Different by Youngme Moon

Key takeaways

  • Removing an authoritative metric to measure performance invites fresh reinterpretation and creative differentiation
  • Having an authoritative metric in place is the surest way to invite competition and conformity
  • “For the most part, we do not see before we define, we define before we see”  Public Opinion, Walter Lippman
  • In business product categories are very flexible. All it takes is a perceptual shift to transform the consumption behavior of the masses
  • “Intuition becomes increasingly valuable in new information society precisely because there is so much data”, John Naisbitt

Predator’s Ball by Connie Bruck

  • no matter how much research you done regarding a stock you don’t have a contract what the future price should be
  • with high yield bond there is a contract for a certain price in a future, if you are correct about the calculation, you will be correct about your yield
  • bargain price: liquidation price 75cents on the dollar buy at 20 cents
  • when you are not a big established investment firm like Lehmen brothers, you have no franchise to protect. You are free to go the unconventional route for potential outsized returns
  • great ideas are born bad. Its easy to make your way to a great idea from crazy outrageous ones than cautious and sensible ones. Investment bankers by default filter out the crazy outrageous ones.
  • Contrarian thinkers need to train themselves to see things via unconventional routes
  • ways to structure a bond
    • give money back sooner
    • give higher interest rates
    • give more stock
    • give stocks cheap
  • It is easier for corporation to pay interest which is tax deductible than dividends which are not
  • Bonds offer process
    • first tier  high rollers offer liquidity get to buy at cheaper price and exit earlier
    • second tier payers, with franchise to protect, who want to avoid stigma of being junk bond buyers will come in later at more expensive price and exit later.
  • Successful leverage buyout scenario: after buy out use cashflow from business to pay off the junk bonds thus deleverage the business
  • Mutual fund arbitrage: compare value of underlying portfolio and stock price
  • If you are right about a company being undervalued and it is willing to put itself up for sale, there will be buyers
  • Poison pill: defense mechanism against corporate take overs. When would be acquirers crosses threshold of ownership, existing shareholders are given extravagant rights rights making it less desirable as take over target
  • Michael Milken:
    • perception versus reality, see what the world could not.
    • Vision is Strength.
    • capital is abundant, vision is scarce.
    • excess capital is not strength but opportunity for weakness
    • capital put in the hands of someone with vision will result in drastically different results.
    • return of the owner manager as opposed to the corporate manager
    • by-pass the China wall principle where companies try to isolate the deal making and arbitrage departments
    • knows many industry in depth

Related references

King Icahn, biography of a renegade capitalist by Mark Stevens

  • way of thinking
    • There is a strategy behind everything. Everything fits. Thinking this way taught me to compete in many things, not only take over but chess and arbitrage
    • Empiricism says knowledge is based on observation and experience, not feelings
    • Studying 20th century philosophy trains your mind for takeovers
    • Chain thinking: just like chess, in any transaction, think of every single possible move and counter move
    • always consider what might be the worst case scenario and then protect your downside while increasing your control
    • a civilization starts to decline when a large part of its population stops working
  • Icahn/Kingsley theory: focus the market’s attention on the disparity in values and someone will buy you out
    • Take over strategy potential outcome after indicating it as a take over target
      • acquisition of shares by original suitor
      • hostile challenger
      • white knight  who will come and free up the locked up value
    • Prefer stocks with limited downside exposure, gravitate towards out of favor stocks that had already been discounted by the market
    • When analyzing a company, earnings does not always present a clear picture. Depreciation is paper losses. Cashflow presents a better picture. Key components to analyze
      • asset
      • return on equity
      • cashflow
      • capitalization
    • committed the mistake of just focusing on financial engineering to reduce cost, think about how to grow the business
    • Did not realize after fully taking over a company that the revenue side of the business is usually circumscribed to external factors not under direct management control
  • On negotiations
    • everything has to be negotiated
    • threaten, continuously threaten by painting a very dire picture. This helps frame the alternative which you demand as something very very reasonable
    • wear down your opponent
    • answer a question with a question
    • always push the deal as far as it can without blowing up
    • wait until a company is so stretched in need of a deal before buying on the most favorable terms
  • On goal setting
    • have no fixed goals
    • see all the possibilities
  • Princeton liberal arts eduction:
    • exposure to eclectic mix of human knowledge teaching a student how to think, explore and question rather than prepare them for a specific career
    • the best thinkers will rise to the top of their chosen careers precisely because they have not limited themselves to narrow courses of study

