In this episode of the VALUE: After Hours Podcast, Taylor, Brewster, and Carlisle chat about:
- Ballantyne $BTN
- The Cheetah Bottleneck
- Cheap Company Buy-Backs
- Investing In Lumber Stocks
- Options Are Dangerous For First-Timers
- Earnings Yield In A Low Interest Rate Environment
- Getting Out Of Illiquid Stocks
- When You’re Poor, Money Is Expensive
- Quiet Expensive Markets
- Quarter-End Window Dressing
- Separating Noise From Signal
- CFA vs MBA
- SPAC Machine $FGF
- Shiller PE At 37
- Tobias Chats With Aswath Damodaran
- Call Reapers
You can find out more about the VALUE: After Hours Podcast here – VALUE: After Hours Podcast. You can also listen to the podcast on your favorite podcast platforms here:
Bill: And we’re live.
Jake: What time is it in the world? [chuckles]
Bill: It says live to me.
Bill: Let’s go.
Tobias: Now, we’re live. What’s up, amigos? 10:30 AM on the West Coast, best coast, 1:30 PM on the East Coast, least coast. [laughs]
Tobias: 5:30 AM or PM somewhere else in the world. I don’t know. 5:30 PM UTC. It could be like 3 AM on the East Coast of Australia. What’s happening, fellas?
Jake: What’s good, my man? [crosstalk]
Quiet Expensive Markets
Tobias: This feels like a very quiet market to me, I’ve got to be honest. There doesn’t seem to be much going on.
Jake: Yeah, new permanent high plateau. It’s quiet.
Tobias: Yeah. [crosstalk] I had a quick look on multpl.com today for the Shiller PE 37.1.
Tobias: Nothing matters anymore.
Jake: That’s fair.
Bill: It’s got to grow.
Jake: Can you tell me anywhere or any asset that is truly priced at a peak pessimism right now?
Jake: Hmm. Fair. Billy, anything peak pessimism on Planet Earth? You have to go intergalactic, what’s the–? [laughs]
Bill: I don’t know. Probably value stocks.
Jake: We’ve got a volcano in St. Vincent. Maybe something’s in the Caribbean? I don’t know.
Bill: I bet there’s something in emerging markets that’s not doing great.
Tobias: You think about all of the industry when that volcano wipes out a whole town, they’re going to have to rebuild that town you think about–
Jake: They’re going to be so wealthy rebuilding that town. [laughs]
Tobias: That’s going to be straight to GDP.
Jake: Straight to GDP.
Tobias: This is Value: After Hours. I’m Tobias Carlisle. I’m joined by Jake Taylor and Bill Brewster as always. What are we talking about today, fellas? I don’t have a great deal on. I’m sort of confused about this market. So, I’m always eager to hear people who know what they’re talking about, what’s happening?
Bill: I’m going to heavily, heavily, heavily tell people to do their own due diligence and then pitch a micro-cap complex, which I’m thrilled about doing, but you all have been with me long enough that you can hear how my mind worked on this one.
Jake: All right. I’ve prepared a little veggie segment on cheetahs today. Since apparently– it cracks me up our fans in that, they love the animal analogies for some reason. It’s like, “Why do you come to an investing podcast to hear about animals?” You could go on Animal Planet or anything else to get actual real facts about animals. [crosstalk]
Bill: Yeah– [crosstalk]
Tobias: To be fair, it’s one animal. Maybe–[crosstalk] [laughs]
Jake: The sperm whale. Yeah.
Tobias: It’s only the sperm whale.
Bill: No, people like ants too, man.
Jake: It reminds me of the silliness of the way that we judge Miss America on her answer to difficult political questions. [laughs] Why is that? Why do we do that?
Tobias: It’s important. What does she look like in a swimsuit? What does she think about Libya?
Jake: And others such as the Iraq. [laughs]
Tobias: There we go. [laughs]
Bill: You know who I found out was a Miss America? Well, I guess she was Miss New York or something, but Julia La Roche, I never knew that SallyPancakes was part of that contest.
Jake: Hmm, thanks for listening.
Jake: Shoutout to her.
Bill: I don’t know [crosstalk] that she listens to us. She’s got her own thing going on. She probably does stop whatever she’s doing to listen us– [crosstalk]
Jake: Yeah. Come on, Bill. Let’s be real here.
Tobias Chats With Aswath Damodaran
Tobias: I had a closed chat with Aswath Damodaran last week. Aswath said, he’s watched a few episodes. So, how are you professor, if you’re listening?
Bill: Shoutout to him.
Jake: Probably taking notes on all the wrong things we say.
Tobias: Yeah, I think that’s what happened. I think we might have name checked him on– [crosstalk]
Bill: I shouldn’t say that Julia La Roche doesn’t listen, because she’s friendly or has been seen around Munger things, and we all know that Charlie is definitely clearing his schedule, throwing on the television to see us right now.
Jake: He’s got someone to put it up for him, makes sense.
Tobias: Who wants to take it away?
Bill: All right, [crosstalk] start this thing?
Tobias: Yeah, well, let’s do it.
Bill: All right. Let’s talk about how I got introduced to Kyle Cerminara. My man, Mike Mitchell, is going through his life trying to find liquidations for a 10% return, is how he is described it to me. If I’m misquoting the return he’s looking for, I apologize. He stumbles upon an entity that he thinks might be a liquidation candidate and gets on the phone and calls Kyle to see how Kyle thinks about the world. This is good old-fashioned, just working hard, picking up the phone, calling people. All of a sudden, he’s like, “This guy thinks like I do,” and starts to pay attention to some of his entities– I know what Mike does, I’m sure he did very deep work on Kyle, and they got to know each other.
For the longest time, Mike and I are talking about Qurate, and he’s like, “You should check out this guy, Kyle. You should check out these other entities. You should check out this,” and I’m like, “Ah, I don’t know that I want to hear this stuff.” Like, whatever, whatever, whatever. Then, eventually, I said, “All right, I’ll start to look,” and I see that they buy a lumber mill, and I was like, “Oh, that sounds like the worst possible idea that I could ever hear.”
Jake: What’s the timeframe for that?
