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All posts for the month October, 2008

Last Friday, gold dropped to $680/ounce before rebounding to $740/ounce. Like every other asset, gold has been hammered this year. However, this may be partially due to a strengthening of the dollar. In terms of other currencies, it’s still close to its all time highs.

I think this is a good time to buy some gold if you don’t already own some. (and if you do, then it’s a good time to add more!). People often ask what’s the best way to invest in gold.

I tell them to buy a little bit of everything. Here’s an excerpt of an email I got recently.

“I believe the gold juniors offer the best value for your paper dollar going forward,” says Ed Bugos of the violently beaten-down junior mining sector. The Canadian Venture Index, the bellwether of juniors, is down a nauseating 70% from its 2007 high.

Ed sent over a lists of what gold bugs should NOT do:

* Don’t be overly short the stock market at this stage of the collapse.
* Don’t slow down your gold buying just because the market is down. Buy a lot of gold – coins and bars. Buy as much as you can before it breaks through $1,000. Then hide it.
* Don’t buy the GLD streetTRACKS, unless you’re just trading.
* Don’t buy gold from your bank.
* Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Diversify your wealth between tangible assets, like gold, silver and platinum, or even real estate, and continue selectively accumulating bargains in the equity sphere. Diversify geographically.
* Don’t invest more than 20% of your wealth in junior miners. It is not a safe-haven panacea. The rewards are potentially high, but the risks are, too.
* Don’t keep all your wealth in gold, because the government will one day probably come for it.

I own a lot of gold and silver coins and also the Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF (GDX). Check out this link to see my favorite gold coins.

UCLA Alumni, Andrew Lahde, announced last week that after making an astounding 866% last year, he was closing down his hedge fund and returning all the money back to his investors. While it’s not certain how much money he’s made, it has been speculated that he’s worth around $30 million – pretty good for a guy who just ran a hedge fund for only 2 years!

Unlike other hedge fund managers, he doesn’t want billionaire status. He’s made enough money to afford him a lavish lifestyle and he’s quitting to enjoy it. He made one-sided bets against the sub-prime market and he made a killing. Why ruin his track-record now!

Here’s his farewell letter to his investors – it’s quite entertaining.

Today I write not to gloat. Given the pain that nearly everyone is experiencing, that would be entirely inappropriate. Nor am I writing to make further predictions, as most of my forecasts in previous letters have unfolded or are in the process of unfolding. Instead, I am writing to say goodbye.

Recently, on the front page of Section C of the Wall Street Journal, a hedge fund manager who was also closing up shop (a $300 million fund), was quoted as saying, “What I have learned about the hedge fund business is that I hate it.” I could not agree more with that statement. I was in this game for the money. The low hanging fruit, i.e. idiots whose parents paid for prep school, Yale, and then the Harvard MBA, was there for the taking. These people who were (often) truly not worthy of the education they received (or supposedly received) rose to the top of companies such as AIG, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers and all levels of our government. All of this behavior supporting the Aristocracy, only ended up making it easier for me to find people stupid enough to take the other side of my trades. God bless America.

There are far too many people for me to sincerely thank for my success. However, I do not want to sound like a Hollywood actor accepting an award. The money was reward enough. Furthermore, the endless list those deserving thanks know who they are.

I will no longer manage money for other people or institutions. I have enough of my own wealth to manage. Some people, who think they have arrived at a reasonable estimate of my net worth, might be surprised that I would call it quits with such a small war chest. That is fine; I am content with my rewards. Moreover, I will let others try to amass nine, ten or eleven figure net worths. Meanwhile, their lives suck. Appointments back to back, booked solid for the next three months, they look forward to their two week vacation in January during which they will likely be glued to their Blackberries or other such devices. What is the point? They will all be forgotten in fifty years anyway. Steve Balmer, Steven Cohen, and Larry Ellison will all be forgotten. I do not understand the legacy thing. Nearly everyone will be forgotten. Give up on leaving your mark. Throw the Blackberry away and enjoy life.

So this is it. With all due respect, I am dropping out. Please do not expect any type of reply to emails or voicemails within normal time frames or at all. Andy Springer and his company will be handling the dissolution of the fund. And don’t worry about my employees, they were always employed by Mr. Springer’s company and only one (who has been well-rewarded) will lose his job.

I have no interest in any deals in which anyone would like me to participate. I truly do not have a strong opinion about any market right now, other than to say that things will continue to get worse for some time, probably years. I am content sitting on the sidelines and waiting. After all, sitting and waiting is how we made money from the subprime debacle. I now have time to repair my health, which was destroyed by the stress I layered onto myself over the past two years, as well as my entire life — where I had to compete for spaces in universities and graduate schools, jobs and assets under management — with those who had all the advantages (rich parents) that I did not. May meritocracy be part of a new form of government, which needs to be established.

