Follow the Capital Cycle as a Contrarian

Stanley

Ed Chancellor on the capital cycle…

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

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

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

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

Watch for errors  (Interview of the gentleman pictured above)

Monetary History: Should Legal Tender Laws Be Abolished?

pirates

The Supreme Court’s ruling

Hepburn v. Griswold reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 1869, five years after the war had ended. The Court ruled in favor of Griswold, holding in a 4-3 decision that legal-tender laws violated the U.S. Constitution.

The majority opinion distinguished between money and notes to pay money:

There is a well-known law of currency, that notes or promises to pay, unless made conveniently and promptly convertible into coin at the will of the holder, can never, except under unusual and abnormal conditions, be at par in circulation with coin. It is an equally well-known law, that depreciation of notes must increase with the increase of the quantity put in circulation and the diminution of confidence in the ability or disposition to redeem. Their appreciation follows the reversal of these conditions. No act making them a legal tender can change materially the operation of these laws.

The Court also explained that the power to coin money, which the Constitution delegates to Congress, did not constitute a power to convert promissory notes into money:

It is not doubted that the power to establish a standard of value by which all other values may be measured, or, in other words, to determine what shall be lawful money and a legal tender, is in its nature, and of necessity, a governmental power. It is in all countries exercised by the government. In the United States, so far as it relates to the precious metals, it is vested in Congress by the grant of the power to coin money. But can a power to impart these qualities to notes, or promises to pay money, when offered in discharge of pre-existing debts, be derived from the coinage power, or from any other power expressly given?

It is certainly not the same power as the power to coin money.

With the holding in Griswold, the federal government was left with the power to borrow to finance its operations but without the authority to force people to accept its notes at face value for the payment of debts. Thus, the American people could still protect themselves from a profligate government by expressly providing that notes and contracts could be repaid only in money (i.e., gold coin), not in federal promises to repay money.

We the people

Overturning Griswold

One year later, however, the legal situation changed dramatically. President Ulysses S. Grant, who had commanded Union forces during the war, appointed two new justices to the Supreme Court who promptly joined the minority in Griswold. In Knox v. Lee, decided in 1879, the Supreme Court voted to overturn the decision in Griswold and to uphold the constitutionality of Lincoln’s legal-tender law.

The new majority reasoned that the power to enact a legal-tender law was an implied power that fell under the president’s war powers and the power over monetary affairs that the Constitution had granted to Congress.

But as the dissent pointed out, the implied-powers doctrine cannot be used to create new powers. The war power, for example, entails the power to pay for war expenditures but the means by which to pay for such expenditures were limited to those enumerated in the Constitution, i.e., through taxes and borrowing.

As the dissent also emphasized, the congressional power over monetary affairs was specifically limited to the coinage of money and did not extend to the enactment of laws requiring people to accept federal promissory notes in lieu of such money.

In a separate dissenting opinion, Justice Stephen J. Field pointed out the obvious:

The power “to coin money” is, in my judgment, inconsistent with and repugnant to the existence of a power to make anything but coin a legal tender. To coin money is to mould metallic substances having intrinsic value into certain forms convenient for commerce, and to impress them with the stamp of the government indicating their value. Coins are pieces of metal, of definite weight and value, thus stamped by national authority. Such is the natural import of the terms “to coin money” and “coin;” . . ..

… The power to coin money is, therefore, a power to fabricate coins out of metal as money, and thus make them a legal tender for their declared values as indicated by their stamp. If this be the true import and meaning of the language used, it is difficult to see how Congress can make the paper of the government a legal tender.

Field placed the constitutional issue in a historical context:

The statesmen who framed the Constitution understood this principle as well as it is understood in our day. They had seen in the experience of the Revolutionary period the demoralizing tendency, the cruel injustice, and the intolerable oppression of a paper currency not convertible on demand into money, and forced into circulation by legal tender provisions and penal enactments.

Field also pointed out that the Constitution had not delegated to Congress the power to impair private contracts.

