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3Q10 Intelledgement Macro Strategy Investment Portfolio Report

Posted by intelledgement on Wed, 13 Oct 10

Summary of Intelledgement’s model macro strategy model investment portfolio performance as of 30 September 2010:

Position   Bought   Shares Paid Cost Now Value   Change       YTD         ROI       CAGR  
FXI 03-Jan-07 243 37.15 9,035.45 42.82 11,006.30 8.87% 2.30% 21.81% 5.40%
IFN 03-Jan-07 196 45.90 9,004.40 36.37 10,127.32 13.44% 12.33% 12.47% 3.18%
DBA 13-Mar-08 235 42.50 9,995.50 27.87 6,549.45 16.17% 5.41% -34.48% -15.28%
EWZ 3-Aug-09 165 60.39 9,972.35 76,95 13,122.68 23.47% 3.13% 31.59% 26.75%
GLD 21-May-10 95 115.22 10,953.90 127.91 12,156.39 5.12% 19.20% 10.98% 33.40%
SLV 21-May-10 636 17.29 11,004.44 21.31 13,586.23 16.98% 28.84% 23.46% 79.17%
DOG 25-May-10 204 54.01 11,026.04 48.16 9,824.64 -10.83% -7.97% -10.90% -28.05%
PSQ 25-May-10 246 44.74 11,014.04 38.85 9,556.88 -14.16% -11.04% -13.23% -33.30%
SH 25-May-10 201 9.41 10,978.58 48.90 9,828.90 -11.11% 6.96% -10.47% -27.07%
LQD 11-Aug-10 99 110.60 10,957.40 113.09 11,237.89 n/a 11.83% 2.56% 20.28%
cash -3,942.10 19,027.59
Overall 31-Dec-06 100,000.00 126,024.27 4.23% -0.52% 26.02% 6.37%
Macro HF 31-Dec-06 100,000.00 121,336.09 0.95% 3.37% 21.34% 5.30%
S&P 500 31-Dec-06 1,418.30 1,141.20 10.72% 2.34% -19.54% -5.63%

Position = security the portfolio owns
Bought = date position acquired
Shares = number of shares the portfolio owns
Paid = price per share when purchased
Cost = total paid (price per share multiplied by # shrs plus commission)
Now = price per share as of date of report
Value = what it is worth as of the date of report (price per share multiplied by # shrs plus value of dividends)
Change = on a percentage basis, change since last report (not applicable for positions new since last report)
YTD (Year-to-Date) = on a percentage basis, change since the previous year-end price
ROI (Return-on-Investment) = on a percentage basis, the performance of this security since purchase
CAGR (Compounded Annual Growth Rate) = annualized ROI for this position since purchase (to help compare apples to apples)

Notes: The benchmark for the Intelledgement Macro Strategy Investment Portfolio (IMSIP) is the Greenwich Alternative Investments Global Macro Hedge Fund Index, which historically (1988 to 2009 inclusively) provides a CAGR of around 14.0%. For comparison’s sake, we also show the S&P 500 index, which since January 1950 has produced a CAGR of around 7.2%. Note that for our portfolio’s positions, dividends are added back into the value of the pertinent security and not included in the “cash” total (this gives a more complete picture of the ROI for dividend-paying securities). Also, the “Cost” figures include a standard $8 commission and there is a 1% rate of interest on the listed cash balance. Finally, The “cash” line for the “Cost” column is negative because the total cost of the positions the IMSIP presently hold exceeds the total cash we started with—which is, of course, a good thing—and profits from earlier sales have been reinvested into more recently acquired positions.

Transactions: Less volatility this quarter, and fewer transactions…could this be causal relationship? 🙂

Performance Review: Wow, a mirror image quarter! We were up 4%, which normally is good, but we lost to the market (+11%) by seven  points. This is an almost perfect reversal of the prior quarter, in which we lost 4% but beat the market (-12%) by eight points. The IMSIP is just a rock of stability, relatively speaking. We did beat the macro hedge fund index (+1%) by three points. Heck, those guys are even more stable than we are—they gained 1% in 2Q10, too.

Tactically, we ended the quarter still pretty neutral, with three BRIC country long ETFs balanced by three index  short ETFs, plus three commodity plays including two flight-to-safety/inflation insurance precious metal funds and our agriculture ETF plus our new high grade corporate bonds ETF, which is a bet on the Fed keeping interest rates low. Our BRIC ETFs overall were up—as one would expect in a +11% market: Brazil (EWZ, +23%), India (IFN, +13%), and China (FXI, +9%). The commodity ETFs also did well, with SLV +17%, DBA +16, and GLD +5%. The three index short ETFs had a tough quarter, of course: DOW (DOG) -11%, NASDAQ (PSQ) -14%, and S&P 500 (SH) -11%. Our newly acquired corporate bond fund (LQD) was up 3% in a month-and-a-half. We also made a profit on our sale of the high tech ETF (IYW), and took a loss unloading the treasuries short fund (TBT).

Overall, we are now 46 points ahead of the market in terms of total return-on-investment: +26% for us and -20% for the S&P 500 in the 45 months since the inception of the IMSIP at the end of 2006. We are five points ahead of our benchmark, the GAI Global Macro Hedge Fund Index, +26% to +21%. In terms of compounded annual growth rate, after three years IMSIP is +6%, the GAI hedgies are at +5%, and the S&P 500 is -6%.

Analysis: The fix is in.

We can argue about why this is happening. Some see dark bankster conspiracies aimed purposefully at destroying confidence in national governments and creating chaos in order to facilitate a world-wide takeover by the powerful elite. Some see an inherent flaw in the democratic process that makes it impossible for leaders to engage in long-term thinking, making the system vulnerable to situations where short-term pain is needed to avert long-term catastrophe…because the very design of the system ensures that short-term pain is always avoided at all costs. Some see nothing more remarkable than the inexorable rise and fall of empires at work here.

Leaving aside the theoretical explanations, as a practical matter, it is more and more clear that the central banks in the developed world are hell-bent on fending off the collapse of any “too big to fail” (TBTF) institutions at all costs. All the Sturm und Drang about the financial reform legislation that was supposed to end TBTF, all the jawboning about greedy bankers and unconscionable bonuses, all the expressions of piety with respect to the need for a strong dollar…all fade to insubstantial misdirection beside the solid reality of never-ending bailouts and so-called “quantitative easing.”

It was bad in the 50s and 60s when the USA financed both wars and increasingly expensive social programs via debt and the dollar began to weaken. It was worse in the 70s and 80s when we divorced the dollar from gold entirely, continued to run up debts, and accelerated the process of eschewing production and manufacturing in favor of financial “services” and ever-more arcane ways to manipulate money. In the 90s and the first decade of the 21st century, we engineered asset bubbles in real estate and stocks to inveigle folks to keep accumulating individual debt and eschew savings, even as a combination of irresponsible new entitlements obligations and an aging population worsened the debt situation of the government.

2008 was a watershed. Or, to borrow an analogy from South African finance minister Pravin Gordhan, a waterpipe—a broken one. Not a pipe we could see, because it was behind the wall, but we could hear the water dripping and see the stains on the wall. It was obvious to everyone that the proximate cause of the crash was the debt-funded asset bubbles. We could have chosen to own up to the errors of our ways, punished the guilty, sorted out the mess of the bursting bubbles, and applied our considerable energies to moving forward building a stabler, healthier financial system with safeguards against the abuses that brought us to this pass.

