The Stingy News Quarterly (Q3/2010)
New @ StingyInvestor
Value Workshop: Indigo
"We're putting Indigo Books & Music (IDG on the TSX) under the microscope today."
Stingy Investor Tip Sheet
Graham Net Net Update
Canadian and U.S. stocks that pass Graham's Net Net test.
Stingy Stock Update
The updated list of Stingy Stocks with some new mid and small cap candidates.
The Best of Stingy Links
Stingy Links: Academia
Value and Momentum in Frontier Markets
"We document the presence of economically and statistically significant value and momentum effects in the new emerging equity markets in the world, the so-called frontier emerging markets. We are the first to investigate the characteristics of individual stocks in these markets. Our unique data set consists of more than 1,400 stocks over the period 1997 to 2008 and covers 24 of the most liquid frontier emerging markets. Our results serve as out-of-sample evidence for the existence of value and momentum effects that have previously been reported for developed and emerging markets. Further, we provide empirical evidence that value and momentum strategies within frontier markets are negatively correlated, and are uncorrelated with the same value and momentum strategies in developed and emerging markets. Our mean-variance spanning tests indicate that investors who expand their investment opportunity set with value and momentum investment strategies based on stocks from frontier markets can significantly improve the efficiency of their investment portfolio."
Do Investors Benefit from Financial Advice
"Working with one of the biggest brokerages in Europe, we record what happens when unbiased investment advice is offered for the first time to about a random 8,000 of their several hundred thousand active retail customers. We analyze the data to answer which customers accept the offer and, if they accept the offer, do they improve their investment performance. These are our findings. First, only 5%, (who are likely to be male, older, richer, more financially sophisticated, and have a longer relationship with the brokerage) accept the offer. Second, of those who accept the offer, the advice is hardly followed. Third, though the investment performance does not improve for the average advisee, it does improve for the average advisee who follows the advice. Fourth, it seems that the investors who most need (do not need) the financial advice are the ones who are most likely to not get it (get it). Overall, our results imply that the mere availability of smart and unbiased financial advice is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for benefiting retail customers."
Beware of 'independent' research
"It was the medical profession, of course, that sparked the first real public outcry over corporate-funded research. After regulators exposed cases in which researchers doctored data in favor of drug companies, oversight of medical-school faculty tightened. "If people step over the line, it ends up being a big brouhaha," says James O'Toole, professor of business ethics at the University of Denver. But business schools say keeping the corporate world at arm's length would run counter to their core mission."
Fractals and the art of roughness
"At TED2010, mathematics legend Benoit Mandelbrot develops a theme he first discussed at TED in 1984 -- the extreme complexity of roughness, and the way that fractal math can find order within patterns that seem unknowably complicated."
Negative idiosyncratic risk premium
"The average gross return of an equally weighted portfolio that is long (short) the fifth of stocks with the lowest (highest) idiosyncratic volatilities, reformed monthly, is 0.79% per month or about 9% per year. Results are similar for sorting on total rather than idiosyncratic volatility. In other words, low-volatility stocks tend to outperform high-volatility stocks."
Stingy Links: Accounting
Do financial statements tell the truth?
"Financial statements are like fictional works 'based on a true story'. They bear some relationship to actual events, but they are interpretations with their own biases and agendas."
How GM made $30 Billion
"Consider this: How could it be that one of GM's most valuable assets, listed at $30.2 billion, is the intangible asset known as goodwill, when it's been only a little more than a year since the company emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection?"
"Yet you don't have to be a forensic accountant to spot trouble on a financial statement. Here are several line items on a balance sheet you should focus on to gauge a company's strength, including inventories, free cash flow, and accounts receivable."
Stingy Links: Behaviour
Slime mould like humans
"This style of 'comparative valuation' may seem uncannily human, but it's also one that's shared by hummingbirds, starlings, honeybees and many other animals. In fact, Latty and Beekman think that it's a 'common feature of biological decision-making'. Certainly, it's a much easier process - comparing two nearby options is less 'computationally intensive' than making absolute judgments about each of them."
The meaning of fair
"Chapman University experimental economist Bart Wilson argues that fairness should not be construed as equality of outcome, but as a process in which everyone plays by the rules and honors agreements. When lawmakers obscure the definition of this word, it may result in policy that is ineffective, arbitrary, and fundamentally unfair."
How to tilt the investing odds in your favour
"From late 1993 through mid-2008, I estimate that Canadian mutual fund investors experienced returns of 5.6 per cent annually . about 1 per cent a year more than GICs. Fetching an extra 1 per cent a year is not chump change, but it.s not up to scratch. Investing is inherently uncertain. Investing successfully, however, is about tilting the odds in your favour. These tips can help you do just that, regardless of your preferred investment vehicle."
