The Attributes of Great Investors
Before you click on article, sit down and write what YOU think. Be specific. What steps do you need to take to improve? So how to go from here to there?
The Attributes of Great Investors
Before you click on article, sit down and write what YOU think. Be specific. What steps do you need to take to improve? So how to go from here to there?
Imagine owning a pet that doesn’t need to be trained, walked, fed or groomed — ever. That’s exactly what California ad executive Gary Dahl was after when he came up with pet rocks in 1975. Tired of the hassle and responsibility that came with animate house pets, Dahl developed a toy concept that was 1% product and 99% marketing genius: a garden-variety rock, packaged in a comfy cardboard shipping crate, complete with straw for the rock’s comfort and holes so it could breathe during transport. The Pet Rock Training Manual — a tongue-in-cheek set of guidelines for pet owners, like housebreaking instructions (“Place it on some old newspapers. The rock will never know what the paper is for and will require no further instruction”) — helped turn the scheme from an amusing gag gift into an inexplicable toy craze. By Christmas 1975, Americans were hooked. Although the fad was long gone by the following year, the rocks — which were collected from a beach in Baja, Calif., for pennies each and retailed for $3.95 — made Dahl a multimillionaire in about six months. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pet_Rock and The-Care-and-Training-of-Your-Pet-Rock-Manual-by-Gary-Dahl
BEFORE I became a value investor, I was addicted to bubbles. I have over 1,200 Pet Rocks lining my Python cage. I don’t know what the price chart says, but it doesn’t look good that I will be able to resell at a profit.
Also, I have 20,000 Beanie Babies rotting/mildewing in my basement as well.
An amazing story of mass delusion and the dark side of cute.
How to be a Stoic: http://www.perell.com/podcast/massimo
Lessons from Ed Thorp, a self-taught investor: http://www.gurufocus.com/news/473560/the-strip-and-the-street-a-conversation-with-mathematician-hedge-fund-manager-and-blackjack-player-edward-thorp
Edward Thorp: I came at the securities markets without basically any prior knowledge and I educated myself by sitting down and reading anything I could lay my hands on. I began to get oriented, and then I discovered how to evaluate warrants, at least in an elementary way, and I decided that was a way that I could apply mathematics and logical thinking and maybe get an edge in the market.
So if charts have NO FORECASTING ability or, in my humble opinion, no investor/trader can use chart formations like rising wedges, cup and handles, head and shoulders, etc to PREDICT where the market will go IN THE FUTURE. Charts might work for Hindsight Capital, but I have yet to see any research showing the efficacy of chart reading. Despite that vicious attack on chartists, I do use charts. Take for example, Navigator’s Holdings (NVGS). Let’s zero in a bit more:
Note the time period from August 2016 to December 2016. As the price accelerated downward on larger than normal volume–note in the second week of August the plunge in price from $9.50 t0 $8.10 in one day or about 15%, OUCH! The price decline occurred on the anouncement of second quarter earnings:
Navigator Holdings misses by $0.04, misses on revenue Aug. 8, 2016
So you have a plunging/falling knife on an “earnings miss” or worse than “expected” news. Now look at the opposite of the trade. Since I was fundamentally bullish, who was on the other side selling? First from the holdings, you can see that 41% of the 53 million shares outstanding is held by a private equity firm, Invesco run by Wilbur Ross–a deep value investor. Invesco bought at $9 a share back in 2012, then sold some shares at $20 a year and a half later. Over 50% of the shares seem to be held by long-term investors. The NVGS share price had been declining for over two years from $32 per share while it bought more ships, then LPG freight rates declined sharply and the arbitrage shrunk for some of NVGS’s products. In short, the sudden high volume rapid decline indicated MOTIVATED sellers who were either distressed or late momentum sellers. Some of the sellers are selling AFTER a long price decline and bad news being announed. I consider those emotional/weak sellers. Now there is no guarantee that the news won’t worsen and the price won’t keep declining.
