Category Archives: Valuation Techniques

What I learned from Ben Graham

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https://www.brandes.com/institute/knowledge-center

As always, I try to also post the criticisms of investing legends:

Victor Niederhoffer, tireless critic of Benjamin Graham, Graham’s investment idea, and Warren Buffett, is blown up once again —to the tune of some 75% losses for his funds —as reported for a story in this week’s The New Yorker. Whereas Niederhoffer’s latest catastrophic losses might serve as schadenfreude for some students of value investing, this self-described Ayn Rand Objectivist is a living testament to the lethal nature of some spectacularly subjective biases, including a disdain for anything resembling a margin of safety.

The New Yorker article is a bit heavy on Niederhoffer’s personal life, but is still worth a read. Here’s the link:

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/10/15/071015fa_fact_cassidy

Several years ago, Victor Niederhoffer was questioned during a radio interview about his rejection of the value investment paradigm as espoused by Benjamin Graham. The interviewer asked Niederhoffer how he might then explain the half-century success of Graham students such as Walter Schloss and others, given his rejection of Graham’s ideas. Niederhoffer replied that such success was “random.”

In Niederhoffer’s book, Practical Speculation, an entire chapter is devoted to refuting Graham’s pursuit of bargain issues. Only Niederhoffer hardly gets around to doing so. Instead, this sophisticated statistician attempts to stigmatize Graham and dwells on a small, essentially anecdotal sampling to prove his points about the lameness of value investing. One fellow Niederhoffer knew bought a stock below book value and watched as the stock proceeded to trade lower.

See? Graham’s ideas are useless.

When he is done expounding on the value investment discipline’s futility and ineffectualness, Niederhoffer allows as how he is troubled by the discipline’s ostensibly cynical premise: a dollar bought for fifty cents means that the seller is exploited. It seems odd that this cultivated observer of free-enterprise fails to recognize a couple of cold, hard facts: the business that fails to sell at half-price is likely to be sold for even less, and buyers of these ailing businesses are, in effect, upholding a competitive counterpoint to stronger businesses that might otherwise have a stranglehold in a capitalist system.

“Random”, the quality that Niederhoffer attributes to successful value investors and any successful value investments as defined by Benjamin Graham, might more aptly be attributed to Niederhoffer’s own quest for an intellectually sound speculative framework. This tendency is displayed in living color by Niederhoffer and other participants on dailyspeculations.com, the website Niederhoffer hosts, as these traders engage in frothy examinations of the parallels between non-related phenomena, such as the evolved habits of exotic animals seen while on safari, and “trading”. Niederhoffer himself is especially fond of drawing wisdom from Captain Jack Aubrey, the main hero in Patrick O’Brian’s 18th century British Navy epics, as that wisdom might pertain to the markets. But after reading Practical Speculation, it is painfully obvious that if Captain Aubrey ever sashays into Niederhoffer’s trading-room and hands him a copy of The Intelligent Investor, Niederhoffer will politely accept the book, and promptly throw it overboard when the good Captain is out of site.

It’s easy to take potshots at this outspoken speculator gone off his trolley. But in the spirit of inquiry that Niederhoffer offers in his book, MSN articles and website, it seems reasonable to ask whether two catastrophic losses and one near-catastrophic loss offered to investors over a 10 year investment period —nearly 4 years of which were spent on hiatus— are more or less “random” than the market-beating investment success that Schloss, et al, offered to investors for over 50 years using a value framework. In any case, the simple fact is that the alternatives to a value framework in the securities markets frequently lead to misery, and by all accounts, Victor Niederhoffer is currently altogether miserable. In the manner that Walter Schloss’ 50-plus years of risk-averse investment returns are “random”, it may be safely said that Victor Niederhoffer’s self-inflicted misery is also randomly rendered.

http://boards.fool.com/niederhoffer-and-the-quotrandomquot-success-25976330.aspx?sort=whole

and http://www.bearcave.com/bookrev/practical_speculation.html

Amazon is Disappearing Says Prof. Greenwald of Columbia GBS

big-amzn

Amazon’s Business Is ‘Disappearing,’ Columbia’s Greenwald Says

December 1, 2011 — 11:25 AM EST
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2011-12-01/amazon-s-business-is-disappearing-columbia-s-greenwald-says

Amazon.com Inc. shares are overvalued because its core business of selling books and music online is “disappearing” and it’s competing with larger rival Apple Inc. in tablet devices, according to Columbia University’s Bruce C. Greenwald.

