Investment Common Sense

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February 5, 2018

Lots to report today. Altho 6 days short of one year, I "rolled over" my February portfolio today. I did not exactly folow O'shaughnessy's formula because I sold everything in the portfolio regardless of whether or not it is on this week's buy list. I also did not wait for the full year to pass because the market seems headed into the dumper and I have always tried to apply the lesson from the old saying, better to fart and bear the shame than not to fart and bear the pain

This wise saying can be paraphrased for investing as follows: Better to sell early and pay the tax than not to sell and lose the profit.

Not only did I sell my Frbruary portfolio, I sold most of my other stock too, and bought some SPY $260 Jan 2019 puts. I learned about the puts from my favorite investing guru, Travis Johnson who writes the Stock Gumshoe newsletter and blog - absolutely the best investing value you can get for $49/year provided you read it consistently including the comments from his subscribers.

Please understand, I still love the stock market, but my investment objectives and perspective may be very different than yours. I am 79 years old and have plenty of money to sustain a comfortable life style for me and my wife. If our retirement savings decrease it is going to be because we spend it, not because I lost it in the stock market. My time horizon is pretty short; maybe ten to fifteen more good years. I probably have enough money to last that long even without any income, but I do not have time or income to make up any large losses.

On the other hand I like to invest so that we can continue or improve our life style - I still dream about that red and silver Cessna Citation - and if somebody discovers a miracle elixir so we can enjoy good health till we are 150, we will need more money, maybe even leave some for the kids.

If not losing money in the stock market means I have to cash out from time to time to feel comfortable, that's OK with me. Wasn't it Ben Franklin who said, a man has three true friends: an old wife, an old dog, and ready cash?

I have no obligation to any clients or investment advisors so if I feel like putting all my money in 2% CDs that's nobody's business but mine. Besides, it only costs me a maximum of about a thou to cash out and buy back in with my discount broker (Schwab).

Because I feel no ungency to replace my investments with new ones, I can stay out of the market as long as it suits me. I do not expect to sell at the top - otherwise I'd be crying that I should have sold last Monday instead of yesterday. I also don't expect to buy back in at the bottom. Maybe there will not be a "correction" now and the last few days are just a hiccup, but I will not be sorry. I locked up some nice profits, and there's always some bargains lurking out there in the market.

So, for now, I am going to be a spectator. I bet a little on the bear side with puts. The most I can lose is what I paid (about $24k), but a 20% decline in the S&P 500 between now and next January should net me around $60k. I think that's a good bet.


January 18, 2018

Ain't life wonderful! 55 new highs in my Watch List today and only one stock showing declines over 15% from the highs since I bought them. I guess the world has really changed and the stock market will continue to go up forever. President Trump has figured out the answer to everything and PE ratios of 40 are the new normal.

I am going to celebrate by tightening up on my watch list percentage to watch at 10% and sell at 15% decline. I may also start watching it two days a week instead of just one.

In my 50 + years of investing, when it seems that the world of investing has really changed because of this or that fundimental factor, I don't believe it.

To follow up the previous paragraph, I just sold PDL Biopharma (PDLI) even tho it is on this weeks buy list. It just makes me nervious with over 40% intangible assets and volatility.


January 6, 2018

I have been concerned about presenting Beneish M Scores in my tables and my explanation about how it should be applied to detect the probability that a particular company is manipulating their earnings. My main concern was that I really did not understand the calculation and the meaning of the resulting "score". My second concern was that my explanation of how to apply the "score" could be wrong.

After carefully reading Beneish's paper, the Wikipedia explanation of it and other articles on the subject, I am sure my previous explanation of how to apply it is wrong, and I have corrected it.

I now believe that the purpose of the Beneish M Score is to rate the probability of earnings manipulation on a scale whose upper and lower limits I don't know, but where most "scores" range between 0 (zero) and -4 (minus four). The reason I say I believe is because this is my simplistic explanation. I have a degree in Industrial Engineering that included a fair amount of statistical math, but that was a long time ago, and while I understood the basic concept I kinda skimmed the paper and I have to think that the widespread acceptance of his method is pretty good authority. He also states that he did not study financial institutions and therefore this test should not be used with insurance companies and banks, etc.

