Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The 10th Man....What a Correction Feels Like

By Jared Dillian


Back in the summer of 2007, when I was working for Lehman Brothers, I had a vacation to the Bahamas planned. This was unusual for me. Up until that point, in six years of working for Lehman, I had taken about five vacation days—total. But my wife and I were going to a semi primitive resort on Cat Island, the most desolate island in the Bahamas. Interesting place for a vacation. Suffice to say that it’s plenty hot in the Bahamas in August.

The market had been acting funny for a while, and I had a hunch that there was going to be trouble while I was gone, so I bought the 30 strike calls in the CBOE Market Volatility Index (VIX). I was betting that volatility was going to go up a lot in a short period of time. In fact, these options—which I spent a little over $100,000 on—would be worthless unless there was outright panic. I gave instructions to my colleagues to sell the call options if the VIX went over 35. (Note: my memory on the details of the trade, like the strike of the options and the level of the VIX, is a little hazy. The specifics might have been different, but you get the general idea.)

So there I was, sunning myself at this primitive resort on Cat Island and the world was melting down, and I was completely oblivious to what was going on back on Wall Street. Coincidentally, the local Bahamas newspaper had a picture of black swans on the cover one day. I staged a photo of me in a hammock reading the newspaper with the black swans on it. I still have that photo.

I got back to civilization and checked the markets. I saw the chart of the VIX. I could hardly contain myself. If my colleagues had executed the trades properly, I would have had a profit of over $800,000. But when I got back to work and opened my spreadsheet, I found that I’d made less than $100,000. What I had failed to consider was that if the world actually was blowing up, the guys would have been too busy to execute my trade.

So there is this whole idea of state dependence that we have to consider when we’re talking about the market. Like, you might have a plan to buy stocks when the index gets below a certain level, but when the market gets to that point, you: a) may not have the capital; and b) might be panicking into your shorts. It’s nice to have a plan, but, paraphrasing Mike Tyson, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.

I remember reading Russell Napier’s book about bear markets, called Anatomy of the Bear. It talked about all the big bear markets in the US, including the granddaddy of them all, the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression. One of the things that I learned from this book was that if you can time the bottom exactly right, you can make a hell of a lot of money in very short order. For example, if you had bought the lows in 1932, you could have doubled your money in a matter of months.

I wanted to do that. I prayed for a bear market, so I would get my chance.

Little did I know that I would get my chance just two years later—and blow it.

When the market is down 60%, it’s scary as hell to buy stocks. Hindsight being 20/20, you can say, “What, did you think it was going to zero?” Actually, yes—in March of 2009, people thought it was going to zero.
But for those people who: a) had capital; and b) weren’t terrified, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity.

A Thousand Days with No Correction


So let’s talk about a). Does everybody have capital? Remember, the hard part of this is not picking bottoms. Many people can do this quite capably. Panic/liquidation is very easy to spot. But few people have the ability to take advantage of it, because they’re fully invested.

As for b), you tend not to be terrified if you have capital.

Everyone knows by now that the stock market is correcting. The price action is pretty terrible. Will it get worse? I think so. We’re seeing excesses (corporate credit, growth stocks, IPOs) that we haven’t seen in many, many years. It’s been over 1,000 days since we’ve had a correction of any magnitude. With the market down about 5%, nobody is particularly worried, because every other time the market was down 5%, it ended up going higher.

Back to state dependence. What is it going to feel like if the market goes down further? How will people behave if the S&P 500 gets to, say, 1,700?

I can tell you what it will be like if the S&P gets to 1,700. It’s going to be like it was in August of 2007 when my coworkers forgot to sell my VIX calls because they were buried under an avalanche of panicked sell orders from institutional money managers. Pre-algorithmic trading, the trading floor used to get pretty noisy. I used to be able to tell you what the market was doing just from listening to the floor. At SPX 1,700, trading floors will be very noisy.

It’s been so long since we’ve had a correction, I’m guessing that most people have forgotten what a correction feels like. When you go that long in between corrections, people are sitting on a mountain of capital gains. And unless the capital gains really start to disappear, there is little pressure to sell. But if you’re the owner of, say, airline stocks, and you’ve watched them evaporate to the tune of 30%, that tends to focus the mind a little bit.

As with any steep correction, there will be fantastic opportunities, but they will only be available to those who have capital. Remember, bear markets don’t just destroy the bulls’ capital, they destroy the bears’ capital, too.

Bear markets destroy everyone’s capital.
Jared Dillian
Jared Dillian

The article The 10th Man: What a Correction Feels Like was originally published at mauldin economics


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How to Invest in a Difficult Market

By Casey Research

Many experts hold dim views of the current state of the US economy—but what’s a prudent investor to do to make a profit? Find out what the blue-ribbon faculty of economists and investment pros at the recently concluded Casey Research Fall Summit thought.

Lacy Hunt, senior executive VP of Hoisington Investment Management Company and former chief economist at the Dallas Fed, says the main reason that the global economy continues to falter is that all countries borrow too much and save too little.

“275% total debt to GDP is the critical threshold. Every world economy of importance is above that level and moving higher.” He finds today’s monetary policy “impotent.” The Fed, Bank of England, and Bank of Japan are trying to solve the problem of too much debt by borrowing more, which has short-term benefits, but will be disastrous long term.

Too much borrowing, says Hunt, guarantees that we’ll get more asset bubbles. Because the United States is the least indebted of the three countries, it will continue to outperform Japan and Europe. He predicts that the dollar will rise against other major currencies and that inflation, as well as interest rates, will remain low.