But instead, we chose to reinflate the bubbles! Rather than allowing housing prices to fall to sustainable levels, we bailed out homeowners who owed more than their properties were worth. Rather than allowing banks who had written bad loans to fail, we bailed them out, by artificially lowering interest rates and firing up the printing presses so they could borrow cheaply and reinvest the funds to make a profit and earn their way out of insolvency. Never mind that [a] it won’t work and [b] in trying to make it work we risk igniting a ruinous currency war. In effect, we threw good public money after bad private money, directly increasing the debt and indirectly—by weakening the dollar—reducing the wealth of all citizens (and their children).

Instead of fixing the broken pipe, we replastered the wall and painted over the water stains. The fix is in, not in the sense of repairing the damage, but in the sense that unscrupulous insiders have rigged it—while we are meant to believe that things are getting better, in fact what is happening is that those in the know have bet on the room being flooded, sooner or later.  The flood, of course, will not be water. It will be wheelbarrels full of worthless U.S. dollars.

Conclusion: We know that the foolhardy efforts of the central banks to save the corrupt and insolvent financial system are doomed. What we don’t know is how and when that doom will play out. For the past several months, we have been betting that things may fall apart sooner rather than later; hence our commodities and short positions. There are so many potential black swans flitting about—bad real estate loans, bad banks, insolvent local and state governments, sovereign debt, hyperinflation, potential social unrest in China, Iran and their nukes, North Korea and their nukes, Pakistan and their nukes, the threat of a major terrorist attack, a plague, global warming—that one or more could land at any moment.

In our best effort to avoid black swan excrement, as of 1 October, we continue to hold three long emerging market ETFs in the portfolio: China (FXI), India (IFN), and Brasil (EWX). We believe that in a deleveraging environment, the economies that are still growing will fare far better than those that are not; thus these long positions will be the last we will surrender if and when things get really dicey. Already, things are somewhat dicey…enough so that we hold three inverse index ETFs (that go up when whatever they are tied to goes down) to serve as insurance against a sudden worsening of the sovereign debt crisis: the short DOW index ETF (DOG), the short NASDAQ index ETF (PSQ), the short S&P 500 index ETF (SH). We are considering unloading some or all of these shorts because [a] the cost of holding them has risen along with the strong 3Q10 rally in the stock market and [b] our concern about hyperinflation in the face of a likely second round of quantitative easing by the Fed after election day is daunting. As it is, the overall performance of macro funds has been constrained by the prevalence of significant short positions,  in concert with the way the macros are pointing but—thanks at least in part to profligate quantitative easing and related shenanigans by the central banks—contrary to the way the markets are behaving.

We also still have three long commodity plays: the agriculture ETF (DBA) and precious metals ETFs for gold (GLD) and silver (SLV). The dollar is weakening again and the waxing of that hyperinflationary scenario has us considering a short play there.

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2Q10 Intelledgement Macro Strategy Investment Portfolio Report

Posted by intelledgement on Wed, 14 Jul 10

Summary of Intelledgement’s model macro strategy model investment portfolio performance as of 30 June 2010:

Position   Bought   Shares Paid Cost Now Value   Change       YTD         ROI       CAGR  
FXI 03-Jan-07 243 37.15 9,035.45 39.13 10,109.63 -5.69% -6.03% 11.89% 3.26%
IFN 03-Jan-07 196 45.90 9,004.40 30.25 8927.80 -2.75% -0.98% -0.85% -0.24%
DBA 13-Mar-08 235 42.50 9,995.50 23.99 5,637.65 -0.95% -9.27% -43.60% -22.07%
TBT 21-Jan-09 233 42.84 9,989.72 35.48 8,266.84 -27.13% -28.87% -17.25% -12.34%
EWZ 3-Aug-09 165 60.39 9,972.35 61.83 10,628.21 -15.19% -17.13% 6.58% 7.28%
IYW 29-Sep-09 208 51.86 10,794.88 51.60 10,771.70 -11.48% -10.32% -0.21% -0.29%
GLD 21-May-10 95 115.22 10,953.90 121.68 11,564.54 n/a 13.39% 5.57% 64.11%
SLV 21-May-10 636 17.29 11,004.44 18.21 11,614.63 n/a 10.10% 5.54% 63.69%
DOG 25-May-10 204 54.01 11,026.04 54.01 11,018.04 n/a 3.21% -0.07% -0.73%
PSQ 25-May-10 246 44.74 11,014.04 45.26 11,133.96 n/a 3.64% 1.09% 11.61%
SH 25-May-10 201 9.41 10,978.58 55.01 11,057.01 n/a 4.66% 0.71% 7.49%
cash -13,769.30 10,174.48
Overall 31-Dec-06 100,000.00 120,904.29 -4.01% -4.56% 20.90% 5.58%
Macro HF 31-Dec-06 100,000.00 120,194.43 0.70% 2.39% 20.19% 5.40%
S&P 500 31-Dec-06 1,418.30 1,030.71 -11.86% -7.57% -27.33% -10.09%

Position = security the portfolio owns
Bought = date position acquired
Shares = number of shares the portfolio owns
Paid = price per share when purchased
Cost = total paid (price per share multiplied by # shrs plus commission)
Now = price per share as of date of report
Value = what it is worth as of the date of report (price per share multiplied by # shrs plus value of dividends)
Change = on a percentage basis, change since last report (not applicable for positions new since last report)
YTD (Year-to-Date) = on a percentage basis, change since the previous year-end price
ROI (Return-on-Investment) = on a percentage basis, the performance of this security since purchase
CAGR (Compounded Annual Growth Rate) = annualized ROI for this position since purchase (to help compare apples to apples)

Notes: The benchmark for the Intelledgement Macro Strategy Investment Portfolio (IMSIP) is the Greenwich Alternative Investments Global Macro Hedge Fund Index, which historically (1988 to 2009 inclusively) provides a CAGR of around 14.0%. For comparison’s sake, we also show the S&P 500 index, which since January 1950 has produced a CAGR of around 7.3%. Note that for our portfolio’s positions, dividends are added back into the value of the pertinent security and not included in the “cash” total (this gives a more complete picture of the ROI for dividend-paying securities). Also, the “Cost” figures include a standard $8 commission and there is a 1% rate of interest on the listed cash balance.

Transactions: The sudden return of volatility in 2Q10 had us jumping through hoops with not only more transactions than usual but some hard zigging and zagging…but in the end, all profitable (at least the closed trades):

Performance Review: Normally you’d have no difficulty characterizing a 4% loss as a bad quarter, but when you still beat the market (-12%) by eight points, the waters get a bit muddy. We did lose to the hedgies (±0%) by five points. Tactically, reflecting the schizoid market we are close to neutral here, with our three BRIC country funds plus our high tech fund bullish, our four short funds bearish, plus three commodity plays including two flight-to-safety/inflation insurance precious metal funds. Our BRIC ETFs overall were down—as one would expect in a -12% market: India (IFN, -3%), China (FXI, -6%), and Brazil (EWZ, -15%); plus the emerging markets-oriented US Technology ETF (IWY) tracked the market (-11%, which BTW did edge out the NASDAQ for the quarter by one point, for those keeping score at home). Our repurchase of the precious metal EFTs looks good so far with GLD +13% and SLV +10%; the agriculture commodities ETF (DBA) held its own (-1%). Our UltraShort Lehman 20+Year Treasury ETF (TBT), which goes up when the value of long-term treasuries decline, as they tend to do when long-term interest rates rise, had a disastrous quarter (-27%), as the European sovereign debt crisis sparked a flight-to-safety run on US government bonds, and interest rates consequently plummeted. Some of those losses were offset by profits on the purchase and sale of the three index short ETFs for the DOW (DOG), NASDAQ (PSQ), and S&P 500 (SH) during the quarter; we purchased them again towards the end of the quarter and were slightly ahead. We also made a profit on our sale of the Malaysia ETF (EWM), although the sale price was a tad lower than the close at the end of last quarter.