How to tell when a CEO is lying
"Assessing whether reported financial statements are intentionally misstated (or manipulated) is of considerable interest to researchers, creditors, equity investors, and governmental regulators. While there is a lot of information out there on deception detection, there is not a lot of useful information. This recent study, where the authors analyze linguistic features present in answers of CEOs and CFOs during quarterly earnings conference calls, caught my eye. Investors might want to pay attention"
Apple's Pricing Decoys
"Next time you're sitting at an airport bar and hear two businesspeople debate whether Apple is a technology or design company, chime in: 'Nope. What Steve Jobs sells is pricing.' Pricing? You bet. Jobs is a master of using pricing decoys, reference prices, bundling, and obscurity to make you think his shiny aluminum toys are a good deal."
Stingy Links: Bonds
The muni-bond debt bomb
"Like homeowners before the housing bubble burst, states and cities have gorged on debt, extended repayment times, and used devious means to avoid limits on borrowing - all in order to finance risky projects and kick fiscal problems down the road. Though the country's economic troubles have helped expose some of these unwise practices, the downturn has brought not reform but yet more abuse. Even as Tea Party protesters and taxpayer groups revolt against excessive government spending and taxes, they are paying too little attention to the gigantic state and local debt bomb. If it can't be defused, we're all at risk."
"When Arkansas defaulted on its bonds in 1933, the politicians and investors talked about the same things we would talk about today. The state blamed underwriters for allowing it to sell too many bonds. Investors compared the willingness to repay debt with the ability to pay, and weighed the advantages of bonds backed by a pledge of taxing powers to those secured by specific revenue. Unlike today, nobody thought the federal government should come to the rescue."
Stingy Links: Books
Into thin error
"I sought Viesturs out because I was curious about the kind of attitude you develop toward error when a single mistake can easily cost you your life. I also wanted to test a hypothesis that I call "the paradox of error": If your goal is to avoid making mistakes, then you must constantly assume that you are about to make one. That's why fields like aviation and medicine have, at their best, a productive obsession with error. It turns out the same goes for mountaineering - or, at least, mountaineering as practiced by Viesturs. He's totally comfortable with being wrong, he says; the important thing is that, "if you goof up, it's in the right direction.""
"Lane believed he would make his own fortune by giving luxury advertisers a forum to reach this small but growing mob of ultrarich arrivistes. Unfortunately he chose a medium that would prove to be a surefire prophylactic against profits. Despite zealously attempting to sell out, Lane couldn't make a buck. When stock markets collapsed in 2008, so did his publishing empire."
Michael Eisner on Teamwork
"Eisner slips into the realm of the absurd when he proposes that more successful partnerships might be an antidote to the virus of executive greed that led, he boldly asserts, to the recent financial crisis.For anyone who remembers the hundreds of millions in stock options that Eisner garnered during his tenure at Disney, when he was one of the highest-paid executives in the world, this insight is the most hilarious punch line of all. Particularly, it so happens, as Eisner is said to be a candidate to take over the Tribune Co. If Wells were alive, let's hope he'd lean forward and suggest gently to Eisner that he's making a fool of himself. Though all evidence indicates that their beautiful partnership would never have survived if Wells did anything of the kind."
The confidence game
"There really are loans that so safe that they can be written with a zero-loss standard and levered 150 times - but they are only that safe if you have removed the possibility of fraud - and you can only really do that by getting your fingers dirty. You cannot do that with a mathematical model."
The original captain of industry
"Lipton's story starts out as a period piece but turns out to be completely contemporary. Unfortunately, The Great Lipton lived in an age before The Apprentice, when there were few options for a flamboyant CEO outside the C-suite. Without him, though, there might never have been such a show."
The elements of investing
"The Elements of Investing.written by former Vanguard board members Charles Ellis and Burton G. Malkiel.distills investing into five fundamental principles: save, index, diversify, avoid blunders, and keep it simple. Simply visit the publisher's website and download your copy today."
Stingy Links: Buffett
The most underrated part of Warren
"What are the most underrated and overrated parts of Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett's success?"
Lou Simpson retiring from Geico
"Lou Simpson, the Chicago-based investor with such a stellar track record he once was considered the successor to Warren Buffett, is retiring at the end of the year after decades managing Geico's investment portfolio."
Warren Buffett's Mr. Fix-It
"When investors think of Berkshire Hathaway, they of course think of Warren Buffett and his record as a hands-off, if highly attentive, CEO. He gives free rein to the heads of his large collection of companies, ranging from Geico to Dairy Queen to Benjamin Moore to the Buffalo News to NetJets. Yet even in Buffett's empire, sometimes a CEO blows it, and his business needs to be fixed or a deal needs to get done -- fast. When that happens, Buffett's go-to guy is David Sokol."
