Category Archives: Trading

For investors, the key to 2017 will

 

For investors, the key to 2017 will not be Brexit, nor the French elections but rather USA bond yields. If the 10-year yield breaches 3pc we would expect major dislocations in many markets and a huge repricing of assets across the globe.

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    The worst-ever trading outage on the world's most important agricultural markets was triggered when sophisticated technology tripped over a trading halt in a single market, the executive chairman of exchange operator CME Group Inc told Reuters. The April 8 outage stopped electronic trading in 31 agricultural markets that influence global…
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    EUR/USD fresh highs after breaking through 1.3650 resistance and 50DMA at 1.3655  
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    David Matsuda had never been a mariner or an administrator before he became the head of the U.S. Maritime Administration in 2009. He had been a government lawyer and a congressional staffer, focusing on railroad issues; the ringtone on his phone was the choo-choo of a train. Matsuda had never been…
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  • 65
    On Thursday Mohamed A. El-Erian was on CNBC`s Halftime Report and he said something that a lot of people have been saying regarding the bond market, and it needs to be cleared up, because the amount of poor understanding regarding the bond market by people who make their living, i.e.,…
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  • 64
    This month marks the fifth anniversary of the current bull market on Wall Street, making it one of the longest and strongest in history. Yet U.S. stock ownership is at a record low and less than half of Americans trust banks and financial services. And in the last two weeks,…
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Shipping slowdown hints at a recession around the corner

( Source : http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/economy/2016/02/global-shipping-slowdown-hints-recession-around-corner )

The global shipping slowdown hints at a recession around the corner

Instability in China and tumbling commodity prices have devastated the world’s freight providers – a strong indicator of trouble to come.

This is beginning to have the feel of 2008 all over again. Policy makers around the world are in denial once again as global stock markets dive. In 2008, the slowing of the world’s biggest economy – the US – sent the global economy into a tailspin. The concern now is that the slowing of the second-largest economy, China, may well have similar global effects. Chinese growth, which averaged 10 per cent for three decades through to 2010, has decelerated for five straight years and in 2015 slowed to 6.9 per cent, its lowest rate in a quarter of a century. The IMF is forecasting that Chinese growth will slow further to 6.3 per cent in 2016 and 6 per cent in 2017, which may well be overly optimistic. There is already speculation that China’s banking system may see losses even larger than those suffered by US banks during the last crisis.

The bad news from China appears to have already spread to the US, which has seen GDP growth slowing sharply in the last quarter of 2015. US industrial production and core retail sales are both falling, and there have been marked contractions in core capital goods shipments and private non-residential construction. Business fixed investment declined nearly 2 per cent last quarter. Despite the bad news, last week Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen astonishingly claimed that “the US economy is in many ways close to normal”. By contrast, Ruslan Bikbov from Bank of America Merrill Lynch calculates that there is a 64 per cent probability the US is already in recession. My expectation is the next move by the Fed will be to cut rates.

Company profits are tumbling as commodity and oil prices decline. BP reported a $3.3bn fourth-quarter loss last year while Exxon Mobil reported a 58 per cent fall in its quarterly profit. It isn’t just oil companies. Last week, Rio Tinto – the world’s second biggest mining company – reported profits down 51 per cent after commodity prices collapsed amid slowing growth from China. Company profits are also suffering due to a big decline in the amount of freight being moved, especially to and from China. Moeller-Maersk, the Danish conglomerate and the world’s biggest container-ship operator by capacity, last week reported a fourth-quarter net loss of $2.51bn.

DP World, one of the world’s biggest port operators, also says that global volume has slowed sharply. It reported that volumes at its ports rose by 2.4 per cent last year, compared with 8 per cent growth in 2014. Data provider Container Trades Statistics said this week that Asia-to-Europe trade fell nearly 4 per cent last year. Freight rates in 2015 averaged $620 per container on the Asia-to-Europe trade route. Typically, ship operators need more than $1,000 to break even. In February, the cost of moving a container from Shanghai to Rotterdam fell to $431, barely covering fuel costs. Figures released by the Shanghai Shipping Exchange show that the country’s 20 largest container ports grew by 3.7 per cent over 2014, compared to 5.5 per cent the previous year. The Hong Kong Port Development Council reported that throughput at the port of Hong Kong fell by 9.5 per cent in 2015.

