Sunday, January 29, 2012 3 comments ++[ CLICK TO COMMENT ]++

Baltic Dry Index Approaches Multi-decade Low

One of the biggest bubbles over the last decade was the shipping bubble. Driven by the trade boom with China and other emerging markets, large investments were made in ships. Companies mortgaged their future and purchased a large number of ships, with the assumption of good times continuing forever. Long-time readers may recall when I wondered about the industry (from a contrarian point of view) back in 2009 in this post and this one. Time flies but even then, it seems like the shipping industry is still working through its overcapacity problem. It's interesting to note that they are still having problems—this, without China entering any slump, yet. Marketwatch reports,

The warning signs being flashed by the collapsing Baltic Dry Index (BDI), a leading global economic indicator, may reflect the folly of misguided expectations during the prior global economic boom, according to Hong Kong-based shipping analysts.

New super-sized ships ordered up during the era of cheap credit and surging global trade could explain the index’s 57% plunge in the last three weeks, according to Macquarie Research, which described this month’s BDI drop as “relentless” and “extreme.”

Shipping companies appear to have jinxed their own industry by ordering up too many grand ships when conditions looked very favorable before 2008.

Meanwhile, further new capacity, equivalent to 22.7% of the existing fleet, is due to be delivered this year, according to Macquarie calculations.
The Baltic Dry Index (BDI) hit a low back in late-2008/early-2009 and I didn't think it would decline back to that level again, but it appears to have happened. The following chart from illustrates how the BDI has collapsed lately.

The index is very volatile but the move in the last month has been spectacular, with it down almost 70% within one month. From a long-term point of view, the index is approaching the multi-decade low set in 2009.

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Sunday Spectacle CLIX

Warren Buffett Speech
at the
University of Georgia 
Terry College of Business

Thanks to Aniruddha "Andy" Kardile's League of Extraordinary Value Investors blog
for bringing this to my attention.)

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Saturday, January 28, 2012 1 comments ++[ CLICK TO COMMENT ]++

Traders and Computer Trading

The Globe & Mail's Report on Business magazine had a short blurb on the current state of computer trading in Canada. As many readers are likely aware, a huge chunk of the trading that occurs on stock exchanges presently comes from computer trading (such as high-frequency trading and computer-driven arbitrage).

I am not a trader and most readers of this blog likely aren't either, but you may be interested to see how the short-term traders act. Trading has always been tough—to make matters worse, many of the markets they operate in are zero-sum markets!—but now they are competing against computers following algorithms. I have never been a trader, and am not familiar with professional traders either, so it's not clear to me if the current environment is harder for the professionals. Instead of relationships, now it's down to the strength of the algorithms and computing power. As for amateur traders, I suspect the situation is probably the same as a decade ago (for small traders, whether you are competing against trading houses with massive capital and skill, or against powerful computers with a lot of money spent developing algorithms, it's probably the same difficulty).

The article profiled a few key players in Canada and had the following graphic on how some traders behave when trading against a computer.

(as usual, click on image for bigger picture)


During & After Open

(source: "The people behind Bay Street's trading supercomputers" by Tim Kiladze. Report on Business, The Globe & Mail. Last Updated January 27, 2012)

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Monday, January 23, 2012 1 comments ++[ CLICK TO COMMENT ]++

Opinion: Do the Flaws With Private Equity Need Fixing?

(Image by Downloaded from

In his latest for The New Yorker, James Surowiecki points out two major flaws with private equity as it currently operates. In particular, he raises the carried interest controversy and the notion that private equity uses debt to extract profits, while, at times, running the company into the ground. Should the government scrutinize how private equity is allowed to operate in America?

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Sunday, January 22, 2012 1 comments ++[ CLICK TO COMMENT ]++

Sunday Spectacle CLVIII

Will China Ever be As Rich as USA?

China's total GDP will surpass USA within a few decades simply due to its larger population. But will each of its citizens be as rich as USA soon?

There is nothing to say China—or some other country—won't ever surpass the wealth of USA on a per capita basis, but it's not as likely as many assume. The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas examined this question in their June 2011 Economic Letter (bolds by me):
So, is it likely that Chinese living standards will ever match those in the U.S.? To get a handle on this question, it is useful to look at other countries’ experiences over a long period. Many nations underwent development miracles in the latter half of the 20th century. Reviewing data on the evolution of global living standards over the period reveals two interesting facts. First, there are several countries where per capita GDP exceeds that of the U.S., often by significant amounts. Almost all of these nations are oil exporters. For them, per capita GDP may not accurately measure living standards because a significant component of economic activity involves depleting the country’s natural resources or wealth. Thus, we exclude those nations from the analysis.