Buffett's best advice
"What's the best advice Warren Buffett has ever received? You might be surprised: It has nothing to do with money."
Stingy Links: Dreman
"It's time to delete the CAPM from business school textbooks. It's done more harm than good for investors."
Stingy Links: Economics
Lies, damned lies and economists
"It's established by now that economics didn't help stop some of the more spectacular misadventures of the financial community but it's a bit less obvious that it was directly responsible for many of the mishaps. It's all tied up with the dirty fact that economists are basically a bunch of untrustworthy, deceitful bums who shouldn't be left alone with your child's piggybank, let alone the world's economy. The trouble is that economists have a world-view that sees us all as self-interested moneygrubbers without an ethical thought in our heads. Perhaps that's because that's a pretty good description of economists themselves: they act like their models are true, the dirty rotten scoundrels."
Stingy Links: Economy
Strucs vs. Cycs
"So in the interest of peace between the camps - and of lowered unemployment - here's a plea to each. Strucs: You've got to be more specific about exactly how much of current unemployment you think is structural, and explain what those structures are, so that those who believe that government might be able to help fix it can at least offer some ideas. And Cycs: You can start by acknowledging what is different about unemployment in this recession and so-called recovery, and give us targeted policy proposals, instead of vague exhortations to pump up demand."
The rise of unemployment
"This disturbing graphic, by Latoya Eguwuekwe, charts the rise of unemployment across the U.S. from 2007 on."
Stingy Links: Funds
But still expensive
"A few years ago, a research paper by three academics claimed that Canadian mutual funds levied higher average fees than funds in seventeen other countries. Since average Canadian fund fees are high, the media jumped all over this research - despite being incomplete. Reading through many versions of the paper, it became clear that the core data and underlying assumptions were questionable."
Stewardship common sense
"In the course of our research we've uncovered a fund company - one that received a good culture grade and had no regulatory deductions - that purchased shares in a related company in one of its funds. Since the firm has followed all of the rules, technically, it's not considered a regulatory issue. Accordingly, the trade was not reviewed by the IRC. But when we discovered all of the facts, we have zero doubt that a conflict of interest existed, whether or not the law defines it as such."
Stingy Links: Government
Why I'm not hiring
"A life in business is filled with uncertainties, but I can be quite sure that every time I hire someone my obligations to the government go up. From where I sit, the government's message is unmistakable: Creating a new job carries a punishing price."
Washington takes aim at Apple
"If you want to produce something in America, you'd better play the game. Contribute to politicians' campaigns, hire their friends, go hat in hand to a congressional hearing, and apologize for your success."
Government for sale
"The article's subhed tells you all you need to know: 'Why Lobbying Is Washington's Best Bargain; Lobbyists say for just a few million, they can make clients billions'"
What fresh hell is this?
"Somewhere along the way an enterprising employee of mine made coffee in our new (not yet legal) office for the early morning fishermen, but we soon found that to continue to provide coffee would require the installation of a triple cleanup sink, which in turn would add marginally to the load on the current septic system, which in turn would trigger a county requirement for us to build a new $2.5 million sewage treatment facility. Uh, never mind on that coffee."
Hiding, Harboring, Hoarding at Harvard
"Until now, the conflicts of interest among academics who moonlight as well-paid corporate advisers haven't been page-one material. But 'Inside Job' breaks new ground by exposing the failure of universities to regulate the integrity of their biggest stars.Mr. Ferguson believes that the honor and independence of the economic discipline in academia has become so sullied that it poses 'systemic risk' by influencing policy."
Not enough labor day
"Today, many Americans will be enjoying a respite from the incessant demands of their jobs. But many Americans will be wishing desperately they could trade the holiday for the incessant demands of a job. This year, given the state of the economy, Labor Day should be called Not Enough Labor Day."
The true cost of pensions
"But the present value of future liabilities is around 1.1 trillion, even after the government slipped in a reduction in index-linking in the recent budget. That is around 80% of GDP, a figure that of course is on top of the national debt numbers normally calculated. if the British government were to pay interest on this liability each year, the bill would be larger than the cost of servicing the official debt."
Battle looms over public pensions
"There's a class war coming to the world of government pensions. The haves are retirees who were once state or municipal workers. Their seemingly guaranteed and ever-escalating monthly pension benefits are breaking budgets nationwide. The have-nots are taxpayers who don't have generous pensions. Their 401(k)s or individual retirement accounts have taken a real beating in recent years and are not guaranteed. And soon, many of those people will be paying higher taxes or getting fewer state services as their states put more money aside to cover those pension checks."
Huge government benefit
"Not participating in Social Security is a huge benefit. The implicit return on 'premiums' paid by you and your employer is typically below zero. In other words, if you took your social security taxes and stuffed them in a mattress, you would get a better return."
