Archive for June, 2012

Hedge Fund Pershing Square’s 1st Quarter 2012 Letter (Bill Ackman)

Monday, June 25th, 2012

Bill Ackman, legendary activist investor recently published its 1st quarter investment letter. The fund has performed strongly to date, with 9.3% returns and has large holdings in Canadian Pacific, General Growth Properties, Citigroup, and J.C. Penney. If he still owns them, the latter two companies may create some trouble for his firm in the future.

In this investor letter, Ackman discusses the idea of time arbitrage, which is taking advantage of forced sellers for the benefit of long term profit. This is because stocks are often more volatile than their underlying businesses, and few firms and individuals can stomach volatility.

He also discusses that private equity portfolio companies, because of their higher implied leverage, have much more volatile returns, but unfortunately, you do not see a mark-to-market as you do in publicly traded equities.

Enjoy the letter below:

Pershing-Square-Q1-2012


George Soros on European Fiscal & Banking Crisis and EU Summit on June 28-29, 2012

Monday, June 25th, 2012

Here I present key take-aways from George Soros’ in depth Bloomberg interview on the current European fiscal and banking crisis, Angela Merkel, the Spanish bailout, and Greece leaving the Eurozone.

The video is also below:

Banking & Fiscal Issues

  • “There is an interrelated problem of the banking system and the excessive risk premium on sovereign debt – they are Siamese twins, tied together and you have to tackle both.”
  • Soros summarizes the forthcoming Eurozone Summit ‘fiasco’ as fatal if the fiscal disagreements are not resolved in 3 days.
  • There is no union without a transfer.
  • Europe needs banking union.
    • Germany will only succumb if Italy and Spain really push it to the edge (Germany can live in the present situation; the others cannot)
    • Europe needs a fiscal means of strengthening growth through Treasury type entity
      • What is needed is a European fiscal authority that will be composed of the finance ministers, but would be in charge of the various rescue mechanisms, the European Stability Mechanism, and would combine issuing treasury bills.
        • Those treasury bills would yield 1% or less and that would be the relief that those countries need in order to finance their debt.
        • Bill would be sold on a competitive basis.
        • Right now there are something like over €700bn euros are kept on deposit at the European Central Bank earning a 0.25% because the interbank market has broken down, so then you have €700bn of capital that would be very happy to earn 0.75% instead of 0.25%, and the treasury bills by being truly riskless and guaranteed by the entire community, would yield in current conditions less than 1%.
        • Governments should start a European unemployment scheme, paid on a European level instead of national level.
        • Soros’ solutions, however, are unlikely to prove tenable in the short-term as he notes “Merkel has emerged as a strong leader”, but “unfortunately, she has been leading Europe in the wrong direction”.
          • “Euro bonds are not possible because Germany would not consider euro bonds until there is a political union, and it should come at the end of the process not at the beginning.
          • This would be a temporary measure, limited both in time and in size, and thereby it could be authorized according to the German constitution as long as the Bundestag approves it, so it could be legal under the German constitution and under the existing treaties.
          • The political will by Germany to put it into effect and that would create a level playing field so that Italy and Spain could actually refinance debt on reasonable terms.

Scenario Discussion

  • LTRO would be less effective now
  • At 6%, 7% of Italy’s GDP goes towards paying interest, which is completely unsustainable
  • Spain may need a full bailout if summit is not successful
    • Financial markets have the ability to push countries into default
    • Because Spain cannot print money itself
    • Even if we manage to avoid, let’s say an ‘accident’ similar to what you had in 2008 with the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, the euro system that would emerge would actually perpetuate the divergence between creditors and debtors and would create a Europe which is very different from open society.
    • It would transform it into a hierarchical system where the division between creditors and debtors would become permanent…It would lead to Germany being in permanent domination.
      • It would become like a German empire, and the periphery would become permanently depressed areas.

