December 2013


There have been a few ‘chart of the year’ posts around blogoland. Here is my entry. As far as the market is concerned, this is the one that has mattered.




Moving higher.



Bitcoins are invisible money, backed by no government, useful only as a speculative investment or online currency, but creating them commands a surprisingly hefty real-world infrastructure.

“What we have here are money-printing machines,” said Emmanuel Abiodun, 31, founder of the company that built the Iceland installation, shouting above the din of the computers. “We cannot risk that anyone will get to them.”

Mr. Abiodun is one of a number of entrepreneurs who have rushed, gold-fever style, into large-scale Bitcoin mining operations in just the last few months. All of these people are making enormous bets that Bitcoin will not collapse, as it has threatened to do several times.

Just last week, moves by Chinese authorities caused the price of a Bitcoin to drop briefly below $500. If the system did crash, the new computers would be essentially useless because they are custom-built for Bitcoin mining.

Miners, though, are among the virtual-currency faithful, believing that Bitcoin will turn into a new, cheaper way of sending money around the world, leaving behind its current status as a largely speculative commodity.

Most of the new operations popping up guard their secrecy closely, but Mr. Abiodun agreed to show his installation for the first time. An earnest young Briton, with the casual fashion taste of the tech cognoscenti, he was a computer programmer at HSBC in London when he decided to invest in specialized computers that would carry out constant Bitcoin mining.

The computers that do the work eat up so much energy that electricity costs can be the deciding factor in profitability. There are Bitcoin mining installations in Hong Kong and Washington State, among other places, but Mr. Abiodun chose Iceland, where geothermal and hydroelectric energy are plentiful and cheap. And the arctic air is free and piped in to cool the machines, which often overheat when they are pushed to the outer limits of their computing capacity.


Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

William Shakespeare

Federal Reserve

Well, after all the hype, the taper finally was announced. It remains to be seen if the reduction in purchases translates into a negative for the financial markets.

As the Fed must continue credit creation to maintain the short end of rates, the only area that will be affected are banks still trying to unwind losses in MBS’s. That they can now only unload a marginally smaller amount each month may impact the housing sector, but time will tell.

COT Index

The COT index number continues the trend of weakness at [-4.7%]. This continues a COT seasonal weakness through the Christmas period.


The technical picture confirms the COT number, although the bear trend has flattened after the huge rallies after the Federal Reserve minutes were released. Resistance still sits circa the $182 level. Thus into the holiday shortened week I would expect some selling.

Support sits circa $177. Both the areas are found on the 15 day chart which is the current time period most strongly correlated with the price action, therefore I will use it in looking at the technical levels.

Therefore, in anticipation of the January effect, and that seasonally the COT numbers tend to reflect buying, I would be looking at long trades in the support area.


Due to currently placing market neutral trades, there is no real requirement to wait on confirmation. For directional trades, I would wait to see if the support area holds rather than anticipating that it will hold. The reason being that on the daily charts, the pullback is very shallow and could go deeper, the current reaction being a bounce from the lows.



Merry Xmas 2013!



Always adds risk.

Investors borrowed another record amount against their brokerage accounts in November, as so-called margin debt rose for a sixth straight month.

Last month, investors borrowed $423.7 billion against their portfolios, exceeding October’s record of $412.4 billion, according to the New York Stock Exchange. The Big Board’s member brokerage firms report the level of borrowing, known as margin debt, held against client accounts monthly.

Margin-debt levels rose 2.7% from the prior month. The gain coincided with the Dow Jones Industrial Average’s 3.5%.

Rising levels of margin debt are generally seen as a measure of investor confidence, as investors are more willing to take out debt against investments when shares are rising and they have more value in their portfolios to borrow against.

With margin debt, investors pledge securities—stocks or bonds—to obtain loans from their brokerage firms. The money doesn’t have to be used to just make more investments. The funds can be used in whatever way the account holder wishes.

But some see the increase as a sign of speculation, particularly if the borrowed money is reinvested in stocks. And some market-watchers have gotten wary that investors buying into stocks now are chasing a rally, which lends to the argument that stocks are moving closer to bubble territory. The S&P 500 is up 27% this year and finished Friday at a record high, its 41st of the year.

Peter Boockvar, managing director at The Lindsey Group, notes total margin debt stands at about 2.5% of nominal GDP. That compares to 2.6% of GDP in July 2007 and about 2.8% in March 2000.


How Warren Buffett Interprets the Income Statement

When it comes to analyzing the income statement, it is important to investigate further and drill down to detect what the quality of earnings are made up of and what the numbers interpret.

Gross Profit Margin: firms with excellent long term economics tend to have consistently higher margins

Durable competitive advantage creates a high margin because of the freedom to price in excess of cost
Greater than 40% = Durable competitive advantage
Less than 40% = competition eroding margins
Less than 20% = no sustainable competitive advantage
Consistency is key
Sales Goods and Administration: Consistency is key.

