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Investing

An Option Model for Value Investors

The Black-Scholes model does an admirable job at valuing short-term options. If an option expires in a few weeks, the current price of the underlying stock and its recent volatility have a good deal of influence on the outcome of the option investment. A simple Black-Scholes calculation has a lot of flaws (none of which I’ll go over), but in my opinion it does alright on the short-term options. However, the further away the expiration date, the worse it gets.

Value investors know that the historic volatility of a stock has nothing to do with its long-term value, and therefore should never be used when making a purchase. However, when purchasing equities, value investors have the luxury of waiting however long they need until price eventually reaches fair value.

If a stock is worth $30, that doesn’t mean a call option with a strike of $20 is worth $10. The option value must also depend on the duration of the option: the further out the expiration, the greater the underlying valuation should affect the option price (and the less volatility should matter). A lot of value investors purchase LEAPs, or options a year or more out, for this very reason.

The Graham-Olson Option Valuation Model

In honor of Benjamin Graham, I put forth the following equation as the value of a call option:

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Investing

Economic Crisis: Links & Resources

BernankePaulsonThe first version of the bailout bill (3 pages). The third version of the bailout bill (110 pages). And finally, the current version of the bailout bill (451 pages). It seems it is in the nature of politicians to needlessly increase complexity.

Warren Buffett’s interview with Charlie Rose. As usual, Buffett gives a great explanation of the current crisis. On the bailout bill: “It’s better to be approximately right than precisely wrong.

The best “story” of the events in the past few weeks is this article from the New York Times. My guess is that the full story won’t be revealed for at least another few years.

A great letter by Howard Marks on the bailout plan, the circumstances surrounding it, and what got us to this point in the first place.

I agree with Roger Ehrenberg in his post “Investment Banking 2.0“: the best thing for the financial industry is smaller, more nimble banks that aren’t part of large conglomerates. This forces more redundancy into the system and mutes the domino effect that a single bank’s collapse can have on the industry.

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Investing

On Financial Stocks and Portfolio Risk

Tom Brown recently posted a rebuttal to Jason Zweig’s Wall Street Journal column. Geoff Gannon also wrote a great follow-up article with more on Benjamin Graham. I suggest reading all three articles.

In this post, I wanted to comment on a few aspects of Tom Brown’s argument, some of which I have been thinking about lately. The following is a quote from Tom’s post:

True value investors, by contrast, tend not to worry what might happen in the interim. Instead, they come up with their best estimate of a financial company’s intrinsic value by estimating the magnitude of likely losses along with its “normalized” earnings level two or three years out. They then compare that estimate of intrinsic value with the stock’s price today. Zweig says such estimates are impossible. I disagree.

I have always enjoyed Tom’s posts, but I can see a few problems with the above statement. (As a disclaimer, I know relatively little about financial companies, as they are out of my circle of competence. I hold no interest in any financial beside Berkshire Hathaway.)

First observation:
With highly leveraged financial companies, what happens in the “interim” can not only hurt you, it can kill you. Compare a bank to a retailer. Let’s say that you find a cheap retailer, where you estimate normalized earnings a few years out to derive its value. Assuming your estimate is correct, you should be able to ride out any short-term volatility to obtain the long-term value of the company. Like Tom says, that is the foundation of value investing.

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Investing

Flight of the Black Swan

The cover story of the May edition of the Bloomberg Markets magazine discusses Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s affect on Wall Street:

On a freezing day in March 2007, Nassim Taleb walked into a conference room at Morgan Stanley’s Manhattan offices on 47th Street and Broadway to address a group of the firm’s risk managers. His message: Your models don’t work.

Using a whiteboard to scribble out his calculations, Taleb, now 48, began one of his rants, this time against stress tests–Wall Street lingo for examining how a market rout will play out. Stress tests are inherently risky because they ignore rare but potentially devastating events, Taleb said.

See the Full Article here

It’s always interesting to see what other investors or thinkers have on their bookshelf. In the introduction to the article, there’s a picture of Nassim Taleb in his library. Using the hard copy, I picked out a few books that Taleb has read (or hasn’t read, by Umberto Eco standards). These should be useful for expanding one’s network of mental models:

On another note, I have joined the team of authors at Reflections on Value Investing. If you haven’t already, head over and subscribe to the RSS feed. It’s a must for any value investor. Although this was posted at both sites, for the most part, my occasional posts at Reflections will have different content than FutureBlind.

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Investing

Quants, charts and trends, oh my!


Photo by saibotregeel

Tariq Ali writes a great post about the follies of our fellow investing clan. I disagree with a few of the specific points he brings up but think the overall message is right on.

It’s wrong to judge the quant and technical analysis firms without knowing exactly how they work. If an investor who was just starting out asked me what style I suggested, value investing would be my answer, hands down. It’s much easier to grasp, and anyone can do it—you don’t need a PhD or any extraordinary skills. But that doesn’t mean that the other forms of investing aren’t valid.

Some traders are just lucky. Some value investors are just lucky. Both styles have practitioners who are phenomenal at what they do, and who have proved it over time. Until you’ve practiced all of these forms of investing, it’s hard to judge which is more valid.

The Headcount

Using the number of employees at a firm to judge success is misleading. Again, I don’t know much about them, but many don’t just run a single fund. Citadel for example has a wide range of investment-related activities (much like investment banks like Goldman Sachs). Also, it’s hard to get an idea of exactly how many of those employees are the actual decision makers for the portfolio (what really matters).

Warren Buffett has 1.5 employees (himself plus half of a Munger) on the investing side, and manages over $100 billion. I’d say he has done just fine over the years. There are three clear advantages to having a limited headcount. One, it avoids group-think when making decisions. Two, there’s no need to worry about “one-employee disasters”, Amaranth Advisors and Brain Hunter. And three, more obviously, it lowers overhead for small firms.

Eddie Lampert has a few dozen employees. Mohnish Pabrai has 1.7 employees. Neither is the “correct” amount as it all depends on your investing style. From what I’ve heard, Pabrai does little to no scuttlebutt. Lampert sends his analysts out on research and fact gathering missions and is constantly analyzing mountains of data regarding his positions. Both investors have proven they are highly capable and successful.

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Investing

The Blow-Up Artist

For anyone who has read the book Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the name Victor Niederhoffer may sound familiar (if you haven’t read the book, check out this article by Malcolm Gladwell). “The Blow-Up Artist”, a great article in The New Yorker, discusses Niederhoffer’s most recent financial troubles. Although Niederhoffer and Nassim Taleb are friends, after the events of the last two months I believe that Taleb has the last laugh.

Victor Niederhoffer is a well-known hedge fund manager who got his start managing a trading firm in the 1980s. From 1982-1990, he partnered with George Soros and ran the Fixed Income and Forex divisions of Soros’ firm. Niederhoffer has published two books: The Education of a Speculator (1996) and Practical Speculation (2003). Since 2001 he has run Manchester Trading LLC, which manages three small funds with total assets under management of about $350 million at the end of June. Manchester’s main fund had returned 50% annualized through the end of 2006, earning it a prize for best performance by a Commodity Trading Adviser.

Despite the level of respect for him in the trading world, Niederhoffer is most well known for the blow-up of his hedge fund in 1997. After the Asian financial crisis and a 7% one-day drop in the Dow, Niederhoffer Investments lost a majority of its capital and was forced to close down. These losses wiped out virtually all of the gains the fund achieved racking up 35% annualized returns since inception.