The Stingy News Quarterly (Q4 2003)
The Best of Stingy Links
Stingy Links: Academia
Herding psychology and financial markets
"Despite giving all the participants the same perfect knowledge of coming dividend prospects and then an actual declared dividend at the end of the simulated trading day, which could vary more or less randomly but which would average a certain amount, the subjects in these experiments repeatedly created a boom-and-bust market profile."
Nobelists with 20/20 hindsight
"Winners Clive Granger and Robert Engle gave economists new glasses for evaluating the past data from which predictions are drawn"
"With the publication of 500 courses, MIT OCW offers educational materials from 33 academic disciplines and all five of MIT's schools"
"converting gravity into electricity has involved building huge dams to tame vast rivers at great expense and no little environmental cost. But a group of researchers at the University of Alberta, in Canada, thinks the whole process can be scaled down to something that will fit on a table."
College costs take another leap
"College costs once again have increased far faster than inflation, with tuition at state schools posting the biggest increase in 30 years, the College Board reported Tuesday."
Stingy Links: Accounting
"Somehow, proponents of the reforms believe that many recent financial failures could have been prevented by having various cross-checks on the accumulation system for accounting figures. Unfortunately, there are extensive holes in these suggested control-system reforms. Amazingly, the reformers have not grasped the enormity of investor distrust, and are trying to introduce simplistic, and sometimes worthless, proposals. The suggested control-system reforms appear to be based on the idea that every financial statement item will be double-checked. Such an idea runs counter to reality for many reasons."
Pensions: Still a problem
"With the stock market's big recovery this year, worries about faltering corporate pension plans have all but faded away. But the pension mess is still very much with us."
Still counting the cost
"The lack of competition poses vexing problems. Chief among these, perhaps, is that the Big Four may all be too big to be allowed to fail. The point is not merely theoretical. In Britain, where auditors' liability is uncapped, a colossal lawsuit hangs over Ernst & Young, in relation to Equitable Life, a mutual insurer. In America Adelphia, a bust cable company whose former bosses are due to stand trial in January, is suing Deloitte & Touche."
Tell it like it is
"The time has come to change the way we design corporate pension plans, and here are seven concrete suggestions to help employers reduce their risk If you don't have a pension plan, don't start one"
The horse is dead
"I have spent most of my professional life trying to make defined benefit pension plans work -- for members as well as for shareholders. But as time passes and the pension system matures, the risks become harder to manage and the complexities harder to endure. And I wonder: Is there not a better way?"
Shock doctor stirs worrisome pension pot
"Canada has added 2 million workers in the past decade. Only one in nine got a pension plan. The share of workers covered by a private pension shrank from 45 per cent in 1992 to 40 per cent in 2001. That sorry record, detailed this week by Statistics Canada, is not good for workers or the country. And if employers listen without really hearing Malcolm Hamilton, it will only get worse."
Stingy Links: Bonds
In the long run we are all broke
"Investors have good reason to worry about states defaulting on their loans: Argentina and Russia provide chastening recent reminders. But both were dysfunctional economies with troubled political pasts. Surely, there is no need to worry about the indebtedness of the governments of stable, advanced countries?"
The invention of inflation-indexed bonds
"The world's first known inflation-indexed bonds were issued by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1780 during the Revolutionary War. These bonds were invented to deal with severe wartime inflation and with angry discontent among soldiers in the U.S. Army with the decline in purchasing power of their pay. Although the bonds were successful, the concept of indexed bonds was abandoned after the immediate extreme inflationary environment passed, and largely forgotten until the twentieth century. In 1780, the bonds were viewed as at best only an irregular expedient, since there was no formulated economic theory to justify indexation."
Your 'government' fund may hold hidden risk
"The Securities and Exchange Commission fired a broadside into the mutual fund mess last week, admonishing "government" bond funds to be more forthright in acknowledging the risks they take, notably by investing in mortgage-backed securities."
Stingy Links: Buffett
The Superinvestors of Graham and Doddsville
"'Superinvestor' Warren E Buffett, who got an A+ from Ben Graham at Columbia in 1951, never stopped making the grade. He made his fortune using the principles of Graham & Dodd's Security Analysis. Here, in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of that classic text, he tracks the records of investors who stick to the 'value approach' and have gotten rish going by the book."
