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December 23, 2015, Vol. 33, No. WB

Happy And Merry 2015

To the readers, and potential readers, of Grant’s: This anthology of recent articles, our annual Christmastide e-issue, is for you. Please pass it along, with our compliments, to any and all prospective members of the greater Grant’s family. We resume publication with the issue dated Jan. 15 (don’t miss it!).

December 11, 2015, Vol. 33, No. 24

Interest rates by the clock

Ultra-low rates push and they pull. They push business failure out into the future. They pull consumption forward into the present. Here with a grand tour of the credit horizon. In the background: auto sales and corporate M&A. In the foreground: a booming regional bank and a credit-dependent time-share vendor.

What he said

The word is "customers," not "competitors." Grant's corrects a blunder.

'They' already tightened

ZIRP and QE have warped the economic timbers. On a bad day, you can even hear them creak. Have the brainiacs forgotten that the money market is a delicate institution?

Anticipating Mr. Friedman

In an earlier epoch of history, a man so driven as the chief curator of Restoration Hardware might have led a revolution. As it is, he seeks to revolutionize the high end of furniture and décor trades. Awaiting Dec. 10.

Handicapping a devaluation

If it were any economy but the world's largest, you'd expect that a devaluation would be in the offing. The People's Republic wouldn't dare to cheapen the very currency that the IMF has just welcomed into the SDR. Or would it?

November 27, 2015, Vol. 33, No. 23

Trudges, the nation's business

"Speculate" is the operative word. Economic cycles, interest rates and the dollar are the topics at hand. A skeptical eye on the world's "most crowded trade."

Money-good, but . . .

Neither sterling nor speculative, probably OK but maybe not, a certain kind of investment-grade security is the flavor of the cycle. What goes wrong with the most popular credit ideas? Something, usually.

Banking on energy

You can't blame this Grant's-assembled collection of energy lenders for the macro- and microeconomic scrapes in which they find themselves. But you could sell them.

Guilt by association

"Small, illiquid, complex" to which we now append another attribute: unprofitable, at least so far.

But can they?

Wanting to lift the funds rate is one thing, actually doing it is another. Good luck to you, Dr. Potter.

November 13, 2015, Vol. 33, No. 22

Too close to the sun

The super-rich continue to accumulate high-end residences far from their principal toothbrush. They are the smart money—are they also the wise money? A short review of the bumps in the road of a certain great city's real-estate market. Too few moguls for the burgeoning supply of mogul-appropriate housing.

Over here, Carl Icahn!

The bullish analysis of a little-regarded REIT has so far yielded bearish results. Why a sky-high dividend yield and a record-setting discount to evident NAV leave the market cold. Calling all activists.

Monetary optics report

A new federal highway bill needs financing. Where will the money come from? Contemplating the risk of a capital call on very high-yielding Federal Reserve stock.

Stand-pat primer

Bearing in mind that Janet Yellen reportedly arrives at the airport "hours before" her flight is scheduled to depart, we serve up the facts that might lead a risk-averse central banker to surprise people.

October 30, 2015, Vol. 33, No. 21

Saul Steinberg's second coming

In the 1960s came Leasco and the big conglomerate boom. Now comes Valeant and the bigger platform-company boom. Starved for income, 21st century investors reach not only for yield but also for heroes: "our thirst to believe in others."

Your 4,000 bagger

The case for a currency that governments don't print and miners don't excavate. "The potential to do for money what the Internet did for information."

Stan on stage

"I believe that diversification is the most destructive, over-rated concept in our business." The speaker is Stanley Druckenmiller, investor and speculator par excellence, and the setting is the fall 2015 Grant's Conference.

Don't stop reading

"There are no accidents in SEC filings. Everything there (or not there) is for a reason."

E&P equity gusher

It wouldn't be so bad in the E&P business if oil and gas prices were not so low, or if accounting conventions were not so elastic or if maintenance capital expenditure requirements were not so high. "The business is not economic."


How an innocent component of the Periodic Table was converted into a kind of neo-subprime mortgage-backed security.

Just keep compounding

Compound interest is a wondrous force, all may agree. Pick the right stocks and mistakes just don't matter.

