Posts tagged ‘cnbc’

Sukuk: Islamic Loophole for Dubai Debt Debacle

Islamic followers can be capitalists too. Although oil prices (currently around $77 per barrel) have fallen from the peak near $150 per barrel in 2008, oil rich nations have gotten creative in how they raise debt-like financing. Critical to fueling the speculative expansion in some oil rich areas has been the growth in sukuk bonds, which have been created as a function of an exploited loophole embedded in Islamic finance principles.

U.S. Does Not Have Monopoly on Debt Driven Greed

The pricked debt bubble that spanned a range of entities, from Icelandic banks to Donald Trump’s empire (read more),  has now spread to Dubai commercial real estate. At the center of the storm is Dubai World, a quasi-government owned conglomerate of Dubai, which is in the process of negotiating a $26 billion debt restructuring with the government and sukuk bondholders. The overleveraged Dubai market ($80 billion in total debt) is home to the tallest building in the world, largest man-made islands, and a ski-resort based in the desert – all projects built with the help of debt in the face of collapsing real estate prices. Critical to Dubai World’s debt restructuring is a $3.5 billion sukuk bond issued by its commercial real estate subsidiary Nakheel Development (“Nakheel”). So what exactly is a sukuk (plural of sakk)?

Investopedia lists the following definition for sukuk:

“An Islamic financial certificate, similar to a bond in Western finance, that complies with Sharia, Islamic religious law. Because the traditional Western interest paying bond structure is not permissible, the issuer of a sukuk sells an investor group the certificate, who then rents it back to the issuer for a predetermined rental fee. The issuer also makes a contractual promise to buy back the bonds at a future date at par value.”


Sukuk “No-No”s

The generation of money on top of money – interest payments or what’s called “Riba” – is strictly forbidden by Shari’ah law. As a result, issuers must issue and repurchase sukuk at par (original value), not at a discount or a premium. Shari’ah law encompasses more than Islamic law, it also covers the amorphous spiritual and moral obligations demanded from the religious practitioners. In order to ensure compliance with Islamic principles, many financial institutions and funds typically have a Shari’ah Board monitoring the details of the sukuk. Shari’ah law is very consistent with the teachings in the Quran (the Western version of the Bible). Mixing finance and religion may seem strange on the surface, but I guess if we use world history as a proxy, we shouldn’t be surprised that money and Muhammad somehow find a way to coexist.

Click Here to View CNBC Interview on Sukuk Bonds

Sukuk Structure  & Market

The core Islamic finance principles underpinning the sukuk market have been around for more than 1,500 years, but the actual sukuk market was actually introduced in Malaysia around 1990. Since then, the market has been on a continual uptrend. What makes this $1 trillion Islamic debt market (HSBC estimate) even fuzzier is the scores of sukuk structures (See Ijara Sukuk chart below – very similar to a sale-leaseback arrangement), and the diverse geographic issuer/investor base. For example, greater than 60% of Nakheel’s investors are based outside the Middle East (a large portion in Malaysia). Making matters as clear as mud, each geographic region and structure has its own interpretation of legal rights and Shari’ah law. Layer on issues such as derivatives, bankruptcy rights, and penalty fees and you end up with only more complexity. What’s more, many of these sukuk bonds involve Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) – made famous by the off-balance sheet variety used by Enron Corp. – in order to get around the Islamic issuance loopholes.


Source: Moody's Investor Service

Sukuk Liquidity

The illiquidity of sukuk market hasn’t made resolving the Dubai debt restructuring any easier. The sukuk market doesn’t come close to matching the liquidity of traditional corporate and sovereign debt markets. Little trading is done in secondary markets because most investors in sukuk bonds follow a buy and hold strategy. The lion’s share of trading in this immature market gets completed through inter-institution, over-the-counter transactions. A recent $500 million sukuk deal issued by General Electric (GE) last month has only raised awareness for the financing structure (pre-Nakheel restructuring).  As oil rich states strive to diversify their economic bases, I would expect more deals to get done, in spite of the recent Dubai mess. How severe the recent Dubai sukuk black eye will be depends on how Nakheel, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Abu Dhabi, bondholders, and other constituents restructure the pending sukuk obligations by the December 14th deadline.

