Posts Tagged ‘Buffett’

4 Reasons Why the “4 Reasons Today’s Tech Scene Differs from the ’90s Bubble” Aren’t Really Reasons

03/29/2011

I hope that the title of the article didn’t scare you. Yet I felt compelled to share with you the same confusion many in the social media world are currently going through with regard to company valuations.

I got to the article “4 Reasons Today’s Tech Scene Differs from the ’90s Bubble” through the article “Buffett Declares Social Media Valuations Overpriced“, in which Buffett, in eerily similar fashion to the Tech Bubble 1.0, claims “it’s extremely difficult to value social networking site companies” and that “some will be huge winners, which will make up for the rest.”

As a student of investor sentiment I love to point out when investors’ hearts jump far ahead of their minds. One of my favorite books of all-time is “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and The Madness of Crowds” in which Charles McKay journeys through the greatest examples of herd-mentality people’s money has been subject to.

I’ve become quite keen of bubbles. Both finding them and pointing out false ones. Tops are more fun than bottoms, simply because bubbles are so much more entertaining.

It’s a funny thing money, because it’s something we work our whole lives for and yet it can drive us completely insane. We gamble when we have everything to lose and we shy away from the greatest of opportunities.

Back to the article.

If you insist that Facebook is worth $85 Billion today you deserve to be made fun of. Let’s begin.

Alexander Hotz is a freelance multimedia journalist and public radio junkie based in New York City. Currently he teaches digital media at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

So now we have a case of Buffett vs Hotz. Who do YOU think is going to win? That’s right. The 80 year old investor or some young “public radio junkie”. Sorry, Alex but my money’s on Buffett.

We currently have the following valuations:

Quora $1 Billion

Twitter $10 Billion

Facebook $85 Billion

Alex mentions 4 reasons why “this time is different”.

1. Startup Costs

“[In the 1990s], when you started a company, more money was pumped into office space, servers and equipment,” said Mimeo.com Founder Jeff Stewart. “Today, when you build a company, you don’t own a server — you might even have mobile office.” With so much infrastructure now in the cloud, entrepreneurs can focus more on the product than they could in the past. For their part, investors don’t need to invest as much, so at least in comparison to the 1990s, oftentimes the risk is less. Bottom line — it costs less to start a company today.

There are 3 immediate issues I have with that paragraph.

a. It’s not true. Yes infrastructure costs have lowered significantly yet other costs and other distractions have taken its place. Today, marketing, lead generation, code writing and technical expertise have taken the front seat – aspects just as time consuming as taking out the trash or actually selling product.

b. This doesn’t help us. If startup costs have dropped that means that the incentive for other competitors to compete has risen. What stops some potential college drop-out from spending his night writing better code than your oh-so-genius team?

c. This isn’t a reason. So let us assume that you do have a patent-pending for your state-of-the-art tech-savvy game-changing app. How do you make money? If there’s no money, there’s no valuation. Period. I’ll write that again because it will recur throughout this article. If there’s no money, there’s no valuation.

2. Public vs Private

In the 1990s, tech companies raced to secure a lucrative IPO. When the bubble burst in March 2000, those who got burned weren’t just angel investors and VCs, they were less experienced investors who had jumped on the tech bandwagon.

Today, younger companies aren’t in a rush to go public. Think Facebook’s “special purpose vehicle” with Goldman Sachs. What’s more, today’s public tech companies are market stalwarts. “You can’t call Amazon or Google or Apple overvalued,” said OrganizedWisdom CEO Steve Krein. “[In the 1990s] you could have called DoubleClick, Amazon and Yahoo overvalued.”

Krein agrees with Fred Wilson that the startup world has some “frothiness” or excess capital, but comparisons to the 1990s don’t take into account where the investors are coming from.

Firstly, investors are investors. And history has proven the astute “experienced” investors to be the ones who are often the most foolish ones. You may insist that small investors won’t get burned this time and, I agree, that’s a good thing. But that doesn’t in any way validate the stupidity of the affluent who we know spend millions of dollars on other stupid stuff like art, CDOs and credit default swaps.

