Friday, February 28, 2014

This Might be our Most Important Post EVER!

This has been a big week around here. Our trading partner John Carter has been sharing some game changing videos that have culminated into his wildly popular webinars, "Being the Architect of the Big Trade".

If you haven't seen the videos or the webinar please do that asap after finishing reading this entire article.

Here is John's video from two weeks ago.

And Here is the Replay of John's Webinar, which will only be up until midnight Friday evening February 28th

John sent us this message this morning and I want you to read it, because it could be our most important post ever.


John Carter here......

This may be the most important email I’ve ever sent to you. (Print Now)

In 1984 I read a book about Arnold Schwarzenegger and ever since then he has been one of my idols. Arnold’s dream was to come to America to become rich and famous. He had no idea how he would do this.

Arnold said, “I was a 15 year old farm kid growing up in Austria when I was first inspired by a bodybuilding magazine with a picture of Reg Park on the cover from one of his Hercules movies. My life was never the same. Reg Park became my idol and I could not have picked a better hero to inspire me. Reg went from bodybuilding to the movies. He became a smart and successful businessman, and he was the first person who gave me a glimpse of what my life could someday become if I dreamed big and worked hard.”

The biggest thing he said that stuck with me is, “I read this magazine and there was the whole plan laid out. I had my blueprint to accomplish my dreams.”

When I was 18 and decided that I wanted to become a trader I knew I only needed to find a blueprint for success. Since then I’ve developed and implemented several blueprints for successful trading.

My most important blueprint is for building wealth

Every trader would love to start with a million dollar trading account, but this rarely happens. Today I trade a few seven figure accounts, but 25 years ago I funded my first account with $1,000 (equivalent to about $5,000 today). What I needed and I what I discovered was a blueprint for building wealth.

LAST CHANCE LINK

Did you know most trading strategies taught out there are designed for accounts larger than $25,000 yet they are taught to traders with a $5,000 account as if they will have the same edge as someone with a larger account? This is simply not true.

Most traders start with under $25,000 in their account and those accounts need to utilize specific strategies to build wealth.

How does a trader go about building wealth?

1) You have to start with a goal. I think a reasonable goal with the strategies I’m going to share is to double an account and do it in a year.

2) You need to develop the right money management and trading mindset

3) You have to control your risk through appropriate position sizing

4) You need to have a written trading plan with the strategies you’re going to use and when

5) You need to know where your targets are so you don’t leave money on the table

LAST CHANCE LINK

For the first (and last) time I’m going to share my exact blueprint for wealth building.

The blueprint will include:

1) Step by step, A and B happens you do C blueprint. There will be nothing left to interpretation.

2) How to manage your risk – when to go big, and when not to “piss away your chips.”

3) How to structure your wealth building trades so that even when they don’t work out you still make money

4) The 3 “how to crush it” strategies that were most profitable in 2013

5) Identify the exact levels when a stock will “rip the market makers heads off”

And much more…

My goal with this course is to leave with you the exact blueprint for building wealth like Reg Park gave to Arnold.

Here is what you'll get when you join the Ultimate Options Trading Blueprint and 3 day mentorship:

1) Access to the Saturday course and 3 full days of live trading, analysis, and follow up sessions

2) You Get to Keep Everything - All audio and video will be recorded and you will get the on demand links and DVD. You will be able to download all my notes, the action plan, and PDFs I share with you during the course.

3) Fast Answers to Your Relevant Questions Answered by Henry, Darrell, Brian, Jeff, and myself throughout the course.

4) Homework: Special Bonus - Beginners Guide to Option on demand link

5) Homework: Options 101 Class on demand link

6) How to prepare your mind for the class and success

LAST CHANCE LINK

Here are the answers to some of the biggest questions we've been getting:

Q: I’m new to options should I go to this class?

A: Every journey starts with a single step. As part of the class we have included a few homework assignments that will quickly get you up to speed. I can teach anyone options in 1 hour and that exactly what I do in your options 101 homework assignment.

Q: When is this class?

A: The strategies class will be held Saturday March 1st from 2:00PM – 6:00PM New York time or 1-5 central. The 3 day live trading mentorship is Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday March 4th, 6th, and 7th during market hours with a lunch break midday.

Q: Will the course be RECORDED?

A: YES. Every single second of the 4 day course will be recorded. You will have online access to the recording PLUS you will get a DVD of the entire course in the mail.

Q: I am in the live trading room and I’ve taken most of your other courses will I learn anything new in this course?

A: Yes this course will be chock full of brand-spanking-new, never-before-revealed strategies and setups. If you’re in the live trading room and participated in every course there may be a few things in the class that will overlap, for example, you will already know what a squeeze is. However, the overwhelming majority of this course is material I have never presented on before.

Q: Do I need to be there live to get the most out of the course?

A: No, the course will be recorded and you will get all the information regardless if you attend live or not. The strategies I will teach can be universally applied at any time. As I go through live trading examples, although you will not be able to follow along live, I will be describing in detail what I am looking for in these live trades so when you watch the recording you will have the exact blue print I used determine which trades I got into and why.

Q: What if I have a full time job and I can’t trade intraday?

A: All of the strategies will work on any time frame. This means if you can only do end of day trading you can use daily and weekly charts. I find that people who are able to watch the markets all day end up over trading which is a death sentence for your trading account.

Q: Is there a Members Discount?

A: For a limited time we are making this class available for everyone at the member price because this class is so crucial. After the class is over the price will be raised for non-members.

LAST CHANCE LINK

I believe this will be the best course I've ever done and I’m really excited about presenting this material to you and hearing about your success.

Good Trading,

John

Visit John Carters "Simpler Options and Trading"


World Money Analyst Update on Europe


For the last two weeks on Thursdays we have brought you special editions of Outside the Box featuring World Money Analyst Managing Editor Kevin Brekke’s interviews with WMA contributing editors. We heard from Ankur Shah on emerging markets and Alexei Medved on Russia, and this week we wrap up the series with a frank, hard-hitting interview with Dirk Steinhoff, who covers the European and Scandinavian markets for WMA.

Kevin and Dirk are both based in Switzerland, and so they lead off with a discussion of the recent Swiss referendum on immigration. Dirk’s interpretation of the vote, which imposes quotas on the number of foreigners allowed to enter the country, is that it has implications for the entire European Union:

[T]he Swiss people basically decided that they want to control immigration themselves and do not want to give up this control to the centralized administration in Brussels. I think that this is a clear signal to the Swiss government that the Swiss people don’t want to give up more sovereignty and that they would like to see more decentralization in the future.

Which leads Kevin and Dirk to take up the broader issues of the unresolved Eurozone debt crisis, unemployment mess, and the fate of the euro. With EU parliamentary elections coming up in May, there is change in the air! OK, let’s turn it over to Kevin and Dirk for the details.

John Mauldin, Editor
Outside the Box
subscribers@mauldineconomics.com

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World Money Analyst Update on Europe

World Money Analyst: With me today is Dirk Steinhoff. Dirk is a contributing editor at World Money Analyst and covers the European and Scandinavian markets. Great to have you with us.

Dirk Steinhoff: Thank you very much for having me.

WMA: Seeing that you're in Zurich and I'm in Fribourg, let's start with a look at developments in our own backyard. The Swiss are known for their system of direct democracy via use of the referendum. The recent success of a referendum that will restrict immigration into Switzerland made global headlines. What’s your position on the immigration issue and the consequences of this vote?