Comes Mauricio Macri

The money-burning days of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner are ending. How bullish the aftermath?

To own or not to own?

What does it mean to own something? J. Michael Pearson weighs this urgent metaphysical question.

October 16, 2015, Vol. 33, No. 20

Bull market in liabilities

The Teamster Central States Pension Plan is petitioning the Treasury Department for permission to reduce the distributions it makes to 200,000 beneficiaries. Ben S. Bernanke, Ph.D., please copy.

Thank you, Ruth Hlavacek

The Grant’s grammarian rides into the sunset after 28 literate years of service. How we shall miss her!

Exit, Michael Novogratz

A corporate problem child and the man who managed it take their leave. Good news for the business he helped to found.

Acres of hope

Asset-rich and management-poor, a certain real estate-development company is ending its years in the wilderness. Next order of business: Sunlight on net asset value.

Constructive developments

A lightly leveraged closed-end fund, managed by prudent and independent-minded people, is priced at a deep discount to book value and offers a high yield. What’s not to like?

Postscript to value

The emergence of a new fact improves the risk-reward proposition attached to a pair of leveraged income vehicles.

Go big or go home

“Stimulus” is not so stimulating when it takes the form of debt slathered on an already-overleveraged economy.

October 2, 2015, Vol. 33, No. 19

Towers of deflation

It’s evidently not impossible to forget that real estate is a cyclical business. The localized booms in office construction suggest that many would rather not remember.

Predatory borrower

Care for a nice, fat 5% yield, Mr. and Mrs. America? The people who ought to read the fine print probably won’t.

Frontiers of junk

If a market can become overvalued—and can remain so (as this one has) for the better part of nine months—it can surely become undervalued.

Way of all paper

An ancient perpetual Dutch security continues to pay interest, though no longer in gold (you get euros) and no longer at the originally stipulated rate (you get half of that). A “teaching moment” in money and credit?

Flashing beer sign

The Fed hasn’t tightened. The market has. Maybe the mandarins have missed their opportunity.

September 18, 2015, Vol. 33, No. 18

Age of magical thinking

In monetary affairs, orthodox ideas have become marginalized and radical ideas have gone mainstream. From the eminent Financial Times, a proposal to drop helicopter money to the masses. You wonder what the London tabloids are suggesting.

Calling Mr. Bear

Never mind backing that luxury automobile into the garage. For the very rich, a turntable will do the trick. What will the market gods think?

Unaccountably cheaper

Any stock that derives its value from a portfolio of assets has taken a pratfall. One particular asset-sensitive stock has been splattered—for no good reason, we say.

Closed-end days

In closed-end funds, a novelty: investor-led initiatives to close persistent discounts to net asset value.

Yield to term

In a picked over, credit swollen, ZIRP strafed bond market, a certain kind of mutual fund is making the best of things.

Inside the People’s Bank of China

Is even one central bank actually tightening credit? Only the world’s biggest.

September 4, 2015, Vol. 33, No. 17

They follow the leader

Having failed at finance, the Reds of Beijing are staging a gaudy military parade. Look out below for the renminbi/dollar exchange rate.

Almighty ringgit?

Everyone knows that the dollar is appreciating. Everyone similarly knows that emerging-market currencies are depreciating. Could everyone be thinking the wrong thoughts?

Hock that painting

A shot across the bow for investors and connoisseurs alike.

10% off sale

Closed-end funds usually trade at a discount to net asset value. They rarely trade at the discounts now quoted.

They already tightened

The Fed's back office pushes repo rates higher. Whom to blame for contracting net interest margins on your mortgage REIT.

August 19, 2015, Vol. 33, No. SB

2015 Summer Break Issue

This anthology of recent articles, our summertime e-issue, is for you. Please pass it along, with our compliments, to any and all prospective members of the greater Grant’s family.

Not such a lock

Save us from the security experts. What, exactly, do they do?

The balance sheet that ate Switzerland

Like a celebrity in flight from the paparazzi, the Swiss Confederation demands protection from its pesky admirers. To beat back the unwanted appreciation of the Swissie, the central bank is—once again—vowing to move heaven and earth. How to profit from it?

