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Charting EU Credit Divergences, By Country...

Sometimes simple charts like this can reveal critical truths. While the EU has created a common currency, not all credit quality in the European bond market is considered equal. This is one more reason to like German Equities. We are remain long Germany, via the EWG etf.

China: Best Looking Country Chart In The League

The fundamental picture in China continues to improve (growth expectations have been reigned in, and inflation continues to abate). In the face of a $586B stimulus spending plan and the cutting of taxes on exports, this is not a macro train many can afford to miss.

China's SSEC closed up another +2.2% overnight at 2030. The Composite Index has had a better than +15% move in the last week of trading. The chart below shows the impact of breaking out through our "shark line", which rests comfortably underwater now at 1866.

We remain long China via the FXI exchange traded fund. We were the bears for the better part of the last year, so we are well aware of their pitching our stale thesis.

Eye On The New Reality: American Cost Of Capital...

Below are two of the most important macro charts in my notebook – cost of long term capital on both a 30 and 1 year basis. Why are these “most important”? Because what occurs next on the margin here will have a meaningful impact across asset classes, how they trade, and how they are valued.

The 30 year chart puts a lot of what has occurred in the cheap money leverage cycle in context. The numbers don’t lie here, people do. This long term chart made geniuses of many in America. As cost of capital declined, some levered up on it and spent their brains out – some even called it a repeatable investment process. Pardon?

THE QUESTION from here is what do you do if the Queen Mary turns up into the right on 10 year yields?

You know that access to capital is never going to be what it was. You know that anyone in need of long term capital (MGM Mirage, Barclays, etc…) is paying double digit rates. You know that the US Federal Reserve eventually has to raise rates (they can’t cut from zero).

Do you know what this means for your portfolio? This is going to be “The New Reality”…

I have the critical breakout/breakdown line (or “shark” line) for US 10 Year Treasury Yields at 3.83% (see chart).

Manage risk at the tail. Jimmy Carter’s economic legacy remembers cost of capital well…

Keith R. McCullough
Chief Investment officer
Research Edge LLC

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LIZ: The Question for Bill and His Board

So Bill, the question I pose to you is quite simple. Do you want equity value or not? The path you are on will erase your remaining $3 stock price faster than you can say “fashionista.” Will your options struck at $40 ever be worth anything? I doubt it. But the fact remains that you’ve got a couple of major call options that will, if exercised, 1) triple your stock price, 2) mitigate the need for a dividend cut, 3) fund your Oct ’09 debt payment, and 4) make you some friends with your company’s long-term shareholders.

It’s a simple question, no? It’s one that I thought that the Board would be asking a few hundred percent higher. I outlined two key modeling scenarios in my 11/11 note (LIZ: Dismantling An Empire) – one where management remains in denial and lets its business and balance sheet erode, and the other where it takes the bull by the horns strategically and makes the current equity valuation (or lack thereof) appear to be a gift. Here’s some added color as to why I get to LIZ being a 3-bagger if this team actually decides to embrace a proactive strategy to create value.

Assumptions in my sum-of-parts analysis.

1. Shrink. Get rid of Mexx. Aside from being an earnings drag, it is a massive working capital drain. $1bn in revenue with 75% in Europe – and the brand has not been able to make money in a weak dollar environment? Sell the leases (which you can do in most parts of Europe). See if you can get a couple of bucks for it. If not, eat crow and give it away. In the US, your leases are in good shape. Take advantage of them. Milk them. Stop trying to grow.

2. Unwind the parts of the core Liz Claiborne brand that should never have existed in the first place. This was once a $1.4bn brand. By last year it was $1bn. Take it below $700mm to a core level where it stands a chance to actually be relevant to its core customer. The asset valuation below shows that at this level, I assume margins of only 6%, and give it a 2x EBITDA multiple. Yes, I am valuing the venerable ‘Liz Claiborne’ trademark at only $125mm (or less than 0.2x sales for a non-seasonal, non-capital-intensive asset).