 The recent debt restructuring talks in Dubai highlight the complexity of this relatively new Islamic financing structure. With very few sukuk bankruptcy cases in existence, the structures remain largely untested and uncertain. How the Dubai debt debacle ultimately gets resolved will have a significant impact on this nascent, but rapidly growing market. Until the sukuk restructuring is settled, Dubai may just need to put the construction of that next man-made island on hold.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Information and data from Moody’s Investor Service (Shari’ah and Sukuk: A Moody’s Primer 5/31/2006), CNBC interview 12/2/09, Financial Times 12/1/09, and other articles. Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at time of publishing had no direct positions in GE. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

December 3, 2009 at 2:00 am 2 comments

Meredith Whitney’s Cloudy Crystal Ball

Meredith Whitney, prominent banking analyst at her self-named advisory group, should have worn a bib to protect her from the adoring drool supplied by Maria Bartiromo in a recent CNBC interview. Ms. Whitney has quickly become a banking rock star during this “Great Recession” period.  She was right at a critical juncture, and as a result she was thrust into the limelight. Much like Abby Joseph Cohen, the perma-bull Goldman Sachs strategist who gained notoriety in the late 1990s, Whitney (the perma-banking bear) will continue having difficulty living up to the lofty expectations demanded of her.

Despite the accolades, Whitney’s crystal ball has gotten cloudy in 2009. I suppose accuracy is not very important, judging by her bottom-half 2007 ranking (year of her major Citigroup call) in recommendation performance and 48%-ile ranking in the first half of 2008. Analysts, much like reporters, can avoid looking dumb by reporting the news du jour and by following the herd. Whitney has followed this formula with her continuous bearishness on the financial sector, excluding a brief but late upgrade of Goldman Sachs in July. Not only was her analysis tardy (Goldman’s stock tripled from the 2009 bottom), but her call has also underperformed the S&P 500 index since the upgrade.

Incoherent Inconsistencies

Like a bobbing and weaving wrestler (her husband John Layfield is a retired staged professional wrestler from the WWE), Whitney tries to concoct a completely mind-boggling narrative to explain her forecasts this year in the CNBC interview with Maria Bartiromo:

11/18/09 (XLF Price $14.60): “For the year, I have been at least ‘cover your shorts, go long.’ I haven’t been this bearish in a year.” (See Maria Bartiromo Interview)  

Hmm, really? Are you kidding me? Wait a second…is this the same “go long” Meredith Whitney that expressed the following?

3/17/09: (XLF: 8.55 then, 14.60 now +71% ex-dividends): “These big banks are sitting on loans that were underwritten with bad math, and the stocks are going to go down…these stocks are uninvestable.”

(Fast forward to minute 8:20 for quote above)

2/4/09 (XLF: 8.97 then, 14.60 now +63% ex-dividends): “Investors should not even consider owning banks on an equity basis” (Click here and fast forward to minute 8:10 for quote).

The schizophrenic accounting of her postures are all the more confusing given her stance that the sector was “fairly valued” in October, according to the CNBC Bartiromo interview.

Don’t get me wrong, she made an incredible bearish call on Citigroup in the fall of 2007 and was expecting blood in the streets until a massive rebound in 2009 surprised her. Investors need to be wary of prognosticators that get thrust into the limelight (see Peter Schiff article) for a single prediction. The law of large numbers virtually guarantees a new breed of extreme forecasters will be rotated into the spotlight any time there is a major shift in the market direction. I choose to follow the footsteps of Warren Buffett and stay away from the game of market timing and market forecasts. I believe James Grant from the Interest Rate Observer states it best:

“The very best investors don’t even try to forecast the future. Rather, they seize such opportunities as the present affords them.”


Meredith Whitney may be a bright banking analyst and perhaps she’ll ultimately be proven right regarding the downward banking stock price trajectories, but like all bold forecasters she must live by the crystal ball, and die by the crystal ball.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and its clients own certain exchange traded funds (including VFH), but currently have no direct positions in C, GS, or XLF. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

November 23, 2009 at 2:00 am 13 comments

Ross Warns of Commercial Shoe Drop

take care!