On the issue of the U.S. Government, I would like to make a modest proposal. First, I point out the obvious flaws, whereby legislation was repeatedly brought forth to Congress over the past eight years, which would have reigned in the predatory lending practices of now mostly defunct institutions. These institutions regularly filled the coffers of both parties in return for voting down all of this legislation designed to protect the common citizen. This is an outrage, yet no one seems to know or care about it. Since Thomas Jefferson and Adam Smith passed, I would argue that there has been a dearth of worthy philosophers in this country, at least ones focused on improving government. Capitalism worked for two hundred years, but times change, and systems become corrupt. George Soros, a man of staggering wealth, has stated that he would like to be remembered as a philosopher. My suggestion is that this great man start and sponsor a forum for great minds to come together to create a new system of government that truly represents the common man’s interest, while at the same time creating rewards great enough to attract the best and brightest minds to serve in government roles without having to rely on corruption to further their interests or lifestyles. This forum could be similar to the one used to create the operating system, Linux, which competes with Microsoft’s near monopoly. I believe there is an answer, but for now the system is clearly broken.

Lastly, while I still have an audience, I would like to bring attention to an alternative food and energy source. You won’t see it included in BP’s, “Feel good. We are working on sustainable solutions,” television commercials, nor is it mentioned in ADM’s similar commercials. But hemp has been used for at least 5,000 years for cloth and food, as well as just about everything that is produced from petroleum products. Hemp is not marijuana and vice versa. Hemp is the male plant and it grows like a weed, hence the slang term. The original American flag was made of hemp fiber and our Constitution was printed on paper made of hemp. It was used as recently as World War II by the U.S. Government, and then promptly made illegal after the war was won. At a time when rhetoric is flying about becoming more self-sufficient in terms of energy, why is it illegal to grow this plant in this country? Ah, the female. The evil female plant — marijuana. It gets you high, it makes you laugh, it does not produce a hangover. Unlike alcohol, it does not result in bar fights or wife beating. So, why is this innocuous plant illegal? Is it a gateway drug? No, that would be alcohol, which is so heavily advertised in this country. My only conclusion as to why it is illegal, is that Corporate America, which owns Congress, would rather sell you Paxil, Zoloft, Xanax and other additive drugs, than allow you to grow a plant in your home without some of the profits going into their coffers. This policy is ludicrous. It has surely contributed to our dependency on foreign energy sources. Our policies have other countries literally laughing at our stupidity, most notably Canada, as well as several European nations (both Eastern and Western). You would not know this by paying attention to U.S. media sources though, as they tend not to elaborate on who is laughing at the United States this week. Please people, let’s stop the rhetoric and start thinking about how we can truly become self-sufficient.

With that I say good-bye and good luck.

All the best,

Andrew Lahde

Regular readers of my blog know I’m a big fan of Ron Paul and was disappointed (though not surprised) to see he didn’t make the cut for Presidential Candidate. I am however horrified that someone who graduated near the bottom of his college class  chose an even dumber running mate. At least George Bush chose a smart running mate to counter his senility! Especially given McCain’s advanced age, the fact that Sarah Palin could actually become President is downright scary!

While you can form your opinions regarding the next President, check out this funny video/song:

While I’m no Democrat, I’d rather have a Harvard graduate running the country than a beauty pagent winner/runner-up. On another note, it’s pretty sad that Palin’s son has Down’s Syndrome. But why a pregnant 43 year woman didn’t get a prenatal test for Down Syndrome is pretty strange considering that she had a 1/35 chance [source]. (She probably wouldn’t have aborted even if she had previously known about, so I guess it’s an irrelevant question).

Addison Wiggin at Agora Financial sat down with Warren Buffett for an interview. He published that interview in his brand new book, I.O.U.S.A – One Nation. Under Stress. In Debt. On the whole, Buffett seems pretty optimistic. Here’s an excerpt:

On our national debt problems…

We’re transferring small bits of the country – ownership of the country, or IOUs – to the rest of the world. But our national pie is still growing.

We’re like a very, very, very, rich family that owns a farm the size of Texas, and we have all this output coming from the farm. Now, because we consume a little more than we produce, we’re selling bits of that farm daily, a couple billion worth. Or we’re giving a small mortgage on it which we don’t even notice, but it builds up over time.

