Why being permanently bullish is the best place to be

Topic: there is always a good opportunity to invest somewhere

Conclusion: I’m a perma bull, and you probably should be one too


Hi,

“I felt like a one-eyed person, lacking depth of vision, stumbling around, missing half the picture, often being blind-sided and having to correct my inputs and bearings. It still beats everybody else though, in this land of the blind.”

There’s always something to be happy about
The grass is always greener where I am, or how does that saying go again?

I am what you would call a perma bull; I’m always happy about something, looking forward to things to come, enjoying planning for them, or simply relishing in whatever activity I’ve chosen for the moment.

The world of investments works in the same fashion; there is always a good opportunity to invest somewhere. At any one point there is a fixed amount of wealth (people, tools, machines and assets), even if the amount of debt and currency associated with that wealth varies. Over time, wealth usually rises (more people, more tools, more buildings, more dug up gold and gems). The receipts (e.g., dollar bills) on that wealth always need to go somewhere, bidding up the price for that particular piece of wealth – and that’s where you want to be exposed.

It’s never exactly clear where the dollars are going next, but sometimes it’s slightly less difficult than other times, to guess at a likely turn of events. In any case, there is always some asset being significantly underrated compared to other assets. Usually investors will find it sooner or later; first a few hesitant hands and later attracting the masses, thus with time making it overappreciated and promising low or even negative returns. By then, there are tremendous opportunities somewhere else.


Swedish Central Bank:

Our best estimate for a reasonable rate hike

50 000 basis points

Back in 1992, I had studied business administration, accounting, securities and derivatives valuation etc at Stockholm School of Economics for two years. From a macroeconomic perspective those were turbulent times: One of my professors actually suggested students change banks due to the risk of bankruptcy, and the Swedish central bank raised its policy rate by almost 50 000 basis points to 500 per cent.

Sprezza:

Buying call options on banks heading for state receivership

 

Meanwhile I was trying to buy call options on all but defunct Swedish banks.

Yes, I was a perma bull with no regard to the downside.

The year after, in 1993, I started buying tech stocks in earnest. My “well diversified” portfolio consisted of two stocks: Ericsson (the “safe” bet) and Måldata (a small IT consultancy; “to add some upside volatility”).

In 1994, bears be damned, I became a finance pro: I took a job at a small brokerage, while the doomsday debt clock on the central square outside my window counted the steps toward default and ruin for the Swedish model.

Armed with DCF and CAPM models, straight out of my still warm textbooks, I promptly issued Buy recommendations on construction companies, medical technology firms, computer manufacturers and IT services and software companies. I even through in a few chemical industry companies in the perpetual Buy Everything mix back in 1994-1995.

A perma bull is hard to slow down apparently

In 1996 I took a new job as the head of IT research at Sweden’s largest bank. By then I had become bolder than ever (albeit quite fitting, considering the budding tulip bubble IT boom), thinking others just lacked the right visionary capabilites that I had. My bullish research reports on mainly software companies knew no boundaries at the time, and soon I included so called internet consultancies and a Virtual Reality firm as well. Buy Buy Buy.

Visionary Sprezza

The LTCM and Asian currency crises in 1997-1998 didn’t deter me the slightest: “Temporary!” and “Buy the dip!”, were my mantras.

Toward the end of 1999, however, I finally realized things had gotten out of hand, and by February 2000 I threw in the towel regarding IT shares as well as my then employer, and moved to a hedgefund instead. With my sunny disposition there was always only upside (a start-up hedge fund in March 2000; what could possibly go wrong). For me, that is. For the market not so much.

And that recent LTCM hedge fundcrash in 1998? I couldn’t care less. I was joining a “completely different” hedge fund. With only upside! (actually that turned out to be true — or how does “European Hedge Fund Of The Decade 2000-2009” sound to you?

