Sunday, April 24, 2011 0 comments

Sunday Spectacle CXIX

Bank Exposure to PIIGS Revisited

(source: "Foreign bank claims on PIIGS and core Europe," The Globe & Mail. Published Thursday, Apr. 21, 2011 2:02PM EDT)


As I have suggested in the past, the PIIGS are a problem but they are over-rated (except in the case that Spain or Italy falls—unlikely IMO). In any case, here is a re-hash of the foreign bank exposure to the PIIGS. I covered it in the past but it's always good re-visit this issue. As I have pointed out in the past, countries like Germany and Netherlands aren't necessarily being charitable when they allow ECB to funnel money into the troubled countries; part of the reason is actually because most of their banks are heavily exposed to the PIIGS.

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Saturday, April 23, 2011 0 comments

Reading material for your weekend

Here are some articles I ran across over the last few weeks. Articles near the very-bottom have nothing to do with investing so read it at your discretion.

  • Fortress Paper & Chad Wasilenkoff (Report on Business magazine): Profile of a Canadian success story in the forestry industry
  • "Is Apple once again riding for a fall?" (The Globe & Mail): Eric DeCloet, one of the best business writers in Canada, wonders if Apple is headed for a fall similar to what it experienced in the 90's.
  • (Highly Recommended) John Paulson on the risk in risk arbitrage (market folly; h/t GuruFocus): Good job by market folly on finding this gem from John Paulson. Before Paulson became famous for his bet against real estate, he was mostly into risk arbitrage. Anyone into risk arbitrage should check out the referenced article. (PDF of cited article can be found here.)
  • Is Steve Ballmer hurting Micrsoft? (Fortune): The company has been rock solid but on the other hand, it hasn't advanced much in the last decade.
  • The shale gas revolution (The Wall Street Journal): Some thoughts from an industry insider on (arguably) the biggest business-related revolution in the last decade.
  • (Highly Recommended) What is the right multiple for a stock? (Geoff Gannon for GuruFocus): After going through various valuation schemes, I'm one of those guys who has settled down on valuing companies using a multiple (usually P/E or P/FCF). For such investors, or others who are uncomfortable using DCF, Dividend Discount Model, and so forth, you may want to read this post by the always insightful Geoff Gannon.
  • (Recommended) Success comes from deliberate practice? (Neil Golding for GuruFocus): A good article that suggests that deliberate practice may lead to investment success. There are some good thoughts in the article about what can help an investor and what amounts to wasting time. The author links to an article by Mark Sellers that is worth reading if you haven't done so before (I may have linked to it before; not sure).. I also wrote about deliberate practice a while back and my feeling is that it helps some investment strategies but not others. My feeling back then, as now, is that Buffett-type investors probably don't gain much from deliberate practice whereas something like risk arbitrage or (short-term) trading probably benefits greatly from it.
  • (Recommended) The battle to contain BP's oil spill (The New Yorker): Raffi Khatchadourian is a great writer—readers of the blog may have read his excellent article on Julian Assange of Wikileaks—and this article, on the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, is another great one. If you have interest in oil spills or disasters, or just want some fun non-fiction reading, check out this article.
  • Can Wall Street be Reformed? (The New York Review of Books): Reviews of The Financial Crisis Inquiry Report: Final Report of the National Commission on the Causes of the Financial and Economic Crisis in the United States (paper); Inside Job (a film); Regulating Wall Street: The Dodd-Frank Act and the New Architecture of Global Finance edited by Viral V. Acharya, Thomas F. Cooley, Matthew P. Richardson, and Ingo Walter; Reforming US Financial Markets: Reflections Before and Beyond Dodd-Frank by Randall S. Kroszner and Robert J. Shiller, edited and with an introduction by Benjamin M. Friedman. Mostly of interest to Americans, a lot of ideas about reforming the financial system in America has been bandied about but most of it has been watered down. It remains to be seen what comes of all this. All I know is that the taxpayers aren't going to bail out Wall Street if there is another crisis within the next few decades.
  • The ascent of Lloyd Blankfein (Fortune): Book excerpt of MONEY AND POWER: How Goldman Sachs Came to Rule the World by William D. Cohan. It's fashionable to bash Goldman Sachs these days but let's face it, these are some of the best traders and bankers in the world. They may be sharks but they do their job of killing everything in their path.
  • China set to tap its shale gas assets (Reuters via Financial Post): If China is able to use extract natural gas from its shale assets, it will change the energy markets. Losers will likely be foreign exporters of coal and oil.
  • Slideshow - 25 Most Powerful Businesspeople in Asia (Fortune)
  • (Non-investing) Mysteries of time and the brain (The New Yorker): Interesting article about the mysteries of time and how our brain interprets it (haven't read the article yet but that's what it seems to be about).
  • (Non-investing) "A Different Gandhi" (New York Review of Books): Review of Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India by Joseph Lelyveld. Apparently provides a different perspective of one of the most influential person that ever lived.
  • (Non-investing) Does the Internet promote social freedom and liberty? (New York Review of Books): Review of The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires by Tim Wu and The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom by Evgeny Morozov. I personally think the Internet is the most influential technology/device/invention of the last few hundread years, and put it on par with the printing press, which destroyed the Church and ushered in science and freedoms. So, are we seeing the beginning of the Internet's power and influence on society? Needless to say, governments all over are trying their best to control the Internet and stop it before it gets going.
  • (Non-investing) (Recommended for those interested in Russia or Europe) "The Concealed Battle to Run Russia" (New York Review of Books): Review of The New Nobility: The Restoration of Russia’s Security State and the Enduring Legacy of the KGB by Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan. Can't remember if I linked to this article before but it's an interesting one that delves into the power struggle, imagined or otherwise, between various factions in Russia. Those interested in the subject may also want to check out this NYR blog entry summarizing some of the issues surrounding corruption in Russia... One may also find this New Yorker profile of anti-corruption activist and lawyer, Alexey Navalny, worth reading. In my opinion, the countries that will succeed in the long run are those that are least corrupt—because those that are talented should be rewarded—and Russia's future, like many developing nations, will be dictated largely by how much, or how little, corruption permeates throughout society. Russia's state will also impact the rest of Europe.
  • (Non-investing) "Bogged Down in Libya" by Nicolas Pelham (The New York Review of Books): I haven't been following political events closely of late and am not sure why some Western nations decided to intervene in Libya, or what their over-arching strategy is supposed to be, but one thing is for certain: the fog of war is descending upon Libya.
  • (Non-investing) China cracks down on Ai Weiwei (The New York Review of Books): You can see the power of a totalitarian state like China by observing how it was able to arrest the man who designed the Bird's Nest stadium that was the centerpiece of the Beijing Olympics. Sort of an Andy Warhol, Ai Weiwei was a revolutionary artist and provocateur from China. I haven't read it but there was a detailed profile of Ai Weiwei in the New Yorker last year. If the totalitarian state collapses, I wonder how the businesspeople and investors who profit off the system will be perceived.

