Foreign Stocks

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Last week the internet was buzzing with rumors of Apple coming out with an iPhone that would work on the Verizon Network. If you decide you wanted to trade this rumor what would you do? Would you buy Apple (AAPL) or would you buy Verizon Communications (VZ)? What if I told you Apple didn’t pay a dividend, while Verizon had a 6% dividend yield. Would that make a difference?

As it turns out, I decided I wanted in on this trade. I’ve been wanting to buy an iPhone for a while but the AT&T network is severely congested in major cities and the sound quality for calls is terrible. So I’ve been holding out for the iPhone until it’s available on the Verizon Network.  I did however get myself a 32GB iPod Touch that is simply amazing.

I didn’t buy either of these two companies. Instead I bought Vodafone (VOD) with a dividend yield of approximately 5.3% based on my $23.10 purchase price. It’s not widely known, but Vodafone owns 45% of Verizon Wireless. The remaining 55% of Verizon Wireless is owned by Verizon Communications.

Verizon Wireless borrowed billions of dollars from its parent company to build out its infrastructure and for the $30 billion purchase of Alltel. It’s been generating nearly $10 billion a year in free cashflow and has been paying back the loans. These loans will be completely repaid in a few months. So what will it do with all the money its generating? It’ll start paying dividends to VZ and VOD.

Verizon needs the money for its own dividend payments. In addition to the wireless division, it runs a landline division that isn’t anywhere as profitable as Verizon Wireless. And last week, Vodafone publicly asked Verizon to either spin off Verizon Wireless or to start paying dividends as soon as it was done with the loan repayments.

By itself, Vodafone generates $8 billion a year in free cashflow. It’s 5.3% dividend seems pretty safe and has the potential to see a massive increase if Verizon Wireless decides to pay out a major portion of its cash flows.  In addition to its stake in Verizon Wireless, Vodafone owns a tiny stake in China Mobile and a 44% stake in some French Telecomm company who’s name I can’t pronounce.

This way you get exposure to a global Telecomm player with exposure to the growing US wireless market and no exposure to the US landline market.  You also get a 5%+ dividend yield with exposure outside the the US and the US Dollar. If we do see inflation, this dividend is likely to keep up with it and is probably a better bet than a treasury bond (which would lose value if we saw high inflation).

For the time being, the “Can you hear me now?” dude is a little less annoying!

Disclaimer: I entered a 50% position in VOD. If the price drops from my purchase price I’ll double down.

Gold Dinar Coin

If you’ve been reading the popular press for the past 6 months, there’s been a slew of articles talking about deflation. I’ve been somewhat skeptical of the long term probability of deflation and have been investing in gold and commodities in anticipation of inflation. Looks like I was a little early to the game (which, on Wall Street is just the same as being wrong!).

Now however, it looks like we are warming up the printing presses and gold has hit $1,000 twice in a week in anticipation of future inflation. Legendary hedge fund manager John Paulson, who made $2.5 Billion last year from his trades, has been betting heavily on gold and his fund has nearly 50% of its assets in gold or gold-related investments like gold mining stocks and ETFs. The gold ETF, GLD reportedly makes up 30% of his fund! He has also taken a large 12% stake in AngloGold Ashanti (ANGJ.J) making him the largest shareholder. According to Reuters, this is not a bet on the company being acquired but rather a bet on inflationary pressures pushing up the price of gold. As opposed to the popular theory of rising prices being a cause of inflation, I like to consider it as an effect of inflation, which is caused by printing money, a side-effect of fiat currency. If you’re unaware about the effects of inflation and how it can ravage the economic (and social) structure of a society, I strongly recommend watching the excellent videos on hyper-inflation.

Another fund which has done well with the gold mining ETF is David Einhorn’s Greenlight Capital, which picked it up at the lowest point of last year and which has more than doubled its investment so far.  They both join China in being bullish on gold. Between Paulson’s bullion dollar gold ETF purchase and China’s multi-billion gold bullion purchase, it’s no wonder gold prices have been trending upwards.

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!

