Oil has surged to open the week. If you’ve been reading our daily pieces over the past few weeks, you’ll know how important oil is for global markets at this stage. With that, strong oil today has translated into higher stocks, higher broad commodities, a slight bump higher in interest rates and better investor sentiment in general.
It was just fourteen days ago that Chesapeake Energy, one of the largest producers of oil and natural gas was rumored to be choosing the path of bankruptcy. That rumor was immediately denied by the company. And soon thereafter, the reality set in for markets that a scenario like that would conjure up post-Lehman like outcomes. Oil has since put in a bottom and bounced more than 25%. Chesapeake has now bounced 46% from the lows just the last six trading days.
It’s at extremes in markets where the biggest and best investors have historically made their money – running into risk, when everyone else is running away.
With that, today we want to take a look at a few stocks with the biggest upside, and an important “risk buffer” in what is a high risk sector at the moment (energy). This risk buffer? Each stock has the presence of a big-time billionaire investor.
Self-made billionaire energy trader Boone Pickens has said he expects oil to return to $70 this year. On his $70 prediction, he’s also said that if he misses it will be because oil is “over $70, not under $70.” If Pickens is right about oil prices, each of these stocks below have huge upside:
1) Oasis Petroleum (OAS) – Billionaire hedge fund manager John Paulson owns nearly 4% of this stock. The activist hedge fund SPO Advisory owns 14% and has been buying the stock on almost every dip. When oil was last $70, OAS was trading $25 or 500% higher than current levels.
2) Chesapeake Energy (CHK) – Billionaire investor Carl Icahn owns 11% of CHK and recently added to his position around $13. The last time oil was $70, Chesapeake was $25. That would be more than a 1000% return from its price today.
3) EXCO Resources (XCO) – Billionaire investors Wilbur Ross and Howard Marks own more than 30% of this energy stock. The last time oil was $70, EXCO was $3.30. That would be almost a 330% return from its price today.
4) Consol Energy (CNX) – Billionaire David Einhorn owns 12.9% of this stock. When oil was last $70, Consol traded for $40 or almost 500% higher than current levels.
5) Williams Companies (WMB) – Carl Icahn Protégé, Keith Meister of the activist hedge fund Corvex Management, owns $1.1 billion worth of WMB. The last time oil was $70, WMB traded for $50 – more than 300% higher than its current levels.
As we’ve said, persistently cheap oil (at these prices) has become the new “too big to fail” — it’s a systemic risk. It’s hard to imagine central banks will sit back and watch an OPEC-rigged price war put the global economy back into an ugly downward spiral. And time is the worst enemy to those vulnerable first dominoes (the energy industry and weak oil producing countries).
The best investors like to go where the biggest risks are — that’s where the biggest returns can follow. And they’ve been getting aggressive in energy and commodities.
Without question, energy stocks have been beaten up and left for dead. If indeed Chesapeake is a leading indicator that it’s all backing away from the edge, there will be big money to be made in these stocks.
We already have one of the best performing stocks in the entire stock market for the month of February in our Billionaire’s Portfolio, billionaire-owned Freeport McMoran. Click here and join us!
Stocks have roared back in the past several days. It’s been led by commodity stocks, the area that has been beaten up and left for dead. Not surprisingly, the bounce in that area has been multiples of the broader stock market bounce (which is 7% in less than a week).
As we’ve discussed in recent weeks, in the world we live in, global economic stability continues to rely on central bank influence. And, indeed, after one of the worst starts for stocks in a New Year ever, it was central bank verbal posturing to open the week that has turned the tide for global markets. On Sunday, the head of the BOJ spoke, warning that they were watching markets closely and stood ready to act, and then on Monday, the head of the European Central Bank said, effectively, the same. The result: the BOJ comments sparked a 10% rally in Japanese stocks in a matter of hours. With that lead, the S&P 500 has now rallied 7% in three days, crude oil has bounced 20%, and global interest rates are bouncing back (which, last week, were pricing in recession).