I have no doubt that if the small guy could get in on this mayhem, he’d buy Facebook faster than he bought Enron and Pets.com 12 years ago.

Then he mentions Google, Apple and Co., which makes my head spin. Of course Google wasn’t overvalued in 1999. It didn’t exist! So while investors were piling into Yahoo and Juno their ultimate rival wasn’t even a prototype!

The second mistake is a bit more complex. You can’t use the survivor to prove the challenge. You can’t take the 1997 Bulls and claim that the Michael Jordan draft pick was a home run. Apple has come a long way since 1999. Jobs had just joined the company again after 10 years of struggling profits and a stagnant share-price.

3. Hubris

A less tangible difference between the 1990s and today’s startups is the dynamic between the up-and-comers and the established titans. “[In the 1990s] there was a sense of confidence that the new companies would knock off the old companies,” said MeetMoi.com CEO Andrew Weinreich. “Imagine Time Warner, the most venerable of media companies, literally giving away half of itself to an Internet startup AOL. If you were in a startup, you really thought that you would knock off existing players.” Today, the big players are the survivors of the dot com era.

I have to give it to him. He had the substance of a real argument until the last line. Which survivors are we referring to? When people talk about Google being taken over by Facebook, what does that say about hubris?

Finally, since when does hubris a necessity for a valuation bubble. All we’re saying is that investor aren’t discounting anything for the future. Webster’s  defines a “Bubble” as “a state of booming economic activity (as in a stock market) that often ends in a sudden collapse”.

When VCs are throwing (literally) money at these new tech startups there is a definite chance of a sudden collapse in economics activity, at least in Silicon Valley.

4. The Bubble Isn’t a Profitable Joke

In 2000, entrepreneur Philip Kaplan created the satirical website FuckedCompany.com (a take on Fast Company), lampooning the absurdities of the startup world. “When you have a profitable business built around making fun of the bubble, that’s an indicator,” said Stewart. The site made some serious money off the woes of the floundering dot com world. Today, while satirical blogs and social accounts are plentiful, none of them come close to the profitability of lampooning the last bubble.

Do we really need jokes to prove investor insanity? Mind you, every child knows that (bubblegum) bubbles take time to grow, but only an instant to pop. Investors should bear in mind the same. That one day there will be a joke, the next it won’t be so funny.

So is there a bubble?

No.

Guess you weren’t expecting that answer. The fact is that if investors are going this crazy now, it’s due to continue for some time. True, there are no jokes, there are no naysayers (and thus stark advocates) and it’s not the hottest topic on CNBC. Most of all, there aren’t enough people claiming it’s a bubble (yes, a bubble needs a conscience). Not yet at least. But once the IPOs start rolling out and the small investors do get wind of what’s going on, it will end, and badly.

Wait I say.

Wait for the “Facebook taking over Apple” articles.

Wait for the momentum, when volatility increases.

Wait for the young and inexperienced investors to sit on the set of CNBC and tout the reasons for their madness.

Wait until earnings become paramount, while balance sheet quality, cash flow from operations are ignored.

Wait until these “low cost” startups begin to run low on the mountains of cash they acquired.

Wait for when the accounting seems compromised, when large amounts of earnings stem from accruals rather than cash flow from operations.

Wait for the article that say “This time is different”, “P/E ratio’s don’t matter” and “If you don’t invest now you’ll die a broke old man”.

When Buffett said that he “didn’t get tech,” he didn’t mean that he didn’t understand technology; he just couldn’t understand how technology companies would earn returns on equity justifying the capital employed on a sustainable basis.

Your Goal In Life

05/06/2010

Your goal in life is to achieve that which you were not wired to achieve.

People go day by day, consciously or otherwise, in a fervent search. It’s a search for purpose, although not everyone shares the same purpose, and sometimes our differences are dramatic, even clashing.

But to live on purpose, with a sense of knowing who you are, what you are doing here and being good at it is something we all strive for.

Everyone Has Their Own Wiring

Each of us has our own unique and specialty that makes us different, however slightly, from the person next to us. And when we use the word “wiring” we mean that everything from our expression, to the way we process information, to how we make our decisions, to how we implement those decisions, to the views and values we were brought up with, to our genes and internal DNA – it’s all part of what makes you YOU.