Bill: Well, a lot of this stuff happened over the past 12 months, when they first bought GreenFirst and their Kenora mill. I have followed Fairfax long enough to be interested in Resolute and long enough to know that I don’t know anything about commodity companies. My history in banking, terrifies me of commodity companies. I was like, “I’m not into this at all.” Meanwhile, Mike’s like chirping in my ear and chirping in my ear. Then, my podcast drops, and Kyle listened, because it was Mike’s– Then, I get this random guy is sending me comments on how I didn’t spell words correctly in my show notes. I was like, “Who the hell are you, man?” Then, he’s like, “Also, I don’t think that–”
Jake: Because Buffett with two Ts.[laughter]
Bill: No, come on, now. I didn’t do that. He was picking apart super detail-oriented stuff in the show notes. I was like, “Dude, I’m just trying to make a podcast.” Anyway, we started to talk, and I started to watch what they’ve been doing. In Ballantyne, I think that they’ve made a lot of acquisitions or divestitures, they sold the one business, Convergent. I like that they flipped the business, the sign business into Firefly, and then I started to research OppFi, which I’m going to interview the CEO here tomorrow. I probably would not be open at all to that entity if it wasn’t for my podcast with Tyrone V. Ross, who is an incredible dude, and really to me, opened up my mind to the underbanked and the need for credit. For me, looking at OppFi from the outside, I can frame it as a predatory lender, and I hope to have a good conversation with Jared, the CEO, tomorrow. I’m going to try not to do a puff piece. I’m a little bit intimidated about asking a–
Jake: Come in hard and the pain.
Bill: Yeah, well, I don’t want to come at him, but I do have real questions.
Tobias: Just frame it up, like, “People say.” [crosstalk] “I have heard.” “What do you say to?”
Bill: I mean, dude, the APRs are really big. They’re almost 36% on some of the products. What I would say is, I’ve gotten to know Kyle pretty well over the past seven, eight months, whatever– Well, since the podcast dropped, you can do the time. I really believe that that guy is doing things for the right reasons. I really believe that he wants to make his minority shareholders get good outcomes for them. He’s got friends and family in a lot of these entities, and that’s why I highlighted him.
As far as, FGNA or OppFI goes, I see an entity there that you’ve got Joe Moglia, who built TD Ameritrade into what it is, and sold it to Schwab and Kyle, who are financial analysts, like Kyle’s background is in financials. They both are really passionate when they speak, you can hear Joe on Josh Brown’s The Compound Show, about rebuilding credit for people that the banking system has left behind. I think that’s a mission that’s easy to look down at as somebody that’s able to go to a bank, but like I said, Tyrone really shifted the way that I think about that subprime credit group.
SPAC Machine $FGF
Bill: I look at that entity, and I say, “Okay, well, here’s Joe and Kyle, and they’re seriously motivated to make this thing work,” and the reason I think when you really cut through everything is, they have the ability to potentially become a SPAC machine. If they can do SPAC after SPAC after SPAC, the economics are really, really interesting in these, and they just filed for another SPAC. If they can do good deals and they can keep it coming, to me, that’s a really, really interesting setup, and they have a public entity. I’m telling you, if you just listen to me, and you go out and buy it, and you get slaughtered, it is not on me, it’s 100% on you, because it’s a $28 million market cap, and I don’t want to hear shit for it if it goes wrong.
Bill: It’s FG Financial Group. I think if you look into that entity, you can see how there could be some potentially interesting outcomes.
Tobias: That’s the SPAC machine.
Bill: I don’t know that it’s the SPAC machine necessarily– [crosstalk]
Tobias: Oh, it’s not SPAC, it’s SPAC machine, it’s pumping out the SPACs.
Bill: Yeah, when you read the 10-K. They have a SPAC platform, and they’re writing D&O insurance, Directors and Officers insurance on some of the management teams that are trying to do SPACs.
Jake: This almost sounds like, is this accurate to say that it’s the overlapping of a bunch of podcasts that you’ve done that this little spot that meets there. You’ve got the one on SPACs, I forget who that was with.
Bill: [crosstalk] you work with them.
Jake: Yeah, you had micro-cap with Ian, you had DeFi with Tyrone, and then Kyle himself. Put those all together into one, and you get that thesis emerge out of that.
Bill: Jake Taylor, you have decoded the brain of Bill Brewster.
Jake: I’ll tell your wife.
Bill: No, dude, when people say, how do you do all this media, and come up with investment ideas? I mean look at what Ballantyne has done over the past week. A lot of that is because I put in a fair amount of hard work and opened my mind and tried to have conversations with people that don’t think like me all day long. To me, this is my idea that I’ve come up with since Qurate, is to bet on Kyle’s complex. It’s hard because there’s a lot of intercompany holdings, I did not participate in any meaningful way in the GreenFirst thing except through Ballantyne. Like I said, part of why I’m saying do your own work is I got Mike chirping in my ear every day, about how much he’s making a GreenFirst, and I just knew that I couldn’t hold that entity at the prices that it was trading at, so you’ve got to make your own decisions, but turns out Mike might make a ton of money here shortly.
Anyway, I guess, long story short, I see a micro-cap team that I think is high integrity, has the right incentive structure, and I’ve gotten to be friendly with these guys. I’m not like friends or anything, but I’m willing to put some of my reputation on it. I will tell you that when you talk about them, people are going to probably say negative things about this guy, Larry Swets, who’s involved. Larry is Kyle’s CEO right now. To me, I’m not saying that other people don’t have reasons not to like them, but if you look at what they’ve done over the past 12 months with a cash pile turned into the deal that they announced yesterday, Larry’s got a lot to do with that, like most– I shouldn’t say most, because I don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes, but I know that he’s putting ideas together, and he forewent his rights in that particular deal in order to give the other shareholders the ability to keep their rights and to get the deal done.
Now, a cynic’s going to say, “Well, it’s a forced capital raise,” They need more capital to do the deal. Somebody’s got to do it, and at least the current shareholders get the first shot. It’s not perfect. Nothing in life is. I think you’ve got to figure out how you read the tea leaves, but this is what I do all day. It came together, this is my first idea since September. That’s it.