I feel confident saying that because NVGS’ balance sheet was not overburdened with debt. See September-2016-Update for NVGS.
|INVESCO PRIVATE CAPITAL, INC.||21,863,874||$ 157,201,000||41.05%||53.08%||1||NaN%|
|PARAGON ASSOCIATES & PARAGON ASSOCIATES II JOINT VENTURE||1,050,000||$ 7,550,000||8.73%||10.85%||4||86,516||NaN%|
|EMANCIPATION MANAGEMENT LLC||683,422||$ 4,913,000||7.57%||6.95%||3||187,961||NaN%|
|HOLLOW BROOK WEALTH MANAGEMENT LLC||855,072||$ 6,148,000||3.63%||2.91%||10||489,875||NaN%|
Then prices CONTINUED to decline as negative news and research reports came out reporting the known bad news of declining freight rates, over-supply of ships, economic uncertainty, etc.
Let’s set aside that on a normalized basis, I have a value for NVGS above $20, how do I know the price won’t go to $8 or $5 or $2? I don’t! But I do have context to see if the price is “OVER” discounting the news/fundamentals.
http://seekingalpha.com/research/839737-j-mintzmyer/4912014-exclusive-research-navigator-holdings-cheap-underfollowed-deservedly is an example of several negative research reports that implied, “Yes, the stock is cheap with solid management and the company is profitable, BUT supply will increase next year.” Stay away.
Then for the next two months, September and October, the price chart showed a change in trend from rapidly down to sideways. Why was the price going sideways with negative reports and negative news constantly coming out each day? Perhaps the chart was showing that prices had ALREADY discounted the known NEGATIVE news and extrapolating a long period of negative news. Unless the news became much worse–despite frieght rates at 30 year lows–all you needed was slightly less bad news.
Sure enough, the announcement of earnings Nov. 4th 2016 showed that the company could still generate profits in an extremely negative operating environment. The price rallied confirming the prior discounting. Now I could really start to add to my position. The chart had helped me “eliminate” one side of the market–the downside.
The combination of fundamentals, the action of majority shareholders (holding firm), extreme negative news coupled with NON-DECLINING prices, gave me a signal that the market had ALREADY discounted negative news. This is more of an art or combination of fundamentals, sentiment, and human incentives than just looking at chart patterns.
Hope that helps.
If you were against the New Deal and its wholesale buying of pauper votes, then you were against Christian charity. If you were against the gross injustices and dishonesties of the Wagner Labor Act, then you were against labor. If you were against packing the Supreme Court, then you were in favor of letting Wall Street do it. If you are against using Dr. Quack’s cancer salve, then you are in favor of letting Uncle Julius die. If you are against Holy Church, or Christian Science, then you are against god. It is an old, old argument. –H.L.Mencken
“Let us not, in the pride of our superior knowledge, turn with contempt from the follies of our predecessors. The study of errors into which great minds have fallen in the pursuit of truth can never be uninstructive… Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, one by one… Truth, when discovered, comes upon most of us like an intruder, and meets the intruder’s welcome… Nations, like individuals, cannot become desperate gamblers with impunity. Punishment is sure to overtake them sooner or later.”
Charles MacKay, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and The Madness of Crowds, 1841
My prior post on Charts and Technical Analysis is here: http://csinvesting.org/2017/01/04/chartists-and-technical-analysis/
The point is to realize that charts are a tool but using them to predict is a fools’ game. You can try to find disconfirming evidence,but make sure the sample size is a large one. More on market inefficiency from Bob Haugen.
In April of 1958, Hunter S. Thompson was 22 years old when he wrote this letter to his friend Hume Logan in response to a request for life advice.
Thompson’s letter, found in Letters of Note, offers some of the most thoughtful and profound advice I’ve ever come across.
April 22, 1958
57 Perry Street
New York City
You ask advice: ah, what a very human and very dangerous thing to do! For to give advice to a man who asks what to do with his life implies something very close to egomania. To presume to point a man to the right and ultimate goal— to point with a trembling finger in the RIGHT direction is something only a fool would take upon himself.
I am not a fool, but I respect your sincerity in asking my advice. I ask you though, in listening to what I say, to remember that all advice can only be a product of the man who gives it. What is truth to one may be disaster to another. I do not see life through your eyes, nor you through mine. If I were to attempt to give you specific advice, it would be too much like the blind leading the blind.