Dirk: First of all, I should mention that I was born and raised in Berlin and moved with my family to Switzerland in 2007. One of the main reasons why I decided to leave Germany and come to Switzerland, next to the great Swiss landscape, was the strongly centralized development of the European Union, which reminds me painfully of the political system in the former DDR [communist East Germany].

European politicians live a life that is completely detached from those that don’t belong to this elitist political class. Their decisions are based on distorted experience and lobbyist influence and not on real life experience and independent judgment. The strong, centralized power of Brussels, in combination with the desire to regulate everything in life, increasingly limits personal freedom, limits the development of entrepreneurship (and therefore the creation of non-government-related workplaces), and eliminates local, regional, and national characteristics.

The state is much less dominant in Switzerland, mainly due to its federalist and decentralized political system, which limits the power of the federal government. Due to my own background and my own moral conviction, I personally believe that every human being should be able to live and work wherever he or she wants, as long as they are self-reliant, willing to integrate, and do not become a burden to the community they recently entered.

My interpretation of the referendum is that the Swiss people basically decided that they want to control immigration themselves and do not want to give up this control to the centralized administration in Brussels. I think that this is a clear signal to the Swiss government that the Swiss people don’t want to give up more sovereignty and that they would like to see more decentralization in the future.

It also interesting to note that most of the media in Europe (even Swiss media) were shocked by the outcome of the vote. In sharp contrast, other polls in various European countries actually show that most citizens would have voted similarly to the Swiss, and some by an even higher margin than the outcome of the Swiss vote. I think that in the long run more and more of the European people will ask for the Swiss model of democracy to be implemented in their home countries.

Although the rhetoric used by politicians in Europe might change to the negative in the short term, I do not think that the referendum will have a long-term negative effect on the relations between Switzerland and Brussels. I believe that Brussels has to come to terms with our form of democracy and has to respect our sovereignty, even if they might disagree with some of our decisions.

WMA: The immigration debate is not unique to Switzerland, of course, and is a divisive issue across Europe. This seems to be part of a trend where we've seen a rise in popularity of nationalist and anti-euro parties? What's your view?

Dirk: You are right. The severe criticism of Switzerland because of the outcome of the referendum has eclipsed the fact that many European countries face the same issue. People are not only unhappy with the immigration politics within the EU, they are becoming more EU skeptical in general.

The political parties critical of the European Union – like the UK independence party in Great Britain, the Finns Party (formerly the True Finns) in Finland, the Lega Nord in Italy, the FPÖ in Austria, the AfD in Germany, the French Front Nationale, the Golden Dawn in Greece, and the Party of Freedom in the Netherlands – are gaining popularity. Of course, the reasons for and the scope of their EU criticism vary a lot.

I think this trend can be summed up as follows: the people want to have a voice and be able to decide their own fate! Pretty much everybody in the EU is unhappy about one issue or another. The Southern European countries are unable to cope with the austerity measures, and on the other hand you have a large part of the German population that is simply unwilling to continue financing the complete EU.  I believe this trend will gain momentum, and it will bring some surprises in the elections to the European Parliament in May 2014.
Europe has so many different cultures that centralization just doesn’t work, because there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to most issues. The euro is a perfect example of this!

WMA: That's an important point on the euro. With the continued rise of anti-euro sentiment, what is your outlook for the currency? Will the euro survive?

Dirk: I don’t know. There are different scenarios that I can imagine for the euro: strong countries leaving the Eurozone, unwilling to pay for a bottomless pit of EU debt; weak countries leaving the Eurozone in order to be able to devalue their currencies and regain competiveness; or a split into a strong northern euro and a weaker southern euro. Or some combination of these. As you can see, there are many possibilities, and what we will see depends on economic and political developments in European countries over the next several years. In my view, something will happen and we won’t have the same euro in five years time that we have today.

WMA: The adoption of the common currency has limited how individual countries can respond to fiscal stresses. News about the euro debt crisis has been very quiet lately. What is the situation?

Dirk: As you say, there has hardly been any news recently regarding the troubles in the EU, which does not mean that the problems are solved. They are still bubbling under the surface. With the current papering-over and continuation of indebtedness, the need to address the problems, with their inherent negative consequences for most people, has been postponed. Because of that, most of the harsh protest has faded and turned away from the streets and is canalized into the euro-skeptic political parties. And when there have been noteworthy protests, such as last November in French Brittany, media coverage was excluded.
What has changed in the last year? Absolutely nothing fundamentally! So the euro crisis will at some point reappear with all its inevitable consequences.

WMA: You mention France, so let's continue down that path. The small and mid-sized Eurozone countries – Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Greece – are essentially bankrupt as measured by GDP and in receivership by Brussels. Today, there is growing speculation that France, too, is headed for trouble soon. What do you think?

Dirk: I totally agree! They have too much debt, a radical socialist government, and absurd, business-unfriendly regulation. I have several friends who are business owners in France, and they are all contemplating leaving the country and moving their businesses abroad.  The quantity of regulation they have to comply with simply cannot be handled by a normal business, and the labor laws are so strict that no business owner in their right mind wants to take on the risk of employing someone.

Taking into consideration the unhealthy debt levels they have, the unsustainable social programs they offer, and the complete lack of any growth impulses, I have to believe that the French are indeed headed for trouble soon. And, as the second largest economy in the EU, France matters. If France stumbles, the EU is at risk.

WMA: Drawing on your comments about strict labor laws, the unemployment numbers in many EU countries are mind-boggling. You discussed this situation in your recent article for World Money Analyst. Can you talk about this for a minute?

Dirk: As we have seen since 2008, the trillions in newly created fiat money have mainly fueled asset bubbles. However, the real economy has not profited from it, because this money has not been lent to private industry. We are still facing 30% lower money velocity than before 2008 and that means that more than 30% of credit in circulation has disappeared. This is also why the real economy is still going down the drain.

Most jobs have been created within the government or government related entities; and as we all know, these jobs are paid for by the taxpayers and are not a source of production. Therefore, I personally believe the situation in the labor market will further deteriorate, especially among the young generation, below 25; they are going to suffer the most. The current youth unemployment rates in Spain and Italy are just shocking: 58% and 42%, respectively. We are losing a whole generation, and we cannot predict how drastically the damage we are doing to them will play out in the future.

WMA: High and sustained rates of joblessness can lead to frustration and anger by the unemployed that turns to civil unrest and protests. We've seen riots in several EU countries, including France, Greece, and Bosnia. Is that also a real danger for the stronger European countries?

Dirk: Yes, this is a real danger. As soon as the deterioration of people's personal economic situations reaches a certain level they will be on the streets, and that includes the streets of the stronger countries. At the moment, most people still believe that all the debt and all the rescue programs come for free.

WMA: What does this all mean for the outlook for European stocks and bonds?

Dirk: That you have to watch closely what the European Central Bank and governments do. It’s a tricky situation – you don’t want to miss any upside rallies in equities and bonds induced by loose monetary policies. Yet, on the other hand you know the party could end at any time. Risk management is essential.  The day of reckoning can be postponed by governments and central banks much further – as we know from the US and Japan – than common sense would allow for.

WMA: In your opinion, what European countries have the best economic outlook?

Dirk: The countries that have been strong in the past, with competitive industries and with sound current-account and budget balances. Countries like Germany, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. And Switzerland.

WMA: As you mentioned above, in May 2014 there will be the EU Parliament election. Will that change anything?

Dirk: The potential increase of parliamentarians that are critical of Europe I mentioned before could intensify tensions within the EU and complicate the functioning of the EU system. But I don’t expect a quick change.