That said, Beneish states the scores should be used to "minimize the expected costs of misclassification" where misclassification is defined as either classifying a manipulator as clean or a non-manipulator as dirty (my definition). He estimates that the loss to an investor of investing in a company that is an "earnings manipulator" can be from 30 to 40 times as high as not investing in that company. This is because there are plenty other investment opportunities if you just don't buy the bad apple - nothing against Apple you understand.

Therefore, you should only invest in companies that have a Beneish M score less than some "cutoff" value. That "cutoff" value appears to be somewhere around -1.82 (minus 1.82). This is not that hard to understand as long as you remember that -1.6 is greater than -1.82.


October 25, 2017, 2017

I just cashed out my November portfolio. This is my report on how I did. First tho, a couple of caviats:

  • I have a couple of speculative positions in this portfolio that I did not cash out yet
  • I did not reduce my investment in stocks that are still on the Weekly List.
  • I will reinvest the proceeds of the sales in about 20 issues that are on this week's Weekly List

    The results were pretty good. I followed the O'Shaughnessy method with one exception. I sold stocks when my "Watch List" showed a decline of more than 20%. My watch list is a "trailing stop list that I run once a week or so.

    Using my crude evaluation where I calculate the value of the account at the end of the period (one year) and add back any withdrawals ($30,000 this year), I made 33.5%. For the same period, the S&P 500 total return was 17.4%. You win some and you lose some - this time I win.

    Note: One of my speculations is some April 2018 $19 calls on ZTO where I have a 44% profit. However, the profit was double that early last week and GOK where it will be tomorrow, and it's a very small bet that I can afford to lose.


    October 25, 2017, 2017

    Our German correspondent in China, Martin Zerfass recently responded to my request for his opinion RE ZTO Express - supposedly China's leading express delivery service. Here is his response:

    here is my take on it . as a summary: I would not invest in ZTO . some thoughts on market and the company below

    Honestly speaking though I don't know much about them. They are one of the larger logistics companies here in China. They compete with all the global players (UPS, Fedex, DHL) on the parcel delivery sector but as a quick research shows, they are of course much more that what I see on the roads in everyday traffic. They are one of the major players domestically. But there are some things you need to know about the Chinese logistics market

    Market info 1. small parcel delivery costs next to nothing 2. the last mile is what local Chinese can do and global companies find hard to compete against 3. the domestic market is booming 4. China wide distribution / logistics in business 5. internationalization or globalization of logistics companies like ZTO is not happening (from what I can see)

    1. Here next day (in some cases: same day) delivery is the standard. Chinese buy everything online from groceries (including fresh food), clothes, furniture etc. And everything is delivered either by a small semi-truck (furniture) or some e-scooter for the last mile. Every shop does it (even KFC and McD deliver!!!). My shopping habits have changed significantly from going for a weekly big shopping basket at a retailer to ordering online and getting it delivered. Delivery is free if you spend above 30 - 50 RMB (5-7 USD) depending on the shop and it includes delivery on Saturday and Sunday so normally our family of 3 gets 3-4 parcels every week - sometimes as little as 6 milk cartons and some cookies.

    2. The last mile to the private home is where the big companies like DHL and UPS fail, especially here in big cities like Shanghai. No parking, very narrow streets in the compounds so you cannot deliver with a big truck. You need to have a huge fleet of these small bus-like people mover (but don't think VW Bully or such, think smaller). Most small packages are delivered by ebike couriers and there are hundreds of companies doing that for next to nothing in cost. I haven't seen ZTO (or UPS, DHL etc.) deliver these small packages to private residences by themselves. They outsource this kind of service.