Companies with no durable competitive advantage show wild variation in SG&A as % of gross profit

Less than 30% is fantastic
Nearing 100% is in highly competitive industry
R&D: if competitive advantage is created by a patent or tech advantage, at some point it will disappear.

High R&D usually dictates high SG&A which threatens the competitive advantage
Depreciation: Using EBITDA as a measure of cash flow is very misleading

Companies with durable competitive advantages tend to have lower depreciation costs as a % of gross profit
Interest Expenses: Companies with high interest expenses relative to operating income tend to be either:

1) in a fiercely competitive industry where large capital expenditure required to stay competitive

2) a company with excellent business economics that acquired debt in leveraged buyout

Companies with durable competitive advantages often carry little or no interest expense.
Warren’s favorites in the consumer products category all have less than 15% of operating income.
Interest expenses varies widely between industries.
Interest ratios can be very informative of level of economic danger.
Important: In any industry, the company with the lowest ratio of interest to Operating Income is usually the one with the competitive advantage.

Net Earnings

Look for consistency and upward long term trend.
Because of share repurchase it is possible for net earnings trend to differ from EPS trend.
Preferred over EPS
Durable competitive advantage companies report higher % net earnings to total revenues.
Important: If a company is showing net earnings history greater than 20% on total revenues, it is probably benefiting from a long term competitive advantage.

If net earnings is less than 10%, likely to be in a highly competitive business

How Warren Buffett Interprets the Balance Sheet

Cash and Equivalents:

A high number means either:

1) The company has competitive advantage generating lots of cash

2) Just sold a business or bonds (not necessarily good)

A low stockpile of cash usually means poor to mediocre economics.

There are 3 ways to create large cash reserve.

1) Sell new bonds or equity to public

2) Sell business or asset

3) It has an ongoing business generating more cash than it burns (usually means durable competitive advantage)

When a company is suffering a short term problem, Warren Buffett looks at cash or marketable securities to see whether it has the financial strength to ride it out.

Important: Lots of cash and marketable securities + little debt = good chance that the business will sail on through tough times.

Test to see what is creating cash by looking at past 7 yrs of balance sheets. This will reveal how the cash was created.

Manufacturers with durable competitive advantages have the advantage that the products they sell do not change, and therefore will never become obsolete. Warren Buffett likes this advantage.
When identifying manufacturers with durable competitive advantage, look for inventory and net earnings that rise correspondingly. This indicates that the company is finding profitable ways to increase sales which called for an increase in inventory.
Manufacturers with inventories that spike up and down are indicative of competitive industries subject to boom and bust.
Net Receivables

Net receivables tells us a great deal about the different competitors in the same industry. In competitive industries, some attempt to gain advantage by offering better credit terms, causing increase in sales and receivables.

If company consistently shows lower % Net receivables to gross sales than competitors, then it usually has some kind of competitive advantage which requires further digging.

Property, Plant & Equipment

A company with durable competitive advantage doesn’t need to constantly upgrade its equipment to stay competitive. The company replaces when it wears out. On the other hand, a company without any advantages must replace to keep pace.

Difference between a company with a moat and one without is that the company with the competitive advantage finances new equipment through internal cash flows, whereas the no advantage company requires debt to finance.

Producing a consistent product that doesn’t change equates to consistent profits. There is no need to upgrade plants which frees up cash for other ventures. Think The Coca-Cola Company (NYSE:KO), Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) etc.


Whenever you see an increase in goodwill over a number of years, you can assume it’s because the company is out buying other businesses above book value. GOOD if buying businesses with durable competitive advantage.

If goodwill stays the same, the company when acquiring other companies is either paying less than book value or not acquiring. Businesses with moats never sell for less than book value.

Intangible Assets

Intangibles acquired are on balance sheet at fair value.
Internally developed brand names (Coke, Wrigleys, Band-Aid) however are not reflected on the balance sheet.
One of the reasons competitive advantage power can remain hidden for so long.
Total Assets & Return on Total Assets

Measure efficiency using ROA
Capital is barrier to entry. One of things that make a competitive advantage durable is the cost of assets needed to get in. This is why we calculate the Asset Reproduction Value along with the EPV.
Many analysts argue the higher return the better. Warren Buffett states that really high ROA may indicate vulnerability in the durability of the competitive advantage.
E.g. Raising $43b to take on KO is impossible, but $1.7b to take on Moody’s is. Although Moody’s ROA and underlying economics is far superior to Coca Cola, the durability is far weaker because of lower entry cost.
Current Liabilities

Includes accounts payable, accrued expenses, other current liabilities and short term debt.

Stay away from companies that ‘roll over the debt’ e.g. Bear Stearns
When investing in financial institutions, Warren Buffett shies from those who are bigger borrowers of short term than long term debt.