The three years that followed we (Futuris/Brummer) could do no wrong. E.g., there were always interesting new opportunities to sell short ridiculously valued and cash consuming IT companies. Despite personnel issues at our firm, perma-bull me saw only rainbows and gold all around and in the future. Sure, regarding the stock market, I thought many stocks would fall to just a tenth of their values, but every one of those were “special cases”, and I never predicted doom for the economy or the stock market or financial system as a whole. I definitely was a bull. For me that is, and for the firm, and for short positions on tech stocks.

At the time, and quite often today too, I felt like a one-eyed person, lacking depth of vision, stumbling around, missing half the picture, often being blind-sided and having to correct my inputs and bearings. Yes, I actually gradually became aware of my shortcomings. It still beat everybody else though, in this land of the blind called finance.

In 2004-2006 I focused more on banks, hotels, cruise ships and professional services rather than purely on software companies; and boy was I bullish on banks back then!

There were buybacks to the tune of 7 per cent a year, and dividends at a similar rate on top of that, while P/B ratios were between just 1 and one and a half. Growth was fast, returns were high and credit losses were non-existent. Perma-bull as I am I bought everything, including the recycling company Tomra (Wait, what? Software, Banks,… and Tomra?) which gave me a 100% return in less than a year. What can I say, if you’re bullish, you’re bullish.

In 2006, my bullishness toward stocks waned, but I still managed to find a handful of promising small cap companies and took outsized positions in them. Bad move. Blind bull move. When markets started turning downward in the run-up to the bursting of the housing bubble, and onset of the financial crisis, those smaller companies proved very hard to sell.

“Yes, I’m currently perma bullish on gold”

Stock market bullish-me took a harder hit than ususal in 2007-2008, since I was 1) hit hard on a few long positions right before, and 2) I was proven right* on my house bubble thesis, as well as 3) made a killing on bank shorts* throughout 2008. I imagine gambling addicts are hooked by similar principles*.

* there is nothing more detrimental for an investor than being right on a bearish call

Since then, I’m still a perma bull in every aspect that counts, but not quite so much regarding public stocks. When they are expensive relative to sales, profits and the price of commodities and precious metals, I’d rather stay away and project my inherent and eternal bullishness on other things.

The Buying Opportunity Of The Decade
Actually, in the fall of 2010, when my partners were leaning towards going short again, I wrote a couple of memos (e-mails), where I called the situation “the buying opportunity of the decade”, based on a lot of slack in the economy (exactly the opposite of the current situation).

Since 2015 I’ve regularly been called a “perma bear” (typically by people with less than 10 years of investing experience), and it’s true I’ve had a very negative view of the prospectice returns for the stock market as a whole for a few years. On the other hand I’ve invested heavily in start-ups and scale-ups, all probably depending on the economy staying strong. At the same time I’ve increased my exposure to gold manyfold. Yes, I’m currently perma bullish on gold too.

I’m writing this as I once again saw somebody caliing John Hussman a perma bear on Twitter. Actually, dr Hussman’s history is similar to mine; just longer, better and more objectively based on research. Still, being wrong-footed in just the latest up-cycle is enough to make people, with no understanding of the word, call out thoughtful and accomplished investors like him as “perma bears”.

How about you? Is the grass always grener where you are? Are you too a perma bull like me? What does your bull/bear story look like? And if you don’t have one, due to too little experience, I suggest you tread very carefully the coming years.

My most humble regards,

/Sprezza

P.S. Check out my interview on Future Skills with Erik Townsend from MacroVoices. That guy has a lot of wisdom to share about skills, education, analysis and much more. You can find a direct link to the episode here

My worst investment mistakes

This post exists in audio format in English here.

This post, however, is in Swedish (and it’s actually just a few excerpts from the real thing here). Try this post in English instead — about economic stimulus.


