For those who follow folksy Uncle Warren, here is the breakdown of Berkshire's Q4 and full year results, as well as his latest letter to investors.
"If I ask you what’s the risk in investing, you would answer the risk of losing money. But there actually are two risks in investing: One is to lose money and the other is to miss opportunity. You can eliminate either one, but you can’t eliminate both at the same time. So the question is how you’re going to position yourself versus these two risks: straight down the middle, more aggressive or more defensive. I think of it like a comedy movie where a guy is considering some activity. On his right shoulder is sitting an angel in a white robe. He says: «No, don’t do it! It’s not prudent, it’s not a good idea, it’s not proper and you’ll get in trouble». On the other shoulder is the devil in a red robe with his pitchfork. He whispers: «Do it, you’ll get rich». In the end, the devil usually wins. Caution, maturity and doing the right thing are old-fashioned ideas. And when they do battle against the desire to get rich, other than in panic times the desire to get rich usually wins. That’s why bubbles are created and frauds like Bernie Madoff get money." - Howard Marks
If they’re bailing on the market… what are the odds trouble is approaching?
Fundamentally oriented investors tend to think that quants, like blondes, have all the fun. As ConvergEx's Nick Colas notes - it all looks like easy money - scalping trades with lightning fast computers, front running news with preferential access to press releases, or managing leveraged portfolios with thousands of small but profitable positions – but quants face their own significant challenges. Finding common rule sets that work in a wide array of stocks is not easy, and markets adapt quickly to close opportunities that seem historically profitable - the number of potential signals is seemingly endless; and regulators are now aware of quantitative investing and, in some cases, don't like what they see. Here are 10 reasons why why "it's not easy being a quant."
All you need to know about the New Normal breed of crony capitalism and unbridled hypocrisy is once again best exemplified by the following quote by Charlie Munger - the lifetime business partner of crony capitalist par excellence Warren Buffett - from May 2013, in which he said that "I think it is very stupid to allow a system to evolve where half of the trading is a bunch of short term people trying to get information one millionth of a nanosecond ahead of somebody else. It's legalized front-running. I think it is basically evil and I don't think it should have ever been allowed to reach the size that it did. Why should all of us pay a little group of people to engage in legalized front-running of our orders?" Noble, noble words Charlie. What Munger, however, did not disclose is that as part of the Berkshire Hathaway-owned Business Wire news service, the company was enabling just this "basically evil" frontrunning, by allowing some, those who could afford the hefty fee of course, to make Munger and Buffett even richer and to subscribe to BW's HFT direct news access which gave them a few millisecond headstart and in the process frontrun everyone else.
- Frustrated by Karzai, U.S. Shifts Afghanistan Exit Plans (WSJ)
- Yellen Testimony Guide From Payrolls Report to Emerging Markets (BBG)
- Gold hits three-month high, shares up ahead of Yellen (Reuters)
- Tightfisted New Owners Put Heinz on Diet (WSJ)
- Senator describes "gruesome" bin Laden photos (Reuters)
- More reasons for the ongoing economic contraction: U.S. Winter Storm Seen Spreading Snow, Sleet Across South (BBG)
- Barclays Cuts Up to 12,000 Jobs as Quarterly Profit Falls (BBG)
- Boeing Considering 787-Size Medium-Range Jetliners (WSJ)
- AOL Chief Apologizes for ‘Distressed Babies’ Comment (BBG)
According to a 2001 Fortune interview, Warren Buffett believes that Market-Cap-to-GDP is "probably the best single measure of where valuations stand at any given moment." As Doug Short shows in the following charts, we suspect Warren is a little more than worried about the valuation of his portfolio (unless of course, it's different this time). Both the "Buffett Index" and the Wilshire 5000 variant suggest that today's market is at lofty valuations, now above housing-bubble peak in 2007.
As we previously noted, the 85 richest people in the world have about as much wealth as the poorest 50% of the entire global population does. In other words, 85 extremely wealthy individuals have about as much wealth as the poorest 3,500,000,000 do. There is certainly nothing wrong with making money. In fact, the founders of the United States intended for this nation to be a place where free markets thrived and where everyone could pursue their dreams. Unfortunately, this country (along with the rest of the world) has moved very much in the opposite direction. Today, we have a debt-based global financial system which is dominated by gigantic predator corporations and big banks. Working together with national governments, these corporations and banks have constructed a system in which the percentage of all global wealth that is being funneled to the very top of the pyramid steadily grows over time. The Founding Fathers were very correct to be very suspicious of large concentrations of power. In the early days of the United States, the federal government was very small and the size and scope of corporations was greatly limited. Our nation thrived and a huge middle class blossomed. Sadly, over the past several decades the pendulum has completely swung in the other direction.
One of Warren Buffett’s greatest investment ideas concerned “economic moats.”
After a banner year for the former KGB spy, who first neutralized Prince Bandar and John Kerry (not to mention the president of the US), and subsequently reannexed the Ukraine into the Russian sphere of influence now that the second coming of the former USSR is in the works, it should come as no surprise that Russia's Vladimir Putin has been named the third most admired person in the world. Then again when one considers who is ahead of Putin in the Time poll, perhaps this distinction is nothing to write to the NSA about - third spot is located behind Microsoft founder Bill Gates and US President Barack Obama. Indicatively, this also means that Barack Obama is inexplicably still the second most respected person in the world.
These men are masters of the capital markets. They are voting with their feet and pulling their capital out of them. Given that their personal compensation is closely linked to assets under management and profit sharing, this decision is akin to the choice to forego additional wealth that could be made quite easily (none of these individuals would have trouble raising several billion more in capital) rather than trying to find opportunities in a challenging market.
This system works as long as debt continues to stay cheap. However, in the last 12 months the Fed has definitively crossed the point of no return with its policies. It is not just a matter of timing before this debt bubble bursts.
A year which showed that central planning works (for the fifth year in a row and probably can continue to "work" at least a little longer - in the USSR it surprised everyone with its longevity before it all came crashing down), is drawing to a close. This is what has happened so far on the last trading session of 2013. As market participants head in to the New Year period, volumes are particularly thin with closures being observed across Europe with only the CAC, IBEX and FTSE 100 trading out of the major European indices, with German, Switzerland, Italy and the Nordic countries are already closed. The FTSE and CAC are both trading in the green with BP leading the way for the FTSE earlier in the session after reports the Co. have asked a federal appeals court to block economic loss payments in its settlement of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. European stocks rise, with real estate, travel & leisure leading gains. Retail shares underperform as Debenhams slumps following its IMS. A number of major markets will close early today. The euro falls against the dollar. Fixed income market are particularly quiet with the Eurex being shut. Whilst Gilts are seen down this morning following on from yesterday’s short-covering gains.
Not satisfied with paying less taxes than his secretary, it seems Warren Buffett has decided that his employees should also pay more for their healthcare. His latest acquisition, Heinz, has recently announced a very significant cut in retiree health benefits. Of course, as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports, Heinz is not admitting this is due to Obamacare but the company is not alone with 60% of employers considering changes through 2013. In an effort to cope with the uncertainty of ongoing health payments, companies have chosen (potentially smaller) lump-sum benefits, leaving the employee to fund the rest. As one reitree noted, "I feel that they should stand behind the moral obligation of the preceding owners of this company and maintain the program," but, keeping promises does not seem to be the norm these days.
The Federal Reserve's balance sheet is set to exceed a whopping $4 trillion today, prompting warnings its ultra loose monetary policies are inflating asset price bubbles and will lead to a devaluation of the dollar and signifigant inflation in the coming years.