His favorite ‘Wells Fargo’ has 57 cents short term debt for every dollar of long term
Aggressive banks (like Bank of America) has $2.09 short term for every dollar long term
Durability equates to the stability of being conservative.

Long Term Debt coming Due

Some companies lump their yearly long term debt due with short term debt on the balance sheet. This makes it seem like there is more short term debt than the real amount.

Important: Companies with durable comparable advantages need little or no LT debt to maintain operations.

Too much debt coming due in a single year spooks investors and can offer attractive entry points.

However, a mediocre company in problems with too much debt due leads to cash flow problems and certain bankruptcy.

Long Term Debt

Warren Buffett says that durable competitive advantages carry little to no LT debt because the company is so profitable that even expansions or acquisitions are self financed.

We are interested in long term debt load for the last ten years. If the ten yrs of operation show little to no long term debt, then the company has some kind of strong competitive advantage.

Warren Buffett’s historic purchases indicate that on any given year, the company should have sufficient yearly net earnings to pay all long term within 3 or 4 year earnings period. (e.g. Coke + Moody’s = 1yr)

Companies with enough earning power to pay long term debt in less than 3 or 4 years is a good candidate in our search for long term competitive advantage.

BUT, these companies are targets for leveraged buy outs, which saddles the business with long term debt
If all else indicates the company has a moat, but it has ton of debt, a leveraged buyout may have created the debt. In these cases the company’s bonds offer the better bet, in that the company’s earnings power is focused on paying off the debt and not growth.
Important: little or no long term debt often means a Good Long Term Bet

Total Liabilities & Debt to Shareholders Equity Ratio

Debt to shareholders equity ratio helps identify whether the company uses debt or equity (includes retained earnings) to finance operations.
Company with a moat uses earning power and should show higher levels of equity and lower level of liabilities.
Debt to Shareholders Equity Ratio : Total Liabilities / Shareholders Equity
Problem with using as identifier is that economics of companies with durable competitive advantages are so great they don’t need large amount of equity or retained earnings on the balance sheet to get the job done.
Important: if the Treasury Share Adjusted Debt to Shareholder Equity Ratio is less than 0.8, the company has a durable competitive advantage.

Retained Earnings: Warren Buffett’s Secret

One of the most important indicators of durable competitive advantage. Net earnings can be paid out as dividends, used to buy back shares or retained for growth.

If the company loses more than it has accumulated, retained earnings is negative.

If a company isn’t adding to its retained earnings, it isn’t growing its net worth.
Rate of growth of retained earnings is good indicator whether it’s benefiting from a competitive advantage.
Microsoft is negative because it chose to buyback stock and pay dividends
The more earnings retained, the faster it grows and increases growth rate for future earnings.
Treasury Stock

Carried on the balance sheet as a negative value because it represents a reduction in shareholders equity.
Companies with moats have free cash, so treasury shares are hallmark of durable competitive advantages.
When shares are bought back and held as treasury stock, it is effectively decreasing the company equity. This increases return on shareholders equity.
High return is a sign of competitive advantage. It’s good to know if it’s generated by financial engineering or exceptional business economics or combination.
To see which is which, convert negative value of treasury shares into a positive and add it to shareholders equity. Then divide net earnings by new shareholders equity. This will give the return on equity minus effects of window dressing.
Important: presence of treasury shares and a history of buyback are good indicators that company has competitive advantage

How Warren Buffett Interprets the Cash Flow Statement

Capital Expenditures

Never invest in telephone companies because of big capital outlays

Important: company with durable competitive advantage uses a smaller portion of earnings for capital expenditure for continuing operations than those without.

To compare capex to net earnings, add up total capex for ten-yr period and compare with total net earnings over the same period

Important: if historically using less than 50%, then good place to look for durable competitive advantage. If less than 25%, probably has a competitive advantage.