Lärdomar från mitt värsta investeringsmisstag

Trots att jag agerade moderator på en nyckelpresentation för Prosolvia i samband med börsnoteringen, och blev lite av en andra talesperson för aktien, efter deras huvudfirma Carnegie, så lyckades jag missa Prosolvias bokföringstricks och kommande konkurs ända in i det sista. Eftersom jag hade hunnit fylla 25 år och jobbat som professionell och högt rankad finansanalytiker i flera år fanns inga ursäkter.

fortsätt läsa via den här länken till min gästhamn hos Vontobel

Men, min absolut sämsta investering på alla sätt — och där jag har absolut ingenting att skylla på — gäller en blankningsposition i ett europeiskt bankindex andra halvåret 2013. Misstaget kostade omkring en miljard kronor

fortsätt läsa via den här länken till min gästhamn hos Vontobel

I korthet så hade jag det globala ansvaret för investeringar i bankaktier. När mina blankningar förlorade pengar på grund av en serie myndighetsåtgärder sommaren 2013 kunde jag inte förmå mig att stänga positionen utan drog på mig allt större förluster ända tills mina kolleger kunde övertala mig om att jag antagligen inte förstod läget så bra som jag trodde; och därför behövde täcka positionen.

Den miljarden lärde mig en hel del om min egen psykologi, om stop-loss-åtgärder och om att ta reda på vad man vet och vad man inte vet i vanskliga investeringslägen.

fortsätt läsa via den här länken till min gästhamn hos Vontobel

Vad lärde jag mig av den här historien och hur kan du eller jag använda de insikterna idag? Några av de viktigaste punkterna gäller kommunikation, förenkling och ifrågasättande:

  • När förlusterna börjar stiga i en position, utgå från att…
  • Skapa en trovärdig bild av hur motståndarsidan…
  • Även om en bank är insolvent och tekniskt konkursmässig så…
  • Tyvärr utgick jag istället från att…
  • När förlusterna börjar stiga i en position, utgå från att du faktiskt inte förstår hela situationen eller har tillgång till all väsentlig information. Försök istället ta reda på vem som kan sitta på viktiga pusselbitar och kontakta den personen.

fortsätt läsa via den här länken till min gästhamn hos Vontobel

Are you exploiting the power of negativity to its fullest?

As if a hundred short sellers screamed in agony* and suddenly fell silent

-“funding secured”

(*actually not, rather they celebrated, knowing the endgame had finally arrived; since knowing the facts rather than a wishful narrative, they understood the action was the last desperate act of a fraudster at the end of his rope)


Topic: why all the negativity?

Discussion: investors are on balance long biased and thus need an opposing view for balance

Conclusion: more pessimism (almost) always leads to a more balanced view

Bonus: a little tip regarding perspective, productivity and happiness (asking past friends for advice)


With a little help from my (previous) friends

You know the 150 people you actually know? They aren’t the same as they were 10 years ago. If you’re serious in your quest for a fresh perspective on things, write an e-mail and ask for your advice from your old network (I got the idea from the book about networking effectively, that Anna Svahn is writing as we speak).

Tip: start by expressing some appreciation and if possible provide something of value. Givers are more successful than matchers and takers. And appreciative people are happier.


The curious case of the lone genius giga fraudster

Let’s forget for a while that Tesla is burning a billion dollars every three months (e.g., cash flow was -1.3 to -1.4bn in Q2), and that it’s effectively running out of money by the turn of the year, unless it manages to raise new capital by then. Nota Bene, this isn’t controversial; it’s a financial fact.

Tesla has over 10 billion dollars in debt. Tesla holds a billion dollars in client deposits. Tesla has a negative net working capital of 3 billion dollars, giver or take. Tesla has 1 billion in convertible debt maturity effectively coming up by the turn of the year. Tesla has at least half a billion of its cash reserves where it can’t be accessed. Anyway, let’s forget about money running out in just a few months, since that’s not really an issue of cash flow turns positive.

Let’s forget that even though sales have increased at an impressive rate, so have losses and executive compensation. These are indisputable financial facts. If anything, the numbers are artificially positive due to creative accounting, not least by under reserving for service costs.