“Amazon trading at 100 times earnings is almost a joke,” Greenwald, a professor of management and asset management at the New York-based university, said today at the Bloomberg Hedge Fund Conference hosted by Bloomberg Link. “If Amazon doesn’t deliver profitability in the long run, it’s not going to stay at 100 times earnings.”

Amazon, based in Seattle, trades at 103 times reported earnings for the past year, down from this year’s peak of 129.8 in October, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The company’s shares gained 2.5 percent to $197.16 in New York trading, and have climbed 9.4 percent this year.

==

Bruce Greenwald: Amazon Is Trading on Vapors

Bruce Greenwald: Now, Amazon I think is completely different. I think, if Apple is a current profit machine, Amazon is trading on vapors. [laughs]

They make no reported profit; the whole story is a growth story. They’re buying customers on the theory, presumably, that those customers are going to be profitable in the future. Now, for customers to be profitable you have to dominate segments.

The segment that Amazon has traditionally dominated is, of course, books, music, and video. Well, we know what happened to the music business when it went digital, which is the profit vanished and even Apple doesn’t make any money on iTunes.

The same thing is happening to books, with the connivance, by the way, of Amazon. The same thing is happening to video, so their core business is dying. The business that they dominated, where they made all their money, is dying.

What have they decided to do? Go into a lot of businesses where they have no competitive advantage. First they’ve gone into every variety of retail: TV sets against Wal-Mart and Best Buy, who have better distribution economics…

They can buy the business, but in the long run, unless they can get bigger share than those companies, their pricing is going to be at a disadvantage to those companies, because those companies can distribute the TVs and other devices more cheaply.

Then what did they decide? They said, “Oh, that wasn’t a big enough challenge. Let’s go after the Oracles and the IBMs and all the companies that do cloud computing, and the SAPs and so on, and the Googles,” and they went into that business.

Now, if you think they’ve got a competitive advantage in that business while they’re going after everybody in retail, lots of luck. But then they decided that was not enough, so they decided to go after Apple and the others in the device business.

This looks, to me, like a company that makes no reported profit, which I think is fair, that’s trying to buy growth in all sorts of areas where, because it has no competitive advantage, the growth is going to be value-destroying, not value-creating.

http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2013/01/04/bruce-greenwald-amazon-is-trading-on-vapors.aspx

Amazon is on a p/e of 500 – but I’m happy to keep my shares

Amazon launched its first smartphone last week – the Amazon Fire phone.

It doesn’t represent any sort of leap forward in smartphone technology, according to reviews. So it probably won’t take a huge amount of market share from Apple or Samsung/Google.

Meanwhile, both Apple and Google are eating into one of Amazon’s traditional core businesses, selling music and video content.

So is Amazon’s new smartphone just a desperate bid to preserve market share? Or is it another ballsy, far-sighted move by Amazon’s boss, Jeff Bezos – one that will pay off in the end?

I think it’s the latter. And that’s why I’m willing to hang on to my Amazon shares – even although they trade on an eye-watering price/earnings ratio (P/E) of 500.

You might think I’m mad – but let me try to persuade you otherwise…

What’s Amazon’s new phone like?

I’ve not seen one of Amazon’s phones, but it sounds like they’re pretty similar to your average iPhone, but with two fresh add-ons.

One is a semi-3D capability that has been greeted with a ‘meh’ reaction by most reviewers. In truth, I don’t really understand how this 3D function works – I’ll have to wait and see a phone before I can do that.

The other improvement is a ‘recognition engine’ which has been received much more warmly.  It’s called Firefly and is a sort of audiovisual search tool. It recognises books, various consumer goods, music, video and more. And once the phone has recognised the item, you can immediately put it in your Amazon shopping basket.

“Not only was it effective”, says Gizmodo, “it was kind of beautiful”.

So it’s pretty obvious that Amazon is launching the phone in an effort to sell more stuff. Purchasers of the phone will also get a year’s free membership of Amazon Prime, which normally costs £79.