Previously I had mentioned several ways to invest for a recession or a major downturn in the US economy. In that post, I stated that one of the ways to hedge against the declining dollar (apart from my favorite method of buying gold) was investing in foreign currencies.

Several people emailed me asking how to buy foreign currencies.

A few were concerned that they would have to travel overseas and open a foreign bank account. Luckily, it isn’t so difficult. You have 3 choices.

1. Buy Currencyshares ETFs. You can choose between several currencies like Australian Dollar (Ticker: FXA), Swiss Franc (Ticker: FXF), Japanese Yen (Ticker: FXY), Euro (Ticker: FXE), etc. If you have a brokerage account, its as easy as buying stock. This is probably the easiest method. They also pay monthly dividends and are quite similar to buying a foreign currency CD.

2. Open on account with Everbank and invest in their foreign currencies CDs or directly open an account in a foreign currency.

3. Open on account with Interactive Brokers and directly buy foreign currency (this is probably the most hassle so you’re better off sticking with the top 2 methods).

If you’re interested in buying foreign stocks, the easiest way is to buy the ADRs (American Depository Receipts). However a lot of foreign stocks do not trade in the US as ADRs. A good way to play the foreign markets is to buy foreign ETFs. For example, if you’d like to buy blue chip dividend paying swiss companies, the Swiss Helvetia Fund (ticker: SWZ) is a great investment. (I also happen to like the Swiss Helvetia Gold Coins too!). If you think Singapore’s economy is doing well, you can buy the iShares Singapore Index ETF (ticker: EWS). Or if you like Brazil, you can buy the iShares Brazil Index (ticker: EWZ).

For a more comprehensive list of foreign ETFs check out How To Conquer The World For Fun & Profit. If you’re interested in learning more about currency trading or investing in foreign currencies, I strongly recommend Everbank’s free daily newsletter about the currency markets, the Daily Pfennig. It’s really good.

Property prices in India have been on a tear for quite a while now. One of the condos I bought in Ahmedabad in 2006 doubled in just over a year. While the growth has been pretty tame since then, I was nonetheless quite surprised.

But in other parts of India the market has actually begun to correct. After the housing downturn of America, UK, Spain and Australia, it’s finally India’s turn to feel some pain. According to the Economic Times of India, prices are cooling down. The real estate prices in some cities have come down as much as 25%.

Land prices in the national capital region (NCR), Mumbai suburbs, Bangalore and Hyderabad have corrected by up to 25% as property developers slow down their land purchases. Poor sales and lower availability of credit at higher cost have prompted property developers to end the mad rush to acquire land. Some of the developers have even backed out of land deals which were agreed upon as the slowdown hit the sector.

Prices have come down by up to 25% in Mumbai’s distant suburbs, including Thane and Belapur, and pockets of Hyderabad and Bangalore, according to property consultancy firm Knight Frank India.

I think the reason why Ahmedabad shot up so fast between mid-2006 and mid-2007 might have been because it was declared a mega-city and thus suddenly popped up on everyone’s radar. Despite being invested in the market, I wasn’t entirely happy to see prices shoot up so much. I guess that was because we had paid cash – if I had been fully leveraged with 10% down, I might be singing another tune!

Regardless, property prices still seem exorbitantly high in many places in India. Hopefully the 25% correction will bring some much need relief to the average middle class family.

Not exactly fresh news, but its been reported that Dick Cheney, our beloved vice-president is betting against the US Dollar. He has tens of millions of dollars in foreign government bond and currency funds and international and emerging market stocks. His excuse is that it’s in a blind fund and he doesn’t know what his advisers invest in. That sounds like complete rubbish to me. I can’t imagine someone as intelligent as Dick Cheney not knowing what a huge chunk of his reported $95 million networth is invested in.

I’ve believed for sometime now that the government actually wants a weaker dollar and have been investing accordingly, but having the vice-president profit from it is a bit too unethical. The fact that he’s been profiting from the war in Iraq through no-bid contracts to Halliburton (in which he still retains a large amount of shares) is bad enough. If this had been China, he’d have been executed for bringing dishonor to his country!