WMA: We must talk about the un-loved Swiss franc. Since Switzerland began intervention in the currency markets to halt the rise of the franc against the euro, the mainstream consensus has it that the franc is doomed. But the performance of the franc against other currencies, in particular the US dollar, has been very strong. What's your take on the Swiss franc going forward?

Dirk: It’s hard to say. In a euro crisis I would expect the Swiss National Bank [the central bank] to remove the floor to the euro. In such a situation the power of the SNB to keep the floor would be simply too small, I think. There are also attempts in Switzerland to once again constitutionally back the Swiss franc by gold. We’ll have to see. The Swiss franc, to me, still belongs to the upper class of paper currencies.

WMA: Do you have any last thoughts for our readers?

Dirk: Globally, we have entered a time when substantial corrections of past misadventures are likely to occur. It’s not the end of the world, but it's worth being prepared.

WMA: I really appreciate your insights on the European markets. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us today.

Dirk: The pleasure was mine.

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Catch our replay of our wildly popular webinar "Being the Architect of the Big Trade"


Thursday, February 27, 2014

Doug Casey: “There’s Going to be a Bubble in Gold Stocks”

By Doug Casey


The following video is an excerpt from "Upturn Millionaires—How to Play the Turning Tides in the Precious Metals Market." In it, natural resource legends Doug Casey and Rick Rule discuss the deeply undervalued junior mining sector and the rare opportunity for spectacular returns it offers investors right now.


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Discover for yourself how to make life changing gains in the new bull run in junior mining stocks. They still trade at deep discounts, but not for much longer.


To learn more, watch the full "Upturn Millionaires" video here.




This may be your last time to catch the replay...."Being the Architect of the Big Trade"


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Buffett’s annual letter: What you can learn from my real estate investments



It does not hurt to be reminded once in a while about what it means to be a “true investor,” and who better to remind us than Warren Buffett? Today’s Outside the Box comes to us from the pages of Fortune magazine (hat tip to my good friend Tom Romero of Capital Research Partners, who is a pretty fair investor in his own right).

Fortune seems to have had the inside scoop on Mr. Buffett’s pronouncements over the years. I still keep some old Fortune magazines with interviews of Mr. Buffett to remind myself about the basics. For whatever reason I was up at 5 o’clock this morning and began reading this piece, and it functioned just as well as coffee as a wake up call.

Warren starts off by telling us the stories of two relatively minor real estate investments he made, one in the ’80s and the other in the ’90s, but where he’s going is straight to the heart of some fundamental investing principles.

Most of us get all wrapped up, from time to time, in the daily or weekly movements of our investments; but Warren wants us to remember that “Games are won by players who focus on the playing field – not by those whose eyes are glued to the scoreboard. If you can enjoy Saturdays and Sundays without looking at stock prices, give it a try on weekdays.”

Easier said than done; but he’s right, of course. Now, it’s certainly OK dwell at length on the macroeconomic big picture, right? I mean, that’s half my fun most days! No, says Warren,

Forming macro opinions or listening to the macro or market predictions of others is a waste of time. Indeed, it is dangerous because it may blur your vision of the facts that are truly important. (When I hear TV commentators glibly opine on what the market will do next, I am reminded of Mickey Mantle's scathing comment: “You don't know how easy this game is until you get into that broadcasting booth.”)

So Warren wants our feet planted squarely on the field of play; he doesn’t want us up in the stands or, heaven forbid, watching the game on TV. And forget reading some commentator’s analysis of yesterday’s game or his take on the rest of the season!

Well, OK. So if this is the last Outside the Box or Thoughts from the Frontline you ever read, at least I got you this far, right?

But read on, and be sure not to miss Warren’s very pithy (and timely!) quotation from the late Barton Biggs.
And let me point out that when Warren suggests a future portfolio of 90% S&P index funds, he is talking about very, very long-term portfolio design and not something that retirees who need income or have a shorter-term focus (less than multiple decades) should be thinking about.

And to be fair, Buffet’s process of choosing which investments to put into his portfolio would not allow him to end up with very many components of the S&P 500. So I don’t share his bias against active management, though I have to agree that most of what passes for active management is problematic. But there is a lot we need to remember and ponder in Buffett’s Benjamin Graham old-style value investing.

I have never met the man, but I would like to. I think we might have more in common than some readers would imagine. Including hamburgers.

Today I’m flying to Los Angeles, where I will speak tonight and tomorrow for my partners at Altegris Investments. I am particularly looking forward to spending time with Jack Rivkin. I always learn a lot. Then I get on a plane to fly all the way across the country to Miami. I will be speaking for my close friend Darrell Cain at his annual conference as well as spending time with Pat Cox, who is going to come over from the West Coast of Florida. I hope to get a good part of this weekend’s letter done on the flight.

Then it’s on to Washington DC for a series of meetings. George Gilder is flying down from Boston and has offered to introduce me to a few of his friends, and I will do the same for him. We will hopefully be sitting down for a video in which we’ll discuss some mutually interesting ideas, as well as share a dinner or two where we’ll talk about a variety of policies with a few people who are perhaps in positions to do something about them.

Packing for a week in a variety of different climates is always an interesting process. And keeping up with my reading and writing and gym time and, most importantly, friend time will make for a very busy next seven days. You make sure you enjoy yourself. Now let’s see what Warren has to tell us about investing.

Your thinking a lot about portfolio strategy lately analyst,

John Mauldin, Editor

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Buffett’s annual letter: What you can learn from my real estate investments

This story is from the March 17, 2014 issue of Fortune.
February 24, 2014: 5:00 AM ET

In an exclusive excerpt from his upcoming shareholder letter, Warren Buffett looks back at a pair of real estate purchases and the lessons they offer for equity investors.
By Warren Buffett

“Investment is most intelligent when it is most businesslike.”
–Benjamin Graham, The Intelligent Investor

It is fitting to have a Ben Graham quote open this essay because I owe so much of what I know about investing to him. I will talk more about Ben a bit later, and I will even sooner talk about common stocks. But let me first tell you about two small non-stock investments that I made long ago. Though neither changed my net worth by much, they are instructive.

This tale begins in Nebraska. From 1973 to 1981, the Midwest experienced an explosion in farm prices, caused by a widespread belief that runaway inflation was coming and fueled by the lending policies of small rural banks. Then the bubble burst, bringing price declines of 50% or more that devastated both leveraged farmers and their lenders. Five times as many Iowa and Nebraska banks failed in that bubble’s aftermath as in our recent Great Recession.

In 1986, I purchased a 400 acre farm, located 50 miles north of Omaha, from the FDIC. It cost me $280,000, considerably less than what a failed bank had lent against the farm a few years earlier. I knew nothing about operating a farm. But I have a son who loves farming, and I learned from him both how many bushels of corn and soybeans the farm would produce and what the operating expenses would be. From these estimates, I calculated the normalized return from the farm to then be about 10%. I also thought it was likely that productivity would improve over time and that crop prices would move higher as well. Both expectations proved out.

I needed no unusual knowledge or intelligence to conclude that the investment had no downside and potentially had substantial upside. There would, of course, be the occasional bad crop, and prices would sometimes disappoint. But so what? There would be some unusually good years as well, and I would never be under any pressure to sell the property. Now, 28 years later, the farm has tripled its earnings and is worth five times or more what I paid. I still know nothing about farming and recently made just my second visit to the farm.

In 1993, I made another small investment. Larry Silverstein, Salomon’s landlord when I was the company’s CEO, told me about a New York retail property adjacent to New York University that the Resolution Trust Corp. was selling. Again, a bubble had popped – this one involving commercial real estate – and the RTC had been created to dispose of the assets of failed savings institutions whose optimistic lending practices had fueled the folly.