Prime offers free delivery on many purchases, the opportunity to ‘borrow’ books to read on your Kindle, and access to a wide selection of video titles. Amazon says that Prime customers spend four times as much on Amazon as other users, and that half of Amazon’s sales are to Prime customers.

So if the Fire phone can significantly boost the number of Prime customers, it will probably prove to be a savvy move by Bezos.

Now, not everyone is convinced that the phone launch is a smart move.



For example, Bruce Greenwald, a finance professor at Columbia Business School, made some negative comments to the Guardian. “This sequence of crazy initiatives in areas where they have no competitive advantage is about sustaining an unsustainable stock price… Amazon owns the books market, but what is happening to the value of that monopoly? They have a core business in which they are dominant, it’s going away and they are thrashing around trying to justify their $150bn market capitalisation.”

Is Greenwald right? I don’t think so.

Yes, Amazon faces growing competition. In digital content, it is competing with Apple, Google, music streaming service Spotify, and many others.

And on the physical consumer goods side – in other words, items that are delivered from its warehouses rather than online – the likes of Tesco, Argos and Walmart are all growing smarter about online retail. These chains also benefit from owning large store networks which are useful for customers who like to “click and collect.” Amazon isn’t so well placed for ‘click and collect.’

Greenwald is also right to highlight Amazon’s high valuation. However, I believe that valuation can be justified and that’s why I’m happy to hang onto my shares.

Why Amazon’s ‘crazy’ share rating is justified

No other online retailer offers such a large variety of products for sale. And Amazon is still growing its sales faster than the growth rate for overall e-commerce around the world. Last year, Amazon was the ninth-largest retailer in the world. Consultancy Kantar expects it to be the second-largest by 2018.

Amazon’s network of warehouses is also a very useful asset. It has 106 ‘fulfilment centres’ around the world, of which ten are in the UK. It is also trying to improve its ‘click and collect’ capacity by offering collection points at some London Underground stations.

Amazon also has a great record of investing for the long term. When Amazon launched Amazon Web Services in 2005, many observers doubted that the company could become a major player in this field – providing services to businesses. But, according to The Motley Fool, it now controls more than 30% of infrastructure for the ‘cloud’.

The point is, there will come a time when Amazon can afford to slow down the pace of growth and allow its profits to rise dramatically. When that happens, today’s valuation won’t look so crazy.

I’ll freely admit that Amazon is probably the highest-risk stock in my portfolio, but I’m happy to hold for further growth to come. And the Fire phone will play its part in achieving that growth.

So what do YOU think?  How would you value Amazon?  What major adjustment would you need to make? What is the business trying to do?

If you need a hint: http://ben-evans.com/benedictevans/2014/9/4/why-amazon-has-no-profits-and-why-it-works

Does anyone want to bet $200 that Prof Greenwald will NEVER admit he might have miscalculated or misunderstood Amazon’s business?

What if he read their annual report: amazon-shareholderletter97

cuba-vs-singapore_03252015

What caused the above?

The Mining Clock

Mining clock

When to start buying mining shares

Ignore the analysis but note the concept.  The advice to NOT buy the miners was the perfect situation to do the opposite:
mining assets

See the lows put in Jan. 11th in both the HUI Goldbugs index and Freeport McM (FCX). Only six days after the publishing of this article.

When to start buying mining shares

Five years ago, the FTSE 350 Mining index reached a post-financial crisis peak at just over 28,000. It currently sits at 7,134, down 75% at an 11-year low, and share prices remain vulnerable.Global commodities markets remain massively oversupplied and Chinese demand is waning, but there will come a point at which mining shares are a ‘buy’ again.  (You always want to buy commodities and/or commodity stocks at the point of MAXIMUM PESSIMISM or when supply is greatest and demand lowest!).

Investec Securities has built a “Mining Clock”, which brilliantly illustrates the mining cycle, including when to buy and when to sell. It’s a real “cut-out-and-keep” for every investor.

Investec writes:

“Please see the updated Mining Clock below where we indicate that it appears still too early to be buying the mining sector. This is despite five straight years of underperformance from mining equities globally, in every sector, save Australian listed gold equities which outperformed the ASX in 2014 and 2015.” (Where is the article that told you WHEN, exactly, to buy?).  Rearview investing doesn’t work.