Summary of What to Look for

Income Statement (DCA = Durable Competitive Advantage) Comments
Gross Profit Margin >40% = D.C.A.
<40% = competition eroding margins
<20% = no sustainable competitive advantage Consistency is Key
(SGA as % of gross profit) < 30% is fantastic
Nearing 100% is in highly competitive industry Consistency is Key
(depreciation costs as a % of gross profit) Company with moat tend to have lower %
Interest Expenses
(interest expenses relative to operating income) Durable competitive advantage carry little or no interest expense.
Warren Buffett’s favorite consumer products have 20% = Long Term moat
BV d.c.a.’s never sell for less than BV
LT Investments can have valuable assets on books at valuation < market price (booked at lowest price) tells us about investment mindset of management
(Looking for d.c.a.?)
Intangible Assets Internally developed brands not reflected on BS
Total Assets + ROA
(Measure efficiency using ROA) Higher return the better (but: really high ROA may indicate vulnerability in durability of c.a.) Capital = barrier to entry
ST Debt financial institutions. Warren Buffett shies from those who are bigger borrowers of ST than LT debt
LT Debt Due d.c.a. need little or no LT debt to maintain operations
Total CL + Current Ratio higher the ratio, the more liquid, the greater its ability to pay CL d.c.a.’s don’t need ‘liquidity cushion’ so may have <1
LT Debt LT debt load for last ten yrs. ten yrs w/ little LT debt = d.c.a. earning power to pay their LT debt in <3/4 yrs = good candidates
Total Liabilities + Treasury Share-Adjusted debt to Shareholder Eq Ratio If <.80, Good chance company has d.c.a.
Preferred + Common Stock in search for d.c.a. we look for absence of preferred stock
Retained Earnings Rate of growth of RE is good indicator
Treasury Stock presence of treasury shares and a history of buyback are good indicators that company has d.c.a. convert –ve value of treasury shares into +ve and add shareholder eq.
Divide net earnings by new shareholders eq. give us return on equity minus dressing.
Return on Shareholder equity d.c.a. show higher than average returns on shareholders equity If company shows history of strong net earnings, but shows –ve sholder equity, probably d.c.a. because strong companies don’t need to retain
Cash Flow Statement
Capital Expenditures historically using
<50% then good place to look for d.c.a.
<25% probably has d.c.a. Add up total cap exp for ten-yr period and compare w/ total net earnings over period.
Stock Buybacks indicator of d.c.a. is a history of repurchasing/retiring its shares Look at cash from investment activities. “Issuance (Retirement) of Stock, Net”


Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.

Abraham Lincoln

The COT index number this week stands at +0%. This continues the trend of lower COT index numbers over the last four weeks. This has correlated with the market that has topped out and last week moved lower. This week’s number would therefore suggest further weakness in the market, and potentially a weaker market for the moment. Thus I would avoid buying the dip for any longer term positions. I would only consider any new long positions for a swing, counter trend type of trade.


However the technical picture suggests that a counter trend move higher may well be on the cards. On this basis, with support at circa $177.oo, I would be looking for the market to bounce, but, it would be a counter trend trade until the current short term downtrend is reversed, if indeed that is the outcome. I would look to close any swing long positions circa the $181.oo area, but be prepared to close any trades quickly.

Longer Term Positions

These positions can be managed, or simply be left to themselves currently until a trend develops. As they are market neutral and can profit from a move higher or lower, no decisions need be taken currently, unless they are currently sitting in profit, where locking in that profit may be an option.

Federal Reserve.

There is again chatter in the market with regard to a December taper. Really? With the economy a mess, unemployment static and corporate profit growth largely non-existent, the chatter is just that chatter. Of course, those that can offset short term positions may do so, which is one reason why the COT number has been trending down the last four weeks. The message is simply wait until the market is satisfied that there is no taper to be announced by the Fed, and the COT trend to reverse.


How do you convince people that doing less isn’t really doing less?

That’s the question Ben Bernanke has been trying to answer the past six months, and it looks like he’s finally found one. That’s reducing the Fed’s bond-buying, but offsetting that by saying it will keep rates low for even longer.

It’s less purchases and more promises. More specifically, the Fed will “taper” its bond purchases from $85 to $75 billion a month. And it will keep doing so in $10 billion increments next year as long as the recovery stays on track. But it will try to inject just as much monetary stimulus as it’s taking out by strengthening its promises. Indeed, the Fed now says it will likely keep rates at zero “well past” the time unemployment falls below 6.5 percent, especially if inflation stays below its 2 percent target as expected.



The Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog points out that we’re back to 1977 enrollment levels, an era that predated the surging growth of lawyers during the 1980s. The jump in law school enrollment during that time was credited, in part, with the popularity of the television drama “L.A. Law.” As the New York Times wrote back in 1995:
The surge in applications in the late 1980s coincided with something else: the television show, “L.A. Law.” The hit program, which focused on a remarkably good-looking, diverse group of lawyers who led exciting lives in and out of the courtroom, was broadcast from 1986 to 1994, and increased interest in law schools in ways that recruitment brochures probably did not.
More recently, life at US law firms is more akin to the popular reality show “Survivor,” as the broader demand for legal services has never quite regained the pep it had before the Great Recession struck. That has meant real difficulties for those exiting law school. In July 2012, 12% of law school graduates from 2011 were unemployed, compared to 5.8% of students who graduated in 2007, according to research published by Moody’s Investors Service. And quite sensibly, fewer people want to get into the field at the moment.

Which of course is the exactly right time to enter the [asset class] profession. Here in NZ the cost of an LLB compared to a JD is a fraction of the cost. Four years of law school to gain the LLB – $24K. Well worth the risk for potential returns post-graduation.

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