Christian Menegatti, managing director of economic research at Roubini Global Economics, is convinced that we’re at the end of a supercycle and won’t see a normalization of monetary policy for quite some time.
Like Lacy Hunt, Menegatti predicts that global interest rates will stay low. On the positive side, he doesn’t believe that we will see secular stagnation; in other words, a full “Japanification” of the US is unlikely.

The current economic recovery in the US is weaker than that in the 1930s, claims Worth Wray, chief strategist at Mauldin Economics. He says while nominal interest rates are the lowest they've ever been, real rates could go lower.

When the Fed’s QE3 is over, he predicts that growth will weaken and rates will fall further. “Without another dose of stimulus, the US will likely slide into recession.”

Taking a global view, he thinks that China’s slowdown could cause the Australian housing bubble to pop, and that commodity prices will drop over the next few years, which will hurt resource rich countries like Australia, Norway, and Canada.

He recommends to buy U.S. Treasuries and to diversify across asset classes that thrive in different economic environments to strengthen your portfolio against a possible crisis.

Diversification is also the number one tip from the expert panel on “Building a Crisis Proof Portfolio” at the Casey Summit, consisting of Worth Wray and Casey editors Alex Daley, Terry Coxon, Dan Steinhart, and Dennis Miller.

They say a crisis can take one of two forms:
  1. A “standard” crisis, where stocks crash but the financial system remains intact. In that scenario, you want to own US government bonds because they’ll retain their safe-haven properties.
  1. A “reset,” meaning a complete implosion of the global financial system. Government bonds won’t save you from that type of crisis. Instead, you’d want to own real, non-financial assets, such as physical gold and silver, as well as farmland and other real estate.
For “Future Tech You Can Profit from Now,” Alex Daley, chief technology investment strategist at Casey Research, suggests to look for companies that offer game changing benefits or savings and that focus on “where businesses and people spend their time and money,” like OpenTable or Zillow.

Daley recommends three companies with great upside from his Casey Extraordinary Technology portfolio.
He says there’s no need to worry about the broader market if you can find great companies with consistent growth. “Look for 40% revenue growth over the same quarter last year; that’s the magic number.”

To get all of Alex Daley’s stock picks (and those of the other speakers), as well as every single presentation of the Summit, order your 26+-hour Summit Audio Collection now. It’s available in CD and/or MP3 format. Learn more here.


The article How to Invest in a Difficult Market was originally published at casey research


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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

How Can There Not Be a Currency Crisis?

By Casey Research

The Fed claims that signs of economic stress are very low, but savvy investors feel otherwise. With geopolitical unrest expanding and central banks doing the opposite of the right things, is a currency crisis barreling toward us? See what Mish Shedlock had to say about the state of world finance at the 2014 Casey Research Summit:


Even though the Summit is long over, you can still benefit from every presenter… every panel discussion… every investment recommendation. Order the 2014 Summit Audio Collection and you’ll receive all of that, plus all slides used in the presentations and a bonus highlight reel. Choose between instantly available MP3 files or CDs… or get both for maximum convenience.

Order now so that you’re well positioned to thrive in the coming crisis economy.

The article How Can There Not Be a Currency Crisis? was originally published at casey research


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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Is this the "Sea Change" some have warned us about?

By John Mauldin


Did you feel the economic weather change this week? The shift was subtle, like fall tippy toeing in after a pleasant summer to surprise us, but I think we’ll look back and say this was the moment when that last grain of sand fell onto the sand pile, triggering many profound fingers of instability in a pile that has long been close to collapse. This is the grain of sand that sets off those long chains of volatility that have been gathering for the last five years, waiting to surprise us with the suddenness and violence of the avalanche they unleash.

I suppose the analogy sprang to mind as I stepped out onto my balcony this morning. Texas has been experiencing one of the most pleasant summers and incredibly wonderful falls in my memory. One of the conversations that seem to occur regularly among locals who have a few decades under their belts here, is just how truly remarkable the weather has been. So it was a bit of a surprise to step out and realize the air had turned brisk. In retrospect it shouldn’t have fazed me. The air has been turning brisk in Texas at some point in October for the six decades that my memory covers, and for quite a few additional millennia, I suspect.

But this week, as I worked through my ever-growing mountain of reading, I felt a similar awareness of a change in the economic climate. Like fall, I knew it was coming. In fact, I’ve been writing about it for years! But just as fall tells us that it’s time to get ready for winter, at least in more northerly climes, the portents of the moment suggest to me that it’s time to make sure our portfolios are ready for the change in season.

Sea Change

Shakespeare coined the marvelous term sea change in his play The Tempest. Modern day pundits are liable to apply the word to the relatively minor ebb and flow of events, but Shakespeare meant sea change as a truly transformative event, a metamorphosis of the very nature and substance of a man, by the sea.
In this week’s letter we’ll talk about the imminent arrival of a true financial sea change, the harbinger of which was some minor commentary this week about the economic climate. This letter is arriving to you a little later this week, as I had quite some difficulty writing it, because, while the signal event is rather easy to discuss, the follow on consequences are myriad and require more in-depth analysis than I’ve been able to bring to them on short notice. As I wrestled with what to write, I finally came to realize that this sea change is going to take multiple letters to properly describe. In fact, it might eventually take a book.

