Rank #1: #104 - Ken Fisher - “If You’re Worried About What Things Are Going to Be Worth Next Week…You’re Going to Make Yourself Way Poorer 20 Years from Now"
In Episode 104, we welcome the legendary, Ken Fisher.
Meb starts with a quick word of congratulations to Ken, as his firm just passed $100B in assets under management. The guys then discuss Ken’s interest in fishing with a bow and arrow, which eventually morphs into a conversation about a millionaire who allegedly hid a million dollars somewhere in the Rockies, leaving clues to treasure-hunters searching for it.
The guys then jump into investing, discussing Ken’s early days in launching Fisher Investments. They touch upon one of Ken’s early claims to fame, championing the price-to-sales ratio. This leads to a conversation about being factor agnostic, which includes some interesting takeaways from Ken on capital pricing.
Soon, Meb brings up Ken’s book, Debunkery, and asks about one of its points: namely, the misbelief by so many investors that bonds are safer than stocks. What follows is a great commentary by Ken about short-term volatility risk versus opportunity cost risk. When you look at longer, rolling time periods, it becomes clear that stocks are far less risky than bonds. And in the long term, stocks are less risky than cash. Ken tells us that in his business, it’s his job to focus his clients on the longer-term.
Next, the conversation takes an interesting turn, touching upon the explosion of tech science, and how it’s affecting our lives, as well as the capital markets. It bleeds into Meb suggesting that older investors tend to become more conservative or pessimistic, and so they tilt away from equities, and whether that’s a behavioral challenge Ken has to address with his clients. Ken gives us his thoughts, concluding with that idea that people need to be relatively comfortable in capital markets with things that are generally uncomfortable.
The conversation then veers into politics and the effects on the market. Ken tell us that when you look at presidents and market history, our system gives presidents much less power to affect markets than most people believe.
Meb jumps to Twitter questions, bringing up one that wonders how to position yourself in the end of a bull market. Ken gives us a fascinating answer which I’m going to make you listen to in order to hear, but it tends to focus on large cap and quality.
There’s way more in this great episode: capital preservation and growth… volatility (a great quote from Ken “volatility is your friend, it’s not your enemy, if you use it correctly”)… the media’s impact on investor perception… the Fed and sovereign balance sheets… the senate bill trying to eliminate the ability of public companies buying back their own stock in the marketplace… housing (and the need to account for the full housing costs when calculating returns)… and of course, Ken’s most memorable trade.
What are the details? Find out in Episode 104.
May 02 2018
Rank #2: The Best Investment Writing Volume 3: Gary Antonacci – Extended Backtest of Global Equities Momentum
Last year when we published The Best Investment Writing Volume 2, we offered authors the opportunity to record an audio version of their chapter to be released as a segment of the podcast, and listeners loved it.
This year, we’re bringing you the entire volume of The Best Investment Writing Volume 3 in podcast format.
You’ll hear from some of the most respected money managers and investment researchers all over the world.
Enough from me, let’s let Gary take over this special episode.
Oct 21 2019
Rank #3: #115 - Steve Glickman - Opportunity Zones: Ultimately, If You Hold for…10 Years or More…You Don’t Pay Any New Capital Gains – Ever
In Episode 115, we welcome entrepreneur and opportunity zone expert, Steve Glickman.
Meb jumps right in, asking “what is an opportunity zone?”
Steve tells us about this brand-new program that was created this past December. Most people don’t know about it yet. It was the only bipartisan piece of the Investing in Opportunity Act, which was legislation packed into the tax reform bill.
Opportunity zones were designed to combine scaled investment capital with lower-income communities that haven’t seen investment in decades. You can essentially roll-over capital gains into opportunity funds – special investment vehicles that have to deploy their capital in these pre-determined opportunity zones. It could be a real estate play, a business venture play, virtually anything as long as the investment is in the opportunity zone and meets the appointed criteria. And the benefit of doing this? Steve tells us “ultimately, if you hold for…10 years or more in these opportunity zones…you don’t pay any new capital gains – ever.”
Meb hones in on the benefits, clarifying they are: a tax deferral, a step-up in basis, and any gains on the investment are free of capital gains taxes. He then asks where these zones exist now, how one finds them, and how they were created.
Steve tell us the zones exist in every US state and territory, including Puerto Rico – in fact, the entire island of Puerto Rico is now an opportunity zone. Steve goes on to give us more details.
Soon, the conversation turns toward the problem these opportunity zones are trying to solve – the growing inequality in America. As part of this discussion, Steve tells us about his group, EIG. He created it to work on bipartisan problems that had private sector-oriented solutions. He wanted to address the unevenness of economic growth in the US – why are some areas getting all the capital, while others are getting left behind?
Meb points the guys back to opportunity zones and how an investor can take part. He asks what’s the next step after selling all my investments for capital gains. What then?
Steve tells us all the capital has to flow through an opportunity fund. It can be a corporation or partnership, include just one investor or many, can be focused on multiple investments or just one…. Most people have identified a project in which they want to invest, but some groups are now creating funds to raise capital, then will find a deal. Steve provides more details on all this.
There’s way more in this special episode: the two industries that the government won’t allow to be included in opportunity zone investments… The three different tests for how a business qualifies as an opportunity zone investment… What regulatory clarity is currently missing from the IRS… The most common naysayer pushback they’re hearing… The slippery issue of gentrification… And far more.
Opportunity zones have the potential to be a game-changer for many investors. Get all the details in Episode 115.