Ethics aside, at least he’s good at investing. By being bearish on the dollar and the US economy he joins the ranks of supermodels, billionaire investors and sovereign wealth funds!

But there’s significant conflict of interest. Rather than spending $2 Billion a week in Iraq, if the government was spending that money on infrastructure development we might have a better economy. A stronger economy wouldn’t need this rate cuts and government deficits wouldn’t be in the trillions of dollars. This might have conceivably led to a stronger dollar.

Instead we have a dollar that is the weakest its ever been. For the first time in history, the Swiss frank is stronger than the US dollar. Most foreign currencies have appreciated considerably against the dollar over the past 2 years and I don’t see any signs of this trend reversing.

So are you going to follow the leader and bail on US investments too? Or are you going to stick your guns and weather the storm?

When I first heard about LOR, I thought it meant Lord of the Rings, but no, the topic was on Lazard World Dividend & Income Fund(LOR).

I got this email from a reader:

I love your blogs. Please tell me what to think about an odd stock – LOR. They make money from high dividend stocks AND from some sort of forward contracts involving emerging market currencies.They had a 25% yield last year but are extremely volatile ( and I don’t know why!). They have a lot of institutional investors and it looks like a good dividend pick but I don’t understand how reliable the currency contracts are. Could you do an analysis of LOR?

I’m not exactly a stock picking expert, but I’ll give it a shot. First of all I looked for LOR on Yahoo! Finance to see what it meant. I got the name of the company, the stock price graph but not much other info. That’s because it’s not a stock, but rather an ETF. Ah ha! That explains the high dividend, since I don’t know of any company that is so generous with their dividends.

Accordingly, I headed over to ETFconnect, which is a great site for finding information on ETFs. I see that its in the category of “global equity” which means it invests in world-wide stocks, just the kind of thing you’d expect from its name!

It states their investment objective:

The Fund seeks total return through a combination of dividends income and capital appreciation. The Fund may pursue this objective through a world equity strategy and a short-term emerging markets and debt strategy. The Fund may invest substantially all of its net assets in between 60 to 90 world equity securities that are financially productive and high dividend yielding. It seeks to enhance income through exposure to short-term emerging market forward currency contracts and other emerging markets debt instruments, limited to 33.3 percent or less of the total leveraged assets of the Fund, which will provide exposure to emerging market currencies.

The first part seems pretty straight-forward, but I’m not too sure what the last part entails. But at least they’re not leveraged 10 to 1 on some Subprime Real-estate Mortgage Backed Securities (RMBS) & Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs)! Being overleveraged is what caused Bear Stearns’ Hedge funds to collapse last July.

I also see that it’s currently trading at an 8.5% discount to its Net Asset Value (NAV). This means you can buy the basket of its shares for less than what the shares currently trade for! The current dividend yield is reported to be 8.43%. That’s strange because Yahoo! finance reported it to be 25%, a fact that I verified on Google Finance by looking at the distribution in the stock chart. It seems that in addition to the dividends, there were  long and short term capital gains distributions in December 2007, which boosted the yield.

While this isn’t a bad thing in any way, one shouldn’t buy LOR expecting to see a similar 25% yield in the future. If you’re buying it for the dividend, you should expect to receive 8.5% and be happy with it. The only concern I have is whether or not that  dividend is safe.

The ETFconnect site informs us that the fund is diversified by invested in the US (35%), th UK(23%) and other countries (42%). While it doesn’t say which other countries, looking at its top holdings we see companies like Taiwan Semiconductor, ENI and Tesltra, so we know its investing in South East Asia, Brazil and Australia. I like that global diversity.

It also seems to be diversified across various industries like finance, telecom, energy, materials, consumer staples, and so on. However, from the mix of industries it’s invested in, 32% is in the Financial Sector. That I don’t like at all. Considering that Bank of America, HSBC and Citigroup are also featured in its top holdings, I’d say thats a little to much for me. While the stocks in finance sector are currently rising on the backs of the Fed’s rate cut, I expect this joy to be short lived. And I still haven’t seen any information on its’ currency trading, debt-instrument contract or whatever it was.