Illinois stops paying its bills
"For the last few years, California stood more or less unchallenged as a symbol of the fiscal collapse of states during the recession. Now Illinois has shouldered to the fore, as its dysfunctional political class refuses to pay the state's bills and refuses to take the painful steps - cuts and tax increases - to close a deficit of at least $12 billion, equal to nearly half the state's budget."
"In Yonkers, more than 100 retired police officers and firefighters are collecting pensions greater than their pay when they were working. One of the youngest, Hugo Tassone, retired at 44 with a base pay of about $74,000 a year. His pension is now $101,333 a year."
The Fed can create money, not confidence
"The key word here is "uncertainty." The Obama administration and Congress have dumped a huge load of highly dubious new legislation on Americans, much of it unread even by the legislators who voted for it. ObamaCare is an attempted federal takeover of a vast and complex industry. No one really knows how much chaos the financial sector "reform" act will generate. Hyperactive zealots in federal bureaucracies such as the Environmental Protection Agency have been unleashed to do silly things like attempt to reduce the planet's supply of carbon dioxide."
This ain't your granpa's debt
"The deficits of the next few decades are scheduled to balloon because of budget decisions -- Medicare and Social Security and tax levels -- that are decades in the making. The political process created this time bomb and the political process will have to defuse it."
The technocracy boom
"When historians look back on the period between 2001 and 2011, they will be amazed that a nation that professed to hate bureaucracy produced so much of it."
The Illusion of Pension Savings
"Earlier this year, Illinois said it had found a way to save billions of dollars. It would slash the pensions of workers it had not yet hired. The real-world savings would not materialize for decades, of course, but thanks to an actuarial trick, the state could start counting the savings this year and use it to help balance its budget."
War between the sexes
"On average, 65-year old men today will receive only 43.6% of the net benefits that women receive, and young men today can expect a net tax burden over their lifetimes that will be 3.4 times greater than for women."
U.S. is bankrupt
"Let's get real. The U.S. is bankrupt. Neither spending more nor taxing less will help the country pay its bills. What it can and must do is radically simplify its tax, health-care, retirement and financial systems, each of which is a complete mess. But this is the good news. It means they can each be redesigned to achieve their legitimate purposes at much lower cost and, in the process, revitalize the economy."
Complex adaptive systems
"As long as the Chinese keep giving us money and inflation remains low, I see nothing forcing US policy to change. This is not sustainable, however, and when the US turns into a Greece-like situation, it will be a very bad decade. When you try to micromanage a complex system, the most important virtue is humility."
Stingy Links: Health
"The subject seems to reach national awareness mainly as a question of who should 'win' when the expensive decisions are made: the insurers and the taxpayers footing the bill or the patient battling for his or her life. Budget hawks urge us to face the fact that we can't afford everything. Demagogues shout about rationing and death panels. Market purists blame the existence of insurance: if patients and families paid the bills themselves, those expensive therapies would all come down in price. But they're debating the wrong question. The failure of our system of medical care for people facing the end of their life runs much deeper. To see this, you have to get close enough to grapple with the way decisions about care are actually made."
Stingy Links: Indexing
Beware of professors bearing ETFs
"But while market research by these scholars has helped shape how firms design hundreds or thousands of portfolios, the particular investments created by the academics themselves haven't always performed well."
Economic Consequences of Index Investing
"Trillions of dollars are invested through index funds, exchange-traded funds, and other index derivatives. The benefits of index-linked investing are well-known, but the possible broader economic consequences are unstudied. I review research which suggests that index-linked investing is distorting stock prices and risk-return tradeoffs, which in turn may be distorting corporate investment and financing decisions, investor portfolio allocation decisions, fund manager skill assessments, and other choices and measures. These effects may intensify as index-linked investing continues to grow in popularity."
Stingy Links: Management
"After nearly 90 days of picketing in the broiling sun outside the sprawling Mott's apple juice plant here in upstate New York, Michelle Muoio recognizes that the lengthy strike is about far more than whether the 305 hourly workers at the plant get a fatter or slimmer paycheck."
On business competition
"'A funny thing happens when you begin to capture competitive differences on paper', says Harvard Professor Youngme Moon in her book Different, 'there is a natural inclination for folks in the competitive set to focus on eliminating differences rather than accentuating them.'"
Stingy Links: Markets
Times must charge for news
"Why content creators, in particular newspapers, ever succumbed to the notion that they should forever give away their product online seems one of those odd, lemming-like phenomena akin to the 'irrational exuberance' that preceded the dot-com stock market crash. Lured by the siren song of having an infinite audience via electronic distribution, publishers forgot that it meant infinite ad inventories whose price is rapidly approaching zero."