Aug 01 2018
Rank #4: #39 - Ed Thorp - “If You Bet Too Much, You'll Almost Certainly Be Ruined”
In Episode 39, we welcome the legendary Ed Thorp. Ed is a self-made man after having been a child of The Depression. He’s a professor, a renowned mathematician, a fund manager who’s posted one of the lengthiest and best investment track records in all of finance, a best-selling author (his most recent book is A Man for All Markets), the creator of the first wearable computer, and finally, the individual responsible for “counting cards.”
Meb begins the episode in the same place as does Ed in his new book, the Depression. Meb asks how that experience shaped Ed’s world view. Ed tells us about being very poor, and how it forced him to think for himself, as well as teach himself. In fact, Ed even taught himself how to make his own gunpowder and nitroglycerine.
This dovetails into the various pranks that Ed played as a mischievous youth. Ed tells us the story of dying a public pool blood-red, resulting in a general panic.
It’s not long before we talk about Ed’s first Las Vegas gambling experience. He had heard of a blackjack system developed by some quants, that was supposed to give the player a slight mathematical advantage. So Ed hit the tables with a strategy-card based on that system. At first, his decisions caused other players at the table to ridicule him. But when Ed’s strategy ended up causing him to hit “21” after drawing 7 cards, the players’ opinions instantly changed from ridicule to respect.
This was the basis from which Ed would create his own counting cards system. Meb asks for a summary of how it works. Ed gives us the highlights, which involve a number count that helps a player identify when to bet big or small.
Meb then asks why Ed decided to publish his system in academic journals instead of keeping it hush-hush and making himself a fortune. Ed tells us that he was academically-oriented, and the spirit of science is to share.
The conversation turns toward the behavioral side of gambling (and investing). Once we move from theory to practice, the impact of emotions plays a huge role. There’s a psychic burden on morale when you’re losing. Meb asks how Ed handled this.
Ed tells us that his early days spent gambling in the casinos were a great training ground for later, when he would be “gambling” with tens of millions of dollars in the stock market. He said his strategy was to start small, so he could handle the emotions of losing. As he became more comfortable with his level of risk, he would scale his bets to the next level, grow comfortable, then move up again from there. In essence, don’t bet too much too fast.
This dovetails into the topic of how to manage money using the Kelly Criterion, which is a system for deciding the amount to bet in a favorable situation. Ed explains that if you bet too small, won’t make much money, even if you win. However, “if you bet too much, you’ll almost certainly be ruined.” The Kelly Criterion helps you determine the appropriate middle ground for position sizing using probabilities.
It turns out that Ed was so successful with his methods, that Vegas changed the rules and eventually banned Ed from their casinos. To continue playing, Ed turned to disguises, and tells a fun story about growing a beard and using contact lenses to avoid identification.
Meb tells us about one of his own card-counting experiences, which was foiled by his partner’s excessive Bloody Mary consumption.
Next, we move to Wall Street. Meb brings up Ed’s performance record, which boasts one of the highest risk-adjusted returns of all time – in 230 months of investing, Ed had just 3 down months, and all were 1% or less. Annualized, his performance was over 19%.
Ed achieved this remarkable record by hedging securities that were mispriced – using convertible bond and options from the same company. There was also some index arbitraging. Overall, Ed’s strategy was to hedge away as much risk as possible, then let a diversified portfolio of smaller bets play out.
Meb asks, when you have a system that has an edge, yet its returns begin to erode, how do you know when it’s time to give up the strategy, versus when to invest more (banking on mean reversion of the strategy). Ed tells us that he asks himself, “Did the system work in the past, is it working now, and do I believe it will it in the future?” Also “What is the mechanism that’s driving it?” You need to understand whether the less-than-desired current returns are outside the range of usual fluctuation. If you don’t know this, then you won’t know whether you’re experiencing bad luck (yet within statistical reason) or if something has truly changed and your “bad luck” is actually abnormal and concerning.
Next, Meb asks about Ed’s most memorable trade. You’ll want to hear this one for yourself, but it involves buying warrants for $0.27, and the stock price eventually rising to $180.
There’s plenty more in this fantastic episode, including why Ed told his wife that Warren Buffett would be the richest man in America one day (said back in 1968)… What piece of investing advice Ed would give to the average investor today… Ed’s interest in being cryogenically frozen… And finally, Ed’s thoughts on the source of real life-happiness, and how money fits in.
The show ends with Meb revealing that he has bought Ed and himself two lottery Powerball tickets, and provides Ed the numbers. Will Ed win this bet? The drawing is soon, so we’ll see.
All this and more in Episode 39.
Feb 08 2017
Rank #5: #182 - Larry Hite - I Want To Be In A Position Where Something Great Can Happen…If I Don’t Get That, I Don’t Want To Play
In episode 182 we welcome our guest, Larry Hite. Larry and Meb start off the conversation with Larry’s origin as a trend follower, and the parallels to trend following and life. Larry follows with personal challenges he overcame in life, and how he found a path to success through a life lesson, weeding out what he couldn’t do, and include the things that gave him a lot of enjoyment and potentially a lot of money (or both).
Next, Larry gets into his start in investing, combing through hundreds of years of data and finding that cutting losses and letting winners run really works. He then transitions into some underlying foundations about how he thinks about trading, including, putting the odds in your favor by creating asymmetrical bets.
Meb then talks with Larry about founding Mint, one of the earliest systematic CTAs, and was the first hedge fund to raise over $1 billion.
As the conversation winds down, Larry talks about systematic rules, trend following, and making an array of bets.
All this and more in episode 182, including concluding thoughts on challenges and resiliency, and Larry’s most memorable investment.
Oct 16 2019
Rank #6: #49 - Steve Sjuggerud - “This is Not What the Peak of a Bull Market Looks Like"
In Episode 49, we welcome Dr. Steve Sjuggerud. The conversation begins with Meb and Steve reminiscing about the origin of their friendship, which dates back some 10 years. This leads the guys into Steve’s background, and how he transitioned from being a broker into being the highly-popular investment newsletter writer he is today.
