Investors exert a great deal of intellectual effort to determine the correct valuation of securities. Economic value is central to our decision making and it plays a major role in our intuitive psyche. In daily life, when we buy a loaf of bread or a tank of gasoline, we tend to have a good idea about what we think is cheap and what’s expensive. We like bargains, don’t enjoy being ripped off, and in the same way we’re inclined to shop for value as consumers, we find value investing intuitively appealing. But here’s the critical difference between buying goods and investing: shopping for investments is speculative while buying stuff isn’t, and speculation activates the part of our mental circuitry that can heat up to a boiling point and overwhelm any rational consideration of value. Continue reading
In my book, “Mastering Uncertainty in Commodities Trading” I argued that security prices “are driven by human psychology and its self-stoking collective action that can sustain major trends spanning many years.” That’s because in speculative decision making, our views about the actions of others can entirely override our rational appraisal of the underlying asset value.
The most recent example of this is the price of Bitcoin that has surged from below $400 in January last year to $4,300 this week. When we set up the Altana Digital Currency Fund several years ago, many people thought that digital currencies were just a strange fad and investors continued to show little interest in them – until very recently. Continue reading
A question frequently arises among trend followers on the nature of effective trading strategies. The old school of thought holds that strategies should be simple, ultra robust and effective across markets and time frames. I happen to disagree so here I share a hard-won piece of knowledge that should help settle this question. Continue reading
Last year I published a report with the (justifiably) bombastic title, “$500 per barrel: could oil price rise tenfold?” One of my central claims was that producing oil requires investment of real capital including materials, equipment and highly skilled labor, and that, “as more and more resources are required to generate the same amount of liquid fuels, energy production is becoming ever more expensive to society in real terms.” Thus, as it becomes more expensive in real terms (as the deteriorating EROEI figures indicate), the fact that energy has recently become cheaper in nominal (dollar) terms can only be a temporary abberation. EROEI stands for energy return on energy invested; in the early 1900s, we obtained 100 barrels euqivalent of oil per barrel invested (EROEI of 100 to 1); today we are at about 15 to 1 globally and at 11 to 1 in the USA. Continue reading
Participants in financial markets have to deal with uncertainty on a daily basis. Their need to research and understand markets has given rise to a massive industry delivering security prices, reports and expert analyses to traders and investors seeking to make sense of the markets and predict how they might unfold in the future.
The need to understand stuff is innate to our psychology: when something happens, we almost reflexively want to know why it happened. But the compulsion to pair an effect with its cause sometimes gets us jumping to conclusions. If such conclusions turn out to be mistaken or irrelevant, they could prove useless – or something worse. Consider two recent titles from the ZeroHedge blog, published 89 minutes apart: Continue reading
Over at OilPrice.com Nick Cunningham wrote that Saudi Arabia might finally reveal one of its closest kept secrets as they prepare to sell some 5% of its oil monopoly, Saudi Aramco, to the public. The Saudis and their Wall Street bankers expect Aramco to be valued at $2 to $3 trillion, which would generate north of $100 billion for the Saudis and massive underwriting fees for Wall Street Banks.
Since both the Saudis and Wall Street hope for the highest possible valuation for Aramco, we should not expect that they’ll “unveil” anything less than the rosiest plausible figure for their oil reserves. Continue reading
In June 2011 Carmen Reinhart wrote a paper for the IMF titled “Financial Repression Redux.” She suggested that the current policy of financial repression could ultimately lead to high levels of inflation. Today, five years later it seems like she couldn’t have gotten it more wrong. In spite of the unprecedented monetary expansion, monetization of public debt and swelling central bank balance sheets, deflation seems entrenched. So why worry about inflation at all? In short, because deflation could actually give rise to inflation. Continue reading
Our future is being shaped by an unprecedented monetary experiment run by our central bank mandarins, but a happy ending is a mathematical impossibility. The economic imbalances that resulted in the last, 2008 financial crisis are now much worse and we are facing two possible routes of their resolution. One is a full-blown deflationary depression that could see asset prices drop by 50% or more. The other is a strong and sustained decline in the US Dollar (and other major currencies) with an accelerating commodity price inflation that might span a full decade.
Central banks’ overt commitment to supporting asset prices at all costs suggests that the second scenario may be more probable. In this case, a major stock-market crash could be averted; instead, we could see a significant and sustained rise in equity markets, as was the case most recently during the Zimbabwean and Venezuelan inflations, as well as the Argentinian, Brazilian, Israeli and German inflations before that. Below is the chart showing the appreciation of Israel All Share index during the country’s inflationary crisis in the 1980s: Continue reading
Frank Knight, the grand old man of Chicago wrote “Risk, Uncertainty and Profit,” one of the five most important economics books of the 20th century. Among other invaluable insights, Knight proposes that, “The responsible decisions in organized economic life are price decisions; others can be reduced to routine.” Knight recognized that price at which a firm sells its products or purchases materials tends to have greater impact on profitability than any other element. Based on the income statement of an average S&P 1500 company (and assuming constant sales volumes), a 1% improvement in the selling price would generate an 8% increase in operating profits. Conversely, a 1% drop in the cost of goods sold would lead to a 5.36% increase in operating profits. This impact was more than double that of a 1% increase in sales volume. For commodity businesses where operating margins are typically very low, hedging can have a much greater impact on profitability. Continue reading
Sugar prices have soared on the CSCE (Coffee, Sugar and Cocoa exchange) from just over $0.10 per pound in August 2015 to over $0.23 at present – a fairly sharp jump by any standard, particularly after several years of continuously falling prices. I trade sugar using our trend-following model and to channel my inner Donald Trump – we’ve done tremendously well, generating a respectable grosss annualized return of nearly 10% per annum over a 5-year period. Now, the main reason I find this remarkable is that I know next to nothing about the fundamental economics of the sugar market. I know it goes into biscuits and beverages, that it comes from sugar cane or sugar beets, but that’s about it. Continue reading