Why Buffett Won His Bet Against Hedge Funds

QE had a lot to do with it.

Active fund manager billionaires Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger have been critical of active fund manager millionaires for their very high fees and chronic underperformance. It is not unusual for the ultra wealthy to trash the merely wealthy for their avarice. After all, ultra wealth is so rare that it can be seen as an act of God, whereas mere wealth is the product of human toil and vanity, arduous and earthly.

Buffett and Munger are all-in on their recommendation that investors should dump active strategies and instead invest in passive indexed mutual funds or ETFs that simply mimic the S&P 500. Although this is a popular line among many seasoned investors, it has been getting long in the tooth and has turned what was once a good idea into a crowded trade, with hundreds of billions of dollars shifting from active to passive.

In our view, Buffett’s advice represents last year’s thinking. This year’s thinking, we argued previously, should be that passive funds are merely free-riding active funds and that past a certain market share, passive strategies will bite investors as badly or worse than active ones. Continue reading at Seeking Alpha >>>

To Save or Ruin Twitter

A decision that could fix Twitter or hasten its demise.

This is not the first article to suggest that Twitter can generate some revenues by charging its users, but perhaps we can offer some new angles to the discussion. To begin, it is helpful to differentiate between the different types of Twitter users. These seem to be:

  • Media firms publishing their stories and videos, for example CNN, the New York Times, etc.
  • Corporations marketing their products or making announcements.
  • Non-profit organizations and NGOs raising awareness on various issues.
  • Government institutions, agencies or individuals trying to inform the public.
  • Famous individuals looking to communicate with their fans, for example celebrity entertainers, politicians or opinion leaders.
  • Public or semi-public individuals looking to raise their visibility and to build their personal brand, for example journalists, consultants and academics.
  • Small or mid-sized businesses promoting their services and products.
  • Private individuals seeking a mode of expressing their thoughts and feelings, often anonymously through a pseudonym.
  • Private individuals who rarely or never tweet but visit Twitter frequently to read the news or other people’s tweets. Continue reading at Seeking Alpha >>>

Passive Funds Are Just Free-Riding Active Funds

If you and your neighbor have the same income and expenses except that he rides the bus for free every day while you pay a fare, he will be richer than you. Until recently, this was obvious: the neighbor is a free rider while you pay your way.

But now, the obvious is presented as a novelty. Plenty of people are extolling the benefits of free-riding without naming it as such and encouraging a large exodus from active to passive (or indexed) funds. The only problem is that proponents of this form of free-riding neglect to also mention the following corollary sub-plot.

Now your neighbor makes you feel like a fool and convinces you to also ride for free. Soon, your whole town has caught on to the idea and fewer and fewer people are willing to pay for the bus. After a while, the number of people supporting bus service with their dollars becomes so small that buses go out of business or fall into a state of disrepairContinue reading at Seeking Alpha >>>

Learning from Medellín with Alejandro Echeverri

“I think, if you want to write a new narrative at some specific moment in the story of a city, it is important that you have to feel the transformation and see the transformation. So the physical transformation is important but always there is more a spiritual thing, as happens with emotional connections and inspirational things.” ______Architect Alejandro Echeverri.

EcheverriPhotoIf you have an interest in Latin America or in urban matters, you will have read by now that the city of Medellín, Colombia has undergone a startling transformation in the past fifteen years. In the 1980s and 1990s, the name of Medellín evoked fearsome drug cartels, violence and terrorism.

But in the 2000s, Medellín took a dramatic turn for the better. In 2012, it was selected from 200 contenders as Innovative City of the Year in a survey organized by the Wall Street Journal and the Urban Land Institute. Today, it features regularly among lists of forward-looking cities and must-see destinations. Read more

Gold: The Barbarian Tries a Comeback

New doubts about the effectiveness of government are boosting the price of gold again.

Last fall, around the time we updated our comment on the ratio of Gold to the S&P 500, the price of gold fell to a six-year low of $1,049 per ounce, representing a decline of 45% from the September 2011 peak of $1,895. As is customary near the end of each year since 2011, there were at the time several bearish analyses, assuring us in this case that the next level would be below $1,000. But gold was recently near $1,300, having risen over 15% since January 1st. Read more

The Way Forward for Hedge Funds – 2

In the first installment, I made a case that hedge funds can regain their popularity by reverting to their initial mandate which was to be hedged. I examine here how such a model hedge fund would have performed in the past 50 years if it had returned:

  • 0% in all years when the market was down.
  • 75% of the market gain in all years when the market was up.

In essence, this fund only has a chance of outperforming the S&P 500 in the long run if the market has a big down year (say 10%+) every few years.

So what do the past 50 years tell us? Read more

The Way Forward for Hedge Funds – 1

Hedge funds should go back to hedging and also consider lower fees.

Equity hedge funds are under tremendous pressure, having underperformed their benchmark in nearly every year since 2008. But can it really be true that the average equity hedge fund is no better over the long run than granny’s passive indexed ETF or mutual fund that tracks the S&P 500?

On one side, hedge funds employ full-time cohorts of smart ambitious highly credentialed people who spend long hours and a lot of money visiting and analyzing companies to find the best opportunities. They sit in beautiful new offices and use the latest in real-time data feeds and state of the art technologies. Read more

Manhattan Ultra-Luxury ‘Battling the Serpent of Chaos’

The deceleration of China and resulting commodities crash have created a problem for developers of ultra luxury condominiums.

The ancient Egyptians believed that the sky was a solid dome, the belly of the goddess Nut who arched her body from one side of the horizon to the other. Every day, the sun god Ra emerged in the east and sailed in his boat across the sky until dusk when he disappeared in the west by dipping below the surface of Nun, the ocean upon which the whole flat earth floated. Read more

Rise of the Rest: A Vision Deferred

Changing demographics and the commodities crash have slowed down the development of poorer countries.

Perhaps it all started with a turn in China’s demographics. Demand growth for commodities has declined sharply from recent years and has resulted in a crash of global prices. Copper is down 54% from its post 2008 peak and down 25% this year alone. Crude oil is down 67% and 39% in the same time spans. In addition to softer demand, prices were negatively impacted by jumps in supply, most notably from shale energy producers in the United States. Read more