Harry Newton's In Search of The Perfect Investment
Technology Investor. Auction Rate Securities. Auction Rate Preferreds.
8:30 AM EST, Monday, August 25, 2008: Ripples.
It's what Buffett talks about. I personally see them everywhere. A new firm
needs money. Shareholders are asset-heavy, cash-light. Last year a shareholder
borrowed $1 million against his real estate. He paid back each month, on time.
He wants the loan again. The bank won't give it to him. Why? "We're not
lending." The company needs the money and may fail without it, losing shareholders
over $30 million.
can understand why banks are reluctant. Banks are highly-leveraged animals,
subject to strict rules. If the value of their assets drop, they must raise
capital -- getting new outside money, or accumulating cash by curbing lending.
Today, many "banks" (of all ilks) have little idea what much of their
assets are worth. Their loans? Their bundles of ortgage-backed securities? They're
worth what the market says they're worth. That's how we value our exchange-listed
shares. What happens if there's no market for what you own? You can't get a
bid because no one is buying. In the old days, the rating agencies did the valuation.
But no one trusts them any longer. So we're stuck in limbo land.
need money. But they can't get it from traditional sources. This creates great
opportunities for those of us with a little cash. Be careful. These opportunities
are just emerging. There'll be millions more in coming months.
Mauldin's depressing banking views: From his latest newsletter:
There must be
some people who think there is some way that the shareholders of Fannie and
Freddie will not lose everything, as their shares actually trade. This just
simply goes to show that you can fool some of the people some of the time.
And as we will see, some of those people are very serious institutions.
It is almost
a forgone conclusion that the US Treasury will have to step in and for all
intents and purposes nationalize the two government-sponsored enterprises.
The estimated losses in these two firms are far beyond what they could raise
in a traditional market. And the longer the government waits, the worse the
situation is likely to get.
the preferred stock in these firms to almost junk level because of the increased
likelihood of "direct support" from the US Treasury, which, depending
on the nature of the support, could wipe out both the holders of the common
and the preferred. The preferred shares have already lost half their value
since June 30 on speculation that an intervention would mean a stop in dividend
payments (highly likely) and issuance of new preferred that would take preference
over current preferred.
this would put more pressure on the banking system, as many banks hold the
GSE preferred shares as assets, choosing to get a little extra return over
traditional and more conservative assets. But then of course, Fannie and Freddie
preferred were considered safe just a few months ago, with the best ratings
You can read the
entire newsletter here. It's
probably time to short Fannie and Freddie. Read what Mauldin says.
Buffett's CNBC interview. It's available on Warren
Buffett Watch on CNBC.
Obama reconciles dueling views on economy: That's the name of the
long cover story in this weekend's New
York Times Magazine.
funny ultra-clean video. I mentioned this before. But the link didn't
work. Use Internet Explorer. It's short, ultra-clean and wonderfully funny.
taxes are screwy: Belgium
taxes incomes to 70% -- a pain if you are a salary man. But if you have no job,
they'll pay you 70% of your salary while you look for a new job. Belgium has
no capital gains tax. That means if you're an entrepreneur you pay yourself
a minimum salary and accumulate your assets in a company, which you sell all
or part of tax-free.
add 21% VAT to everything, but not on goods exported. The accounting is a nightmare.
Companies sell locally, but pretend to export, thus pocketing the 21%. This
scam is called Carousel.
is a huge "black" market. It's cash the government never sees. There
are two prices -- one for black money and one for white money. The former is
much lower than the latter.
and education are free in Belgium. My friends tell me they're really good.
Wind farms are
exploding in Belgium, especially along the windy North Sea.
Farmers love windmills. They take little land
and they get free money, also called rent.
tips for Europe:
Find your hotel on the Internet. The smallest family hotel now has a web site.
But bargain the price and make the reservation on the phone.
Check your debit card. Check you know your PIN. Check your bank lets you use
it in Europe.
Check your credit card works in Europe.
4. Trains work
well and fast. But prices change by time of day and when you book. There are
neat things you can do. I flew Jet Airways business class to Brussels. It was
less than half the price of anyone else's business class to Europe. London is
only 1 3/4 hours from Brussels by high-speed train. Trains are the easiest way
around much of Europe.
5. Take an unlocked
GSM phone. Get one on eBay. Buy a SIM card in each country you visit. That's
the cheapest way to make local phone calls.
6. Don't overpack.
You can live out of a roll-on, carry-on, such as the Eagle
Creek Hovercraft 22. I did.
7. Most hotels
have high-speed Internet. They will sell you a day for
15 euros. Some won't allow outgoing Outlook email. Make sure you have a gmail
account. I took my tiny Lenovo ThinkPad X61.
hours are limited and erratic. Belgium is dead on Sunday and Monday. Anne's
favorite chocolate store was closed on Wednesday. Her father's favorite restaurant
was closed for the entire month of August.
9. Take your passport.
The only bicycle shop in Brussels that was open on Sunday insisted on seeing
our passports. We had left them at the hotel. "Sorry, Monsieur, I can not
rent you a bicycle without a passport." And he didn't.
10. Biking around
flat Belgium is the best way to see the sites. The locals have folding bikes
and take them on the trains.
11. Clothes fit
me better in Belgium. Europeans are not as fat as Americans, yet.
12. Worth taking.
Big bars of soap, several European power adapters and a
13. Think of the
Euro as equal to one dollar. Then Europe won't seem so expensive.
Flemish school is awesome: The paintings give photo-realism a whole
new meaning. Yet Jan van Eyck painted them in 1430-32. Good idea to take along
an art history major to explain it all. We had one
A castle in Bruges
was built to "protect and intimidate" the local population. It had
a huge collection of medieval torture instruments.
uses butter, cream and more butter and more cream. Throw in salt and local herbs.
The result is awesome.
We actually had
one day when it didn't rain. But it never rained all day. Just on and off.
This column is about my personal search for the perfect
investment. I don't give investment advice. For that you have to be registered
with regulatory authorities, which I am not. I am a reporter and an investor.
I make my daily column -- Monday through Friday -- freely available for three
reasons: Writing is good for sorting things out in my brain. Second, the column
is research for a book I'm writing called "In Search of the Perfect
Investment." Third, I encourage my readers to send me their ideas,
concerns and experiences. That way we can all learn together. My email address
is . You can't
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