Jake: I like rights offerings in general, better than a secondary. [crosstalk] Yeah, it’s a right of refusal for the original shareholders.
Tobias: Are the rights renounceable? Can you sell them into the market or you got to take them up yourself?
Bill: They haven’t gotten the approvals to know the answer to that question.
Tobias: Okay– [crosstalk]
Bill: I do think that, if you listen to call yesterday, Ballantyne owns a fair amount of GreenFirst, so Ballantyne is getting a fair amount of rights. Kyle had said that he would like the rights to trade, because I think that they said that they’re not going to fully participate, but I’m not certain on that. You’ve got to confirm that for yourself. I do think really, there’s a lot of alignment of incentives here. There’s a lot of cross holdings, there’s a lot of legal entities when you read FG Financial, it’s a lot of different entities owning each other. I don’t know, is that that much different than what KKR looks like on the inside? I’d argue probably not.
Jake: Blue Chip Stamps in 1978.
Bill: Yeah. Part of what kept me away in the very beginning was, I said to Kyle, I was like, “Dude, this is freaking complicated,” and he was like, “Well, tell me what Buffett’s entities used to look like when he was starting out.” I was like, “Yeah, that’s pretty good point.”
Jake: There is always a question mark though on small and complicated. Does it have to be that complicated when you’re that’s small?
Bill: That’s why I’m saying, people should not fucking listen to me and go out and buy this stuff. Do not do it. But if you want to know how my brain works, like as a fan, that’s what’s going on. Yes, I totally agree with you, Jake. I think that there should be a massive rebuttable presumption when you see complicated and small.
Jake: Yeah. How much of your net worth are you willing to tip towards something small and complicated like that?
Bill: I think as of today, I think 7% is in Ballantyne. I think 2% is an FG Financial, because the problem with FG Financial, in my opinion is, if something did happen with OppFI, I think a lot of the future value is in the SPACs, and the ability to do deals, and I would stick with– I wouldn’t bail on Kyle or anything if something were to happen, somehow. They’ve reached a definitive agreement to do a deal. Let’s say something happens. Then, you’ve got a little bit of a broken story, and you’ve got an illiquid market. I think you really got to be willing to tie up the capital for a while. Then, in OppFI think I have like, 1.75% or 2% or something like that. Across the whole complex, it’s 11%.
Jake: Yeah, it’s decent about for that size of– probably the smallest you’ve ever been on, in general.
Bill: Yeah, like market cap wise, other than some LP investments, for sure. I have one venture–[crosstalk]
Jake: Baseball cards?[laughter]
Bill: Yeah, I bought some baseball cards in 2016 and now they’re my entire net worth, but other than that. I really don’t recommend that people just go out– I personally, like a younger me or if my family was asking, I’d probably stick to Ballantyne and FGNA just because I think that there’s a ton of incentives to make FGNA work. I’ve got some questions for the CEO, but I really do think that when you look at Joe Moglia and Kyle and the financial entity, that’s a compelling combination for me.
Tobias: Do you hold any, JT?
Jake: I don’t discuss that kind of thing.
Tobias: Well, I’m just thinking we might need to disclose it given we’ve talked about it so much just in some proportion, just if you hold them on or not.
Jake: Mm. I will say then, yes, but it’s small.
Tobias: Yeah, I don’t hold any, just so we’re clear.
Bill: Yeah, did I make you nervous, Toby? I’m sorry.
Tobias: No, I just want to make sure that you’re disclosing but I’m not. I’m just careful about that stuff. I have to be careful with that.
Bill: Yeah. No, I dig man. I have a worry, especially when you’re talking about this small. I’m not trying to pump some stocks. I said that in the podcasts that I would hold this stuff for a year that thing was recorded three weeks ago. This is not an in and out thing. I’m allocating capital to Kyle to run for a while, but I don’t think that people should listen to this and go out and buy those. I don’t think they should ever do it. Particularly here, you’re not going to have liquidity when you want it.
Bill: Yeah, like bigly though, not like kind of.
Tobias: Listen to the other podcast as well.
Bill: Well, but, yeah–
Jake: Yeah. That’s the DD.[laughter]
Joe Moglia: Head Coach Costal Carolina University
Bill: I called everybody that contacted me, whether they had something negative or positive to say, and I asked them like, “Can you walk me through what you see here that’s negative and positive?” One of the anecdotes that came back about Joe Moglia was he sold TD Ameritrade, and I guess he wanted to coach again. This guy, I think it was University of Nebraska or something, but he went, he worked for free, and then at the end of it, donated to the program. When he was there, worked his ass off. He’s coaching young kids at Coastal Carolina. When he talks about those kids, he really seems to care about making a difference in people’s lives.
When You’re Poor, Money Is Expensive
Bill: That’s why I have my mind open to this idea of what is otherwise perceived as a subprime lender, because I feel for the people that have been left behind by the banking system and that are basically relegated to payday lending and can’t get a loan to fix their car.
Now, that said, one of the questions that I’d like to ask this guy, Jared, tomorrow, the credit card that they just announced has a $99 fee for $1,000 credit limit. That is a big, big percentage of your credit limit in an upfront fee. It’s a yearly fee. That’s like 9% of your credit limit. Then, your APR is like 36, so what is the way that people are going to have their credit repaired, and how over time, is there a way to drive down the fees that we’re charging these people? I don’t want to gouge people. That’s not what I want to be associated with. I don’t think that Joe and Kyle do either, to be honest. I just think–
Jake: $99 fee for the $1,000 limit, and then– what’s the Costco membership? Like, 99 bucks, or maybe it’s a little higher now.
Bill: Well, dude, this is what Tyrone said. It’s expensive to be poor in this country. That was what Tyrone’s whole episode was on, is how fucking hard it is, when you’re poor in this country. It shouldn’t be that way.
Jake: Yeah, that’s messed up.
Bill: On the other hand, you’ve got a price risk. The defaults on some of those loans, there’s a lot of charge-offs that they have. I’d like to know how they think about that. What are they going to do in the future?
Tobias: Yeah, when I first got to the States, they gave me– To get a credit card, because I had no credit history, I got a $500 credit limit, and I had to back it with $500 in a separate account.