Meb asks Steve to describe his investing framework. Similar to Meb, Steve likes both value and trend. Specifically, he looks for 3 things: assets that are “cheap,” “hated,” and “in an uptrend.” This methodology applies to all sorts of asset classes. The guys dig deeper into value and trend, leading to Steve ultimately to say, “If I had to choose between one or the other, I would actually choose momentum over value.” Meb agrees.
Next, Meb asks how the world looks to Steve today. Is he buying? Defensive? Where’s he looking? And so on…
Steve tells there are always reasons to sell or stay out of the market. Despite this, Steve’s thesis is that interest rates will stay lower than you can imagine, longer than you can imagine. And this will drive asset classes higher than we can imagine. We’re still not at absurd equity levels yet here in the U.S. – Steve says we’re maybe around the 7th or 8th inning of this bull market. But the biggest gains can often come at the end of a bull market, so there’s potentially more significant room to run.
As the guys discuss this, the conversation tilts toward investor sentiment. They agree that irrational exuberance for this bull market simply doesn’t exist right now. There’s no euphoria. Steve sums it up simply: “This is not what the peak of a bull market looks like.”
Yeah, valuations are high, but interest rates are near historic lows. Relative to bond yields, the equity values are far more reasonable. Investors need to compare returns to what you can get through other asset classes.
The guys jump around a bit, touching upon the warning signs Steve will look for to tip him off as to when to bail on U.S. stocks, a discussion of the Commitment of Traders report and how to use it, and then a discussion of U.S. housing and how it’s a solid investment right now because housing starts are nowhere near what they need to be to equalize supply and demand.
The guys then turn toward foreign equities, where it appears that value and trend are lining up. Foreign has been cheap for a while, but it’s been underperforming. And now that appears to be changing. Meb asks Steve to tell us what he’s seeing – it generally boils down to one big thing: China.
You’ll definitely want to listen to this part of the discussion, as Steve tells us about a revolution in mobile payments that’s already happened in China (and will likely happen here in the U.S.). But beyond that, Chinese stocks as a whole are now incredibly cheap. Even better, there are going to be tailwinds of adding Chinese stocks to a major index. I won’t get into the details here, but the analogy the guys use is having the teacher’s manual of a high school textbook with all the answers ahead of time. Best of all, Steve gives us the names of some actual ETFs that may benefit from this trend.
There’s much more in this value-packed episode: gold and gold mining stocks… Steve’s investment in St. Gaudens coins… Steve’s surfboard and vintage guitar collections (including the story of a $30K guitar he bought and later sold for $72K)… And of course, Steve’s most memorable trade – which involved a painful 50% loss for Steve and his subscribers, all stemming from the lie of a certain global politician.
Which politician and which lie? Find out in Episode 49.
Apr 26 2017
Rank #7: #21 - Michael Covel - "We Can't Make a Prediction Worth a Damn"
Episode 21 starts with a “thank you” to Michael, as it was his advice on starting a podcast that got “The Meb Faber Show” off the ground. But Michael and Meb quickly turn to Michael’s expertise, trend following. This is how Michael summarizes it: “We don’t know what’s going to happen. We can’t make a prediction worth a damn. The market starts to move, whatever that market might be. We get on board, and we don’t get out until it goes against us and we have an exit signal.” They then turn to the infamous “turtle” story. It involves Richard Dennis, a great trader from the 1970’s, who made his first million by about age 25. By the early 80’s, he was worth about $200 million. Around this time, the movie “Trading Places” came out (two millionaires make a bet on the outcome of training a bum to be a financial whiz, while taking a financial whiz and, effectively, turning him into a bum). Richard felt he could similarly train a financial no-nothing, turning him into a great trader. Richard’s partner felt it wouldn’t work. So they made a bet. How’d it turn out? Three or four years later, the group Richard trained had made, on aggregate, around $100 million. Meb then suggests that a profitable strategy such as trend following, that seems to work, should attract lots of investor dollars in the long run. So why then doesn’t trend following have more “big money” institutional investors using it? Michael points toward drawdowns – “the scarlet letter of trend following” – even though buy-and-hold has plenty of drawdowns too. The guys then agree that all investing is purely speculation. We like to believe there’s more certainty, but that’s not the case. They then bring up a quote from Ed Seykota: “Win or lose, everyone gets what they want out of the market. Some people seem to like to lose, so they win by losing money.” Michael tells us this is true not only for investing, but life as well. Next, Meb asks about Michael’s podcast, which results in a great recap of how Michael got started and how he grew it to be the success it is today. The guys then discuss the mass of great investing content out there, for example, the hours of great interviews from Michael’s podcast—where is a new listener supposed to start? It’s overwhelming. Michael gives us his thoughts. This leads to Meb’s latest entrepreneurial business idea (which some listener should run with and make lots of money). There’s plenty more, including the guys touching on sensory deprivation, yoga/meditation, and of course, what each of them find beautiful, useful, or downright magical – Michael has about seven for us. What are they? Find out in Episode 21.
Sep 21 2016
Rank #8: #83 - Randy Swan - “What Do You Do When Things Are Fundamentally Overvalued, But You Want to Remain Invested in the Market?"
In Episode 83, we welcome fund manager, Randy Swan, who’s calling in from the Bahamas after being displaced from Puerto Rico by Hurricane Maria.
The guys start with Randy’s backstory, which leads into why he started Swan Global Investments. In part due to his background in managing liability risk at KPMG, Randy was interested in a way to diversify away market risk. This led him to develop an option-based market approach called the Swan Defined Risk Strategy (DRS), which might be summarized with Randy’s phrase “always invested, always hedged.”