The Baltic Dry Index (BDIY) – an index of the price for shipping dry goods such as iron ore and coal (oil is wet) as shown in the chart below – is at a record low of 290. It is down 75 per cent since its recent peak in 2015 and down 98 per cent from its peak of 11,793 points in May 2008. The collapse to 772 by 5 September 2008 (a week before Lehman Brothers failed) presaged the global recession and it is falling again. Capesize vessels, which are too big to get through the Suez or Panama canals, had an average daily hire last week of $1,484, compared with a peak of $233,988 in June 2008. Even though there is an oversupply of ships, global demand is collapsing.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) released figures for global air freight, showing cargo volumes expanded 2.2 per cent in 2015 compared to 2014. This was a slower pace of growth than the 5 per cent recorded in 2014. This weakness apparently reflects sluggish trade growth in Europe and Asia-Pacific. “2015 was another very difficult year for air cargo,” said Tony Tyler, IATA’s Director General and CEO. “Growth has slowed and revenue is falling. In 2011 air cargo revenue peaked at $67bn. In 2016 we are not expecting revenue to exceed $51bn.”

The current contraction in rail freight is apparently reminiscent of the drop that started at the end of 2008 and carried on into 2009. China’s rail freight volumes fell by a significant amount last year. According to the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), volumes fell by 11.9 per cent, a further increase on the 2014 slowdown, when traffic declined by 3.9 per cent.

In the western US farm belt, grain trains are so abundant you can’t give one away. Since the middle of last March, carloads of agricultural products, chemicals, coal, metals, autos and other goods have declined every week. Shipments of US coal, the biggest commodity moved by rail, declined 12 per cent in 2015, according to the Association of American Railroads. The cost of carrying spring wheat from North Dakota to the Pacific coast has dropped by a third in the past two years. In early 2014, grain companies with a train to spare could command $6,000 per car above the official railway tariff, traders say. Today, to avoid hefty contract cancellation fees, they are paying others to use their unwanted trains.

Manufacturing output in the UK fell for each of the last three months and is down 1.7 per cent over the year. The overly optimistic Monetary Policy Committee is forecasting GDP growth of 2.2 per cent (2.4 per cent) in 2016; 2.4 per cent (2.5 per cent) in 2017 and 2.5 per cent (2.4 per cent) in 2018 (the latest, broadly similar, OBR forecasts in parentheses).

So all is well then? Probably not. Mark Carney has run out of ammunition with the Bank Rate at 0.5 per cent, compared with 5.5 per cent in 2008, and has little room to manoeuvre. Negative rates and more quantitative easing, here we come. George Osborne has never explained what he would have done differently in 2008 – his plans for a budget surplus are already in disarray as the economy slows. I am not saying a recession is going to happen any time soon, but it well might.

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2016 macro outlook

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The optimal portfolio of risky assets is exactly the same for everyone

The optimal portfolio of risky assets is exactly the same for everyone :

1. Investors should control the risk of their portfolio not by reallocating among risky assets, but through the split between risky and risk-free assets.

2. The portfolio of risky assets should contain a large number of assets – it should be a well diversified portfolio.

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10%= correction, 20%= bear market.

( Source : https://theirrelevantinvestor.wordpress.com/2016/01/12/probably-everything-you-need-to-know-about-bear-markets/ )

stock-market-correction

10%= correction, 20%= bear market.

I know these arbitrary numbers sometimes seem silly, but when looking at the data, you have to draw the line somewhere. Get over it, let’s move on.

The S&P 500 has been in a drawdown for the last eight months. Stocks are currently 9.2% below the highs made in May 2015, just a hair away from official correction territory. Everyone knows this is totally normal, but you might be surprised to know that since 1928, stocks have been in a 10% drawdown 55% of the time. The problem of course is that they never feel normal because we don’t know in real time if this is just a correction or the start of a bear market. And the deeper stocks go, the harder it is to resist fear’s temptation.

In times like this, historical facts don’t provide much comfort and even less of a roadmap, however, hopefully they can provide a little context.

Since 1928, there have been fifteen separate drawdowns of 10%. Before I continue, you might be thinking, “only fifteen corrections, that doesn’t sound right.” Here’s how I look at drawdowns; in my mind, a drawdown is not over until new highs are made. Of these fifteen corrections, ten have turned into a bear market.

Let’s take a closer examination of these 20% declines because not all bear markets are created equal. There are secular bear markets, which by their nature can only be defined after the fact. These are long periods of time in which stocks make little progress. Then there are cyclical bears, which can come in the middle of a long secular bear or even a secular bull. The chart below shows the three secular bears over the last ninety years.