The above article proves once again that no one can time a sector–except when (like in this article) there is no hope for a rebound.

GDX LT Chart

Aug52016JrGoldbullanalogs

Aug52016HUIBullanalog

Aug52016Goldbullanalogd

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ev

http://prostedywagacje.blogspot.co.uk/2016/08/how-to-play-this-bull-market-in-gold-in.html

Last time I sold a few of my miners back in July

july

http://csinvesting.org/2016/07/08/time-to-sell-some-miners-but-not-much/

And now over the next few days and weeks, a time to rebuy at the margin.  But if you are in a bull market Sentry__Com_BullishGold_MacLean___E then sitting tight is what you must do.  At most, I think we are in six to seven on the mining clock.  So far, the public is not yet participating except perhaps in the last month.

WHAT do YOU think?

27CHICKENweb04-master675 (1)

HAVE A GOOD WEEKEND!

P.S.: http://donmillereducation.com/journal/   Work on yourself!

CASE STUDY Activist Action on Coke 2014 Proxy

KO IMGAGE

We are taking up from the last post http://csinvesting.org/2016/07/25/major-analyst-exam-reading-a-proxy-then-assessing-management-and-directors/

This case study teaches us about reading a proxy, management compensation, board governance, and the struggles of activism.

Mr. David Winters of wintergreen_fund_annual_report_2015_1231 has struggled since inception. From inception on 10/17/2005, Wintergreen has returned 68.73% vs. 113.22% for the S&P 500.   Another fund started in 12/30/2011 returned 15.95% vs. 77% for the S%P 500.   Nevertheless, he has done a service for the investment community by pointing out egregious compensation plans in Wintergreen-TheTerrible10-2-web.  Then note the passiveness of the big index funds in terms of protecting their own shareholders, 20150430-Wintergreen-Advisers-BigIndex.

Mr. Winters began his battle with Coke in 2014. KO_VL Jan 2015. Coke has a fine franchise with high returns on capital, but its cost structure (including management’s compensation) may be far too high considering the competitive pressures that incombents are facing.   Coke has had to make pricey acquisitions to diversify out of brown sugary fizz drinks. Also, all incumbents are facing new pressures like DollarShaveClub.com breaching of Gillette’s (P&G) moat–see below

Dollar Shave Club Hurting Gillette

Video:

Analysis of Dollar Shave Adshttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cW8S-QBKcq4


As a review: Mr. Winter’s on Wealth Track: https://youtu.be/x6I1B3MaTms

Ok, back to Coke’s Proxy and Wintergreen’s battle to have Coke’s Board rescind the 2014 incentive compensation plan.   See the progression of the battle along with the slide presentations: Wintergreen Faults Coca Cola Management (KEY DOCUMENT TO READ!)

Then view Wintergreen’s presentations along with the articles in the link above:

What do you make of Mr. Winter’s struggle?  How can you explain Mr. Buffett’s actions? I was DISAPPOINTED but not surprised.  What did you learn that would be of help to your investing–the key to anything you spend time on?   Note Mr. Winter’s designation of corporate buybacks as another shareholder expense.   I believe shareholder buybacks are a use of corporate resources (a shrinking of the equity capital) that may either be a waste or a good use of resources depending upon whether the purchase price of the shares is below intrinsic value. Mr. Winters stresses that buybacks simply use corporate funds to mop up shareholder dilution. Regardless, Mr. Winter points out the huge shifting of shareholder property to a management that hasn’t performed exceptionally well.  Coke’s Board had granted exceptional awards for middling performance–now that is a travesty.

When I think of Coke, a great franchise that is not currently super cheap, I think of other “stable” franchise stocks like Campbell Soup or Kellogg’s.  The market has bid these up so your future returns will be low.  Do not misunderstand me, these companies are massive, slow-growth franchises, but if you pay too much, then you may have lower future returns for many years.

CMP Soup

CMP Soup

38630396-An-Open-Letter-to-Warren-Buffett-Kellogg-Company

—-

Lie with statistics http://tsi-blog.com/2016/07/you-can-make-statistics-say-whatever-you-want/

HAVE A GREAT WEEKEND and KEEP DANCING

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

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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.