Randy walks us through his DRS methodology, which relies on asset diversification and the purchase of puts to protect against market drawdowns. He gives us more info on the duration of the puts, generally how far out of the money the system targets, and other trade specifics. This dovetails into a discussion of selling options as opposed to buying them. Randy uses selling strategies in an effort to generate positive returns on an annual basis.
Meb asks about the general response from investors, and how they view buying this type of portfolio “insurance.” Randy tells us most people think it makes sense, they just haven’t really been exposed to the idea. Rather, most people are used to hearing only about diversification.
The guys then discuss low volatility in the market. Randy gives us his thoughts, mentioning how now is a great time to hedge a portfolio given the low VIX. The conversation touches on whether you can still sell options in this low-VIX market. After all, it might be dangerous if volatility spikes. Plus, with so many investors having adopted a selling strategy in an effort to generate income, is this space crowded? Does it still work? You might be surprised to hear Randy’s take on it.
This is a great episode for options-fans and investors wondering how to stay in this market while adding some protection to their portfolios. You’ll hear more on volatility skew… the active versus passive debate (and how it misses the point)… Randy’s broad advice for listeners interested in implementing an options strategy… and of course, Randy’s most memorable trade.
Get all the details in Episode 83.
Nov 29 2017
Rank #9: # 6 - Three Concepts That Investors Get Wrong
Do you know which three concepts most investors – retail and professional alike – get wrong? One is asset allocation; two is a bit different – it’s actually a lack of awareness of a type of investment that actually pays you to own it (confused?); third is a misconception about dividends and dividend stocks. Diving in, when it comes to asset allocation, different institutions and money managers often suggest significantly different asset allocations. So which allocation is the most effective? Turns out that’s the wrong question. There’s a far more important issue lurking here. Meb will tell you what it is. Next, we move on to a discussion few investors know about. It involves a way to be paid to own a fund. Interested? Finally, Meb risks alienating more than a handful of listeners by presenting an unorthodox perspective on dividend investing. But if you’re a dividend investor, you need to hear what he’s saying. Turns out there’s a tweak on a traditional dividend strategy that produced significantly better results when back-tested. Learn what this tweak is, and far more, on Episode 6 of The Meb Faber Show.
Jul 07 2016
Rank #10: #118 - Radio Show - Record-Setting US Valuations... Emerging Market Opportunities... VC Bad Behavior… and Listener Q&A
Episode 118 has a radio show format. In this one, we cover numerous Tweets of the Week from Meb, as well as some write-in questions.
We start by discussing articles Meb posted in his Tweets of the Week. These include a piece by Jason Zweig about how your broker might be making 10-times more money off your cash balance than you could make on it. Then there’s discussion of valuations – a chart by Leuthold shows how one measure of US market valuation has matched its 2000 level, and another has doubled it. At the same time, Longboard released a chart referencing a Goldman market outlook that claims “in 99% of the time at current valuation levels, equity returns have been single digit or negative”. We talk about US valuations and when “selling” might trump buy-and-hold.
Then we jump to foreign valuations. GMO believes emerging markets are the biggest opportunity relative to other assets in the past 20+ years. Meb clarifies what this really means. Then there’s discussion of home country geographic sector bias, whether the VC market is in a bubble (Meb tells us about some bad behavior he’s beginning to see in the space), and how the American savings rate is pretty grim.
We then get into listener Q&A. Some that you’ll hear Meb address include:
- Are momentum funds just camouflaging another factor? For instance, if Value became the “in” factor, wouldn’t Momentum pick it up, so Momentum would then just look like a Value fund?
- Assuming the U.S. economy does not enter a recession in the near future, the Shiller PE’s 10-year earnings average will soon consist of all economic boom and no bust as the depressed earnings of 2008 and 2009 roll out of its calculation. How useful is a CAPE that only includes a period of profit expansion?
- Regarding your global value strategy, have you ever tested the strategy using relative CAPE ratios versus absolute to determine country allocations in order to avoid countries with structurally low CAPE ratios?
- I've never heard of a 401k plan offering ETF options. Is there a reason logistically, legally, etc. that prevents 401k plans from offering ETF options?
- How do I structure my portfolio for a 4% yield, after tax?
- I like your shareholder yield strategy, but if I get capital returned through buybacks and share appreciation, how do I get monthly income without selling shares and triggering taxes? I just don't see how I can implement a monthly income plan with this strategy.
All this and more in Episode 118.
Aug 22 2018
Rank #11: #46 - Raoul Pal - “We've Got to Expect a Recession This Year or Next Year, or if We're at the Wild Extremes, the Year After That"
In Episode 46, we welcome Real Vision TV co-founder, Raoul Pal. The guys start by going over a bit of Raoul’s background.
Raoul started his career by running equity and equity derivatives at Goldman Sachs. Through this, he learned the macro investing world. He then joined a hedge fund, managing its global macro fund before retiring at 36 on the coast of Spain. But it was then that Raoul decided to start a research service, the Global Macro Investor, aimed at large, institutional players.
However, in 2008, Raoul realized the ordinary investor had been let down by the system and financial media. So, in an effort to help, Raoul founded Real Vision TV with Grant Williams. Real Vision features the smartest guys in the world teaching you how to invest, what their best ideas are, and so on…
After this background, the guys jump in, with Meb asking Raoul about his overall investing framework. Raoul tells us this whole game is about probabilities. To invest successfully, we look for times when the odds are in our favor. So, to look for these times, Raoul developed a system based on the business cycle – with a focus on GDP, as asset prices are moved by economic growth. The model relies heavily on findings from ISM reports (Institute for Supply Management). Raoul tells us that when looking at ISM numbers, it’s not just the level that counts, but also the rate of change of those levels. Overall, this model helps forecast S&P levels, bond yields, inflation, world trade… basically everything!
