Monday, September 27, 2010

Nassim Taleb: Soros versus Buffett

I came across an article on Bloomberg Businessweek, which said….

If given a choice between investing with Buffett and billionaire investor George Soros, Taleb also said he would probably pick the latter.

“I am not saying Buffett isn’t as good as Soros,” he said. “I am saying that the probability Soros’s returns come from randomness is much smaller because he did almost everything: he bought currencies, he sold currencies, he did arbitrages. He made a lot more decisions. Buffett followed a strategy to buy companies that had a certain earnings profile, and it worked for him. There is a lot more luck involved in this strategy.”

[From: http://www.businessweek.com/news/2010-09-25/obama-s-stimulus-plan-made-crisis-worse-taleb-says.html]

I have high respect for your intelligence and thinking, and I believe that “Fooled by Randomness” and “The Black Swan” are must-read books for everyone. However, I believe your observation on Warren Buffett is wrong.

You justified your pick on Soros because you have observed his thousands if not millions of trades; therefore, giving you comfort that he is making decisions and his success, to quote what you said, is “2 million times more statistically evidence that his results are not by chance than Buffett does”.

You are implying that Soros is making thousands more decisions that Buffett. It seems to me that your understanding of Buffett is superficial, leading to your flawed conclusion.

During a meeting with MBA students from the University of Georgia in early 2007, Buffett told the group of students that "There were four Moody's manuals at the time. I went through them all, page by page, over 10,000 pages twice. On page 1433, I found Western Insurance Securities. Its earnings per share were as follows: 1949 - $21.66, 1950 - $29.09. In 1951, the low-high share price was $3 - $13. Ten pages later, on page 1443, I found National American Fire Insurance….”

Again, in 2004, Buffett searched through the entire Korean stock market by reading Citigroup Investment Guide to Korean Stocks (that is over 1,700 companies). In 4 hours he found 20 companies that he liked and put $100 million to work.

These two examples illustrated that Buffett did make thousands of decisions of not to invest. Those who study Buffett intensely know that he works extreme hard and study all companies available from A to Z, leaving no stone unturned. Deciding not to buy is just as important as deciding to buy. However, inactivity is commonly misunderstood for not making any decision.

To quote Albert Einstein, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted, counts.”

Kind regards,

David Lau

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Nick Vujicic: I Love Living Life. I Am Happy

Meredith Whitney Interview

Lessons from Meredith Whitney:
  1. Keep it simple. Write and communicate in a way that even an art teacher or veterinarian could understand. When she famously made her Citi call, she looked at three key variables - leverage ratio, how much Citi needed to raise to reach similar leverage ratio as its peers, and dividend payout. She realized that in order for Citi to achieve similar ratio as its peers, it would need to raise $30billion in equity against $100billion in net assets. Therefore, Citi would need to stop paying dividend or else, go bust.
  2. Work hard. She "taps dance to work". Don't mind asking dump questions.
  3. Having high conviction after you have done your homework. It's ok to be the minority if you're right.
  4. Be a prolific reader. Leave no stone unturned.
Enjoy the interview,
David


Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Yu Pengnian: Chinese philanthropist donates it all

Yu Pengnian’s journey from poor street hawker to Hong Kong real-estate magnate was already a remarkable one. Then the 88-year-old did something even rarer that shocked many in increasingly materialistic China: He gave it all away.

Saying he hoped to set an example for other wealthy Chinese, Mr. Yu called a press conference in April to announce he was donating his last 3.2 billion yuan (about $500-million) to a foundation he established five years earlier to aid his pet causes – student scholarships, reconstruction after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, and paying for operations for those like him who suffer from cataracts.

“This will be my last donation,” he announced. “I have nothing more to give away.”

With that endowment, Mr. Yu became the first Chinese national to give more than $1-billion to charity, now having contributed almost $1.3-billion in cash and real estate to the Yu Pengnian Foundation.

In a stunned China, the question came quickly: Wouldn’t his children be angry that he had given their inheritance away? “They didn’t oppose this idea, at least not in public,” the eccentric Mr. Yu says, laughing, when asked the question again during an interview at his foundation’s office atop the 57-storey Penglin Hotel in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen.

“If my children are competent, they don’t need my money,” Mr. Yu explained. “If they’re not, leaving them a lot of money is only doing them harm.”