Like it or not, in a world where the economy remains structurally fragile after the global financial and economic crisis, the central banks remain in the driver’s seat and they know that promoting stability is the key to recovery and ultimately returning to sustainable economic growth. As we approach the March ECB and BOJ meetings, with weak oil prices persisting, we continue to think the central banks may outright buy oil and commodities to remove the risk of oil industry bankruptcies and the domino effect that it would spark. As an additional benefit, it would likely turn out to be a very profitable investment.
Today we want to talk about the quarterly SEC filings that came in this week. All big investors that are managing over $100 million are required to publicly disclose their holdings every quarter. They have 45 days from the end of the quarter to file that disclosure with the SEC. It’s called a form 13F. While these filings have become very popular fodder for the media, what we care more about is 13D filings. Those are disclosures these big investors have to make within 10 days of taking a controlling stake in a company. When you own 5% or more of a company’s stock, it’s considered a controlling stake. In a publicly traded company, with that sized position, you typically become the largest shareholder and, as we know, with that comes influence. Another key attribute of this 13D filing, for us, is that these investors also have to file amendments to the 13D within 10 days of making any change to their position.
By comparison, the 13F filings only offer value to the extent that there is some skilled analysis applied. Thousands of managers file 13Fs every quarter. And the difference in manager talent, strategies and portfolio sizes run the gamut.
With that caveat, there are nuggets to be found in 13Fs. Let’s talk about how to find them, and the take aways from the recent filings.
First, it’s important to understand that some of the positions in 13F filings can be as old as 135 days. Filings must be made 45 days after the previous quarter ends, which is 90 days. We only look at a tiny percentage of filings—just the investors that we know have long and proven track records, distinct approaches, and who have concentrated portfolios.
Through our research over 15 years, here’s what we’ve found to be most predictive:
Clustering in stocks and sectors by good hedge funds is bullish. Situations where good funds are doubling down on stocks is bullish. This all can provide good insight into the mindset of the biggest and best investors in the world, and can be a predictor of trends that have yet to materialize in the market’s eye.
For specialist investors (such as a technology focused hedge fund) we take note when they buy a new technology stock or double down on a technology stock. This is much more predictive than when a generalist investor, as an example, buys a technology stock.
The bigger the position relative to the size of their portfolio, the better. Concentrated positions show conviction. Conviction tends to result in a higher probability of success. Again, in most cases, we will see these first in the 13D filings.
New positions that are of large, but under 5%, are worthy of putting on the watch list. These positions can be an indicator that the investor is building a position that will soon be a “controlling stake.”
Trimming of positions is generally not predictive unless a hedge fund or billionaire cuts a position by 75% or more, or cuts below 5% (which we will see first in 13D filings). Funds also tend to trim losers into the fourth quarter for tax loss benefits, and then they buy them back early the following year.
With that in mind, we want to talk about a few things we did glean from these recent filings.
First, the old adage “buy when there is blood in the streets” was evident last quarter, as many of the top billionaire investors loaded up on stocks in the fourth quarter. That was BEFORE the further declines this year.
Top billionaire investors Paul Singer, David Tepper and Chase Coleman of Tiger Global all increased their equity exposure (buying more stocks) over the last quarter. And billionaire investors still love health care stocks. John Paulson, Bill Ackman, Dan Loeb and Larry Robbins loaded up, with Paulson putting 56% of his portfolio in health care.
Billionaires are starting to bottom fish in energy. Seth Klarman, David Tepper, Carl Icahn and Warren Buffett all either added to, or initiated new stakes in energy stocks. Tepper now has 12% of his entire equity portfolio in energy stocks! This obviously coincides well with the theme that energy and commodity stocks are starting to bottom.
Also notable, in recent weeks, the 13D filings have been coming in fast and furious as investors are taking advantage of the decline this year.
Analyzing these filings is part of our process in our Billionaire’s Portfolio. With that in mind, this week we followed one of the best billion dollar (plus) activist hedge funds into a stock where they own 12.5%, have three board seats, and are in the process of replacing the CEO. These are are three key ingredients in the success of activist campaigns: 1) a big concentrated position (12.5% stake), 2) control (board seats), and 3) change (a new CEO). This activist fund has won on 82% of its campaigns since 2002 and has a price target on this stock that’s more than 150% higher than the current share price. To join us you can subscribe to our Billionaire’s Portfolio (here).