So even though we own a little less of the farm, or we create these IOUs against it, our equity in the farm actually increases somewhat. That’s why people will benefit over time. But they won’t benefit as much as if they hadn’t given the IOUs or sold off little pieces of the farm.

On gold…

Over time, people have dug up gold from the ground in far remote areas and then they’ve shipped it thousands and thousands of miles. And they’ve put it in the ground over here and hired guards to stand over it. So the real utility of gold is not that high. It’s been something that people turn to, but it has not been a very good investment.

On China and globalization…

In 1790, there were about 4 million people in the U.S. and about 290 million in China. They were just as smart as we were. They had a climate that was about the same as ours. And yet we did enormously well over the next 217 years… as compared to China.

Now, why did we do that? Well, we had a market system, a rule of law, and equality of opportunity… and that system unleashed the potential of citizens in the United States to an extent far greater than in many countries including, up until recently, China.

About the risk of default of U.S. government bonds…

The U.S. government bond is absolutely certain to be paid. It’s just total nonsense when people talk about the U.S. going bankrupt. I mean, the U.S. government will always pay its debts. The purchasing power of the dollar you receive is likely to be less than the dollar you invested, so you have purchasing power risk… But you should not be afraid of government bonds in terms of being paid.

The unique situation in the U.S. now…

Many years ago, when we lent a lot of money to various emerging countries and were having trouble getting paid back, somebody said that they found it very hard to imagine some Philippine or Thailand worker spending a couple of extra hours every week in the hot sun merely so Citicorp could increase its dividend twice a year. At a point, people say, “To hell with it.”

It’s much easier just to inflate your way out of it. If you’re a South American or Asian country that owes money in dollars, it gets very binding to pay back in dollars. But if you owe it in your own currency, you just print more currency. And we have the ability to print currency. We can denominate debt in our own currency, whereas many countries can’t because people don’t trust them.

On government economic policies and crises…

We came fairly close to the whole system imploding in the 1930s because of economic conditions. People became very responsive to communism… When people are scared about economics, they’ll listen to whoever is the most persuasive… One thing I don’t like about the consequences of sustained large trade deficits is I think it makes the potential for demagoguery and really foolish policies more likely over time.

When you think about the history of this country, our economic policies have been pretty darn good. I mean, any country that delivers a seven-for-one increase in per capita living in a century has done an awful lot of things right. It’s never happened before in the history of mankind.

What the right policies are…

You want a system where Mike Tyson is fighting for the heavyweight championship and Jack Welch is running General Electric. But you don’t want Mike Tyson to be running General Electric and Jack Welch in the heavyweight championship. Government allocation of resources has tended, too often, to misallocate, and I think a market system does a pretty good job of allocating.

Wrapping up…

It’s been a marvelous time to be alive. It wasn’t really a whole lot better to live in the fourth century BC than the fourth century AD. But it’s been a lot better to live in the year 2007 than it was in the year 1807.

…Even those on the low end are doing far better than people on the high end were doing 100 years ago. There’re many, many things that a person earning a normal wage in this country can do and enjoy that John D. Rockefeller couldn’t do and enjoy. So a rising tide has lifted all the boats… The average American is going to live better 10 years from now, 20 years from now, and 50 years from now.

Not too long ago, the Federal Reserve could only buy Treasuries. If it injected any liquidity in to the financial markets, it was limited to reserve bank credit. Nowadays, it can give generous cash gifts to investment banks, mortgage lenders, money market funds, consumer finance companies and any other financial company it feels like bailing out.

In essence the Federal Reserve has turned into a hedge fund. It still owns some Treasuries and gold, but a lot of its assets now include agency debt, repurchase agreements from various financial companies, pieces of Bear Sterns and AIG debt, and foreign currency paper. Pretty soon, it’ll include actual mortgages and consumer debt! After all, the American consumers are the only group that hasn’t been explicitly bailed out yet.

According to newsletter writer Ed Bugos, people will stop eventually believing Bernanke’s rhetoric of deflation. Massive reinflation efforts are under way and eventually gold prices will start to reflect this. My stock portfolio which is heavily weighted towards Gold and Energy Stocks has gotten massacred in the past 10 days.

So do I bail or do I maintain the conviction that printing money hand over fist leads to inflation and an increase in gold prices? For the time being, I’m going to maintain the status quo, but given that we’ve seen the worst trading week since 1931, its getting tough to stick to one’s beliefs.

Wasn’t it Milton Friedman who said “The markets can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent“?

I guess there isn’t “always a bull market somewhere”!