To make sure that didn’t happen, he appointed HSBC as his foundation’s trustee and stipulated that none of its holdings could be inherited, sold or invested.

In a society where capitalism is just 30 years old, and charitable giving an even younger concept, Mr. Yu says one of his primary goals in making a show out of giving his money away was to set an example to other rich Chinese. “Everybody has a different view of money. Some do good things with it, some rich people do nothing with it. …My goal is to be a leader, a pioneer who encourages rich people, inside and outside of China, to do something charitable.”

Full Article

Michael Burry, Predictor of Mortgage Collapse, Bets on Farmland, Gold

Michael Burry, the former hedge-fund manager who predicted the housing market's plunge, said he is investing in farmable land, small technology companies and gold as he hunts original ideas and braces for a weaker dollar.

"I believe that agriculture land -- productive agricultural land with water on site -- will be very valuable in the future," Burry, 39, said in a Bloomberg Television interview scheduled for broadcast this morning in New York. "I've put a good amount of money into that."

Burry, as head of Scion Capital LLC, prodded Wall Street banks in early 2005 to create credit-default swaps to bet against bonds backed by the riskiest home loans. The strategy paid off as borrowers defaulted, letting his investors more than quintuple their money from 2000 to 2008, according to Michael Lewis's book "The Big Short" (Norton/Allen Lane).

Burry, who now manages his own money after shuttering the fund in 2008, said finding original investments is difficult because many trades are crowded and asset classes often move together.

"I'm interested in finding investments that aren't just simply going to float up and down with the market," he said. "The incredible correlation that we're experiencing -- we've been experiencing for a number of years -- is problematic."

Still, it's possible to find opportunities among small companies because large investors and government officials focus on bigger ones, he said. He is particularly interested in small technology firms.

"Smaller companies in Asia, I think, are neglected," he said. "There are some very cheap companies there."

Investing in Gold

Gold is also a favored investment as central banks issue debt and devalue their currencies, he said. Governments haven't adequately addressed the causes of the financial crisis and may be sowing the seeds for future problems by borrowing, he said. In the U.S., lawmakers showed they didn't understand how to prevent another crisis when they gave the Federal Reserve and Chairman Ben S. Bernanke additional authority, he said.

"The Federal Reserve, in my view, hadn't seen this coming and in some ways, possibly contributed to the crisis," he said. "Now, Bernanke is the most powerful Fed chairman in history. I'm not sure that's the right response. The result tends to tell me they're not getting it right."

The Dodd-Frank Act, signed by President Barack Obama on July 21, creates a consumer bureau at the Fed to monitor banks for credit-card and mortgage lending abuses. The bill also gives the Fed chairman a seat on a newly created Financial Stability Oversight Council, which is supposed to spot and respond to emerging systemic risks.

Background in Medicine

Originally, investing was a hobby for Burry, who as a resident neurosurgeon at Stanford Hospital in the 1990s typed his ideas onto message boards late at night.

He went to high school in San Jose, California, graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles and then earned a medical degree from the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, according to "The Big Short." The book portrays him as a loner from a young age who excelled in areas that required intense concentration. While searching for undervalued companies, he discovered his own house was overpriced, prompting a broader investigation of the housing market.

It's possible Burry is part of "an extremely small group" of economists and investors who are "really exceptionally adroit" at forecasting, former fed Chairman Alan Greenspan said in April. Burry has been critical of the role Greenspan played in fueling the crisis with low interest rates.

Goldman Sachs

Burry said Wall Street investment banks such as Goldman Sachs Group Inc. shouldn't trade on their own account and don't always act in the best interests of clients. The firm is disbanding its principal-strategies business, one of the groups that make bets with the company's own money, two people with knowledge of the decision said last week.

"I don't believe that any Wall Street bank always acts in the best interests of its clients," said Burry, adding that he often fought with firms while betting against housing. "It's an incredibly vicious, incredibly competitive world when you're going to go take a position opposite one of those banks."

He asked seven Wall Street banks to help him bet against the housing market, and only Deutsche Bank AG and Goldman Sachs expressed any interest, Lewis wrote in his book. At the end of June 2008, original investors in Burry's hedge fund received a return on their money, after fees and expenses, of 489.34 percent, according to the book.


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