    3. China's online shopping market is booming (like crazy) so this is where a lot of the growth for logistics companies comes from. Companies like Alibaba and some other online shopping sites have grown huge with this business providing platforms and services. Since these services are mostly free to the customer I would guess that the competition in these, like logistics, is fierce and margins are slim. A little surprising was the ZTO investors presentation where they talk about expanding margins (attached). But you might note when looking through it, they are not talking at all about international expansion. So they are purely domestic in their growth and focus. Which is not a bad thing as the market is huge and growing but going forward 5-10 years I wager even the China market reaches a natural limit.

    4. Funnily enough just last week I had a discussion with our logistics head and he was complaining about the quality of logistics in China (we have 8 production plants in 4 large locations in China and ship to customers all over China). Main problem is the missing coordination of local logistic providers. Most of them focus on attractive city or city-to-city routes. Leaving companies like ZTO to cover the less frequented (and I would think: less profitable) areas. Logistic services like packaging, re-using packages etc. is also very underdeveloped still. On the other hand my colleague was saying that the logistic costs of actually moving goods is fairly cheap. Now on the business side with China GDP growth at 6.7% this segment will be growing in the future. How much ZTO will profit from that beyond increased revenue I have no clue. Maybe they are one of the few who can consolidate the fragmented country wide logistic landscape but I could only guess at that.

    5. Internationally the Chinese players don't play a role yet and will be hard pressed to do so in the near future. The infrastructure set up is complicated and expensive and complementary services and complicated processes etc. are required. This is where the Chinese lack. They are good at doing a certain tasks and due to available and cheap labor they can even do a lot of these task but they don't get into the whole efficiency by process thing yet.

    That is my take on the market . if you want my take on ZTO - listed on the NSYE:

    I am very cautious of investing directly in Chinese companies. They do have their home base / market but normally they run their companies with a different mentality that I am not comfortable with. They don't have that drive to excel at things like processes, they become too large too fast and don't focus enough. They want to play with the big players but continuously fail if they move out of their known (home) market. Now there might be exceptions like Tencent and Alibaba but that remains to be seen, if they can duplicate their success outside China where they will go for future growth. Also, at home these companies enjoy preferential treatment through tax breaks, subsidies and other support by the government (local and country) which they don't have outside China. The latter topic is also one of the reason I stay off Chinese direct investments. Their connections to the government are never transparent but always exist. Even private owned companies are subject to some control by the government and they use them as they need. Most of the time this is consistent with companies goals to grow and earn money but sometimes things happen and suddenly the company is pressured to do things they would otherwise not do. I have seen this happen with multi-billion companies in the automotive and industrial sector here - being forced to invest in a certain location, being forced to not lay-off people when it would have been necessary.

    Finally after all this long winded talk: I would not invest in ZTO long term. Short term with the growth of e-commerce and the domestic market still going strong it might be an interesting speculative position. But just to let you know: I missed chances like Bitcoin . so I definitely am wrong sometimes


    Sept 27, 2017

    To my readers: Recently while reading my favorite investment news source - Stock Gumshoe - it came to my attention that none of the insurance companies that were recently discussed on that site have appeared in my weekly lists

    My curiosity piqued, I checked the data that I get from YCharts where I find that neither insurance companies nor banks nor any other type of financial business have any data in the EV To EBITDA column.

    That means that since May 15, 2016, after I decided to eliminate any companies with missing data from my YChart downloads, Insurance companies, banks and other financial companies have been excluded from my weekly lists.

    I can understand why this column from YCharts is blank for financial businesses due to the nature of their liabilities and how differently they are valued for Enterprise Value, but excluding them because of the missing data is depriving my readers of some potentially profitable investments.

    For this reason, beginning September 26, I have again modified my formulas and awarded any company with missing EV to EBITDA data 50 points (or average) score for this factor as recommended by James O'Shaughnessy.

    Sorry I didn't catch this problem sooner, but now might be a good time to buy insurance stocks since they have been hammered by worries about hurricane damage.


    Sept 8, 2017

    Looking back at a couple of previous shares I dumped: Star Gas Partners (SGU - I had the wrong symbol previously), and Seadrill (SDLP). SGU is still hanging on @ around $9/share, but SDLP has fallen to less than $4/share.

