Category Archives: YOU

I’LL BE BACK; Meanwhile Keep Learning

Bull_market_03.24.2016_normal

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.

http://latticework.com/featured/ Worth a look

Sign up: http://investorvantage.com/ to receive reading links like:

10 THINGS WE’RE READING & WATCHING:
    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.
Seconal

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

Back in July/Emergency Stem Cell Transplant

I hope to return by July, but if not, I will see you all on the other side.  Someone will still check each week to manage the Deep Value Group. Scroll down and follow link http://csinvesting.org/2015/01/14/deep-value-group-at-google/

F1.large

I have been diagnosed with a rare bone marrow blood disorder called Amyloidosis.

My immediate treatment is

My view so far: Fear Loathing and Stem Cell Transplant

Now I could have this attitude https://youtu.be/2bCwyzT0Z6E but I choose this

 

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

millenniumforce02wide

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:

 

Analyst Quiz is Gold Overvalued Based on CPI–Go SHORT?

gold vs cpi

You just got promoted to advise Ackman; he is keen to improve returns.  He slaps that chart on your desk and then asks if shorting gold would be a good idea? Why or why not based on this brilliant analysis?  In fact, with “Deflation” fears rampant, Ackman feels gold could drop to $650.

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/gold-has-no-business-being-this-expensive-2016-02-03?siteid=rss&rss=1

Also, you read: The Golden Dilemma where two PhDs project a $350 price target.  If experts such as these predict lower prices, then should you join the pack?

Also, you find a chart that supports what your boss thinks. Yahoo!

1-Gold-vs-commodities

Unfortunately, some nut-job sends you this link: The Positive theory of gold and the The ultimate extinguisher of debt

You have until this afternoon to report back.  This tests common sense and critical thinking skills. Good luck!

A prize to be awarded.

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

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)

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).

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

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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.

Ringing a bell for commodities producers

20151209_anglo

Anglo Suspends Dividend (Ringing a bell)  We are watching collective capitulation by shareholders and management (a sign of the beginning of the end of the bear trend).

Anglo Restructuring

Remember the panic of bankers back in ’09?

Banks

A repeat for global miners in 2015/16?

Global Mining Indices

At lows, commodity price narrative is pure supply and demand with LIMITLESS SUPPLY (oil) and anemic demand (China slowdown) while at highs the narrative for commodities is driven by financial speculation (China boom/Commodity Super Cycle).   Buy low and sell high.

Gold Stocks: No One Left to Kill?

5-Gold-sentiment-1

An Interesting Juncture for Gold Stocks (A good read with links)

Note that CEF in the above chart trades at an 11% discount to its 60%/40% holding of gold and silver bullion after a four year down-trend–note that this is either hyper-bearishness or massive extrapolation of trend-following.   Apple’s cash hoard could buy the entire public mining sector.   Gold stocks are cheap for a reason: poor capital allocation, poor cost control, and dilution of shareholders revealed in the five-year long bust from an epic boom from 2001 to 2011 caused investors to flee.   Since then many managements have gained religion on cost control and capital discipline (Note Barrick, ABX). All cycles turn, but when? If we knew, then no opportunity.

I always hear investors or analysts ask, “So what is the catalyst?”  If the market is at all efficient–and I would say that it is except at major inflection points–then if we knew the catalyst, then the opportunity would be arbitraged away.  How about the law of low prices or the law of supply and demand.

gold_GNX_231115

Ironically, as gold has declined in US dollar terms, it has risen in real terms versus commodities showing its mettle in a credit contraction.  TSI BLOG

1-Divergences-complete-772x1024The HUI, a gold stock index, is showing relative strength versus gold.   However, certain gold stocks like Novagold (NG), Sabina Gold (SGSVF) or Agnico-Eagle (AEM) are in incipient uptrends or, at least, vastly outperforming their indexes such as GDX or GDXJ.  You must diversify amongst the highest quality producers, developers, and explorers.

This post is not a recommendation but a historical reference point for a hated asset class.  I see much less RISK in a terrible industry such as gold mining than wonderful businesses such as Amazon, CRM, or GE.