The Fed has manufactured a recovery by promoting stability. And they’ve relied on two key asset prices to do it: stocks and housing. Today we want to look at a few charts that show how important the stock and housing market recoveries have been.
While QE and the Fed’s ultra easy policy stance couldn’t directly create demand in a world of deleveraging, it did (and has) indirectly created demand by promoting stability, which restored confidence. Without the confidence that the world will be stable, people don’t spend, borrow, lend or hire, and the economy goes into a deflationary vortex.
But by promising that they stand ready to act against any futures shocks to the economy (and financial markets), investors feel comfortable investing again (stocks go higher). When stocks go higher and the environment proves stable, employers feel more confident to hire. This all fuels demand and recovery. And, of course, the Fed has pinned down mortgage rates at record lows, which promotes a housing recovery, and gives underwater homeowners (at one point, more than a quarter of all homeowners with mortgages) a since that paper losses will at some point be overcome, and that gives them the confidence to spend money again, rather sit on it.
Along the path of the economic recovery, the Fed (and other key central banks) has been very sensitive to declines in stocks. Why? Because declining stocks has the ability to undo what they’ve done. And if confidence breaks again, it will be far harder to restore it.
The first chart here is the S&P 500. Stocks bottomed in March of 2009, when the Fed announced a $1 trillion QE program.
Stocks surpassed the pre-crisis highs in 2013 after six years in the hole. But even after the dramatic rise you can see in the chart the damage from the crisis is far from restored. If we applied the long term annual rate of growth of the S&P 500 (8%) to the pre-crisis highs, the S&P 500 should be closer to 3,150 (over 60% higher).
How does housing look? Of course, bursting of the housing bubble was the pin that pricked the global credit bubble. Housing prices in the U.S. have been in recovery mode since 2012. Still, housing has a ways to go. This is a very important component for the Fed, for sustainable recovery.
While bloated government debt continues to be a big structural problem for the U.S and the rest of the world, growth goes a long way toward fixing that problem.
And growth, low interest rates, higher stocks and higher housing prices goes a long way toward restoring household net worth. As you can see in the chart below, we have well recovered and surpassed pre-crisis levels in household net worth…
Source: Billionaire’s Portfolio
What is the key long-term driver of economic growth overtime? Credit creation. In the next chart, you can see the sharp recovery in consumer credit since the depths of the economic crisis (in orange). This excludes mortgages. And you can see how closely GDP (economic output) tracks credit growth (the purple line).
Source: Reuters, Forbes Billionaire’s Portfolio
What about deleveraging? It took 10 years to build the global credit bubble that erupted in 2007. Based on historical credit bubbles, it typically takes about as long to de-lever. So 10-years of deleveraging would put us at year 2017. With that, it’s fair to think we could be very near the end of that period, where paying down debt has weighed on economic growth.
You can see in the chart below, the average annual growth rate of consumer credit over the past 55 years is 7.9%. And over the past five years, despite the deleveraging, consumer credit growth has been solid, just under the long term average. And importantly, FICO scores in the U.S. have reached an all-time high.
With the recent correction in stocks, there has been increased scrutiny on the economy. Some are predicting another recession ahead. Others are waving the red flag anywhere they find soft economic data. Consumption makes up more than 2/3 of the U.S. economy. And you can see from the charts above, the consumer is in a solid position. But stocks and housing remain key drivers of the recovery. The Fed is well aware of that. With that, don’t expect the Fed, in the current economic environment, to do anything to alter the health of the housing and stock markets.
This week, in our BillionairesPortfolio.com, we followed one of the best billion dollar (plus) activist hedge funds into a stock where they own 12.5%, have three board seats, and are in the process of replacing the CEO. These are are three key ingredients in the success of activist campaigns: 1) a big concentrated position (12.5% stake), 2) control (board seats), and 3) change (a new CEO). This activist fund has won on 82% of its campaigns since 2002 and has a price target on this stock that’s more than 150% higher than the current share price. To join us you can subscribe to our Billionaire’s Portfolio (here).