So I guess it’s time to look at the company’s website, Lazard Asset Management. Here we get a little more insight to the investment objective:

*The Fund will invest substantially all of its net assets in between 60 to 90 world equity securities that are financially productive and high dividend yielding.
*It seeks to enhance income through exposure to short-term, emerging market forward currency contracts and other emerging markets debt instruments (limited to 33.3% or less of the Fund’s total leveraged assets), which will provide exposure to emerging market currencies.
These two strategies are complementary, with historically low correlation to one another, which may reduce volatility.

They may have a low correlation, but as we saw with LTCM and the recent global stock market correction, all markets are correlated to the downside. I’m highly skeptical of these statistical models that tout low correlation since they always seem to fail at inopportune moments. But at least their leverage doesn’t seem excessive. At least they’re honest and inform us that

There can be no assurance that the Fund will meet its investment objective.

But the rest of their site is actually quite informative. We already know that the stock portion of the fund is diversified across various countries, industries and capitalizations so I’ll skip over that part. But we haven’t seen much info on the currency & debt portion.

The Fund’s emerging market currency and debt strategy will also be broadly diversified across countries and regions, offering the potential for portfolio diversification- with the possibility of credit and duration protection and limited interest-rate sensitivity.

Not really sure how they’re implementing this strategy, but if it works, it would be pretty useful in current economic conditions!

They also have an interesting snippet about their dividend strategy too.

While the Fund’s equity investments are not chosen for yield alone, they will generally include the highest dividend-yielding stocks on Lazard’s equity platform, as well as a selection of stocks that may potentially have significant dividend growth. This is important because:

*Typically, dividends are real earnings, not hoped-for earnings based on the potential, future growth of a stock. They also offer the potential for stable income.
*The 2003 tax bill significantly lowered the U.S, tax rate on qualified dividend income of U.S. taxpayers.

Investing in companies with a track record of long term dividend growth is a sure fire way to beat the index averages [source: The Future for Investors by Prof. Siegal]. Investing for tax savings is not something I generally consider. First the investment has to make sense. Then you look at the taxes. If you’re so rich that you’re really worried about taxes, then maybe tax-free munies are the best route for you.

Finally, there seems to be some information on the currency trading aspects.

The Fund’s unique leveraging strategy allows greater flexibility, risk management, and economic efficiency. To enhance the income potential for investors, the Fund intends to employ financial leverage, initially up to approximately 33 1/3% of total assets, by investing in forward currency contracts and/or borrowings. Leveraged assets will be used for investing in emerging market currency or debt instruments.

It should be noted though, that the Lazard World Dividend & Income Fund, does not seek to profit from utilizing a leveraged spread-play. That is to say, the Fund is not borrowing at the short-end of the yield curve in order to invest at the longer-end of the yield curve (and profit from the spread). On the contrary, the leveraged portion of the Lazard World Dividend & Income Fund invests in very short duration instruments (typically, less than 12-months), and instead seeks to profit from accessing the high yields available in emerging market local currency debt.

Using leverage is a speculative investment technique and involves certain risks.

While its commendable that they aren’t borrowing short-term and lending long-term (remember the RMBS & CDOs I mentioned?), I get the feeling that they’re trying to profit from the carry-trade. Of course, I’m not 100% certain that’s what they’re doing, but it definitely sounds like that to me. With the Swiss franc nearly at parity with the US Dollar and the Yen up 26% in the past year, it strongly looks like the carry-trade is unwinding. In fact, they could start losing money on these kinds of trades.

To conclude, I think this is a very interesting fund. I would be amazed if they could continue to deliver 25% annual dividend yields, but 8-9% definitely seems achievable.

However, I’d look at ALPINE DYNAMIC DIVIDEND FUND (ADVDX) and even American Capital Strategies (ACAS) before I allocated any funds to LOR. Note, I’m not recommending either of the 2, I’m just saying I’d take a look at them before I made any decision.

gold bullion coins, krugerrands, maple leafs, australian gold nuggets, american golden eagle

Based on continuing weakness in the dollar, gold briefly breeched the $1000 level yesterday along with oil hitting an all time high of $111 per barrel. I had a really strong suspicion that we’d see $1000 gold by mid-March.