So, in a departure from my normal writing style, I am going to offer you a chapter by chapter outline for a book. As with all book outlines, it will be simply full of bones but without much meat on them, let alone dressed up with skin and clothing. I will probably even connect the bones in the wrong order and have to go back later and replace a leg bone with a rib, but that is what outlines are for. There is clearly enough content suggested by this outline to carry us through the next several months; and given the importance of the subject, I expect to explore it fully with you. Whether it actually becomes a book, I cannot yet say.

I should note that much of what follows has grown out of in depth conversations with my associate Worth Wray and our mutual friends. We’ve become convinced that the imbalances in the global economic system are such that the risks are high that another period of economic volatility like the Great Recession is not only likely but is now in the process of developing. While this time will be different in terms of its causes and symptoms (as all such stressful periods differ from each other in many ways), there will be a rhyme and a rhythm that feels all too familiar. That should actually be good news to most readers, as the last 14 years have taught us a little bit about living through periods of economic volatility. You will get to use those skills you learned the hard way.

This will not be the end of the world if you prepare properly. In fact, there will be plenty of opportunities to take advantage of the coming volatility. If the weatherman tells you winter is coming, is he a prophet of doom? Or is it reasonable counsel that maybe we should get our winter clothes out?

Three caveats before we get started. One, I am often wrong but seldom in doubt. And while I will marshal facts and graphs aplenty to reinforce my arguments, I would encourage you to think through the counter factuals presented by those who will aggressively disagree.

Two, while it goes without saying, you are responsible for your own decisions. It is easy for me to say that I think the bond market is going to go in a particular direction. I can even bet my personal portfolio on my beliefs. I can’t know your circumstances, but if you are similar to most investors, this is the time to make sure you have a truly balanced portfolio with serious risk management in the event of a sudden crisis.

Three, give me (and Worth, whom I am going to draft to write some letters) some time to develop the full range of our ideas. To follow on with my weather analogy, the air is just starting to get crisp, and winter is still a couple months away. Absent something extraordinary, we are not going to get snow and a blizzard in Dallas, Texas, tomorrow. We may still have some time to prepare, but at a minimum it is time to start your preparations. So with those caveats, let’s look at an outline for a potential book called Sea Change.

Prologue

I turned publicly bearish on gold in 1986. At the time (a former life in a galaxy far, far away), I was actually writing a newsletter on gold stocks and came to the conclusion that gold was going nowhere – and sold the letter. I was still bearish some 16 years later. Then, on March 1, 2002, I wrote in Thoughts from the Frontline that it was time to turn bullish on gold. Gold at that time was languishing around $300 an ounce, near its all time bottom.

What drove that call? I thought that the future directions of gold and the dollar were joined at the hip. A bit over a year later I laid out the case for a much weaker dollar in a letter entitled “King Dollar Meets the Guillotine,” which later became the basis for a chapter in Bull’s Eye Investing. As the chart below shows, the dollar had risen relentlessly through the early Reagan years, doubling in value against the currencies of America’s global neighbors, causing exporters to grumble about US dollar policy. Then the bottom fell out, as the dollar made new lows in 1992. From 1992 through 2002 the dollar recovered about half of its value, getting back to roughly where it was in 1967. Elsewhere about that time, I predicted that the euro, which was then at $0.88, would rise to $1.50 before falling back to parity over a very long period of time. I believe we are still on that journey.



One of the biggest drivers of economic fortunes in the global economy is the currency markets. The value of your trading currency affects every aspect of your business and investments. It is fundamental in nature. While most Americans never even see a piece of foreign currency, every time we walk into Walmart, we are subject to the ebb and flow of global currency valuations, as are Europeans and indeed every person who participates in the movement of goods and services around the globe. In fact, globalization means that currency values are more important than ever. The world is more tightly interconnected now than it has ever been, which means that events which previously had no effect upon global affairs can trigger cascades of events that affect everyone.

I believe we are in the early stages of a profound currency valuation sea change. I have lived through five major changes in the value of the dollar in the 45 years since Nixon closed the gold window. And while we are used to 40% to 50% moves in the stock market and other commodity prices happening in just a few years (or less), large movements in major trading currencies typically take many years, if not decades, to develop. I believe we are in the opening act of a multi-year US dollar bull market.

To continue reading this article from Thoughts from the Frontline – a free weekly publication by John Mauldin, renowned financial expert, best selling author, and Chairman of Mauldin Economics – please click here.

The article Thoughts from the Frontline: Sea Change was originally published at mauldin economics


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Thursday, October 16, 2014

The world’s greatest stock picker? Bet you sold Apple and Google a long time ago

By John Mauldin


My good friend Barry Ritholtz, famous for launching The Big Picture blog (and since graduating to being a regular Bloomberg columnist as well as writing a weekly column for the Washington Post), is well-known for being a contrarian. Barry is a regular dinner partner when I get to New York, and he also participates in the annual Maine fishing trip. We frequently trade information … and barbs. The word colorful affectionately comes to mind when I think of Barry (and maybe opinionated would work).

I can usually count on him to find at least a few things to disagree with me on at our dinners. No matter what devastating arguments I produce to demonstrate the errors in his thinking, he conjures up new facts to support his flawed positions. We have had a few of these episodes as members of a panel in front of a large public audience, much to the amusement of the spectators (and watching Barry can be an entertaining spectacle). My only real frustration with Barry is that he is mentally faster than I am and he seemingly remembers every obscure data point from the last thousand years. I consider it a triumph if I merely hold my ground.

