Inflation is a Wolverine
The media and the economics profession are treating inflation like it is a friendly puppy dog. They think you can take it out of its pen and play with it for a while. The popular theory is that you bring it out in a severe dip in economic activity and when the economy gets back on its feet, you kindly ask inflation to crawl back into its pen like any good puppy dog would do.
Incentives Pivot from Greed to Fear
The talk of inflation today looks much like housing did in 2007. Evidence is mounting everywhere that this is a real long-term problem that is only getting worse. You can read this in the media, but yet security prices don’t reflect how damaging this may be.
Inflation: It’s Just the Start
To say that we were surprised by some of the discussion at the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting would be an understatement. The conversation Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger leaned into on inflation was possibly the most interesting. Warren and Charlie gave large credit to Larry Summers for his willingness to stand alone on the effects of today’s fiscal and monetary policy on prices. We thought this was an ideal time review Buffett and Munger’s discussion and see what conclusions we could draw.
Vexing Today’s Convex Pricing Behavior
Fortunately, human behavior has a history of repeating itself at extremes. The worst buying decisions are made at the top. Just like bonds, the convexity is true when yields rise going forward. It’s a slippery slope and could be vexing.
Tesla and GameStop: Pass the Dutchie?
We have enjoyed watching what happens in the late stage of a financial euphoria episode play out in the escapades of millennial investors on Reddit, who seem to “rule the nation.” While politicians, regulators, the media and others try to sort this out, we thought some historical perspective might be helpful.
Famed Climatologist Charlie Munger
We were fortunate to watch a recent interview Charlie Munger did with Cal Tech as a distinguished alum. We consider him to be one of the most successful contrarian investment thinkers on the planet. At 96 years of age, he has no fear of being politically incorrect. We contrast this with the mountain of writing, media and rhetoric associated with the topic of climate change.
One Helluva Party
As Buffett said, this looks like “one helluva party” with the individual investors, professional investors and insiders all joining in the fun. As a former fraternity member in college, the best parties were always when you couldn’t find anyone missing. It wreaks of that today in the stock market.
Energy in Dreman’s Icahn-ic Green Wing
David Dreman’s book, Contrarian Investment Strategies, was gospel to investors when it was first published in 1979. Investors had been decimated by markets going nowhere over the prior 10 years. Stock investors were ready for something new. Dreman had produced a lot of success as an investor and wanted to share his gospel of contrarian value investing.
Quality is Missing the Point
I got very excited when I came across an excerpt from Jordan Ellenberg’s book, How Not to Be Wrong. His book was written to teach readers how much logic and common sense is provided by math. He tells the story of Abraham Wald during World War II, who worked for the Statistical Research Group (SRG).
Value’s Lifeblood is Performance Chasers
While listening to Rob Arnott on a recent Morningstar podcast, I became enamored with something that Arnott was emphatic about. He pointed out that the structural advantage of being a contrarian isn’t being smarter. Every winning purchase in the stock market comes as an opportunity cost to the seller.
Value in the Four-Minute Mile
Due to the pandemic, there is a sense of permanence on Wall Street to what has transpired. This permanence focuses on the changes that we have seen in the recent five months in our daily lives. These changes include shopping online versus shopping in-person, getting takeout versus sitting in a restaurant and working from home instead of talking sports around the water cooler with our colleagues.
The Fear of Stock Market Failure
The stock market is a big place with thousands of investments that you can make as an investor. It’s a frustrating place. There is a myriad of investing disciplines that you can seek out. As a millennial, my generation is learning this for the first time. Don’t kid yourself for one second: they will destroy wealth.
To Hell and Back
Everyone who owned common stocks in the U.S. went through hell in the first quarter of this year. The 36% decline in the S&P 500 Index in February and March was the fastest 36% decline of my lifetime. This hell was especially damaging to those of us who have a positive view of the U.S. economy over the next ten years.
Searching for Peter Lynch
Late last year, there were three people that we observed as optimistic about the prospects of the oil business. These people were Warren Buffett, Sam Zell and Peter Lynch. In revisiting their comments before and after the shutdown of the economy, we can see that two of the three have significantly altered their opinion.
The Façade of Financialized Demand
The capital markets are a highly complex system, where perturbations can cause a tidal change. Every business around the world has been affected by Covid-19. For a profitable business anywhere, this is a calamity. For a business that was losing money before this, it’s a tombstone.
Beware Lazy and Sleepy Investors
Investors have been awoken to the carnage of the last three weeks. These circumstances, while unenjoyable, may be hiding the actual problems with today’s market. The unforeseen circumstances of today are no different than the past.
The Auto-matic Era Ahead: It’s Greased Lightning!