Here, too, the analysis was simple. As had been the case with the farm, the unleveraged current yield from the property was about 10%. But the property had been undermanaged by the RTC, and its income would increase when several vacant stores were leased. Even more important, the largest tenant – who occupied around 20% of the project’s space – was paying rent of about $5 per foot, whereas other tenants averaged $70. The expiration of this bargain lease in nine years was certain to provide a major boost to earnings. The property’s location was also superb: NYU wasn’t going anywhere.

I joined a small group – including Larry and my friend Fred Rose – in purchasing the building. Fred was an experienced, high-grade real estate investor who, with his family, would manage the property. And manage it they did. As old leases expired, earnings tripled. Annual distributions now exceed 35% of our initial equity investment. Moreover, our original mortgage was refinanced in 1996 and again in 1999, moves that allowed several special distributions totaling more than 150% of what we had invested. I’ve yet to view the property.
Income from both the farm and the NYU real estate will probably increase in decades to come. Though the gains won’t be dramatic, the two investments will be solid and satisfactory holdings for my lifetime and, subsequently, for my children and grandchildren.

I tell these tales to illustrate certain fundamentals of investing:

•You don’t need to be an expert in order to achieve satisfactory investment returns. But if you aren’t, you must recognize your limitations and follow a course certain to work reasonably well. Keep things simple and don’t swing for the fences. When promised quick profits, respond with a quick “no.”

•Focus on the future productivity of the asset you are considering. If you don’t feel comfortable making a rough estimate of the asset’s future earnings, just forget it and move on. No one has the ability to evaluate every investment possibility. But omniscience isn’t necessary; you only need to understand the actions you undertake.

•If you instead focus on the prospective price change of a contemplated purchase, you are speculating. There is nothing improper about that. I know, however, that I am unable to speculate successfully, and I am skeptical of those who claim sustained success at doing so. Half of all coin-flippers will win their first toss; none of those winners has an expectation of profit if he continues to play the game. And the fact that a given asset has appreciated in the recent past is never a reason to buy it.

•With my two small investments, I thought only of what the properties would produce and cared not at all about their daily valuations. Games are won by players who focus on the playing field – not by those whose eyes are glued to the scoreboard. If you can enjoy Saturdays and Sundays without looking at stock prices, give it a try on weekdays.

•Forming macro opinions or listening to the macro or market predictions of others is a waste of time. Indeed, it is dangerous because it may blur your vision of the facts that are truly important. (When I hear TV commentators glibly opine on what the market will do next, I am reminded of Mickey Mantle’s scathing comment: “You don’t know how easy this game is until you get into that broadcasting booth.”)

My two purchases were made in 1986 and 1993. What the economy, interest rates, or the stock market might do in the years immediately following – 1987 and 1994 – was of no importance to me in determining the success of those investments. I can’t remember what the headlines or pundits were saying at the time. Whatever the chatter, corn would keep growing in Nebraska and students would flock to NYU.
There is one major difference between my two small investments and an investment in stocks. Stocks provide you minute-to-minute valuations for your holdings, whereas I have yet to see a quotation for either my farm or the New York real estate.

It should be an enormous advantage for investors in stocks to have those wildly fluctuating valuations placed on their holdings – and for some investors, it is. After all, if a moody fellow with a farm bordering my property yelled out a price every day to me at which he would either buy my farm or sell me his – and those prices varied widely over short periods of time depending on his mental state – how in the world could I be other than benefited by his erratic behavior? If his daily shout-out was ridiculously low, and I had some spare cash, I would buy his farm. If the number he yelled was absurdly high, I could either sell to him or just go on farming.

Owners of stocks, however, too often let the capricious and irrational behavior of their fellow owners cause them to behave irrationally as well. Because there is so much chatter about markets, the economy, interest rates, price behavior of stocks, etc., some investors believe it is important to listen to pundits – and, worse yet, important to consider acting upon their comments.

Those people who can sit quietly for decades when they own a farm or apartment house too often become frenetic when they are exposed to a stream of stock quotations and accompanying commentators delivering an implied message of “Don’t just sit there – do something.” For these investors, liquidity is transformed from the unqualified benefit it should be to a curse.

A “flash crash” or some other extreme market fluctuation can’t hurt an investor any more than an erratic and mouthy neighbor can hurt my farm investment. Indeed, tumbling markets can be helpful to the true investor if he has cash available when prices get far out of line with values. A climate of fear is your friend when investing; a euphoric world is your enemy.

During the extraordinary financial panic that occurred late in 2008, I never gave a thought to selling my farm or New York real estate, even though a severe recession was clearly brewing. And if I had owned 100% of a solid business with good long-term prospects, it would have been foolish for me to even consider dumping it. So why would I have sold my stocks that were small participations in wonderful businesses? True, any one of them might eventually disappoint, but as a group they were certain to do well. Could anyone really believe the earth was going to swallow up the incredible productive assets and unlimited human ingenuity existing in America?

When Charlie Munger and I buy stocks – which we think of as small portions of businesses – our analysis is very similar to that which we use in buying entire businesses. We first have to decide whether we can sensibly estimate an earnings range for five years out or more. If the answer is yes, we will buy the stock (or business) if it sells at a reasonable price in relation to the bottom boundary of our estimate. If, however, we lack the ability to estimate future earnings – which is usually the case – we simply move on to other prospects. In the 54 years we have worked together, we have never forgone an attractive purchase because of the macro or political environment, or the views of other people. In fact, these subjects never come up when we make decision.

It’s vital, however, that we recognize the perimeter of our “circle of competence” and stay well inside of it. Even then, we will make some mistakes, both with stocks and businesses. But they will not be the disasters that occur, for example, when a long-rising market induces purchases that are based on anticipated price behavior and a desire to be where the action is.

Most investors, of course, have not made the study of business prospects a priority in their lives. If wise, they will conclude that they do not know enough about specific businesses to predict their future earning power.
I have good news for these nonprofessionals: The typical investor doesn’t need this skill. In aggregate, American business has done wonderfully over time and will continue to do so (though, most assuredly, in unpredictable fits and starts). In the 20th century, the Dow Jones industrial index advanced from 66 to 11,497, paying a rising stream of dividends to boot. The 21st century will witness further gains, almost certain to be substantial. The goal of the nonprofessional should not be to pick winners – neither he nor his “helpers” can do that – but should rather be to own a cross section of businesses that in aggregate are bound to do well. A low-cost S&P 500 index fund will achieve this goal.

That’s the “what” of investing for the nonprofessional. The “when” is also important. The main danger is that the timid or beginning investor will enter the market at a time of extreme exuberance and then become disillusioned when paper losses occur. (Remember the late Barton Biggs’s observation: “A bull market is like sex. It feels best just before it ends.”) The antidote to that kind of mistiming is for an investor to accumulate shares over a long period and never sell when the news is bad and stocks are well off their highs. Following those rules, the “know-nothing” investor who both diversifies and keeps his costs minimal is virtually certain to get satisfactory results. Indeed, the unsophisticated investor who is realistic about his shortcomings is likely to obtain better long-term results than the knowledgeable professional who is blind to even a single weakness.

If “investors” frenetically bought and sold farmland to one another, neither the yields nor the prices of their crops would be increased. The only consequence of such behavior would be decreases in the overall earnings realized by the farm-owning population because of the substantial costs it would incur as it sought advice and switched properties.

Nevertheless, both individuals and institutions will constantly be urged to be active by those who profit from giving advice or effecting transactions. The resulting frictional costs can be huge and, for investors in aggregate, devoid of benefit. So ignore the chatter, keep your costs minimal, and invest in stocks as you would in a farm.