But one thing we do agree on and are both passionate about is that we human beings were not designed for these modern times. As I so often say, we evolved on the African savanna dodging lions and chasing antelopes. We have converted those survival instincts into an unwieldy approach to dealing with financial markets, which is not the optimal way to approach investing. Both of us write a great deal about behavioral investing and the foibles of human nature.

I was struck by the insights of Barry’s latest Washington Post column. How difficult it is for us humans to hold on in the middle of dramatic volatility. Don’t you wish you had held Apple for the last 10 years? A 1000-bagger is not to be sneezed at. But dear gods, the volatility! And what about the stocks that once looked like a better bet than Apple that went to zero? How do you decide when to hold and when to fold? (Cue Kenny Rogers.)

This is a short Outside the Box, but it’s one that should make you think, which is the purpose of this letter.
And in a departure from my usual close, I want to offer two links. The first is to a fascinating web post at something called distractify.com of 52 colorized historical photos. You  have seen most of these photos in black and white (or at least you have if you have reached my advanced age). Seeing them in color is quite another story.

Second, and not for the faint of heart, is a link to a rather heated exchange between Ben Affleck and Bill Maher over radical Islam and Islamaphobia. I generally find Maher annoying, sometimes in the extreme. But this “conversation” is instructive. It illustrates the tensions in the Western world around dealing with Islamic beliefs and the religion in general. The other guests chime in with fascinating anecdotes. You can decide for yourself who wins this argument, but it is one that is increasingly important in our world. And I am not sure anyone will be comfortable with the answers. This is courtesy of my friends over at Real Clear Politics.

I am still luxuriating in the aftermath of my birthday party on Saturday night. Friends flew in from all over the country (and from around the world) and surprised me. Too many to mention, but I was deeply honored and humbled. My staff and friends and family put the whole thing together (huge thanks to Shannon and Mary and Shane and my kids). My daughter Melissa put together a playlist on Spotify of all the songs she has heard me listening to over the years. Three and a half hours of one hit after another. We are working on making it available to those of you who are already on Spotify.

And just for the record, that morning I did 66 consecutive push-ups on my 65th birthday. I then went on to do a total of 360 push-ups (50×5+44) in less than two hours, with the help of an Avacor machine to cool me down between sets, in a workout that included a similar number of abs, lat pulldowns, arm exercises, etc. Knock on wood, I do not plan to go gently into that good night. As a geek, I am coming late in life to loving the gym. But better late…..

It is time to hit the send button. I am off to the Great Investors’ Best Ideas Symposium here in Dallas. It is a who’s who of famous investors, all of whom agreed to speak and to give one investment tip to aid a great charity. Bill Ackman, David Einhorn, Paul Isaac, Bill Miller, Ray Nixon, Richard Perry, T. Boone Pickens, Michael Price, Tom Russo, and moderated by Gretchen Morgenson. Have a great week while thinking about how to get your human nature under control.

Your more human that I want to admit analyst,
John Mauldin, 
Editor Outside the Box

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The world’s greatest stock picker? Bet you sold Apple and Google a long time ago.

By Barry Ritholtz
The Washington Post, Oct. 4, 2014

Let’s imagine for the moment that you are the World’s Greatest Stock Picker. You have an uncanny talent for ferreting out “the next Microsoft” – companies that are on the sharpest edge of what’s next, that are about to undergo tremendous growth. These firms will rule the world: They will be the most powerful, profitable and influential corporate entities known to man.

Even better, your superpower is that you can find these companies when they are tiny, before they have had their explosive growth, when hardly anyone has heard of them. You find and buy these stocks while their prices are still in the single digits. Companies like Apple, Google, Tesla, Netflix and Chipotle that will one day measure their growth in increments of thousands of a percent.

Can you imagine how much wealth you could create?

I have some bad news for you, kiddos: Even if you had that superpower, it would be worth surprisingly little to you. The odds are that it would not create much wealth, and it might even cost you money.

How could that be possible?

The short answer is your brain. The three-pound ball of gray matter sitting atop your spinal cord was never designed to make risk/reward decisions in capital markets. It took about 100,000 years to optimize for its intended purpose: Keeping you alive.

The occasional Darwin Award aside, it does an outstanding job of keeping you safe from all manner of predators on the savanna. That you now live in a condo and enjoy lattes is irrelevant to its functionality. Its job remains keeping you alive long enough for you to procreate, pass your genes along and perpetuate the species.

This dynamic, opportunistic, self-organizing system of systems occasionally runs into trouble when we try to force it to perform other, “off label” uses. That includes buying and selling pieces of paper that represent tiny slices of companies. As we shall see, that big, under utilized brain of yours is no help anytime it gets over-stimulated by your emotions.

Which is precisely why being the World’s Greatest Stock Picker is unlikely to be how any of you is going to get rich. Let’s use the shares of five companies as examples: Google, Tesla, Chipotle, Netflix and Apple.
The performance of each since its initial public stock offering has been nothing short of astounding. Since going public, each stock has generated returns of more than 1,000 percent. A $10,000 IPO allocation in any one is now worth at least $100,000.

To give you an idea of just how phenomenal these companies have done, Google is the laggard of the lot. Since its IPO in August 2004, it has gained a mere 1,282 percent. Tesla edged out the boys from Mountain View, Calif., with a gain of 1,352 percent. And they did it in less than four years – Tesla’s IPO was June 2010 – vs. the decade it took Google to gain 1,000 percent.