So, what is it saying now?
“We’ve got to expect a recession this year or next year, or if we’re at the wild extremes, the year after that.”
Meb brings up stats from Ned Davis, tying ISM levels to market returns. He says how last year, it appeared that ISM levels were rolling over, but then they steadied and now are a bit high. He asks Raoul what it means for us now.
You’ll want to hear Raoul’s response, which includes the possibility that asset prices may weaken soon – while bond yields may suffer significantly.
Meb then points to Raoul’s call of a potential short trade in oil. Raoul tell us that this is the largest speculation in oil – ever. Way too many people went long, and this speculative positioning is too far ahead of the actual business cycle. He says oil is maybe $10-$15 too high right now. It’s coming close to being a perfect trade setup. Oil could hit as low as $30.
Next, the guys discuss great opportunities around the globe. Raoul points to Cypress. Greek stocks are still hammered too. He says the upside could be huge – potentially 10x your money. Meb agrees, mentioning his own study about markets that have gone down big, or stayed down for many years. The upside is often spectacular.
The conversation then steers toward one the biggest emerging macro story in the world – India. You’re going to want to hear this one. It’s a fascinating story, and Raoul gives us actionable investment ideas.
Next up – Bitcoin. Raoul gives us a quick primer on Bitcoin and blockchain technology. He tells us that many people are confused as to what, exactly, it is – currency? Investment? Raoul gives us his thoughts.
There’s way more, as this episode is packed with great content. The guys talk about Google’s and IBM’s prospects as investments… artificial intelligence… making money entrepreneurially rather than through investing… and Raoul’s most memorable trade – it’s fascinating story involving the South African Rand that you don’t want to miss.
What are the details? Find out in Episode 46.
Apr 05 2017
Rank #12: #125 - Tom Barton - The Biggest Problem Investors Have is Things Change...and They Don't Change
In Episode 125, we welcome famed short-seller and early stage investor, Tom Barton.
We start by going way back, after Tom graduated from Vanderbilt. He walks us through his early career experiences which helped him sharpen his business analysis skills, as well as his operational skills. He developed a great understanding of different industries, yet also what it was like to actually work in them. This was the foundation for the short-selling career that was soon to begin.
In 1983 Tom went to work for a wealthy Dallas family, and in the process met one of the original fraud short-sellers, nicknamed “The Mortician”. Tom knew nothing about stocks at that point, but under the guidance of his new mentor, realized that his analytical skills aligned perfectly with sniffing out short-selling candidates. He reasoned “isn’t it easier to spot something that’s going to fail than be certain on something that’s going to succeed?” He then began digging into the research, and finding slews of fraudulent companies.
What follows is an incredibly entertaining story-after-story of the various frauds Tom sniffed out (and made money on). There was a company claiming it could change the molecular composition of water… one deceiving customers about building-restoration after fires… a biotech claiming it could cure HIV… By the time 1990 rolled around, Tom’s returns were over 80% and he had generated a couple billion dollars.
There’s a great bit in here about “The Wolf of Wall Street” (Stratton Oakmont). Tom is the guy who took them down. Related, the “Wolf” himself snaked an apartment out from underneath Meb a few years ago out here in Manhattan Beach, CA. The guys share a laugh over this.
Eventually the conversation morphs from short-selling to when Tom’s strategy changed to going long. It involves managing money for George Soros, and some of Tom’s early long winners.
This dovetails into how Tom got into biotech, which is where he’s spending lots of time today. Tom tells us about his introduction into gene therapy, then successes with the company Intrexon. He talks us through some small companies he’s been a part of that have already sold for huge paydays…for instance, one purchased by Novartis for $9B.
This is a must-listen for any short-sellers, market historians, private investors, and biotech investors. And Tom’s most memorable trade is a doozy. This one involves buying puts for a hundred and something thousand dollars…which he sold for $13M.
These details and far more in Episode 125.
Oct 10 2018
Rank #13: #47 - Ric Edelman - “47% of the Occupations in America Will Be Gone Within 15 Years"
In Episode 47, we welcome New York Times bestselling author, Ric Edelman.
We start with some quick background on Ric, but then jump into the main topic: the future of technology and how it will affect our lives.
In essence, the future is going to look far different than what we’ve known. The tendency is to believe that the future will be similar to what our parents and grandparents experienced as they aged. A linear progression – school, work, retirement, death.
Ric tells us this is going to change. The linear lifeline is going away. It will more resemble school, work, back to school, a new, different career, then a sabbatical, more school, and so on… Think of a lifeline that’s more cyclical.
What’s the reason? Well, we’re going to be living far longer. Technological and health care advances mean we’re going to be far more vibrant much later in life, so this will change everything we know about retirement and our traditional life-paths.
The guys then dig into the role that technology and robots will play in all this. Robots are going to eliminate numerous existing occupations. On the other hand, new jobs and skill sets will be created, but we’ll have to go back to school to learn them.
Meb ask Ric to dive deeper into this “loss of jobs” forecast, as it’s a common source of concern for many people.
Because of computers’ increased capacity, robots will be able to do jobs that humans do – and not just “factory line” type jobs. Any jobs that are repetitive in nature are at risk – which means white collar jobs too; for example, certain types of legal work. As another example, did you know that computers are already writing news articles? There’s a program that currently writes sports stories, and apparently, readers can’t tell the difference between a human and computer author.
Ric tells us “According to Oxford University, 47% of the occupations in America will be gone within 15 years.”
So what can you do to protect yourself from being replaced by a robot?
