Tag Archives: Investing

More trouble ahead for John Paulson

I am assuming that John Paulson, one of the most well-known and successful hedge fund managers around, is not a reader of this blog. In a previous post, I questioned his strategy of buying land and expecting the real estate market to recover. If you’ve been following the data lately, you know that the real estate market continues to decline.

But John Paulson may have more pressing losses to deal with:

John Paulson, who holds a significant long position in gold and gold mining stocks, suffered a heavy hit to his portfolio when Sino-Forest (TRE.TSX) plummeted following accusations from Muddy Waters Research that the company overstated its timberland holdings in China’s Yunnan province.

Paulson’s Funds own 34,714,300 shares, or 14% of the outstanding of Sino-Forest. The stock remains halted after sinking 25% yesterday to C$14.46. Shares of Sino-Forest are indicated at C$6.75, off over 50% versus its previous close. The hit to Paulson would be in excess of $500 million.

Oops.

Advertisements

Favorite quotes from the best book every written on investing: “Reminiscences of a Stock Operator”

Even though it was written way back in early 1920s, Reminiscences of a Stock Operator is still the best book ever written about investing/speculation/trading. Here are my favorite quotes:

“The professional concerns himself with doing the right thing rather than with making money, knowing that the profit takes care of itself if the other things are attended to.”

“They say you never grow poor taking profits. No, you don’t. But neither do you grow rich taking a four-point profit in a bull market.”

“Stocks are never too high to buy or too low to sell.”

“The speculator’s chief enemies are always boring from within. It is inseparable from human nature to hope and to fear…. The successful trader has to fight these two deep-seated instincts. He has to reverse what you might call his natural impulses. Instead of hoping he must fear; instead of fearing he must hope. He must fear that his loss may develop into a much bigger loss, and hope that his profit may become a big profit.”

“And right here let me say one thing: After spending many years in Wall Street and after making and losing millions of dollars I want to tell you this: It never was my thinking that made the big money for me. It always was my sitting. Got that? My sitting tight! It is no trick at all to be right on the market. You always find lots of early bulls in bull markets and early bears in bear markets. I’ve known many men who were right at exactly the right time, and began buying or selling stocks when prices were at the very level which should show the greatest profit. And their experience invariably matched mine—that is, they made no real money out of it. Men who can both be right and sit tight are uncommon. I found it one of the hardest things to learn. But it is only after a stock operator has firmly grasped this that he can make big money. It is literally true that millions come easier to a trader after he knows how to trade than hundreds did in the days of his ignorance.”

“A loss never bothers me after I take it. I forget it overnight. But being wrong—not taking the loss—that is what does the damage to the pocketbook and to the soul.”

“The only thing to do when a man is wrong is to be right by ceasing to be wrong.”

“It was very curious how, after suffering tremendous losses from a break of fifteen or twenty points, people who were still hanging on, welcomed a three-point rally and were certain the bottom had been reached and complete recovery begun.”

“Speculation is a hard and trying business, and a speculator must be on the job all the time or he’ll soon have no job to be on.”

“Nowhere does history indulge in repetitions so often or so uniformly as in Wall Street. When you read contemporary accounts of booms or panics the one thing that strikes you most forcibly is how little either stock speculation or stock speculators to-day differ from yesterday. The game does not change and neither does human nature.”

“A man has to guard against many things, and most of all against himself – that is, against human nature.”  Reminiscences of a Stock Operator

“When I am wrong only one thing convinces me of it, and that is, to lose money. And I am only right when I make money. That is speculating.”

“Tape reading was an important part of the game; so was beginning at the right time; so was sticking to your position.  But my greatest discovery was that a man must study general conditions, to size them so as to be able to anticipate probabilities.”

“Among the hazards of speculation the happening of the unexpected–I might even say of the unexpectable–ranks high.”

“The big money was not in the individual fluctuations but in the main movements—that is, not in reading the tape but in sizing up the entire market and its trend.”

“There is the plain fool, who does the wrong thing at all times everywhere, but there is the Wall Street fool, who thinks he must trade all the time. No man can always have adequate reasons for buying or selling stocks daily—or sufficient knowledge to make his play an intelligent play.”

“They say there are two sides to everything. But there is only one side to the stock market; and it is not the bull side or the bear side, but the right side. It took me longer to get that general principle fixed firmly in my mind than it did most of the more technical phases of the game of stock speculation.”

 

Yes, that’s quite a few quotes, but it’s such a great book that is full of great lines. (I will have to reread it for the zillionth time once I finish the book I am currently writing.)

We’ve known about ‘unknown unknowns’ for years

With Donald Rumsfeld’s book Known and Unknown making the rounds, I keep hearing the speech that gave the book its title:

[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know we know.
We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.

This idea is not new. I don’t know who was the first ever to use this concept, but an old usage and favorite of mine comes from the best book every written on investing, Reminiscences of a Stock Operator:

Among the hazards of speculation the happening of the unexpected–I might even say of the unexpectable–ranks high.