Trader's cocoa binge
"To some, he is a real-life Willy Wonka. To others, he is a Bond-style villain bent on taking over the world.s supply of chocolate. In a stroke, a hedge fund manager here named Anthony Ward has all but cornered the market in cocoa. By one estimate, he has bought enough to make more than five billion chocolate bars."
The NYSE from 1815 to 1925
"In this paper, we collect individual stock prices for NYSE stocks over the period 1815 to 1925 and individual dividend data over the period 1825 to 1870. We use monthly price and dividend information on more than 600 individual securities over the period to estimate a stock price index and total return series that extends virtually to the beginning of the New York Stock Exchange. We use this data to estimate the power of past returns and dividend yields to forecast future long-horizon returns. We find some evidence of predictabiity in sub-periods but little predictability over the long term. We estimate the time-varying volatility of the U.S. market over the period 1815 to 1925 and find evidence of a leverage effect on risk. This new database will allow future researchers to test a broad range of hypotheses about the U.S. capital markets in a rich, untouched sample."
The free-marketeers strike back
"'From an historical perspective, the current crisis follows a well-known pattern,' says Princeton University's Jose Scheinkman. 'It is astounding,' agrees Columbia University's Charles Calomiris, to what extent 'the current banking crisis fits into the pattern of all banking crises that we have known about since the fifteenth century': excessive leverage and a strong belief in ever-rising prices, followed by a collapse of trust in, and a run on, the banks. 'The weakness of many contemporary economists is a short memory,' Calomiris adds. It's an amnesia shared by the public, which tends to erase bad memories. After all, banks usually work pretty well, so long periods of time can pass without a crisis breaking out, making it much easier to forget."
Krugman versus Ferguson
"Not since Ken Rogoff's famous attack on Joe Stiglitz has the dismal science of economics provoked such pompous, self-important, personalised squabbling. Professors Paul Krugman and Niall Ferguson, of course, have form; they've been at it on and off for nearly a year now over the efficacy of deficit spending in fighting the downturn, and today they return to the fray. The occassion was another piece that Ferguson, an eminent economic historian, has penned for the Financial Times on the dangers of attempting to spend your way to economic recovery. Foolishly - or perhaps deliberately, for it is sometimes possible to imagine that the two have secretly agreed to slag each other off for the publicity - he mentions Krugman by name. 'Those economists, like New York Times columnist Paul Krugman', he writes, 'who liken confidence to an imaginary 'fairy' have failed to learn from decades of economic research on expectations. They also seem not to have noticed that the big academic winners of this crisis have been the proponents of behavioural finance, in which the ups and downs of human psychology are the key.'"
Advertising on the handicap principle
"Biologists have been long perplexed by the peacock's tail, economists by the use of advertising. In both cases the struggle has been to understand why something so self-evidently pointless and potentially damaging can survive in a vicious world of winner-takes-all, loser-goes-extinct natural selection. Meanwhile researchers from both worlds have been closeting themselves ever deeper in an arcane world of computer modelling, where truth can be validated only by mathematics. Hints of answers to these puzzles have come not from number crunching but from fuzzy human intuitions about the way the world actually works."
Don't take the bait
"More sober and historically reliable measures of market valuation create a much more challenging picture. Apart from our own measures, which indicate continued overvaluation, there are several good indicators of market valuation that are not overly sensitive to year-to-year fluctuations in profit margins. One is based on the 10-year average of actual net (not operating) earnings, which is advocated by economist Robert Shiller, and another is Tobin's "q" ratio which is based on comparing market value to replacement cost, and is advocated by Andrew Smithers. Both of these measures largely agree with our own measures, both presently and on a historical basis. Based on last week's valuations, both suggest that the S&P 500 is substantially overvalued."
Risk and return in general
"Professors have been very successful at presenting the CAPM and its spawn as a triumph of the social sciences, in a way similar to how macroeconomists used to present Keynesian macro models before the Phillips curve started to do multiple backflips. The profs are filled with wishful thinking based on ever more obscure econometric tests that prove their big idea works, a science no less than thermodynamics. It doesn't work, not even as an approximation."
The apathy trade
"Week before last, the poll of American Association of Individual Investors members showed the lowest percentage of bullish respondents since March 5, 2009, essentially at the moment of the 2009 low. The bullish percentage rebounded a bit this past week, but still lagged behind the number of bears. Ned Davis Research's "crowd sentiment poll" showed a parallel degree of pessimism, as did the Rydex/SGI Advisor Confidence Index, a measure of investment-advisor psychology that hit a 16-month low in August. Meantime, corporate insiders have all but quit selling shares of their employers."