“To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles … ” (Shakespeare)
And indeed, that IS the question: whether to float with the tide, or to swim for a goal. It is a choice we must all make consciously or unconsciously at one time in our lives. So few people understand this! Think of any decision you’ve ever made which had a bearing on your future: I may be wrong, but I don’t see how it could have been anything but a choice however indirect— between the two things I’ve mentioned: the floating or the swimming.
But why not float if you have no goal? That is another question. It is unquestionably better to enjoy the floating than to swim in uncertainty. So how does a man find a goal? Not a castle in the stars, but a real and tangible thing. How can a man be sure he’s not after the “big rock candy mountain,” the enticing sugar-candy goal that has little taste and no substance?
The answer— and, in a sense, the tragedy of life— is that we seek to understand the goal and not the man. We set up a goal which demands of us certain things: and we do these things. We adjust to the demands of a concept which CANNOT be valid. When you were young, let us say that you wanted to be a fireman. I feel reasonably safe in saying that you no longer want to be a fireman. Why? Because your perspective has changed. It’s not the fireman who has changed, but you. Every man is the sum total of his reactions to experience. As your experiences differ and multiply, you become a different man, and hence your perspective changes. This goes on and on. Every reaction is a learning process; every significant experience alters your perspective.
So it would seem foolish, would it not, to adjust our lives to the demands of a goal we see from a different angle every day? How could we ever hope to accomplish anything other than galloping neurosis?
The answer, then, must not deal with goals at all, or not with tangible goals, anyway. It would take reams of paper to develop this subject to fulfillment. God only knows how many books have been written on “the meaning of man” and that sort of thing, and god only knows how many people have pondered the subject. (I use the term “god only knows” purely as an expression.) There’s very little sense in my trying to give it up to you in the proverbial nutshell, because I’m the first to admit my absolute lack of qualifications for reducing the meaning of life to one or two paragraphs.
I’m going to steer clear of the word “existentialism,” but you might keep it in mind as a key of sorts. You might also try something called Being and Nothingness by Jean-Paul Sartre, and another little thing called Existentialism: From Dostoyevsky to Sartre. These are merely suggestions. If you’re genuinely satisfied with what you are and what you’re doing, then give those books a wide berth. (Let sleeping dogs lie.) But back to the answer. As I said, to put our faith in tangible goals would seem to be, at best, unwise. So we do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors. WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES.
But don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean that we can’t BE firemen, bankers, or doctors— but that we must make the goal conform to the individual, rather than make the individual conform to the goal. In every man, heredity and environment have combined to produce a creature of certain abilities and desires— including a deeply ingrained need to function in such a way that his life will be MEANINGFUL. A man has to BE something; he has to matter.
As I see it then, the formula runs something like this: a man must choose a path which will let his ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of his DESIRES. In doing this, he is fulfilling a need (giving himself identity by functioning in a set pattern toward a set goal), he avoids frustrating his potential (choosing a path which puts no limit on his self-development), and he avoids the terror of seeing his goal wilt or lose its charm as he draws closer to it (rather than bending himself to meet the demands of that which he seeks, he has bent his goal to conform to his own abilities and desires).
In short, he has not dedicated his life to reaching a pre-defined goal, but he has rather chosen a way of life he KNOWS he will enjoy. The goal is absolutely secondary: it is the functioning toward the goal which is important. And it seems almost ridiculous to say that a man MUST function in a pattern of his own choosing; for to let another man define your own goals is to give up one of the most meaningful aspects of life— the definitive act of will which makes a man an individual.
Let’s assume that you think you have a choice of eight paths to follow (all pre-defined paths, of course). And let’s assume that you can’t see any real purpose in any of the eight. THEN— and here is the essence of all I’ve said— you MUST FIND A NINTH PATH.
Naturally, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. You’ve lived a relatively narrow life, a vertical rather than a horizontal existence. So it isn’t any too difficult to understand why you seem to feel the way you do. But a man who procrastinates in his CHOOSING will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.
So if you now number yourself among the disenchanted, then you have no choice but to accept things as they are, or to seriously seek something else. But beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life. But you say, “I don’t know where to look; I don’t know what to look for.”