Final last gasp

Expectant but not bullish on everyman's safe haven.

Revenge of the reciprocal

Finance is nothing if not symmetrical. There are assets, and there are liabilities. There is demand, and there is supply. For every policy yin, there is a policy yang. The unscripted consequences of post-2007 monetary intervention is the subject at hand.

Operation Barn Door

Incapable of predicting financial crises, our central bankers are doing their utmost to prevent them. Should you rest easier on that account? You should not.

International complacency contest

Time to cast your financial ballot – an investment in monetary and financial disorder.

Posterity will smile

Which mistakes—financial ones, that is—will our children’s children identify as our most gratuitous? Wisdom from Edinburgh’s Library of Mistakes

August 7, 2015, Vol. 33, No. 16

Fault lines in credit

The fateful words of a Chicago alderman mark the turn in the credit cycle.

Dueling indices

Wage costs rise by the least in 30 years? Not so fast.

Global verbiage glut

Opportunities in places you may not care to visit.

Try this at home

Ultra-low mortgage rates deliver a quicker accession of home equity.

July 24, 2015, Vol. 33, No. 15

International complacency contest

Time to cast your financial ballot – an investment in monetary and financial disorder.

Toss away the key

Constant readers will recognize the government’s allegations against a certain identity-theft promotion.

On the rebound

A long-tailed branch of the insurance market returns to the black.

Holy guacamole!

It’s hard to argue with a 20-year improving market. We do.

New diagnosis

Quick, painless and cheap. What is Mr. Market pretending not to notice?

Not for the money

Concerning tightening cycles past and prospective – what’s the big hurry?

July 10, 2015, Vol. 33, No. 14

More candidates, please

A public-spirited plea for a better class of political talent. The gamesmanship of a “balanced” budget.

12% goes begging

A dream come true for the income-starved American saver, though one’s lunch never comes entirely free.

Small, illiquid, complex

An income vehicle for our time.

Dare you, Ms. Yellen

If the supposed imminent rise in the federal funds rate should come to pass, what then?

Two percentage points to go

Capitalism without the price mechanism: a non-starter in Shanghai, too.

June 26, 2015, Vol. 33, No. 13

What’s in your wallet?

What investment asset, though it yields nothing and costs nothing to produce, is gaining in worldwide popularity? A leading, London-based Fidelity bond manager has the answer.

Check, please, waiter

People have to eat, but they don’t have to go out to eat. Investors have to invest, but they don’t have to buy restaurant stocks.

Underachiever update

Even in this levitating bull market, investors give wide berth to a pair of Grant’s-favored ideas.

Posterity will smile

Which mistakes—financial ones, that is—will our children’s children identify as our most gratuitous? Wisdom from Edinburgh’s Library of Mistakes.

Thanks all around

On June 23, the editor of Grant’s received the Gerald Loeb Lifetime Achievement Award. Universal praise for the brevity of his acceptance speech.

Happy birthday, prosperity of a certain kind

How to account for the smashing rebound of household net worth since the 2007-09? A theory from the author of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”

June 12, 2015, Vol. 33, No. 12

Transported by Mr. Dow

An ancient theory of stock market timing resurfaces. Rising interest rates, deteriorating breadth and a frenetic M&A cycle. What would William Peter Hamilton say?

Under analyzed

What does it take for a once excellent brand to become merely good? A change in the fashion weather, or maybe an article in a college newspaper. Next up: the "dad bod."

Monetary must read

George Gilder's brilliant new monograph, "The 21st Century Case for Gold: A New Information Theory of Money," recasts the idea of money. The author makes you think--he insists on it.

Pessimism to burn

When Norway's' sovereign wealth fund prepared to divest its coal holdings last week, it joined a growing fatwa against the world's least beloved fossil. One miner deserves a reprieve.

Hayek for download

A lecture, not to be forgotten--your editor, the 2015 Hayek Prize and "The Forgotten Depression."

Not what you think

The seasonally adjusted GDP data are subject to revision. Corporate earnings are "pro forma." Quantitatively-eased currencies proliferate. What ever happened to reality?