Overall, we are now 48 points ahead of the market in terms of total return-on-investment: +21% for us and -27% for the S&P 500 in the three-and-a-half years since the inception of the IMSIP at the end of 2006. We are one point ahead of our benchmark, the GAI Global Macro Hedge Fund Index, +21% to +20%. In terms of compounded annual growth rate, after three years IMSIP is +6%, the GAI hedgies are at +5%, and the S&P 500 is -10%.

Analysis: After five straight quarters of declining volatility, things got interesting—as in, “may you live in interesting times”—in 2Q10. A combination of continued slower-than-expected economic growth and the specter of sovereign debt defaults among European countries combined to spook the markets big time. The potential threat of defaults by any of the PIIGS (Portugual-Ireland-Italy-Greece-Spain) is considered to be extremely serious because it could engender a cascade of bank collapses—all over Europe and beyond—similar to the danger in 2008 attendant to a collapse of AIG, Bear Stearns, Citibank, Freddie, Fannie, Merrill Lynch, and/or Wachovia (all of whom were eventually bailed out by the US government). The powers-that-be most definitely consider that this would be a catastrophic eventuality, to be avoided at all costs. Thus the likelihood that central banks will once again deploy taxpayer dollars to bailout the moneyed elites, this time for their fecklessness in loaning money to over-extended governments instead of for their foolishness being lured into ludicrous spectulative bets by Goldman Sachs and their ilk.

Our perspective is that this is yet another swerve in the extended oscillating skid which we have written of before. The combination of intrinsically short-sighted democratically elected—and, more to the point, re-elected—politicians and a culture that increasingly craves instant gratification has done us in. We got into this situation by overspending, borrowing beyond our means, and speculating on bubble-valued assets. The U. S. government’s attempts to address our problems have generally been short on addressing systemic issues and long on creating the temporary illusion that things are getting better.

The proper way to defeat an oscillating skid is to turn into it, thus affording your tires traction and enabling you to regain control. In our case, we could do this by allowing the insolvent financial institutions to go out of business, as they so richly deserve to. We could require more stringent capital requirements for both lenders and borrowers doing business in the USA. We could clean house at the regulatory agencies so they will actually enforce the rules already on the books (e.g., not allowing naked short selling). We could make it illegal for ratings agencies to accept payment from any company they rate. We could create an exchange for the trading of derivatives. We could encourage good corporate governance practices (e.g., favoring for government contracts companies that reward management with long-term stock options rather than instant cash bonuses so that corporate leaders’ interests were better aligned with the long-term interest of shareholders). We could reduce social welfare spending commitments to sustainable levels going forward.

But instead, we are fighting the skid at every turn. We are throwing good taxpayer money after bad propping up the “too big to fail” banks. We are debasing our currency in futile attempts to reinflate the housing and credit bubbles that got us into this latest fix in the first place. Instead of addressing the systemic problem of overcommitted government largesse, we are expanding the role of government and increasing our commitments.

Conclusion: There is no such thing as a free lunch. Someone always pays, sooner or later. For decades, we—through our elected leadership—have relentlessly whipped out our national credit card to, in effect, pass the debt on to future suckers. Well, if you have a mirror handy, you can meet one of those future suckers right now. The government is still flashing plastic, but now it is a debit card, and the account being charged is the one that’s comprised of your life savings.

In our best effort to avoid those charges, as of 1 July, we continue to hold four long emerging market ETFs in the portfolio: China (FXI), India (IFN), Brasil (EWX), and US high tech (IYW which we consider an emerging market play as some two-thirds of the revenue of the companies comprising the ETF are ex-USA derived). We believe that in a deleveraging environment, the economies that are still growing will fare far better than those that are not; thus these long positions will be the last we will surrender if and when things get really dicey. Already, things are somewhat dicey…enough so that we now have four inverse ETFs (that go up when whatever they are tied to goes down) to serve as insurance against a sudden worsening of the sovereign debt crisis (which could be either European- or domestic state/local government-based): the short DOW index ETF (DOG), the short NASDAQ index ETF (PSQ), the short S&P 500 index ETF (SH), and the inverse long-term Treasury bonds ETF (TBT). We are considering unloading this last because the (up-to-now) European sovereign debt crisis has engendered a perverse flight-to-safety that is driving U.S. bond rates down (and the values of the bonds up), even though in the long run the USA is no more solvent than Greece. We believe the value of those bonds will eventually plummet but we have held TBT for over a year now with no joy and it could be we can do better with the funds between now and a more opportune time to be short treasuries.

We also still have three long commodity plays: the agriculture ETF (DBA) and precious metals ETFs for gold (GLD) and silver (SLV). The dollar actually stronger again last quarter, the flight-to-safety reaction to the European sovereign debt crisis resulted in increased gold and silver prices anyway. In the longer run, we expect another massive round of central bank quantitative easing in response to the next crisis—or the one after that—and in the deluge of dollars that results, the commodities positions should provide some dry shelter for our assets.

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Dear Senator Burr: Audit the Fed!

Posted by intelledgement on Thu, 06 May 10

The Senate is currently considering financial reform. As we stated a couple of weeks ago, in discussing this topic:

We don’t much care for the concept of establishing a permanent mechanism to coddle “too-big-to-fail” companies, either. Management of these enterprises should not be operating with the presumption that they will be bailed out if they screw things up. Can you say “moral hazard”? In a world of transparent markets, stringent capital requirements, and firmly enforced rules against chicanery, it ought to be rare for management to run large enterprises into the ground…but when and if they do, let them fail! That is the way capitalism is supposed to work: if you succeed, you are rewarded; if you fail, smarter, more adaptable competitors will take advantage of the opportunity to win your former customers by serving their needs better. Propping up the failures is bad for everyone: bad for the customers who continue to get suboptimal service, bad for the competitors who are not rewarded for working harder and smarter, and bad for the failing organization’s personnel, who instead of moving on to something they can better succeed at are in effect bribed by government largess to persist to fail at something they are bad at.

Well, the cardinal mechanism for bailing out the “too-big-to-fail” institutions has been secret sweetheart deal loans of American citizen’s tax dollars via the Fed. It was taxpayer money loaned to AIG, for example, that enabled Goldman Sachs to collect 100 cents on the dollar to redeem the credit default swaps they had purchased from the insurer as a hedge against declines in the value of mortgage-backed securities, while other less well-politically-connected enterprises were getting 20 cents on the dollar for similar instruments from similarly compromised CDS sellers.