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 8.36.44 PM

As you can see, the defining characteristic for secular bears is that stocks make no progress for long periods of time. Even worse, they experience severe declines which can scar an entire generation of investors. The chart below shows the painful drawdowns investors witness during these secular bear markets.

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 8.37.59 PM

The frustrating thing about each and every bear is it’s impossible to know how long they will last. Think about the most recent secular bear, which lasted from March 2000 through March 2013 (I think it’s over, though reasonable people can disagree on this). Stocks briefly poked their heads above their 2000 highs in October 2007 before being slammed right back into their decade long range. Investors had a similar experience in 1980; break above the long range for a minute only to be delivered one final gut punch.

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 8.38.28 PM

Looking at bear markets over long periods of time might not be as helpful as breaking them down further. Within the three secular bears have been distinct cyclical bears (think the tech bubble of 2000 and credit bubble of 2007). Here is how I’ve compiled the data below; any time there is a 20% rally, the bear market is over. What this does is break up 1929-1954 period into 11 separate bear markets.

The average of these 20 distinct bear markets saw a 36% peak-to-trough decline, lasting just over 52 weeks. The fifth column shows how long each bear was and the the sixth column shows how quickly stocks gained 20% from their lows, resetting the bear market. For instance, the October ’07 peak to the March ’09 lows was 74 weeks. Stocks then rallied 20% in 4 weeks, making 78 weeks the total length of that particular bear market.

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 8.38.13 PM

Whether the S&P 500 sees a correction, and whether or not that turns into a bear market, and how deep it might go and how long it might last is anybody’s guess. The only thing in your control is what you choose to do or not do. Making decisions in the heat of the moment is almost never a good idea, which is why having a plan in place is so important. Knowing that you have an answer, whether stocks go up, down or sideways a is really liberating feeling.

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In the stock market, short term trends are mostly random and heavily influenced by luck

(Source :  http://jimoshaughnessy.tumblr.com/post/137235375474/short-term-luck-versus-long-term-skill )

Daniel Kahneman, one of the fathers of behavior economics, said one of his favorite papers was “On the Psychology of Prediction (1973).” He claims in the paper that intuitive predictions are often unreliable because people base their predictions on how well an event fits a story. In behavioral economics, this phenomena is called a judgmental heuristic—representativeness, or how familiar you are personally with the story. This is one of the worst ways to make a forecast, because it uses a highly limited data set and allows the law of small numbers to mislead you and your forecast. For example, one study showed that when a doctor is told that a procedure works 50 percent of the time (essentially a coin toss probability or base rate) he or she could get the majority of patients to undergo the procedure if he or she simply added “The last patient who did this is doing great!” The story of success eliminates consideration of the base rate.

I recommend that to successfully make predictions about the long-term results of something such as an investment strategy or the overall direction of a market, you must consider three things:

1.      The long-term base rate of the success or failure of the strategy you are evaluating;

2.      The tendency of systems where both luck and skill are involved to revert to the mean and;

3.      What happened historically after certain extreme observations.

So, for example, when I wrote the commentary entitled “A Generational Buying Opportunity” in March of 2009, I was not relying on any particular insight that I might have had at the time, but rather on the data available to me about what happens in markets after they reach an extreme infection point.  It’s important to remember that the stock market is a complex, adaptive system with feedback loops that has elements of both luck and skill. Luck, in the stock market, essentially holds sway over the short-term and is a specific chance occurrence that affects the overall market or individual stock or portfolio can be either good or bad. Luck is a residual—it’s what is left over after you subtract skill from the outcome.

How much luck is involved determines the range of outcomes—where little luck is involved, a good process will almost always lead to a good outcome. Where a measure of luck is involved, a good process will usually have a good outcome, but only over longer periods of time. The luck/skill continuum in investing is almost entirely a function of time. Over shorter periods, your results are highly contingent on luck and chance. This is vital to understand because you might see a bad process provide excellent results due entirely to chance and a good process provide poor results for the same reason.