Notes from Berkshire Hathaway & Wesco meetings
Columns and notes from 2000 to 2003
Buffett, screaming value and the DCF
"The lack of precision around valuation makes a lot of people uncomfortable. To deal with this discomfort, some people wrap themselves in the security blanket of complex discounted cash flow analyses. My view of these things is best summarized by this brief exchange at the 1996 Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting: Charlie Munger (Berkshire Hathaway's vice chairman) said, "Warren talks about these discounted cash flows. I've never seen him do one." "It's true," replied Buffett. "If (the value of a company) doesn't just scream out at you, it's too close.""
The contradictions Of Warren Buffett
"Warren Buffett is not Warren Buffett. In recent editions of Barron's and Fortune, the legendary US investor contradicts three viewpoints long associated with his long-term stock market approach. Here's a rundown of what Buffett has declared in the past, and what he's now saying"
"The world's most successful investor doesn't see a lot that appeals to him right now. A patient Warren Buffett, the chairman and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway, is sitting on an enormous cash hoard - more than $24 billion (all figures U.S.) - awaiting investment opportunities in the stock and bond markets."
Warren Buffett speaks his mind
"The man who as a boy collected and sold used golf balls, started a pinball machine business in high school, and later stepped in as the interim chairman and chief executive of Salomon Brothers for an annual salary of one dollar, rolled into town last week full of the honesty, insightfulness and good humor for which he is known and revered."
Warren, show me the money
"Microsoft's fairly recent decision to pay a dividend demonstrates the dawning reality that this company has changed. But, they're not the only one. Market-dominator Berkshire Hathaway generates massive amounts of cash, and the Oracle should also share the wealth."
What's Buffett up to?
"Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway sells everything from Blizzards to long underwear. But Buffett has also been trying his hand at peddling something else entirely: influence."
The battle for Buffett's picks
"I have noticed that Warren Buffett does not buy stock of companies listed on the Nasdaq. What are the differences between the exchanges, and why might Buffett prefer companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange over Nasdaq-listed firms?"
Stingy Links: Crime
Unequal justice: Can the NYSE police itself?
"A small transgression can get a broker banned for life, but a well-connected floor specialist who costs investors millions may get just a slap on the wrist."
"When it comes to filing insider trading reports, the rules are somewhat sketchy"
Counterfeit new $20s debut
"Less than a month after the release of new $20 bills with features designed to deter forgeries, counterfeiters are already at work."
Stingy Links: Dreman
"There is a bizarre psychological effect overtaking the market these days, where crummy stocks are treated well and good stocks badly. Sound familiar?"
Academic risk versus existential risk
"Volatility is not risk. Avoid investment advice based on volatility."
David Dreman, Maharajah of the multiples
"From 1970 through 1996 the market returned 14.9 percent. But high relative dividend stocks provided a return of 17.0 percent; low relative price to book value stocks returned 17.8 percent; low relative price/earnings stocks returned 17.7 percent; and low relative price to cash flow stocks returned 18.4 percent. (In each case the stocks were ranked relative to their specific industry.)"
Stingy Links: Economy
So who's stealing China's manufacturing jobs?
"Carson's investigation found that only five of the 20 countries increased manufacturing jobs between 1995 and 2002. Three of the five -- Canada, Mexico and Spain -- ``seem to have benefited from regional trade pacts or currency agreements,'' he says."
Say goodbye to refi madness
"Clearly, the end of the refi boom is here. Drawing on data from the Mortgage Bankers Assn. and Freddie Mac Corp., BusinessWeek estimates that the number of applications for cash-out refis has fallen about 50% since the refi peak at the end of May. At the same time, housing prices are rising more slowly, so there's less new wealth for homeowners to extract. The Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight home price index rose at an annual rate of just 3.1% in the second quarter -- down from 8.8% a year earlier and the smallest increase since 1996."
Spending our way to disaster
"The consumer debt bubble in the United States could make the stock bubble seem like nothing."
"Structural change in the economy means many jobs are never going to come back."