My money, I should add, is where my mouth is: What I advise here is essentially identical to certain instructions I’ve laid out in my will. One bequest provides that cash will be delivered to a trustee for my wife’s benefit. (I have to use cash for individual bequests, because all of my Berkshire Hathaway (BRKA) shares will be fully distributed to certain philanthropic organizations over the 10 years following the closing of my estate.) My advice to the trustee could not be more simple: Put 10% of the cash in short term government bonds and 90% in a very low-cost S&P 500 index fund. (I suggest Vanguard’s. (VFINX)) I believe the trust’s long term results from this policy will be superior to those attained by most investors – whether pension funds, institutions, or individuals – who employ high-fee managers.

And now back to Ben Graham. I learned most of the thoughts in this investment discussion from Ben’s book The Intelligent Investor, which I bought in 1949. My financial life changed with that purchase.

Before reading Ben’s book, I had wandered around the investing landscape, devouring everything written on the subject. Much of what I read fascinated me: I tried my hand at charting and at using market indicia to predict stock movements. I sat in brokerage offices watching the tape roll by, and I listened to commentators. All of this was fun, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t getting anywhere.

In contrast, Ben’s ideas were explained logically in elegant, easy-to-understand prose (without Greek letters or complicated formulas). For me, the key points were laid out in what later editions labeled Chapters 8 and 20. These points guide my investing decisions today.

A couple of interesting sidelights about the book: Later editions included a postscript describing an unnamed investment that was a bonanza for Ben. Ben made the purchase in 1948 when he was writing the first edition and – brace yourself – the mystery company was Geico. If Ben had not recognized the special qualities of Geico when it was still in its infancy, my future and Berkshire’s would have been far different.

The 1949 edition of the book also recommended a railroad stock that was then selling for $17 and earning about $10 per share. (One of the reasons I admired Ben was that he had the guts to use current examples, leaving himself open to sneers if he stumbled.) In part, that low valuation resulted from an accounting rule of the time that required the railroad to exclude from its reported earnings the substantial retained earnings of affiliates.

The recommended stock was Northern Pacific, and its most important affiliate was Chicago, Burlington & Quincy. These railroads are now important parts of BNSF (Burlington Northern Santa Fe), which is today fully owned by Berkshire. When I read the book, Northern Pacific had a market value of about $40 million. Now its successor (having added a great many properties, to be sure) earns that amount every four days.

I can’t remember what I paid for that first copy of The Intelligent Investor. Whatever the cost, it would underscore the truth of Ben’s adage: Price is what you pay; value is what you get. Of all the investments I ever made, buying Ben’s book was the best (except for my purchase of two marriage licenses).

Warren Buffett is the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway. This essay is an edited excerpt from his annual letter to shareholders.

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Coffee - It's more then just Starbucks' Achilles' Heel

If you having been following us you know that coffee [ticker JO] has been one of our favorite trades for early 2014. Our trading partner Adam Hewison sent us this great post on coffee and it's effect on price action in Starbucks [SBUX].......

Today, I am going to be analyzing the relationship between Starbucks Corp. (NASDAQ:SBUX) and its main raw commodity, coffee beans.

Let me start off by saying that I really like Starbucks and the coffee it sells. In fact, my favorite drink at Starbucks is a Venti Coffee Frappuccino with one third the ice, blended five times. Major Challenges

Starbucks faces a major challenge, one it cannot control - the price of its major commodity, coffee.

With one of the worst droughts in history hitting Brazil's coffee belt region, it is rapidly pushing prices higher. This is no ordinary drought as it is forcing more than 140 cities in Brazil to ration water. Reports in Brazilian newspapers indicate that some neighborhoods are receiving water only every three days. This is serious, as Brazil produces most of the world's coffee.

With Coffee (NYBOT:KC.H14.E) prices at 14 month highs, there is little to suggest that this trend is going to change any time soon. It would appear as though early predictions are indicating that coffee supplies could be 5 million bags lower than consumption for the 2014–2015 season.

The other side of the coin is that there are more and more people drinking coffee. We are seeing that in developing markets such as Brazil, India, and China where they are acquiring a taste for this delicious beverage.

I'm sure that Starbucks can put pressure on the growers and the wholesalers, but that will only go so far in savings. Eventually, they're going to have to take a hit on their bottom line because of the drought in Brazil and higher raw commodity prices.

When does the consumer eventually say that cup of coffee at Starbucks is just too expensive? Will consumers, instead of having one cup every day, cut back to maybe every other day?

A Tale Of Two Charts

In the two charts below, you'll see a broad yellow column highlighting the same time frames on each chart. It shows the high period in Starbucks and a low period in coffee prices.

What Does This Company Do?

Starbucks Corporation operates as a roaster, marketer, and retailer of specialty coffee worldwide. Its stores offer coffee and tea beverages, packaged roasted whole bean and ground coffees, single serve products, juices and bottled water.




Chart Legend & Technical Picture For Starbucks (Black Numbers)

1. All Trade Triangles are red and negative
2. Yellow column shows high in stock prices and inverse in coffee price
3. Downtrend firmly in place




Chart Legend & Technical Picture For Coffee (Black Numbers)

1. All Trade Triangles are green and positive
2. Yellow column shows low in coffee prices and inverse in stock price
3. Uptrend firmly in place

To summarize, I expect the current downtrend in Starbucks to continue unless there is a dramatic reversal in coffee prices or a reversal with the Trade Triangles.

If I am correct in my analysis and these two trends continue, Starbucks could move down to the following Fibonacci support levels:

38.2% @ $67.85
50% @ $63.31
61.8% @ $58.77

I hope you found this Starbucks Corp. (NASDAQ:SBUX)/Coffee (NYBOT:KC.H14.E) comparison informative and helpful.

Adam Hewison
President, INO.com

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Appetite for Distraction

By Grant Williams


It was during the siege of Fort Sumter that the story I want to share with you takes place….

This story came to me from the pen of Jared Dillian, the very talented writer of an excellent publication called The Daily Dirtnap; and the moment I read it I knew I had to share it with my readers, because it illustrates perfectly something I have been talking to people about for years.

Readers can, and definitely should check out Jared's fantastic work HERE; and to give you a taste of Jared's enviable narrative prowess, I am going to let him tell you the story as he told it to me:

The Calhoun Mansion

Let me tell you again why I like gold and silver.
I was in Charleston two weekends ago for my mom's birthday. We did a horse and carriage ride, a historical tour, around the city. I always thought those things were cheesy, but as it turns out, the horse and carriage tours are very highly regulated, the tour guides have to pass a series of knowledge exams and then take continuing education. I kid you not! Ours had been doing it for six years, and was good.

So as we went by the Calhoun Mansion on Meeting Street, the tour guide fella starts telling us about the house. It was built by a guy named George Walton Williams, who was the richest guy in town. This was back during the Civil War. It's a 24,000 square foot mansion with 14 foot ceilings. It's just monstrous. It cost $200,000 to build — back in the 1860s! So how did Mr. George Walton Williams make his money?
Well, as you probably know, Charleston is a port city, and during the War, the Union Navy blockaded the port and then bombarded the city for weeks and months, but during this time, there were these guys who were "blockade runners" who would sneak by the navy ships, bringing necessary supplies to the city, which was under siege. Blockade runners made a lot of money — five grand a trip sometimes — but you know who made even more money? George Walton Williams did.
He financed the blockade runners.