On Greece

  • Greece will leave the Eurozone
    • It’s very hard to see how Greece can actually meet the conditions that have been set for Greece, and the Germans are determined not to modify those conditions seriously, so medium term risk
    • Greece leaving the euro zone is now a real expectation, and this is what is necessary to strengthen the rest of the euro zone, since Greece can’t print money
    • By printing money, a country can devalue the currency and people can lose money by buying devalued debt, but there is no danger of default.
      • The fact that the individual members don’t now control the right to print money has created this situation.
      • A European country that could actually default. and that is the risk that the financial markets price into the market and that is why say Italian ten-year bonds yield 6% whereas British 10-year bonds yield only 1.25%.
  • That difference is due to the fact that these countries have surrendered their right to print their own money and they can be pushed into default by speculation in the financial markets.

On Angela Merkel

  • Angela Merkel has been leading Europe in the wrong direction. I think she is acting in good faith and that is what makes the whole situation so tragic and that is a big problem that we have in financial markets generally – she is supporting a false idea, a false ideology, a false interpretation which is reinforced by reality.
  • In other words, Merkel’s method works for a while until it stops working, and that is what is called a financial bubble
    • Financial bubbles look very good while they are being formed and everyone believes in it and then it turns out to be unsustainable…
    • The European Union could turn out to have been a bubble of this kind unless we realize there is this problem and we solve it and the solution is there.
    • I think everybody can see it, all we need to do is act on it, and put on a united front, and I think that if the rest of  Europe is united, I think that Germany will actually recognize it and adjust to it.

On Investing

  • Stay in cash
  • German yields are too low
  • If summit turns out well, purchase industrial shares, but avoid everything else (consumer, banks)

Conclusion: We are facing conditions reminiscent to the 1930s because of policy mistakes, forgetting what we should have learned from John Maynard Keynes.

Fantastic Michael Burry UCLA Commencement Speech on U.S. & European Financial Crises

Sunday, June 24th, 2012

Below you can view an excellent speech by Dr. Michael Burry, who at one point shorted over $8 billion of subprime mortgage backed securities before the U.S. credit crisis. Dr. Burry openly shares his experiences on divorce, luck, finance, and the future of college graduates at UCLA. As an alumnus of UCLA, Dr. Burry shows that passion, curiosity, foresight, and “working smart” rather than “working hard” can be handsomely rewarded. Michael Burry’s hedge fund, Scion Capital ultimately recorded returns of 489.34% (net of fees and expenses) between its November 1, 2000 inception and June 2008. The S&P 500 returned just over two percent over the same period. Other than Dr. Burry’s subprime short, I am not sure of his performance from 2000 through 2005. Enjoy.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1CLhqjOzoyE&feature=share[/youtube]

Burry left work as a Stanford Hospital neurology resident to become a full-time investor and start his own hedge fund. He had already developed a reputation as an investor by demonstrating astounding success in “value investing,” which he wrote about on a message board beginning in 1996. He was so successful with his stock picks that he attracted the interest of such companies as Vanguard, White Mountains Insurance Group and such prominent investors as Joel Greenblatt.
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After shutting down his web site in November 2000, Burry started Scion Capital, funded by a small inheritance and loans from his family. The company was named after The Scions of Shannara, a favorite childhood book. Burry quickly earned extraordinary profits for his investors. According to Lewis, “in his first full year, 2001, the S&P 500 fell 11.88 percent. Scion was up 55 percent. The next year, the S&P 500 fell again, by 22.1 percent, and yet Scion was up again: 16 percent. The next year, 2003, the stock market finally turned around and rose 28.69 percent, but Mike Burry beat it again—his investments rose by 50 percent. By the end of 2004, Mike Burry was managing $600 million and turning money away.”
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In 2005, he veered from value investing to focus on the subprime market. Through his analysis of mortgage lending practices in 2003 and 2004, he correctly forecast a bubble would collapse as early as 2007. Burry’s research on the runaway values of residential real estate convinced him that subprime mortgages, especially those with “teaser” rates, and the bonds based on these mortgages would begin losing value when the original rates reset, often in as little as two years after initiation. This conclusion led Burry to short the market by persuading Goldman Sachs to sell him credit default swaps against subprime deals he saw as vulnerable. This analysis proved correct, and Burry profited accordingly. Ironically Burry’s since said, “I don’t go out looking for good shorts. I’m spending my time looking for good longs. I shorted mortgages because I had to. Every bit of logic I had led me to this trade and I had to do it”.
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Though he suffered an investor revolt before his predictions came true, he earned a personal profit of $100 million and a profit for his remaining investors of more than $700 million. Scion Capital ultimately recorded returns of 489.34 percent (net of fees and expenses) between its November 1, 2000 inception and June 2008. The S&P 500 returned just over two percent over the same period.
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According to his website, he liquidated his credit default swap short positions by April 2008 and did not benefit from the taxpayer-funded bailouts of 2008 and 2009.[13] He subsequently liquidated his company to focus on his personal investment portfolio.
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In a April 3, 2010, op-ed for the New York Times, Burry argued that anyone who studied the financial markets carefully in 2003, 2004, and 2005 could have recognized the growing risk in the subprime markets. He faulted federal regulators for failing to listen to warnings from outside a closed circle of advisors.
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In April 2011, he suggests: (1) Open a bank account in Canada, (2) there are opportunities in small cap stocks, and (3) blue chips may be less attractive than their price-earnings suggests.