Currency devaluation’s effect on the markets and the importance of diversification

With commodities rallying across the board this year (most are up between 20% and 100%), copper is at an all-time high, palladium at a 10-year high, oil near its two-year highs, and the Treasuries falling, traders are obviously look for real assets.

The realest assets are commodities, but behind those are shares in companies that produce real goods and earn real profits. We tend to look at those profits in Dollar terms, but they really aren’t. A company making a 10% margin is making a 10% margin in the goods it sells, not in Dollars. In other words, a company could sell 90% of its goods to breakeven and hold the other 10% of the goods produced as profit instead of converting it into Dollars. Or that extra 10% could be converted into gold, silver, or whatever it wants, as long as it has a place to store the profits. Therefore, as long as a company continues to sell, the devaluation of currencies should affect it less than non-performing assets, such as Treasuries which will get hit by rising interest rates and inflation.

Actually, stocks tend to do well during periods of inflation, as long as the economy does well too. If a company’s costs rise, it simply passes along all or most of that to its customers. So if costs rise 10%, a company raises its selling price by the same amount to maintain its margin. As long as all countries experience the same inflation, there will little effect on the company. If we are seeing a worldwide currency devaluation, as I believe, stocks should rise as long as the economy holds up. Of course, commodities will likely do best, but stocks won’t be far behind. They’ll continue to earn a real rate of return of 4% to 7% or so. Bonds though will get double hit by rising interest rates and devaluation. Buying a bond yielding 4% today will yield a negative return if inflation exceeds that amount. And rising interest rates will reduce the Present Value of the bond too.

I would add a major caveat to all this: there is a chance of a major economic decline. With government’s deep in debt and many cutting back, the economy could suffer. Whether we see sub-par growth for the next generation or a double-dip recession remains to be seen. But if this economic decline occurs, stocks will get hit, of course. Commodities will also fall. Industrial commodities, such as copper and oil, may do even worse than stocks while precious metals will hold up better, but they too are likely to decline as they did during the 2008 market crash.

I’m not an economic adviser, but I always recommend diversification. Unless you have a lot of time to spend analyzing the market and become very good at it, chances are you won’t be able to “beat the market.” In fact, even the experts have a hard doing so and, statistically speaking, it has not been proven that anybody can beat the market (those that appear to do so may just be black swans). So own some stocks, some bonds, some commodities, and hold some cash. How much in each depends on your age and risk tolerance. You will not make a killing by diversifying, but in this political and economic environment, protecting your money is paramount. And with the future so uncertain, diversification is the only way to be sure your wealth won’t disappear in a market crash or rally, if governments go bankrupt or become solvent, or if the economy strengthens or weakens. No single investment will perform well in all the possible situations. Remember gold’s decline in 2008 or the larger decline from 1981 to 1998. Cash could be eaten up by inflation. Treasuries by rising interest rates. Stocks by an economic decline. But it is very unlikely that all four will decline together.

For example, learn more about Harry Browne’s Permanent Portfolio. I don’t necessarily recommend his portfolio as is. Much depends on your age and risk tolerance and ability to purchase these funds/instruments. But it certainly gives you a clearer picture of the importance of diversification.

TARP was a waste of money, despite what the Treasury Department tells you.

The Treasury announced that the total cost of TARP would be just $50 billion. In their perverse logic, the Administration and media played this up as a government success story. But we really should look at TARP as an investment. Congress approved spending $700 billion for TARP, of which only $296 billion was spent. Looking at TARP as an investment, the government lost 16.9% over a two year period. And they call that a success!

What else could the government have done with the $296 billion? Since TARP was signed into law on October 3, 2008, the following instruments have produced these returns:

TARP Troubled Asset Relief Program -16.9%
SPY S&P 500 9.1%
TLT iShares Barclays 20+ Year Treas Bond 15.7%
IEF iShares Barclays 7-10 Year Treasury 19.3%
SHV iShares Barclays Short Treasury Bond 0.7%
GLD SPDR Gold Shares 57.8%
XLF Financial Select Sector SPDR -18.8%

All major markets (stocks, long-term bonds, intermediate-term bonds, short-term bonds, and gold) posted positive returns. In some cases, very good returns. As you can see, I added the Financial sector into that table, which declined slightly more than TARP. Most of TARP’s investment were in the financial sector. The small difference is largely a rounding error because I am looking at XLF’s return up to today whereas the Treasury is using expected returns as of some future date. And that is assuming you trust their accounting…

But this raises the question of why they invested in the worst performing market sector? Those of us who argued that they were throwing good money after bad were correct. Maybe Treasury lost less money than we expected, but we were still correct in predicting negative returns on this investment.

Of course, the government claims that TARP saved the financial system from utter destruction. Oh, to live in a world where you can make outrageous claims without any proof. Next thing you know, the government will claim that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, also known as the stimulus bill, “created or saved” millions of jobs, even though the unemployment rate has remained steady near the 10% level.