When the House passed their version of a regulatory reform bill (H.R. 3996), an amendment sponsored by Ron Paul (R-TX) and Alan Grayson (D-FL) was tacked on that would require the Fed to reveal these deals. That development has alarmed Ben Bernanke, Timothy Geithner, and the rest of the Goldman Sachs mafia, as they fear that revealing to the public how Americans are putting themselves and their children in hock to recompense incompetent bankers might make conducting such transactions problematic. Thus the Dodd bill as reported out of committee in the Senate lacked the Paul-Grayson amendment provisions.

Fortunately, several Senators have spoken out in support of auditing the Fed, and a vote on a parallel amendment to the Dodd bill is now imminent, despite continuing opposition from Bernanke, et al.

So, if you agree that adding to the public debt level of Americans (and their progeny) to make good the losses of Wall Street banks is a bad idea, you might consider so informing your Senator, which thanks to Alan Grayson, you can conveniently do here. And here is the letter that Richard Burr and Kay Hagan received from us:

I’m writing to urge you to cosponsor and vote for the Federal Reserve Transparency Amendment. This amendment will allow the American people to know to whom the Fed loaned trillions of dollars of our money. I am very concerned that the Fed is, in effect, obligating me and my children to cover the debts run up by irresponsible, antisocial Wall Street fat cats and foolhardy foreign bankers (and some credulous domestic bankers, too)! I don’t believe the American people would stand for bailing out these fools if the extent of what’s happening is made public. But if this amendment does not pass, the Fed can continue to make sweetheart loans to whomever it wants, without telling Congress or the American people.

There are a number of problems with the existing bill:

1) It does not allow audits of the mortgage backed security purchase program, a $1.25 trillion program that at this point comprises the bulk of the Fed’s balance sheet. This program includes Freddie and Fannie backed debt.

2) It does not allow audits of possible losses on foreign currency swap lines, of which there were more than $500 billion at the height of the crisis. This includes unlimited credit lines granted to central banks all over the world, solely through at the discretion of Federal Reserve and without the input of any elected official or the State Department.

3) It does not allow audits of open market operations, where there is ample room for errors, market manipulation, and insider trading violations.

4) It does not allow audits of possible losses on securities acquired through non-section 13(3) facilities. This includes looking for possible losses, seigniorage, political conflicts and costs to the Treasury.

In the existing bill, all audits must remain redacted. The GAO can’t even tell Congress to whom the Fed is lending money, the amounts it is lending, or any details about collateral or assets held in connection with any credit facility. The GAO can never release a full version of any audit unless the Federal Reserve first chooses to shut down the audited credit facility.

The Federal Reserve Transparency Amendment that I am urging you to support does the following:

1) Requires the non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct an independent and comprehensive audit of the Federal Reserve within one year after the date of enactment of the financial reform bill;

2) Requires the GAO to submit a report to Congress detailing its findings and conclusion of their independent audit of the Fed within 3 months; and

3) Requires the Federal Reserve within one month after the date of enactment to disclose the names of the financial institutions and foreign central banks that received financial assistance from the Fed since the start of the recession, how much they received, and the exact terms of this taxpayer assistance.

4) Does not interfere with or dictate the monetary policies or decisions of the Federal Reserve.

As you know, the House passed a similar amendment to HR 3996. Now is your chance to act, and to make a positive difference in our lives and the lives of future Americans. I urge you to cosponsor and vote for the Federal Reserve Transparency Amendment.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

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Change we can believe in? U.S. gets serious about financial regulatory reform

Posted by intelledgement on Tue, 20 Apr 10

One of the most disheartening aspects of the extended financial crisis we are in is how poorly the US government has responded. Of course, it’s fair to ask why anyone should be disappointed, given the record of consistently bad choices the government has compiled:

But wait! Maybe—now that the health insurance legislation has finally been passed—we are expending some attention on regulatory reform to address systemic risk issues.

In our view, to be effective reforms must address five main points:

  1. Create an exchange for trading derivatives such as credit default swaps and collateralized debt obligations
  2. Ban ratings agencies from accepting remuneration from equity issuers aside from for subscriptions to ratings info
  3. Establish more stringent capital requirements for financial services companies doing business in the USA
  4. Clean house at the enforcement agencies to ensure that existing regulations—e.g., against naked short selling—are actually enforced
  5. Encourage improved corporate governance—e.g., for government contracts, prefer financial services providers who compensate top management more with stock and less with cash bonuses and high salaries

The first and second reforms are intended to increase transparency and create a more robust pricing mechanism for derivative securities. Having a market where everyone can bid on whatever is offered for sale applies the collective wisdom of the market to the complex problem of determining a fair price for these instruments. You can’t fool all of the people all of the time. And it is a blatant conflict-of-interest that most of the income for most ratings agencies is provided by the issuers of the securities being rated. Ridding ourselves of the bogus AAA ratings that were the predictable result of this incestuousness will go a long way towards unmuddying the waters.

The third reform is intended to reduce the level of risk it is kosher to undertake from the obscene, bet-the-farm-and-all-my-neighbors’-farms-too heights scaled in the recent crisis down to something manageable. The fourth and fifth reforms are intended to reward socially responsible behavior among market participants and better align the interests of management with not only shareholders, but all the stakeholders in their enterprise.

We are not too keen on the consumer protection agency concept currently being promoted the President. We believe that with the notable exceptions of the need for more stringent capital requirements and the need to corral derivatives trading into an exchange, there are already generally sufficient regulations in existence—but the problem is that they have not been effectively enforced. Adding a new agency to a broken SEC and a broken CFTC and a Fed with a schizophrenic mission is a recipe for spending a lot of money achieving not much besides a big turf war. We’d be a lot better off putting Harry Markopolos in charge of the SEC, Patrick Byrne in charge of the CFTC, and instructing Ben Bernanke and company to focus on controlling inflation and protecting the dollar.

We don’t much care for the concept of establishing a permanent mechanism to coddle “too-big-to-fail” companies, either. Management of these enterprises should not be operating with the presumption that they will be bailed out if they screw things up. Can you say “moral hazard”? In a world of transparent markets, stringent capital requirements, and firmly enforced rules against chicanery, it ought to be rare for management to run large enterprises into the ground…but when and if they do, let them fail! That is the way capitalism is supposed to work: if you succeed, you are rewarded; if you fail, smarter, more adaptable competitors will take advantage of the opportunity to win your former customers by serving their needs better. Propping up the failures is bad for everyone: bad for the customers who continue to get suboptimal service, bad for the competitors who are not rewarded for working harder and smarter, and bad for the failing organization’s personnel, who instead of moving on to something they can better succeed at are in effect bribed by government largess to persist to fail at something they are bad at.

OK, maybe it’s not bad for literally everyone—to the extent this sort of irrational behavior renders us less efficient, perhaps it is good for China.

But leaving aside the details, the combination of President Obama’s new focus on financial regulatory reform and the SEC’s filing of a civil suit against Goldman Sachs for fraud last week is very heartening. The timing may be coincidental, but it’s not a coincidence that the SEC’s decision to press charges comes now—after two years of investigations and negotiations with Goldman over the matter—just as Obama sent an e-mail to folks who had signed up to support his efforts in office on the subject of financial regulatory reform which stated, in part: “With so much at stake, it is not surprising that allies of the big banks and Wall Street lenders have already launched a multi-million-dollar ad campaign to fight these changes. Arm-twisting lobbyists are already storming Capitol Hill, seeking to undermine the strong bipartisan foundation of reform with loopholes and exemptions for the most egregious abusers of consumers. I won’t accept anything short of the full protection that our citizens deserve and our economy needs. It’s a fight worth having, and it is a fight we can win—if we stand up and speak out together.” Both actions clearly reflect a decision by the administration to make this a priority.