    I again notice that most of the top picks on the "Weekly Table" are non-US. Two of the top three have highly suspect Altman Z scores on the Suppliment page and are headquartered in countries (Brazil and China) that are not very well known for oversight and strict adherence to GAAP. Remember do your own research before investing.


    August 3, 2017,

    I'm starting to watch the "Watch List" closer now. While the DJIA set new records, I have been losing about 1/2 percent per day - mostly in pharmaceuticals and industrials. So, I am nervious. What's happening? Looks like many investors are piling on the DJIA and ignoring or selling everything else. However, when I ran my watch list today, I have 41 new highs, a couple of new entries between 15 and 20% and only one (ARCA Biopharma) over the 20% magic sell number.


    July 15, 2017

    This week I scanned the relatively new and misspelled Supplement page to see if I could find something interesting to blog about. This page is intended to help you spot high value stocks that might be trending upward and also to help you spot stocks with strange accounting practices.

    two stocks caught my attention:

  • Transocean International (RIG)
  • Both these stocks show improving momentum but low Altman Z Scores, 5 year declining free cash flow and VEON shows increasing accruals. RIG is in a lousy industry (see discussion of SDLP below). VEON is a telecom company headquartered in Amsterdam. That industry should be OK, although they have a big bet on telephones in Pakistan. Personally, I think the supplemental information on this page highlights serious questions about these two stocks accounting practices and I would not touch them except maybe to short.

    Anyhow, I think there is good value on the Supplement page. Use it


    June 20, 2017

    Just finished compiling the results of one of my accounts for the 12 months from June 19, 2016 to today. This account has been distributed 52.28% stock where I followed O'Shaughnessy's strategy, 40.28% in five Powershares ETFs, and the balance cash (at year end). The powershares ETF's gained 24.01% and the stocks gained 17.37%. Dividends from both sources accounted for 2.11% of the total gain in the account for the year.

    I have had good luck with Powershares ETFs. The way I picked the five Powershares funds was to simply pick the five with the highest five year historical yield. They all made a profit, but the best was one that specializes in "small high tech".

    I wish I could keep it all, but now it is time to calculate my uncle's share and make a tax estimate payment. That's a problem with the O'Shaughnessy system. Unless you are investing in a IRA or other tax sheltered account, you gotta pay tax when you roll it over.


    April 21, 2017

    Sorry I missed a weekly update last week because I was on vacation crusing on the Snake and Columbia rivers and learning more about the early exploration of the US West.

    Now that I'm back in the saddle, I noticed a news article about Sea Drill partners (SDLP). Now SDLP continues to trade, their web site exudes happiness and it is still listed on the "top 10%" page on this web site. However, there is one news announcement on their web site regarding Amendments to Certain Credit Facilities that is pure poppycock AKA BS.

    Their earnings continue to beat analysts expectations and their financial statements are strong. But what the poppycock is saying is they cannot pay the banks for some loans they have gurarnteed for related companies, and they want the banks to release some collateral. At least that is what I get from trying to make heads or tails of the "news". You tell me how likely that is to happen.

    My point is this: when a company in a tough industry and really tough market continues to pay big dividends while trying to negotiate modifications to its loans, something smells fishy particularly where there are several related companies with the same management. I seriously doubt that the owners are concerned about my cash flow, but I'll bet they are concerned about their own. Maybe there will not be much left in a couple of months and the cash flow will end permanently. Just saying. The reason I brought this up is because, about a year ago, I made some pretty good money on SDLP, sold then bought back on price weakness and lost about 30% of my gain. My comments from a year ago are still on this page. Remember the numbers are only part of the story and in the famous words of La Peron in the movie "Evita", "They can be manipulated".


    March 26, 2017

    I was re-reading some of my older posts on this page, and noticed that in December of 2015, I mentioned that I sold Star Gas Partners (SGU) because I did not like their high ratio of intangible assets to total assets and they were down 20%. Just for the hell of it, I checked on SGU to see if that was a good decision. Of course, it was bad. Since I sold it at somewhere around $7.50. That was close to the bottom. It is now trading @ $9.15 and has paid 40 cents in dividends since I sold.