Stingy Links: Government
In defense of bank failures
"The American people have not seen widespread bank runs since 1933. In that object at least, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation has succeeded. But at what cost? To insure deposits is to invite bad bankingand worse; it is to foster reckless speculation and unsound investments, help make inflation permanent instead of intermittent, obstruct the curative powers of economic contractions, and divorce freedom from responsibility."
"Money used to be backed by gold. Now it is backed by the promises of central bankers. Are these worth less than they were?"
Big 3 seek pension relief
"The proposal stunned a crowd of automotive executives gathered for a recent conference in West Virginia. Conservative David Stockman, the former Reagan administration budget czar and now head of a Metro Detroit auto parts maker, suggested the federal government take over the under-funded pension plans of U.S. automakers and auto parts suppliers."
A pork dinner for multinationals
"The U.S. international tax code is a mess -- and the big rewrite Congress is wrapping up will only make the corporate giveaways worse."
The SEC makes dishonesty pay
"Providing a veneer of honesty, feeble standards let brokerages and traders get away with millions without breaking the letter of the law."
How we take from rich and give to poor
"It's time for that annual bit of nasty business -- the who-pays-who-gets update on the financial workings of Confederation. Once a year, after Statistics Canada produces its provincial economic accounts, we tally the manner in which Ottawa takes from the rich provinces and gives to the poor. The data tell residents of each province and territory whether they are a net contributor to the national public purse or a net beneficiary."
This corporate reform falls far short
"An SEC proposal to allow shareholders to nominate board members is so restrictive that it does nothing to advance corporate democracy"
Stingy Links: Graham
"In a series of results that suggest Benjamin Graham was right all along, researchers have found that over the long term cheap stocks do better than expensive stocks. Companies with low stock prices relative to their earnings outperform stocks with high price-to-earnings (P/E) ratios; companies with low stock prices relative to the accounting value of their assets outperform stocks with high 'price-to-book' ratios; and stocks with high dividend yields outperform stocks with low dividend yields."
Stingy Links: Insurance
Worst drivers: Teens, doctors, lawyers
"It shouldn't surprise you that students get in more car wrecks than those in any other occupation. They're inexperienced and lack a healthy dose of fear. Lucky for them that a doctor is likely to be at the scene. Medical doctors rank second in accident rates."
Stingy Links: Law
Triumph of the pygmy state
"Despite the many business scandals in America, Delaware's amazing grip on corporate law is set to endure"
Patenting air or protecting property?
"Universities, corporations and tens of thousands of Web site providers across the country probably never imagined they would be rooting for the pornography industry."
Stingy Links: Management
"Now chief executives are regarded by the public with the sort of disdain and distrust usually reserved for politicians, lawyers and journalists."
Today, scandal is business as usual
"The scoundrels this year are taking advantage of business as usual, which is easy to do because the possible penalties seem so trivial."
Does your boss want you dead?
"Right now, your company could have a life insurance policy on you that you know nothing about. When you die -- perhaps years after you leave your employer -- the tax-free proceeds from this policy wouldn't go to your family. The money would go to the company. What's more, the company might use this policy to pay for retirement benefits and other perks not for you or your fellow workers, but for your company's top executives."
"Overworked employees are fed up: a survey finds 8 out of 10 Americans want a new job."
"The IRS is going after the last bastion of accounting creativity -- executive pay"
Where's the stick?
"The highest-profile cases of excessive pay, unfortunately, are not isolated exceptions. Bosses' pay has moved inexorably upwards, especially in America. In 1980, the average pay for the CEOs of America's biggest companies was about 40 times that of the average production worker. In 1990, it was about 85 times. Now this ratio is thought to be about 400. Profits of big firms fell last year and shares are still well down on their record high, but the average remuneration of the heads of America's companies rose by over 6%."
The King Lear syndrome
"For the board, drawing up a succession plan is a good way to spot future problems. Mr Couchman describes one company that found to its dismay that it had only ten possible successors for 30 top jobs. But there are advantages for the boss, too. After all, one way to secure a sort of immortality is to pick one's own successor."