And there’s the crux. Is it worth giving up what I have to look for something better? I don’t know— is it? Who can make that decision but you? But even by DECIDING TO LOOK, you go a long way toward making the choice.
If I don’t call this to a halt, I’m going to find myself writing a book. I hope it’s not as confusing as it looks at first glance. Keep in mind, of course, that this is MY WAY of looking at things. I happen to think that it’s pretty generally applicable, but you may not. Each of us has to create our own credo— this merely happens to be mine.
If any part of it doesn’t seem to make sense, by all means call it to my attention. I’m not trying to send you out “on the road” in search of Valhalla, but merely pointing out that it is not necessary to accept the choices handed down to you by life as you know it. There is more to it than that— no one HAS to do something he doesn’t want to do for the rest of his life. But then again, if that’s what you wind up doing, by all means convince yourself that you HAD to do it. You’ll have lots of company.
And that’s it for now. Until I hear from you again, I remain,
Read more: https://www.farnamstreetblog.com/
Once you have found your purpose you MUST read this:
For those who like to follow Pabrai–from a recent missive:
While there are no guarantees, our portfolio (Pabrai Funds) is trading at one of the widest discounts to underlying intrinsic value. It is probably a good time to join. I enjoyed my recent chat with Barron’s Magazine:
You might also enjoy viewing a talk I recently gave to the students at Peking University: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jo1XgDJCkh4
Personally, I think he is way over-rated as an investor-YOU can do better following YOUR own method.
“In a state where corruption abounds, laws must be very numerous.” ~Tacitus
How many lessons can you pull out of this case study?
Also, a must read on finding fanatics: https://microcapclub.com/2016/01/how-to-find-intelligent-fanatic-ceos-early/
More studies: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KoOEE8GI-Ko
SEARCH STRATEGY: Look off the beaten path (Joel Greenblatt)
Given the surprising US election outcome and the tumultuous market environment we wanted to connect with 321gold founder & editor Bob Moriarty for his latest thoughts on geopolitics and of course, markets. Bob obliged and this is an interview that you definitely don’t want to miss!
CEO Technician: Does the election result have any impact on gold and markets?
Bob Moriarty: I’m not sure it has any impact. Everyone wants to connect news with price movement and it just doesn’t work that way. We’ve been taught since we were two years old “the stock market went up today for reason xyz,” the financial news media needs news but the market goes up and down for many reasons and there is not a direct correlation between news and price movement.
I think Donald Trump is a fool but he’s not nearly as big of a criminal as Hillary Clinton. For whatever reason Trump’s surprise win sent precious metals tumbling and I see this as the real opportunity to load up and get aboard the train before it leaves the station. I will be buying silver on Monday.
CEO Technician: Russia is getting even more serious in Syria by moving their sole aircraft carrier to the region in order to assist in bombing “terrorist” groups. With Turkey moving land forces inside Syria and the usual cast of characters remaining very much involved in the power struggle inside the country and in Iraq next door, the situation doesn’t look like it could be much more dangerous. What’s next in Syria?
Bob Moriarty: Hillary Clinton got us involved in Syria. Syria is a completely different situation from Iraq although the two are often confused. Israel came out with a proposal in 1996 called “The Clean Break From The Peace Process,” it’s on Google. In this proposal Israel says it needs to destroy Syria and that’s exactly what they’re doing. It’s a plan that’s been in place for 20 years. The US is in Syria because of Israel but if you step back for a minute and ask yourself “what interest does the US have in Syria and why do we care who runs Syria?” the answer would be “we have no interest in Syria.” We are destroying the Middle East and the 65 million or so refugees from the Middle East are going to destroy Europe and the EU.
CEO Technician: The refugee situation in Europe is out of hand and Europe faces a terror threat from within its own borders of an unprecedented scale.
Bob Moriarty: If you’re in a village in Syria and someone comes in and bombs the shit out of you, then you do 1 of 3 things: You die, you leave, or you fight back. If there’s another option please let me know. When you leave you’re angry. Syria is a 7-dimensional chess match and there’s no good guys. The refugees are angry, by creating refugees we are creating terrorists. The key to solving the terrorist threat is to stop creating refugees.