Returns of 100 to 1? First Understand Returns on Incr. Capital; Reader’s Question

Cap investments

The best long-term investments tend to be companies that can reinvestment over and over again at high rates of return.  Those high rates of return attract competitors so you must also understand barriers-to-entry.  But first study how to calculate incremental returns on capital or marginal returns on invested capital (“MROIC”).   There are several links and documents below to help you.  The effort is worth it if you can find: WMT_50 Year SRC Chart (up to 2000). WMT had regional economies of scale until it out-grew them. 

From John Huber of Base Hit Investing

  1. Eridon855 says:

May 30, 2016 at 10:44 am

Is there a way to calulate return on reinvested earnings?

  • John Huber says:

May 30, 2016 at 2:57 pm

One quick and dirty way is to look at the amount of capital the business has added over a period of time, and compare that to the amount of incremental growth of earnings. Last year Walmart earned $14.7 billion of net income on roughly $125 billion debt and equity capital, or just under 12% return on capital. Not bad, but what we really want to know if we are going to buy Walmart is a) how much of their earnings will they retain and reinvest in the business going forward? and b) what will the return on that reinvested capital be?

10 years ago in fiscal 2006, Walmart earned $11.2 billion on roughly $83 billion of capital, or around 13.5%. But in the subsequent 10 years, they invested roughly $42 billion of additional debt and equity capital ($125b invested in 2016 and $83b invested in 2006), and using that incremental $42 billion they were able to grow earnings by about $3.5 billion (earnings grew from $11.2 billion in 2006 to around $14.7 billion in 2016). So in the past 10 years, Walmart has seen a rather mediocre return on the capital that it has invested during that time (roughly 8%).

We can also look at the last 10 years and see that Walmart has retained roughly 35% of its earnings to reinvest back in the business (the balance has been primarily used for buybacks and dividends). As I’ve mentioned before, a company will see its intrinsic value will compound at a rate that roughly equals the product of its ROIC and its reinvestment rate. So if Walmart can retain 35% of its capital and reinvest that capital at an 8% return, we’d expect a modest growth of intrinsic value of around 3% per year. Stockholders will see total returns higher than that because of dividends, but the value of the enterprise will likely compound at roughly that rate. And we can see that over the previous 10 years, Walmart’s stock has grown around 45% not including dividends. So unless you are banking on an increase in P/E ratios, you’re unlikely to achieve a great result buying a business that can only invest a third of its earnings at 8% returns.

This is a really rough measure, and this back of the envelope method works okay with a large, mature company like Walmart. But what you really want to know is what will the business retain going forward and what will the return be on the capital it retains and reinvests? Of course, there are different ways to measure returns (you might use operating income, net income, free cash flow, etc…) and there are many ways to measure the capital that is employed. But hopefully this is a helpful example from a general point of view.

Calculating Incremental Returns on Capital

ALSO, read and study these articles:http://basehitinvesting.com/tag/roic/

For extra study go here:

Reader’s Question

Hi John,
I love the “no hope” strategy for finding ideas. See http://csinvesting.org/2016/06/04/search-process-no-hope-dry-bulk-shipping/

I suppose there is always headline risk with things that have been in multi-year bear markets.

I am curious if you have any thoughts about political consequences of increased isolationist sentiment in the US and Europe?   Reply: Actually, the recent sell-off in the shippers this past week (June 17th, 2016) has partially been (I believe) due to Brexit.  You always want to look where sentiment is the worst and then try to determine if the price reflects the known news.   So on the one hand the rising fears over isolation give me comfort that a lot of bad news is being priced in.  Also, if the EU breaks up, why should trade go down?   Britain already sells more to the EU than it imports.   Switzerland isn’t in the EU and it has one of the strongest economies in Europe.   The EU makes no logical economic sense–how can central planning EVER work?  Nations have a natural interest to trade with each other since individuals benefit. What Trump says and can do (even if elected) are two separate issues.   I really don’t know how to handicap.   What I want is terrible news to encourage ship owners not to order new ships and to scrap the ones that they have.  