Let’s also forget about the quality issues with hastily manufactured tent “lemons”. Let’s also forget about Tesla’s failed attempt at disrupting the “stealership” model, consequently leaving clients to deal with maintenance, repair and spare parts themselves.

Let’s forget about the super high death rate of Tesla drivers.

Let’s also forget about all the weird and lofty claims Elon Musk spouts every opportunity he gets. I’m thinking about new car models, trucks, pick-ups, solar house roofs, solar car roofs, bricks, 1 USD/trip super-mach intercity hyperloops etc., without the necessary factory investments.

Let’s also forget about the hundreds of former Tesla fans, witnessing about poor to non-existent service, about cars being paid for but not delivered, about deposits not being returned on demand, about suppliers not getting paid or are asked to pay money back (!)


Before: several years of a monopoly-like situation + subsidies = increasingly unprofitable

Now: serious competition (BMW, Porsche, Volvo, Jaguar, Audi…) + no subsidies => profits?


Chart by Tesla Charts


Build it and the profits will come

At this point let’s just think about one single thing, since profits and cash flows are what ultimately decide the fate of a company:

Some of the bullish analysts and bag holders of Tesla stock are counting on Tesla and Musk finally turning profitable now that its subsidies are ending and a tsunami of competition (with subsidies) is entering their market.

Wait, what? Wut? Hqr sez wut?

Yup, that’s right, that’s what’s coming now according to bulls. Elon Musk has never turned a profit in any of his companies. The last fifteen years, Tesla has only increasing losses to show for its efforts to exploit its supposed first mover advantage and massive subsidies. But, now, finally, with a deluge of formidable competitors, with as deep pockets as experience in building and testing cars, Tesla is supposed to somehow reap the benefits of… scale, competitive position, increased margins?

Not only that, just as the available market is about to fall by 90% in the coming years, Tesla’s subsidies are going away. Tell me again how that is supposed to finally push margins into positive territory.


OK, back to the fraudster

The bigger the lie, the easier to get away with it, and Tesla is about as big as they get, just like Theranos, Enron and Madoff before that. Or Nick Leeson and Jérôme Kerviel.

Many fraudsters start out with good intentions, probably Elon Musk too. However, as reality catches up with dreams, losses and mistakes have to be swept under the rug. “It’s just temporarily“, they think, “for the greater good in the long term“, they reason, and go on to make bigger and bolder bets to cover up their little mishaps.

An idea about luxury roadsters and other premium cars making profits, that finance investments in mass-market car manufacturing that’s supposed to make even greater profits, instead turn into ever increasing losses and thus the necessity for side-shows of acquisitions and unrealistic innovations.

At some point the well-intentioned and benevolent disruptor realizes his predicament and steps over the fraud line. The genius has now become a fraudster; and with increasing vitriol and intensity he attacks everyone who expresses the least bit of skepticism, while coming up with ever more fantastic claims about breakthroughs that are on an “order of magnitude” above and beyond anything previously seen. At this point the smart money knows the game is up and starts pointing it out, but it takes years (Enron, CDOs, Allied Capital), sometimes decades (Madoff), for the Ponzi scheme to collapse into the surprised and devastated hands of the bag holders.


This is not about Tesla, but about balance and perspective

Why all the negativity? Because almost everybody else has a positive bias. It takes effort and guts to find and relay negative information to a herd of stampeding bulls. Very few bother, since everybody seems to hold nothing but contempt for short sellers, including SEC officials (who famously like to interrogate whistle-blowers and short sellers rather than investigate the actual perpetrators).

It’s simply humans being humans when bullish investors turn a blind eye to all the obvious negative facts, and instead pat each others’ backs, repeating their faith based narrative, “obviously corroborated by the stock price (bro)”. It’s not really their fault. The problem actually lies with bears being too silent, passively allowing gullible bulls to be had for a ride. Humans are gullible by nature; we like a good story and we tend to positivity. We want to believe in stories bout heroes. We want to believe in seeing ourselves becoming rich, in particular if it’s by supporting a good cause at the same time. Fraudsters (whether by design or mistake) take advantage if that trait.