Jim Cramer just advised people to get out of the stock market saying that stocks might lose 20% this year. Isn’t it a bit too late for that prediction? The Dow Jones Index is already down nearly 25% for the year. Telling people that stocks might lose 20% is like telling people with the flu that they might fall sick!

“I don’t care where stocks have been, I care where they’re going, and I don’t want people to get hurt in the market,” Cramer told Curry. “I’m worried about unemployment, I’m worried about purchases that you may need. I can’t have you at risk in the stock market.”

Where was Cramer a few months ago?

But casting aside my skepticism for a second, he actually does have a valid point. He says you should only invest what you won’t need for 5 years. However, this advice is always true, not just for the current scenario. No one really knows what the market will do over 5 years, so investing for at least 5 years helps you ride out any volatility. At least, that’s the theory. If you had invested $1,000 in the Dow Jones Index exactly 5 years ago, you’d be up a whopping $40!

I’ve actually put in a buy order for some shares this evening for tomorrow morning:

ERF – a canadian royalty stock that yields over 15%

BRK.B – a baby Berkshire share. It’s shown great resilience in this market.

EDD – an emerging market government bond fund that yields 20% and is 40% below its Net Asset Value. Even if there are 40% defaults, I should theoretically get my investment back.

CDE – a silver mining stock whose share price has been beaten down next to nothing. I would’ve bought a gold mining stock, but I’m very heavily weighted towards gold and under-weighted with regards to silver.

I had the cash lying in a retirement account and I used 33% of it to make this order. I definitely won’t be accessing this money for a few decades so I think I’ll do well on them in the long run.

Note: These are not recommendations to buy any stocks, even though my passive income is decent, my  portfolio returns for the year are pretty dismal. If you buy these stocks and lose money, I will only laugh at your foolishness!

"The $1.75 House" In what could possibly be the cheapest house ever sold, a woman decided to forgo her morning cup of Starbucks coffee and used that money to buy a house instead!

SAGINAW, Mich. – With a winning bid of just $1.75, a Chicago woman has won an auction for an abandoned home in Saginaw. Joanne Smith, 30, recently was the top bidder for the home during an auction on eBay, The Saginaw News reported. Her bid was one of eight for the home.

“I am going to try and sell it,” she told the newspaper. “I don’t have any plans to move to Saginaw.”

Smith said she hasn’t seen the property or visited Saginaw, which has been hard-hit by economic troubles in recent years.

There’s a notice on the door of the home saying a foreclosure hearing is pending, the newspaper said. She must pay about $850 in back taxes and yard cleanup costs.

What’s amazing is that 7 people bid less than $1.75! God bless Ebay for bringing home ownership to the masses!

Check out the investment store if you want to find similar great deals on real estate.

As of July 20th 2009, I’ve received over $8,500 so far from Ebay. But the beauty is I didn’t actually sell anything. That’s right, Ebay sent me the money for referring buyers to their site. Since several of my fellow bloggers have asked me how to go about making money from ebay, I’ve put together this short how-to article that I hope will help you.

How Does the Ebay Affiliate Program (EPN) Work?

Back in April I built several niche sites to that specifically targeted to specific niches like gold coins, iphones and ipod batteries. Several weeks ago, I also added an “investment store” on this site that sells cheap timeshares, real estate and income-producing websites.

Ebay pays a commission based on the final sales price of the item. It usually varies between 5-10%. For items like cars and real estate, there is a flat fee which is over $100! I just received $175 from the sale of a $4,000 rental property in Ohio and another $135 from the sale of a used car. And it wasn’t any old used car, someone sold a rolls royce on ebay!

Additionally, if someone signs up as a new user, Ebay pays up to $35 (although its typically only $25). It also gives up to 75% (although 50% is more usual) of it commissions to affiliates who refer buyers. You can get more affiliate information here.

How Do You Create A Niche Site?

The toughest part of creating a niche site is identifying the niche. Ideally, you want a well-searched for niche that doesn’t have a lot of competition. For example, “discount designer doo-dahs” is a niche. But is it a good one? Good luck figuring that out on your own. However, there are a lot of tools to help you do this. Some people recommend Keyword Elite and I have it and use it. But there are several other tools, some of which require a one-time fee and others that charge a monthly subscription to use. If you already have one and are seeing good results with it, then it should be sufficient.

The niche sites aggregate the RSS feeds from Ebay for related products and display them. Luckily, I didn’t have to do the programming. In fact, creating the site is the easiest part of the whole process. I just bought the BANS (Build-A-Niche-Site) software that does everything for me. It did cost $97 but considering that I’ve made over $8,000 from ebay so far (as of July 2009), I’d say it was a pretty good investment.