Tobias: I don’t know what I paid for the card, but it was a Visa. I assumed it was some– it could have been 100 bucks attached to the card.
Bill: You had to be collateralized one to one?
Tobias: Then over time, they extended the credit limit, and they didn’t require me to put up any more cash–
Jake: Those dodgy Australians, kind of makes sense.
Tobias: Dude, my credit history is still– because I’ve been in the States on and off since 2004, but for the last 10 years, all my accounts are still the orange that– on my credit report, because my accounts are young, because they’re just a blend of accounts, I think the average age is between five and eight years, something like that.
Bill: Yeah, it’s weird like– I mean it’s not weird. It’s just something that I’ve never had to deal with. I’ve talked about it before, but my mom has gotten by on just straight hustle. She can outwork anybody, but she doesn’t have a money mind, and she’s the person that’s calling when there’s some email that’s fucking Stansberry Research is writing her. She’s calling me with their next pick, like the next gold play or whatever, the thing that’s going to go up 10,000%. Stop sending those things, guys. Anyway.
Tobias: What about the Motley Fool? They’re just as bad, aren’t they? They’ve held Amazon since it was two bucks? [giggles]
Bill: Yeah, you’re asking me to go with my man– [crosstalk]
Bill: Yes, their marketing RMI, I think, could use a little bit more–
Getting Out Of Illiquid Stocks
Bill: Yeah, and dude, I’ll tell you what’s hard is, it’s hard to have a discussion about this idea of Kyle’s complex without feeling a little bit like that, because they’re so small and– they’re way bigger than anything I own, but objectively, they’re micro-caps. I worry about people getting into stuff that– there’s a lot of risk there. You’ve got to really believe in the people that you’re betting on and be willing to lock up your capital and stuff. Jake, how do you get out of these positions, man? I got one that’s illiquid. It’s just sitting there. I don’t think the bid and ask has changed in– I don’t know, two months? It’s like, what are you doing? It’s amazing that people might mark their book to that.
Jake: Yeah, no doubt. That is a– Wow. I’m not going to–
Bill: Some people just get better–
Jake: There’s some marks on some funds where I’ve got to scratch my head once in a while about like, “Really, you’re just going to mark it to that?” You’re the only one who’s really even in there doing anything in that market. [laughs]
Bill: Yeah, right. It’s like they call up their mom, “Hey, Mom, go hit this for 10 shares or whatever, move the market.” They’re like, “Oh, well, now we can collect fees.”
Jake: Yeah, let’s book those fees on $200 worth of volume. [laughs]
Bill: Yeah, you should almost do a volume-weighted average mark, and exclude what you’re buying.
Tobias: There’s no volume though. The VWAP, for those things, that’s miniscule.
Bill: What I mean, like, because if you just look at the mark, it’s just garbage.
Tobias: There’s no a good answer. Before all of the options silliness, I like LEAPS and things like that, because if you’re wrong and they trade all the way down to nothing, at least they expire eventually. You can’t sell them, there’s no market there at all. At least they expire.
Quarter-End Window Dressing
Jake: Yeah, I’ve wondered before if there’s some efficiency that you could exploit or inefficiency, where you would expect window dressing at the end of a quarter. If you could almost front run that window dressing a little bit somehow, there’s money to be made. [laughs]
Bill: The problem is, man, you’ve got to sell it to somebody to get out of your front run.
Jake: Or you sell it to the guy who wants to pump the stock up before the end of the quarter for his mark.
Bill: Yeah, that’s fair.
Tobias: The quarter end is a joke. I don’t know why they don’t police that a little bit more. They’re so transparent for the most part, runs up right into the end of the quarter, and then the first day back, it trades back where it was three days earlier.
The $80 $NVDA Option That Cost One Investor $20,000
Tobias: You’ve got to see that the kid who had the $80 Nvidia put.
Tobias: He had 20,000 bucks to his name, he had 20,000 bucks in this position, so I need to have a chat about risk management with him. I think it was Nvidia, I might be getting– I’m pretty sure it was Nvidia, but it had to close by 80 bucks by Friday, or he was wiped out. It ran to $81, $82, $83, and he was wiped out, because it closed above that on Friday. Then on Monday, it opened below 80 bucks.
Bill: Ah, brutal.
Tobias: He’s done TikTok in a hotel room saying he’s going to show how he’s going to make it all back, but, ah, rough.
Bill: I suspect he’s going– [crosstalk]
Jake: That’s options.
Bill: [crosstalk] -options. Yeah, he’s not making it back trading options.
Tobias: [crosstalk] -mistake, he’s going to have to get his grubstake back together.
Bill: You’re telling me he put everything into an option that was expiring?
Jake: In like a week? [laughs]
Tobias: I didn’t know when he put the position on. There’s lots of people doing silly stuff in options. I see it on the other side, I saw the Tesla– when Tesla was at $600 on a Tuesday, with options expiring on the Friday, the $650s were going through. The $650s were going through in volume, why would you be buying the 650s with four days to run when the stocks at $600 in size? It just makes no sense at all. Unless you have some other intention with those, push the price up a little bit.
Jake: St. Petersburg Paradox. Those lotto tickets get mispriced.
Tobias: Yeah, that’s fair, I guess. Anyway, they were right. They’re in the money though, well in the money by the time it expired.
Jake: It works.
Tobias: On that particular trade. Yeah.
Jake: Until it doesn’t. [laughs]
Tobias: You want to do your veggies, JT?
Bill: Options just for anybody that doesn’t know, because we do have some people that tune in here to learn like, just be careful with options. If you must trade them, trade them very small, like trade a contract. See how it goes. Do it for a while.
Options Are Dangerous For First-Timers
Tobias: I think if it’s your first time in options, the things you’ve got to be careful, there’s a massive bid ask spread. You’re going to lose the money in the spread. The second thing to be careful of is that if you’re short of an option, you can lose a large amount of money being short an option, much bigger than the amount of money that you put up. So, probably you want to be long options until you really know what you’re doing. Even then, you can vaporize a lot of money, but at least you can only lose what you put up.