That’s why bears armed with facts are so important. They perform an almost invaluable service in their quest of fact finding and creating balance in the otherwise one-sided bullish narrative. Humans are lazy and blind to other stories than their own. Nothing wrong with that, it’s just our nature. But that’s exactly why the bears are needed: to create perspective, to catalyze questioning and to provide facts and arguments that can be directly measured against whatever the bull story is.


It’s currently the most important story there is

But why Tesla all the time? You keep ranting about Tesla; why the negativity?

It’s because it’s the biggest and simultaneously most obvious house of cards out there. It’s the most unbalanced narrative there is in public markets right now, in terms of the bull story being the least factful and the bear story being the most tangible. There’s almost a hundred billion dollars at stake, not to mention bag holders car owners that have or have not received their cars but stand to lose any kind of warranty, pre-payments or access to spare parts or super-chargers.


Quite often, bear stories are more qualitative than financial in nature, i.e., less numbers based and more speculative regarding troubles ahead. Not too rarely, very high valuations feature in bears’ short stories, although most smart bears know that’s nowhere near what’s needed for a successful short.

Not this time though. This time the bulls are the dreamers, and the bears don’t even need to start talking about the valuation, since Tesla’s money is actually running out (and with no plan for raising new).

No matter how much bloggers, podcasters and successful investors try to dig out the true foundations of the bull story in Tesla, they come up empty handed. It’s all narrative and hope that the lone genius, who so far has accomplished nothing, will soon magically wave his cave dildo, display his magic beans, and create actual profits.

Occam’s razor would long ago just have labelled Musk a fraudster rather than a genius, and all his actions would be all that much easier to explain.

A genius wouldn’t manufacture lemons and losses. A fraudster could. A genius wouldn’t fantasize about products he could never afford to build. A fraudster might as a cover-up. A genius wouldn’t put himself at the mercy of markets (no cash, negative flow). A fraudster would claim funding is secured (even if the claim might prove to be securities fraud). Would an environmentalist genius have five large Bel Air mansions and the biggest private jet there is (G650)? He could, but a fraudster fits the bill better. A genius maybe should have produced profits some time in his history. A fraudster wouldn’t see why. Finally, a genius wouldn’t pump up numbers in collaboration with his brother in an unrelated company and push his board into accepting a takeover at the very peak of that company’s business. A fraudster? Hell yeah!

This last bit is admittedly speculative, but the perspective is still important. No matter, the bull-genius narrative has only dreams, hopes and fantasies in its corner; while the bear-fraudster story is based on facts about sales, costs, profits, production numbers, quality reports, traffic statistics and not least a much more likely and coherent overall picture.


Market perspective

By the way, how’s this for perspective: imagine a private investor, an amateur with less than a decade under his market belt, doing all his research after his ordinary job hours, without any real insight in the inner workings of either the financial industry or that of the stocks he invest in. Imagine that same person thinking he understands more than, oh I don’t know, e.g., Mark Spiegel, David Einhorn, Jim Chanos…, and me.

I know, I know, I know… why would decades of profitably navigating several bull and bear markets, including investing on both the long and short side in hundreds if not thousands of individual companies, no less with the help of a solid financial education, actually having investing as full-time profession, supported by many, many competent co-workers and with access to dozens of the top financial research firms, ever stand a chance against a lone amateur? Or, er, wait a minute…

 

That’s not how herds operate

 

Maybe, just maybe, the unquestioning bulls need to be shaken out of their confirmation bias bubble and start listening to the fact-finding minority. Sure, we are guilty of CB too, but I’m sure all experienced bears make a true effort of mapping out the bull case in as much detail as humanly possible. The bulls? I’m not so sure, that’s not how herds typically behave.

How about you? Are you long or short Tesla, and have you queried the other side for their best arguments and pitched your own against them yet?