Consider a simple intuitive strategy of buying the 50 stocks with the best annual sales gains. But consider this not in the abstract but in the context of what had happened in the previous five years:

Year                            Annual Return            S&P 500 return

Year one                      7.90%                          16.48%

Year two                     32.20%                        12.45%

Year three                   -5.95%                         -10.06%

Year four                     107.37%                      23.98%

Year five                     20.37%                        11.06%

Five-year

Average Annual

Return                         27.34%                        10.16%

$10,000 invested in the strategy grew to $33,482 dwarfing the same investment in the S&P 500, which grew to $16,220. The three-year return (which is the metric that almost all investors look at when deciding if they want to invest or not) was even more compelling, with the strategy returning an average annual return of 32.90% compared to just 7.39% for the S&P 5000. Also consider that these returns would not appear in a vacuum—if it was a fund it would probably have a five start Morningstar rating; it would probably be featured in business news stories quite favorably and the “long-term” proof would say that this intuitive strategy made a great deal of sense and would attract a lot of investors.

Here’s the catch—the returns shown are from “What Works on Wall Street” and are for the period from 1964 through 1968, when, much like the late 1990s, speculative stocks soared. Investors without access to the very long-term results to this investment strategy would not have the perspective that the longer term brings, and without these tools, might have jumped into this strategy right before it went on to crash and burn. As the data from What Works on Wall Street makes plain, over the very long term, this is a horrible strategy that returns less then U.S. T-bills over the long-term. Had this investor had access to long-term returns, he or she would have seen that buying stocks based just on their annual growth of sales was a horrible way to invest—the strategy returned just 3.88 percent per year between 1964 and 2009! $10,000 invested in the 50 stocks from All Stocks with the best annual sales growth grew to just $57,631 at the end of 2009, whereas the same $10,000 invested in U.S. T-Bills compounded at 5.57 percent per year, turning $10,0000 into $120,778. In contrast, if the investor had simply put the money in an index like the S&P 500, the $10,000 would have earned 9.46 percent per year, with the $10,000 growing to $639,144! An investment in All Stocks would have done significantly better, earning 11.22 percent per year and turning the $10,000 into $1.33 million! What the investor would have missed during the phase of exciting performance for this strategy is that, in the end, valuation matters, a lot.

This is a good example of why Kahneman’s paper is so important—people make forecasts not on the data, but how well the prediction fits their perspective and the story behind it. Extrapolating from a small data set can be disastrous to long-term results. The “Most Dangerous Equation” was derived by Abraham de Moivre and states that the variation of the mean is inversely proportional to the size of the sample. A small sample tells you nothing about the true direction of results. Using a small sample—as we see above—can lead to costly errors over the long term.

What this tells us

 

1.      Investors are well advised to look at short-term performance as a worthless indicator for what will happen over the long-term. Indeed, short-term performance can be among the most misleading to investors and should be heavily discounted. The stock market combines both luck and skill, with luck more pronounced over short time periods, and skill more telling over long periods of time.

2.      Investors should make decisions using the long-term base rates a strategy exhibits—in other words, they should concentrate on what is probable rather than what is possible. If you organized your life around things that might possibly happen to you, you’d probably never leave your house, and when you did, it would only be to buy a lottery ticket. Consider, on a drive to the supermarket, it is highly probable that you will get there, buy your groceries and get back home to unpack them without incident. But what’s possible? Almost anything—it’s possible a plane flying overhead could lose an engine falling directly on your car and instantly killing you. It’s possible another car runs a red light and kills you on impact. It’s possible that you get carjacked and your assailant kills you in the process. You get the point—anything is possible but highly improbable. It’s only when you think in terms of probability that you will get in your car and go, yet few investors do so when making investment decisions. Our brains create cause and effect narratives after something has occurred that seem to make sense, however improbable the event. Witness anyone who invested in the stocks with the highest sales gains after a great short-term run.

3.      In the stock market, short term trends are mostly random and heavily influenced by luck. To succeed, you must ignore them and invest in strategies that have the highest probability (base rate) of succeeding in the future.

4.      You will not win the lottery. Avoid buying tickets and avoid what my son, Patrick O’Shaughnessy, calls lottery stocks.

5.      Over short periods of time, a good investment strategy can lead to poor results just as a poor investment strategy can lead to good results. Do your homework; understand how a strategy performs over long periods of time and stick with it. If you can do just this one thing, you will be ahead of the vast majority of investors over the long-term.

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No surprise, a lot of unicorns are actually donkeys.

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( Source : https://medium.com/@abhasvc/unicorns-vs-donkeys-your-handy-guide-to-distinguishing-who-s-who-f1b30942b2b6 )

I’ve been having this conversation a lot lately:

Friend: “Did you see [startup] just raised at a $1B valuation?”
Me: “Unbelievable.”
Friend: “They’re apparently killing it on [metric that is meaningless without the bigger picture].”
Me: “Yeah, but their [metric that also matters] is struggling.”