Several people have told me that they were rejected or they had accounts and got banned. While its not widely understood why a lot of people have been rejected, its not too difficult to understand. If you submit thin-sites to the EPN there is a higher likelyhood of getting rejected. (A thin site is a site with no content, just affiliate links).  Always submit your flagship blog to EPN. If you’re using BANS on another store (as this blog does) make sure you’re selling related products. Note that this blogs’ store doesn’t anything that I don’t have at least 10 posts on. (Of course, I have 800 posts so finding a related product is pretty easy!). But if you’re blogging about cooking and trying to sell bicycle parts, it just doesn’t make sense. Effectively, you’ve conveyed to the EPN team your complete lack of experience in online marketing and understanding of how online traffic conversion works. Once you’ve been approved, then you can start multiple sites on different products. But make sure each site is targeted towards a specific product and make sure you understand the marketing part (which I’ve discussed below).

So make sure you have relevant content. How do you create relevant content? Either you write it, you pay someone to write it, or you use a tool to aggregate other people’s tweets or posts. Make sure you don’t just outright steal content – that will not only result in bad karma, you will also get flagged by the search engines for duplicate content!  One tool I’ve seen been used on sites that Google has not banned (de-indexed) is WPanswers.  It’s only $29.99 and comes with a 30 day no questions asked money back guarantee. I just bought it and I’ll let you know if I see any adverse effects from it.

Buying A Cheap Domain With Cheap Hosting

I also had to pay for domain names, but Godaddy had a 99 cent sale on domains so that wasn’t much of a cost. I also use 1 & 1 for domain name registration because they sometimes have specials. I usually go with whichever is cheaper, although 1&1 does offer free domain privacy for which Godaddy charges an extra $9.99 a year. However, Godaddy’s interface is significantly easier to use and their customer service is pretty stellar, so there’s some definite value in that, especially if you’re new to the online world. ( Also,  .org sites are usually much cheaper at 1&1 than Godaddy and may have better street cred than .info sites. )

I also use my own hosting. I like Dreamhost a lot and highly recommend it. It’s incredibly easy to install and update the sites. I’ve been using them for 4 years and they also have an affiliate program which pays out 100% of the first years hosting (sometimes 175%!) for new referrals. (Use code “PassiveIncome” for a decent discount). For $120/year you get 1 free domain registration and unlimited hosting. HostGator is another well-respected hosting company and many people with BANS sites use them too. Their affiliate program is also supposed to be excellent, but I wouldn’t know!

Marketing Your Niche Site

The most important part about making money online is the online marketing of your newly created sites. If you’re like most newbies and you build several sites thinking that you’ll automatically get traffic, you’ll be very disappointed. You need to understand how to create content that attracts search engine traffic (also called organic traffic). Again, Keyword Elite will help you with this. Its a pretty good tool and the videos on the landing page are worth a watch if you don’t know anything about harnessing the power of internet traffic. Another key factor that is often overlooked is building back-links to your site. I have personally gone to hundreds of blogs and left real, relevant comments on them with links back to my site. Some of them are nofollow links, but I don’t think it really matters. I believe all links matter, its just that nofollow and links from low-quality sites matter less than than links from a top quality site.  However, a cool way to get a lot of social media love is through a Social Bookmarking Automation Tool.  I highly, highly recommend this tool and it is in fact the one I use the most often. Most of my sites rank very well on various search engines for certain keywords and I get excellent organic traffic. As you can see from the Ebay affiliate sales figures, the conversion rates are pretty high.

Here’s another tool I highly recommend. I tells you what keywords you rank for and what your position is in the search engines. Its incredibly useful, especially when you see someone new bump you from your spot on Google. You can use this (along with some other tools) to see if its a fluke or they’re actually planning to take over your position!

If you’re still floundering, you need a guide with step by step instructions. The 9 Step Make Money Online Guide is an excellent resource written by the creators of BANS software. You should definitely read it if you’re new or if you have sites that aren’t generating much income.

Here are my earnings below:

Ebay-build-a-niche-store-earnings

As you can see from the image, the traffic (in blue) and the earnings (in yellow) have been increasing over the past year. As I’ve becoming more focused in my selection of keywords and as my search engine rankings have improved, the conversion of the traffic has gotten a lot better too.

While it took some initial effort to set up the stores and market them online, I haven’t done anything for at over 6 weeks. Making nearly $1,000/month from several sites that don’t require much effort is really cool. Finally some residual income that’s really passive! So don’t give up! It might take a few months to see any fruits of your labor but it will be well worth it!

I’ll post my monthly passive income update sometime this week.