Sunday, August 31, 2008

Market Bottoms

A very common sense article about what differenciates market bottoms from market tops:

The Aleph Blog: The Fundamentals of Market Bottoms
The Investor Base Becomes Fundamentally-Driven

1) Now, by fundamentally-driven, I don’t mean that you are just going to read lots of articles telling how cheap certain companies are. There will be a lot of articles telling you to stay away from all stocks because of the negative macroeconomic environment, and, they will be shrill.

2) Fundamental investors are quiet, and valuation-oriented. They start quietly buying shares when prices fall beneath their threshold levels, coming up to full positions at prices that they think are bargains for any environment.

3) But at the bottom, even long-term fundamental investors are questioning their sanity. Investors with short time horizons have long since left the scene, and investor with intermediate time horizons are selling. In one sense investors with short time horizons tend to predominate at tops, and investors with long time horizons dominate at bottoms.

4) The market pays a lot of attention to shorts, attributing to them powers far beyond the capital that they control.

5) Managers that ignored credit quality have gotten killed, or at least, their asset under management are much reduced.

6) At bottoms, you can take a lot of well financed companies private, and make a lot of money in the process, but no one will offer financing then. M&A volumes are small.

7) Long-term fundamental investors who have the freedom to go to cash begin deploying cash into equities, at least, those few that haven’t morphed into permabears.

8 ) Value managers tend to outperform growth managers at bottoms, though in today’s context, where financials are doing so badly, I would expect growth managers to do better than value managers.

9) On CNBC, and other media outlets, you tend to hear from the “adults” more often. By adults, I mean those who say “You should have seen this coming. Our nation has been irresponsible, yada, yada, yada.” When you get used to seeing the faces of David Tice and James Grant, we are likely near a bottom. The “chrome dome count” shows more older investors on the tube is another sign of a bottom.

10) Defined benefit plans are net buyers of stock, as they rebalance to their target weights for equities.

11) Value investors find no lack of promising ideas, only a lack of capital.

12) Well-capitalized investors that rarely borrow, do so to take advantage of bargains. They also buy sectors that rarely attractive to them, but figure that if they buy and hold for ten years, they will end up with something better.

13) Neophyte investors leave the game, alleging the the stock market is rigged, and put their money in something that they understand that is presently hot — e.g. money market funds, collectibles, gold, real estate — they chase the next trend in search of easy money.

14) Short interest reaches high levels; interest in hedged strategies reaches manic levels.


No Bottom Yet

There are some reasons for optimism in the present environment. Shorts are feared. Value investors are seeing more and more ideas that are intriguing. Credit-sensitive names have been hurt. The yield curve has a positive slope. Short interest is pretty high. But a bottom is not with us yet, for the following reasons:

* Implied volatility is low.
* Corporate defaults are not at crisis levels yet.
* Housing prices still have further to fall.
* Bear markets have duration, and this one has been pretty short so far.
* Leverage hasn’t decreased much. In particular, the investment banks need to de-lever, including the synthetic leverage in their swap books.
* The Fed is not adding liquidity to the system.
* I don’t sense true panic among investors yet. Not enough neophytes have left the game.

Not all of the indicators that I put forth have to appear for there to be a market bottom. A preponderance of them appearing would make me consider the possibility, and that is not the case now.

Some of my indicators are vague and require subjective judgment. But they’re better than nothing, and kept me in the game in 2001-2002. I hope that I — and you — can achieve the same with them as we near the next bottom.
Via The Big Picture.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Risk Manager

Very good article how a risk manager sees the current debacle:

The Economist: Confessions of a risk manager
An insider explains why it is so hard to stop traders behaving recklessly
But we did not believe that prices on AAA assets could fall by more than about 1% in price. A 20% drop on assets with virtually no default risk seemed inconceivable—though this did eventually occur.
The focus of our risk management was on the loan portfolio and classic market risk. Loans were illiquid and accounted for on an accrual basis in the “banking book” rather than on a mark-to-market basis in the “trading book”. Rigorous credit analysis to ensure minimum loan-loss provisions was important. Loan risks and classic market risks were generally well understood and regularly reviewed.
The gap in our risk management only opened up gradually over the years with the growth of traded credit products such as CDO tranches and other asset-backed securities. These sat uncomfortably between market and credit risk. The market-risk department never really took ownership of them, believing them to be primarily credit-risk instruments, and the credit-risk department thought of them as market risk as they sat in the trading book.