    There's a good chance, had I waited until the regular roll-over, I could have sold @ $8.10 and got one more dividend of 10 cents. It has traded as high as $11.39 in the last two years, but I have no regrets. It is not in the latest Weekly Table and I notice that they have missed their earnings estimates the last two quarters, sales is flat but net income has doubled - how does that work - cash flow has dropped precipitously and capltal expenditures have not increased. Maybe I bailed too soon, but that's better than too late.


    February 27, 2017

    Here are some relults that might help to re-establish my credability.
    Using my admittedly crude method of calculating ROI, I achieved 13.01% return with one of my portfolios between Feb 1, 2016 and 2017 - that is I have 13% more total value in the account at the end of the year. The S&P 500 gained 18% during this same period. So, I was 5% behind. Damn, no new Ferrari or airplane this year. I was very careful to adhere strictly to the "Trending Value" system with this portfolio - no second guessing the market.

    Not really great, but 13% will enable me to continue playing in two golf leagues and otherwise sustain my moderately lavish life style.


    January 22, 2017

    Remember how I said to do your own research? This week, I like the first stock (BAK) in the Weekly Table, but then I'd have to go down to the sixth ranked stock (which I own) before I would even consider buying some

    What don't I like?

  • MFRSY - never trades, no dividends
  • BRRAY - extremly thinly traded, South Africa, earth moving equipment in SA and Russia
  • BSDGF - price 10 cents, extremely thinly traded, Taiwan, mfg. of wearing apparel
  • BWLLF - 150 shares traded in a day is above average. Any questions?

  • There's other things to consider besides the "value factors". Start with my lists, but make your own decisions


    December 2, 2016

    This week a new company has taken over the top billing in the "Weekly Top 50" - now actually the Top 10% - Magnesita Refractrios. This company is a Brazillian brick maker with one trade in the last year. That trade was a $500 million take-over offer that was accepted.

    Remember figures don't lie, but liars figure. Start with the numbers but do your own research!


    August 17, 2016 from Martin Zerfass a German Technogologist who lives and works in Shanghai

    Good day Carl,

    writing to you from far away China and I hope you had a great cruise and relaxing time. Shanghai sees a heat wave currently (never less than 33 degrees Centigrade / 91 Fahrenheit) - but who is complaining :

    On your take on oil (news 15th August): I would actually say that right now is a good time to invest in the big oil companies - long term. With oil being in the mid 40's I still see potential for it to go to 55-60 USD by end of next year. Sure world economy is slowing and alternative energy is booming but if I look around China, they are bringing more and more cars on the road (30 mio new vehicles p.a. by 2020). In addition the economy here might not be growing double digit anymore but on this high level a 6% growth is highly respectable and ensures the need for fossil fuels for quite some time to come. Same for the world economy. I do not see our dependency on oil disappear. Especially the big players will reduce cost and concentrate on profitable locations to drill. I am invested in Exxon through a monthly savings plan to get the averaging effect so a bad quarter or year does not concern me … I am thinking long term. Currently it is about 5% of my portfolio.

    On your take on oil (news 15th August) > The US Stock markets are still the best "safe haven" for your money with any hope of postive yield. Why? Because Liquidity, volume and stability and >currency strength are important. So, if the rest of the world is going to support our stock markets lets dive in.

    That statement might be true for USD investors however for me, the US market with its all time high and the strong US Dollar is hard to enter right now (I do not get paid in USD). While the Euro zone might look kind of shaky I do think the weak Euro and a good selection of stocks / ETFs like the EuroStoxx offers enough diversification and will see a better appreciation over time … again this is not a short term play. With the Italian banks on the fritz and the unsolved refugee crisis there is sure to be volatility. But I do think these will be buying opportunities more than impending crashes.

