Harry Newton's In Search of The Perfect Investment
9:00 AM EST, Wednesday, September 3, 2008: This
is the Autumn of Refinancing. And the question is "At What Price?"
For example, a company called Viskase Companies, Inc. is offering to exchange
11 1/2% Senior Secured Notes due 2011 for 8% Senior Subordinated Notes due 2008.
You'll see more and more of this. The question is simple: Would you do this
deal? Or would you rather have
Your cash back, or
2. A higher interest rate.
I'd take the cash,
if I had a choice.
There's more agony
to come. From this weekend's BusinessWeek:
financials, which firms deliver in the coming weeks, could set off the avalanche
of sales. Credit analysts at J.P. Morgan Securities (JPM) estimate that banks
worldwide will experience an additional $200 billion in losses and writedowns
this period, on top of the $500 billion they've already taken. When the whole
credit crisis is said and done, the full count could top $2 trillion by some
Until now, banks
have replaced most of that lost capital with money from outside investors.
But those funds are drying up. For one, it's getting harder to issue the type
of special securities that sovereign wealth funds and others have found appealing
when giving big cash infusions to Citigroup (C), Merrill Lynch (MER), and
other struggling companies. Plus, many of those early movers may have buyer's
remorse, considering that the value of their investments has eroded dramatically.
Without a white
knight, banks will likely resort to dumping assets to maintain satisfactory
capital levels for regulators and creditors. How much stuff could be up for
sale? Generally speaking, commercial banks try to hold $1 of capital for every
$10 of assets they own; for investment banks it rises to about $20. That means
if banks and other financial firms lose the predicted $200 billion in the
current period, there could be roughly $2 trillion of assets on the block,
including prized possessions.
piece about commercial real estate? One of my mavens emailed me:
Mavens? I said
possibly 2 years, but at least into mid-year 2009 before see any start of
a turnaround. All dependent on US economy. Are we in a recession or as the
paper indicated this morning , are we just going into one? There is no liquidity
from Lenders but I heard this morning that some major banks are raising capital
to make loans at albeit higher interest rates to take advantage of the illiquid
Hope this helps. Article is pretty gloom, but that is the reality.
Great American Invention Machine: Oil is still
high -- high enough to deliver major incentive to enterprising inventors. Items:
From MIT's Technology
Review: In 2001, a professor of materials science and engineering at MIT,
Yet-MingChiang, announced some promising results concerning new battery
materials. But those materials might still be in the lab today were it not
for Ric Fulop, then an enterprising 26-year-old from Venezuela. Today, the
materials are being used to make high-performance batteries that General Motors
is testing for use in its new electric car, the Volt.
his first company--which imported computer hardware and software and sold
it to Venezuelan retailers--at the age of 16. He has since founded five more
companies, including one, Into Networks, whose software is used in the Windows
Vista operating system. But it is at A123 Systems, the company he founded
with Chiang in 2001, that Fulop has had his greatest success. Now the company's
vice president of business development, he has helped A123 raise over $250
million, including investments from Sequoia Capital, GE, and OnPoint, the
venture capital initiative of the U.S. Army. A123's batteries can already
be found in power tools, airplanes, and hybrid buses.
out of college to found one of his companies, only to return for an MBA after
starting A123. But despite a lack of academic training in materials science,
he is quick to grasp technical details. He spent months scouring scientific
journals, attending conferences, and picking the brains of university technology
licensing officers before his search led him to Yet-Ming Chiang. And thanks
to this preparation, it took just one meeting to convince the MIT professor
that Fulop's idea for a battery company was sound.
battery technology, especially for new cars, is a capital-intensive and risky
business. To help jump-start the company, Fulop helped negotiate a deal with
Black and Decker to supply batteries for the power-tool market. Not only did
the agreement give A123 an early and much-needed source of revenue from an
industrial customer, but it was an ideal way to start testing its production
technology for the much larger automotive market. In 2006, partly on the strength
of the company's success in reliably producing millions of battery cells a
year for power tools, Fulop and his partners persuaded GM to give A123 a chance.
