aspx (Read several articles on the capital cycle in investing).

Watch for errors  (Interview of the gentleman pictured above)

Contrarian Investing (Part II)

swimming-against-tide-one-man-figure-walking-contrary-to-group-crowd-walking-wooden-figures-people-d-rendering-white-35054169

“Bull markets are born on pessimism,” he declared, they“grow on skepticism, mature on optimism, and die on euphoria.” –John Templeton

John Templeton paid attention to the emotion of the stock market. The first half of his philosophy was “The time of maximum pessimism is the best time to buy.” When everyone else was selling, he bought low during the Depression and in 1939 at the onset of World War II . . . and he made millions.

The second half of his philosophy was “the time of maximum optimism is the best time to sell.” He sold high during the Dot.com boom when everyone else was still buying. Founded in the 1950s, his Templeton Growth Fund averaged 13.8% annual returns between 1954 and 2004, consistently beating the S&P 500.

I think there are a few ways to make many times (10x to 100x +) your money over a long period of time.   The first would be to own emerging growth companies that have owner-operators who are both excellent operators and capital allocators who grow the company profitably at a high rate over decades.   The business generates high returns on capital while being able to deploy capital into further growth. Think of owning Wal-Mart in the early 1970s or Amazon after its IPO or 2001.   There will be a post on 100 to 1 baggers soon. I prefer this approach.

Wal-Mart 50 Year Chart_SRC

The second way would be to buy distressed assets and then improve those assets or create efficiencies by creating economies of scale. Carlos Slim, Mexican Billionaire, would be an example of this type of investor. Think activist investing. Note that Carlos Slim has operated at times as a monopolist in a government protected market.  Most of us do not have his options.

The third way would be to buy deeply-distressed, out of favor, cyclical assets and then resell upon the top of the next cycle. Gold mining is a difficult, boom/bust business, for example–see Barrons Gold Mining Index below. All businesses are somewhat cyclical, but commodity producers are hugely cyclical with long multi-year cycles due to the nature of mining-it takes years and high expense to reopen a mine and even if I gave you $2 billion and several years, you and your expert team may not be able to find an economic deposit. Note the five-to-ten year cycles below.

gold mining bgmi

We are focusing on the third way, but in no way do I suggest that this is for you. You need to be your own judge.  There is a big catch in this approach, you need to choose quality assets and/or companies with managements that do not over-leverage their firms during good times or overpay for acquisitions during the booms (or you could choose leveraged firms but be aware of the added risk and size accordingly becasue when a turn occurs, the leveraged firms rise the most). You also need to seek out a period of MAXIMUM pessimism which is difficult to do. How do you know that the market has FULLY discounted the bad news?  Finally, YOU must be prepared to invest with a five-to-ten year horizon while expecting declines of over 50%. That concept alone will make you unique.   Probably most will turn away from such requirements.

We pick up from http://csinvesting.org/2015/12/14/contrarian-dream-or-nightmare/.  Before we delve into the technical aspects of valuing cyclical companies, think about what it FEELS like to have the CONVICTION.  Here is an example:

We last studied Dave Iben, a global contrarian investor, in this post: http://csinvesting.org/tag/david-iben/.   You should read, Its Still Rock and Roll To Me at http://kopernikglobal.com/content/news-views and listen to the last few conference calls at the right side of the web-page.   Note Mr. Iben’s philosophy, approach, and Holdings. His portfolio is vastly different than most money managers or indexers. But being an contrarian takes fortitude and patience. Kopernik Global performance since inception:

koper spy

Next preview the readings below.

First you need to understand Austrian Business Cycle Theory to grasp how massive mal-investment occurs. Why does China have newly built ghost cities? Distortion of interest rates causes mal-investment (the boom) then the inevitable correction because the boom was not financed out of real savings.

Why is the bust so severe for mining/commodity producers?   Read Skousen’s book on the structure of production.  Think of a swing fifty feet off the ground and 200 feet long.   If you are sitting near the center of the swing’s fulcrum (nearest the consumer), then the ups and downs are much less than being on the end of the swing furthest from the consumer (the miners and commodity producers).

4 files were sent to you.
Read Ch. 19 Security Analysis.pdf
Boom/Bust Austrian business cycle theory.pdf
Damodaran Valuing Cyclical Commodity Companies.pdf
Must Read Structure-production.pdf

Sorry: here is the Hooke book (chapter 19 on resource companies)

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File Icon Business Valuation Methods – Jeffrey C. Hooke.pdf Download
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Even if you are an expert in valuation, investing in a cyclical company can be lethal: Vale: Go Where it is darkest (Damodaran)

ValeBig Vale

Then Throwing in the towel on Vale. I am not picking on Prof. Damordaran because we all make mistakes, and he graciously has provided a case study for us.  Study the posts and the comments.

Can you think of several research errors he made (BEFORE) he invested?

Remember in the prior post, the long-term chart of the CRB index showing commodities at 41-year lows since the CRB Index is below 175 or back to 1975 prices?  Then why, if gold is a commodity,  doesn’t gold trade at $200 or at least down to $500 to $700 as the gold chart from that time shows?monthly_dollar

Why, if gold is money, doesn’t gold trade in US Dollars at $15,000 or the estimated price to back US Dollars by 100% in gold?  You can change the amount to $10,000 or $20,000, but you get the idea.gold monetary base

 

Gold during the boom of 1980 rel. to Financial Assets in 1980 the price of gold at $800 per ounce allowed for the US gold holdings to back each US dollar then outstanding.

