Archive for August, 2011

How to fix Europe.

August 19, 2011

Note: I’ve originally wrote this in Spanish but I decided to rewrite in English since it’s the main language of this blog.

The market keeps going down and although I’m optimistic and I’m buying, things are not looking good with nothing in sight to improve it. The problem is with Europe, there is no central leadership able to fix the economic mess over here. These are my suggestions to fix what we are going through:

1) Create Eurobonds. The faster the better. This means Europe has to become not only a currency union but also an economic and fiscal union. It does not make sense to have each country taking independent actions, following independent policies and playing like independent entities when we all share the same currency. This provokes that a few governments who are financially neglect can bring down the whole European Union. Unify it, create a central institution that manages it and removes power from political parties. Create a path to allow for Eurobonds.

2) Restructure debt. Greece cannot pay its debt. It’s mathematically impossible that any country paying close to a 20% interest for an extended period of time can pay its debt. This is not a credit card, it’s a country. We need to allow for a debt restructure, Greece cannot raise more taxes or ask anything more from its citizens without getting the government killed. At this point we either allow Greece to restructure its debt or they will be forced to leave the euro. They would need to print their own money and devaluate their currency, with all the trouble it would cause to the whole EU. This brings me to point 3.

3) Devaluate the Euro. It’s amazing, I remember when I lived in the US that the dollar/euro was about 1 to 1. Right now it’s 1 to 0.69, meaning that even after all this mess, the Euro is practically 50% stronger than a few years ago. It only makes sense because the US has been printing crazy amount of money, but still, only up to a point. We could let the Euro devaluate 20% without a problem, help exports and aliviate the debt for Greece. We either do this voluntarely or the market will force devaluation eventually.

4) Lower interest rates. In Europe with all the troubles we are having we had the wonderful idea to raise the interest rates, not once, but twice, just because we were worried about inflation. Inflation is the least of our problems right now. With high unemployment, lower cost of energy and slow GDP growth, inflation is a dormant beast. We also have the advantage that interest rates can be adjusted relatively fast, so even if inflation shows up, we can change the rates in no time. Meanwhile, we can lower the interest rates, lowering our borrowing costs, helping Greece and all countries in trouble and making our currency less attractive which would help with #3 and #2

The problem is that we either move fast or if things get out of hands they will explode on our face with not much room to maneuver.

Stock panic. Yet… wait, didn’t I just write this?

August 4, 2011

August 4, 2011. Interesting week and day “Stocks Sink Amid Global Economic Woes; Dow Plunges More Than 500, Worst Drop Since 2008” on the main page of Yahoo Finance. Worst 9 days in 2 years and it was about to become the worst losing period since 1978.

I’m not here to give advice to anyone and I’m not going to tell you what you should do. I just do what I say and what my principles dictate me: I buy.
And I buy because I’m a value investor. Warren Buffett’s quote “A simple rule dictates my buying: Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful.” sums it up like only him and Ben Graham could. Buffett published this piece on the New York Times right in the midst of the Financial Crisis: Some people thought he was insane. The fact that after the piece was published the stock market went down some 20% more, didn’t help either. Nowadays his holdings are up between 70-100% in 2 years.

So just like him, I have no clue what the stock market is going to do tomorrow. But I see fear, lots of it. Some of it makes sense and lots not.
This is the situation. On March and April of this year, I was posting on my facebook account saying that the stock market was going up way too fast. It just did not make sense. If you remember, during that period there was the “Arabian Revolution”, Lybia, Egypt, the whole nine-yards going practically on civil war. Oil was skyrocketting. European crisis unfolding. Then Japan earthquake and following nuclear crisis. It would affect all sales, manufacturing and distribution of the auto and tech industries for months to come. What did the stock market do meanwhile? It went up more than 15% in a few months. THAT was insane. Everybody knew that nothing on that list was good for the economy. The projections for growth were hammered, the earnings projections trimmed. Stocks kept waving up and down. With every up day, there was some “finally this seems over” article, and with every down day, there was some “this is only the beginning” article. In short, noise, lots of it. But you have to focus, on macroeconomic news, did it make sense that the stocks were up 15% for the year? No. If the market had only factored in the real news.

So after the “crash” that we are seeing today, people are freaking out that the economy is going to go back on recession and everything is going to collapse. Possibly we are also going on food stamps!… where are we after all? We are exactly at the same level than on January 2011 (or close to May 2010 slide).

So I’m here to tell you: relax. Check the big picture, literally:
Dow Jones Graph

That’s the Dow Jones graph for 2 years. Can you sincerely say looking at the graph that we are on bad shape? I mean, the stock market has just gone through a correction. That’s it. Plain and simple. They happen constantly. Check again that graph. Look at Feb 2010, then May 2010, then March 2011, then May 2011 and then August 2011. They do happen const-ant-ly (spelling and syllable spliting was never my strength on english).

Should you buy then? I don’t know. I’m buying. I have no clue whether the stock market will fall another 10% or go up 30% tomorrow. The stock market is a moody jerk. But from my point of view, today things are way cheaper than yesterday. And way cheaper than 3 months ago. I see no surprise on the numbers at all, this was expected: stagnant growth after everything that has gone on for months. All the problems take 2 to 3 months to make its way through the earning reports. No biggie. Surprisingly 78% of all the S&P500 companies beat the earnings estimates. Things were actually better than expected.

What’s my take on this? I believe that in a few months, probably 2 or 3, with current oil prices down, interest rates near zero, no more supply disruptions, Europe taking care of the crisis, likely a QE3 of some kind and current horrible expectations for growth, companies will most likely post earnings way better than expected. I may be wrong, and I suck at timing the market, but with companies like Morgan Stanley at 70% book value, Wells Fargo at less than book value and Foster Wheeler at 50% discount even after beating estimates by a wide margin, I think I can take my chances.

In any case, remember, we are in a better situation today than yesterday. You can buy the same value cheaper!

But if you can’t handle another 10% drop… then you should probably not be investing, because ups and downs of 20% are the normal on the stock market. My suggestion is to plug some classic music into your ears and look at the numbers without reading the news. Do they look cheap? If not, no need for the news, you are out, if yes, check the news to see whether something that really has an effect on your numbers is being said. Most likely that Congress raised the debt ceiling is not going to have an effect on my chocolate or diet coke intake. Both seem like safe investments.