Despite what Bernanke and Paulson said last summer, the housing bubble has spread to other parts of the economy and subprime mess has not been contained. In a last ditch effort to prevent banks from collapsing, the Federal Reserve announced a bailout of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and other banks, promising to exchange bogus mortgages for Treasuries during a 28 day window. They named this Term Securities Lending Facility (TSLF) but it’s just a good old bail-out.

Of course, the stock markets loved this move because it means the Fed is going to prevent banks from failing. However, this $200 Billion bail-out doesn’t come without a cost. The Fed is going to have to print an extra $200 Billion to cover this deficit. But it was a clever move, because Bernanke didn’t have to cut interest rates before the 17th of March, when he’s slated to do so anyway. Another move like that might have created a panic in the markets instead!

Bloomberg reported today that OPEC is going to make about $927 Billion dollars from the sale of oil this year. That’s almost $1 Trillion dollars! Worldwide, sovereign wealth funds (SWF) are thought to be worth about $2.8 Trillion. Considering that the combined wealth of global nationalized assets is about $12 Trillion, that’s really impressive. It probably means that SWFs and OPEC will start buying up pieces of America, since they really can’t do much else with all those US Dollars. Of course, they could buy Treasuries, but it seems like everyone’s now realizing that they’re useless as the dollar keeps on devaluing. Meanwhile, the US government is helpless against stopping the sale of US assets. Our own SWF is negative $9 Trillion, so we have some catching up to do before we can actually buy anything. I think the government’s best bet is to make all those Trillion worthless by printing more and more dollars. Bernanke knows this and so far he’s doing a bang up job. Of course, this leads to severe inflation, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Considering how wrong our economic advisers have been so far, I think it’s safe to assume the 0.3% GDP growth that’s forecast for the year is a tad optimistic. While everyone’s still denying it, I think we’re already in a recession and along with inflation, that amounts to a 70s style stagflation scenario.

Considering that consumer spending has slowed down and is likely to continue, US companies are going to go through some tough times. How do you protect your stock investments then? You can’t sell them and move to cash, because the US dollar is sliding too. Coupled with inflation, your wealth is going to slowly (or maybe not so slowly) erode over the next several years.

Here are some investment ideas:

1. Diversify into foreign currencies: I like Australian Dollars, Swiss francs, Japanese Yen. Jim Rogers likes Chinese Remnimbi and Warren Buffett like the Brazilian Real. Take your pick.

2. Buy US giants with international exposure: Consumer staples have historically done very well over the past 60 years, regardless of the economic scenario. I like stocks with a decent dividend yield like Pfeizer (PFE), Johnson and Johnson (JNJ), Merck (MRK), Unilever (UNL), Proctor & Gamble (PG), Kraft Foods (KFT) and Anheuser-Busch (BUD).

3. Invest in agriculture: Bush’s moronic plan to reduce our reliance on foreign oil by substituting ethanol has only resulted in a surge corn prices. The economic growth in countries like China, India, Russia and Brazil is increasing the size of the world’s middle class. These people will be improving their diet and adding more meat and veggies. They’ll also be drinking more milk. There’s already surge in global prices of all of these soft commodities. There are quite a few ETFs that will help you profit from these trends, like PowerShares Agriculture (DBA) which consists of 30% soy, 28% wheat, 23% corn, 16% sugar, Van Eck Agribusiness (MOO) [8% Monsanto, 8% Mosaic, 8% Komatsu, 8% Potash Corp] and PowerShares Commodity (DBC) [33% crude oil, 20% heating oil, 14% wheat, 11% aluminum, 10% corn, 10% gold].

Along with this, a demand for fertilizer will result in compannies like Potash Corp (POT) doing very well. If you’d like to invest in milk, American Dairy (ADY) and Dairy Crest (DCG) are too suggestions, but I haven’t done much research on them.

4. Buy Gold: I don’t think it’s too late to start investing in gold. You can buy gold coins and bars, the gold ETF (GLD) or mining stocks (GDX).