The word China is often thrown around to explain why markets are in turmoil. China doing well was a threat to western civilization. China doing poorly is now a threat to Western civilization.
Which one is true?
First, a bit of background. Over the past twenty years, China’s economy has grown more than fourteen-fold! … to $10 trillion. It’s now the second largest economy in the world.
During the same period, the U.S. economy has grown 2.5x in size.
So how did China achieve such an ascent and position in the global economy? One word: Currency.
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For a decade, China maintained a fixed exchange rate policy — the yuan was pegged against the dollar. One U.S. dollar bought 8.27 yuan. This allowed China to undercut the rest of the world, churning out cheap commoditized goods, competing on one thing: Price.
But in 2005, China changed its currency policy. It abandoned the peg.
After political tensions rose between China and its key trading partners, namely the U.S., China adopted a “managed float.” Under this policy China agreed to let the yuan trade in a defined daily trading band, while gradually allowing it to appreciate. This was China’s way of pacifying its trading partners while maintaining complete control over its currency.
Over the next three years the Chinese yuan climbed 17 percent against the dollar, enough to ease a politically sensitive issue, but far less than the relative economic growth would warrant. In fact, China’s economy grew by 43 percent while the U.S. economy grew only 10 percent.
That timeline leads us up to the bursting of the global credit bubble. What caused it? The housing bubble can be credited to a key decision made by the government sponsored credit agencies (Fitch, Standard and Poors, Moody’s), all of which stamped AAA ratings on the mortgage bond securities that Wall Street was churning out.
With a AAA rating, massive pension funds couldn’t resist (if they wanted to keep their jobs) loading up on the superior yields these AAA securities were offering. That’s where the money came from. That’s the money that was ultimately creating the demand to give anyone with a pulse a mortgage. That mortgage was then thrown into a mix of other mortgages and the ratings agencies stamped them AAA. They rinsed and they repeated.
But where did all of the credit come from in the first place, to fuel the U.S. (and global) consumption, the stock market, jobs, investment, government spending … a lot of the drivers of the capital that contributed to the pin the pricked the global credit bubble (i.e. the U.S. housing bust)? It came from China.
China sells us goods. We give them dollars. They take our dollars and buy U.S. Treasuries, which suppresses U.S. interest rates, incentives borrowing, which fuels consumption. And the cycle continues. Here’s how it looked (and still looks):
The result: China collects and stockpiles dollars and perpetuates a cycle of booms and busts for the world.
That’s the structural imbalance in the world that led to the crisis, and that problem has yet to be solved. And the outlook, longer term, for a solution looks grim because it requires China to move to develop a more robust, and consumer led economy. That structural shift could take decades. And going from double digit growth to low single digit growth in the process is a recipe for social uprising of its billion plus people.
In the near term, the likelihood that China will fight economic weakness with a weaker currency is high. We’ve seen glimpses of it since August. And the hedge fund community is ramping up bets that it’s just starting, not ending.
Above is a look at the dollar vs the yuan chart (the line going lower represents yuan appreciation, dollar depreciation). Longer term, China’s weak currency policy is a threat to economic stability and geopolitical stability. But short term, it could be a shot in the arm for their economy and for the global economy.
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The Bank of Japan stepped in overnight and put a floor under stocks. Only 6 of 42 economists at Bloomberg thought they might do something.
We made the case over the past couple of days that they needed to. The opportunity was ripe, and we thought they would take advantage. They did.
Of course, that’s all the media is talking about today. The word “surprise” is in the headline of just about every major financial news publication on the planet with respect to this BOJ move (WSJ, Reuters, BBC, NYTimes … you name it).
Remember, we said earlier this week, the Fed was just a sideshow and the main event was in Japan. If you understand the big picture: 1) that central banks are still in control, 2) that the baton has been passed from the Fed to the BOJ and the ECB, and 3) that they (central banks) need stocks higher, then this move comes as no surprise.