Meet the $69 hot dog
"Absurdly priced menu items are more than a publicity gimmick. They're an application of "anchoring," a cognitive phenomenon discovered by psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in the 1970s. Whenever we try to estimate a numerical value, we are unconsciously influenced by related numbers just considered. In this case, the diner in a touristy Manhattan restaurant is trying to decide how much he or she can afford to spend. The familiar prices back home don't apply. That diner isn't going to order a $69 hot dog, but might happily opt for an $17.95 cheeseburger. The hot dog makes the cheeseburger appear reasonable in comparison (even though $17.95 would be a ridiculous price for a cheeseburger almost anywhere else). In scores of careful laboratory studies, price contrasts like that affect decisions. Restaurateurs and consultants believe it works on menus, too."
Epidemic models of bubbles
"Contagion or epidemic models of financial markets are proposed in which interest in or attention to individual stocks is spread by word of mouth. The models give alternative interpretations of the random walk character of stock prices."
Untangling skill and luck
"In this report, we will discuss why unraveling skill and luck is so important, provide a framework for thinking about the contribution of skill and luck, offer some methods to help sort skill and luck in various domains, and define the key features of skill in the investment business."
"The outperformance of value stocks was a little more consistent across the liquidity spectrum as you can see from the chart below. In this case, value stocks outperformed growth stocks by around 10% across the board. However, for high liquidity stocks, this difference represented a 4-fold increase in abnormal returns (from around 3% to around 12%)."
Thinking outside the stocks
"There is always a bull market somewhere. With the stock market continuing to whipsaw and bonds getting ever-pricier, investors are looking further afield for decent returns - and some are finding them. Self-storage buildings, anyone? How about abandoned railroad beds, cellular towers, student apartments or parking facilities? Such unglamorous niches, once shunned by the investing elite, are performing well in 2010, even as the Dow industrials limp along."
Relative status in practice
"In Kenneth Fisher's book The Only Three Questions that Count, in the references under "Risk" he merely has 'see benchmarking'. If everyone benchmarks, risk is deviating from the consensus, and thus taking too little exposure to any popular investment is just as risky as taking on a lot of exposure. Cremers and Petajisto have a paper where the define portfolio manager risk this way. If risk is defined as a deviation from the benchmark, it becomes like idiosyncratic risk, unnecessary, so unpriced. Further, via arbitrage 'benchmark risk' can not be priced, because you can't get a risk premium from both having zero or twice the normal exposure to BP."
"'The true debate in economics is - between economists who care about the productivity of resource allocation and those who only pay lip service.' That is harsh, but not wrong. I'd draw the lines a bit more mildly, and say that the core argument is between people who think we are in a financial crisis that has engendered an economic crisis, and others (like me) who think that the financial crisis is the outgrowth of longstanding and continuing economic mistakes."
Do countries graduate from crises?
"Are declarations of victory against the global crisis premature? This column argues that 'graduation' - the emergence from recurrent crisis bouts - is a long and painful process which neither developed nor developing countries look close to completing. Two centuries of evidence suggests that most countries need 50 years before the chances of further crises subside."
Graham PE and CPI
"Saturna Capital has an interesting take on the calculation of the Graham / Shiller PE10, otherwise known as the Cyclically Adjusted Price Earnings ratio (CAPE). Saturna argues that The Market May Be Cheaper Than It Looks because the Consumer Price Index (CPI) provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) understates the true rate of inflation, a key input to the CAPE calculation"
Classic relative value arbitrage
"Classic relative value arbitrage - the elegant, sometimes dangerous investment strategy that has proved the making and undoing of more Nobel prize winners than any other - used to be compared to picking up nickels in front of a steamroller."
The puzzling success of trend-following
"the part of his speech which I found most fascinating seemed to contradict this conclusion. This is an assessment of investment strategies which are based on momentum in asset prices, rather than long term economic fundamentals. Momentum wins the race hands down."
Applying the equity risk premium
"It's simply not true that growth outperforms value, or certain stock sectors have higher returns, even countries do not have obviously higher returns, or that more volatile stocks have higher returns than low volatility stocks. A beautiful theory killed by data, it happens all the time."
Patience and Finance
"Evidence from social and economic systems points to two evolutionary paths. Along one, patience becomes self-reinforcing. For example, financial liberalisation may encourage patience and improve inter-temporal choice, unlocking growth. But there is a second path, along which impatience is self-reinforcing. Financial liberalisation can also unlock impatience, generating over-trading and under-investment."
Stingy Links: Montier
"It is possible to build a speculative case for bond investment (i.e. riding the deflationary news flow down), however, as ever this leaves participants with the conundrum of Cinderella's ball as described by Warren Buffett 'The giddy participants all plan to leave just seconds before midnight. There is a problem though: They are dancing in a room in which the clocks have no hands!' Personally I prefer to stick to investment rather than speculation."
Barbie does economics
"Economics starts from a far worse place. It isn't a science, and often seems more interested in twisting the facts to fit a theory rather than the other way around. In fact, as Nassim Taleb has pointed out, economics is more akin to medieval medicine than its current practice, 'Medicine used to kill more patients than it saved - just as financial economics endangers the system by creating, not reducing, risk.'"