A lot of people act like this refugee crisis isn’t going to come to the United States, of course it’s going to come to the United States. We need to stop bombing countries and creating refugees.
CEO Technician: I was at the New Orleans Investment Conference a couple of weeks ago and there were a couple of themes that stood out to me and I’m interested to hear your thoughts. Big discoveries are becoming extremely rare and the biggest investment profits come from big discoveries. Another theme of the conference is the idea that yields have bottomed and we are now in a rising rate environment.
Bob Moriarty: That’s correct. The last big discovery I can think of is Fruta Del Norte down in Ecuador and that was about 10 million ounce (20-30 million ounces over the long term). There are some big deposits of lower grade but those require several billion dollars to move into production.
Here’s what used to happen, the majors had big exploration teams and did a lot work themselves while partnering with high quality juniors. Suddenly 200-300 juniors skyrocketed to 1,500-2,000 juniors due to the evolution of the internet and the rapid access to information. It is more important than ever to distinguish high quality well run juniors from the rest of the crowd. I believe this is the best time ever to be a junior mining investor but you must do your research and pick the companies with top tier management teams. There is more opportunity today than there has ever been in history.
Yields have bottomed but you must remember that the Fed follows the market, not the other way around. Interest rates are increasing but with the entire world awash in debt and an extremely unstable financial system it will be an increase in interest rates that blows the whole thing up.
CEO Technician: What do you think about gold in a rising interest rate environment? I posted a chart last week on CEO.CA showing that over the last 40+ years gold has more often than not been positively correlated to interest rates. It’s only been in the very recent history (since the Global Financial Crisis) that we have witnessed a negative correlation between rates and gold.
Bob Moriarty: I’ll tell you something that few have the guts to say. Gold is expensive relative to other commodities (such as oil, pigs, platinum, etc.) because gold is the #1 real asset. The real interest rate environment is what matters to gold, if inflation is 4% and interest rates are 3% that’s a very positive environment for gold. Gold can do well in a rising rate environment but it’s the real rate of interest that matters.
CEO Technician: Any thoughts on lithium, cobalt, and renewable energy revolution?
Bob Moriarty: The key to lithium is how soon they can get it into production. Lithium is actually a very common element but we are having a revolution in energy storage. By 2025 solar power will be comparable in cost to coal and that’s going to create an absolute revolution, fortunes will be made between now and then. Cobalt is much less covered than lithium, if you can find real cobalt companies with legitimate projects I think you will do very well. There are way too many lithium companies and many of them will go away.
CEO Technician: We’ve seen the sharpest move lower in precious metals and mining shares in more than 3 years since Trump won last Tuesday night. Where are we at and is it time to buy?
Bob Moriarty: Trump didn’t win the election, Clinton lost it. There is a difference. If Clinton had read Nobody Knows Anything, she would have known to not trust the “Experts” and “Gurus” and the other fools. Trump has never worn a uniform or held a public office. He will either be the best president in US history or the worst. Flip a quarter and find out. This is the bottom and the buying opportunity in gold and gold shares, right now. I am buying silver this morning (Monday 11/14).
There is a time to buy, a time to sell and a time to do nothing. Now buying miners. Note the extreme swings in sentiment
Lookin’ cheap: http://ericcinnamond.com/look-away-im-hideous/
A LETTER TO THE US FROM JOHN CLEESE
To the citizens of the United States of America, in light of your failure to elect a competent President of the USA and thus to govern yourselves, we hereby give notice of the revocation of your independence, effective today.
Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II resumes monarchical duties over all states, commonwealths and other territories. Except Utah, which she does not fancy.
Your new prime minister (The Right Honourable Theresa May, MP for the 97.8% of you who have, until now, been unaware there’s a world outside your borders) will appoint a minister for America. Congress and the Senate are disbanded. A questionnaire circulated next year will determine whether any of you noticed.