Jake: I think the other thing too, is that you have to recognize that there are different markets. Your underlying can do what you thought it was going to do, and the price of that option will not necessarily do what you thought it was going to do.
Jake: Which is kind of a mind F when people first get in there.
Tobias: You need to understand volatility in some of the [unintelligible [00:30:39].
Bill: Yeah, because you get this thing called vol crush, where you buy– say, you think that a stock’s going to $30 or $38, or whatever, and you’re like, “Oh, I’ll buy the $30,” and the stocks at 20, but you might have to pay 8 bucks to get the $30, you were right on the price, and then you lost everything. Congrats. Or, did you break even?
Jake: Close enough.
Bill: Anyway, you know what I’m saying. You’ve got to make sure that you figure out– I guess you didn’t lose everything, because it was worth it. Anyway, you didn’t make what you thought you were going to make.
Investing With LEAPS
Tobias: I do think there are some spots where if you’re a value investor, if you’re a fundamental investor, you do have an edge over the people who are trading them mathematically. I think that that’s in LEAPS, you can get that edge, because you can have a view on the fundamentals where– there’s a good discussion of it in The Big Short, where they talk about their options that were priced as if they have a normal distribution, and these guys had a view that they really had a– there were two outcomes possible. There was either win a lot, or lose a lot.
Once you have that framework, you can Kelly bet those positions. If you have enough of them, you should have a positive expected return over time. It requires some sophistication to get to the point where you’re finding these things that are binomial bets where the normal distribution price offered. Then, I also think that there are– with a LEAP, with a fundamental, there’s no volatility in the stock, the stocks very, very cheap, hasn’t done anything for a long time. Underlying’s been doing pretty well. You can put on a small position at the money. Two years later, you can make quite a lot of money on those things, but you’ve got to be prepared to vaporize the lot. You’ve got to think about the amount of money that you’re putting on as pure risk capital, not like a stock where there’s still going to be some underlying value over time.
Jake: Yeah, you’re trading time for asymmetry often.
Bill: I’ll tell you what’s interesting is when you guys were saying that Intel was really cheap, and I was like, “I don’t know, I don’t know.” Since then, if he had bought the options, he would have done pretty well. That might be a scenario that– I’d be interested in LEAPS in that scenario, because the concern on that name, I think, is that they’ve fallen behind technically but you may be able to get some of the upside. I haven’t done the work to know if the options were mispriced. I could see myself– because then you could get more upside with putting less at risk. In a LEAP, you’re not going to like– it’s not going to bleed to zero tomorrow. You’ve got two years where you can still sell it with some time in it.
Tobias: They’re very illiquid. You’re probably not going to be able to get out of them, unless the market moves well into your favor, and you move well into the money. That’s why I like at the money or like one strike out of the money with two years to run, and the amount of money that you’re prepared to lose in that position. If it works, you capture all the upside, and if it doesn’t work, then you already know how much you’re going to lose, and you’ve got two years for– [crosstalk]
Jake: You weren’t going to win anyway. That’s right.
Bill: You would think about it if you were like, “Okay, well, this is a position that I’m willing to lose 1%,” and then you would say, “All right, I’ll put 1% in these LEAPS, and if it goes to zero, that’s what I was willing to risk anyway?”
Tobias: That’s a complete rip-off of Greenblatt’s strategy, which he discusses in The Yellow Book where he says, “If you’ve got something and you think that the downside is potentially a doughnut,” or it’s got big downside, then you’re already in a sort of option, like, pay off. Just focus a little bit more with the option and think about what you can lose in it.
Jake: You’re in an option probability set, but you want to get the option payoff structure.
Tobias: Yeah, that’s it.
Bill: You know how I’d screw myself on that? I’d sell the front month option trying to harvest–
Tobias: [unintelligible [00:34:40]
Bill: [crosstalk] Yeah, just like a little extra premium, and then it would rip and I’d be like, “Fuck.”
Jake: Hedge myself right into a loss.
Bill: That’s right. Yeah.
Tobias: I’ve never done anything smart hedging options or trading options around like that. Every time I ding myself up, it’s because I’ve been trying to do spreads or calls or something smart in there.
Bill: Yeah, I’ve always like– [crosstalk] What did you say? Call what?
Tobias: Call reapers. I’ve been doing spreads or call reapers, something like that.
Bill: What’s a call reaper?
Tobias: You’re trading different months of the same. [crosstalk]
Bill: Okay, cool, so like a calendar spread or something like that.
Tobias: I might be short the front month and long the second month or whatever– [crosstalk]
Bill: Yeah, that’s what I was saying. That’s how I’d screw myself and our LEAP example. I’d be like, “Oh, just give me some premium and then it’d rip, and I’d be like, shit. I always like the idea of selling spreads because I do like the idea of harvesting, some of the rent–
Tobias: The vol.
Bill: Yeah, that’s right.
Tobias: I love the idea too. I’ve just never managed to do it successfully.
Bill: Yeah, neither have I, man. I tried when I was in law school, I probably spent as much time studying options trading that second year as I did studying law school.
Tobias: You’re just lucky there was no Robinhood back then.
Bill: Yeah, well, my tuition in law school increased as my losses and options increased–[laughter]
Bill: [crosstalk] -wasn’t very good at it. That’s why I don’t touch them anymore for the most part. I guess I’d sell a covered call on a–
Tobias: Yeah. there’s a lot of stuff like that’s basically hedged.
Bill: Yeah. If you wanted to trim up a position, I could see emotionally saying that it makes some sense to sell a call, because it’s easier to deal with, but I don’t know.
Tobias: I honestly think if you’re in something like you just– if it’s a Berkshire, and it goes down and gets a lot of vol in it, I would sell a put in that instance, but it’s because I’m prepared to accept Berkshire downside, equity downside.
Bill: Yeah, like March 2020, you might be willing to–
Tobias: There’s probably never going to be enough vol in Berkshire, to be fair.
Bill: I shouldn’t say at the bottom. Let’s say February 2020. Once it started to–[crosstalk]
Tobias: Well, that probably would have hurt.
Bill: Yeah, you get put it. Well, that’s the danger of that game, right?
Tobias: That’s okay. If you’re happy to take it then-
Bill: That’s right.