Montier resource page
"The essence of investment was to seek out value; to buy what was cheap with a margin of safety. Investors could move up and down the capital structure (from bonds to equities) as they saw fit. If nothing fit the criteria for investing, then cash was the default option. But that changed with the rise of modern portfolio theory and, not coincidentally, the rise of 'professional investment managers' and consultants."
A man from a different time
"Looking at the U.S. market since 1871, on a 1-year time horizon, nearly 80% of the return has been generated by fluctuations in valuation. However, as the time horizon is extended, 'fundamentals' play an increasing role in return generation. For example, at a 5-year time horizon, dividend yield and dividend growth account for almost 80% of the return."
Stingy Links: Munger
A conversation with Charlie
Charlie Munger speaks at the Ross School of Business.
Stingy Links: Pricing
The razors-and-blades myth
"Gillette hadn't played razors-and-blades when it could have during the life of the 1904 patents and didn't seem well situated to do so after their expiration, but it was exactly at that point that Gillette played something like razors-and-blades and that was when it made the most money. Razors-and-blades seems to have worked at the point where the theory suggests that it shouldn't have. Why is that? Did Gillette succeed because of quality or were their powerful even-if-hard-to-discern-now locks - psychological or otherwise - between the razors and the blades?"
Stingy Links: Real Estate
The two key housing problems
"It is important to note that falling house prices helps clear the excess supply, although more jobs and more households is the preferred solution. However falling prices makes the negative equity problem worse."
Credit score is the tyrant
"A FICO score, he patiently explained, is merely a tool that lenders use to help manage their risk; criticizing it is akin to criticizing 'a saw because the construction job turned out badly.' With big banks making thousands of credit decisions every day, they couldn't possible do it without some standardized benchmark; a credit score provided that benchmark. Over the years, he added, the algorithm had gotten very good at predicting the odds of a borrower defaulting. In fact, FICO scores are not the best predictor. The amount of equity a person has in his home, his debt-to-income ratio, his job stability and his cash reserves are all better predictors than credit scores, according to Dave Zitting, the chief executive of Primary Residential Mortgage, a leading mortgage lender. And yet, he said, 'The credit score has become the line in the sand for the banks.'"
The lost half decade
"While it has been a 'lost decade' for equities, housing isn't too far behind. The sector is now in the midst of a lost half decade and counting. Following up on yesterday's downright awful release of existing home sales, today's new home sales report for July came in at a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of just 276K, which is a record low dating back to 1963. Since peaking in July 2005, new home sales have now declined by more than 80% in five years."
Stingy Links: Retirement
Earnings Assumptions and Century Bonds
"So in an environment like this, where interest rates are low, and surpluses could not be built up in the past, pension funds are hurting. The truth is, they are worse off than their stated deficits imply. For economic and political reasons, the likely outcome resembles the riddle of how one eats an elephant: one bite at a time.So we will see investment earnings assumptions and discount rates fall slowly, far too slowly to be the economic truth, but slowly recognizing funding gaps as corporations eat the loss one bite at a time, as they can afford to."
Stingy Links: Stocks
Travelling through Universal Travel Group
"The company claims in its most recent quarterly balance sheet to be carrying 43 million in cash and accounts receivable of almost 20 million. If the airline and hotel business are dubious then the profits generated that cash are dubious. In that case the cash itself is dubious.I know people will buy this as Ben Graham net-net stock if it collapses. Unless this company can get a big four audit firm to sign-off for them I think you can . at least for the moment question the entire balance sheet. "
Bank of America comes clean
"Bank of America has finally admitted that it understated the quarter end assets and liabilities for the years 2007 to 2009. It does not (yet) admit that similar transactions took place in many other years and it does not spell out the effect of these transactions on BofA.s need to carry capital."
A perfect predator
"Flatt seems to go out of his way to paint Brookfield as boring. 'We own 129 office buildings. Some are a little taller, some are a bit shorter,' he says laconically. The strategy? 'We're in the business of buying assets of great quality at less than replacement cost.' The company's remarkably consistent objective over the years simply has been to earn a 12% to 15% compound annual return per share. 'We have no goal to be large or significant,' says Flatt. 'If [reaching our objective] meant we should shrink in size, we'd do that.' Even Brookfield's logo is understated, and its 2009 annual report looks like something thrown together at Kinko's. Move along, everyone, nothing to see here. The reality is that this slender 45-year-old executive runs a conglomerate that manages $108-billion worth of real estate, utilities and infrastructure across the planet."
"I have maintained throughout this blog that I thought that zero interest rates in America would have a different outcome to zero interest rates in Japan because Japanese banks are predominantly deposit franchises and zero interest rates are very bad for them - but that American banks - especially larger American banks - are fundamentally lending franchises and zero interest rates would not impair their ability to make a spread on the loan book."