Williams was not the only one doing this, but he was the most successful, why? Because he insisted on being paid only in gold and silver. If you know your Civil War history you also know that there was a Confederate currency, and I don't know if Mr. Williams had a particular view on the Confederate dollar, but at the conclusion of the war, the Confederate dollar collapsed, and everyone was left holding the bag — except for George Walton Williams.

Williams became like a J.P. Morgan character in the city — Charleston was the center of Southern finance, and Williams singlehandedly bailed out the Broad Street banks. He also built a pretty cool house.

Sorry to interrupt; I know you were enjoying Jared's prose, but we're just about to get to the point of this story, so I want to make sure everybody is paying close attention.

This next paragraph contains the fundamental principle of investing in gold and silver, which so few people genuinely understand — despite the multitudes of commentators expending countless thousands of words.

Hit 'em between the eyes, Jared:

So these anti gold idiots are just that, idiots, or else they have the memory of a goldfish, because currencies come and currencies go, as sure as night follows day. It is the natural order of things. And as you can see, it's not about trading gold to get rich or getting long gold or buying one by two call spreads or getting fancy, it literally is about protecting yourself in the end. It's not like Williams got rich. He just stayed rich. Everyone else got poor.

It's not like Williams got rich. He just stayed rich. Everyone else got poor.

That's it. Right there.

Thanks, Jared, I'll take it from here.

Click here to continue reading this article from Things That Make You Go Hmmm… – a free weekly newsletter by Grant Williams, a highly respected financial expert and current portfolio and strategy advisor at Vulpes Investment Management in Singapore.



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Monday, February 24, 2014

Why the Resource Supercycle Is Still Intact

By Rick Rule, Chairman and Founder, Sprott Global Resource Investments

Natural resource based industries are very capital intensive, and hence extremely cyclical. It is not unreasonable to say that as a natural resource investor, you are either contrarian or you will be a victim.

These markets are risky and volatile!


Why Cyclicality?

 

Let's talk about cyclicality first. Some of the cyclicality of these industries is a function of their being extraordinarily capital intensive. This lengthens the companies' response times to market cycles.

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Strengthening copper prices, for example, do not immediately result in increased copper production in many market cycles, because the production cycle requires new deposits to be discovered, financed, and constructed......a process that can consume a decade.

Price declines—even declines below the industry's total production costs—do not immediately cause massive production cuts. The "sunk capital" involved in discovery and construction of mining projects and attendant infrastructure (such as smelters, railways, and ports) causes the industry to produce down to, and sometimes below, their cash costs of production.

Producers often engage in a "last man standing" contest, to drive others to mothball productive assets, citing the high cost of shutdown and restart. They fail to mention their conflicts of interest as managers, whose compensation is linked to running operational mines.

Interest-rate cycles can raise or lower the cost and availability of capital, and the accompanying business cycles certainly influence demand. Given the "trapped" nature of the industry's productive assets, local political and fiscal cycles can also influence outcomes in natural-resource investments.

Today, I believe that we are still in a resource "supercycle," a long-term period of increasing commodity prices in both nominal and real terms. The market conditions of the past two years have made many observers doubt this assertion. But I believe the current cyclical decline is a normal and healthy part of the ongoing secular bull market.

Has this happened in the past?

 

The most striking analogy to the current situation occurred in the epic gold bull market in the 1970s. Many of you will recall that in that bull market, gold prices advanced from US$35 per ounce to $850 per ounce over the course of a decade. Fewer of you will recall that in the middle of that bull market, in 1975 and 1976, a cyclical decline saw the price of gold decline by 50%, from about $200 per ounce down to about $100 per ounce. It then rebounded over the next six years to $850 per ounce.

Investors who lacked the conviction to maintain their positions missed an 850% move over six short years. The current gold bull market, since its inception in 2000, has experienced eight declines of 10% or greater, and three declines—including the present one—of more than 20%.

This volatility need not threaten the investor who has the intellectual and financial resources to exploit it.

The natural-resources bull market lives…

 

The supercycle is a direct result of several factors. The most important of these is, ironically, the deep resource bear markets which lasted for almost two decades, commencing in 1982.

This period critically constrained investment in a capital-intensive industry where assets are depleted over time.

Productive capacity declined in every category; very little exploration took place; few new mines or oilfields replenished reserves; infrastructure and processing assets deteriorated. Critical human-resource capabilities suffered as well; as workers retired or got laid off, replacements were neither trained nor hired.

National oil companies (NOCs) exacerbated this decline in many nations by milking their oil and gas industries to subsidize domestic spending programs for political gain. This was done at the expense of sustaining capital investments. The worst examples are Mexico, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Indonesia, and Iran. I believe 25% of world export crude capacity may be at risk from failure of NOCs to maintain and expand their productive assets.

Demands for social contributions in the form of taxes, royalties, carried equity interests, social or infrastructure contributions, and the like have increased. Voters are not concerned that producers need real returns to recover from two decades of underinvestment or to fund capital investments to offset depletion. Today this is actively constraining investment, and hence supply.

Poor people getting richer…

 

The supercycle is also driven by globalization and the social and political liberalization of emerging and frontier markets. As people become freer, they tend to become richer.

As poor countries become less poor, their purchases tend to be very commodity centric, especially compared to Western consumers. For the 3.5 billion people at the bottom of the economic pyramid, the goods that provide the most utility are material goods and consumables, rather than the information services or "high value-added" goods.

A poor or very poor household is likely to increase its aggregate calorie consumption—both by eating more food and more energy-dense food like meat. They will likely consume more electrical power and motor fuel and upgrade their home from adobe or thatch to higher-quality building materials. As people's incomes increase in developing and frontier markets, the goods they buy are commodity-intensive, which drives up demand per capita. And we are talking billions of "capitas."

Rising incomes and savings among certain cultures in the Middle East, South Asia, and East Asia—places with a strong cultural affinity for bullion—have increased the demand for gold, silver, platinum, and palladium bullion. Bullion has been a store of value in these regions for generations, and rising incomes have generated physical bullion demand that has surprised many Western-centric analysts.

Competitive devaluation

 

The third important driver in this cycle has been the depreciation of currencies and the impact that has had on nominal pricing for resources and precious metals.

Most developed economies have consumed and borrowed at worrying levels. The United States federal government has on-balance-sheet liabilities of over $16 trillion, and off-balance-sheet liabilities estimated at around $70 trillion.

These numbers do not include state and local government liabilities, nor the likely liabilities from underfunded private pensions. Not to mention increased costs associated with more comprehensive health care and an aging population!

Many analysts are even more concerned about the debts and liabilities of other developed economies—Europe and Japan. In both places, debt-to-GDP ratios are greater than in the US. Europe and Japan are financing themselves through a combination of artificially low interest rates and more borrowing and money printing. This drives down the value of their currencies, helping their exports.

But which nations' leaders will stand firm and allow their export industries to wither as their domestic producers suffer from cheap competing foreign goods? If Japan's Abe is successful at increasing his country's exports at the expense of its competitors like Taiwan, Korea, or China, then his policies could lead to competitive devaluation. And how will the European community react, for that matter?

Loss of purchasing power in fiat currencies increases the nominal pricing of commodities and drives demand for bullion as a preferred savings vehicle.

The factors that have driven this resource supercycle have not changed. Demand is increasing. Supplies are constrained. Currencies are weakening. Thus I believe we remain in a secular bull market for natural resources and precious metals.

With that in mind, I would call the current market for bullion and resource equities a sale.

Where to invest?

 

Let's talk about a type of company most of us follow: mineral exploration companies, or "juniors." We often confuse the minerals exploration business with an asset-based business. I would argue that is a mistake.

