Why is Wall Street Always Blamed?

My purpose of this post is not to exonerate Wall Street from its misdeeds, but rather to ask its accusers to be more introspective about their own role in Wall Street greed.

Let’s face it – everybody knows that the people on Wall Street are overpaid for what they do. Our problem with them is not that we begrudge them their money, but that we are envious and want to be able to make that kind of cash ourselves. It isn’t so much that we are mad at them for mis-spending our money, but rather we would like to be able to be overpaid for mismanaging the companies we ourselves work for. The problem is not that they are making the money or putting us into risky positions that they should know better about. The problem is that we are not making the money and when we put our employers in risky positions through our own ineptitude, we don’t get a similar payday on the way down.

The real reason everybody goes to Wall Street is because they are greedy bastards. There is a measure of safety in that realization. If you know that someone is completely amoral and only does things for money, you can be sure that if you pay them enough, their amorality is on your side. Similarly, this also puts somewhat of a cap on their own individual immorality, because, in real life, continual immorality sets a limit to the payday. Markets only function because of the general morality within business. If someone is amoral rather than immoral, they are more likely to behave morally in a generally moral society.

We actually have a sense of safety knowing that our money is tied up with greedy bastards who just want to know the bottom line.

If you actually did have a grudge against Wall Street that was based on true moral indignation and not simple envy at their ability to win bigger than you on every trade, there is a simple thing that you would be able to do to combat this.

Stop giving them money.

Instead, make money by offering loans to your friends and family to start businesses. Invest in local startups – people that you know have the strongest moral fiber. Invest in your local community.

What? That’s not liquid enough? There isn’t a big enough market? There’s too much risk and not enough reward? The people with character don’t make the deals that give the company the most profit? Local people don’t have the winner-take-all attitude needed to go to the top?

Well, then take Wall Street. But don’t act like you didn’t know what you were buying. And don’t act like you weren’t complicit when they do what they always do and leave you holding the bag. You went with them because you wanted to be the one holding the bag, right?

Yellen’s Performance as Fed Chair

Yellen often gets the short end of the stick when it comes to monetary policy. Being that she is the leader, anything that isn’t perfect gets pinned on her. The real perpetrator of Central Banking shenanigans is Ben Bernanke. He has been gone for a while, but Yellen has mostly been trying to fix things that he broke.

All-in-all, I feel for her, and think that, while I would have done things a little differently (I would have been much more hawkish), I think that she represents a real moderating position which balances a number of issues. She is moving towards pulling us out of ZIRP, but very, very slowly. I do, however, appreciate her resolve to keep moving forward, and hope that she really does start to unwind the balance sheet. It will hurt in the short term, but in the long term it will be great for the economy.

Unfortunately, her plan only gets us to a 3% rate. Certainly better than now, but not great. We really need at least 5%. The goal is to have a moderate deflation so that savings has real meaning again. Stashing money in the mattress should at least keep its value, and putting money in a bank should beat all metrics of inflation.

Anyway, Yellen gets criticized a lot, mostly just because she is the fed chair, and that makes her the face of all the bad fed policies. She hasn’t been as hawkish as needed, but she’s in a tough position, because she would probably be lynched if she did the right thing, and the person who replaced her would do the wrong thing. So, because she has stayed the course, my hat is off to her. Yellen, I know many complain, but I appreciate your work!

Choosing a Trade

In his book Basic Economics, Thomas Sowell says that economics is the study of the allocation of scarce resources that have alternative uses.

This is the true of our stock trades. Every stock trade uses money, and that money has alternative uses. You could have spent it on a chest freezer, which would have earned you money every month by allowing you to buy meats in bulk when they are discounted. Which one is more beneficial? We all get $$ in our eyes, and assume that the stock market is preferable. Anyway, that’s the thing to think about.

The reason people make bad decisions with the stock market, is that they think that price is everything. If price is your only concern, you are not an investor. At best, you are a speculator, but probably a bad one. When you choose stocks, you need to image what would happen if the price of a stock went to zero or was de-listed. If so, assuming nothing changed about the company, was it still a good buy? Note I didn’t ask if you could get a better buy – if you only look for the best buy ever you will be disappointed. The question is whether or not it was a good buy. If the answer is “no”, then you shouldn’t buy the stock, period.