Stingy Links: Taxes
Soak the very, very rich
"In a society that's becoming more stratified, a sensible tax system should draw more distinctions, not fewer. The U.S. is now a place where the rich and the ultra-rich really inhabit different worlds. (A couple of years ago, Barron's declared, 'Yes, it takes more than $10 million to be seen as rich these days.') They should probably inhabit different tax brackets, too."
Stingy Links: Thrift
The joy of spending
"If you have 2 million and can.t force yourself to buy a coffee, there.s a problem."
Land of the free, home of the tightwad
"And . this is the probably the most important bit . it allows U.S. families to cut their debt a lot faster than you might believe. One analysis by Deutsche Bank projects that by 2013, American households might be able bring their debt ratios down to where they were about 20 years ago. That.s probably too optimistic. But consider the possibility that today.s frugality will feed a roaring economic expansion several years from now. In the short term, its economy is still messed up. But longer term? It.s never wise to bet against the U.S."
Stingy Links: Value Investing
Mr. Market refuses
"I like sitting on Uncle Warren's knee while he talks about the time he swapped a bag of cocoa beans for a controlling interest in Berkshire Hathaway: 'For several weeks I busily bought shares, sold beans, and made periodic stops at Schroeder Trust to exchange stock certificates for warehouse receipts. The profits were good and my only expense was subway tokens.' Great story, Uncle Warren. I'm right now trying to buy Pfizer with a paper clip and some pocket lint"
Sticking to what works
"This month Sequoia Fund marks its 40th anniversary. It's a milestone rarely achieved in an industry where three years is considered long term. Even more remarkable is that Sequoia is being run pretty much the same as it was when Warren Buffett's friend and stockbroker, the late Bill Ruane, launched the fund in 1970. It's still a concentrated portfolio with two or three dozen stocks, all heavily researched and bought with the idea that the market is valuing them at less than their true worth. Co-managing the fund is Robert Goldfarb, whose tenure at the New York firm dates back to 1971."
"The premise of the report was that undervalued small capitalization stocks (those with a market capitalization between $50M and $250M) lacked a competitive auction for their shares and required the emergence of a catalyst in the form of a merger or buy-out to close the value gap."
Tim's 2010 Conference
"Glacier, Indigo, EGI Financial, Sun-Rype Products and Arlington, which is a little bit of a special situation. But all of these companies, I think, are really through any restructuring. They're somewhere in various stages of cash generation or discovery, and whether or not we sell them or not, depends an awful lot on the price they're trading at."
Stingy Links: World
Beware of Greeks bearing bonds
"After systematically looting their own treasury, in a breathtaking binge of tax evasion, bribery, and creative accounting spurred on by Goldman Sachs, Greeks are sure of one thing: they can't trust their fellow Greeks."
"A growing body of plant designers, utility companies, government agencies and financial players are recognizing that smaller plants can take advantage of greater opportunities to apply lessons learned, take advantage of the engineering and tooling savings possible with higher numbers of units and better meet customer needs in terms of capacity additions and financing. The resulting systems are a welcome addition to the nuclear power plant menu, which has previously been limited to one size - extra large. Developing a broader range of system choices using nuclear fission energy could have a measurable impact on segments of the energy market that have been most often served by burning distillate fuel or natural gas. Small modular reactors offer a reason to be optimistic that human society will have access to all of the energy that it needs for increased prosperity for larger portion of the population."
Is giving bad!?
"When one of the most popular economic blogs writes a post like this (title: "Should We Be Leery of the Generosity of the Uber Rich?" - no - seriously - that is the title!), and the overwhelming majority of the commenters agree with the author, it makes me weep for the future of America."
Tracing oil reserves
"Today, a principal tenet of geology is that a vast majority of the world's oil arose not from lumbering beasts on land but tiny organisms at sea. It holds that blizzards of microscopic life fell into the sunless depths over the ages, producing thick sediments that the planet's inner heat eventually cooked into oil. It is estimated that 95 percent or more of global oil traces its genesis to the sea."
Down with doom
"By the time I was 21 years old I realized that nobody had ever said anything optimistic to me - in a lecture, a television program or even a conversation in a bar - about the future of the planet and its people, at least not that I could recall. Doom was certain."
The Andy Grove essay
"The former Intel chief says 'job-centric' leadership and incentives are needed to expand U.S. domestic employment again"
Britain reels as austerity begins
"Last month, the British government abolished the U.K. Film Council, the Health Protection Agency and dozens of other groups that regulate, advise and distribute money in the arts, health care, industry and other areas. It seemed shockingly abrupt, a mass execution without appeal. But it was just a tiny taste of what was to come."
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