Related references

Liar’s poker by Micheal Lewis

  • Michael Milken:
    • between perception and reality there is a gap
    • herd instincts: investors are constrained by appearance. A manager of a respectable financial institution will shun “fallen angels” so as to avoid appearing imprudent to his colleagues
    • forces wishing to keep a large company afloat are far greater than those that wish to see it perish
    • credit rating systems are flawed. It focuses on the past instead of the future. Ignore large fortune 500 companies in favor of ones with no credit standings to find a good deal.
    • The market which may be quick to digest earnings data was grossly inefficient in valuing everything.
  • Lessons from Solomon brother traders
    • I don’t pat myself in the back, because the next sensation is a sharp kick lower down
    • those who say don’t know, those who know don’t say
    • Despite the valuable lessons history can offer us, its shown that man does not learn any of these valuable lessons.
  • Benjamin Graham: The more elaborate the mathematics, the more uncertain and speculative the outcome. Avoid substituting experience with theory.
  • Key historic events:
    • 1933 Glass Steagall act: separation of investment banking and retail banking
    • July 1944 Bretton wood systems: World currencies agree to a fix exchange rate against the USD, USD agree to fix exchange rate with Gold.
    • 1971 Collapse of the Bretton Wood systems: US, faced with increasing pressure to maintain the USD gold exchange rates as its foreign reserves were depleted by a extended Vietnam war, went off the gold standard to prevent a run.
    • 6th October 1979 The Volcker Act : money supply will be fixed, interest rates would float
    •  12th Nov 1999: repeal of the Glass Steagall act: banks can now take use consumer deposits for investment purposes.

Related references

Observations on our news reporting system as well as investment bank forecasting.

On the quality news reporting

Good news reporting should seeks to inform rather than sensationalize with attention grabbing headlines. Its easy to appear data driven but still be misleading if you do not use the proper frame for understanding the numbers

An example of bad news reporting
An example of bad news reporting
An example of quality news reporting

On investment bank predictions

When on the receiving end of predictions made by external parties it is important to understand the underlying agenda they are trying to achieve. When examined thoroughly, predictions made by investment banks are so bad and contradictory, they should just stop making public declarations.

However if taking into account their objective is not to inform but to incite a trading decision by their clients so as to make a commission or offload losing positions on their trading books, it makes perfect sense.

Related references

Chat with Johnson and Dad on CoronaVirus and crisis investing

  • A company is only likely to go bankrupt if its creditors recalls debts and it is not able to pay back.
  • In the event of a major wide spread disaster and there is no one around to take advantage of it, it is unlikely the creditors recall debts
  • creditors of airlines would more likely want to have all their clients continue generating revenue with the planes to pay off debt than to foreclose of them and take back planes which are at that point worthless inventory for them
  • Labor unions will not want to have all their union members laid off, they will likely go into negotiations to deal with salary issues.
  • Ships of cruises are likely to deteriorate fast and require Capex to upkeep
  • Credit lines and payment schedule can always be renegotiated if impact is industry wide
  • If creditors are not willing to recall debts, then what would be the cause of bankruptcy? Beware of fake news that preach doom and gloom with no underlying basis
  • If you bought too early into the dip and you are more than half way into the dip might as well hold on for the recovery. Trying to exit too late into the dip will only cause more losses to be unnecessarily incurred.
  • Oil specialists are either producers or consumers, it is hard to determine the demand unless you are an insider
  • Wait till all the bad news are out and sentiment has turned before entering into position. Its ok to only go into position after the company share price has advanced 100% from its lowest levels.

Federal reserve rate cuts

3rd March 2020

  • reduce interest rates from 1.5-1.75% to 1-1.25%
  • purchase of government bonds
  • purchase of agency back mortgage securities

15th March 2020

  • reduce interest rates from 1-1.25% to 0-0.25%
  • effects are in very early stage within the US
  • First signs affected industries
    • Tourism
    • Hotel
    • Travel industry
    • otherwise not showing up in data but sentiment forecasts

Key take aways

  • mandate
    • maximum employment
    • price stability
  • Context
    • Economy propped up by US consumers
    • US unemployment is low
  • Dealing with corona issue
    • Actual impact of US economy is uncertain
    • Ultimate solution will come from health professionals
    • Broader spread of the virus is what changed hence potential risk to the economy
    • Uncertain how long the economy will take to recover
    • Health care, Fiscal and Monetary policies

Thoughts on Fake News

A stroll through the peaceful streets of Rome. In contrast, it felt like the end of the world is here if you read news about Italy recently.

The human brain is a remarkable pattern recognition engine. When given incomplete information it will conjure up the “missing” pieces to generate a coherent whole that could be comprehended. More often than not what gets generated is the worst case imaginable scenario. In a normal time and age this is a wonderful function to have running automatically in the background to keep this primate alive.

However, this automatic function becomes problematic as three trends converge.

Trend 1 – big tech like Google and Facebook consolidated advertising revenue putting news entity under increasingly pressure to sustain themselves as their advertising revenue dwindled

Trend 2 – the proliferation of publication medium means anyone can now claim to be a news entity.