Tobias: -and that’s great. You just buying it cheaper than you otherwise. The problem is that the stuff that you really want to own, you never get to own. You only ever own the vol. Then, the stuff that you don’t want to own, that’s the stuff you get put.
Bill: You got to have the cash to collateral, like, you’d be willing to cover[?] the table to buy your position. So, your cash is suboptimally used.
Bill: You guys want to do an option show? We could just do an option show.
Tobias: I think we just did.[laughter]
Bill: Did we? Did we just do one?
Tobias: That’s everything I know.
Bill: I have a feeling it’s not.
Jake: Then some.[laughter]
Bill: This is actually part of what we connected over at Berkshire. We were talking about–
Bill: Yeah, man, the first night. Anyway–
Tobias: I’ll take [crosstalk] for that.
Jake: All right.
Bill: I remember it vividly until I don’t, until everything went dark at a bar screaming. Those were the days.
Tobias: Let’s do veggies. Let’s cleanse the palate with some veggies. We need some sorbet.
The Cheetah Bottleneck
Jake: All right, let’s get it cleaned up. Cheetahs today, it’s not sperm whale, sorry. I’m going to keep this relatively short. These are just some facts at the beginning, because you guys like these facts, even though they don’t really mean anything for investing.
Tobias: Everybody’s subscribed to cheetah facts.
Jake: Yeah. Cheetahs, carnivores, meat only, no veggies, ironically, but so they have evolved to live in very dry environments, and they can get by with having one drink every three to four days, which is not normal for most animals, obviously. Everyone knows they’re the fastest land animal and they can get up to speeds of like 70 miles an hour. However, what I didn’t know was that they can get up to close to full speed in three seconds, so the acceleration is just off the charts. One of the ways they do that is they have this heart that is a turbo pump. Their normal beating is 120 beats per minute, which would be fast for a human, that’s us jogging. For them, that’s their normal run rate. Within three seconds, they can ramp up to 250 beats per minute. This thing is a high-performance heart, especially relative to our clunkers.
What’s interesting that I really want to focus on is that cheetahs went through this evolutionary bottleneck, maybe a few thousand years ago, to the point where their DNA is remarkably similar to each other. In fact, you can take a graft from one Cheetah to another and it won’t reject it. They’re almost interchangeable parts, because their DNA is so close together. Whereas, if they had had time to evolve and be apart from each other, there’s a greater chance of, the immune system rearing up and trying, it seems another other part of flesh as a foreign flesh–
Tobias: Are they geographically distributed or are they only all found and developed in Africa somewhere?
Jake: Yeah, mostly, I think there are two– I don’t know if you call them subspecies or what, but there’s like an Asian one, and then there’s obviously the one in Africa that we all think of.
Jake: To cut out some of this and make it a little easier. To draw this back to an investing idea I had while I was reading this, is it possible that value investors are going through an evolutionary bottleneck right now? On the other side of that is the growthier version, maybe more quality-focused value guys who survived through this, this evolutionary bottleneck. If that’s the case, what does that mean then for the other flavors of value? Does that mean that one value guy could go from a shop– could go from one shop to another very easily, like a graft going from one Cheetah to another, and there’d be less chance of a rejection, because they’re all same, because we’re the only ones who survive through the last 10 years? I don’t know. What do you guys think about that?
The Two Different Types Of Value
Tobias: I tweeted out something that you said last week today, and I was just reading through what he said. It was very interesting. You’re talking about two different types of value, where there’s value who is basically based on what the financial statements show, and then assuming that they basically continue on, and then there’s some mean reversion to that trajectory revealed in the financial statements. I would say that’s what I do. Then, there’s another version of it, where you look at total addressable markets, you try and work out what their share is going to be, what their revenue rate is going to be, what their margins are likely going to be, and then you’re basically forecasting what’s going to happen, and that’s–
Jake: Pro forma together financial statements.
Tobias: Right. That’s what I would say VCs used to do. When I did finance university, the VC model was that was how they valued you try and work out how big the market is, what you can make out of it, and so on. Everybody knew that it was necessarily very imprecise. I think that latter one is the one that is in ascendancy at the moment. I don’t think there are very many people who are proud to be traditional value investors who look at the financial statements that way, because the performance hasn’t really worked. Fair enough.
Cheap Company Buy-Backs
Bill: Man, I’m telling you, like, Gabelli value with a catalyst thing is the framework that I try to look at. I don’t like a cheap value play. When I got interested in Kyle’s companies, was when assets started to get sold, and 8Ks started to get rolled out and it’s like, “Okay, you can see the change going on under here, if you’re paying attention.” With Qurate, it was when that capital allocation decision was changed. I like that stuff. For some reason, I can’t get down with buybacks on cheap companies.
Tobias: Yeah, I love them.
Bill: I just loving the idea– Well, okay, you say that, I think maybe this is the distinction. You tend to look for companies that are still growing, though, right?
Tobias: Not necessarily.
Bill: No? I don’t like the idea of buying back more and more of a shrinking ice cube. I’d rather get my cash out once the ice cube starts to shrink.
Tobias: Yeah, I just think that most instances, there’s a lot more cyclical than there is secular. When you see something shrinking, it’s often–
Bill: Yeah, it’s like a function of what’s going on.
Jake: Shrinking for now.
Tobias: I think Intel’s a good example of something like that. I don’t know the answer on Intel. I just think that it’s still got very fat margins, it’s still got very high returns on invested capital. Intel, it’s forecasted to keep on growing. But I don’t know what the outcome is. I don’t know if it’s going to lose out to the others or not. I just think that you’re getting the right price, I don’t know where it is now, necessarily, but you were getting this extreme price to have that to take that position. I know all of the bear arguments on it. I’m nervous about it as well. I don’t see how it’s going to work necessarily, but I just think that you put in enough of those positions, and they do as a portfolio that work out.
Bill: Yeah, that makes sense.
Tobias: It’s been interesting to see a little resurgence in the deep value stuff with Roaring Kitty and with what Mike Mitchell is doing, and a few other guys like that. The DNA might not have all gone. Maybe–
Jake: [crosstalk] -extinct the whole species yet.