There are 4 skill sets that will give you an edge: thinking, managing, creating, and communicating. These four things will be the most difficult for computers to do.
The conversation bounces around a bit before the guys dig deeper into how working has changed over the years – and how it will continue to change. This leads into a conversation contrasting the “New York model” with the “Hollywood model.”
In essence, the New York model is “one job.” You do a given thing with same people for the same customers for decades. With the Hollywood model, you have a group of people who come together for one project, though they’re likely working on multiple projects at the same time. You’re using your skills in a wide variety of activities at the same time. We’re moving toward a Hollywood model.
Meb asks how this view of the future impacts asset allocation.
There are two big ways: One, we need to increase our allocation to stocks far more, and maintain it for much longer. Most peoples’ asset allocation models are flawed in this manner.
Two, we need to re-think the types of companies that are in our portfolios. Most of these businesses were likely built for the 20th century – and if so, they’re at risk of failing in the 21st century. As an example, think Kodak that went bankrupt when it couldn’t transition and monetize newer technologies. Ric mentions Tesla and AirBnB as two examples of 21st century companies.
This leads into a discussion about an ETF that targets only 21st Century companies. You’ll want to hear this topic.
There’s way more in this episode: behavioral challenges for investors and the role that an advisor should play in helping… an irrevocable trust, created by Ric, that’s helping parents save money for their children… the challenges facing Social Security given our much longer life-spans… Even why personal finance isn’t taught in schools, despite being one of the most critical skills our kids should learn.
So why isn’t it taught? Hear Ric’s thoughts in Episode 47.
Apr 12 2017
Rank #14: #117 - Steve Lockshin - We Think the Estate and Tax Planning Levers are the Most Important Levers to Push on for Clients
In Episode 117, we welcome entrepreneur and wealth advisor, Steve Lockshin. At Meb’s request, Steve walks us through his professional background in the financial services industry. It’s an interesting story, reflecting how wealth management has changed over the decades.
Meb picks up on a term Steve used in describing his early years – “producer” (referencing an advisor) – making the point that if advisors were expected to produce revenue to the degree that “producer” was their name, it pointed toward a potential conflict with the client’s goals. Steve agrees, noting that the conflicts of interest in the business are challenging. He offers us an example using a mortgage payment scenario. If a client allocated capital toward paying down a high-rate mortgage rather than toward funding his equity portfolio, that debt paydown would benefit him, yet would decrease the advisor’s AUM, hurting the advisor’s personal revenue. Given this, the advisor may not be incentivized to make recommendations that are always in the best interest of the client.
Meb asks for more details about Steve’s fee structure at AdvicePeriod, and why it was set up that way. Steve walks us through the details, noting that their fee structure largely emanates from the value they bring. So, their fees are always clear and capped.
This bleeds into a conversation about an advisor’s biggest value add. Meb wonders if it’s estate planning and tax issues, or if it varies. Steve answers by first referencing portfolio construction, asking a question – if we take the top quartile of advisors, what does Meb think they’d produce, over a 20-year period, in true alpha above the market? Meb answers, basically 0%. Steve agrees, noting portfolio construction is not the real source of advisor alpha. Instead, he points toward taxes as a huge source of real value. He concludes saying “Turning that tax dial is a huge return for clients” and “We think the estate planning and tax planning levers are the most important levers to push on for clients”.
The guys bounce around a bit here, discussing high advisor fees, and how the industry was able to hide them for years… the biggest problems Steve sees with new clients when they bring over their portfolios… and how the general advisor/client process works. But from here, the conversation turns toward how one might find a great wealth manager. It’s challenging, as laws prohibit client testimonials, and as Steve says, most clients don’t know which questions need to be asked. He gives us a few examples of good questions:
- What will your fees be if I tell you that you can’t use any of your own funds?
- How often would we meet?
- What software will you use?
- How much access to information will I have?
- What’s your transparency level?
Next, Meb asks how things look going forward on the investment advisor side. Steve tells us that as soon as info becomes accessible and digestible by investors, we’ll see people behave differently. We’ll keep seeing fees come down, and transactional fees will go away. And when moving your entire account from one group to another becomes a matter of just a few mouse clicks, we’ll see a massive shift.
Meb asks when we’ll see an “automated Lockshin”, meaning when will wealth management become automated? Steve thinks it’s far closer than people think. He references Google Duplex, which is basically a computer speaking to us, yet fooling the human on the other end of the phone into believe he/she is conversing with another real human.
There’s way more in this episode: Steve’s favorite private investment right now… how tax planning is the biggest alpha generator out there but doesn’t receive the emphasis is deserves… how the industry goes out of its way to complicate things for investors… Vanguard Life Strategy Funds… and of course, Steve’s most memorable trade.
What was it? Find out in Episode 117.
Aug 15 2018
Rank #15: #171 - Raoul Pal - Buy Bonds. Buy Dollars. Wear Diamonds.
In episode 171, we welcome back our guest from episode 46, Raoul Pal. Raoul and Meb start with a chat about one of Raoul’s tweets, “Buy Bonds. Buy Dollars. Wear Diamonds.” Raoul explains that he sees global growth slowing after the longest recovery in history, as well as a number of countries in or nearing recession. That presents an opportunity in US Treasuries and Eurodollars.
The pair continue the conversation and get into how Raoul looks at the world. Raoul walks through his current view including his take on business cycle and yield curve indicators.
Meb then asks Raoul to explain “The Doom Loop.” Raoul lays out the idea that corporate debt has increased at an alarming rate since 2009 relative to household and government debt. He discusses what he’s seeing now, and the risk this poses to the global economy and asset prices.
As the conversation winds down, Raoul gets into some thoughts on gold and crypto.