    Final (different) thought For the more risk seeking investor: I am currently looking at the Russian index (not individual stocks). They have hit bottom this year due to their different crisis (Crimea, Ukraine, embargo) but seem to have bottomed out. And while I personally don't like Putin and his style at all, I do see a recovery on the way which will lead to a higher index in the short and mid term.


    August 15, 2016

    Five high ranked stocks in the top 50 this week are again energy related. Companies that supply ocean going drill rigs and service vessels are three of these and the other two are land based, but one related to coal and steel production and the other with alcohol fuel, lubricants and worse yet a Brazillian company. In my last post, I said that I did not understand SDLP so I bought some. Actually the reason I bought some is because back in April I made a little over $4 thousand profit on a $4 thousand investment in SDLP. Well, I just gave back $1,300 of that profit when I bought another $56 hundred. So I sold it before I lose any more.

    There is something squirrley when energy stocks lead the "Top 50" in a lousy energy market without much near term prospect of improvement. I was stupid to think I could match my previous performance on SDLP. What's most likely is that I got lucky on a "pump and dump" and that's most likely what's going on with the others of the top five. They're all either borrowing heavily or issuing more shares - who's buying those new shares? Any comments?

    With mighty Exxon Mobil pofit down approx 64%, it seems unlikely that it is a good time to buy petro stocks.


    July 19, 2016 After Brexit Rebound and comments RE this weeks top 50

    My take on the stock market strength this last few weeks is this: Brexit has created a lot of uncertainty in the EU. Nervous investors are seeking safe havens. The US Stock markets are still the best "safe haven" for your money with any hope of postive yield. Why? Because Liquidity, volume and stability and currency strength are important. So, if the rest of the world is going to support our stock markets lets dive in.

    However, a word of caution. At or near the top of this weeks "Top 50" list are the following energy related stocks together with their "Total Yield" and "Net Debt Yield"

  • SXCP 12.99% -25.98%
  • CZZ 1.55% -29.52%
  • SDLP 84.58% -15.05%
  • ORIG -55.37% +52.99%
  • DLNG 14.85% -8.49%
  • TOO 21.45% -28.17%
  • With the exceptions of ORIG and SDLP (Ocean Rig UDW, Sea Drill), they mostly are borrowing more than they are paying out in dividends and stock buybacks. I don't like the idea of borrowing to pay dividends. Interest rates certainly are favorable now, but if cash flow is insufficient to pay for dividends and buybacks and if energy prices remain low longer than interest rates, borrowing can be harmful to your stock portfolio.

    Ocean Rig apparently floated a new stock issue that diluted existing shareholders. I can't figure out SDLP so I bought some for the yield and strong balance sheet.

    Any Comments


    May 26, 2016 A second look

    Well sports fans, today I decided to evaluate my (trending value) program stocks vs the rest of my portfolio just to see which part performed better. Remember, the S&P 500 was down 3.59%. What I found was this: My worst performing stock was BRKB - a non program stock. BRKB lost 4.3%. That's been my luck with BRKB every time I buy it. I don't know why I keep trying. Last time I bought it, I kept it for about two years and finally sold it because it did nothing and does not pay a dividend. Of course it went up 50% in the next two years after I sold. That's where I bought it this time.

    However, the trending value part of my investments portfolio performed almost as bad as BRKB losing 4.27% on Friday. The balance of my portfolio including BRKB lost a net 1.44%. To save you from doing the math, my portfolios consist of 53% trending value stocks and 47% other stuff. About half the other stuff is index ETF's that have OK cash flow and some bonds. The Bonds and Utility ETFs performed the best actually gaining a bit.

    Remember, one day does not mean anything in the markets. It's like golf. One day you shank, slice and three putt everything except where you four putt. The next day, you really stink.


    May 24, 2016 I told you this is a minimum worry system

    My Total portfolios, although not 100% conforming to the O'Shaughnessy "Trending Value" portfolio, were down 2.97% Friday on Brexit news. The S&P 500 was down 3.59%. Take a look at the Watch List page. I had 16 new highs on Friday although some of those were new additions to my portfolio and not true hew highs. What is my advice? Stick with the system. If you own good companies, You'll do OK.


