Friday, October 26, 2007


It is fun to own the Q's during this turn. Almost every day, a different stock leads the way to higher prices. Today, Microsoft will lead several of the Q's higher. Wow! Microsoft has finally made the turn! Microsoft dramatically outperformed the market from 1986 until 2000. Microsoft is one of those "almost super rich stocks for me". I came very close to "loading the boat" with it in 1986 and would have made 10's of millions of dollars had I done so. Since 2000, the stock has dramatically underperformed. The turn is here.

After beating the estimates and raising the guidance after the market closed yesterday, the stock is up better than 11% in pre-market trading. Of course, companies like Dell, Intel and HP will be pulled along for a nice ride. The boom, boom, boom of the world economy means that billions of computers will sold during the coming prosperity phase of the business cycle. As we all know, it costs Microsoft virtually nothing to make another copy of VISTA. Billions of copies will be sold. Of course, even more billions of smart phones and games will be sold.


This morning on CNBC, John Snow repeated one of the great false beliefs of the TV pundits. Those, with the mind set that a recession is surely near, find it easy to suggest that the consumer is about to stop spending because he is no longer able to use his home as an "ATM Machine". We have been hearing this garbage for three years or more and it has not happened yet. It will not happen because it never was the case. You cannot stop doing something if you never started doing it in the first place. Even at the peak of the home refinancing binge, only 9% of home borrowing went to make other purchases, such as SUV, and most of these purchases would have been made anyway. The home was wisely used to lower the cost of financing but in only a relatively few cases was it used to expand financing beyond the buyers capacity to repay.

The sub prime story also continues to be used to suggest things that are simply not true. Of those who bought homes with no money down, 85% of them will keep making the payments and they will have been converted from renters to owners. Of the other 15%, the opportunity to own has not turned into the blessing that it could have been but a renter who temporarily "owns a home" with no money invested will lose no equity when he loses his deed. When politicians cry about the poor people who are losing their homes, they imply that consumers are losing billions in equity to greedy and evil hedge fun managers. What really happened was that these aggressive investors borrowed money at very cheap rates of interest to benefit by lending these funds to poor credit risk buyers. The aggressive investors made out like bandits during the good times. If you borrow $95,000 at 1% interest and lend $100,000 at 4.5% (including your $5,000 equity) your annual net interest income is $3,550 or 71% return on equity. Those who are losing their $5,000 equity right now have in most cases had several years of $3,550 net earnings on that same $5,000.

The bottom line is that this story is being used to put fear into the hearts of investors when it is time to be an aggressive investor.


The price of gasoline has come down as I suggested it would but the raw commodity has not yet rolled over. Who would have guessed that after 8 to 10 increases in interest rates and after 8 to 10 increases in reserve requirements, that China would continue to grow so fast? The good folks at GAVEKAL research wrote a good book titled "THE END IS NOT NEAR" but who really believed those guys? The GNP of China has once again grown by better than 11%. Where is the clearing price? Of course, if I could predict the precise answer to that question, given that no one else can, I would be a multi-billionaire. We really should think of China like a great growth stock. The current price of shares is very high but there is still great potential for growth. Still, given my belief that the US dollar is about to climb and that within 4 or 5 years high returns will be found in fewer and fewer of the biggest companies around, I am not excited about investments in China right now.

A major oil supply company executive says that there are plentiful supplies of oil. In the liquid market, he can buy all he wants and then some. He says financial speculators are jumping on all news of potential international conflict and bidding up the price. He points out that the skirmishes between Turkey and Kurdistan are not even close to where the oil flows.

We are now at such an extreme level that the break will be like the bursting of a damn. The speculators will not be able to get off the long side fast enough. It is my belief that a deal with Iran is brewing. Once a deal is made, about $30 per barrel in risk premium will fall out of the price.

Keep in mind, the turn in Microsoft is a part of the same process of the turn in oil. The substitution effect includes enormous spending on electronics as a way to reduce dependence on oil. The USA and many other countries have dramatically reduced our use of oil over many years. China is investing heavily to reduce its dependence. Some of these investments will take years to complete but many others are already producing results. Indeed, China is in the process of building 30 nuclear power plants which will replace oil in many a manufacturing process. In the USA, oil usage declined .7% during a year of dramatic export growth. Pundits who say there is no evidence of reduced demand are not looking at the total picture.

The good news is that the world has been hit by the blows of higher oil and taken the punch well. One key ingredient has been the success of economic science. The central bankers have not dried up all the money to stop inflation and thus thrown the world into recession. Instead, money has been available and it has been used to "go around" the "oil problem". Billions of dollars are being spent on billions of projects from coating windows with film to sun powered algae farms.

Those who use high gasoline prices as an example in their constant complaints about inflation do not want to acknowledge that the cost of manufactured goods continues to come down. When China buys oil at ever higher prices but produces end products for less than their prior prices, the net result is not inflation.


Sooner or later, growth in China must slow. The combination of the rising Yuan with higher interest rates and higher reserve requirements will ultimately do the job. A slow down in growth from 11% to 6% would be a huge event. The China stock markets could be hit very hard by such an event. Always remember that the price of shares is set by the value of the future earnings discounted to present value. If growth slows, future earnings slows and prices fall.