Now, a lot of people who only hear about the stock market in the news may wonder how this can be true. Isn’t the whole reason to own stock in order for the price to go up?

No, it isn’t.

The purpose of owning stock is to own shares of a company that produces value to its shareholders over a long period of time. This is true even if the company’s shares are never traded. Imagine that you were the owner of a private company. Ownership still yields value even though there is no price or market for trading your company. Instead, you get benefits through (a) increased value of assets, and (b) dividends/profits. (a) only really matters if the company goes out of business. (b) is really what you are looking at.

If you purchased a stock at $10 and the stock is de-listed (i.e., you can’t trade it – the price is effectively zero) but the company generates $1/year in dividends every year, you would have still made a winning trade. If the company goes out of business, and its assets are liquidated for the price of $20/share, you would have doubled your money.

None of these are typical situations, but the point is that focusing on purchase price alone will get you in trouble.

The way that I trade is that I look for companies where, at the current price, I would rather have the stock than the money. This way, even if the company’s price goes down, it doesn’t bother me, because I would want the stock more than the money even more. If I wouldn’t still like the stock if it were lower-priced, I don’t buy the stock. If the entire stock market is overpriced, this means I don’t join in – which is a PERFECTLY FINE way to be, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Now, the circumstances of the company can change, or you may not have known something that other people know, or that nobody knows. And this knowledge can change how you feel about the company. That’s okay. That happens. That’s learning, and buying bad stocks because you didn’t know all the things is the price of learning.

Anyway, all of that to introduce my main current trade, Future FinTech Group, currently trading at $2.70. I don’t have the time to tell you everything I like about them, but let me give you a few things:

  • The price-to-book ratio is 0.15. That means that buying a share for $2.70 literally gives me $18.00 in assets. That’s a great price! Now, not every price-to-book ratio is good. Sometimes a company has “assets” that they couldn’t possibly sell, or they are losing money so as to eventually wipe out the book value of their company. But in this case, these seem to be factories and land. So buying $18 worth of factory and land for $2.70 is a great price, if the business is viable.
  • The company has a gross profit. The gross margin is not great, but it is workable – 23%. Kellogs, for instance, has a 43% gross margin. This could definitely improve, but what it means is that the company is stable enough to probably not bleed out its book value.
  • They have an EBITDA profit – they actually pulled in a 10% profit. However, once taxes, depreciation, and amortization are factored in, they were not profitable. They did post a loss, but MOST of that loss is in depreciation and amortization. Apparently, they had a write-down from a previous acquisition. If I understand the numbers correctly, they actually posted a 3% NET PROFIT. That means that the value of the company is going UP

Additionally, it looks like they are expanding markets. The company used to be called SkyPeople Fruit Juice (I actually wish they kept that name – it’s fun!) but renamed themselves to Future FinTech Group to reflect their growing markets. They are getting involved in the commodities markets in china, so wanted to have a more serious sounding name than just the name of their public brand.

So, we have profitable, expanding company, which for $2.70 you get to buy $18.00 worth of assets, plus a share in future profitability. I’m in. Additionally, I heard rumors that this was one of the few chinese firms that didn’t have to restate earnings after being audited by NASDAQ. If true, that also means that they are very reputable.

Because it is a chinese micro-cap stock, the stock itself has been quite erratic. But, even if it goes down to $1 I’m still holding on, because this seems like a great company. I’ll start thinking about selling out at $10, and probably do it at $20-$25. At that point, the value of the money will be near the value of the company itself, and it will be time to look for another bargain. And, if it never goes that high, the value of it seems like it is more valuable than the dollars I can trade for it.

Additional Note

I should note that when you choose the price that you are willing to buy at, you are in a much stronger position. You choose your price. If later it goes on sale for a better price, that doesn’t really impact you if you chose the stock for the intrinsic value. I set the price that I buy and sell at, not the market. If the market doesn’t play along, there is not reason I have to play.