Those spectacular returns look downright paltry compared with the 2,865 percent gain Chipotle has had since going public in 2006. And Netflix beats that, rising 5,816 percent since 2002.

Then there is Apple. It is a beast unto itself, racking up a mind-boggling 22,288 percent in appreciation since its 1980 debut. It has become world’s biggest company by market capitalization.

Even if you bought large chunks of each of these firms at their IPOs, the odds are that nearly all of these giant gains would have eluded you. Why? As I shall show you, each of these companies would have sent you running for the exits – repeatedly – over the years, screaming as if your hair were on fire.

Don’t believe me? Consider the facts:

• Netflix has lost 25 percent of its value on four separate days. Not over four days; on separate occasions, it lost 25 percent in a single day. In one four-month stretch in 2011, it lost 80 percent of its value. On Netflix’s worst day, it fell 41 percent.
• Chipotle has lost 15 percent in a single day on four occasions. During the 2007-2009 crash, it lost 76 percent of its value – about 50 percent worse than the market overall.
• Tesla went up 400 percent in 6 months, then lost 40 percent over the next 10 weeks. In one month, it lost about 25 percent of its value.
• Google lost nearly 70 percent in the Great Recession. During its worst quarter, its stock price fell more than 36 percent.
• Apple has lost 25 percent or more six times in the past 10 years alone. That was after its meteoric rise. During its worst week, it was cut in half, falling 51 percent. It saw similar damage during its worst month and quarter as well – getting cut in half in each time   period.

How often have you invested in a stock, only to get scared out of it when things grew shaky? That’s fairly typical behavior for investors.

Now imagine how you would have behaved if you happened to have a significant part of your net worth tied up in that one holding.

Let’s say a decade ago, you put $15,000 into Apple. You bought 1,000 shares at $15 (with $13 cash) because you thought that newfangled iPod had some potential. Since then, it split two for one and then earlier this year, it split seven for one. You now are holding 14,000 shares of Apple. At the current price of about $100, it is worth $1.4 million dollars. For most people, this is a very high percentage of their net worth. How well do you sleep when 90 percent of your total net worth goes through giant swings?

Apple was worth about the same amount in September 2012 – just before it gave back almost half its value, falling 44 percent. Would you have held on? What about all of those prior 50 percent corrections?
This is not an academic theory. Consider how you have reacted to much more modest drops in your holdings. How often were you shaken out of a stock, only to see it rocket higher after you sold? And somebody was dumping stocks in March 2009; after all, selling climaxes (also known as capitulation) are how bottoms are made.

Some years ago, I recommended to the brokers I worked with to do just that regarding Apple. They bought millions of shares at an average price of $15. At $20 dollars, they were selling it, whooping it up and high-fiving one another. When I asked why they were selling it when my price target was higher ($30!), I was told: “It’s a 33 percent winner – time to ring the bell, Ritholtz!” That was even before any trouble had hit.
How many of you, dear readers, could hold onto a giant winner like these five for the duration? How do you know that any of these are not about to turn into a classic disaster stock? Think about once-giant winners that collapsed: Lehman Brothers, WorldCom, Lucent, JDS Uniphase.

All of these were one-time market heroes; all went bust in spectacular fashion. Your superpower gives you the ability to find the giant winners, but it does not give you the ability to hold onto them, nor does it give you the ability to distinguish between the superstars and the washouts.

As we have discussed previously, this is a feature, not a bug. The good news is your brain has kept you alive long enough to read this column. The bad news, it also made you sell Apple 10,000 percent ago.
The reality is, when it comes to risk/reward decisions, you are just not built for it.

Barry Ritholtz is Chairman and Chief Investment Officer at Ritholtz Wealth Management. His columns on personal finance can be found at the Washington Post. His daily musings on all things finance- & Wall Street-related can be found on Bloomberg View. Be sure to check out Masters in Business, his weekly interview series on Bloomberg Radio. Follow him on Twitter @Ritholtz.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Broken State and How to Fix It

By Casey Research

The United States of America is not what it used to be. Unsustainable mountains of debt, continuous meddling by the government and Fed to “stimulate the economy,” and the U.S. dollar’s dwindling status as the world’s reserve currency are very real threats to Americans’ standard of living. Here are some opinions from the recently concluded Casey Research Fall Summit on the state of the state and how to fix it.

Marc Victor, a criminal defense attorney from Arizona and a staunch liberty advocate, says there’s really no such thing as “the state”—“it’s just some people bossing other people around.”

Not everyone wants to fix things, he says; the bosses like the status quo. For example, aside from drug lords, DEA agents are the ones benefiting most from the “War on Drugs.”

Victor believes that democracy and freedom are incompatible, since “democracy is majority rule, and freedom is self-rule.” If you want to bring true freedom to America, he says, winning hearts and minds is the only way to reboot this country and create a free society.

Paul Rosenberg, adventure capitalist, Casey Research contributor, and editor of “A Free Man’s Take,” views America’s future similarly. He thinks the United States is in a state of entropy.

The bad news, says Rosenberg, is that there will be no revolution. The good news is that the peak of citizens’ obedience to the state is behind us, and people are getting fed up with the government’s shenanigans.

Real change is slow, he says, so we must work persistently to create a better world.

Stephen Moore, chief economist at the Heritage Foundation, says the problem is liberal economic policy: Red states in the US, he says, have blown away blue states in job creation since 1990. Texas alone accounts for the entire net growth of the US economy over the past five years.