To aid your transition to a British Crown Dependency, the following rules are introduced with immediate effect:
1. Look up “revocation” in the Oxford English Dictionary. Check “aluminium” in the pronunciation guide. You will be amazed at just how wrongly you pronounce it. The letter ‘U’ will be reinstated in words such as ‘favour’ and ‘neighbour’. Likewise you will learn to spell ‘doughnut’ without skipping half the letters. Generally, you should raise your vocabulary to acceptable levels. Look up “vocabulary.” Using the same twenty seven words interspersed with filler noises such as “like” and “you know” is an unacceptable and inefficient form of communication. Look up “interspersed.” There will be no more ‘bleeps’ in the Jerry Springer show. If you’re not old enough to cope with bad language then you should not have chat shows.
2. There is no such thing as “US English.” We’ll let Microsoft know on your behalf. The Microsoft spell-checker will be adjusted to take account of the reinstated letter ‘u’.
3. You should learn to distinguish English and Australian accents. It really isn’t that hard. English accents are not limited to cockney, upper-class twit or Mancunian (Daphne in Frasier). Scottish dramas such as ‘Taggart’ will no longer be broadcast with subtitles.You must learn that there is no such place as Devonshire in England. The name of the county is “Devon.” If you persist in calling it Devonshire, all American States will become “shires” e.g. Texasshire Floridashire, Louisianashire.
4. You should relearn your original national anthem, “God Save The Queen”, but only after fully carrying out task 1.
5. You should stop playing American “football.” There’s only one kind of football. What you call American “football” is not a very good game. The 2.1% of you aware there is a world outside your borders may have noticed no one else plays “American” football. You should instead play proper football. Initially, it would be best if you played with the girls. Those of you brave enough will, in time, be allowed to play rugby (which is similar to American “football”, but does not involve stopping for a rest every two seconds or wearing full kevlar body armour like nancies) You should stop playing baseball. It’s not reasonable to host event called the ‘World Series’ for a game which is not played outside of America. Instead of baseball, you will be allowed to play a girls’ game called “rounders,” which is baseball without fancy team stripe, oversized gloves, collector cards or hotdogs.
6. You will no longer be allowed to own or carry guns, or anything more dangerous in public than a vegetable peeler. Because you are not sensible enough to handle potentially dangerous items, you need a permit to carry a vegetable peeler.
7. July 4th is no longer a public holiday. November 2nd will be a new national holiday. It will be called “Indecisive Day.”
8. All American cars are hereby banned. They are crap and it is for your own good. When we show you German cars, you will understand what we mean. All road intersections will be replaced with roundabouts, and you will start driving on the left. At the same time, you will go metric without the benefit of conversion tables. Roundabouts and metrication will help you understand the British sense of humour.
9. Learn to make real chips. Those things you call French fries are not real chips. Fries aren’t French, they’re Belgian though 97.8% of you (including the guy who discovered fries while in Europe) are not aware of a country called Belgium. Potato chips are properly called “crisps.” Real chips are thick cut and fried in animal fat. The traditional accompaniment to chips is beer which should be served warm and flat.
10. The cold tasteless stuff you call beer is actually lager. Only proper British Bitter will be referred to as “beer.” Substances once known as “American Beer” will henceforth be referred to as “Near-Frozen Gnat’s Urine,” except for the product of the American Budweiser company which will be called “Weak Near-Frozen Gnat’s Urine.” This will allow true Budweiser (as manufactured for the last 1000 years in Pilsen, Czech Republic) to be sold without risk of confusion.
11. The UK will harmonise petrol prices (or “Gasoline,” as you will be permitted to keep calling it) for those of the former USA, adopting UK petrol prices (roughly $6/US gallon, get used to it).
12. Learn to resolve personal issues without guns, lawyers or therapists. That you need many lawyers and therapists shows you’re not adult enough to be independent. If you’re not adult enough to sort things out without suing someone or speaking to a therapist, you’re not grown up enough to handle a gun.
13. Please tell us who killed JFK. It’s been driving us crazy.
14. Tax collectors from Her Majesty’s Government will be with you shortly to ensure the acquisition of all revenues due (backdated to 1776).
Thank you for your co-operation.
* John Cleese [Basil Fawlty, Fawlty Towers, Sir Lancelot of Camelot (Monty Python & The Quest for the Holy Grail), Torquay, Devon, England]
What is Risk? A Great Post on Risk
In 2007, Michael Lewis laughed off concerns about derivatives and excessive leverage
I enjoyed Michael Lewis’ recent Daily Show interview about his new book, The Big Short. Lewis summarized the crisis nicely and mocked the ignorance of most of the banking world, saying they hid the risk so well they fooled even themselves.