The next shoe to drop in commercial real estate has been highly telegraphed for some time now. Wilbur Ross, restructuring specialist and founder of WL Ross & Co, has a long track record of success and he weighs in with his views regarding the impending crash in commercial real estate through several recent interviews.

What exactly is Mr. Ross worried about? He sees a correlation of what happened in the residential mortgage markets to what we are now beginning to see in the commercial real estate markets:

Wilbur Ross CNBC

Fast forward to minute 4:20 to hear real estate commentary

Click Hear to See CNBC Interview with Wilbur Ross

“I have felt for quite some time that the same reckless lending that characterized the subprime mortgage business in residential was also characterizing what had gone on in commercial real estate in the mid-2000s. You had properties being bought at a 3% cash-on-cash yield. You had properties being financed at on such an aggressive basis that the lenders had to give them an advance – several years worth of interest – because there wasn’t enough cash coming from the properties even to pay the interest. And the theory was that rent rolls would go up, occupancy would go up, and eventually the property would grow its way into paying interest. Well now that clock is ticking – rents haven’t gone up, they’ve gone down; occupancy hasn’t gone up, it has gone down; and capitalization rates that people require from properties have gone up. So everything is going in the wrong direction, and I think we are going to see quite a lot of tragedies in that sector. “

Although Mr. Ross unequivocally sees a “huge crash in commercial real estate,” he puts his pessimistic views on impending destruction into perspective (read more about pessimism). The size of the commercial real estate market is quite a bit smaller than residential:

“The total of commercial mortgages is only about $3.5 trillion versus $11 trillion for residential mortgages.”

The commercial crash is already happening and forecasts for commercial property are expected to drop to the lowest levels in nearly two decades, according to according to property research firm Real Capital Analytics Inc. The sign of the times is evident by the recent Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing by Capmark Financial Group Inc., a company that originated about $60 billion in commercial real estate loans in 2006 and 2007 (Bloomberg). Anecdotally, at a professional event I just attended in southern California, I bumped into a real estate broker who informed me on the state of the market. The property across the street from the event location had a 50% vacancy rate and a glut of hedge funds were bidding on the building for 50% of its replacement value…ouch!

Reis Inc., a property research firm also notes:

“U.S. office vacancies hit a five-year high of almost 17 percent in the third quarter, while shopping center vacancies climbed to their highest since 1992.”

And from a fiscal response and taxpayer liability standpoint Ross is less worried because he thinks Washington, for the most part, will be watching the train wreck from the sidelines, with a bag of popcorn in hand:

“I don’t think the federal government’s going to do much to help the commercial building side because individual homeowners vote but buildings don’t vote.”

As Wilbur Ross has definitively communicated, he’s confident the commercial real estate mortgage market will cause the next surprising shoe to drop. Fortunately though, he feels the crash will be manageable. With all these shoes dropping, maybe I can find a new pair of shoes to wear?

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 


DISCLOSURE: No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

November 9, 2009 at 2:00 am 6 comments

Meat & Potatoes Investing with Joel Greenblatt

Steak & Potato

Joel Greenblatt has a long resume. Besides being the founder and managing partner of Gotham Capital, Mr. Greenblatt is the author of The Little Book That Beats the Market and an adjunct Professor at Columbia Business School. Now he is adding “Quant-fund Manager” to his work history.  In his recent CNBC interview (below), Greenblatt discusses the real-world portfolio implementation of his “Magic Formula” on, a new venture he has undertaken.

The Magic Formula as it turns out is not all that magical, but rather very simple. The formula is based on two straightforward meat and potato factors gathered from Standard & Poor’s data: 1) the trailing Price/Earnings ratio on a stock (value factor); and 2) the Return on Capital ratio of a stock using historical earnings. The portfolio management strategy is fairly basic as well. Twenty to thirty securities are selected from the model, with the ability of the investor to customize if they so choose, and the portfolios are rebalanced on an annual basis making sure any relevant tax-loss selling occurs before the end of the calendar year.

