Posts tagged ‘Mitt Romney’

Private Equity: Parasite or Pollinator?

In the wild, there exist both parasitic and symbiotic relationships. In the case of blood thirsty ticks that feed off deer, this parasitic relationship differs from the symbiotic association of nectar-sucking bees and pollen-hungry flowers. These are merely a few examples, but suffice it to say, these same intricate interactions occur in the business world as well.

Our economy is a complex jungle of relationships, spanning governments, businesses, consumers, investors, and many intermediaries, including private equity (PE) firms. With the November election rapidly approaching, more attention is being placed on how private equity firms fit into the economic food chain. Figuring out whether PE firms are more like profit-sucking parasites or constructive job creating mechanisms has moved to the forefront, especially given presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s past ties to Bain Capital, a successful private equity firm he founded in 1984.

Currently it is politically advantageous to portray PE professionals as greedy, job-cutting outsourcers – I’m still waiting for the political ad showing a PE worker clubbing a baby seal or plucking the legs off of a Daddy Long Legs spider. While I’d freely admit a PE pro can be just as gluttonous as an investment banker, hedge fund manager, or venture capitalist, simplistic characterizations like these miss the beneficial effects these firms provide to the overall economy. Capitalism is the spine that holds our economy together and has allowed us to grow into the greatest superpower on the planet. Private equity is but a small part of our capitalistic ecosystem, but plays a valuable role nonetheless.

While there are many perspectives on the role of private equity in our economy, here are my views on a few of the hot button issues:

Job Creation: Although I believe PE firms are valuable to our economy, I think it is a little disingenuous of Romney and his supporters to say Bain was a net “job creator” to the tune of 100,000+ jobs during his tenure. The fact of the matter is PE firms’ priority is to create profitable returns for its investors, and if that requires axing heads, then so be it – most PE firms have no qualms doing precisely that. Romney et al point to successes like Staples Inc. (SPLS), Dominos Pizza Inc. (DPZ) and Sports Authority, Inc., where profitability and success ultimately led to job expansion. From my viewpoint, I believe these examples are more the exception than the rule. Not surprisingly, any job losses executed in the early years of a PE deal will eventually require job additions if the company survives and thrives. Let’s face it, no company can cut its way to prosperity in perpetuity.

Competitveness: Weak, deteriorating, or bankrupt companies cannot and will not hire. Frail or mismanaged companies will sooner or later be forced to cut jobs on their own –the same protocol applied by opportunistic PE vultures swarming around. While PE firms typically focus on bloated or ineffective companies, I think the media outlets overemphasize the cost-cutting aspects of these deals. Sure, PE companies cut jobs, outsource functions, and cut benefits in the name of profits, but that alone is not a sustainable strategy. Trimming fat, by replacing complacent management teams, investing in modern software/equipment, expanding markets, and implementing accountability are all paramount factors in making these target companies more efficient and competitive in the long-run.

Financial Markets-Arbiter: At the end of the day, I think the IPO/financial markets are the final arbiters of how much value PE firms create, not only for investors, but also for the economy overall. If greedy PE firms’ sole functions were to saddle companies with massive debts, cut heads off, and then pay themselves enormous dividends, then there would never be a credible exit strategy for investors to cash out. If PE firms are correctly performing their jobs, then they will profitably create leaner more efficient durable companies that will be able to grow earnings and create jobs over the long-term. If they are unsuccessful in this broad goal, then the PE firm will never be able to profitably exit their investment via a corporate sale or public offering.

Bain Banter: Whether you agree with PE business practices or not, it is difficult to argue with the financial success of Bain Capital. According to a Wall Street Journal article, Bain Capital deals between 1984 – 1999 produced the following results: 

“Bain produced about $2.5 billion in gains for its investors in the 77 deals, on about $1.1 billion invested. Overall, Bain recorded roughly 50% to 80% annual gains in this period, which experts said was among the best track records for buyout firms in that era.”

 

Critics are quick to point out the profits sucked up by PE firms, but they neglect to acknowledge the financial benefits that accrue to the large number of pension fund, charity, and university investors. Millions of middle-class American workers, retirees, community members, teachers, and students are participating in those same blood sucking profits that PE executives are slurping down.