The Four Temperaments

Early philosophers and play-writers profiled 4 distinct personalities, and they differ from each other like night and day, winter and summer, right and left.

Plato called them: Artisans, Guardians, Rationals and Idealists.

Each has their own preconceived “purpose” or primary focus in life.

The Artisan wants Play. Everything is about doing what you do best in the mot creative, most impactful way possible (Famous Artisans include Wolfgang Mozart, Winston Churchill, Elvis Presley and Michael Jordan).

The Guardian wants Help. They dvote their lives to the duties of the world, to provide everyone with their physical and social needs. (Famous Guardians include George Washington, Queen Victoria, Mother Teresa and Warren Buffett).

The Rational wants Mind. Thinking is the greatest virtue and configuration is their greatest glee. Ideas are power-points to build on and create brilliant frameworks. (Famous Rationals include Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, Albert Einstein and Bill Gates).

The Idealist wants Soul. Nothing is without meaning, and nothing is here without purpose. This type are often promoters of peace, love and purpose. (Famous Idealists include Mohandas Gandhi, Alexander Hamilton, Eleanor Roosevelt and Oprah Winfrey).

It’s fascinating to note that some of those who came under pressure for their novel, even radical views were often merely representing their own perspectives.

The psychological arguments between Sigmund Freud and Viktor Frankl become far more transparent once we realize that Freud was an Artisan (who focused on play, stimulation and physical needs) and Frankl an Idealist (who focused on soul, purpose and esoteric needs).

Similarly, one finds the differences between Harry Sullivan, who placed such a high value on social status, was indeed himself a Guardian, while Alfred Adler, a Rational, stated that the quest for power and technological advancement was they key motive in life.

The Common Ground

Yet we all share a common ground. We each have our own goals. And YOUR goal is to achieve that which you were not wired to achieve.

This means that whichever situation you find yourself in, whatever circumstance or psychological “wiring” you find yourself endowed with, there is always a challenge, always something greater than your preconceived abilities. That is your greatness. That is where your greatest strengths are focused and once you succeed through them you transcend your preconceived limits, self-imposed or otherwise, and you become able – psychologically, physically and passionately – to do whatever it is you please.

If you were born with autism. To become the captain of your basketball team; that’s your goal in life.

If the doctor tells you you’ll never walk again. To become the fastest man on earth; that’s your goal in life.

If you wake up addicted to Smoking. To Quit; that’s your goal in life.

If you (insert major challenge). To (insert major achievement); that’s YOUR goal in life!

To merely achieve a goal for a goal’s sake is foolish. True, there may be some achievements that will far outshine all others, but maturity and growth comes through resetting your goals and renewing your vows to play harder, to help more people, to generate better ideas, to make this world a happier place!

 

 

Further Reading:

Please Understand Me II” by David Keirsey


Why Invest in Gold?

02/25/2010

By Levik Dubov

Simple Answer:

The reason why investors own precious metals, is to insure themselves from a debasement of currency at a greater rate than available market returns. Few people actually own precious metals physically, and those who do often do for the wrong reasons.

Gold is not a reliable vehicle for appreciation, yet it is an outstanding store of value. The sensible capitalist does not “invest” in gold. He merely safeguards his wealth in the form of non-financed physical-assets in times when currency competency comes into question, and waits until either the inflation subsides or an opportunity of adequate returns to be restored.

As one hedge fund manager recently put it: “All investments have their day, and right now gold is having its day”.

In-Depth Analysis:

For all those who aren’t familiar with Talmudic-style dissection, Get ready!

Some people are natural cynics and approach everything with a good dose of skepticism. (These people often spend years owning nothing but AAA-bonds and Market Funds). Others are opportunists and approach everything with a gullible zeal. (These people are often looking for the next Microsoft). We see ourselves as mere realists, in an attempt to approach everything with a logical and objective frame of mind.