3. Get by on 2% of sales in corporate expenses. VFC does it. Why can’t you?

4. Juicy Coture, Lucky Brand, and Kate Spade keep mid/high-teens segment margins, and are valued at 4x EBITDA.

5. LIZ frees up $150mm in working capital from Mexx divestiture, and gets another $150mm for all asset sales remaining (including Mexx).

Keep Moving

“Move your hands, move your feet!”
-Tim Taylor
Tim Taylor was at the helm Yale Hockey for 29 years. His legendary career in American hockey has included coaching the US Olympic Team. Most importantly, he is one of the highest integrity men in the game, so it’s always easy to quote him. When I was thinking about what to do with our ‘Hedgeye Portfolio’ into Thursday and Friday’s +11% and +5% intraday squeezes, I couldn’t help but think of what my mentor would say, “Mucker, keep moving…”
If you are in cash, it better be the US denominated kind, because other than Chinese Yuan and Japanese Yen, no other currencies of consequence worked last week. In Asia, 8 out of the 10 currencies factored into my macro model closed down again last week, and currencies levered to commodity prices (Canada, Australia, Brazil, etc…) all continued to fortify their negative down “Trend.” While I had been calling for the “Beware Of The Squeeze” (www.researchedgellc.com, 11/12) “Trade” in Asian and US stock markets, there were two critical assumptions associated with that call: 1. Always keep a “Trade” a trade and 2. Never mistake a “Trade” opportunity in one asset class for that in another.
The negative intermediate “Trend” in both commodities and foreign currencies continues to be negative. In the end, this augurs well for trading opportunities in equity markets, particularly those that are building positive immediate term “Trade” momentum, like China. Chinese stocks couldn’t care less about whether or not Goldman’s Lloyd Blankfein pays himself this year. They got the memo on him paying himself size ($70M) at the peak of the “it’s global this time” mania, and they have no reason to trust him or his cronies at “Investment Banking Inc.” anytime soon.
China closed up another +2.2% last night, taking the Shanghai Stock Exchange Composite to 2030. Irrespective of the S&P500 losing another -6.2% of its value last week, China’s stock market has appreciated +15.4% in her last 6 trading days. China’s government is “moving her feet” by cutting taxes, spending stimulus, and playing with confidence. This is all part of “The New Reality.”
Our new Managing Director of Macro Research, Daryl Jones, is lobbying his Washington contacts hard to get “The New Reality” Investment Theme for 2009 penciled in as a capitalist version of Roosevelt’s “New Deal”,  but we aren’t making any promises! Someone sent me an angry crackberry email a while ago suggesting that I must think I could do a better job than Hank “The Market Tank” Paulson has… and upon further review… I think I could! Remember, when we consider an economic scenario within our macro models, what happens on the margin is what matters to us most. Since I don’t think anyone could have been more compromised or conflicted than the ex-CEO of Goldman Sachs was, it’s actually pretty easy to envision doing something better than horrendous. Dear President Obama, “moving Hank’s feet” out the door is at the top of my list of US market squeeze catalysts that you can inspire, immediately.
While we aren’t calling for another one today or tomorrow, there are other formidable macro squeeze catalysts to keep in the back of your head. If you watched and listened to Obama very closely last night on “60 Minutes”, you’ll have concluded that he, like Roosevelt, is going to be in it to win it for the first “100 Days” of his Presidency. Obama will have a stimulus package for homeowners of his own to slap on the tape. He will also have Osama (remember him) “smoked out of his hole.” Dear Mr. President, our only advice is to “keep moving…”
In the face of the negative “Trend” in commodities is a global deflation of the most relevant geo-macro weapon of mass destruction – the price of oil. This morning, Russia is trading off another -3.3%,. Fully loaded with Middle Eastern stock markets imploding, and Ahmadinejad’s Iranian inflation rate bloating (+30% y/y), this is all part of one big fat positive geo-macro catalyst that ObAmerica could potentially inherit. Does it mean run out and buy Russian stocks? I think the answer to that is the easiest one we can answer. The globally auto correlated stock market mania hath ended folks. Winners and losers are going to be born out of “The New Reality”. In order to proactively prepare for it, you’re going to have to trade this market and keep “moving your hands” and “moving your feet.”
The invested exposures in our ‘Hedgeye Asset Allocation’ model were reigned in on Friday. We had 12 position changes - they were all sales. The better part of our selling came in US Equities, where we took the +11% squeeze and locked in some performance. We are longer International Equities than we are US ones right here, primarily because China is the best looking liquid long player on the ice. We like winners who keep moving their feet.
Good luck out there this week,
Long ETFs
EWA –iShares Australia --Australian retail sales increased 0.1 % from Q2, which was weaker than anticipated by economists polled. The spread between Australian 3 month interbank rates and overnight indexed swap rate contracted to 32 basis points, the narrowest since Sept. 4.  Lion Nathan (EWA: 0.38%), announced a $7.5 billion AUD cash and stock bid for Coca-Cola Amatil which has been rejected by Amatil’s management. James Hardie Industries (EWA 0.26%), suspended its first- half dividend after earnings dropped 26 % for Q2.
EWG – iShares Germany --Deutsche Bank (EWG: 2.92%) won regulatory approval to acquire a 30% stake in Deutsche Postbank AG (EWG: 0.25%). On the heels of last week’s Q3 loss figures Hypo Real Estate Holding (EWG: 0.15%) guided lower for 08/09 -``We are predicting an extremely negative consolidated result'' for 2008,
FXI –iShares China --The Ministry of Finance announced tax rebate increases of up to 13% on exports of Aluminum plates and strips beginning in December (this follows the announced increased rebate for bars and rods also  scheduled to commence next month). Zhuzhou Smelter Group , the largest Chinese zinc smelter, announced an immediate  20% output reduction on low demand.
Short ETFs
UUP – U.S. Dollar Index --The FDIC is considering a revision to the $1.4 trillion debt-insurance program to address concerns that interbank overnight loans may no longer be competitive with foreign market rates.
EWW – iShares Mexico – Petroleos  Mexicanos management announced it is considering an external oil E&P contract for deepwater projects or its onshore Chicontepec development . Legislation introduced last month makes this possible for the first time, although partner firms will not own the oil or book the reserves.
EWJ – iShares Japan --Japan officially entered a recessionary period as announced GDP contracted by  0.4 % in Q3  which, following  a Q2 reduction of 3.7%.  Fitch placed Toyota Motor (EWJ 5.61%) on Negative Ratings Watch; Toyota currently holds an AAA long term rating. Honda (EWJ: 2.13%) was also downgraded by Fitch from A+ “Positive” to “stable”. 
FXY – CurrencyShares Japanese Yen Trust  --The dollar weakened to 96.43 yen as of 6:45 am.