Based on the back-tests, the model portfolio was up +291% over the last 10 years versus down -2% for the S&P 500 index. For 2008, however, the performance of the Magic Formula was not too enchanting – down about -36% versus -37% for the S&P 500 index, according to Greenblatt.   

As with any back-test, or model, I am very skeptical about the output and inferences that can be drawn. Here are a few reasons why:

1)      Past ≠Future: Just because this strategy worked in the past doesn’t mean it will work in the future. Greenblatt admits that the strategy can underperform for long periods of time.

2)      Limited Data: Ten years is an extremely limited period of time to base a robust strategy on – much more data should be used.

3)      Cost Estimates: Following a potentially very illiquid, out of favor value strategy with possibly large sums of money can cause past results to look quite different. Factors such as trading costs and impact costs can be underappreciated in computer based back-tests.

4)      Data Mining: With any model, problems can arise when reams of data are sliced and diced for the sole purpose of creating a positive outcome. Often, there are no cause and effect between a variable and future returns, yet practitioners will jump to that conclusion because the factors fit the data.

To learn more about shortcomings in quantitative models, I suggest you learn more about butter production in Bangladesh (read article here). I will eagerly watch how Mr. Greenblatt’s “Magic Formula” works from a distance. In the mean time, I’m hungry. I think I’ll keep it simple…a steak and baked potato.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

DISCLOSURE: No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

November 2, 2009 at 2:00 am 1 comment

Now You See It, Now You Don’t: TARP


Elizabeth Warren,  who oversees the TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program), along with being  the Chair on the Congressional Oversight Panel and a professor at the Harvard Law School, goes out on a limb and candidly states, “ We not only don’t know [where the TARP money is], Maria, we’re not ever going to know.”

Ms. Warren is quick to blame former Treasury Secretary Henry “Hank” Paulson for not implementing accountability for the TARP funds handed to the large commercial and investment banks (see my earlier TARP article). How do you prove the money handed over to the banks was used for  non-lending activities, such as marketing, compensation, television advertising, dividends, acquisitions or other corporate purposes other than lending? The short answer…you can’t! Even if TARP capital tracking was instituted, I think it would have been a fruitless effort since even legitimate use of the TARP funds would only free up additional capital for other suboptimal purposes. If my mom gave me $100 while I was struggling for money in college and told me to use it for food – well I, like a good chunk of students, would have eaten anyways without the handout. The windfall $100 bailout would likely be used for a guys trip to Las Vegas or some Laker basketball tickets. The banks will certainly lend, but not at the same pre-Lehman bankruptcy levels, regardless of whether TARP tracking was instituted or not. Ms. Warren correctly points out that regulators are speaking out of both sides of their mouths. The government wants banks to lend more (which reduces the bank’s capital base) and also raise their sickly reserve levels at the same time.

See TARP commentary on CNBC video interview at minute 2:48

Maria Bartiromo also probes the topic of executive pay compensation given a recent Congressional proposal that  TARP recipients cut salaries of the top 25 executives by -90%. Seems like a reasonable request given the circumstances. However, having the government force banks into making bad loans is probably not the right answer. This stance will only force the banks to take higher loan deliquency provisions and recognize more potential writedowns in the future. Eventually the Fed will cut interest rates paid to banks on the reserves held at the central bank, thereby invcentivizing the banks to take advantage of the steeper yield curve and make handsome spreads on loans.

Until then, some of the banks will sit patiently on their TARP capital (not lending) while Ms. Warren and government officials will wonder how the billions of TARP bailouts magically disappeared.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management and its clients had a direct position in VFH and BAC shares at the time this article was originally posted. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

October 23, 2009 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

“Pessimism Porn” Takes a Hit – Emotions of Investing

Dark Clouds

“Every dark cloud has a silver lining, but lightning kills hundreds of people each year who are trying to find it.”

–Tongue-in-cheek quote from motivational poster.