As another proof point in favor of a free market economy, Moore emphasizes that both Obama and Reagan took office during terrible economic times. While Obama has raised taxes and instituted Obamacare, Reagan cut taxes and regulation. As a result, the Reagan economic recovery was almost twice as robust as the Obama “recovery.”

One of the US’s biggest problems, says Moore, is that companies can’t reinvest profits because dividend, capital gains, and income taxes all have increased under Obama. Corporate taxes in the rest of the world have dramatically declined in the last 25 years, but in the US, they haven’t budged. The average corporate tax rate around the world is 24%—in the US, it’s 38%.

Overall, though, Moore is bullish on the U.S. economy. American companies, he says, are the best run in the world, if only the US government would adopt less economically destructive policies.

Doug Casey, chairman of Casey Research, legendary speculator, and best-selling financial author, isn’t so optimistic. First of all, he says, we’re in the Greater Depression right now, which began in 2008. He fears it’s too late to repair America, but says if anyone would attempt to do so, the following seven step program would help:
  • Allow the collapse of “zombie companies” (companies that are only being held up by government handouts and other cash infusions).
  • Abolish all regulatory agencies.
  • Abolish the Federal Reserve.
  • Cut the size of the military by at least 90%.
  • Sell all US government assets.
  • Eliminate the income tax.
  • Default on the national debt.
Of course, says Casey, that’s not going to happen, so individual investors shouldn’t hope for a political solution or waste their time and money trying to stop the inevitable collapse of the U.S. economy. The only way to save yourself and your assets is to internationalize.

He recommends owning significant assets outside your home country: for example, by buying foreign real estate. You should also buy and store gold, “the only financial asset that’s not simultaneously someone else’s liability.”

Casey’s suggestions include going short bubbles that are about to burst (like Japanese bonds denominated in yen), selling expensive assets like collectible cars and expensive real estate in major cities, as well as looking toward places like Africa as contrarian investment opportunities.

Nick Giambruno, senior editor of International Man, agrees that internationalizing your wealth—and yourself—is the most prudent way to go for today’s high net worth investors. It ensures that “no single government can control your destiny,” and that you put your money, business, and yourself where they are treated best.

You should internationalize each of these six aspects of your life, says Giambruno: our assets; your citizenship; your income/business; your legal residency; your lifestyle residency; and your digital presence.
Regarding your assets, you can find better capitalized, more liquid banks abroad, and using international brokerage accounts can provide you access to new investment markets.

To hear all of Nick Giambruno’s detailed tips on how to go global, as well as every single presentation of the Summit, order your 26+-hour Summit Audio Collection now. It’s available in CD and/or MP3 format.

Learn More Here


The article The Broken State and How to Fix It was originally published at Casey Research.


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Monday, October 13, 2014

Yield Hungry Baby Boomers Are on a Death March

By Dennis Miller

Today’s forecast: yield starved investors forced into the market by seemingly permanent low interest rates will continue to be collateral damage. For some, that collateral damage may involve more than the loss of income opportunities… many could be wiped out completely.

At the Casey Research Summit last month, I asked the participants in our discussion group: “If there were safe, fixed income opportunities available paying 5 - 7%, would you move a major portion of your portfolio out of the market?”

They all answered a resounding, “Absolutely.”

Participants relying on their nest eggs for retirement income said they felt forced into the market for yield. Their retirement projections weren’t based on 2% yields, the rough rate now available on fixed income investments. They’d planned on 6% or so. What other choice do they have now?

The Federal Reserve knows seniors and savers are collateral damage. Former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has openly acknowledged that the Fed’s low interest rate policy is designed to prompt savers to take more chances with riskier investments. In their book Code Red, authors John Mauldin and Jonathan Tepper shine a harsh light on that policy, writing:

Central banks want people to take their money out of safe investments and put them into risky investments. They call it the “portfolio balance channel,” but you could call it “starve people for yield and they’ll buy anything.”

I have to agree with Mauldin and Tepper.

The collateral damage inflicted upon seniors and savers is twofold. First, it’s the loss of safe income opportunities. The Fed’s low interest rate policies have saved banks and the government an estimated $2 trillion in interest alone. $2 trillion added to the balances of 401(k) and IRA accounts would sure bolster a lot of desperate retirement plans.

But there’s no sign the Fed will reverse its low interest rate policies in the foreseeable future. So, yield starved investors, including throngs of baby boomers maturing into retirement age each day, play the market and risk their nest eggs in the process.

The Federal Reserve has succeeded in forcing savers to take billions of dollars out of fixed income investments to hunt for better yields. Take a look at the chart below showing the S&P 500’s performance since 2004. The Index has almost tripled since its 2009 bottom. There hasn’t been a major correction in well over 1,000 days.


When the bubble burst in 2007, the S&P took a 57% drop. I had friends just entering retirement who suffered 40-50% losses. Their stories are not uncommon, and some are now back at work—and not by choice.

This is the second form of collateral damage, and it can be much more devastating. It’s one thing to lose an income opportunity and call it collateral damage, but quite another to lose 50% or more of your life savings. If the market drops radically, as it did less than a decade ago, the life savings of many baby boomers could be destroyed.

No one knows when the next correction will occur. However, many pundits believe a major correction is due. Others say we can continue on the same track, much like Japan has done for 25 years. Here’s what we do know: the Fed has made it clear that it plans to hold interest rates down for quite some time.