I am by no means the unicorn prophet, but here’s how I think about which companies have earned their unicorn status vs. which ones are playing a dangerous game of massive capital needs, sky high valuations, impossible expectations, and deferred judgement days. Hopefully, by the end of this post, you’ll have an intuitive feel for which startups actually have a shot at being unicorns and which ones are probably just donkeys.

The Fundamental Law of Growth

LTV = Lifetime Value of a Customer; CAC = Cost of Acquiring a Customer

Like Newton’s laws of gravity or momentum, most tech startups (see exceptions below*) who sell directly to their customers — both enterprises and consumers — must eventually obey the Fundamental Law of Growth: LTV/CAC > 3. There’s a lot of nuance as to why — a discussion that is better suited for a semester-long class than a blog post — but suffice to say that the LTV/CAC ratio speaks to a startup’s revenue trajectory, capital needs, and in turn, how much “irrational exuberance” is demanded of its investors. The lower the LTV/CAC ratio, the less efficient a company is at deploying capital and the more money it needs to fuel growth; conversely, the higher the LTV/CAC ratio, the more efficient the company is and thus the more value it creates for the same amount of capital. Though this can be derived, many before me have empirically observed that 3x is roughly the threshold needed to build big, sustainable businesses.

Assessing a company’s valuation is a discipline on its own and growth is only one factor in that calculation. However, for simplicity’s sake, one can assume that tech companies who don’t obey the Fundamental Law of Growth will eventually lose access to capital, drastically slow their growth, and watch their valuations plummet — those fabled unicorns will eventually emerge as donkeys. So with that, let’s dig into some examples…

*Companies whose value is not predicated on revenue (e.g., disruptive technologies, monopolies, social networks, intellectual property) as well as companies where revenue is achieved indirectly (e.g., ad-tech networks, certain marketplaces, certain viral growth startups) or discontinuously (e.g., government contractors) typically do not follow this rule


For each example, I’ll make assumptions about the various components of the LTV/CAC ratio (see below); some assumptions are based on publicly available data and others are just gut feels. If it’s the latter, I’ve generally erred on being generous to the startups.

ARPU = Average Revenue Per User

Case Example #1: HelloFresh, Subscriptions Meals

  • Customer Lifetime — in my household, we usually try each meal subscription company for a few weeks then switch it up, but let’s assume the average across all customers is 3 months or 0.25 years
  • ARPU — average revenue is probably 2 people, 3 meals per week, 3 weeks per month, so $60/week x 3 = $180/month or $2160/year
  • Margin % — we know from Mahesh’s excellent IPO filing teardown that their margin is 52% (sign of a strong operating team; that’s higher than I expected for this type of business!)
  • CAC — given the numerous other meal subscription companies, brick and mortar competitors, etc., it feels like the CAC is probably in the hundreds, say $400
LTV/CAC = 0.25 years x $2160/year x 52% / $400 = 0.70x

Under these assumptions, HelloFresh is an incredibly capital intensive company because of the (presumed) low customer lifetime/high churn. We know from the IPO filing that HelloFresh grew its revenue from $77M in 2014 to $290M in 2015 (276% growth), so you can understand why someone would say, “They’re killing it on revenue!”. We also know that the company didn’t report cohort retention data, but as per Mahesh, “they do mention that they achieve 2.8x LTV/CAC after two years.” Hold up, come again?Reporting LTV/CAC for only a subset of customers is disconcerting, and even then, it’s just under 3x; substituting 2 years into the LTV/CAC ratio suggests that the true CAC may be much higher ($800). Other food subscription and even some on-demand meal companies — Blue Apron, Plated, Instacart, Munchery, Sprig, etc. — may similarly have short customer lifetimes/high churn and thus low LTV/CAC ratios, thereby also violating the Fundamental Law of Growth.