Entities that explore for minerals are actually more similar to "the research and development" space of the mining industry. They are knowledge based businesses.

When I was in university, I learned that one in 3,000 "mineralized anomalies" (exploration targets) ended up becoming a mine. I doubt those odds have improved much in 40 years. So investors take a 1-in-3,000 chance in order to receive a 10-to-1 return.

These are not good odds. But understanding the industry improves them substantially.

Exploration companies are similar to outsourcing companies. Major mining companies today conduct relatively little exploration. Their competitive advantage lies in scale, financial stability, and engineering and construction expertise. Similar to how big companies in other sectors outsource certain tasks to smaller, more specialized shops, the big miners let the juniors take on exploration risk and reward the successful ones via acquisitions.

Major companies are punished rather than rewarded for exploration activities in the short term. Majors therefore tend to focus on the acquisition of successful juniors as a growth strategy.

Today, the junior model is broken. Many public exploration companies spend a majority of their capital on general and administrative expenses, including fundraising. Overlay a hefty administrative load on an activity with a slim probability of success, and these challenges become even more severe.

One response from the exploration and financial community has been to put less emphasis on exploration success and focus instead on "market success." In this model, rather than "turning rocks into money," the process becomes "turning rocks into paper, and paper into money."

One manifestation of that is the juniors' habit of recycling exploration targets that have failed repeatedly in the past but can be counted on to yield decent confirmation holes, and the tendency to acquire hyper-marginal deposits and promote the value of resources underground without mentioning the cost of actually extracting them.

The industry has been quite successful, during bull markets, at causing "sophisticated" investors to focus on exciting but meaningless criteria.

Being successful in natural resource investing requires you to make choices. If your broker convinces you to buy the sector as a whole, they will have lived up to their moniker—you will become "broker" and "broker."
We have already said that exploration is a knowledge-based business. The truth is that a small number of people involved in the sector generate the overwhelming majority of the successes. This realization is key to improving our odds of success.

"Pareto's law" is the social scientists' term for the so-called "80-20 rule," which holds that 80% of the work is accomplished by 20% of the participants.

A substantial body of evidence exists that it is roughly true across a variety of disciplines. In a large enough sample, this remains true within that top 20%—meaning 20% of the top 20%, or 4% of the population, contributes in excess of 60% of the utility.

The key as investors is to judge management teams by their past success. I believe this is usually much more relevant than their current exploration project.

It is important as well that their past successes are directly relevant to the task at hand. A mining entrepreneur might have past success operating a gold mine in French speaking Quebec. Very impressive, except that this same promoter now proposes to explore for copper, in young volcanic rocks, in Peru!

In my experience, more than half of the management teams you interview will have no history of success that shows that they are apt at executing their current project.

Management must be able to identify the most important unanswered question that can make or break the project. They must be able to say how that question or thesis was identified, explain the process by which the question will be answered, the time required to answer the question, how much money it will take. They also need to know how to recognize when they have answered the question. Many of the management teams you interview will be unable to address this sequence of questions, and therefore will have a very difficult time adding value.

The resource sector is capital intensive and highly cyclical, and we expect that the current pullback is a cyclical decline from an overheated bull market. The fundamental reasons to own natural resource and precious metals have not changed. Warren Buffett says, "Be brave when others are afraid, be afraid when others are brave." We are still "gold bugs." And even "gold bulls."

Rick Rule is the chairman and founder of Sprott Global Resource Investments Ltd., a full-service brokerage firm located in Carlsbad, CA. He has dedicated his entire adult life to different aspects of natural-resource investing and has a worldwide network of contacts in the natural-resource and finance worlds.

Watch Rick and an all-star cast of natural-resource and investment experts—including Frank Giustra, Doug Casey, John Mauldin, and Ross Beaty—in the must-see video "Upturn Millionaires," and discover how to play the turning tides in junior mining stocks, for potentially life changing gains. Click here to watch.

The article Why the Resource Supercycle Is Still Intact was originally published at Casey Research.com.


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Sunday, February 23, 2014

You asked for it.....another LIVE Clinic with John Carter

Last week our trading partner John Carter put on a free live clinic looking at how he makes his "big trades".


Replay and 2nd LIVE Clinic HERE


That produced a TON of questions. So after answering about 200 emails he told us......

"I'm just going to do another clinic for everyone, too many examples and points that will really help people trade."

So that's what he's doing Tuesday the 25th at 8 p.m. eastern time.


Get your seat & watch replay of 1st clinic HERE


We'll see you on Tuesday!


Get ready for John's Clinic by watching one of his recent videos


Master Limited Partnerships Generate Safe Income for Seniors and Savers

By Dennis Miller

It's time to answer the "who, what, when, where, and why" of investing in master limited partnerships (MLPs)…....


Andrey Dashkov, senior research analyst at Miller’s Money Forever, is the rare person who, when you asked for a hammer comes back with a hammer, nails, staples, and glue. In short, he often comes up with better solutions to tricky problems than I ever thought possible.

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Since Andrey and I are on a nonstop mission to unearth the best opportunities for generating safe income, we have looked to MLPs more than once. Many Business Development Companies (BDCs) and Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) also fit the bill. Today, however, we are focusing exclusively on how MLPs can produce a healthy and steady income without exposing your nest egg to unwelcome risks.


The Nuts and Bolts of MLPs

 

By Andrey Dashkov
An MLP is an entity structured as a limited partnership instead of the traditional C-corporation. This allows the company to avoid corporate-level taxes. The limited partners pay most of the taxes, which means that MLPs are essentially pass-through entities.

In the United States, the net effective rate of corporate income tax is 40%. That means a corporation calculates its profit, pays the appropriate income tax to the government, and then pays dividends from what remains. With an MLP all the profits are passed through to the unit holders.

While a traditional corporation can choose to pay a dividend, an MLP does not have that option. In order to maintain their status, MLPs are required to generate at least 90% of their income from qualifying sources and distribute the major portion of that income. In most cases these sources include activities related to the production, processing, and distribution of energy commodities, including gas, oil, and coal.

The government gives a special treatment to these activities to encourage investment into the United States' energy infrastructure.

Limited partners (LPs) own the company together with a general partner (GP). The GP takes care of the day-to-day operations, typically holds a 2% stake, and can usually receive incentive distribution rights (IDRs). LPs, called unit holders, (which we can become by buying shares of publicly traded MLPs) receive dividend-like cash distributions. LPs, unlike traditional shareholders, do not have voting rights.
There are many advantages to MLPs, including:
  • Attractive yields;
  • Inflation protection;
  • Portfolio diversification;
  • Tax advantages; and
  • Resilient business model.
 

Attractive Yields

 

MLPs pay various yields that average 5-10%. Data for the Alerian Index, which tracks the top 50 MLPs, show that in Q2 2013 MLP yields varied from 3-12%, with an average of 6.5%.Besides the actual yield, MLP investors can count on distribution growth. Dividends per share of Alerian Index constituents grew at a compounded rate of 4.1% over the past five years.

Inflation Protection

 

Several factors hedge against inflation:
  • Inflation-adjusted contracts renewed periodically;
  • Distribution growth has historically outpaced the growth in CPI; and
  • MLP unit (share) prices are weakly correlated with movements in inflation and interest rates.

 

Portfolio Diversification

 

MLPs have a low correlation to other asset classes, including equity, debt, and commodities. However, for a short time they may correlate with any asset class or the market in general.

MLPs are less volatile than the broad market. Currently at 0.5, the average beta of Alerian Index, is quite conservative. This suggests that if the broad market goes down by 10%, we should expect the Alerian Index to drop by 5%. An individual company's volatility may stray from the average, but in general MLPs should be much less volatile than the market as a whole.