Creditors take on Kmart's "frat boys"
"The former top managers are being sued for "gross mismanagement" and taking lavish perks even as the retailer's bankruptcy loomed"
Making CEOs pay for bogus books
"Boards must find the backbone to end the cronyism that lets corporate chieftains retain compensation based on fictional earnings"
Herb Kelleher on the record
"What sort of smarts, determination, and ingenuity are required of a world-class entrepreneur -- one who starts an airline against all odds and goes on to build the only consistently profitable carrier in the U.S.? That's what BusinessWeek Managing Editor Mark Morrison hoped to discover recently when he interviewed Southwest Airlines (LUV) founder and Chairman Herb Kelleher in front of an audience of business leaders and MBA students at the University of Texas' McCombs School of Business."
Stalking a wily prey at Disney
"By shooting for CEO Michael Eisner, Disney ex-board members Stan Gold and Roy Disney are taking on a crafty player who has lots of allies."
Cult of accountability
"Does employee training pay off? Accounting techniques and science-inspired metrics evaluate return on investment"
Stingy Links: Markets
Beating expectations is the same old con
"Tech companies and analysts still are distorting numbers to make a rough period look like a recovery. It's just more of the kind of rot that almost no one, including the SEC, seems to mind."
The oh-oh 00s
"Bull and bear, terror and war--we're living through some spooky times"
Templeton feeling bearish
"The legendary investor predicts the U.S. dollar will lose 40 percent of its value."
Wall Street's dirty secret?
"If we shape our expectations based on past returns, we are counting on rising P/E ratios and falling yields, almost exclusively, for our presumed "risk premium" for equities in the decades ahead."
How soon we forget
"According to Bridgewater Associates in the United States, the combined market cap of the top 20 Internet stocks was already more than US$122 billion in mid-July. Combined earnings over the previous 12 months, on the other hand, came to about US$25 million, which means the group's aggregate price-earnings multiple is somewhere around 4,880."
All roads now lead to inflation
"The Fed's espresso-strength intervention is going to reignite prices and may endanger the recovery. What's unknown: how big the next bust will be and who will get hurt."
Dow 10,000 is irrelevant
"The index tells very little about stocks and not nearly enough about value. Dow stocks and stocks in general are priced for a perfect world -- in a world that's far from perfect."
Losing by instinct
"The late Benjamin Graham -- erudite classicist, mentor to Warren Buffett, highly successful investor and probably the greatest financial mind of the 20th century -- said it best: "The investor's chief problem -- and even his worst enemy -- is likely to be himself.""
Stingy Links: Stocks
The big candyman
"'Trick or treat?', once an American question, is now a feature of Halloween celebrations everywhere. As a result, October 31st has become the global high point of the confectionery year, as millions of children dress up as ghosts, goblins or Britney Spears to be rewarded with vast amounts of teeth-rotting goodies. This year, confectioners expect to generate Halloween sales of $2 billion in America alone. Last year, the country's total confectionery sales were $24 billion - the highest anywhere."
A shot in the arm for drug makers
"The latest version of the Medicare prescription benefit bill is just what the pharmaceutical sector ordered. Here's why drug makers may finally be on the road to recovery."
Trustmark, Walgreens join 'clean stocks' list
"The bad guys get all the headlines, but don't let them scare you into putting your money in the mattress. So far, the "Clean Stocks" project I launched last July has identified six stocks that are clean enough for investors who worry about the never-ending round of financial scandals, yet know they must stay in the markets to stand any chance of reaching their own financial goals."
Big trouble for Big Pharma
"The industry's bloated overheads appear to be driving its decisions on the sort of drugs it seeks to develop. Like a supermodel who will not get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day, Big Pharma has decided that it is simply not worth investing in anything but a blockbuster. This means that lesser, albeit interesting, compounds fall by the wayside. An oft-quoted figure from the Tufts Centre for the Study of Drug Development puts the average cost of bringing a new drug to market at $897m. But as F.M. Scherer, an economist, points out, this is an average cost for big firms producing drugs for chronic diseases. Other firms can bring drugs for other complaintsinfectious diseases or rare conditions, sayto the market for around $100m-200m."
The skinny on weight watchers
"Popular low-carb diets have dented its stock, but stout fundamentals and a solid long-term outlook may make this a buying opportunity"
What you don't know about Dell
"A look at the management secrets of the best-run company in technology."