Even though I believe private equity is a net-positive contributor to competiveness and economic growth in recent decades, there is no question in my mind that these firms participated in a massive bubble in the 2005-2007 timeframe. Capital was so cheap and abundant, prices on these deals escalated through the roof. What’s more, the excessive amounts of leverage used in those transactions set these deals up for imminent failure. PE firms and their investors have lost their shirts on many of those deals, and the typical 20%+ historical returns earned by this asset class have become long lost memories. Attractive returns do not come without risk.

With the presidential election rhetoric heating up, the media will continue to politicize, demonize and oversimplify the challenges surrounding this asset class. Despite its shortcomings, private equity will continue to have a positive symbiotic relationship with the economy…rather than a parasitic one.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

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 SPLS, DPZ, Sports authority, 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.

July 21, 2012 at 6:43 pm Leave a comment

Trading Obama, Romney and Extraterrestrials

Source: Photobucket

Investors vote on stocks every day by buying shares in favored positions and selling shares in those out-of-favor. But shouldn’t voting on stocks be different from voting for politicians? Actually, no! Now, politicians can be traded just like traditional stocks or other liquid securities. If you don’t believe me, then you should check out www.Intrade.com. Intrade is an online trading platform that is home to various prediction markets that forecast the probability of outcomes of various real-world events, including who will win the 2012 U.S. Presidential election. Just like investors can trade IBM on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) or Apple Inc. (AAPL) on the NASDAQ exchange, so too can individuals trade election shares in Barack Obama (ticker: OBMA) and Mitt Romney (ticker: RMNY) on the Intrade platform (see chart below).

Source: Intrade.com

By definition, the trading mechanics of Intrade involve a resolution of a particular event structured as a binary “Yes” or “No” result. Similar to a sports bet, Intrade eventually declares a winning or losing outcome – but there are no ties. For example, by November 6, 2012, we will know whether Obama’s shares will be trading either at $10 per share, if he becomes re-elected, or $0 per share if he loses to Romney. Just like a stock, traders can go long Obama shares, if they think he will win, or short Obama shares, if they think he will lose. Analogous to stocks, holding periods may vary too. Traders can either hold their position until the event expiration, and realize a gain or loss, or instead traders can lock in shorter-term profits/losses by closing a position before the official outcome ends.

Another great thing about Intrade’s prediction markets is that each event share price can be quickly converted to an outcome probability. So as you can see from Obama’s Intrade chart above, the current $5.28 share price signifies a 52.8% probability of Obama winning the 2012 Presidential election. No need to worry about distracting stock-splits, share offerings, or stock buybacks that could distort the true underlying dynamics of the Intrade event fundamentals.

Bizarre Bets and Over-the-Top Trades

Crazy Super Bowl “prop” bets have been around for ages, and the senseless nature of the bets did not disappoint this year, if you consider the following ridiculous Super Bowl XLVI prop bets:

• Will it take Kelly Clarkson longer or shorter than 1 minute 34 seconds to sing the National Anthem?

• Will Madonna’s hair color be blonde when she begins the Super Bowl Halftime show?

• How many times will model Giselle Bundchen be shown on TV during the game?

• What Color will the Gatorade be that is dumped on the Head Coach of the Winning Super Bowl Team?

I think you get the idea from these examples, and I believe Intrade figured out the quirky benefits as well. Betting on unusual or strange outcomes can be a lucrative endeavor.

Here are just a few of the bizarre and remarkable events you can trade on Intrade:

 NASA to announce discovery of extraterrestrial life before midnight Dec. 31, 2012

• Arctic sea ice area for Sep. 2012 to be less than 4.3 million square kilometers?

• Magnitude 9.0 (or higher) earthquake to occur anywhere before midnight Dec. 31, 2012  

• The Dark Knight Rises to break the all-time opening weekend box-office record   

• The US debt limit to be raised before midnight Dec. 31, 2012 

• Bashar al-Assad to no longer be President of Syria before midnight Dec. 31, 2012  

• The US Supreme Court to rule individual mandate unconstitutional before midnight Dec. 31, 2012  

• Higgs Boson Particle to be observed on/before Dec. 31, 2013  

Rules of the Game

You may be asking yourself, “All this betting/trading sounds like fun, but isn’t this Intrade thing illegal gambling?” If your thought process went in this direction, you are not alone – I asked myself the same question. I’m no attorney, but the apparent loophole for Intrade’s business operation appears to be tied to its foreign incorporation in Ireland. Less apparent is how American law applies to Intrade as referenced in a recent New York Times article that states, “It is unclear whether American law applies to Intrade.”