Today we want talk a bit about what these central banks have done, what they are doing and why it works. We often hear the media, analysts, politicians, Fed-haters saying that QE hasn’t worked.
Okay, so QE hasn’t directly produced inflation and solved the world’s problems as the Fed might have expected when they launched it in late 2008. But it has produced a very important direct benefit and indirect benefit. The direct benefit: The Fed has been successful at driving mortgage rates lower, which has ultimately translated to rising house prices (along with a slew of other government subsidized programs). That has been good for the economy.
The indirect benefit: As Bernanke (the former Fed Chair) said explicitly, “QE tends to make stocks go up.” Stocks have gone up – a lot. That has been good for the economy.
But we need a lot more – they need a lot more. Here’s a little background on why…
The Fed has told us all along they want employment dramatically better, and inflation higher. They’ve gotten better employment. They haven’t gotten much inflation. Why? In normal economic downturns, making money easier to borrow tends to increase spending, which tends to increase demand and inflation. In a world that was nearly destroyed by overindebtedness, people (businesses, governments) are focused on reducing debt, not taking on more debt (regardless of how “easy” and cheap you make the money to access).
With that, their best hope to achieve those two targets (employment and inflation) has been through higher stocks and higher housing prices. Strength in these key assets has a way of improving confidence and improving paper wealth. Increasing wealth makes people more comfortable to spend. Better spending leads to hiring. A better job market can lead to inflationary pressures. That’s been the game plan for the Fed. And that’s the gameplan for Europe and Japan.
So how do they promote higher stock prices? They do it by promising investors that they will not let another shock event destabilize the world and global financial markets. They’ve promised that they will “stand ready to act” (the exact words uttered by the Fed, the ECB and the BOJ). So, they spent the better part of the past eight years promising to do “whatever it takes” (again exact words of the ECB and BOJ).
The biggest fear investors have is another “Lehman-like event” that can crash stocks, the job market and the economy. The thought of it makes people want to hold on tight to their money. But when the central banks promise to do anything and everything to prevent another shock, it creates stability and confidence to invest, to hire, to take some risk again. That’s good for stock prices.
Now, despite what we’ve just said, and despite the aggressive actions central banks have taken in past years (including the BOJ’s actions last night to push interest rates below zero) and their success in manufacturing confidence and recovery, when stocks fall, people are still quick to talk about recession and gloom and doom. On every dip in stocks since the culmination of the global financial crisis in 2007-2008, the comparisons have been made to that period.
First, they’re ignoring what the central banks have been telling us. “We’re here, ready to act.” Second, and again, things are very, very different than they were in 2007-2008. In that period, global credit was completely frozen. Banks were failing, and the entire financial system was on the precipice of failing. And at that point, it was unclear what could be done and what actions would be taken to try to avert disaster. That uncertainty, the thought of losing 100 years of economic and social progress across the globe, can easily send people scurrying for cash, pulling money from everywhere and protecting what they have. And that uncertainty can, understandably, result in stock prices getting cut in half – a stock market crash.
Now, what’s happening today? The financial system is healthy. Credit is flowing. Unemployment is very close to long-term historical norms. The U.S. economy is growing. The global economy is growing. The best predictor of recession historically is the yield curve. It shows virtually no chance of recession on the horizon. So the economic environment is very different. Still, the biggest difference between that period and today is this: We didn’t have any idea what could be done to avert the disaster OR how far central governments and central banks would go (and could go) to fight it. Now we know. It’s all-in, all or nothing. There is no ambiguity. With that, the central banks will not fail and cannot fail. And remember, they are working in coordination. No one wins if the world falls apart.
With all of this in mind, any decline in stocks, driven by fear and misinformation, offers a great buying opportunity, not an opportunity to run.
We’ll talk Monday about the very strong, and rational fundamental case for stocks to go much higher. On that note, today we’re wrapping up one of the worst January’s on record for stocks, which has given us a great opportunity to buy at a nice discount.