Generally, the vast majority of MLPs operate in the energy sector, but usually do not own the underlying commodities; this is part of the reason for the decreased volatility. Their income generally consists of transportation fees. However, some MLPs can be exposed to commodity risk (coal, propane, and oil exploration and production MLPs, among others). Economy-wide consequences of a severe recession may impact the demand for energy commodities and, in turn, the profitability of transportation companies.

Tax Advantages

 

An MLP investor typically receives a tax shield of 80-90% of one's annual cash distributions, which is a very nice feature. This defers tax payments until the unit (your share) is sold.

The tax payment schedule for an MLP is illustrated below. Assume you bought one unit of an MLP for $20 and sold it after five years for $22, having received $2 annually in years 1-5. Assuming your ordinary income tax is 35%, and the long-term (LT) capital gains are taxed at 15%, you can see the breakdown.

Year 0 Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4 Year 5
Purchase price $20.00
Distribution per unit $2.00 $2.00 $2.00 $2.00 $2.00
Income per unit $2.00 $2.00 $2.00 $2.00 $2.00
Depeciation expense $1.60 $1.60 $1.60 $1.60 $1.60
Cost basis $20.00 $18.40 $16.80 $15.20 $13.60 $12.00
Sale price $22.00
Taxes:
Earnings per unit
$0.40 $0.40 $0.40 $0.40 $0.40
Depreciation recapture
$8.00
Amount subject to ordinary tax rates $0.40 $0.40 $0.40 $0.40 $8.40
Ordinary tax rates
35% 35% 35% 35% 35%
Taxes owed at ordinary rates 0.14 0.14 0.14 0.14 2.94
Amount subject to LT capital gains $2.00
LT capital gains rate
15%
Taxes owed at ordinary rates $0.30
Total taxes owed $0.14 $0.14 $0.14 $0.14 $3.24
Source: Credit Suisse


Resilient Business Model



During periods of economic uncertainty, MLPs remain a solid source of income. In 2008-2009, 78% of all energy MLPs either maintained or increased their distributions. In comparison, 85% of real estate investment trusts (REITs) either cut or suspended dividend payments.


Now, a note of caution is in order. Despite the excellent income track record, MLP share prices stumbled as they became more correlated to the general market. However, the investors who held them through the difficult times saw the share price rise again. MLPs returned to January 2008 levels in early 2010; the S&P 500 did not do the same until 2013.

The same plunge could happen again if a severe economic crisis hits. As we said, MLPs may move with a falling market. The fact that more investors are aware of MLPs now than a decade or two ago adds to this risk. As investors have searched for yield, MLPs have become more mainstream; however, they are by no means your average S&P 500 stock.

Also, there are two immediately positive outcomes to the higher investor awareness of MLPs: higher liquidity and access to more capital. In the Money Forever portfolio we look for the best and safest available and then protect our downside with protective stop losses.

Principal Risk Areas

 

With any investment offering a reward, there is a corresponding risk. Here are the key risks of MLPs.
Risk #1: Economic downturns. If the US economy is hit by a severe economic crisis that drives the demand for energy products down, MLPs will take a blow. Like a trucking business that transports products for which the demand is going down, if less product is shipped through a pipeline owned by an MLP, their revenue may decrease.

This, however, is where some investors may get confused. If a pipeline MLP has a contract with an energy company, the price of the transported product may increase or decrease, but at the same time, the MLP may have a fixed-fee arrangement with the energy company. So, if the volume flowing through the pipeline remains steady, its revenue should not fluctuate.

Risk #2: Access to capital and interest rates. As a general rule, MLPs return 100% of their distributable cash flow (DCF), less a reserve determined by the general partner, to the unit holders. Unlike real estate investment trusts that must give away a certain share of their cash flow every quarter, MLP distributions are governed by individual partnership agreements, so the terms vary.

However, the majority of cash an MLP earns will be distributed, so it's only natural that they turn to issuing debt or equity to finance growth projects. When their interest costs rise MLPs that need capital right away will be at a disadvantage. We prefer companies with enough internally generated capital to finance growth, and no major ongoing projects that require billion dollar loans and thereby run the risk of being underfunded or funded at an unfavorable interest rate. We also prefer companies with fixed rate debt to floating rate.

Risk #3: Management and execution. Management should have a track record of successful investment in new assets and cash generation to finance distributions.

We also look for companies that have 5 to 10 year capital plans as part of the write up, and a history of following those plans. They tend to fare better when it comes to keeping capital costs under control.

Risk #4: Sustainability of cash distributions. The above three risks boil down to whether or not an MLP will be able to churn out cash for its unit holders. The distributions should be sustainable, and should grow year after year. The primary reason for buying an MLP is income. We need to make sure the cash keeps coming in.

A company's track record of cash payments is a good, but not perfect, indicator of how it will perform in the future. Variable-rate distributions tend to, well, vary more significantly than those of traditional MLPs.

Distributions in the midstream sector tend to be more predictable; natural gas pipelines and storage generate the most stable cash flows while refining/upstream MLPs do so to a lesser extent. We carefully consider these factors when evaluating our investment options.

The "Taper" Factor

 

When Ben Bernanke uttered the word "taper" on June 19, the markets jittered. Even the traditionally defensive sectors such as utilities took a hit.



MLPs were not immune to the potential implications of the Fed easing up on its bond-purchase program which many believe is helping the US economy. The market panicked, and MLPs dropped in price. Readers will note the index dropped in the middle of 2013. The drop was less steep than those in either the broad market or the utilities sector and MLPs rebounded—in less than a week, while it took approximately three weeks for both the S&P 500 and XLU to get back to their June 18 levels.

When evaluating a potential candidate, a prudent investor will see how they have performed during times of market volatility. Sometimes trading a bit of yield for much less volatility is a smart move.

The IRA Caveat

 

We do not recommend putting MLPs in an IRA account. By placing an MLP in a tax-deferred account, you may lose part of the tax advantage the MLP structure provides. In an IRA account, unrelated business taxable income (UBTI) of over $1,000 is subject to federal income tax. If you earn more than $1,000 annually from an MLP's cash distributions and other sources of UBTI, the excess will be taxable. This becomes more likely over time, since most MLPs increase their cash distributions.

A Peek Behind the Curtain

 

In summary, an MLP gives us a couple of advantages from a tax perspective. There is more money to pay out in dividends. Unlike a traditional corporate dividend, which is paid after a corporation pays income taxes, MLPs do not pay corporate income taxes. An MLP's income is taxed only once, when the dividends are received.

Initially, when you buy an MLP, only 10 to 20 percent of the MLP distribution is considered taxable income. The rest of the distribution is considered return of capital and isn't subject to tax when you receive the dividend. Basically you put off paying some taxes for the short term. When you eventually sell your MLP, the tax is adjusted so the net amount of taxes is the same. The formula is technical, but the information you receive from your broker can be given to a competent CPA and you should be fine.

You can see why MLPs have become so popular in a yield-starved environment. While they have attracted a lot of investors, there are still some great opportunities for those willing to do their homework.

Dennis and I added our favorite MLP to the Money Forever portfolio in October, and we are chomping at the bit to share it with you… But, because of the special relationship we share with our paid subscribers, you'll need to sign up to for a premium subscription at no-risk to your pocketbook to find out what it is. Subscribe to our regular monthly newsletter and take a peek at the MLP we recommended, along with our entire portfolio.

If, after 90 days, you decide it's not right for you, we'll return 100% of your money without a fuss. Click here to get started.



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