Although U.S. residents may not be able to trade legally on Intrade, roaming the site may provide some quirky entertainment and provide profound answers to critical questions like, “Do extraterrestrials exist?; How much money will the new Batman movie make at the box office?; And which President are we going to get stuck with for the next four years?” Surfing around on Intrade can be a blast, but if it gets too boring, you can always go back to trading regular stocks.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and Wade Slome have no affiliation with Intrade. SCM and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds and AAPL, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in NYX, IBM 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.

June 16, 2012 at 4:50 pm Leave a comment

Cramer Pulls Apple from Romney Tree

Republican Presidential primary candidate Mitt Romney has taken a lot of heat for his lack of conviction on various issues, whether they be on immigration, universal healthcare, or abortion. Jim Cramer, former hedge fund manager and host of TV show Mad Money, has also been known to do a bit of his own John Kerry-esque waffling. One of Cramer’s most recent high profile flip-flops is highflying Apple Inc. (AAPL). If Mitt Romney had his own stock show in his free time like Jim Cramer, there’s a high probability that Romney and Cramer could both agree that they were “for Apple, before they were against it, and now for it again.”

Some might think that picking on Jim Cramer is like clubbing a defenseless seal; wrestling a first grader; or stealing candy from a baby. Suffice it to say, I am not the first person to point out the dangers, inconsistencies, and irresponsible behavior associated with Jim Cramer’s recommendations. Here are some of the highest profile critiques of Jim Cramer in recent years past:

I. Daily Show Destruction

Vodpod videos no longer available.
Daily Show Skewering PART II                   Daily Show Skewering PART III

II. The Barron’s Bashing

This 2007 Barron’s article not only dissected all of Jim Cramer’s picks over a multi-year period and outlined how much money was lost relative to the major stock market indices, but also a subsequent Barron’s article highlighted research showing a strategy that could yield 25% per month by betting against Cramer’s picks.

III. New York Times  Expose

Last year, this article highlighted the good, bad, and ugly, but the sentiment noted by famed Yale University endowment fund manager David Swensen echoes the sentiment of many investment professionals:

“Cramer induces his viewers to do things that are bad for them. He’s smart enough to know what he’s doing. ‘Mad Money’ delivers a very dangerous message — that individual investors can beat the market with momentum-driven, high-octane trading strategies. There are individuals who do beat the market, but their number is vanishingly small. Cramer is a master manipulator. He has absolutely no accountability. This is serious business; people’s retirements are at stake.”

Spoiled Apple Turns Sweet Again

Apple stock has historically been a favorite of Jim Cramer. Because why? Well, like many short-term traders, it’s a stock that has been going up! A few short months ago, however, Apple’s stock stopped going up, and was actually going down. Jim Cramer’s long love affair with Apple was on the rocks – this is what he had to say about Apple on November 9th (AAPL price – $395.28):

“Times Have Changed for Apple. I’m hearing about weak tablet sales, about iPhone 4S sales not up to snuff, along with worries about holiday sales for iPods.” In the past Jim would brush these worries aside, but in the past, the visionary Steve Jobs was still breathing. “These days though, every nuance, every little bit of worry about Apple, as we heard today from a brokerage firm talking about lighter tablet sales seaps into my ears, and I actually listen, and I agonize over it – I don’t want to…But I can’t dismiss these minute Apple data points as irrelevant any more. These days it would just be too glib…Apple is no longer a given. We are not going to re-recommend endlessly right here. We are waiting. I think actually better prices are coming. No reason to pull the trigger [buy]. No reason until then [lower prices].”

 

Oh my, what a difference 90 days makes! Has Steve Jobs been resurrected from the dead? Last I checked, the answer is no. Anxiety of whether new CEO Tim Cook was about to drive Apple off a cliff to obsolescence, like Research in Motion Ltd. (RIMM), has apparently been put on hold. Previous deep-rooted concerns about iPad and iPhone 4S sales from Jim Cramer’s in-depth analysis turned out to be completely off base. As a matter of fact, two months after Cramer went on his anti-Apple rant, the company reported blowout quarterly results of record proportions. Not only did earnings results explode +116% from a year ago (+37% higher than Wall Street forecasts), but iPad unit sales grew by +111% (15.4 million iPads) and iPhone unit sales grew +128% (37.0 million iPhones). To make matters worse, during Cramer’s temporary Apple break-up, he told his followers to buy Google Inc. (GOOG) instead of Apple. Oops…since that short time ago, Apple has only outperformed Google by a massive +28% or so.