Cognizant of the U.S. government’s consistent record of getting this stuff wrong, we are not overly optimistic that this time will be different. But we do find it ironic that the stock market—which is up 70% in the last year on what seems to us scant evidence that we are out of the woods—reacted to Friday’s news of the SEC suit against Goldman with a sharp decline. LOL this is the most bullish development of 2010 so far! The Obama administration’s first major action was—continuing along the course set by W—to prop of the rotten financial system, which was a counter-productive thing to do, but they did it well (unfortunately). Their second major initiative was health insurance reform, which while a shockingly low priority given the problems that beset us had the potential of being a good thing to do, but they screwed it up (unfortunately). Now, at last, they are focusing on an important problem to which a good solution has the potential to make life appreciably better for most everyone.

This, potentially, is change we can believe in.

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BUY ProShares Short Financials ETF (SEF)

Posted by intelledgement on Mon, 25 Jan 10

For a year now, we have been complaining that the Obama administration has totally failed to deliver “change we can believe in” with respect to the most important issue affecting the USA—managing the economy.

The G. W. Bush administration presided over the terminal phase of a real estate bubble that was exacerbated by lax and irresponsible regulation (to be fair, the real estate bubble was stoked by the Clinton administration and easy money policies go back further than that). When it finally blew up in our faces in 2008, instead of working to fix the problems—letting the overextended companies go bankrupt, working to reduce deficit spending and strengthening the dollar, and putting in place regulatory reform to address dark markets, overleveraging, and naked short selling—we instead attempted to paper over the problems: prop up all the troubled companies with toxic assets, extend artificially low easy credit, inject massive amounts of liquidity thus further weakening the dollar.

Enter the Obama administration, whose leader had decried the policies of his successor. But ironically—and to our dismay—when it came to managing the economy, it’s been hard to tell that there’s been an election and change in control of the government. Here it is a year later, and we are still propping up the companies that had failed and should have gone bankrupt (AIG, Fannie and Freddie, Citibank, GM et al), still maintaining 0% interest rates, our debt levels are up since January 2009, the dollar is down 9% year-over-year, and we still await meaningful regulatory reform. Only the names have been changed to protect the…oh, wait…nevermind…Obama even has the same folks in charge of the economy that G. W. Bush did.

Until—perhaps—last week.

Last Thursday, Obama announced proposals to restrict banks with Federally-insured deposits from conducting proprietary trading and from owning or investing in private equity funds or hedge funds. While the details remain to be spelled out, it appears that this is an attempt to transform savings bank/mortgage writing activities into a utility-style of business—heavily regulated, with limited profitability and insulated from more aggressive financial activities. Given that we have consistently criticised Obama (and previous presidents) for essentially taking their cues from the same guys that got us into this mess, it is bracing to finally see a policy proposal from him that did not have a stamp of approval from Goldman Sachs sputniks Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner.

Now, we don’t actually think much of these particular proposals. Had they been in effect in 2008, they would have applied to Citibank and JP Morgan Chase, but not to Bear Stearns or Lehman Brothers or AIG or Fannie or Freddie. And of course they would have done nothing to address the policies of easy money and easy credit that stoked the real estate bubble. And nothing to regulate the dark markets through which these bad loans were securitized and distributed. On the margins, it’s not a bad idea to insulate savings banks from what amounts to financial chicanery, but if on the other hand the government is still encouraging such chicanery…well, we can’t seriously expect to get healthier with this course of treatment; about the best we can hope for is to get sicker more slowly.

But when the car is going the wrong direction and you change drivers but keep going in the wrong direction, finally changing the navigator is a good sign.

So if this is (potentially) good news, why are we shorting the financials here?

Well, as much as we enjoyed watching Geithner squirm as he pretended to agree with these proposals, in the final analysis, we do not expect the Obama administration to substantively reverse course here. To truly put things right—reduce deficit spending, support the dollar, cease propping up zombie banks, enforce already-existing regulations limiting leverage, naked short selling, and other financial shenanigans which have largely been winked at for decades—would be painful. Painful in the short term for everyone, and in the longer term, for a lot of powerful folks from New York to Washington to London to Beijing. If Obama were of a mind to tackle that Sisyphean task, he should have started a year ago, when he could clearly have blamed everything on G.W. Bush and might have had a chance to make enough progress by 2012 to be re-elected. Now he has followed the same path as G.W. Bush for a year and we are a year further down the wrong road—whose fault is that? Even if he wants to reverse course, he lacks the moral authority and time to succeed.

So what is driving this conniption? We think it’s the loss of the Senate seat held by Ted Kennedy to the long-shot Republican challenger Scott Brown last week that has clearly energized the Obama administration to position themselves as less friendly to “Wall Street.” And folks, this is not positive energy we’re talking about here. The reality is that we have a capitalist system that is debilitated and the spectacle of the government vilifying the banks for no end other than political expediency is most definitely not a step towards healing. Politicians fighting for their (political) lives are not likely to make statesmanlike decisions and exhibit restraint; things are apt to get ugly. That is to say, more ugly.

And if we have misjudged Obama, and he truly does make an attempt to change direction here, then we will really see some economic and political turbulence.

Actually we think Bush-Obama troops have done a decent job, considering the size of the problems we have, sweeping them under the rug once again. Thus we could well get a continued overall market rally so long as job losses continue to slow and consumer spending does not decline further. But we don’t believe the financial sector is likely to lead such a rally. Thus it is a logical choice to short here, as insurance against a downturn sooner than we expect.

Thus we are buying the ProShares Short Financials ETF (SEF) here. This ETF is managed with the intent of obtaining a return of -100% of the Dow Jones U. S. Financials Index each single day. Thus the value of each share of the ETF should go up when the index declines, and vice versa. We have shorted the financials twice previously, both times utilizing the Proshares Ultrashort Financials ETF (SKF; this fund seeks a return of -200% of the Dow Jones U. S. Financials Index each day)—we made compounded annual growth rate profits of 45% and 5% respectively on those trades, but in light of our analysis that leveraged ETFs don’t perform well over time, we are going with the SEF this time around.

Previous SEF-related posts:

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Time to get mad about the AIG bonus brouhaha

Posted by intelledgement on Fri, 27 Mar 09

The sanctimonious pillorying of the AIG employees who received bonuses earlier this month by our elected “leaders” looks more like a scene out of The Ox Bow Incident than Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. And it is wrong. It is stupid. And it is hurting us.

The basic rant goes, it is outrageous that tax dollars collected from hard-working Americans transferred to AIG have been used to pay bonuses to fat cat bankers who contributed not only to the downfall of the company but the systemic risk that threatened the whole system—and now being rewarded for their malfeasance.

However, the reality is, most of the bonus money went to folks who are manning the sinking ship on behalf of us (U.S. taxpayers who have an 80% interest in AIG), trying to unwind the mess and minimize the damage. Very few of them had anything to do with writing the credit default swap contracts that crippled AIG and threatened us all with systemic failure. They agreed to do this work—many with reduced salaries and some turning down offers from healthier companies—with the understanding that these bonuses were safe, and indeed they were agreed to under Bush and confirmed under Obama (the oft-discussed amendment Senator Chris Dodd added at the behest of Treasury).