Tobias: Then, maybe by virtue of the fact that there are books people go back and read, old books, and say this trick that– people do something, everybody starts doing it, the trick disappears, that alpha from the strategy disappears, and then people don’t do it anymore. Then, when people stop doing it, then maybe sometimes it comes back.
Bill: Yeah, I think Mike would also say that the liquidation strategy, you can only do it a small scale in the way that he was playing it, so I don’t know.
Tobias: Yeah. Might not be an institutional–
Bill: [crosstalk] -too. One of the things that’s hard when you’re talking to other people in the industry, is I think there’s this natural filter, and, Jake, this goes back to what you’ve said a lot about the edge of the small investor, and it’s what Ian says, but a lot of people filter out like, “Yeah, that’s too small. I can’t do it, I don’t want to look at it, it’s just not worth my time.” You can understand that, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make money doing it. You’re just playing a fundamentally different game. It’s hard to then talk about the game that you’re playing to people that are playing a completely different game and expect them to understand it. It’s not even the same stuff.
Jake: Price volatility down in the micro-cap world will churn you up–
Tobias: Bid and ask. Just whether it’s on the bid or ask makes a big difference.
Jake: Yeah, you really have to take it with a grain of salt and understand that Mr. Market down there, he’s a little more woolly and wild. When he’s up at Apple levels, okay, he’s probably pretty close to right most of the time, and occasionally he’ll be off. He’ll occasionally do it. Once a decade, he’ll forget that, “Oh, shoot, that’s still pretty good business.” Down in the lower reaches, it can– If you are worried about a rough ride getting there, then that’s probably not the right place for you. You look at it [crosstalk] every day.
Tobias: You’ve got to know what you hold. You’ve got to not be worried about where the marks are because you got a better idea than anybody else who’s in it, mostly because it really simple businesses.
Tobias: I used to have guys– when I was running Greenbackd, that was all I was doing. I talked to guys and I said, “Do you have any ideas that I can use in the in the fund?” The minimum is $500 million. I was like, “No, $500 million, it’s like five times bigger than my biggest idea.” [laughs]
Bill: How are your results back then? Were you happy with the outcome of what you were doing?
Tobias: I started it in late 2008, that strategy and it ran through until mid-2010. The whole portfolio, the whole opportunity set, massively popped off. It was less than what I was doing and more where it was.
Bill: Yeah, well, fishing in the right pond is a pretty good thing to do.
Tobias: Yeah. If you can get that right.
Investing In Lumber Stocks
Bill: I’ve got to say something real quick, because it’s just in my head. If somebody was listening to what I was saying about Ballantyne, if you look now, you better have a view on what you think about owning lumber companies, because the amount of that entity that– a look through lumber play is going up. I just want to make sure people understand what they’re listening to. When you were asking about who are the value guys that might be able to really work over the next couple years or whatever, or the evolution of the strategy, I’ll be really interested to see how these commodity companies perform, because I was just on the phone today talking to somebody about lumber, and he was saying, there’s– [crosstalk]
Jake: Everyone does.
Bill: Yeah, obviously. There’s still a lot of shellshock in the industry. The guys that are running it, the operators aren’t too keen to go out and buy new mills, because they’ve been through 10 years of just getting the shit kicked out of them.
Bill: Is gold the same?
Jake: There’s been so many cycles there too.
Bill: Yeah, that’s right. Maybe, it would be a wild outcome, but if the next decade, the guys that really outperform, it probably started last year, but are the commodity guys, and the guys that know all the operators and the industries that are just so shellshocked that they’re not going to expand production.
Tobias: Well, that was the first decade of the 2000s. My screen’s now full of gold and timber. Not that I want to really own any of that stuff, but it is what it is. You got to buy it when it’s there. I don’t know, it’s just the nature of this business, what worked in the past doesn’t work in the future, or it doesn’t work for a period of time.
Bill: Well, the tough thing about buying into these things now, especially timber, it looks insane. You’re like, “What are you doing?” I think if somebody was like, “Why do you like what these guys are doing?” Well, they’re funding it. I think the capital structure is reasonable, and the plan is to pay down as much debt as possible. If you end up with a paid off forest, you might underperform the market, but you still own a forest, or the rights to a forest. It’s up in Canada, so you’re renting it, but still, it’s like– I don’t have any assets that are natural resource plays in my book. It’s probably a reasonably decent hedge.
Tobias: There have been pretty good investments over time, I think the forests, haven’t they?
Bill: Now, I’m talking about stuff I don’t know. I think you’ve just got to really make sure that you can handle the inevitable part of the cycle where you’re not making much money. I would be really hesitant to look at those businesses if they had leverage on them.
Jake: I would say that the average tree on Planet Earth will have closer to its value in 100 years than the average line of code on Planet Earth.
Tobias: Yeah, I need to think about that a little bit.
Bill: Well, the code always needs to be refreshed. Old code is a depreciating asset. I think I understand what you’re saying, and I like what you’re saying.
Jake: Should we take the questions?
Tobias: Yeah, let’s do that, but does old code– is it like–
Bill: I’m enjoying this.[laughter]
Jake: Three of us. [laughs]
Bill: Just chopping it up, like the old days.
Tobias: I don’t know if I can even read these comments. Should have been– [crosstalk]
Bill: Remember when we had a listener–
Jake: Sound it out, Toby.
Bill: I remember when they had to write into Toby’s inbox. That was fun.
Jake: Yeah. Oh, yeah.
CFA vs MBA
Tobias: You guys have a view on– [crosstalk] Wonder if we’ve had this discussion about CFA versus MBA. Do you guys have a view? Jake, you got a CFA?
Jake: No, I have an MBA.
Tobias: [laughs] what about you, Bill, have you got a CFA?
Bill: I do. I would say it depends on what you want to accomplish. I think the MBA is much, much better for networking. I think the CFA destroys your life for three years minimum, mine was four years. Thanks, level 2. You got me once. I see you.
Bill: I really value the members of the CFA society, much in the same way that I value the people that I met through Manual of Ideas. I think it’s a good group of people on average. I guess that I have some beef with maybe how that society becomes a business and then it’s got its own problems, but I think one of my strengths is networking, so I probably needed that less than I needed some of the CFA stuff. [crosstalk]
Tobias: You can do the CFA while you’re working too.