Trend 3 – Proliferation of Growth hacking techniques perfected by tech companies like Facebook that hijacks the human brain’s automatic fight or flight to generate user action that gets converted to revenue.

News entity generate revenue with hyper inflated news that drives readership and vitality by tapping into fear and anger. This drives wide spread panic. Corona  is perfect catalyst.

Book summary: What it takes, Stephen Schwarzman

Profile

  • Partner at BlackStone

Personal effectiveness

  • the bigger the goals the more significant the consequences
  • since you can only do one important thing at a time, always pick the most important one to start with
  • most important lessons are learned at inflection points between when failure turns into success
  • the best executives are made not born, they absorb info, study their own experiences, learn from mistakes and evolve
  • The goal of education (questioning and thinking) as a discipline is to learn how to think, it only ends when you die
  • there are as many realities as individuals, study more individuals
  • find a great mentor
  • Cultivate inner fortitude: Helps preserve morality and ethics in the face of fear and greed
  • The harder the problem the more limited the competition
  • The first job is foundational. Always look for one with a steep learning curve and strong training.
  • when caught in a tight spot, don’t become fixated on your own problem but on someone else’s
  • when seeing a huge transformative opportunity don’t worry that no one else is pursuing it.
  • never get complacent
  • make decisions when you are ready not under pressure
  • objectively assess the risks of every opportunity.

On finance and trading

  • master uncertainty: finance is a dynamic world where you will need to adjust to situations, people and new information quickly
  • build a model to explain a certain phenomena and then test it
  • do not mistake interest in making money versus interest in psychological comfort
  • market tops
    • loose credit conditions and a rising tide
    • buyers generally overconfident
    • number of people you know who become “accidentally” become rich
    • number of IPOs increase at the top, so does the valuations and size
  • market bottoms
    • very hard to bring companies to IPO
    • difficult to detect
    • markets are declining and economy weakens
    • most buy too early or under-estimate the severity of recessions
    • usually takes a year or two for market to get out of recession. even then asset value takes time to recover
    • risk is the least after a crash
    • best time to enter is after position has experienced 5-10% recovery from a crash
  • practice discipline and sound risk assessment
    • wait till the cycle fully plays out
  • Cycles are powered by supply and demand characteristics
    • understand and quantify them
    • e.g. real estate top is when building is valued significantly above replacement cost
  • Sometimes a trend especially negative ones will exhibit symptoms spread across various territories (escalating land prices Spain, India and US prior to 2008)

On building a company

  • fund raising from an LP for a new fund you are starting yourself will be harder than the prior company whom the LP already has a relationship with.
  • make sure there is not sole decision maker for important decisions to avoid getting blind sided
  • Accessing an idea
    • big enough for you to devote your life
    • unique enough as an offering that people will want it
    • timing must be right
  • transition from gut to system during the middle of the life cycle to continue further scaling
  • a business is an integrated system. Understand how one part works by itself as well as in relationship with other parts. Information is the most important asset in business

On management

  • being a strong and accurate accessor of talent is the most critical skills of entrepreneurship.
  • look for cultural fit.
  • Get the candidate into conversation mode
  • its as hard to start and run a small business versus a big one. Choose one with potential to be huge. Why waste time asking for 5-10 million USD when you can ask for 50-100 million USD?
  • find people who sense problems, design solutions and takes the business in new directions
  • be proactive in addressing personal differences over day to day operations

On deal making

  • ultimately comes down to a few key critical points
  • clear away the clutter and focus on these points to be effective
  • learn to slow things down
  • practice intense listening

Related readings

  • Outliers, Malcom Gladwell

Book summary: Buffett the making of an American capitalist by Roger Lowenstein

Keep things simple. Simple should not be confused with easy.

Business model assessment

  • Easy to understand economics
  • Strong defensible moat
  • Trustworthy management who treat capital of shareholders with ownerlike care
  • Selling at a reasonable price
  • Able to generate high returns without excessive usage of debts

Guiding principles

  • Stick to companies with your circle of competence
  • Ignore macro economics trends and analyst forecast
  • Choosing between growth and value is a misguided one. See the business model holistically.
  • A share in a business is basically a bond whose coupon rate you need to figure in yourself
  • The character flaws of an individual tend to have very serious spill over effects. Always check for serious character flaws of individuals whose company you plan to invest in.

Float

  • Buy cash generating assets to finance purchase of more assets
  • Insurance is a prepaid model
  • Blue Chip is a prepaid stamp sales model

Management of cashflow

  • Give out dividend
  • Share buy back
  • Reinvest or MnA

The last option is almost always value destroying unless the management can generate ROI above it’s current RoA rate. This is predicated upon a strong defensible moat.

Leadership

  • Confidence
  • Perspective
  • Ability to focus
  • Communication