Also curious about your thoughts on the surge in low-cost vessels that came from Chinese ship makers in the last several years.   Reply:  This has been one of the reasons this shipping cycle has been the worst in forty years.   Easy credit/subsidized loans created a boom in Chinese ship builders (See May 7th, 2016 Economist issue and http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21698240-it-question-when-not-if-real-trouble-will-hit-china-coming-debt-bust.  Now some Chinese ship builders are close to bankruptcy.   So, yes, this oversupply will make this cycle–already a long one–drag out, but who knows for how long?.

I subscribed to Trade Winds (shipping trade magazine) a couple of years ago, to keep abreast of the industry and try to find when industry sentiment started to pick up. So far, it’s still been abysmal, although this years spike in iron ore was pretty interesting. Especially because Wall Street analysts are still telling everyone iron ore is going lower and this is just a blip.  Reply: Wall Street just tells you AFTER the fact or projects the trend/obvious.    As one ship owner said (Diana Shipping) said, “The bulk shipping market will turn when no one believes it will turn.”   

Ordered the book just now. Really interested to learn more about the industry, and it’s cool that it’s in novel form. I think some of these shippers may start getting close to scrap value pretty soon.  Reply: The Shipping Man was an educational and enjoyable read.   I may even search for other book like Viking_Raid_Excerpt

Explore:

Just remember that the shipping industry has big demarcations. A company like Navigators’ Holdings (an LPG shipper) has different market dynamics than a dry-bulk shipper like Scorpio Bulkers.   One shipper operates in more of a oligopoly market than a purely competitive one though both, obviously, are cyclical.

I highly recommend the 800 page opus, Maritime Economics (3rd Edition) by Martin Stopford. If you wish to dig into the shipping industry, then read the annual reports/presentations of several shippers.   I have a ways to go to understand this market. The author: https://youtu.be/e2TToPf5iDs

Speculating in shippers is a bit like playing poker.  You don’t want the ship owners to start ordering new ships if freight rates start to rise.   You want the other owners to disbelieve a sustained rise.  When supply is constrained for a few years coupled with a spike in demand, the shipping market explodes like in 2007–no wonder a large supply of ships eventually came into the market and the boom went to bust.  The SIZE of the prior boom has led the depth of this bust.

A Reader’s Question on Modelling (Munger and Buffett’s View)

politics

A READER’S QUESTION

Just wanted to shoot you a quick email applauding you for putting together the “Ultimate Investor Checklist.”  investment_principles_and_checklists_ordway This may be the most valuable word document I have on my computer.

munger

Quick question, I’m a huge fan of Charlie Munger (currently am reading Poor Charlies Almanack)- In the checklist when he describes being a business owner Charlie says:

      • Ignores modeling forecasts for the next quarter, next year, or next ten years.
      • Ignores forecasting completely.

http://www.mymentalmodels.info/charlie-munger-reading-list/ (Search through this link on Munger’s Mental Models.

If Charlie Ignores modeling and forecasting, how does he go about estimating Intrinsic Value? I know Charlie has said in the past that he has never seen Warren Buffett use DCF, so how do they go about estimating Intrinsic Value?

John Chew: A good question.  First, a model is not reality but a metaphysical description of reality.   You probably should build a simple spread-sheet of sales, capex, taxes, etc. to understand the economic model of the business you are looking at–we are not all geniuses like Buffett or Munger.

But rather than have me say what I think Buffett would say, read the source. Note his analysis of Coke and Sees Candies:

Buffett_Lecture_Fla_Univ_Sch_of_Business_1998  Hope that helps!

Arbitrage by Buffett_Research  (just for Buffaholics)

Coal’s Sunset/The Capital Cycle; Graham Bangs the Table

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http://csinvesting.org/2016/01/13/more-on-the-capital-cycle/ was our last discussion on the capital cycle.

Coal_Haul_Truck_at_North_Antelope_Rochelle

Now, look at these two excellent posts on Coal.

A perspective on current conditions in other markets:

The Big Long – Final Feb 28 2016 The writer promises a follow up to discuss catalysts–which, I believe, will be the change in supply and demand dynamics and the capital cycle. See article referred to here: 2_Buffett and Graham Call the 1974 Market Bottom

and for more historical and emotional perspective:

 

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

Contrarian Investing (Part II)

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“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).

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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/