Now that the bonuses have become a big tsimmis, the politicians are either running for cover or competing with each other to come up with ways to demonize and torture these folks, ranging from retroactive confiscatory taxes to threats to publish their names and addresses so their spouses and children can enjoy the fear and loathing.

Not only is this behavior unethical, mean-spirited, and a good example of poor leadership, but it is not in our own best interest. Check out this letter from an AIG employee published earlier this week in the NY Times. In driving folks with the expertise to ameliorate this crisis out of AIG, we are not only putting our $80B investment at risk, not only hurting our own company, but we are counteracting all we have done to avert systemic risk.

Our political leaders need to stop worrying about the $160 million and focus on the $80 billion. We expect leaders to help us make tough choices, to explain difficult circumstances to increase the odds good decisions will be made…in short, to lead, not to egg on a lynch mob. This political theatre is not just wrong, not just unseemly, but is actually deleterious to us all. What happens with our $80B will mean much more to all of us—and our children—than what happens to $160M in bonus money.

This effects you, and all of us. Your elected representatives are feeling the heat from know-nothing blowhards expressing their own fear and anger. Take the time to make sure your Congressman and Senators are not part of the problem here, and contact them to praise them if they have kept their cool, or give them what for if, in order to score some cheap shots, they are acting against yours—and everyone’s—best interests.

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Goldman Sachs (GS) update #2—the fix is in

Posted by intelledgement on Mon, 24 Nov 08

Great news for Goldman Sachs (GS) today: President-elect Barack Obama announced his intention to nominate Timothy Geithner to be Secretary of the Treasury. While not a Goldman alumnus, Geithner was undersecretary as a protégé of then-Secretary of the Treasury—and former Goldman CEO—Robert Rubin. More to the point, as President of the New York Fed earlier this year, Geithner managed the demise/sale of Bear Stearns and was a key player—working with current Secretary of the Treasury (and former Goldman CEO) Hank Paulsen—in the decision to let Goldman competitor Lehman Brothers go bankrupt while orchestrating rescues of Merrill Lynch and Goldman debtor AIG.

The takeaway is that Geithner is not only committed to the bank bailout strategy, but a key architect of it. With this nomination—as well as the appointment of Larry Summers (for whom Geithner also worked when the former was Secretary of the Treasury) to head the National Economic Council, also announced today—Obama has effectively ended any hope that his economic policy might differ in any substantial way from that of the current administration. We will get more easy credit, more deficit spending, more easy money, more desperate attempts to paper over the cracks in the broken system rather than a serious attempt at reform.

We should probably cash in our financial company shorts here. GS was up 17% today, BAC was +24%, HBC was +4%, and WFC was +20%. But there is still substantial systemic risk in play—and in truth, most of these companies probably remain on thin ice (not to mention that in the long run, we’d be better off without them)—so we will hold on for now just to be sure an immediate collapse has actually been averted.

Previous banking company short-related posts:

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Oct 08 Intelledgement Speculative Opportunity Portfolio Report

Posted by intelledgement on Wed, 12 Nov 08

Position Purchased Shares Paid Cost Now Value Change YTD ROI CAGR
VRTX 18-Apr-07 57 31.65 1,812.05 26.21 1,493.97 -21.15% 12.83% -17.55% -11.79%
NBIX 22-May-07 158 11.33 1,798.14 4.13 652.54 -11.94% -9.03% -63.71% -50.40%
GSS 19-Jul-07 451 4.19 1,897.69 0.88 396.88 -42.11% -72.15% -79.09% -70.36%
GSS 24-Aug-07 613 3.08 1,896.04 0.88 539.44 -42.11% -72.15% -71.55% -65.28%
BZH 24-Mar-08 -214 10.99 -2,343.86 2.28 -487.92 -61.87% 69.31% 79.18% 162.20%
BAC 8-Sep-08 -69 34.73 -2,388.37 24.17 -1,667.73 -30.94% -41.42% 30.17% 515.49%
GS 8-Sep-08 -14 169.73 -2,368.22 92.50 -1,299.90 -27.73% -56.99% 45.11% 1201.23%
HBC 8-Sep-08 -30 79.11 -2,365.30 59.00 -1,770.00 -27.01% -29.52% 25.17% 369.76%
DUG 10-Sep-08 56 42.83 2,406.48 37.05 2,186.91 -4.63% 2.97% -9.12% -49.60%
BBY 19-Sep-08 -58 41.49 -2,398.42 26.88 -1,567.16 -28.32% -48.95% 34.66% 1230.08%
MA 19-Sep-08 -11 225.18 -2,468.98 147.82 -1,627.67 -16.64% -31.31% 34.08% 1180.79%
WMT 19-Sep-08 -40 59.70 -2,380.00 55.81 -2,232.40 -6.81% 17.42% 6.20% 68.75%
CAB 19-Sep-08 170 14.08 2,401.60 7.95 1,351.50 -34.19% -47.25% -43.73% -99.33%
WFC 09-Oct-08 -73 33.06 -2,405.38 34.05 -2,485.65 n/a 14.45% -3.34% -43.08%
cash 16,906.53 31,343.96
ISOP 03-Jan-07 10,000.00 24,826.77 7.70% 13.65% 148.27% 64.54%
Global HF 03-Jan-07 10,000.00 9,429.20 -6.01% -15.15% -5.71% -3.17%
NASDAQ 03-Jan-07 2,415.29 1,720.95 -17.73% -35.11% -28.75% -16.94%

Position = symbol of the security for each position
Purchased = date position acquired (for long positions) or sold (for short positions)
Shares = number of shares long or short in the portfolio
Paid = price per share
Cost = what portfolio paid (including commission); note for short sales, the portfolio gains cash
Now = price per share as of the date of the report
Value = what it is worth as of the date of the report (# shrs multiplied by price per share plus—or minus for short positions—the value of dividends)
Change = Change since last report (not applicable for positions new since last report)
Year-to-Date = Change since 31 Dec 07
Return on Investment = on a percentage basis, the performance of this security since purchase
Compounded Annual Growth Rate = annualized ROI for this position since purchase (to help compare apples to apples)

Notes: The benchmark for the ISOP is the Greenwich Alternative Investments Global Hedge Fund Index, which historically (1988 to 2007 inclusively) provides a CAGR of around 15.1%. For comparison’s sake, we also show the NASDAQ index, which over the same time frame has yielded a CAGR of around 10.1%. Note that for the portfolio, dividends are added back into the value of the pertinent security and not included in the “cash” total (this gives a more complete picture of the ROI for dividend-paying securities). Also, the “Cost” figures include a standard $8 commission and there is a 2% rate of interest on the listed cash balance.

Transactions: The ISOP was a bedrock of stability this month; with the market going totally insane in terms of volatility, we felt constrained to make only one transaction…and that was essentially a move to bring the port more into congruence with the way it used to be, in that we replaced our Wachovia (WB) short position (covered last month) with a short position in the stock of the company that acquired WB, viz. Wells Fargo (WFC). A big contrast from last month, when we had a portfolio-record 14 transactions in moving to a net short stance. Speaking of our shorts, we did cheerfully pay out several dividends for our financial services and retailing stocks (when you are short a stock that pays a dividend, you have to pony it up).