When you invest money earmarked for retirement, you risk trying to time the market. Even seasoned investors would be foolhardy to think they’ll have enough time to easily exit their positions and lock in gains.

It never works that way.

Now is the time for caution. Whether you’re a do it yourself investor or work with an investment professional, it’s a good time for a complete portfolio analysis with an eye on this question:

What happens to my portfolio if the market completely collapses?

There are concrete steps you can take to avoid catastrophic collateral damage. Sticking to firm position limits, diversifying geographically (including international holdings), non correlated assets, setting trailing stop losses, and holding short-duration bonds come to mind.

Be wary of any advisor touting the “buy and hold” philosophy. They’d point to the chart above and note that the market went from 700 to 1,900+ in five years. If investors are patient, it will come back after the next drop. Unfortunately, seniors don’t have time to sit around and wait.

No one can guarantee the market will rebound as quickly as it did in the last decade. It’s not the “buy” in “buy and hold” that concerns me. There are excellent companies out there that pay healthy dividends and will rebound relatively quickly. Depending on your age and financial condition, it’s the indefinite holding that could be a problem.

If you’re not comfortable holding an investment for a decade or more, consider using a stop loss. After all, would you rather suffer a major loss and hope against hope that the market rebounds fast, or be proactive and keep your nest egg intact?

The best way to avoid becoming collateral damage is to take safety precautions before the next big, bad event takes place. One easy (and free) way to start strengthening your financial know how is to read our e-letter, Miller’s Money Weekly. Each Thursday my team I cover hot button financial topics and share the tools income investors need to live rich in today’s low yield world.

Click here to begin receiving your complimentary copy today.

The article Yield Hungry Baby Boomers Are on a Death March was originally published at millers money


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Friday, October 10, 2014

Why Shareholders Should Fear the Hasty Corporate Marriage

By Dennis Miller

I never understood why Sears bought Kmart. Sears was a giant retailer, the dominant tenant in shopping malls throughout the US. Kmart was the spawn of S. S. Kresge’s dime stores. They served different consumer groups—different strata. When they came together, they combined a lot of the same merchandise in their stores, and they both lost their identities. I don’t see either surviving much longer.

Instead of allowing two companies to die, some embarrassed management teams settle on divorce, selling off the scraps for a fraction of what they paid—and leaving angry stockholders to ruminate over how management could have spent the cash better (think dividends).

How can titans of industry capable of earning and retaining billions of dollars also lose billions seemingly overnight in a bad acquisition?

To help answer that question, I’m going to focus on companies that merge with the intention of truly melding into one. They may continue to operate under separate names; however, management thinks the companies’ synergy will make both stronger—a true marriage.

How Three Strata of Consumers Buy


In my first career, companies hired me to improve their market share and gross profit margins. My team and I would start by surveying a client’s good customers, asking: “What criteria do you use to select a supplier, and how do you rank those criteria?”

The answer was always the same: service, quality, and price, and in that order. For individual consumers, though, the order of that answer varies.

There are three general strata of consumers. The first is the “carriage trade,” comprised of affluent people who live in expensive neighborhoods and might shop at Neiman Marcus. In the ‘50s and ‘60s, these folks drove Cadillacs. When we re-collated out our survey results by stratum, this group ranked quality first, service second, and price third.

If your business serves the carriage trade, you focus on product improvement, serving the customer better, and maintaining your profit margin. That’s how you beat your competition.

The next consumer stratum encompasses the middle class. Think Buicks and Oldsmobiles. These consumers rated service first, quality second, and price third. They could be swayed by a good sale occasionally, but it had to be a heck of a good deal.

Consumers in the third stratum want only one thing: the lowest possible price. These consumers clip coupons and are willing to drive several extra miles to save money. This is why Walmart stores have much larger trading areas than their competition. Walmart does a great job in this stratum by advertising price as the primary reason to shop at its stores.

If you do business in the third stratum, you look for every possible opportunity to cut your costs so you can beat your competitor by offering lower prices while maintaining your margins.

As an investor, if the strata of two merging companies don’t line up, be cautious of any hype. If you don’t think it’s a good fit, move on to the next potential investment.

Culture Conflict Brews Animosity


Conflicting corporate cultures should also send up a huge red flag in investors’ minds. The unwritten rules within any company that dictate its internal and external behavior matter, and they don’t change easily.

Think of any married couple you know with conflicting beliefs and values. Those marriages always struggle; daily life becomes a constant negotiation, and that can go on for decades. The couple quibbles over how to spend money, how to discipline children, which other couples to socialize with, and just about everything else. Frugal Fred throws a fit each time Spending Sally comes home from the store. He thinks Sundays are for football, while she wants to spend the day antiquing. She’s dead set on sending their kids to private school, and he thinks it’s a waste. Ultimately, one partner has to adjust his or her core values, or these conflicts will foster resentment… and often end in divorce.

Similar conflicts take place in the corporate world. If the unwritten norms, beliefs, and values of the merging companies don’t synch, they’re heading down a rocky path, possibly to Splitsville.

Dominating a Stratum Develops a Culture


When a company dominates a stratum, a distinct culture emerges. Think of Apple, which dominates the high-end computer sector. It’s constantly looking for ways to improve and innovate its product lines so the company can raise prices and increase its margins. I just bought my first Apple computer, and I’ve found that its customer service is far and away the best.