Verdict: Donkey Watch

Case Example #2: Evernote, Productivity Software

  • Customer Lifetime — I use Evernote constantly, so I expect if anyone is going to have an extended lifetime, it’s them. But as a rule of thumb, lifetimes >3 years should only be considered in exceptional circumstances
  • ARPU — in most freemium products, paid customers make up only a tiny fraction (<5%). Nevertheless, let’s assume 25% are premium users at $50/year, so a blended ARPU of .25 x $50 = $12.50
  • Margin % — pure SaaS company with no customer service costs should probably achieve 70–90% margins, so let’s go with 90%
  • CAC — freemium models typically land in the $1–$100 CAC range, so let’s assume $20
LTV/CAC = 3 years x $12.50/year x 90% / $20 = 1.69x

Evernote has great customer lifetimes, margins, and low CACs; however, because their pricing is low, their overall LTV is limited and thus results in a low LTV/CAC ratio, again violating the Fundamental Law of Growth. Evernote could compensate by increasing pricing, but with other readily available substitutes (Google Docs, Microsoft OneNote), increased pricing likely increases churn too, so the pressure is on Evernote to then increase ARPU by increasing value (additional products, collaboration tools, AI insights, etc.).

Verdict: Donkey Watch

Case Example #3: Oscar, Health Insurance

  • Customer Lifetime — once you join an insurer, you typically stay with them until you switch jobs/get a job. <1.5 years is probably the average, but let’s use 2 conservatively
  • ARPU — $5000; saw this in an Oscar press release and it’s fairly typical of this market
  • Margin % — healthcare insurers have gross margins in the 5–10% range with a max of 15% as mandated by Obamacare, so let’s go with 15%
  • CAC — this is an expensive product for consumers to purchase and probably requires a light-touch inside sales team, so let’s assume CAC is $800
LTV/CAC = 2 years x $5000/year x 15% / $800 = 1.88x

Similar to HelloFresh, Oscar is posting massive revenue ($200M) and growth rates (135%), so you can again understand the hype around them; however, Oscar fails the Fundamental Law of Growth due to its low gross margins. If the Oscar team can achieve a CAC near $500 — perhaps because they’re the hip/fresh insurer on the block with best-in-class marketing — then maybe the company can still grow a horn, but that’s asking a lot given the inherent complexity and cost of the product. Recently, a number of other companies— Jet.com, Instacart, etc.— have built fast-growing businesses that operate on low margins, but they too are at risk of breaching the Fundamental Law of Growth.

Verdict: Donkey Watch

Case Example #4: ZocDoc, Online Physician Reservations

  • Customer Lifetime—I’ve heard that physicians typically churn after a year once they’ve established a sizable patient base, but let’s assume 2 years
  • ARPU — $3000 (publicly available)
  • Margin % — SaaS company with light-touch customer service should probably achieve 60–80% margins, so let’s assume 80%
  • CAC — Selling to physician practices must be challenging, so like any high-touch inside sales operation, ZocDoc’s CAC is probably in the $1–10K range; let’s assume $3K
LTV/CAC = 2 years x $3000/year x 80% / $3000 = 1.60x

ZocDoc has a good LTV overall, but their CAC is likely a show-stopper. Unfortunately, there’s no getting around that — selling to physicians is tough stuff, just ask Pfizer. Also, as competition increases, customer lifetimes and pricing erode too, further driving down the LTV/CAC ratio. I suspect this is why ZocDoc is shifting sales to hospital system customers (1000x higher LTV and only 20x higher CAC), but hard to know what fraction of their business this constitutes. Although I am not familiar enough with the unit economics of fantasy sports startups, I suspect that FanDuel and DraftKings may similarly be spending heavily on customer acquisition without the supporting customer lifetimes or ARPU needed to satisfy the Fundamental Law of Growth.

Verdict: Donkey Watch


Concluding Thoughts

I hope this framework gives you a better sense of how to evaluate today’s unicorn landscape. The companies above all have impressive, press grabbing growth metrics, but they also fail the Fundamental Law of Growth for different reasons — short customer lifetime, low pricing, low margin, and high CAC — so must be viewed with some skepticism.

The most obvious next question is: if the Fundamental Law of Growth is so simple, why did investors grant $B valuations to these companies and others in the first place? I believe the answer is a combination of downside protections, upside overoptimism, and what can only be described as FOMO.

Downside protections are being prominently discussed now in light of Square’s down round IPO (albeit still in unicorn territory); to put it simply, late stage investors have (smartly) insulated themselves from losses, so they’re willing to give more on valuations. With regards to upside overoptimism, I imagine that when these rounds were executed, both investors and entrepreneurs believed that things would look up — customer lifetimes would extend, ARPU would increase, margins would expand, and CACs would decline. Alas, it doesn’t always pan out that way, which is why we encourage our portfolio companies to stay conservative on valuations: big up rounds can be appealing in the short-term, but when companies stumble (which they often do), the subsequent down rounds can be outright devastating. Zenefits, for example, is likely to feel that pain shortly given their recently exposed stumbles.