Try thinking through those questions.  Can we use what we learned from gold to value oil?

I will continue with Part III once readers have had several days to digest the readings and at least three readers try to answer at least one question.  Until then……………………….be a contrarian not contrary.

Update on 21/Dec. 2015 http://fortune.com/2015/12/21/oil-prices-low/

Contrarian Dream or Nightmare?

SPX to CRB

You can see the parabolic move to extremes. Extremes can become more extreme, but what can’t continue will end.  Commodities are at forty-year extremes. Prices will go low enough to shut down the high cost producers until the price settles near the lower part of the cost curve.  Supply is shutting down in zinc and uranium, for example.   Financial assets will not be bid up to infinity despite the price charts for AMZN or IBB.

crblongterm131215

For further perspective:

CRB 2 centuries

The CRB index is printing 174 or not since 1975 have we seen such prices. Consider that Nixon severed the dollar’s link to gold in 1973 which caused nominal prices to rise.  The current bust is the flip-side of the massive mal-investment caused by ZIRP and easy credit over the past several years. the bust is the cleansing of the boom.

What will happen now? 

There is no means of avoiding the final collapse of a boom brought about by credit expansion. The alternative is only whether the crisis should come sooner as the result of voluntary abandonment of further credit expansion, or later as a final and total catastrophe of the currency system involved.” Ludvig V. Mises.

Mises is saying that if the government abandons its credit inflation, then there will be a total credit collapse (probably causing deflation or debt destruction). Or the government can increase and persist in its credit inflation leading to a crack-up boom/currency collapse.

The Fed is presently heading down the inflation path, but it doesn’t have to stay on this path. A change of direction is still possible.

Now for the other Mises quote:

This first stage of the inflationary process may last for many years. While it lasts, the prices of many goods and services are not yet adjusted to the altered money relation. There are still people in the country who have not yet become aware of the fact that they are confronted with a price revolution which will finally result in a considerable rise of all prices, although the extent of this rise will not be the same in the various commodities and services. These people still believe that prices one day will drop. Waiting for this day, they restrict their purchases and concomitantly increase their cash holdings. As long as such ideas are still held by public opinion, it is not yet too late for the government to abandon its inflationary policy.

But then, finally, the masses wake up. They become suddenly aware of the fact that inflation is a deliberate policy and will go on endlessly. A breakdown occurs. The crack-up boom appears. Everybody is anxious to swap his money against ‘real’ goods, no matter whether he needs them or not, no matter how much money he has to pay for them. Within a very short time, within a few weeks or even days, the things which were used as money are no longer used as media of exchange. They become scrap paper. Nobody wants to give away anything against them.”  –Mises

The gist is that if the inflation policy continues for long enough then a psychological tipping point will eventually be reached. At this tipping point the value of money will collapse as people rush to exchange whatever money they have for ‘real’ goods. Mises refers to this monetary collapse as the “crack-up boom”. Prior to this point being reached it will not be too late to abandon the inflation policy.

Today, the US is still immersed in the first stage of the inflationary process. If it continues along its current path then a “crack-up boom” will eventually occur, but there is no way of knowing — and “Austrian” economic theory makes no attempt to predict — when such an event will occur. If the current policy course is maintained then the breakdown could occur within 2-5 years (it almost certainly won’t happen within the next 2 years), but it could also be decades away. Importantly, there is still hope that policy-makers will wake up and change course before the masses wake up and trash the currency.

In conclusion, “Austrian” economic theory helps us understand the damage that is caused by monetary inflation and where the relentless implementation of inflation policy will eventually lead. That is, it helps us understand the direct and indirect effects of monetary-policy choices. It doesn’t, however, make specific predictions about whether the next few years will be characterised by inflation or deflation, because whether there is more inflation or a shift into deflation will depend on the future actions of governments and central banks. It will also depend on the performances of financial markets, because, for example, a large stock-market decline could prompt a sufficient increase in the demand for cash to temporarily offset the effects of a higher money supply on the purchasing power of money.

The upshot is that regardless of how the terms are defined, at this stage neither inflation nor deflation is inevitable.   http://tsi-blog.com/2015/07/does-austrian-economics-predict-inflation-or-deflation/

…Back to being a contrarian.  As a contrarian you don’t reflexively buy plunging prices, but you do look for ugly, distressed and cheap where there is a high level of fear and dislocation because you are more likely to find mis-pricings. –Prof. Greenwald.

Are coal stocks a buy?  They are likely to finish 2015 down a whopping 5 years in a row, along with another hated sector, gold stocks.  Both are down over 80% from their peak.

I’ve written a lot about reversion strategies on this blog (Meb Farberand my books.   It is always hard to try and decide when an investment has declined and is a true value, or when it has simply declined with more to go?  There are lots of famous investing quotes to use here that may or may not be funny depending on your current holdings.

“Buy when there is blood in the streets”

“What do you call a market down 90%?  It is a market that was down 80%, and then got cut in half from there.”

“Investing is the only business that when things go on sale, everyone runs out of the store”

“You want to be greedy when others are fearful. You want to be fearful when others are greedy.”

Ironically, the only industry to ever print 6 down years in a row?

Coal stocks. (ending 1933)

coal

You can see the chart here and how it set the stage for great future returns…but it wasn’t until the early 1940s before they really started their bull run…

The next post will describe investing in cyclical stocks.