Contrast the attitude of Apple’s employees with those at Walmart. Walmart’s corporate employees focus on negotiating better prices from vendors and cutting costs anywhere possible. Walmart passes those savings along to customers, and its in-store employees, in turn, offer minimal assistance.

Apple and Walmart are both profitable, but their corporate cultures are worlds apart and could never produce a happy marriage.

On the other hand, consider Beats, the manufacturer of headphones and speakers that Apple purchased for $3 billion. There’s controversy as to whether Apple overpaid, and only time will tell.

The two companies’ cultures seem to be a good fit, though. Beats products are expensive, and every technician I ask recommends them. Apple stores sell several brands of expensive, high-quality headphones, but Beats’ headphones will be in Apple stores soon, designed specifically for Apple products and Apple customers. Many of the other brands will probably disappear.

Miller’s Money Chief Analyst Andrey Dashkov adds that, “Synergies tend to materialize when the customer base and approach to the market are the same between the two parties. Kraft’s acquisition of General Foods is a good example.”

He agrees that the Apple/Beats deal looks good for many of those reasons.

When Management Doesn’t Fit the Mold


There are dozens of other invisible aspects of corporate culture. One past client of mine was a corporate travel agency. It priced its services by rebating part of the commissions the airlines paid travel agents. My client didn’t want to get caught up operating on razor-thin margins, so it looked for ways to bring extra value to its clients to justify its pricing.

One of the company’s potential clients was a very profitable member of the Dow 30 Index—let’s call it the Big Name Company. My client secured its business after making a presentation to the corporate vice president of sales by asking, “Are you aware that over 90% of your sales people are traveling between 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday?”

The vice president was shocked. Face-to-face selling time in front of customers is gold. My client pointed out that Big Name Company was losing potential sales time to travel, and it was costing the company.
I asked my client why he’d done that analysis. Turns out, he had a friend who worked for the competition, and every time it hired a salesperson from Big Name Company, the company ran into difficulty. The new employee couldn’t adapt to its culture of working 50-60 hours a week.

The focal point of management is another key aspect of company culture. Some companies micromanage the smallest details from the corporate level. These companies haven’t developed managers who are risk takers and independent thinkers. If such a company merges with a decentralized company, the transition can be particularly difficult. In these situations, it’s not unusual for top managers to leave shortly after the merger because they just don’t fit the mold.

Investment Implications


As an investor, I only consider betrothed companies as investment candidates when they have similar cultures and values and operate in the same market stratum. When you read about a potential merger or acquisition, look beyond the hype. If companies are a good fit, there are a lot of hidden synergies which can lead to pleasant earnings surprises. There are terrific opportunities out there for folks who crunch the numbers and evaluate strata and corporate culture.

For more commonsense financial insight and timely investment news, sign up to receive your free copy of our e-letter, Miller’s Money Weekly, every Thursday.



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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Gold: Time to Prepare for Big Gains?

By Casey Research

Years of a severe downturn in the gold market have left very few bulls to speak out in favor of the yellow metal. Here are some positive opinions on the future of the precious metal, from the recently concluded Casey Research Fall Summit.

David Tice, founder of the Prudent Bear Fund, believes we are heading for a “global currency reset” that will reduce the role of the dollar in global trade. Central banks, he says, don’t possess all the gold they claim to, and the unwinding of the paper gold market probably isn’t far down the road—it could even ignite the next major crisis.

The paper gold market (for example, exchange-traded funds like GLD) has massive leverage, with a ratio of 90:1 or 100:1 of paper claims on gold bullion. If only a small fraction of owners convert their paper to physical gold, says Tice, it will create a “no bid” price environment and cause the price of gold to explode.
He believes that once the paper gold market collapses, gold will be priced on the basis of supply/demand for the physical metal—which means it could be headed for $3,000 to $8,000 per ounce.

Ed Steer, editor of Casey Research’s popular e-letter Gold and Silver Daily, is equally bullish on gold… in the long term, because right now, he believes the gold market to be rigged: “Central banks intervene; that’s what they do.”

They control not only gold, but also silver, platinum, palladium, copper, and oil. He says there are two possible reasons that Germany hasn’t gotten its gold back that it had stored in the U.S. — either the gold doesn’t exist or there’s so much paper written against it that it can’t be moved for collateral reasons.

While there’s not much an investor can do about gold manipulation, Steer believes that the manipulators’ schemes will blow up in their faces sooner than later.

Summit regular Rick Rule, chairman of Sprott US Holdings, isn’t worried about the bear market in gold.
“What matters is your response to the bear market,” he says. “If you have the wits, courage, knowledge, and cash to take advantage of them, bear markets are great.”

He’s keeping his eyes peeled on junior gold mining stocks, which, he says, are hugely attractive right now.
“Our market has fallen by 75% in three years. That means it’s 75% more attractive than in 2010, when we were all in love with it. Within a few years, we’ll look back on today’s low prices as the good old days.”
Louis James, chief investment strategist of Casey’s Metals & Mining division, also welcomes the opportunities to buy low that the current slump in gold prices provides.

He personally owns stock of three of the junior miners present in the Map Room at the Casey Fall Summit. All three of them have exceptionally high-grade projects that are delivering what they promised.

To get all of Louis James’ stock picks (and those of the other speakers), as well as every single presentation of the Summit, order your 26+-hour Summit Audio Collection now. It’s available in CD and/or MP3 format. Learn more here.


The article Gold: Time to Prepare for Big Gains? was originally published at casey research


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