All this and more in episode 171, including the greatest macro trade Raoul has ever seen.
Aug 21 2019
Rank #16: #77 - Tobias Carlisle - “In Order to Find Something Genuinely Undervalued...There's Always Something that You Don't Like"
In Episode 77, we welcome author and asset manager, Tobias “Toby” Carlisle.
After discussing Toby’s background, including his time as an M&A lawyer and what drew him to investing, we jump into his latest book, The Acquirer’s Multiple.
Toby tells us that the book describes a simple way to find undervalued companies. In essence, you’re trying to find a company trading below its intrinsic value. This is how to get a great price as a value investor. Of course, you get these prices because things don’t look too rosy with the stock – there’s usually a crisis or some hair on it, so to speak. Toby tells us “In order to find something that is genuinely undervalued…there’s always something that you don’t like.”
This leads into a great conversation about what Warren Buffett seeks in a company, versus what Toby, through the Acquirer’s Multiple, seeks. While Buffett looks for wonderful companies trading at fair prices, Toby seeks fair companies trading at wonderful prices.
Toby goes on to tell us that for a company, there are two sources of value – the assets it owns, and the business/operations itself. You have to look at both together. Buffett looks at wonderful companies at fair prices, and is willing to pay a premium to book value, but that’s generally because Buffett is able to ascertain that the stock is worth even more. Joel Greenblatt took this idea and ran with it in his book, The Little Book That Beats the Market. The idea relies on buying companies with high returns on investing capital (ROIC). But Toby thought “what if you can buy at the bottom of a business cycle?” You could likely get better returns by buying very, very cheap, hence his focus on fair companies at wonderful prices.
The guys then discuss the merits of a high ROIC. Toby tells us that a high ROIC is meaningless absent a moat or competitive advantage. Don’t misunderstand – a high ROIC is incredibly valuable, but it has to be protected.
This dovetails into a fun stretch of the interview when the guys discuss the old Longboard study about how only a handful of stocks truly outperform… a study from Michael Mauboussin, which points toward the power of “mean reversion”… how a historical backtest of “excellent” companies (high returns on equity, assets, and invested capital) actually underperformed “un-excellent” companies – which were generally defined as being incredibly cheap. The reason? Mean reversion.
Finally, we get to The Acquirer’s Multiple. Toby tell us you’re trying to find the real earnings of the business. The guys touch on lots of things here – why Buffett & Munger actually don’t prefer this multiple… a comparison between The Acquirer’s Multiple (AM) and Greenblatt’s Magic Formula… and an example from Toby about the power of the AM using the stock, Gilead.
The guys then discuss implementation, including how many stocks you should hold to be diversified. They also touch on the Kelly criterion – how much of your bankroll you should bet on any given stock or investment. This leads to an interesting story about how Ed Thorp showed that the Wall Street quants were using Kelly incorrectly. The guys agree that “half-Kelly” tends to work pretty well.
The conversation drifts toward valuations, with Meb feeling angst about how nearly all institutional investors believe future returns will be below-average. The contrarian in him is excited. Toby tells us that every metric he looks at says we’re overvalued. Therefore, we should be cautious, but then again, Japan got to a CAPE of 100 and the US has been to 44. You just don’t know when to get out, and there’s no right answer…
The guys hop back into The Acquirer’s Multiple, discussing how to avoid the value trap… marrying momentum to it… how value is sitting on about a decade’s worth of underperformance… and whether the AM works globally.
The guys eventually switch gears, and turn toward Toby’s private “special situations” fund. In essence, Toby looks for situations when there’s a corporate act, say, a board-level decision to buy or sell a company, or pay a special dividend, or buy back a material amount of stock. He then tries to arb it. He gives us any example of how he made money using the strategy back when Obama was attempted to stop corporate reverse-mergers. But in all cases, Toby is still looking for undervalued, cheap investments.
There’s tons more in this episode: the “broken leg” behavioral problem… how investors trying to improve upon the Magic Formula tend to vastly underperform the Magic Formula left alone… how professional investors tend to behave just as poorly as non-professionals… what Toby is working on/excited about right now… and of course, Toby’s most memorable trade. It involves a basket of net-cash biotechs. While he made over 200%, if he hadn’t tinkered, he could have made 750%.
What are the details? Find out in Episode 77.
Oct 25 2017
Rank #17: #16 - Listener Q&A Episode
Episode #16 is another “Listener Q&A” episode. With Jeff asking follow-ups, here are a few of the questions Meb tackles:
- Given low bond yields, what asset would you suggest holding in a trend following strategy while in “cash”? Would you stick to short-term bonds, diversify with several bond funds, or actually hold cash?
- I struggle with a way to screen for quality. I just listened to your podcast with Pete Mladina and he alluded to profitability as a factor. Have you done any work here?
- Do you believe that the development of smart beta (momentum, value, low vol…) will kill the edge of these factors?
- It’s difficult to distinguish signal from noise when evaluating different indicators, such as forward PE versus TTM PE. What suggestions do you have for evaluating the myriad indicators out there?
- I just came into a lump sum of money. Is there any research on the best way to invest it into a pricey market? All at once? Average in? Buy on the pull-backs?
- Should your primary residence count toward your asset allocation and portfolio?
- What do you mean by rebalancing taxable accounts by cash flows?
There are many more questions that touch upon topics including currency exposure, tweaks to shareholder yield, and the effects of hefty fees. All this and more in Episode 16.
Aug 24 2016
Rank #18: #80 - Claude Erb - “It Is Possible That We're in the Middle of a Period in Which Gold Becomes the New Frankincense"
In Episode 80, we welcome commodities and gold expert, Claude Erb.