May 29, 2015, Vol. 33, No. 11

Wire-pullers of the twenty-first century

Markets are just as efficient as the people who operate in them. They are just as cool, calm and calculating as the humans who will buy high and will sell low. Still, they are devilishly hard to beat. Credit, restaurant chains and platform companies are among the topics under discussion.

Yesteryear’s great idea

Like New York City taxi medallions, bonds started appreciating at around the time of the birth of Beyoncé. So consistently have they performed that serious people have come to judge them, bonds and medallions alike, as intrinsically safe. Not the best idea on which to build a leveraged portfolio.

Keynesian beach book

“Universal Man: The Seven Lives of John Maynard Keynes,” a new biography by Richard Davenport-Hines, is not just a book for the admirers of a certain errant economist. It is a book for the lovers of superb writing, fine portraiture and novelistic story-telling

Lots of return

With April housing starts leaping by 20.2% and April existing-home sales declining by 3.3%, the American residential real estate market last week was alternatively reported to be thriving and dwindling. We herein proceed to clear up the confusion. Bullish on terra firma—at a price.

Get your free money!

“Buy the rumor, sell the news,” is standard operating procedure in most markets. “Buy the rumor,” suffices in such a credit-juiced market as this one.

May 15, 2015, Vol. 33, No. 10

On the systematic mispricing of debt

Fidelity & Guaranty Life is the firm that “helps middle-income Americans prepare for retirement,” or so claim its copywriters. If so, the life insurer’s investment department, with its RadioShack trifecta, itself needs help. Certainly, it’s getting none from the world’s central banks—or from the post-1981 interest-rate zeitgeist.

Attention, Larry Fink

Is contemporary art one of the “greatest stores of wealth?” Not if the life, celebrity and obscurity of the 19th century French painter Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier is any guide.

The only game

If a company seems to be cheap in the sixth year of a bull market, it probably isn’t a legitimate company, and it probably isn’t cheap. An exception to prove the rule is the subject at hand.

America the unhedged

Native-born citizens of the United States are famously mono-lingual. Likewise, they are mono-monetary—dollars are what they cling to, whether or not the home currency is appreciating against the alien alternatives. How to diversify out of green money?

Balance-sheet story

Constant readers may remember the company herein featured. Some will regret having ever heard the name. As central banks have gained prestige, our subject has lost market cap. What it has not lost is its speculative appeal.

Pick your own data

“Monetary Policy It’s Data Dependent” is the legend on the t-shirt that the president of the San Francisco Fed waved to the TV cameras Monday morning when Steve Liesman asked him, So when will the Fed raise interest rates? We deconstruct the central banker’s non-answer.

May 1, 2015, Vol. 33, No. 09

Revenge of the reciprocal

Finance is nothing if not symmetrical. There are assets, and there are liabilities. There is demand, and there is supply. For every policy yin, there is a policy yang. The unscripted consequences of post-2007 monetary intervention is the subject at hand.

Listed bear-baiting

Coming soon: the first ETF dedicated to taunting the bears. SQZZ is the symbol. Is it wrong to suspect that people create new ETFs just for the pleasure of unfurling a clever ticker?

Mother Earth retraces

Average Iowa farmland prices tumbled by 8.9% last year, the first and only meaningful decline since 1986. The nearly three decade-long bull market in tillable American real estate is over, as the city-dwelling editors of Grant’s weigh the evidence. Grain prices, land prices, weather, inflation and deflation are the topics under discussion.

Elevator going down

Let it be said, writes Evan Lorenz, that China has the best airports, the fastest trains and the comeliest empty residential towers in the world. I can say this with some authority after spending last week in the People’s Republic.

Welcome back, Sumner Slichter

On Tuesday, as the FOMC sat down to weigh a decision to raise the funds rate for very nearly the first time in modern memory, the New York Times produced a story to showcase the argument for a much higher inflation target. Paging Prof. Slichter, 1950s-era father of the “new inflation.”