Bill: Yeah, like Rick Salin, he says–
Jake: -MBA too while you’re working.
Tobias: Yeah, fair enough. I thought that the MBA was more, get a good school on the resume and meet a whole lot of people there who were going to go on start big businesses and you use that network somehow.
Bill: I think that’s right.
Jake: I think that’s right. Kind of an expensive way to make friends though.[laughter]
Tobias: Maybe you’re using it as a transition from one career to another. It’s a good way to transition.
Bill: Yeah, MBA definitely. CFA, I think less so.
Tobias: Hit us with the questions, amigos. I’m looking–
Bill: Rick Salin has said like– I’m pretty sure he said he wouldn’t hire anybody that doesn’t have a CFA. Maybe he would make an exception for an MBA. But I do think it proves that you can work hard. It’s not a test that you can just pass, you’ve got to put the reps in.
Tobias: It proves that you can memorize about six textbooks in about six months.
Jake: And show up.
Tobias: You show up on time, and synthesize it.
Bill: Yeah. Don’t be coming at my designation, dog. I never know how I’m supposed to say like– they’re very anal about how you say you have it. I think I’m supposed to say I’m a CFA charter holder.
Tobias: There’s also like, if you can– [crosstalk]
Jake: [crosstalk] -CFA Esquire.
Bill: That’s right. Watch you get kicked out just for making that joke.
Tobias: There is some rule about– if you pass the tests, but then don’t pay their dues, how do you describe yourself?
Bill: As a delinquent. Which I may actually be right now.
Tobias: Former CFA charter holder or something like that?
Tobias: -some special words.
Bill: I am not an attorney anymore. I was like, I’m not paying Illinois, I don’t practice. All it does is open me up for liability. Screw that.
Bill: You ever miss law?
Bill: Yeah, neither do I. I never really practiced.
Tobias: The level that I was at– I did eventually get to the top of the pile. I started at– most of my career, I was just doing DD in oubliettes, so you just go into some sweaty, smelly data room and sit there with a whole lot of other lawyers and accountants and investment bankers, and look at data or update the data room or something like that. They probably do that all online now, that would be a much better way of doing it, but some poor bastard’s got to scan it all in too, hopefully not the junior lawyers.
Separating Noise From Signal
Tobias: Here we go. This is much harder without being able to thrown up on the screen, but this for Bill, as a discretionary concentrated investor when analyzing a business, how do you decide if a signal catalyst, positive or negative, moves the needle? How do you separate noise from signal?
Bill: I don’t really know. I’ll tell you what, I got on Spaces last night and SkeleCap popped in there, and he started talking about cable companies, and it just terrified me about everything that I don’t know. I really don’t know. I think that there is a lot to be said. If I think about things that I have done well in my career thus far, Qurate, I thought was pretty obvious, but I thought people missed it, because of their historical bias. Funny enough, I think that is why I didn’t participate to the extent that I could have in Itasca and I didn’t listen to Mike, and it’s because I had followed stuff for a while. Like Charter, I think I was new to the story. I had followed it, but I think that I was able to maybe look at it from a little fresher lens than people would be and maybe I was just so dumb, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. TransDigm was liquidity. I have bought situations that are out of favor, and they’ve worked. Whether or not it’s repeatable, I guess we’ll all find out together. If I crash big, please somebody pick me up.
Tobias: At least it’s public.
Bill: Yeah, well, dude– [crosstalk]
Jake: Start a GoFundMe.
Bill: I don’t pretend to have the answers. Half the time, I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. I just wait. I try to be really patient, and I’m not. I trade in and out of shit that’s little. My thing that I said about Kyle–
Jake: [crosstalk] -just to let the crazy out a little bit? [laughs]
Jake: Just to let the crazy out a little bit?
Bill: Yeah, man. I have to, it’s the sick part of what I am, and maybe that makes me undisciplined and not qualified, and if that’s so, then I got a cop to it.
Earnings Yield In A Low Interest Rate Environment
Tobias: There’s a question here, what earnings yield is acceptable in the current low interest rate environment? I’ve been trying to figure that out, and I don’t know what the correct answer is to that.
Jake: Does this guy even look at the stocks that work?
Tobias: Yeah, well, that’s the answer.
Jake: There is no answer to that, because it totally depends upon the business and the probability of the future cash flow– that’s not really– I don’t think that’s the right way to really do the world.
Bill: Yeah, I didn’t mean to blow up your spot, but it was a pretty good joke.
Jake: That was a good joke.
Shiller PE At 37
Tobias: Yeah. I enjoyed that too. I’ve been trying to figure out, what’s the most you could have paid over the last 5 or 10 years and still done okay, and there’s no limit so far that I can determine, but when you look at the S&P 500 price to sales, it’s at all-time highs. All-time highs, like higher than 2000s. So, it’s a very difficult question to answer with it being sensible. I don’t know what happens at the end of this. Everything looks like it’s up right at the moment, and I don’t know if it’s going to pull back. If it pulls back, then Shiller PE at 37 is going to be expensive in retrospect. If it doesn’t–
Jake: A very obvious in retrospect.
Tobias: Japan got to 100 on the Shiller PE, China got to 100 on the Shiller PE. The US topped out at 44, but there’s nothing special about 44. We’re at 37 and going vertical at the moment, so we could be back here in a week and say it’s 38, and then, at the end of the year, it’s at 44, and then the end of next year, it’s at 75–
Jake: Or 5.
Tobias: [laughs] Or 5.
Bill: I do think that there’s merit to the argument that–
Jake: Oh, sorry.
Bill: Yeah, I was actually going to say like, I think there’s merit to the argument that you should probably consider what your holdings are doing compared to an ounce of gold and God forbid compared to bitcoin. The money debasement theory is hard to argue with.
Tobias: Argue against.
Bill: Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. It’s got some real merit to it.
Tobias: It’s time, amigos. This was a fun one.
Bill: Yeah. Have a good one, folks.
Jake: Cheers, everybody.
Tobias: We’ll be back next week.
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