As usual, we start with Claude’s back-story, but it’s not long before the guys jump into investing, with Meb asking about Claude’s general framework and view of the markets.
Claude tells us there are three concepts that guide his broad investing thinking: first, framing investment opportunities in terms of price/value relationships; second, the concept that no one gives away anything of value for free; and third, the idea that there really is no difference between a successful traditional fundamental approach to investing and a successful quantitative approach to investing.
This leads into a quick conversation about how market wisdom compounds over the years, but it’s not long before the guys jump into the topic of “gold.” Claude and his writing partner, Campbell Harvey, wrote the seminal paper, “The Golden Constant”, which explored the possible relationship between the real, inflation-adjusted price of gold and future real gold returns. Meb mentions how gold elicits far more emotion in investors than nearly any other asset, with different investors having an array of reasons or themes as to why they own gold.
Clause gives us some great commentary on the link between fear and gold, touching upon VIX contracts, volatility, and even Buffett’s and Dalio’s take on gold. The guys continue with the gold discussion, with Claude referencing some of the concepts from “The Golden Constant”. All you gold bugs (and historians, for that matter) won’t want to miss this.
There’s way more in this episode, including a discussion of commodities, various practical takeaways, and Claude’s thoughts on something called “the sequence of returns.” And of course, there’s Claude’s most memorable trade. What are the details? Find out in Episode 80.
Nov 15 2017
Rank #19: #124 - Howard Marks - It's Not What You Buy, It's What You Pay for It That Determines Whether Something is a Good Investment
In Episode 124, we welcome legendary investor, Howard Marks. Meb begins with a quote from Howard’s new book, Mastering the Market Cycle, and asks him to expound. Howard gives us his top-line take on market cycles, ending with the idea that if you understand them, you can profit from them.
Meb follows up by asking about Howard’s framework for evaluating where we are in the cycle. Rather than look at every input as individual, Howard looks at overall patterns. What is the collective mood? Or is it depressed, sad, and people don’t want to buy? Or is it buoyant? Second, are investors optimistic and thrilled with their portfolios and eager to add more, therein increasing risk? Or are investors regretful and hesitant, burned by recent experience? Then there are quantitative aspects – valuations, yield spreads, cap rates, multiples, and so on. All of these variables help give Howard a feel for whether assets are high- or low-priced.
Next, Meb asks Howard to use Oaktree’s actions during the Financial Crisis as a real-world example of how an investor could act upon cycles. Howard tells us there are two parts to what happened during the Crisis – what Oaktree did during the run-up to the meltdown, and then what it did during the event itself. In short, Oaktree was cautious during the lead-up. They raised their standards for investments. Why? Howard notes that they didn’t know ahead of time how bad things would be. Rather, they were hesitant because they looked at the securities being issued, and it seemed that every day, something was coming out that didn’t deserve to be issued. This was a tip-off.
Then the event happened, culminating in Lehman bankruptcy, and that’s when Oaktree became very aggressive, buying half a billion dollars each week for 15 weeks. Howard tells us that, yes, our job as investors is to be skeptical, but sometimes that skepticism needs to be applied to our own fears. In other words, skepticism also might appear like “no, that scenario is too bad to actually be true.”
Meb notes that the challenge is investors want precision, picking the exact top and bottom. But this isn’t really how it works. Meb asks if there a time when Howard felt he misinterpreted a point in the market cycle.
Before answering Meb’s questions, Howard agrees that trying to find the bottom or top is a huge mistake. He notes that trying to find the perfect day upon which to buy or sell is impossible. In terms of potentially misreading the cycle, Howard tells us that Oaktree has been perhaps too conservative over the last few years, so they haven’t realized all the gains of the market. That said, he stands by his decision telling us, “anybody who buys or holds because of the belief that something that’s fully valued will become overvalued…is embarking on a dangerous course.”
Meb asks how Howard sees the world today.
Howard tells us we’re in the 8th inning of this bull market. Assets are highly priced relative to history. People are bullish. Risk aversion is low. He notes it’s a time for caution – but – we have no idea how many innings there will be in this game.
What follows is a great conversation about bull markets, what ends bull markets, and how to implement market cycles into an investment approach. The guys touch on investor exuberance… whether markets need to be exuberant for a bull market to end… bullish action despite bullish temperament… the need to “calibrate” your portfolio… and the average investor’s ability to live with pain.
There’s so much more in this episode: How Howard’s market approach has evolved over the years… how “it’s not what you buy, it’s what you pay for it that determines whether something is a good investment or bad investment”… Howard’s thoughts on contrarian investing… and, of course, his most memorable trade. This one yielded him 23x.
What are the details? Find out in Episode 124.
Oct 03 2018
Rank #20: #5 - Jared Dillian - “If You Think 2016 is the Opposite of 1981, then You Should Do the Opposite”
Meb starts by asking Jared to discuss a point from one of Jared’s newsletters: “If you think 2016 is the opposite of 1981, then you should do the opposite. In 1981, you should have bought stocks, sold gold, and bought bonds…” Jared gives us his thoughts, discussing how the landscape is far different now than in ’81, from heightened regulations to left-leaning policies. How should your portfolio respond? This dovetails into Meb and Jared discussing their “desert island” strategies (what would you invest in if you were about to be stuck on a desert island for 10 years). Then we hop to the Fed… Jared has a great quote “The Fed will pursue the path of least embarrassment.” He goes on to say how the fear of being embarrassed is the primary thing driving all the Fed’s decisions. What does this mean for their future decisions? They then switch gears, discussing a specific market bubble happening right now (it’s up 37% year-over-year). The problem is it’s going to pop – with “big implications for the global economy.” What is it? Find out on Episode #5.
Jun 27 2016