    May 15, 2016 from Martin Zerfass a German Technologist living in Shanghai

    Here my 2 cents worth (or is it 5 cents … not sure :)) on your (very interesting) points … Let me start with China (as I live and work there and have for the last 7 years) – sorry if it has grown a little long but the topic has many layers.

    Yes, the debt issue is a major one here and it is a cause of growing concern. The debt is actually on many different levels and none of them are really in good shape. Country wise China is indeed amassing debt at an alarming rate. In the past it was to finance infrastructure and construction projects (that is where the 10%+ GDP growth rates came from), so you actually had some assets to go with the debt and the infrastructure of course helped in many ways to industrialize and move the country forward. Nowadays the debt is taken on for other reasons. Much is to fill in gaps or fix holes which appear due to economic situations or external shocks (e.g. stock price decline last year, stabilizing financial markets, stabilizing state owned companies which there are a lot of and most are bleeding money at an alarming rate). That money of course is not directly put into the GDP growth and it is done much more to cure symptoms than the root causes

    Debt on government level below the county level is another big issue. Many communities, cities etc. are hugely in debt (also from prior infrastructure spending, prestige objects or just plain corruption) and some actually defaulted last year (they were of course saved by the next higher level of administrative hierarchy). But the situation is dire. State politics are urging the lower level administrators to get their debt under control but you know as well as I, once it is there, it is not so easy to get rid of … and there is no fast way

    Debt on (state owned) company level is being addressed by a push towards privatization. But that leads to other problems. Just privatizing does not get rid of bad processes, too many employees or bad products. Thus many of the companies are either ‘zombie’ companies which are just being kept alive artificially by state or lower level administration but will never turn a profit or if you take privatization seriously the effect will be massive layoffs and company closures. In the steel and coal industry for instance, overcapacity will prompt the closure of I think 1200 of the worst companies resulting in up to 10 Million people out of work … that is a serious issue, even in China. Also of course privatization is slow and politicians are not moving forward too fast of fear of making mistakes or just not really knowing what to do. In a country as big as China, the whole topic in itself is huge

    Debt of private companies is an issue because many companies are operating at low or even negative margins. They also find it hard to get credit line from the banks (more on bank’s credit situation below). Thus they need to go to the ‘grey’ capital market to raise money at much higher interest rates and of course the risk of default there is much higher than otherwise.

    Finally the banks … they are really afraid to lend money to private companies currently. They don’t really seem to know how to do a relevant credit check / due diligence (of course missing documentation and off the book accounting does not help). So basically only state owned companies get easy credit from them. I think I read that the ratio of non performing loans in China is about 3-5x the ratio in the US. That again is cause of concern. If you in addition see how banking works in China it is horribly inefficient and not at all transparent as to processes, guidelines. Often it depends on the individual working on the specific case and of course corruption plays a role in that too.

    So after all these points it might surprise you that I still think the issue is not really serious at all … why? Because China will not let anything happen to the banks, their state owned companies etc. that will loose them face in the rest of the world. Sure they might let a bank or two go bust but only to show the others what could happen … then they will save the rest (same for state owned companies etc.). For these rescue missions China itself still has enough reserves on hand. Regarding the financial (stock) markets (not talking about Hongkong but Shanghai and Shenzhen) the attempt to stabilize them was not really successful but Chinese politics always is very inventive when it comes to reach a desired outcome (up to just defining a certain outcome and then make the supporting statistics for it :)). I personally think the housing market will deflate somewhat but will not burst like in the US or in the Tiger states in the 80’s / 90’s. Government will not allow it and they have the means and willingness to soften the landing

    As for the Saudis they are in a kind of a pickle. What I understand is that they want to make their piece of the planet more interesting and when the oil is gone and you don’t have another industry in place (which I think they really don’t) tourism and / or financial / service industry is what springs to mind what they could try to build up.