There’s nothing like a little destructive global financial crisis to boost viewership ratings. CNBC benefitted last fall from all the gloom and doom permeating the media outlets, but unfortunately for the cable business channel, a more constructive market environment over the last six months doesn’t sell as well as what New York Magazine called, “pessimism porn.” Tyler Durden at Zero Hedge recently provided statistics showing the impact of more optimistic financial markets. CNBC experienced total viewer year-over-year declines of -37% as measured in mid-September – worse than Mr. Durden’s late July statistics that illustrated a -28% decline.

Small wonder that we now see discussions developing between Comcast Corp. (CMCSA) and General Electric (GE) over a potential partnership with the NBC-Universal assets. Other potential parties may enter the fray, but GE’s shopping of the traditional media unit is evidence ofthe station’s pessimism over a secularly declining business.

Businesses are not the only ones influenced by pessimism – so are individuals. Behavioral economists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky have provided support to the impact pessimism has on peoples’ psyches. Emotional fears of loss can have a crippling effect in the decision making process. Through their research, Kahneman and Tversky showed the pain of loss is more than twice as painful as the pleasure from gain. How do they prove this? Through various hypothetical gambling scenarios, they highlight how irrational decisions are made. For example, more people choose the scenario of an initial $600 nest egg that grows by $200, rather than starting with $1,000 and losing $200 (despite ending up at the same exact point under either scenario).

Of course investors have short memories from a historical perspective. Whether it’s the 17th century tulip mania (people paying tens of thousands for tulips – inflation adjusted), the technology bubble of the late 1990s, or the more recent real estate/credit craze, eventually a new bubble forms.

If you are one of those people that get sucked into “pessimism porn” or big bubbles, then I suggest you grab the remote control, turn off CNBC, and then switch over to The History Channel. You may just learn from the repeated emotional mistakes made by those of our past.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®  

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in CMCSA, GE, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

October 7, 2009 at 2:00 am 3 comments

Words of Wisdom from the Money Flow Master

Laszlo Birinyi HeadshotWhen Laszlo Birinyi talks, people should listen. Laszlo Birinyi, President of Birinyi Associates, has seen a lot in his days on Wall Street and he has the gray hair to prove it. Mr. Birinyi joined Salomon Brothers in 1976 with the job of developing products and analysis for the firm’s clients and traders. In 1989, after departing Salomon Brothers, Mr. Birinyi left to form Birinyi Associates where Bloomberg LP became a key client for a variety of equity functions.

Mr. Birinyi made the concept of “money flow” – a price direction indicator based on supply-demand trade volume data – a key pillar for his clients’ research. Having lived through and studied many market cycles, Mr. Birinyi tries to take the emotion and misleading media headlines out of the investment decision making process. The “wall of anxiety” is very normal to be present in market cycle bottoms, but the market is always looking ahead. Rather than listen to the talking heads on television, Mr. Birinyi chooses to listen to the market statistics. The current market thinking is that we’ve come too far, too fast, therefore we are positioned for an imminent 10% pullback. Laszlo Birinyi calls the correction speak nonsense and highlights the limited data to support these claims.  Mr. Birinyi begs for bears to “Give me the evidence…in 1982 we went 424 days before we had a correction. In 2000, we went seven years before we had a 10% correction. In 2002, we went three or four years.”

CNBC Interview With the Money Flow Master

CNBC Interview With the Money Flow Master

Click Here To View CNBC Interview

The bear case always sounds more intelligent, but based on his views into his crystal ball, Mr. Birinyi sees the S&P 500 hitting 1,700 over the next few years (approximately a 70% increase from current levels). What I like about Birinyi’s process is that it’s a strategy based on taking out emotions and following objective data – the strategy is not driven by witty, bearish media sound-bites.

I can’t objectively verify Laszlo Birinyi’s performance; however I can understand his sound, sage advice because his philosophy is based upon objective historical statistics and data, not on the whims of the skittish masses. Birinyi has been around for decades but in the coming weeks and months we’ll discover if the 10% correction boogeyman will spook him or not.

September 10, 2009 at 4:00 am Leave a comment

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