In a recent piece, Bloomberg journalist Keith Naughton laid out a wonderful counter-argument to the consensus of opinions for what the future looks like. His piece, “Millennials Could End Up Being a Boon to the U.S. Auto Market,” talks about the good news of the auto businesses future via Benchmark analyst Mike Ward’s research.
Antithesis of 1981
One of our favorite financial writers is Bloomberg’s John Authers. He recently wrote a tongue-in-cheek article about an investment company by the name of Hindsight Capital. In hindsight, or in the company’s case, Hindsight Capital, he talked about what the firm did and what you should have done over the last ten years to produce outstanding returns.
Newton’s Third Law in Action: ESG
One of the exciting buzz words among advisors and institutional investors is ESG, which stands for Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance. This subject is almost always granted a wonderful panel reception at any conference our firm attends as it is the topic du jour.
Keynes’ General Greatness from Chapter 12
In 1936, John Maynard Keynes penned his work The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. Most of the work was trying to strike against the consensus of economics. Many in the intellectual communities of the west believed in the classical theory of economics.
“Money for Nothin’”: Have we met Dire Straits?
When baby-boomer adults were in their twenties, we sang along with Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits. Their song, “Money for Nothing” defined the era of music videos. We got cable in 1981 and will admit that we were glued to the TV watching music videos of the bands and performers we loved.
As rates fall to zero in most of the world, the line that has been ringing in our mind is “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave!” This is a chorus investors have sung through their capital allocations. We believe the Eagles provided an excellent understanding of what today’s market is giving investors in their song, Hotel California.
The Price of Knowledge
The stock market has a history of torturing highly-valued knowledge. About every seven years a consensus forms around the fastest growing sector of the stock market, or the fastest growing country, or the fastest growing industry.
Value Investing: Business as Usual
For most millennials like myself the last ten years have formed what we believe the business to be: a bull market reinvigorated by the whims of the Federal Reserve Board. If anchoring is a powerful force in investor behavior, the anchor at the depths of our millennial beliefs is that value hasn’t worked.
The Inevitables 2
As I watched this year’s Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting, one thing struck me. There was sheer enthusiasm around the annual shareholder meeting for anything tech-oriented. Yes, it was disclosed that Berkshire had taken a position in Amazon that Friday, but it goes deeper.
Dr. Jekyll Economy Meets Mr. Hyde Markets
In the famous book, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were one human being with a split personality. Dr. Jekyll healed people and Mr. Hyde murdered them. This economic environment and the U.S. stock market have the same kind of split personality.
Academia vs. The Real World – Part 2
We are revisiting our discussion of what the real world is like versus what academics claim in papers and debates. A good way of putting this is “Academia has a tendency, when unchecked (from lack of skin in the game), to evolve into a ritualistic self-referential publishing game.”
Academia vs. The Real World – Part 1
In preparation for a talk, I began to review Sir John Templeton’s track record with the Templeton Growth Fund (TEPLX), which he managed from 1954 to 1991. At the age of 34, with a father that broke into the investment business in 1980, I was very aware of Templeton’s success in his career, but unaware of how the results came to his clients.
Jerry Maguire Stock Market
The actor, Tom Cruise, is as enigmatic as the U.S. stock market. He has made many terrific movies over the years and today’s stock market reminds us of his classic sports movie, Jerry Maguire. Jerry was a top sports agent for a large agency and then suddenly, out of nowhere, was dumped out on the street with one client and a top college recruit to work with.
South Sea Forecast: Stockjobbing Becomes Technology
In 1720, the South Sea Bubble arose from what seemed to be good intentions. The South Sea Company was given an exclusive monopoly on the Spanish Americas in exchange for assuming a large part of England’s debt. The debt holders received preferred shares in the South Sea Company that paid 6% interest.
Disciplined Opportunism: Templeton and Price Revisited
For Templeton and Price to execute a “new era” approach today, we believe they would likely advocate avoiding the S&P 500 Index, mutual funds and ETFs, emphasizing growth stock investing and they would be very careful with ownership of anything related to technology. Price recognized that growth eras don’t continue forever and Templeton went wherever he thought he could make great money buying companies at depressed prices with positive economics. We believe our eight criteria for common stock ownership will shepherd us through this “new era.”
Global Dominance via Stocks, Not War
In the 1960’s, the slogan “Make Love, Not War” became a rally cry for anti-war protestors, but also typified their free love expression. They used the slogan to explain the harshness of the situation in Vietnam and to be countercultural to the capitalist and traditional way of life they saw in American society.
The Voting Machine vs. The Weighing Machine
The patriarch of value investing, Ben Graham, once said, “In the short run the market is a voting machine, but in the long run it is a weighing machine.” His statement is just as profound as the day it was first spoken. However, it is timelessly mystifying to most investors.