Second, other countries with per capita GDP significantly exceeding the U.S. level are generally small, with large, offshore financial centers. Given the well-known difficulties associated with determining financial-sector output, per capita GDP in such nations may not accurately measure living standards. So we also exclude them.

The FedRed examined data of all the countries, excluding those filtered out as described above, over the last 50 years and produced the following scatterplots:

The chart above shows growth rate (y-axis) versus real GDP per capita (which is a proxy for income). It should be obvious how as we move to the right (income increases), growth rates slow down. According to this data, barely any country grows beyond 10% per year (real) once GDP per capita surpasses $10,000 or so (do note that some oil-rich and tiny, financials-oriented, countries are excluded).

The second chart is a bit more confusing and illustrates how countries perform as they get closer to the US GDP per capita level. Since the US GDP per capita has varied over time, this chart is way more confusing than it seems and it's hard to discern much from it.

The best chart of the bunch is the one above. It shows G7 members, which includes some super-star growth countries in the post-war period. Countries like Germany (dark-green square), Italy (grey), and Japan (aqua) had spectacular growth in the post-1950's period as they were rebuilt from a low, war-destroyed, level. Even with amazing growth, the fast-growing Germany, Japan, et al, have not been able to surpass USA's GDP per capita.

The country that is closest to USA, in terms of wealth, is Canada (purple). One can think of Canada as the slightly-poorer neighbour down the street. Canada hasn't seen as strong a growth as Europe but it has kept pace with USA. As USA became wealthier (move to the right on the chart), Canada has grown at a similar level (the vertical gap to the 100% line has generally stayed the same).

The author finishes his report by saying,

Why do countries fail to reach U.S. living standards? Therein lies something of a mystery. Economists speak of a middle-income transition, or middle-income trap, where previously rapidly growing economies slow down dramatically and never achieve the same standard of living as the technological leader. The reasons for this are unclear. It may be that policies appropriate for one stage of development are less effective at later stages and that the institutional structure lacks the agility to adjust as circumstances change.

In a recent paper, economists Barry Eichengreen, Donghyun Park and Kwanho Shin examined a large number of growth slowdowns over the past 50 years (declines in per capita GDP growth rates of at least 2 percentage points from rates of at least 3.5 percent per annum).

The economists looked for factors correlated with these declines.They found that the slowdowns tend to occur when per capita GDP reaches about $17,000 in 2005 PPP-adjusted dollars and when per capita GDP reaches about 58 percent of per capita GDP in the lead country. Maintenance of an undervalued exchange rate also appeared correlated with the slowdowns.


In 1820, China was responsible for about one-third of global GDP, while the U.S. accounted for just 1.8 percent. So, the likely shift in relative size in the next decade is in some ways simply a return to what we previously experienced. Even then, U.S. living standards were twice those of China. If China were to become the first country to completely close the gap with the U.S., it would mark a significant break with development patterns observed over the past half-century.

(source: "Will China Ever Become as Rich as the U.S.?" by Mark A. Wynne, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Economic Letter—Insights from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Vol. 6, No. 6, June 2011)

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012 12 comments ++[ CLICK TO COMMENT ]++

Evaluation of Netflix's Financials

Netflix Headquarters
(Image source: Getty Images, via Huffington Post)

I took a look at some of the qualitative aspects Netflix (NFLX) in prior posts (here and here) and it's time we look at the financials. I think any success or failure with Netflix's stock will still come down to its business model and competitive dynamics but, nevertheless, the financials provide a valuation guide for an entry point.

The stock has run up so much this month that its valuation isn't attractive right now. Most of the shareholders of Netflix—or at least those represent a big chunk of the volume—appear to be growth investors or momentum traders, so you will see more volatility in this stock than a typical company.

As I have mentioned before, Netflix is going through a major transformation, from a DVD-by-mail business to an online streaming business, so its financials prior to 2010 aren't reflective of its future. Furthermore, the company has grown so rapidly within an year that focusing on a few quarters is more insightful. I decided to look at quarterly numbers, which typically isn't a good idea with most companies.

(I had good feedback on my prior post so feel free to leave your comments, challenge my views, and point out any mistakes.)

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Sunday, January 15, 2012 1 comments ++[ CLICK TO COMMENT ]++

Sunday Spectacle CLVII

The Technology Ecosystem Demystified

(source: "Startup Ecosystem: Predator vs. Prey" Downloaded from Original source: udemy blog)

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012 1 comments ++[ CLICK TO COMMENT ]++

How Much of a Threat are Technology Companies to Netflix? How About UltraViolet?