    From my point of view though these areas will not prove successful. First let me tell you that Dubai is not a really good place to live and work (unless you have a lot of money and keep indoors all the time). I must admit I have not been to other areas there but from what I hear and see, you can put up as much museums, F1 racing tracks, highest buildings, make new islands like the palm or earth … at the end of the day you are talking about desert country. The cost of artificially keeping things viable there are huge and will only increase in the future. So, can they build something up right now … yes I think so. Will it be sustainable … no.

    What about service and financial industry or a logistics hub etc? Again I think they can put it there but it will wither and die long term because we already have hubs like that strategically placed and as long as the whole pie is not getting bigger by much it is much harder to carve out your little piece of an existing pie because you have to take it away from somebody else.

    So these are my thoughts … Thank you for sharing all your information and insights on a continuing basis … I hope the thoughts above can repay that a little bit

    All the best from Shanghai: Martin


    May 15, 2016

    This week and from now on, I decided to eliminate from ranking any company that has any missing value factors. My old rule was more than two columns, but time after time, the companies with missing data had something wrong with the financials or went from profit to loss.

    Yes, I know this is a departure from O'Shaughnessy rules, but I just cannot, in good conscience, give half credit for missing data. Too many of the companies with missing data have bit me in the ass. Besides, I notice that deleting the missing data companies up-front still leaves more than 1,900 companies to choose from. That oughta be enough choices to find a few winners.


    April 24, 2016

    Most of my life I have believed that the markets DO NOT fundamentally change. When somebody tells you "it's different this time", it's not.

    When I was 40 (1979), few people really believed that someday data and movies would be delivered to the home like electricity and telephone. Today, the old expression, "the pen is mightier than the sword" has been replaced with, "there's an app for that". What that really means to you and me is this: The browser, the app, the internet and the cloud have changed access to information for anybody and everybody.. Charles Schwab, a fellow Stanford Grad and all the discount brokers who followed his example, made trading cheap and easy. Put the data, computing power and cheap on-line trading together, and the individual investor has pretty much all the tools that the big boys have.

    As long as the internet functions, it's a sea change. There is so much data available and accessible and so much processing power, stock market investing really is different now. I can analyze and compare the most current financial data on over 6,000 public companies in about 10 minutes with a Ycharts subscription and a Schwab account. Just on this web site, I can present the distilled and ranked financial essence of those companies - including closing stock price and market cap as of yesterday (if I run it daily which I don't).

    Does all this mean it's different this time? Have we seen and end to Bull and Bear cycles and bubbles? Probably not, but maybe a bit smoother ride. No because:

  • It would take a lot of individual investors making smart decisions to make much difference
  • The market has lots of institutional investors and inertia
  • The institutional investors have orders of magnitude more money most than individual investors
  • The vested interests care more about their profits than yours
  • Business is naturally cyclical

  • It could be yes if:
  • A ground swell of individual investors wisely use the tools available
  • Investors use data to make logical decisions rather than emotional
  • Regulators get serious about regulation
  • Everybody plays nice and does not bet against their own customers

  • Obviously, it's not gonna happen right away, but the avalanche of filtered data that's avaialable can't help but change the markets little by little. Ya can't keep em down on the farm once they've seen the city.

    Is there a point to this? Yes. I think since leveling off in 2014, the markets have been pretty smooth. Following the raging bull recovery from the real estate melt-down propped up with government money, all the pundits are predicting the end of the world, but it does not seem to be happening. Profits are up, the craziness is being absorbed by venture capital with lots of money and staying power and tech companies buying up any threats to their business models. What can go wrong? Probably something lurking out there. I think I'll go bargain hunting little by little; maybe 60% equity and 40% bonds by year end.


    March 6, 2016

    Just a quick note: What do you think about a Brazilian real estate management company at the top of the "Top Fifty" list this week; and what's more, an Austrialian mining company in second place?

    I'll bet you would not find those opportunities (?) on your own. Question is are they really what they appear to be? I dunno. They look legit according to the unbiased evaluation formulas I employ.