5. Invest in Metals: The global boom is creating a huge increase in the demand for metals like copper, iron, aluminum, zinc, etc. Mining stocks like BHP and RIO have done very well. Indian company, Sterlite (STL) also looks like it has good long term prospects.

6. Invest in Infrastructure: Not only is America’s infrastructure collapsing, but global growth makes betting on infrastructure a safe bet. I like Brookfield Infrastructure Partners (BIP).

7. Invest in Oil and Gas: Major oil companies like Exxon-Mobile(XOM) have served its investors well for decades. I’ve also invested in direct oil drilling programs, which go out and drill wells with your money and give you a share of the proceeds. I also like Canadian Royalty Trusts that invest in oil fields. There a few new ETFs that buy heating oil and gasoline futures. I’d stay away from these as their performance is as yet unknown and they might be subject to backwardation and contango.

8. Invest in Water: Water pipes all over the US are breaking. Built after WWII, these pipes had a lifespan off about 50 years. As the nation replaces these pipes over the next several years, cast-iron pipe companies are set to make a killing. Check out NorthWest Pipe (NWPX) and the water ETF (PHO).

I don’t know about the rest of US, but Nevada and Southern California are going to face a huge water shortage in the next decade. Most of the water comes from Lake Mead and the tremendous population growth in Las Vegas and Henderson has tapped the limits on the lake’s capacity. Check out this photo:

Lake Mead Hoover Dam

Dont’ you think a company that owned the water rights in Nevada and California would make a decent amount of cash over the next few years.


Following the decline in the US markets and a show of no-confidence in Bush’s Economic Recovery Plan, global markets crashed in unison.

According to Yahoo! Finance:

Britain’s benchmark FTSE-100 slumped 5.5 percent to 5,578.20, France’s CAC-40 Index tumbled 6.8 percent to 4,744.15, and Germany’s blue-chip DAX 30 plunged 7.2 percent to 6,790.19.

In Asia, India’s benchmark stock index tumbled 7.4 percent, while Hong Kong’s blue-chip Hang Seng index plummeted 5.5 percent to 23,818.86, its biggest percentage drop since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Canadian stocks fell as well, with the S&P/TSX composite index on the Toronto Stock Exchange down 4 percent in early afternoon trading. In Brazil, stocks plunged 6.9 percent on the main index of Sao Paulo’s Bovespa exchange.

In Tokyo trading, exporters got hit hard, partly because of the yen’s recent strength against the dollar. Toyota Motor Corp. lost 3.3 percent and Honda Motor Co. sank 3.4 percent.

Shares of Bank of China dropped 6.4 percent in Hong Kong after the South China Morning Post newspaper reported that the bank is expected to announce a “significant write-down” in U.S. subprime mortgage securities, citing unidentified sources. In Shanghai, the bank’s stock declined 4.1 percent.

India’s the benchmark Sensex index fell 1,353 points, or 7.4 percent – its second-biggest percentage drop ever – to 17,605.35 points. At one point, it was down nearly 11 percent.

Since the start of the year, Japan’s Nikkei index has declined 13 percent, while Hong Kong’s blue-chip index is down more than 14 percent. Even China’s Shanghai index — which nearly doubled last year — has fallen 6.6 percent over the same period and nearly 20 percent from its all-time closing high on Oct. 16.

The world is definitely getting smaller and the smart thing to do is invest internationally for global exposure. However, don’t expect these different stock markets to be non-correlated. In the event of an economic downturn, all non-correlated markets converge as selling pressures force the liquidation of all assets.

This was how Long Term Capital Management (LTCM), which was led by Nobel-prize-winning professors, went bankrupt. When the Russian government defaulted on their bonds, all emerging market bonds tanked. Because LTCM was leveraged to the tune of nearly a trillion dollars and couldn’t meet its margin calls, Federal Reserve Chairman, Alan Greenspan, had to step in to prevent a meltdown in the US financial system. For a fascinating and very informative history behind this, check out When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long Term Capital Management. Its one of my favorite books. Readers of the book would have realized that the fancy-schmancy Residential Mortgage Backed Securities and Collateralized Debt Obligations that hedge funds were leveraging 5-to-1 and 20-to-1 would come crashing down and they did in the form of the subprime meltdown.