Personally, I’m looking forward to a private market correction. I feel my colleagues and I have done a good job building a portfolio of companies with sound fundamentals and well-earned valuations; a return to sanity would be a welcomed change, as it would unlock quality talent that we can then direct to our companies and others who are playing the prudent, long game.

China runaway train ?

David Dredge of global hedge fund Fortress has built a career studying, predicting and protecting against the world’s major financial crises. The recent convulsions in global sharemarkets are “just the beginning” of a painful adjustment as money drains from the emerging market economies, he says.

“August 2015 will go down in the record books, much like July 2007 or July 1997, as the beginning of the coming contractionary cycle,” says Dredge who is the co-chief investment officer of Fortress Convex Asia Fund.

August 2015 will go down in the record books, much like July 2007 or July 1997, as the beginning of the coming contractionary cycle.

David Dredge, Fortress

He’s a believer that markets move in long cycles, which “despite all efforts to the contrary, central bankers have not by any means gotten anywhere close to eliminating”.

Hedge fund Fortress says all emerging economies are in the midst of a painful adjustment after a "burst of credit expansion".Hedge fund Fortress says all emerging economies are in the midst of a painful adjustment after a “burst of credit expansion”. Photo: AP

“Like weathermen have not eliminated seasons,” he says.

Singapore-based Dredge says the current volatility in financial markets is in the early stage as markets react to a correction of global imbalances that will last from18 months to three years.

The global economy is made up of nations with a deficit of capital – the West – and those with a surplus of capital – the East and emerging markets, he explains.

Policy determined by deficit

“The flaw is that those with the surplus have all tied their currency to the main protagonist on the deficit side – the US.

“So monetary policy is determined by the deficit of capital side and flows through the currency linkage, and you end up having some form or another of the same monetary policy on both sides, with economies that are 180 degrees diametric to each other.”

The financial links to easy-money policies in the US have unleashed a burst of credit expansion in emerging markets that has proved unsustainable and is now in the process of unwinding.

That is forcing a painful “market-induced tightening” that will affect  the growth of emerging markets as credit expansion is halted and reverses.

The “simplest measure of these imbalances” is foreign exchange reserves, which have swelled in the past few years but are now being liquidated, tightening financial conditions in emerging markets.

“When the hose is on and credit is pouring from the deficit to the surplus side, the FX [foreign exchange] reserves increase and are indicative of the growing size and the location as to where the imbalances exist – because that’s where the most money is going.”

China’s foreign currency reserves peaked at $US4 trillion ($5.7 trillion) in mid-2014 but have since run down to about $US3.6 trillion.

‘In the inverse of imbalance’

“Each crisis occurred at the peak of FX reserves. The emerging-market FX-reserves graph looks exactly like the US debt to GDP because they are just in the inverse of the imbalance.”

Dredge says that differentiating among emerging economies misses the point of what is occurring. Capital is draining from the emerging markets as conditions have tightened, and has been since the “taper tantrum” of May 2013.

“In December 1999 the point wasn’t whether you should invest in Apple or Microsoft. The point was they were both going down [as the tech bubble deflated]. And that’s where we are now.

“The [credit] contraction might be triggered in China with retail margin lending in the equity market, or in Malaysia with recognition of corruption.

“But the trigger is not what we are trying to compare. It’s the potential risk, which is the excess credit creation in the last cycle. In that sense Brazil, China and Malaysia are all the same.”

Dredge co-manages the Convex Asia fund, a “volatility fund”, which manages about $US200 million and seeks to deliver outsized gains in times of market stress.

Stay ahead of spreading fire

He says he’s attempting to stay ahead of the spreading fire and that means looking for cheap exposures to volatility. Interest rate volatility is low and, while foreign currency volatility may have risen, it is below many of the peaks reached over the past five years. Corporate credit spreads, too, are around post-financial crisis lows despite a fair-sized correction in corresponding equities.

“This is indicative that we’re just at the very beginning of this,” Dredge says.

Where does Australia fit in as the cycle turns dark for emerging markets? We’re special in the sense that we have not pegged our currency to the US.

“It is just about the only non-manipulated currency in the entire world, along with New Zealand. By allowing the currency to move and avoid being a hard linkage to the monetary policy whims of the global reserve currency, it takes a lot of the pressure off.”

But there has still been a build-up of risks as credit has grown virtually interrupted and our economic linkages to China make us vulnerable to, not immune from, any shocks.