Well, no reason to fret now because any worries about a dead Steve jobs, collapsing iPad/iPhone sales, and a RIMM-like train wreck have been quickly forgotten by Cramer over the last few months. Apple gloom has turned to champagne cheers. Here’s what Jim has to say now:

“This stock (Apple) has gripped the imagination like no other I’ve seen in my career. A stock going to $500 in a straight line.”

 

When Wall Street analysts recently weren’t bullish enough for Cramer (despite 50 “Buy” ratings, 3 “Hold” ratings, 2 “Sell” ratings), he had this to say:

“I want to grab them by the throat and say, ‘Will you give me a break?’ Apple sells at 10 times earnings; the average stock sells at 15 times earnings; Apple is a lot better than the average stock. Don’t you understand this stock is galloping to where it has to go, simply to catch up with the rest of the market? Don’t you see that happening? Don’t you understand that apple has to go higher?!

 

If these whipsaw stock recommendation reversals are not fast enough for you, no need to worry. Apparently flip-flopping on the overall market only takes 24 hours. Last week, Cramer could hardly control his excitement during his show’s opening, given another up-day in the market. To bolster his bullish case, Cramer proceeded to chastise Wall Street analysts for being so negative. With one rotation of the Earth, the following day, Cramer turned negative and nervous once again as the Dow Jones Industrials index fell 0.69%. Who knows what Cramer’s ever-changing mood will be next, but I can give you a hint – if you look at the daily direction of the Dow, your mood guessing batting average will be higher than Ty Cobb’s career average.

Selective Consumption at the Investment Supermarket

Despite all the criticisms, one should not shed a tear for this multi-mega-millionaire, Harvard grad, and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. alum (GS). Mad Money is highly entertaining for short-term traders, and in upward trending momentum markets, Cramer followers might do OK. Unfortunately, the lucrative, straight-upward market that Cramer made his fortunes in during the 1990s hasn’t been in existence over the last 12 years. For the untrained, investing masses who are looking to preserve and grow their retirement nest eggs, the schizophrenic recommendations that Jim Cramer provides can prove extremely damaging. We have seen this destructive dynamic especially at key inflection points in the market, whether it was at the 2000 peak of the market when his 10-stock “Winners of the New World” portfolio that collapsed by over -90%, or in late 2008/early 2009, near the market bottom, when Cramer told all investors to sell stocks unless you can wait five years.

Jim Cramer is not an evil person and he his very entertaining and sharp individual. I fully admit that I occasionally watch Mad Money for a chuckle and to also gain perspective of the speculative sentiment in the market. Although I would like to see better programming on the network, CNBC is not to be fully blamed. CNBC is like a supermarket that sells both healthy and unhealthy goods. While long-time Investing Caffeine readers know, I have been known to take numerous cavalier economists and strategists to task, many of my investing philosophies and strategies have been built off of long-time, successful investors that CNBC has interviewed or profiled. CNCB guests whom I have written about include, Warren Buffett, Ron Baron, Bill Gross, Ken Heebner, Wilbur Ross, Joel Greenblatt, Laszlo Birinyi, Jimmy Rogers, and others.

While Jim Cramer can be consumed in small doses by professionals and short-term traders, average investors should tread lightly. Investors will be better served by reading the labels of television commentators’ advice, and instead listen to those advisors or managers that have a time horizon consistent with your long-term financial goals.

Jim Cramer has been picked apart by many, but his screaming “Booyahs!,” singing “hallelujah” choirs, and flying bulls, make for compelling television. Although Jim Cramer and I are on the same page as Apple currently (I’ve owned for a long time), I have yet to come to a definitive decision on the 2012 presidential elections. If Cramer changes his view on Apple again in the coming days and weeks, I hope he invites his friend Mitt Romney on as a guest. That way I can kill two birds with one stone, and if one flip-flopper is entertaining to watch, having two should certainly be twice as amusing.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, AAPL, and GOOG but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in RIMM, GS, 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.

February 12, 2012 at 5:53 pm 2 comments


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