But Lewis faltered when he said almost no one saw the financial crisis coming. Lewis said “A very small handful of investors, I mean, ten to twelve, made a giant bet against [subprime mortgages]” and virtually everyone else on Wall Street was “dumb money”:
“They [financial institutions] figured out there’s an awful lot of money to be made lending money to people who shouldn’t be lent money. And when you do that, you create lots of risk. And the only way you get that risk out [of your firm] and get other people to take it is to disguise it. So they got really good at disguising the risk, and they got so good they disguised it from themselves, they fooled themselves.
Lewis apparently fooled himself too because, in January 2007, Bloomberg reporter Michael Lewis wrote an entire article — titled “Davos Is for Wimps, Ninnies, Pointless Skeptics” — complaining about all the foolish worry at Davos over excessive risk-taking and derivatives contracts:
It’s become almost obligatory for the world’s most important economic people, at the beginning of each year, to travel joylessly to the base of a Swiss ski slope and worry…. Davos is where people with no talent for risk-taking gather to imagine what actual risk-takers might do. Davos Man needs to sit in judgment; Davos Man needs to brood. So great is this need that he will brood about virtually anything, no matter how little he knows about it.
Ah, Michael? How much did you know about derivatives or bank leverage ratios in 2007? You sat in judgment of many of the world’s top financial experts and mocked them for their ignorance when, it turns out, they were right and you were wrong. Look at the insiders whose worry you mocked:
“The system is becoming very complex. The risk of some crisis happening is rising,” says Nouriel Roubini, chairman of Roubini Global Economics. “The world isn’t pricing risk appropriately,” says Steven Rattner, co-founder of Quadrangle Group. “Excessive borrowing and risk-taking,” intones Juergen Stark, chief economist for the European Central Bank.
“The last time we talked,” says William Rhodes, senior vice chairman of Citicorp Inc. (in case you didn’t hear him the first time), “I mentioned we’re going to get some adjustments some time in the future. So this is a time to be prudent.”
..So why do these people waste so much of their breath and, presumably, thought, with their elaborate expressions of concern? Even if these global financial elites knew something useful that you and I don’t — that, say, 50 hedge funds were about to go under and drag with them half the world’s biggest banks along with a third of the Third World — they would be unlikely to do anything about it.
Lewis especially mocked Davos’ concerns about explosive growth in (completely unregulated) derivative contracts:
Derivatives seem to be this year’s case in point. Davos had hardly been up and groaning about the dangers of being alive before Bloomberg News reported what appears to be the general Davosian view: “The surging demand for derivatives is making financial markets more vulnerable to any slowdown in the global economy.”
The piece came with supporting quotes from European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet, Bank of China Vice President Zhu Min and the deputy chief of India’s planning commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia — but not a worrisome fact in sight. None of them seemed to understand that when you create a derivative you don’t add to the sum total of risk in the financial world; you merely create a means for redistributing that risk. They have no evidence that financial risk is being redistributed in ways we should all worry about. They’re just — worried.
But the most striking thing about the growing derivatives markets is the stability that has come with them.
Now, I realize we all make mistakes. Most of us occasionally make really, really big mistakes. Perhaps we even publicly ridicule everyone else for making a serious mistake when, in fact, they’re right and we’re wrong.
But, if we make a huge mistake, laugh at others for being wiser and more prudent, and later write about how stupid “everyone” was for making the mistake we made, that’s intellectually dishonest. Lewis complained very publicly that the world’s financial experts were idiots for worrying about leverage and derivatives… then he turned around several years later and pretended only a handful of brilliant investors saw the crisis coming while everyone else was blind to the dangers. Which Michael Lewis should we believe?
Lewis should express humility and contrition for so falsely slamming those concerned about leverage and derivatives. His opinion matters, especially when he is writing for Bloomberg. And he should stop pretending that only a handful of people saw the crisis coming because he himself told us otherwise just a few years ago.
Posted by James on Thursday, March 18, 2010
The Greats Struggle