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Sunday, April 17, 2011 0 comments

Sunday Spectacle CXVIII

Sources of Government Revenue
(source: "Fair shares," Buttonwood blog, The Economist. April 1, 2011)
Very broadly speaking, the first two groups will fall more heavily on the rich; the last two will absorb more (proportionately) of the income of the poor. To save space, we have shown the top and bottom five OECD nations in each category.

Our many American readers will want to know the exact split of its revenue base. The answer is 40.9% comes from income, profits and capital gains (above the OECD average); 26.9% from social security (just above); 13.6% from property (second overall in the OECD); and 18.5% from goods and services (the lowest of all). In Britain, the equivalent proportions are 38.4%, 19.7%, 12.3% and 29%.
Oh...for the tax-dodgers out there ;)
The optimal strategy for the global tax dodger looks like getting paid in Slovakia, owning a house in Mexico and buying your goods in the US.

 
The difficulty with taxation, of course, is deciding between "fairness" and "ability to pay." In most countries, the wealthy—say the top 25%—earn a disproportionately large amount of the income and own a similarly large amoung of the wealth—usually around 80% of income and assets—so what's the optimal structure?
 
On another note, Doug Sanders at The Globe & Mail wrote a provocative opinion piece suggesting that corporate taxes should be eliminated. Unlike the usual supporters from the right, this view is gaining traction from the left as well. The thought being that corporations are abstract entities and individuals are the ones that pay anyway. Some on the left feel that workers pay for it anyway (i.e. if corporate taxes go up, worker wages or number of jobs are often negatively impacted). If corporations stop paying taxes their influence over government will significantly decline as well. Anyway, an interesting view for sure.

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Thursday, April 14, 2011 0 comments

China Bull (El-Erian) vs Bear (Chanos)

Short-seller Jim Chanos is not always right but since I am a contrarian-wanna-be, I like listening to him. This segment covers a bunch of issues and involves a mini-debate between a China bear, Jim Chanos, and a China bull, Mohamed El-Erian of bond specialist, PIMCO. For what it's worth, Chanos has been bearish on China for years and been wrong.

Chanos' bear thesis hasn't changed and you can brows through some of the my older posts to get his thoughts, including this post where he suggests some short possibilities.


(Direct link with transcript. h/t CanadianValue at GuruFocus)

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Sunday, April 10, 2011 0 comments

Directors of leading American banks have little financial experience

Reuters Breakingviews hired Nestor Advisors to analyze the directorship at leading European and American banks and there are some differences. Jeffrey Goldfarb summarizes the results and here are a couple of things that stand out (do check out his article for further info).

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Sunday Spectacle CXVII

The Book Industry


(source: "The business of book selling," The Globe & Mail, April 8, 2011. Accompanied the article, "Indigo's Heather Reisman faces digital reckoning" by Marina Strauss for The Globe & Mail.)

Something doesn't look right with the numbers in the chart. It says paperbacks are 2.5% of the market and I find that hard to believe.

The most interesting graphic is the bottom bar graph showing the changing industry. The price of a book (hardcover vs e-book) drops from around $25 to $10. The two industries that completely dissapear from the process are the printer and the distributor. The retailing landscape will also change, with retailers earning roughly half of what they used to. However, given how online services tend to be winner-takes-all type of market—not sure if e-books will follow that—the impact on retailers will be significant and only a few will survive. Companies with legacy costs, such as physical bookstores, will suffer at the hands of new (online-focused) entrants.

Everyone—author, publisher, online retailer—ends up with less dollars. This isn't necessarily a bad thing since declining prices may lead to increased sales and, as Chris Anderson has suggested with his Long Tail theory, increasing the quantity of goods should lead to the capture of large but infrequent sales.

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Sunday, April 3, 2011 0 comments

Sunday Spectacle CXVI

Nuclear Power Plants


Ageing Nuclear Power Plants


(source for both images: "When the steam clears," The Economist, March 24, 2011)

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Saturday, April 2, 2011 1 comments

Pretty good interview with Nokia's CEO, Stephen Elop

Yesterday, Nokia CEO, Stephen Elop, made a visit to his alma mater, McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Financial Post interviewed him and it was a very good discussion. In addition to covering Nokia's strategy, it touches on Elop's management style, and his long-term industry outlook.

On an unrelated note, if someone wants to read up on Stephen Elop, here is a detailed article from Canadian Business: "Nokia: The general takes control" (Thomas Watson for Canadian Business. April 11th magazine.)

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