April 17, 2015, Vol. 33, No. 08

Mumbai calling Valéry Giscard d’Estaing

A monetary experiment half a world away from the Federal Reserve’s interest rate laboratories is set to begin next month in India. Looming over all, an ancient question: What is money?

Radical negative one

David Einhorn, long-short equity investor par excellence, led off the Grant’s Spring Conference with a long idea and a short-sale candidate. He prefaced his stock picks with a grand tour of interest rates, such as they are.

Up with India

"India is one of the biggest structural changes taking place in the world today," Jon Thorn, manager of the India Capital Fund, told the Grant's audience, "and, unlike, say, Greece, it's a very positive one."

Drill they must

"I've run through a lot of industries as they've involuntarily entered my domain," bankruptcy lawyer James Sprayregen, explained to the Grant's faithful. Next up, he said: the E&P segment of the energy business.

Leaders have to lead

David Abrams, a top-flight Boston investor whose nearly invisible public profile led The Wall Street Journal to speculate that he might be a unicorn, sat on stage at the Plaza Hotel fielding questions.

Liquidity to the max

125 pages of charts and graphs complemented lunch at the Grant's event. Stretching from the dawn of financial time to the present, the pictures, compiled by Bank of America Merrill Lynch strategist Michael Hartnett, amounted to a kind of museum of astounding facts

Something to shock

Bill Gross observed that the Fed, by remitting the interest in earns on government securities, in effect absolves the Treasury of its obligation to pay. You might even think of it as a species of default, said the king of bonds.

Value times three

Cash constitutes 62.8% of his portfolio, Mitch Cantor, portfolio manager of Mountain Lake Investment Management, told the Grant's audience. After which he pitched a trio of value-laden, improbable-sounding equities.

The Bigger Short

Paul Singer, founder of Elliott Management Corp. and among the earliest proponents of the 2006-08 trade that Michael Lewis popularized in "The Big Short," took the Plaza stage to propose an even bigger short.

The great debate

Passive investing is no fad, contended John C. Bogle, in an opening salvo of the debate over the merits of indexation. The editor of Grant's spoke to the virtues of research, analysis and imagination.

Not so safe

J.P. Morgan Chase has hired 8,000 people just to comply with the onslaught of post-crisis regulation. At some higher level of regulatory intensity, the Fed may just achieve its mandate for full employment. Its mandate for financial stability? That’s another story.

April 3, 2015, Vol. 33, No. 07

Janet Yellen, say hello to Bill Martin

Moving to free-market interest rates from the governmentally administered kind is the issue of the hour—and of the day, month and year, in the opinion of this interest-rate observing journal. Happily, the trick has been done before.

Use as directed

On July 15, 2014, on the ceremonial stage of her second Humphrey-Hawkins testimony, Janet Yellen singled out biotech (and social media) stocks for their "substantially stretched" valuations. Since that ex cathedra pronouncement, the Nasdaq Biotechnology Index has rallied by a cool 39%. And now?

Turn of the tide?

Kind words for an orphaned sector of seaborne commerce. A funny thing happened on the way to its supposed insolvency.

Now he's got a blog

In his maiden post on the Brookings Institution Web site, Ben Bernanke contends that fragile economic conditions, not radical monetary policy, pushed interest rates to the floor. Did the former chairman check with the Bundesbank?

March 20, 2015, Vol. 33, No. 06

Operation Barn door

Incapable of predicting financial crises, our central bankers are doing their utmost to prevent them. Should you rest easier on that account? You should not.

Bullish even now

"Settle in" for a period of relatively weak oil prices, Rex Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil, resignedly advised analysts the other day. Reconsider the values inherent in a pair of orphaned energy stocks, Grant's proposes.

Monetary diversity

That currency in your wallet, Ms. or Mr. American, is it all the same color green? If so, you are in violation of the time-honored investment precept of diversification. The case for diversifying into a new and different color combination

'Patient' is--still--the word

From the vantage point of Tuesday, the Fed will stand pat on Wednesday. We hereby make brave to forecast an event that will have occurred before the forecast is issued. Patience, Ms. Yellen.