With Knox v. Lee the seeds were sown for a monetary revolution in American life — a revolution that would bring the inflationary plunder and moral debauchery that have characterized nations throughout history. The revolution began with Lincoln. But it would culminate in one of most massive assaults on private property in U.S. history — President Franklin Roosevelt’s nullification of gold clauses in contracts and his confiscation of gold from the American people.

It is impossible to overstate the significance of the Franklin Roosevelt administration’s confiscation of gold and its nullification of gold clauses in contracts. It is one of the most sordid episodes in American history. To get an accurate sense of Roosevelt’s actions, it would not be inappropriate to compare what he did with the domestic economic policies of a later 20th-century ruler, Cuba’s socialist president, Fidel Castro.

On April 5, 1933, newly inaugurated President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 6102, which prohibited the “hoarding” of gold by U.S. citizens. Americans were required to turn their gold holdings over to the federal government at the prevailing price of $20.67 per ounce.

Pursuant to Roosevelt’s executive order, anyone caught violating the law was subject to a federal felony conviction, 10 years’ confinement in a federal penitentiary, and a $10,000 fine. Soon after the confiscation, U.S. officials announced that the government would sell its gold in international markets for $35 an ounce, thereby devaluing the dollar by almost 70 percent and immediately “earning” a potential profit of almost $15 an ounce on the gold it had confiscated.

Two months later, Congress enacted legislation nullifying gold clauses in both government and private contracts, thereby requiring creditors in such contracts to accept devalued paper money in payment of such contractual obligations, even though the contract itself stipulated payment tied to gold.

Reflect for a moment on the significance of what Roosevelt did. Gold coins and gold bullion were private property, just like a person’s automobile, clothing, home, and food. On the mere command of the president of the United States, federal authorities simply confiscated gold holdings that were the private property of the American people and made it a grave federal offense to own such property in the future.

Read The Federal War on Gold

Your thoughts on a better monetary system. Why not let the market choose money and set the price?

 

GO SEE THE BIG SHORT!

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

Michael Burry: Yes.

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

A Review:

A lesson on the MBS crisis

Peter Schiff howling about the coming housing bust: https://youtu.be/Z0YTY5TWtmU

and see the results: aerial-photos

Lake Las Vegas/Macdonald Ranch 05.2012

The movie provides a case study in belief in authority and incentive-based bias.   See how many more biases you can pick out: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases

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

More on Burry

BURRY_2000 Annual Letter

BURRY_Scion_2006_4Q_RMBS_CDS_Primer_and_FAQ

BURRY_Scion1Q2001

BURRY_Scion2Q2001

Burry_Writeups

BURRY_The_Crisis_By_Alan_Greenspan-3-9-10

Mike Burry Lettersw

BURRY_Scion3Q2001

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

Update: http://thefelderreport.com/2016/01/15/the-big-short-is-only-half-the-story/

Peter Cundill, Deep Value Investor

Your main job as a net/net buyer is to elminate the possibility of bankruptcy.–Peter Cundill

Peter Cundill’s Reading List

Peter Cundill: Background & bio

Peter-Cundill

The Canadian born investor, Peter Cundill, plunged into the world of financial markets while he was still at McGill University, which he  graduated from in 1960 with a degree in Commerce.Cundill earned the designation of Chartered Accountant and then Chartered Financial Analyst before moving from Montreal to Vancouver  to become the President of AGF Investment management; he worked at the company for four years from 1972 till 1975.

During that time he was also a partner in the company called the Vanan Financial Management Ltd. which in 1975 took over the All-Canadian Venture Fund. In 1977, Cundill established his very own Vancouver-based firm named Peter Cundill & Associates Ltd. and renamed the All-Canadian Venture Fund to Cundill Value, when the fund became the flagship of his newly established firm. Peter Cundill & Associates, now named Mackenzie Cundill Value Series A after a strategic partnership of PCA with Mackenzie Financial Corporation, best epitomizes the bottom-up value investment outlook of Peter Cundill.

The Cundill Value Fund was launched in December 1974 and immediately lost money during 1975. However, after this dismal start, the star fund manager recovered quickly and reported few losing years after 1975.