Eye On Behavioral Finance: Groupthink

“In the fight between you and the world, back the world.”
-Franz Kafka

Franz Kafka posthumously became renowned for his writing, but while alive actually made his living, ironically, in the finance department of a large insurance company. One of Kafka’s most widely noted works is The Trial. The protagonist in The Trial, Josef K, is awakened one morning, arrested and prosecuted for an unspecified crime. The reasons for the arrest are never known. I’m sure after suffering through an almost 40% decline in the major market indices year-to-date, many investors can relate to Josef K and the idea of being punished for an unknown crime…

While the trials and tribulations of Kafka’s characters may resonate with us, it might be perceived as a stretch to think that we can learn many investment lessons from them. That’s why the aforementioned quote prompted the topic for this post, which is Groupthink. The concept of Groupthink was reportedly first coined in 1952 by William H. Whyte when he wrote in Fortune Magazine:

“We are not talking about mere instinctive conformity – it is, after all, a perennial failing of mankind. What we are talking about is a rationalized conformity – an open, articulate philosophy which holds that group values are not only expedient but right and good as well.”

In simpler terms, and paraphrased from Wikipedia, Groupthink is a method of reaching a consensus decision without critically analyzing the decision, but rather accepting the decision, or view, as correct simply because others support it. The idea of the independent view is lost out, ultimately, to the importance of group cohesiveness.