Self-Destruction, mother of invention
"But what does the joy of destruction mean for investors? A lot. Peters cites a study by Richard Foster and Sarah Kaplan of McKinsey & Co., who examined the first list of the biggest U.S. companies published by a magazine, the Forbes 100 of 1917, and compared it with a similar list 70 years later. Of the 100, only 39 managed to survive, and only 18 of those were among the top 100 in 1987."
Merck isn't converting the skeptics
"Though the drug giant keeps trying, analysts and investors still don't think its go-it-alone strategy will work in the long run."
Take your medicine
"Somebody pass the antidepressants. We have an aging population clamouring for life-saving drugs, we are up to our deteriorating eyeballs in medical breakthroughs, and yet, in these days of generic knock-offs and cut-rate Internet pharmacies, there isn't a major manufacturer in the pharmaceutical business that hasn't had the solid biological waste kicked out of its market cap at some point in the past two years."
Parmalat admits $5bn black hole
"Many of Italy's biggest banks are exposed to Parmalat, leading to fears of a system-wide meltdown if the company were to collapse."
"The near failure of Parmalat is raising questions about how well Europe is reforming its corporate governance."
Stingy Links: Taxes
The forgotten payroll tax
"According to Boston University economist Laurence J. Kotlitoff, 18-year old workers who earn average incomes over their lifetimes will "contribute" $723,591 in taxes (in present value dollars). They will receive about $140,000 in benefits! What private sector retirement program has an egregious record such as that? And even when it does, one can always withdraw from it or transfer to another program. Try withdrawing from Social Security and see what happens!"
Stingy Links: Value Investing
2 mutual funds you can trust
"When Graham retired, one of his proteges, Tom Knapp, joined Tweedy and organized its investing arm, which has since taken over the entire firm. Another value-investing legend, Walter Schloss, rents office space from Tweedy."
To sell or not to sell
"Ah, but all other things aren't always equal. Companies and industries change. New information surfaces. Assumptions can prove to be inaccurate. Stocks often decline for very good reasons, and you might be correct in concluding that there are better places for your capital, even though the stock has become cheaper. The key is figuring out which stocks are mistakes and which represent opportunity. That's not easy, but it is certainly much easier if you can overcome the natural human tendency to irrationality cling to losing stocks."
6 rules for buying back-from-the dead stocks
"Like spooky goblins knocking at your door on Halloween night, many companies fresh from the nether world of bankruptcy are trading in the market again, vying for a place in your portfolio. But are they offering tricks or treats?"
Dividend policy and market movements
"Using S&P 500 monthly returns as a proxy for market conditions, we investigate whether investors prefer dividend-paying stocks to non-dividend-paying stocks in declining markets. We find that dividend-paying firms have higher returns than non-dividend-paying firms, especially in declining markets. These results are robust for adjustments for risk using CAPM adjusted deciles, CAPM excess returns, the Fama-French three-factor model, and dividing the sample into size and book-to-market quartiles. Furthermore, we find that the simple payment of dividends, and not the level of the dividend yield, drives returns' asymmetric behavior relative to market movements, consistent with the signaling hypothesis of dividends."
Munger on human misjudgments
"Behavioral finance -- which examines how people's emotions, biases, and misjudgments affect their investment decisions -- is one of the least discussed and understood areas of investing."
Avoiding value traps
"Companies and their stocks fall on hard times for any number of reasons. Sometimes hard times spell buying opportunities, other times you're better off keeping your distance. The hard part is telling the difference. Whitney Tilson shares some tricks of the trade."
The value view
"Value managers come in many shapes and sizes. Some are more price focussed and are often drawn to cheap but troubled companies. While a notably larger camp, the GARP managers, conduct an ongoing search for the less typical combination of quality and price. This week is a summary of the opinions and views of what I feel are some of Canada's most skilled money managers."
Market prices right
"So does Miller. His turnover is about 4% a year, meaning that his average holding period is 25 years. For an undervalued stock, the sweet spot is typically three to five years, and that period can include some scary corrections, Miller suggests. Meanwhile, the average mutual fund is turning over its portfolios entirely in 11 months, because, citing a lesson from behavioural economics, "people overwhelmingly overvalue current information," or what the analysts are saying now. Analysts rarely put a stock on their recommended list before it has shown signs of resurrection, by which time most investors have missed a significant portion of the rebound."