One the claims by some Netflix bears is that technology companies like Microsoft and Apple will be a huge threat. Although things can change, technology companies are unlikely to compete successfully in fixed price video streaming services (they can, however, do fine in pay-for-download or pay-per-view digital content businesses). You get a feel for this with the following Reuters story via The Globe & Mail on Microsoft:

Microsoft Corp has put its talks with media companies about an online subscription service for TV shows and movies on hold, according to people familiar with the discussions.

The technology giant had been in intense talks with potential programming partners for over a year and was hoping to roll out the service in the next few months. But it pulled back after deciding that the licensing costs were too high for the business model Microsoft envisaged, according to these people.

“They built Microsoft TV, they demoed it for us, they asked for rate cards but then said ‘ooh ah, that’s expensive,’ ” said one senior media executive who had been involved in the talks.

I suspect this story will play out numerous times with other technology companies.

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Sunday, January 8, 2012 18 comments ++[ CLICK TO COMMENT ]++

A Look at Netflix's History and Its Business Transformation

It's hard to imagine how I haven't purchased a stock in over two years — certainly not a good way to succeed in investing :( One of my New Year's resolutions is to focus more on investing and work much harder. In any case, I have been researching Netflix (NFLX) lately and it keeps getting more interesting by the minute. I remember an anonymous reader said in my prior post he/she thought Netflix was worth around $50 to $60 per share and he/she would buy it around $40. Well, the stock did decline to $62, before skyrocketing recently. There was also a roughly 10% dilutive capital raise in the last few months so the stock price is close to the range of the anonymous poster. It's still a high risk stock—it can easily go bankrupt within 10 years—but some of its qualities seem attractive.

I took a preliminary look at its business model and competitive environment in this post about two months ago, and thought I would write up its background and the transformation it is undergoing, or at least my understanding of it. I was actually writing a post analyzing its financials but the business change was important and I ended up writing quite a bit about it. I'll save my thoughts about its financials for a future post.

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Interview with Elon Musk

Elon Musk is the co-founder of PayPal, SpaceX, Tesla, and SolarCity. He is through-and-through an entrepreneur with a technical mind and "scientific ambition" — by scientific ambition I mean those that dream of things that don't exist. People like Elon Musk are the ones that can have a big impact on society.

Those interested in science, particularly clean energy and space, or entrepreneurship will like the following video. The video is Elon Musk's answers to questions posed by reddit.

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Sunday Spectacle CLVI

Hate to Say It,
E-mail Spam Actually Works

(click on image for larger pic)

(source: "Spam Works," Bloomberg Businessweek. December 2011)

Sunday, January 1, 2012 0 comments ++[ CLICK TO COMMENT ]++

The Year That Was, 2011

How Was 2011?

Here are some items from 2011... to keep you entertained in 2012.

(anything marked with stars are worth checking out)

A Picture is Worth
a Thousand Words

The Big Picture -

The Big Picture -

The Big Picture -

Business & Investing

 * Top Business Scandals of 2011 *
The Globe & Mail

Stars and Dogs of 2011
The Globe & Mail

10 Worst Business Predictions of 2011

Ten Most Unusual Interview Questions of 2011

RIM’s year to forget: Where did it all go wrong?
Financial Post

A Big, Big, World

The Year that Was
The New Yorker

 * The Top Science Stories of 2011 *
Scientific American

The Top Scientific Discoveries of 2011

Tech 2011: Biggest News Stories of the Year

 * The Verge Year in Review *
The Verge

Major Cyber Security Events of 2011
Financial Post Tech Desk

 * Canada's Top 10 Technology Stories of 2011 *
Financial Post Tech Desk

2011: A Huge Year for Social Media

For the Literate
The New Yorker

The Verge
The New York Times

The 11 Best History Books of 2011
Maria Popova for Brain Pickings

The 11 Best Photography Books of 2011
Maria Popova for Brain Pickings

The Best Food Books of 2011
Maria Popova for Brain Pickings

 * The 11 Best Psychology & Philosophy Books of 2011 *
Maria Popova for Brain Pickings

The 11 Best Biographies & Memoirs of 2011
Maria Popova for Brain Pickings

 * The 11 Best Science Books of 2011 *
Maria Popova for Brain Pickings

 * The 11 Best Art & Design Books of 2011 *
Maria Popova for Brain Pickings

Essays to Sooth the Mind

 * Longform Best of 2011 *


 * Roger Ebert's Top 10 Films of 2011 *
Rogert Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

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Sunday Spectacle CLV

Happy New Year!

Here's to Prosperous 2012 for
You & Your Family!