The investment world is loaded with examples of Groupthink and investment results that are subpar as a result. At Research Edge, we actually quantify Groupthink in order to augment an existing investment thesis’ and take positions that counter the prevailing view. We use various methodologies to counter Groupthink. We quantify them as factors within our multiple factor macro model. Two of the easier factors to identify are Hedge Fund Beta and Sell Side Sentiment.

We review shareholders lists to identify Hedge Fund Beta (or “hedge fund hotels”). We also review sell side opinions to identify stocks that have an overwhelming number of either positive or negative ratings.

I’m not sure “hedge fund hotel” has entered the wide investment lexicon as of yet, but the concept is simple – it is a stock that has a high percentage of hedge fund ownership. We typically consider a stock a “hedge fund hotel” when hedge funds comprise 33% of the top 1/3 of a shareholder list. For many hedge funds “trading ideas” are part of the investment process, so as these “hedgies” trade ideas, the “good” ideas tend to become over owned. In many instances, the investment rational is simply that some other “smart hedgie did the work”, so it must be a good idea and there are certain “smart hedgies” who you can’t criticize, so you just tag along and own the same stocks as them. That’s called Groupthink. We also call it Hedge Fund Beta. Being on the other side of the unwinding of a “hedge fund hotel” can be very profitable.

Sell side estimates and ratings also exemplify Groupthink characteristics that can be taken advantage of. We typical highlight as a contrarian indicator when 66% of the rankings of a stock are of one specific rating, either buy or sell. There is a wide body of evidence that supports our view that the consensus Groupthink ratings of analysts are often way off.

According to research by Robert Shiller, “analysts . . . often pay too much attention to one another instead of providing their own independent research.” The result is that both ratings and earnings estimates become redundant and are often lowly dispersed. According to Maines (1990) and Soll (1999), people often overestimate the information provided in redundant signals. As a result, we have sell side earnings estimates that are based on a foundation of conforming to consensus and an investment community that willingly accepts a lowly dispersed set of data, which inherently implies a lack of independence.

The psychological foundation behind Groupthink is based on the biological concept herding. In his book “Inside the Investor’s Brain”, Richard Petersen writes:

“Biologically speaking, herding refers to the tendency of some species of animals to seek safety in numbers. Herding occurs both when animals are threatened and when they sense that one of their numbers has found an opportunity.”

Hedge funds, and many mutual funds, are in a financial herd. Some justify their positions based on who the stock is owned by and what the well known analysts are saying. If a “smart hedgie” owns the stock and a bulge bracket investment bank has a favorable rating, a safe foundation is in place for the analyst to pitch the stock to his portfolio manager or investment committee. Conversely, these conditions also provides the portfolio manager or investment committee the “safety” to put on the position. What happens when all of these smart sell side analysts and hedgies are wrong?

In The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki provides what appears to be a juxtaposed thesis to the negative impact of Groupthink. In Surowiecki’s view, the collective knowledge of the many will lead to a better decision than a small group of intelligent experts. He provides many examples of this, such as the ability of electronic markets to predict elections better than professional pollsters, the ability of large groups to accurately predict the weight of an ox, the ability of a large group of varied professionals to find a submarine, and so on. Surowiecki, though, acknowledges early on in his book that all crowds are not created equal when he states: “Paradoxically, the best way for a group to be smart is for each person in it to think and act as independently as possible.”

There are plenty of ways to combat Groupthink. Here are a few to consider:

1. Perform research with independence at the very foundation. Start by developing your own view and then review other analysts’ expectations. When your view is most widely dispersed from the group, you are probably on to something that is worth taking a position in.

2. Foster a culture in your firm that encourages devils advocacy and taking contrary opinions, even against people in positions of power and influence. At Research Edge, we sometimes publish what call “Point and Counterpoint”, which are examples of our internal debates on different investment views that members of our firm are supporting.

At the end of the day, we call it Research Edge because most of the real edge in investment research resides on the teams asking original questions… not following everyone else’s answers to ones that have already been asked.

Daryl Jones
Managing Director
Research Edge LLC

investing ideas

Risk Managed Long Term Investing for Pros

Hedgeye CEO Keith McCullough handpicks the “best of the best” long and short ideas delivered to him by our team of over 30 research analysts across myriad sectors.