  • 3 Oct—paid out BBY dividend of $0.14/shr
  • 8 Oct—paid out MA dividend of $0.15/shr
  • 9 Oct—Sold short 73 WFC for $33.06/shr
  • 23 Oct—paid out GS dividend of $0.35/shr

News:

Comments: LOL you might think that the amount of effort that goes into managing portfolios in a month with one transaction would be a lot less than the effort expended in a 14-transaction month…but when the market is going insane and repricing everything from day-to-day, just about the same degree of close attention is required, regardless of whether or not anything is being bought or sold. On average, the NASDAQ goes up about 10% a year…well there were two DAYS in October where the NASDAQ index was up 10%+…and this in a month were overall, the index was down 18%, the two gigantic up days notwithstanding.

The level of volatility this month was positively staggering. Normally, the index changes (up or down) an average of about 0.5% each day. The average daily change in October: ±3.7%…more than seven times normal!

Obviously, when the level of systemic risk is high, the potential variation in the value of any given company is extremely high, depending. For example, if the economy recovers, then Best Buy (BBY)—which we are short—is worth, say, $15+ billion. But if we fall into a depression where no one can afford to buy big flat screen TVs, then maybe they go out of business. Pretty big range in valuation! Add to that the complexities of the economy, and the impossibility of instantly and accurately calculating the impact of the latest government actions, the inevitable result is a wildly gyrating consensus.

Be that as it may, when the dust settled, we were +8%, the hedgies were -6%, and the NASDAQ was, as we said, -18%. A great month for the good guys! Overall after 22 months of operations, the ISOP is now +148% compared with -6% for the hedgies and -29% for the NASDAQ.

It was a bull market for news this month. On 3 October, W signed the bank bailout bill (after rejecting it last month, the House took another vote after some fig leaves were applied and enough Republicans changed their votes to “yes” to pass it). Also on 3 October, Wells Fargo (WFC) outbid Citigroup (C) for our former short, Wachovia (WB). On 6 October with the market tanking, the Fed announced an emergency $900 billion in short-term loans to banks (this is in addition to TARP funds). On 7 October with the market tanking still more, the Fed announced an emergency move to lend $1.3 trillion to non-financial services companies. On 8 October with the market still on the express elevator headed for the sub-basement, the Fed cut interest rates in a move coordinated with other prominent central banks including those of China, the ECB, the UK, and Switzerland. Overall, the S&P 500 dropped 18.2% for the week ending 10 October, its worst week ever. On 14 October, the US Treasury announced distribution of $250 billion of the TARP funds in the form of loans to several large banks, including our shorts Bank of America (BAC), Goldman Sachs (GS), and Wells Fargo (WFC) as well as C and others. On 21 October, the Fed announced another emergency short-term loan program, this time to money market mutual funds, which had stopped lending to banks in the wake of a huge wave of redemptions.

The fix is clearly in, with Democrats in Congress and working hand-in-glove with the Republican Secretary of the Treasury and Republican appointee Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke to “stablize” the current broken-down system. It appears that none of the broken financial services companies—not even AIG, Freddie Mac (FRE), or Fannie Mae (FNM), who are in the worst shape—will be allowed to fail so long as the Fed’s printing presses are still able to pump out funds to loan them to “tide them over.” W has practically turned invisible during the crisis but evidently has no objections (if any opinions whatsoever). Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic party nominee for President, has pretty carefully avoided saying much of anything, but on 1 October he voted for the bailout (as did his running mate, Senator Joe Biden). The GOP standard bearer, Senator John McCain, has been somewhat more vocal and way more incoherent; in the event, he, too, voted for the bailout on 1 October. We believe this approach is both morally wrong—bailing out wealthy bankers with taxpayer money—and shortsighted, in that it will only delay the day of reckoning and ensure both that the eventual nadir will be lower and the recovery therefrom harder and longer.

Speaking of hard, that it was for our portfolio, as ever single equity was down in October. (WFC, which we are short, was up between the day we bought it—9 October at the open—and the end of the month but we obviously sold it short too late because it was down overall for the month.) Fortunately, we are now short eight positions and long only six so on balance, a down market is a good thing for our portfolio. Among the long positions, our two biotech companies (VRTX down 21% and NBIX down 12%), our gold miner (GSS down 42%), and our relatively new retailer (CAB down 34%) were no help whatsover.

We also own DUG, which is an ETF that is supposed to move twice the inverse of the price of oil…well crude was down sharply in October, but on extremely volatile trading, and DUG somehow managed to lose 5%, declining more on the days that the price of oil increased sharply that it gained on the days oil declined. We need to keep this one on a short leash as it is evidently poorly designed and not behaving as we expected it to.

Aside from the aforementioned WFC, we were very happy with the performance of our shorts. Our real estate short (BZH) was down 62%! The other financials shorts were all down sharply (BAC -31%, GS -28%, and HBC -27%). All three retail-related shorts were down big (BBY -28%, MA -17% and WMT -7%).

Clearly, the risk of a serious downturn continues to be significant here, and consequently we remain net short.

Posted in B.3 Spec Reports | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Sep 08 Intelledgement Speculative Opportunity Portfolio Report

Posted by intelledgement on Sun, 12 Oct 08

Position Purchased Shares Paid Cost Now Value Change YTD ROI CAGR
VRTX 18-Apr-07 57 31.65 1,812.05 33.24 1,894.68 23.75% 43.09% 4.56% 3.11%
NBIX 22-May-07 158 11.33 1,798.14 4.69 741.02 -9.28% 3.30% -58.79% -47.87%
GSS 19-Jul-07 451 4.19 1,897.69 1.52 685.52 -0.65% -51.90% -63.88% -57.14%
GSS 24-Aug-07 613 3.08 1,896.04 1.52 1,606.06 -0.65% -51.90% -50.86% -47.48%
BZH 24-Mar-08 -214 10.99 -2,343.86 5.98 -1,279.72 14.08% 19.52% 45.40% 105.36%
BAC 8-Sep-08 -69 34.73 -2,388.37 35.00 -2,415.00 n/a -15.17% -1.11% -16.99%
GS 8-Sep-08 -14 169.73 -2,368.22 128.00 -1,792.00 n/a -40.48 24.33% 3617.53%
HBC 8-Sep-08 -30 79.11 -2,365.30 80.83 -2,424.90 n/a -3.44% -2.52% -34.54%
DUG 10-Sep-08 56 42.83 2,406.48 38.85 2,287.71 n/a 7.98% -4.94% -60.32%
BBY 19-Sep-08 -58 41.49 -2,398.42 37.50 -2,175.00 n/a -28.77% 9.32% 1824.79%
MA 19-Sep-08 -11 225.18 -2,468.98 177.33 -1,950.63 n/a -17.60% 20.99% 55900.91%
WMT 19-Sep-08 -40 59.70 -2,380.00 59.89 -2,395.60 n/a 26.00% -0.66% -19.62%
CAB 19-Sep-08 170 14.08 2,401.60 12.08 2,053.60 n/a -19.84% -14.49% -99.45%
cash 14,501.15 28,890.43
ISOP 03-Jan-07 10,000.00 23,051.87 -6.22% 5.52% 130.52% 61.55%
Global HF 03-Jan-07 10,000.00 10,032.13 -5.76% -9.72% 0.32% 0.18%
NASDAQ 03-Jan-07 2,415.29 2,367.52 -11.64% -21.13% -13.39% -7.92%