Burry left work as a Stanford Hospital neurology resident to become a full-time investor and start his own hedge fund. He had already developed a reputation as an investor by demonstrating astounding success in “value investing,” which he wrote about on a message board beginning in 1996. He was so successful with his stock picks that he attracted the interest of such companies as Vanguard, White Mountains Insurance Group and such prominent investors as Joel Greenblatt.After shutting down his web site in November 2000, Burry started Scion Capital, funded by a small inheritance and loans from his family. The company was named after The Scions of Shannara, a favorite childhood book.


Burry quickly earned extraordinary profits for his investors. According to Lewis, “in his first full year, 2001, the S&P 500 fell 11.88 percent. Scion was up 55 percent. The next year, the S&P 500 fell again, by 22.1 percent, and yet Scion was up again: 16 percent. The next year, 2003, the stock market finally turned around and rose 28.69 percent, but Mike Burry beat it again—his investments rose by 50 percent. By the end of 2004, Mike Burry was managing $600 million and turning money away.” In 2005, he veered from value investing to focus on the subprime market. Through his analysis of mortgage lending practices in 2003 and 2004, he correctly forecast a bubble would collapse as early as 2007.

Burry’s research on the runaway values of residential real estate convinced him that subprime mortgages, especially those with “teaser” rates, and the bonds based on these mortgages would begin losing value when the original rates reset, often in as little as two years after initiation. This conclusion led Burry to short the market by persuading Goldman Sachs to sell him credit default swaps against subprime deals he saw as vulnerable. This analysis proved correct, and Burry profited accordingly. Ironically Burry’s since said, “I don’t go out looking for good shorts. I’m spending my time looking for good longs. I shorted mortgages because I had to. Every bit of logic I had led me to this trade and I had to do it”. Though he suffered an investor revolt before his predictions came true, he earned a personal profit of $100 million and a profit for his remaining investors of more than $700 million. Scion Capital ultimately recorded returns of 489.34 percent (net of fees and expenses) between its November 1, 2000 inception and June 2008.

The S&P 500 returned just over two percent over the same period. According to his website, he liquidated his credit default swap short positions by April 2008 and did not benefit from the taxpayer-funded bailouts of 2008 and 2009. He subsequently liquidated his company to focus on his personal investment portfolio. In a April 3, 2010, op-ed for the New York Times, Burry argued that anyone who studied the financial markets carefully in 2003, 2004, and 2005 could have recognized the growing risk in the subprime markets. He faulted federal regulators for failing to listen to warnings from outside a closed circle of advisors. In April 2011, he suggests: (1) Open a bank account in Canada, (2) there are opportunities in small cap stocks, and (3) blue chips may be less attractive than their price-earnings suggests.