The reason all these global markets are correlated is because of excessive leverage employed by financial institutions. When you lose 10% on an investment and you’re leveraged 5 times, you face a 50% loss of principle. In this case you have to liquidate your winners to meet your margin call. Unfortunately, this sometimes precipitates in a global panic to bail on investments as the selling causes further losses, which initiates further selling.

The lesson to learn is that its extremely difficult to beat the market and rather than be over-leveraged, its better to have 20% of your assets in cash (like Warren Buffett) so you can take advantage of over-sold conditions and undervalued investments.

Don’t believe that you can achieve risk-diversification by investing in non-correlated assets.

There’s always someone at a party who’s claiming their investment asset of choices is the best. In 1999, it was stocks. In 2005, it was real estate. Right now, I’m claiming its Canadian Income Funds and commodities like gold. But is there an investment that’s actually better than something else?

Many proponents of the stock market have claimed that it is better than real estate. It’s more liquid and there’s never been a 10 year cycle where the S&P 500 had a down year. Of course, that’s rubbish. Ever try selling your stocks when the market is tanking? You’ll get taken to the cleaners. According to CNN Money, stocks follow a 16 year cycle. They go up for 16 years and then they’re roughly flat for the next 16 or so years.



Right now the Dow Jones Index is almost where it was back in early 2000. Adjusting for inflation, you’re still underwater. There’s also an often quoted comment about the stock market returning 11.5% a year over the long run. According to Ben Stein, this is factually incorrect. Over a rolling 20 year period since 1900, the stock market has on average returned just under 8%. Real estate also has had similar cycles. In Southern California, where I live, the market was down from 1991 to 1996, after booming for several years. Then in 1997 until 2005 it boomed again. Right now its falling again. Similarly in Salt Lake City, another market I follow and invest in, real estate boomed from 1991 until 1997 and then was stagnant until the end of 2004. Since 2005, its been in on the upswing again.NAR, the National Association of Real Estate, often cite the fact that nationwide, real estate has never gone down. That’s a useless fact unless you’re going to be buying a house in every major city in every state. Locally, real estate does follow periodic and somewhat predictable cycles. Between 2000 and 2005, when the stock market was tanking, real estate performed wonderfully.

And like stocks and real estate, commodities also have their own cycles. Chuck Butler , President of Everbank.com just sent me this email, “… the current Bull Market for commodities is at about 7 years and running… History shows us that (going back 200 years) that Bull Markets in Commodities have trends that last 17-22 years”. If you had bought gold in 1971 for $35/oz, you would’ve done extremely well by selling it in 1980-81 for nearly $800/oz. However, between 1982 and 2000 it languished and you might have given up and sold everything in 1999 after seeing the tremendous returns of the stock market. After all, nothing beats the stock market, right!

But $800/oz gold is here again. I’ve been investing since 2005 when it was around $500/oz. Gold has tripled since its lows of 2000 and is probably set to rally even further as the US Dollar continues its slide.

Even businesses are not free from cycles. There are times when businesses are cheap to buy (if you have the money) and are great money makers, and there are times when they are expensive (although easy with cheap money and easy liquidity) and tough to sustain at a profit.

So essentially there is no ideal investment. No single investment will yield substantial returns, year after year, for extended periods of time. Either you have to be on top of the economic factors that affect the various cycles, and keep switching in and out every few years or decades, or you need to diversify your assets so you have equal exposure to various different asset classes.

So unless you have exposure you US & foreign stocks and bonds, global real estate, currencies, commodities like oil & gas, precious metals, building materials like steel, lumber and copper, and even your own businesses, your investment portfolio is incomplete.

Claiming that one investment is better than another is just the result of ignorance. (Unless you decide to get a job as a day-trader, in which case trading indexed futures is probably the best vehicle, although the toughest to succeed at. But thats not an investment, its more like a job!)