To understand results we must first find reason…

Questions Scott Adams poses:

I am referring to a recent article by famed Dilbert cartoonist, Scott Adams. I enjoy his posts very much and I hope this article will clarify his perplexities regarding precious metals investment.

1. “People aren’t good at predicting the future, no matter how obvious the future path seems”.

It is for precisely this reason, that when things do change, (such as the turn of the English Empire), so few expect it and are prepared. Ask people interested in precious metals, exactly how many ounces of physical metal they own. You’ll notice how few people truly stand behind the words they’ve spoken. As a matter of fact, just glancing through the comments on Adams’ blog, it seems that most of the forum comes across as hypothetical folks who either own too little of a position, or are influenced by invalid reasoning.

2. “Warren Buffett isn’t putting all of his money in gold”.

I will get to the reason behind this in a moment, but it must be understood that Mr. Buffett is a “Common Stock Man”. That’s what fascinates him, that’s what engages him, that’s what he does best. So why should he invest in gold when he has found far greater returns in an under-valued marketplace?

3. “My failure to imagine how the debt can be contained might be just that: a failure of my imagination”.

When it comes to debt there is far too many variables to consider (i.e. Chinese Bond-ownership, Dollar Replacement, Federal Bankruptcy, Currency Revaluation, The Gold Standard). In other words, the ownership of gold stands not as an investment with the intention of appreciation, but as an clever insurance policy against a catastrophic hyper-inflation or currency debasement.

Explanation:

In “The Intelligent Investor” written by Benjamin Graham (Buffett’s famed mentor), which was revised as of 1971, Graham says in Chapter 2, “The Investor and Inflation”, in the article “Alternatives to Common Stock as Inflation Hedges”:

“The standard policy of people all over the world who mistrust their currency is to buy and hold gold… the holder of gold has received no income return on his capital”.

He adds in summation:

“There is no certainty that a stock component will insure adequately against such inflation” [emphasis ours].

A few points need to be highlighted:

1) Graham informs us that the hoarding of gold was an age old practice. This made total sense as in fore-times bank panics, currency debasement and depressions occurred just about once a decade.

2) He cites the years between 1935-71 as “proof” that gold has been a lousy and inadequate investment class. However, between the years of 1969 and 1981, gold appreciated phenomenally, outperforming each and every other asset class by a wide margin. Had Graham witnessed this spectacle there is strong reason to believe that he would have reconsidered his position, and may have made room for precious metals in a conservative portfolio.

3) In that paragraph he also frowns upon investing in real estate claiming that it is subject to “wide fluctuations” and “serious errors”. His only advice to such business is:

“Be sure it’s yours before you go into it”.

What Graham is telling us here, is that any asset is a bad investment if done for speculative reason, or with improper judgement.

4) In his closing remark, Graham even warns that even while common stocks offer great opportunity, they may nevertheless fail to overcome the challenges of inflation, or currency debasement.

What’s Changed?

Much! Too much actually. As a matter of fact, from an economic standpoint America is no longer similar to the America Graham was familiar with. For one, America has lost its status as the world’s largest manufacturer of goods, and has gained a frightening lead in terms of consumptions and spending. (For those familiar with European history, this is how 16th Century Spain lost its position as the world leader in trade and commerce).

The world of currencies have also changed drastically. While I will not delve into the fascinating history of barter, trade and the properties of monetary exchange here, one enormous variable differentiates the Pre-1974 and the Common Eras. In ancient times, every single transaction took place with an element of exchange in mind. Whether it was sea shells, or cattle, or wooden sticks, the value of any transaction or credit was accurately measured in terms of a monetary exchange unit. With the agreement to terminate convertability from gold to Dollars in 1974, this all changed. No longer would the U.S. Dollar, the “ineffable” reserve currency of the world, be exchangeable for the gold metal.

Thus began, the current era of a universally-accpeted fiat (non-commodity based) currency. No longer would each transaction be measurable in accurate terms. And no longer would any Government, foreign or domestic, be compelled and obligated to abide to the regulations of supply and demand. So long as We The People would accept and stand loyal behind the mere faith and credit of the United States Government, so long would our ever-glorified Dollar endure.

4.
“What happens to the price of gold if people simply change their minds about its value?”