March 6, 2015, Vol. 33, No. 05

Inflation can surprise you

The meager rate of rise in the CPI for 2014—up by just 0.8%—made news by the very fact of its meagerness. Since 1929, only nine other years have featured an a comparably weak increase in the cost of living. The meaning of this arresting fact is the subject at hand.

Get out of town

You’ve decided to vacation on the French Riviera with family, in-laws, cousins. You could book six or eight hotel rooms—or a single villa in Saint-Tropez. This being the 21st century, you can, and you do, book the villa. Now unfolding is a bearish story on the company that helped you secure it.

Last to first

Gold needs a hug—as central bankers run riot, the legacy monetary asset languishes at $1,200 an ounce—but don’t go feeling sorry for a certain unesteemed and over encumbered mining company. Its fortunes are on the upswing.

Cash for cops

The fact is that currency, under the law, in large denominations. has become non-negotiable. Just try to withdraw $100,000 in hundred-dollar bills from your local JP Morgan Chase branch.The burden of proof is on you, Mr. or Ms. Moneybags.

Nasdaq 5,000—in bonds

Tech stocks matched their March 2000 highs this week. Bonds did them even one better by taking out any known previous high of any recorded era (or so it seemed).

February 20, 2015, Vol. 33, No. 04

In the petrified forest of debt

RadioShack, whose founding dates from the administration of Warren G. Harding, filed for bankruptcy protection on Feb. 5. The question before the house: What took it so long?

Mistaken identity

Either the great lake of redundant crude oil points to long-term oversupply in fossil fuels, or it doesn't. The price of oil hangs in the balance. Not so--by rights, we herein contend--the price of the shares of a certain value-laden chemicals company.

File under 'opportunity'

Like any other branch of distressed investing nowadays, the secondary market in illiquid partnership interests is short the essential element of distress. But that doesn't mean there's nothing to plan for.

Leaving something to chance

Two thirds of investors just surveyed by Citigroup said "action from central banks in Europe and the U.S. would be the principal force driving credit market spreads" in 2015. The principal force? More than even the myriad events that the central banks don't control and can't anticipate?

February 6, 2015, Vol. 33, No. 03

To outsmart a snowstorm

Humility before the financial future seems especially well advised in the wake of the Jan. 27 blizzard that wasn’t.

Essence of China

The supposed once and future driver of world economic growth remains a laboratory experiment in how much debt a society can bear without absolutely collapsing.

Passage to capitalism

A storied investor opens a new India fund. Just the vehicle for a “dynamic and changing environment.”

Not such a lock

Save us from the security experts. What, exactly, do they do?

A future in fed funds

How to place an extremely leveraged bet on everybody being wrong.

January 23, 2015, Vol. 33, No. 02

Havens to hide in

The world’s central bankers have thrown the kitchen sink at a threatened deflation. What would they do in response to the real McCoy?

House of mirrors

Ultra-low interest rates have facilitated bloated inventories and grandiose building plans at a certain high-end retailer. When the roof caves in the aggrieved bulls can take their complaints, or some of them, to Janet Yellen.

Good news for a change

This publication is on record decrying the mass, interest-rate-induced levitation of the property REITS. There is, however, a special, underachieving, value-laden exception.

Generation ZIRP

Lenders and borrowers may be reasonable people, but they periodically miscalculate. There is feast, then there is famine, world without end. It’s the credit-related business models that come and go.

Chinese road show

Whatever the resurgent Shanghai market may portend, it isn’t (so far) the return to good health of the credit structure of the People’s Republic.

January 9, 2015, Vol. 33, No. 01

Central bank of the robots

The Fed stands opposed to the progress of the age.

Christmas came early

The oil price is halved, but so what? A certain well-financed, low-cost producer of an unfashionable energy source is cheaper than ever.

Final last gasp?

Expectant but not bullish on everyman's safe haven.

Follow that trend!

Success is the best salesman.

Early bird special

Stephen A. Schwarzman, CEO of Blackstone, said that energy was going to be an "amazing investment opportunity." He seems to have meant it.

E-Z does it, Ms. Yellen

Ecuador on Tuesday secured a $5.3 billion credit line from China's Eximbank at a cost of just 2%. Whatever happened to the Monroe doctrine?

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