From 1974 through to 1988 the fund returned 22% per annum. Over its 35 year history to 2010, the Cundill Value Fund achieved a CAGR of 13.7%, which is especially impressive when you consider the fact that the market was still recovering from the financial crisis when this figure was calculated.

Peter Cundill was awarded the Analysts’ Choice Career Achievement Award for the best mutual fund manager of all time in 2001. At the award ceremony which recognized his  35 plus years of contribution and expertise as a fund manager and value investor, he was referred to as the ‘Indiana Jones of the Canadian Money Managers’, a title which was acknowledged by Cundill with great pleasure. Cundill’s expertise even gained  recognition from Warren Buffet, who claimed Peter Cundill had the traits of a good successor and possessed the kind of credentials required that would be suitable for Berkshire Hathaway’s next chief investment officer.

Observing the multi-dimensional personality of Peter Cundill, it is evident that he enjoyed life to the fullest. By no means did he limit himself from challenges or new experiences. He had an innate child-like curiosity and explored various aspects of his interests. His love for travelling turned him to one of the best global investors, and his rapacious reading habit lead him to the writings of the great Benjamin Graham. Cundill also enjoyed and challenged himself with various sports such as handball, rugby, skiing and hiking; being a dedicated marathon runner, at the age of over 40 he was capable of completing 22 marathon races including ‘Sub 3 hour’ (running the marathon under three hours).

His contribution was not limited to the financial world, but to the world of academia and literacy. Being a philanthropist, in 2008, he founded the Cundill Prize at McGill University to recognize the non-fiction publication for authors who have a great impact on literary, social and academic fields.

Despite of his recent death on 23rd January 2011 due to a rare neurological disease, the legacy and investment philosophy of Peter Cundill is kept alive by the firm he founded in 1975 and the numerous contributions made by him in the world of finance and academia.

Peter Cundill: Investment philosophy

Like many value investors, Cundill’s style of investing can trace its roots back to Benjamin Graham; Cundill liked to buy $1 for $0.40. What’s more, Cundill liked to buy stocks that were generally ignored and rejected by the general public, giving his approach a contrarian style.

Unlike Graham, who brought as many companies as he could, as long as each company met his strict criteria, Peter Cundill only considered companies with strong balance sheets and an upcoming catalyst that could unlock value for investors. It’s often the case that deep-value investments languish for years before acatalyst unlocks value. By investing only when a catalyst was upcoming, Cundill increased his risk of success. Peter usually scrutinized each company’s balance sheet to discover off balance sheet financing and assess the company’s true debt load.

Repeal 1st Amendment; Investing in Cyclical Companies

Who needs the U.S. Constitution? We should not be exposed to things we don’t want to hear. How will that work for investors doing research?
——

Video scene of Cyclical company investing  (Please do NOT click on link if under 21 years of age or of sensitive disposition!)

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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Boom/Bust Austrian business cycle theory.pdf
Damodaran Valuing Cyclical Commodity Companies.pdf
Must Read Structure-production.pdf

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

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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.

Carl Icahn Warns While Wall Street Ridicules

yellen

Carl Icahn and Danger Ahead

Today he warns:

I’ve seem this before a number of times. I been around a long time and I saw it ’69, ’74, ’79, ’87 and then 2000 wasn’t pretty. A time is coming that might make some of those times look pretty good… The public, they got screwed in ’08. They’re gonna get screwed again. I think it was Santayana that said, “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” and I am afraid we’re going down that road.

How do you know Carl Icahn is right?

Wall Street’s Ridicule

http://thefelderreport.com/2015/10/02/mr-market-to-carl-icahn-danger-ahead-lol/

Risking dollars to make pennies

http://thefelderreport.com/2015/12/10/owning-stocks-today-is-risking-dollars-to-make-pennies/

AS-for-Investors-Cover

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.

Icahn and Pickens Discussing Life and Markets

pickens-takeoverIcahn

http://www.pickensplan.com/blog/