Adams’ question seems pertinently logical. However, there is one crucial question that he fails to address…

What is a currency?

The following I adapt from the works of Doug Casey:

In the 4th century BC, Aristotle defined 5 reasons why gold is money, and they are just as valid today as they were then. A good form of money must be: consistent, convenient, durable, divisible, and have value in and of itself.

Consistent. The lack of consistency is why we don’t use real estate as money. One piece is always different from another piece.
Convenient. That’s why we don’t use, for instance, other metals like lead, or even copper. The coins would have to be too huge to handle easily to be of sufficient value.
Durable. That’s pretty obvious – you can’t have your money disintegrating in your pockets or bank vaults. That’s why we don’t use wheat for money; it can rot, be eaten by insects, and so on. It doesn’t last.
Divisible. Again, obvious. It’s why we don’t use diamonds for money, nor artwork. You can’t split them into pieces without destroying the value of the whole.
Value of itself. The lack here is why you shouldn’t use paper as money.

A 6th reason that Aristotle may have overlooked since it wasn’t relevant in his age, and nobody would have thought of it: It can’t be created out of thin air!

This is not a gold bug religion, nor a barbaric superstition. It’s simply common sense. Gold is particularly good for use as money, just as aluminum is particularly good for making aircraft, steel is good for the structures of buildings, uranium is good for fueling nuclear power plants, and paper is good for making books. Not money. If you try to make airplanes out of lead, or money out of paper, you’re in for a crash.

That gold is money is simply the result of the market process, seeking optimum means of storing value and making exchanges.

Buffett’s Investment in Silver, Style and The Finale of an Era:

Buffett It should be noted, that Buffett did make a significant investment into Silver (not gold) in the late 90s, one that has come under sharp scrutiny in recent years, as few are knowledgeable of exactly what led Buffett to purchase over 100 million ounces of physical silver on the open market, and moreover what ever happened to the holding. Those who know him, have even mentioned his fascination with silver over the decades. All in all, we cannot say that Buffett “only” invested in common securities.

We may also add, that the majority of Buffett’s tenure as the “world’s greatest investor” coincided with an era that was quintessential for the class of Common Stocks. The 50s, 60s, 80, and 90s, were all part of a two-part secular bull-market that captivated the attention of Wall Street and Main Street, concluding in the most absurd valuations for up-and-coming Tech start-ups that had neither money nor model. However, one may realize that Buffett’s years of 50-100% returns are far behind him. With over $100 Billion under his management, investment opportunities are slim as: a) Stocks have become a staple of investment and speculation, thus raising valuations to their highest in modern history, and b) The potential for significant returns diminish greatly as the ability for a multi-national corporation to grow is minimal, if not non-existent. This is known in economic circles as The Law of Diminishing Returns.

All in all, it can be assumed that the heyday in common stock are over, as long as current valuations remain at their elevated levels, and investor exuberance and hopeful optimism remain.

Depleting Commodities:

In summation, I’d like to point out why investors and speculators have begun a gradual influx into commodities and precious metals in particular. In brief: They’re disappearing. This doesn’t mean that there will be none left soon, the same way that Peak Oil doesn’t mean that there’ll be no more oil. It simply means that these goods will no longer be available at these prices. This may sound reminiscent to anyone who experienced oil sky-rocket from $1.50/ barrel to over $40 in the late 70s. When the government capped the price level, supply and demand kicked in: Boom! No more gas! Extended lines of anxious cars waiting to be fueled but to no avail. There is no more gasoline left at the price it sells for.

This is why investors flood commodities when inflationary scenarios take hold. Because with all the over-investment into service companies, manufacturing facilities, tech stocks, real estate developments and paper currencies, people have completely forgotten the elements all that possible: physical goods. Oil, Lumber, Cotton,

So take Adams’ post as you wish. But bear in mind that markets aren’t very intuitive. They tend to evaluate the here-and-now and the probable, and don’t have much patience for abstract and the possible.

I only restate the famed Ben Graham’s empirical warning: “Be sure it’s yours before you go into it”.

Good investing!
Levik