The explosive growth and profitability of the structured-credit market made this an ever greater problem. Our risk-management response was half-hearted.
Gradually the structures became more complicated. Since they were held in the trading book, many avoided the rigorous credit process applied to the banking-book assets which might have identified some of the weaknesses.
Collective common sense suffered as a result. Often in meetings, our gut reactions as risk managers were negative. But it was difficult to come up with hard-and-fast arguments for why you should decline a transaction, especially when you were sitting opposite a team that had worked for weeks on a proposal, which you had received an hour before the meeting started. In the end, with pressure for earnings and a calm market environment, we reluctantly agreed to marginal transactions.

Over time we accumulated a balance-sheet of traded assets which allowed for very little margin of error. We owned a large portfolio of “very low-risk” assets which turned out to be high-risk. A small price movement on billions of dollars’ worth of securities would translate into large mark-to-market losses.
We had not fully appreciated that 20% of a very large number can inflict far greater losses than 80% of a small number.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

John Paulson

Wow, this is ironic.

Die Zeit: Die Global Zocker
Hinter ihm liegt ein langes Wochenende – eines, an dem das amerikanische Finanzsystem bedrohlich wackelte, weil die Investmentbank Bear Stearns Bankrott angemeldet hat. Auch Paulson hat seine Gelder dort, über Bear Stearns wickelte er die Käufe und Verkäufe für seinen Fonds ab. Das ganze Wochenende hat er in Meetings verbracht, Besprechungen am Telefon geführt. Bis klar war, sein Geld ist sicher: JP Morgan übernimmt Bear Stearns, und die amerikanische Notenbank hilft beim Kauf.

Dass Paulson den ehemaligen amerikanischen Notenbankchef Alan Greenspan vor Kurzem als Berater eingestellt hat, hat an jenem Wochenende wahrscheinlich nicht geschadet.
As you may recall, John Paulson made USD 15 billion in 2007 betting on a melting sub prime market. So if you ask, where did the money go that UBS etc. lost, well, he has a chunk of it now. Nice play money. But maybe he has a better idea what to do with it, so I thought.

Just funny that he kept it at Bear Stearns. Imagine it would have all vanished again in a Bear Stearns meltdown, haha, easy come, easy go. But apparently Greenspan not only helped him to make the money... I wonder how much help Phil Gramm is for UBS today?!


Saturday, August 02, 2008


Fortis bows to pressure and ousts CFO
the ambitious ABN Amro deal, which saw Fortis take over its Dutch rival’s retail banking, private banking and asset management arms for €24bn last autumn.

The move, undertaken in concert with Royal Bank of Scotland and Santander of Spain, landed Fortis in a precarious position even after it undertook Europe’s second-largest rights issue ever, worth €13.4bn, to finance it.

The bank then startled investors in June when it scrapped its interim dividend and raised a further €1.5bn of equity as part of a plan to boost its capital reserves by €8.3bn in spite of assurances that no such move was necessary.

Shares in Fortis, which yesterday rose 8 cents to €9.16, are worth a third of their €29 peak before the crunch, leaving the bank with a market capitalisation worth less than what it paid to enter the ABN Amro deal.
Not long ago Fortis used to pay a dividend of EUR 1.40 per share annually. Obviously the market didn't believe this was sustainable and was right (would be a dividend yield of over 15 % otherwise).