“Australia came through many of the last several cycles better than most because most of the volatility was allowed to take place in the currency.

“This has allowed the asset volatility to be far less than it otherwise would have been. But that means credit has built up and imbalances, while far less than they would have been, have been allowed to persist.”

 

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Why are hedge funds not updating data ?

Examining the HSBC Hedge Weekly voluntary performance update, it appears certain hedge funds, after some of the most volatile markets in years, have not been quick to post their performance, while others, such as Roy Niederhoffer, have enjoyed the recent market volatility.

HSBC 8 28

Hedge funds: Greenlight and Glenview hedge funds slow to report, while JPMorgan and Odey report mid-August update

Greenlight Capital’s David Einhorn, running $4 billion, for instance, has not been very quick to update his fund’s performance.  As of July 31 Greenlight was negative by -6.3 percent on the month and is off -9.32 percent on the year. Larry Robbins of Glenview Capital Partners has likewise not updated his $4.7 billion fund’s performance. It was off -2.04 as of July but was nonetheless up 4.87 on the year.

Funds with a European focus have been quicker to update their performance. JPMorgan’s Europe Dynamic Long / Short Fund, run by Jonathan Ingram, John Baker and Anis Lahlou-Abid, was up 1.83 percent on the month as of August 21, and is up 9.23 percent on the year. Crispen Odey 2.7 billion (euro) European Fund was up 1.9 percent on the month as of August 14, but was still down -11.84 percent on the year.

Hedge funds: Neuberger Merman, Lansdowne, Trian, Pershing Square and Marcato all report August performance

Neuberger Berman’s US Long Short Equity fund was quick to report and as of August 26 it was down -3.33 percent on the month and -2.88 percent on the year. The $9.7 billion Lansdowne Market fund as of August 21 was up 0.51 percent on the month and 10.71 percent on the year. The equity diversified US focused Marcato International, operated by Richard McGuire with $3.3 billion under management, was down -4 percent as of Aug 14 and is down -3.08 percent on the year.

Another fund to update performance on a relatively recent basis was Nelson Peltz $2.9 billion Trian Partners, which was down -2.75 month and -1.35 on the year as of August 21. The $6 billion Pershing Square Capital Management reported they were down 2 percent as of August 18, and was up 6.95 percent on the year. ValueWalk this morning reported more up-to-date performance for NAV, noting Pershing Square was down 13 percent in August.

Brevan Howard Asia Fund, with $2.6 billion under management, reported as of July 31 they were positive by 3.25 percent on the year, while the flagship Brevan Howard Fund, in the diversified global category with $21 billion under management, was up 1.96 percent on year as of July.

Top and Bottom 20 Hedge Funds August 28th, 2015 Hedge funds

Top and Bottom 20 Hedge Funds August 28th, 2015 Hedge funds

Paul Tudor Jones, Man AHL and Roy Niederhoffer like August

Paul Tudor Jones $8.4 billion Tudor BVI Global fund reported performance as of Aug 21 up 2.35 percent on the year, 0.36 percent positive on the month. Man AHL Alpha and its $3 billion under management were reported up 2.44 percent on the month and positive 3.99 percent on the year August 21, while Roy Niederhoffer enjoyed the recent volatility, he was up 6.4 percent on the month as of August 26.

In explaining the recent market behavior, Niederhoffer told ValueWalk:

While it is easy – and a constant of history — to place the blame on “speculators” for any market move that goes against the preferred direction, it’s almost always the case that the presence of speculators in a market adds, rather than removes, liquidity in a market. In fact, it may be the unnaturally low volatility in the equity market, which went nearly four years without a correction, was the positive result of a great deal of “speculation” that the market would rally. The current burst of volatility is merely a return to normal levels of volatility. Corrections of 5-10% in the stock market are quite common in history. Going four years without one is actually quite rare. Even current levels of volatility are nothing compared to truly turbulent markets like 2000 and 2008.

That having been said, I do expect volatility to be higher going forward, in keeping with the Fed’s decision to end QE (for now). QE certainly had a dampening effect on equity volatility, and I would expect a lack of QE, and a potential tightening in the future, to cause more volatility in the future. So yes – fasten your seatbelts!

source : http://www.valuewalk.com/2015/08/hedge-fund-august-returns/

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Do you own Gold ? You should … Listen why

“If you dont own gold…there is no sensible reason other than you dont know history or you dont know the economics of it”

 


Ray Dalio is an American businessman and founder of the investment firm Bridgewater Associates.

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