Position = symbol of the security for each position
Purchased = date position acquired (for long positions) or sold (for short positions)
Shares = number of shares long or short in the portfolio
Paid = price per share
Cost = what portfolio paid (including commission); note for short sales, the portfolio gains cash
Now = price per share as of the date of the report
Value = what it is worth as of the date of the report (# shrs multiplied by price per share plus—or minus for short positions—the value of dividends)
Change = Change since last report (not applicable for positions new since last report)
Year-to-Date = Change since 31 Dec 07
Return on Investment = on a percentage basis, the performance of this security since purchase
Compounded Annual Growth Rate = annualized ROI for this position since purchase (to help compare apples to apples)

Notes: The benchmark for the ISOP is the Greenwich Alternative Investments Global Hedge Fund Index, which historically (1988 to 2007 inclusively) provides a CAGR of around 15.1%. For comparison’s sake, we also show the NASDAQ index, which over the same time frame has yielded a CAGR of around 10.1%. Note that for the portfolio, dividends are added back into the value of the pertinent security and not included in the “cash” total (this gives a more complete picture of the ROI for dividend-paying securities). Also, the “Cost” figures include a standard $8 commission and there is a 2% rate of interest on the listed cash balance.

Transactions: Well, following three months of almost no activity transaction-wise, the market has been crazy, with valuations all over the place—but trending down, big time—and consequently we felt constrained to make major adjustments to the portfolio, mostly moving to the short side. First we shorted a bunch of financial company stocks. Then we sold all our oilers and our one mining stock and bought an ETF that goes up when the price of oil declines. Then we shorted a cohort of retail-related stocks, and—partly as a hedge—bought a fourth retailer. Finally, we covered the WB short. Not surprizingly, the month set a new portfolio record for the most transactions ever: fourteen (the previous record was five)!

News:

Comments: Sheesh…this month required an awful lot of work to produce a 6% loss! The silver lining was that the hedgies also lost 6% and the NASDAQ was down 12%, so it could have been worse. Overall after 21 months of operations, the ISOP is now +131% compared with ±0% for the hedgies and -13% for the NASDAQ.

So we did have a lot of company-specific news this month, but it was pretty much overshadowed by the macro-level proverbial excrement hitting the fan. We had the government takeover of Fannie Mae (FNM) and Freddie Mac (FRE) on 7 Sep. A week later we had the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers (LEH) and the acquisition of Merrill Lynch (MER) by BAC. Then we had a run on the money market funds ($140 billion withdrawn in one week), and the emergency $85 billion loan by the Fed to AIG to avoid a bankruptcy there. To close out the month, you have the spectacle of Republican Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke begging the GOP-controlled House for a $700 billion emergency bailout fund to be used to purchase so-called “toxic” assets that have plummeted in value and threaten multiple financial institutions who own them with insolvency…and being turned down! (Oh, and we almost forgot, the arrangement for Citibank (C) to buy our own troubled asset, WB.)

Clearly chickens are coming home to roost here. As we keep saying, this economy has serious fundamental flaws—too much debt and entitlement obligations, too much energy devoted to unproductive-to-fraudulent financial transactions, an unsound currency, underfunding of infrastructure investment—and the cultural focus on taking the path of least resistance and maximizing the immediate return on investment is impeding us from addressing these long-term flaws. While it would be painful, a collapse of the current Ponzi-based financial system would clear the decks for the creation of a healthier, sounder approach, and the resultant crisis would be resolved a lot faster than is likely to be the case if we just kick the can down the road again here. So we were cheering when the House voted down the Troubled Assets Relief Program, even though the markets tanked on the news. (Of course, by then we were mostly short. LOL)

Speaking of which, the market was extremely volatile this month—it was ±3% on two days, ±4% on three days, ±5% on three days, and -9% on 29 Sep (the day the House voted down the $700 billion bailout bill). Ofttimes the market does not move as much as 9% in an entire year! In that light, it is not a shocker that we felt constrained to make a few moves…such as closing more than half the positions we started the month with and then opening up even more new ones. Among the few holdovers were our two biotech companies (VRTX up 24% and NBIX down 9%), our gold miner (GSS down 1%), and our housing industry short (BZH -14% by virtue of which we gained). As for the newcomers, two of our three financials short were up (BAC +1% and HBC +3%) but GS was down 24% in only three weeks. Two of our three retail-related shorts were down big (BBY -9% and MA -21%) in only two weeks while the other gained a point (WMT +1%). Our oil short ETF (DUG) was down 5% and the retailer we went long on (CAB) manifestly should have been a short as it was down 14%. You can help both yourself and the ISOP by going to their website and stocking up on ammo and fishhooks as insurance against a potential collapse of the system.

Clearly, the risk of a serious downturn is now greater than a month ago, and we are about as short as we are going to get. Fasten your seat belts; it’s going to be a bumpy night.

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Bank of America (BAC) update #2—SEC Halts Short Selling of Financial Stocks

Posted by intelledgement on Sun, 21 Sep 08

Wow, what a difference a week makes.

Bank of America (BAC) shares closed at $37.48 Friday, up 23% on the day and up 50% from Tuesday’s $25 close. The surge is attributable to optimism that the government’s plant to create a fund to purchase toxic assets will be approved by Congress and save the bacon of the (probably) insolvent banks combined with the effects of the SEC’s announcement on Friday that short-selling of financial company stocks has been banned through 2 October on an emergency basis. And indeed, we are now under water on two of our four bank shorts (BAC and HBSC Holdings), and even Goldman Sachs (GS) and Wachovia (WB) were up sharply although we are still ahead on those two.

While we are now ruing our decision not to cover our Bank of America short on Monday (when we were 23% ahead), it is leavened with the realization that while today would have been a great opportunity to resume the position, we would not have been allowed to. (We are allowed to maintain our previously existing positions, however.) We think the proposed government plan to, in effect, bail out the banks for bad management with taxpayer money by buying their worthless toxic assets is a terrible idea. These companies irrationally bet that real estate prices would go up forever and the way capitalism is supposed to work is that when you screw up, you suffer the consequences. Bailing these companies out with taxpayer money would reward failure, keep broken institutions in business that we’d be better off without, and deepen the financial hole the government itself is in.

We hope that the plan is rejected by Congress, but even if it is not, we don’t believe it will work to prop up the value of these failed companies. There is no way the government can afford to purchase all the toxic assets out there unless they are valued at a steep discount, and doing that probably will cause many financial institutions to skirt dangerously close to insolvency (as opposed to holding onto the assets marked at book value in the hope that they will eventually recover value, or else that the overall financial condition of the institution in question will improve enough to render the issue of the valuation of the assets a noncritical issue).

As for the ban on short selling, it reflects the SEC’s agreement with our thesis that [a] the level of systemic risk here is high and [b] in the shadow of potentially high risks, valuations for those financial firms under pressure are likely to gyrate wildly (as we have recently seen in the cases of Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, and AIG…if we had been really smart, we would have been short all those companies!).

So for now, in the knowledge they are irreplaceable and the expectation they will still payoff big, we are holding firm on all four of these short positions.

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