The automaker is testing two different battery technologies for its Volt,
with a decision expected by the end of the year. If GM does select A123's
technology, Fulop will have played a key role in making possible the United
States' first mass-produced electric car. --Kevin Bullis
From Hank Green:
of America's power is used to create light. But a well-kept secret is that
over half of that light comes out of bulbs that you've likely never seen up
close, and certainly haven't ever bought.
high intensity discharge (HID) lights that give the world's supermarkets and
Wal-Marts that brighter-than-sunlight feel.
While HID lights are pretty efficient, especially when compared with incandescents,
they have a few pretty serious problems. They take about 10 minutes to warm
up, and they can't be dimmed. And, of course, no one would complain if they
were a bit more efficient.
Well a startup
called HID Technologies has developed a new digital ballast for HID lights
that fixes all of those problems. The new technology could cut energy use
by HID lights by 40%. Altogether this tremendously unsexy technology could
save gigawatts of power.
The power would
be saved by allowing stores to dim lights on sunny days (in concert skylights),
allowing lights to turn on instantly (so they wouldn't have to stay on all
the time), and simply because the new technology makes the lights more efficient,
with a 320 watt new HID lamp being roughly as good as an old HID lamp.
Of course, it's
a change that none of us will likely even notice, but in the end, that's the
best kind of environmental innovation.
From me: I've
been in touch with the inventor of a new spark plug which can, it seems, increase
your gas mileage by up to 50%. A friend has the system in his truck and it works.
commodities bust: On June 30, my commodities
fund was up 27% for the year. Now it's up only 7%, having lost 6.5% in August.
Fortunately, I wasn't in hedge fund Ospraie Management, one of the biggest players
in commodities, which the Wall Street Journal said is shutting down its largest
fund after significant losses. It fell
27% in August due to bets on oil, natural gas and structured products, CNBC
said it also bet on copper which has fallen also. In a letter to sent to investors
Tuesday, Dwight Anderson who ran the fund said, "The losses were primarily
caused by a substantial selloff in a number of our energy, mining and resource
equity holdings during a six-week period characterized by some of the sharpest
declines in these sectors in the past ten to twenty years."
To my brain, the
big lesson here is you must accommodate to much heightened volatility -- in
commodities, in the stock market, in real estate, in capital markets, etc. Things
no longer move slowly. Hence,
1. If you're "betting"
big on anything, you'd better have ultra-tight stops. If your bet starts going
awry, get out fast. If your bet starts going well, take some profits off the
2. Cash is king.
Without a substantial amount of it, these gyrations will bankrupt you fast.
Remember what Keynes said, "The (stock)market can stay irrational longer
than you can stay solvent."
3. The last lesson
-- and God, I've harped on this -- Stay away from Wall Street's structured products.
I'm not 100% certain they were Ospraie's downfall. These are investment products
that create elaborate and convoluted bets for you, the investor. You may win
-- highly unlikely. But Wall Street always makes its money, since it hedges
your bet upfront with puts and calls, etc. .
new browser called Chrome: From reader Eric Lentz:
You must use
Google's latest invention Google Chrome.
It is a new
web browser they launched today and there is only one word to describe it:
AMAZING! It is lightning fast. I could not believe how fast it was compared
to Internet Explorer 7. You can download it at Google
Chrome (BETA) for Windows. Please share this with your fellow blog
readers and try it for yourself! It's fantastic!
good tennis to watch. Federer nearly lost last night. Roddick killed
Gonzales, who looked listless. Watch the tennis in high definition. My
best setup is DirecTV and a 61 inch Samsung DLP (now down to an amazingly low
$1640 on Amazon.)
I played a one-set, one and a half hour match yesterday, which no one watched,
but which I enjoyed. I'm not as good as Federer, yet.