The bull is back!
"It's true. Just ask your local broker. Listen to the cheery business commentators on the television and radio. Better still ask your boy genius fund manager; he too believes that it's true. Listen closely ... all you will hear is bull."
Is there still value in the book-to-market ratio?
"There is one advantage of BtM relative to its peers that should be mentioned. Since book value is a "stock" variable, while earnings, cash flow and sales are "flow" variables, there is a tendency for BtM rankings to be somewhat more stable over time than the rankings based on the other three variables. This reduces portfolio turnover for strategies that are based on BtM rankings. So, in addition to providing at least as much return dispersion as its competitors, BtM may also reduce the number of transactions that are triggered by stocks moving in and out of the portfolio's buy range. This can be especially important for taxable investors."
A value investor's secret
"Value investors come in all shapes and sizes. Some invest in real estate, others in bonds (generally distressed ones), still others in stocks. Some specialize in certain industries or countries, while others are generalists. But most value investors have two things in common: (1) They seek to buy at a significant discount to intrinsic value (the proverbial dollar bill for 50 cents); and (2) They generally sell once intrinsic value has been reached."
The return of dividends
"All sorts of companies are getting into the payout act. One reason: The new tax law makes it a cheaper way for execs to collect"
Darlings of the Dow
"The bottom line is that low price-to-sales ratios and low 12-month forward price-to-earnings ratios are the best measures of value. The five stocks scoring highest on these metrics rallied an average of 20% from October through nine months out between 1976 and 2003."
Stingy Links: World
"As Californians go to the polls, we investigate the condition of America's most dynamic and most troubled state"
Ripples from a Japanese bank collapse
"The Japanese government's November 30 decision to nationalize the insolvent Ashikaga banking group has surprised investors who had expected a Resona-style bailout - in which shareholders weren't forced to take a haircut for the mess. The move means that Ashikaga shareholders' capital will be wiped out, leaving them with nothing, and the government will take 100 percent of the equity in the regional lender."
Vlad the impaler
"This is not, however, George Bush's America; it is Vladimir Putin's Russia. The businessman, Russia's richest, is Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the chief executive and biggest shareholder of Yukos, Russia's largest oil company, who was spectacularly seized on October 25th aboard his own aircraft in Siberia. President Putin insisted that the arrest was a normal function of the country's judicial system, in which he neither could nor should interfere. But everybody knows that, in Mr Putin's Russia, the taking of such a big fish has nothing to do with business misdeeds, still less with justice, and everything to do with politics and the Kremlin's control. And that is why Mr Khodorkovsky's arrest, along with the rumoured departure of the Kremlin's chief of staff, Alexander Voloshin, one of Mr Khodorkovsky's sympathisers, are so ominous."
Fed up with protectionism
"The current-account deficit is benign, says Alan Greenspan, but protectionism is dangerous. America's garment makers do not agree. Its European creditors may be having second thoughts too"
"George Bush has announced the dismantling of America's tariffs on imported steel, while promising to shield domestic companies from dumping. The tariffs have done their job, he says. Have they?"
Sparks fly over steel
"The looming trade war over America's steel tariffs may yet be averted thanks largely to an expected surge in global steel prices"
A faded green
"How much further might the dollar fall? Predicting the future price of a currency is a mug's game. But there are good reasons to believe that over the medium term the dollar could drop a lot lower, especially against the euro. Whether that will have the desired effects, in reducing America's imbalances, or in causing the expected chaos in Europe's economies, is a different question."
The end of the Oil Age
"Ways to break the tyranny of oil are coming into view. Governments need to promote them."
The dragon binges
"Companies around the world, it seems, have caught China fever. When the fever breaks, there could be hell to pay."
I'd buy that for a dollar (and two dimes)
"The euro is worth $1.20 for the first time in its history. That may hurt Europe. Will it help America?"
The U.S. and Canada: time to make up
"Canada is an enigma -- so important to the U.S. and yet so ignored. As much annual trade flows across the Ambassador Bridge linking Windsor and Detroit as between the U.S. and either Japan or China. In fact, roughly $1 million in trade a minute passes between the two countries every year, according to trade group Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters."
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