Understanding Bankruptcy as the World Collapses Around You (1)

Saturday, June 9th, 2012

We have seen the dire economic consequences of excessive consumer, corporate, financial, and sovereign leverage of the past 5 years. Our global economy has been a punching bag for corporate greed, political incompetency, and poor central bank planning. From shadow banking and derivatives (“weapons of mass destruction” according to Mr. Buffet) in the United States to Greece’s fraudulent attempt to the enter the Eurozone, world markets have been whipsawed every year since 2007. I cannot help but feel deep remorse after witnessing multiple occasions of the VIX above 40, sovereign CDS making multi-year highs, and political uprising. Five years later, we have yet to learn that leverage is the primary cause of our pain.

Despite an Icelandic bankruptcy, 2 Greek bailouts, a Portuguese bailout, and Irish bailout, and a U.S. bank bailout, 35% of U.S. homes underwater, and 20%+ unemployment rates in certain Western nations, student loans have emerged as yet another bubble, the U.S. consumer savings rate remains below 4%, European banks are levered 26x on average, and countries continue to borrow at astronomical rates. Are we doomed to repeat our mistakes? Sadly, the answer seems to be yes.

Every 2 generations (70-80 years), individuals tend to forget the pain that their forefathers felt in a deep economic contraction. The Great Depression certainly did its job. Maybe we need a constant painful reminder to reign in our tendency to express “irrational exuberance?” Luckily, for learning purposes, a global debt deleveraging cycle is the most painful type of contraction. Hopefully, our children and grandchildren can learn from our mistakes.


Until then, I have started this series to explain the BANKRUPTCY process, specifically the U.S. Ch. 11 process, as I continue to do my part to clean up the riff-raff, the banksters, the incompetent politicians, and the corrupt corporate bureaucrats holding back true capitalism.

  • Bankruptcy is governed by federal statute (11 U.S.C., Section 101):
    • For the equitable distribution among creditors and shareholders of a debtor’s estate in accordance with either the principle of absolute priorities or the vote of bankruptcy majorities of holders of claims
    • To provide a reasonable opportunity, under Chapter 11, to effect a reorganization of business
    • For the opportunity to make a “fresh start” through, among other things, the discharge of debts

  • The goals of bankruptcy are:
    • To afford the greatest possibility of resolution for the estate as a whole, while maintaining the balance of power as between all creditors and the debtor as of the petition date
  • Debtor’s rights and protections include:
    • Automatic stay: an automatic injunction to halt action by creditors
    • Exclusivity to formulate/propose plan of reorganization
    • Continued control and management of the Company
    • Assumption/rejection of executor contracts and unexpired leases
    • Asset sale decisions
    • Avoidance actions
    • Discharge of claims
  • Secured creditor’s rights and protections:
    • Secured to extent of value of collateral
    • Limitations on debtor’s ability to use proceeds/profits of collateral (“cash collateral”)
    • Entitled to “adequate protection” for use of collateral or diminution thereof
    • Entitled to relief from automatic stay for cause shown
    • Entitled to interest and reasonable legal fees when collateral value exceeds debt
    • Entitled to be paid in full in cash or to retain lien to the extent of its allowed claim and receive deferred cash payments totaling at least the allowed amount of such claim

  • Unsecured creditors’ rights and protections include:
    • Majority voting controls
    • Improved and mandated disclosure by debtor
    • Committee representation at debtor’s expense
    • Ability to challenge business judgment of debtor
    • Absolute priority rule generally ensures payment before distribution to existing equity security holders
    • Ability to examine/challenge validity and enforceability of liens and, if debtor refuses, to obtain authority to bring fraudulent conveyance, preference and other actions
    • May continue to exercise corporate governance subject to limitations
    • Valuation as the fulcrum and equalizer of debt and creditor powers
  • Equity may also seek committee representation under certain circumstances and thereby obtain leverage similar to that of creditors’ committee

~Xavier, Leverage Academy Instructor

(All similar entries are in LA’s “Bankruptcy” folder on the right of the blog.)