Sunday, November 18, 2018

OptionSellers.com.....a prologue of what's to come.....

I don't know James Cordier and had never heard of him before last week. He's the CEO of OptionSellers.com. It appears that he somehow lost somewhere between $70 million and $150 million of his client's money (290 high net worth investors) last week.  His website has gone dark.....his mea culpa video (below) is heartfelt, sad, disturbing and unfortunately, darkly comedic.




I'm sure Jim's a really nice guy, but like so many money managers, I'd suspect he got caught up in at least some level of success, with the resulting sense of infallibility and hubris, most likely causing him to double down on his "I know I can't be wrong" bets with other people's money.  For today's Money Managers, being absolutely right ten years from now is the equivalent of being dead wrong for a decade. 

I particularly enjoyed the personal apologies to his clients, friends and "family" along with his emphasis on how hard he had worked to "keep the boat from capsizing from the rogue wave" that consumed him.  He recalled "walleye fishing on Lake Erie", regretted that he couldn't take the same clients "Bass fishing", thanked his Kansas City investors for the great barbecue sauce, owed another client a "Cuban sandwich" (probably not adequate compensation) and regretted not being able to join his French clients in Marseilles on the Riviera (presumably because the court is going to pull his passport).  His relating of how he was so consumed with protecting his client's money that he would "pour a glass of red wine" and trade right through dinner was also touching.

I also liked the reference to his father, steering an "800 footer" on the Great Lakes and that he was unable to navigate that darned "rogue wave" that "capsized our boat".

There are lots of great salesman masquerading as a strategists/experts out there right now.....I'd guess that this is the first (and perhaps most interesting) of what I believe will be a tsunami of collapses and odd video apologies coming from money managers whose salesmanship skills by far exceeded their ability to actually manage money.  You should probably view this clip as soon as possible as I'd guess his lawyers will probably have him pull it soon.

Jim, if you are reading this, and you really are sincere about your repentance, I'm hoping you have a loving family and support system behind you.  You'll recover from this and hopefully, at some point, find solace in a new career that makes better use of your salesmanship skills and far less of your decision making prowess.  If by some chance you aren't sincere, and you've already gutted the company, as is most often the way these things go, wiring what's left of your client's money into personal off shore life boats, I'm sure that will come out in the investigation(s) and well.....never mind what I said about that loving family and support system.  You won't be seeing them for a while.  In either case, you must be under tremendous stress right now, hopefully, you are making the right choices in consultation with your legal team as you work your way through this mess.  I sincerely wish you all the best.

That said, here's the first solicitation for what I presume will be more that a few recovery law suits.  Chapman/Albin, a Cleveland Ohio law firm apparently thinks there's at least some recovery avenue available against INTL FCStone, Inc. , or they wouldn't have taken this on (lawyers generally don't take cases where there's little/no probability of getting paid).  INTL FCStone, Inc. is OptionSellers.com's clearing broker and in all likelihood Chapman/Albin's recovery effort will be directed to breaches of "due diligence" and "know your customer" violations.  Discovery on these things is always interesting.  The phrase "what the hell were you thinking???" is often uttered under the claimant counsel's breath and a modified version of same is often described in the final settlement.  At least, as far as OptionSeller.com's 290 clients are concerned, they should consider themselves fortunate that there's a possible "deep pockets" involved in this mess.  Most wronged clients aren't always that fortunate.

The Only Reason I'm Writing This... 

Let me be clear, in the grand, macro scheme of things, OptionSellers.com is irrelevant (though it doesn't seem like it right now to the 290 clients who lost everything).  The only reason I bring this up is that the complacency, naïveté and refusal to acknowledge the incredible level of risk building in bloated asset prices is everywhere today.  As I've said throughout this blog, the risk inherent in global markets today is unprecedented.  Of course, there are lots of great money managers out there who are fully capable of navigating past "rogue waves".  But there are also far too many likable Jim Cordier's and "OptionSellers.com's" out there who just don't "get it".

OptionSellers.com is a sobering illustration of what can happen to the money of hard working people, literally overnight, when they put their money in the wrong hands.


Additional Reading:

OptionsSellers.com Podcasts

James Cordier Describing how Commodities can be used as valuable diversification strategy.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Hello from The Maldives!.....and today's Quiz....

Geeezzzz.......I leave the states for a couple of weeks and everything goes to heck in a hand basket!.....

Alibaba announced unbelieveable singles day GMV today!  Fantastic!  US$ 31 Billion of socks, underwear, court ordered non-performing loans, failed construction projects and Jumbo Jets in receivership...all sold in one day by the vaunted Alibaba ecosystem!  Bravo! Totally unbelieveable!  This GMV is more than an average non-holiday season month's sales through Walmart's global distribution system ....shipped by Alibaba in just one day!

Amazing!

Keep in mind though that Walmart has thus far failed to monetize the lucrative "court ordered non-performing liquidation asset market" ....I don't see these asset classes on Walmart.com anywhere, so the figures aren't directly comparable.

For their next trick Alibaba management is going to pull a rabit out of their.....屁股

Today's Quiz

Which three publicly traded common stocks have produced the greatest  Market Cap decline (from top to bottom) in history:

Hint....it wasn't Lehman, Enron or even Facebook's hiccup.....and all three are ongoing....

Scroll down for the answer....

First, I've posted a few pictures of the Maldives below to stimulate your thought process. The Maldives atolls truly are paradise on earth.





























Fauna.....(crabs everywhere....cute harmless, curious little guys.....check your shoes before you slip them on.....just sayin')



Flora.....(wild flowers everywhere)



Maldavian heavy industry....OBOR money at work.  USD & Euros accepted everywhere...but nobody wants RMB....hmmmmm.  Interestingly, there's tons of new construction funded by USD loans from China.  Chinese bankers wouldn't be so stupid as to finance long term construction, using US$ with short term swap money run through the Caymans and Luxembourg?  They can't be that dumb....or are they they that brilliant?




























A friend of a friend of a friend's home in Bangalore.  I thought I'd swing by to say hello. Nice place.  He wasn't home.  Should have called ahead.  Security politely asked me to leave....bad timing.  Maybe next time.


Having a Diwali beer in Delhi.......




































Quiz Answer
(as of 7:00 AM 11/11/18 Maldavian time)

The three (3) greatest (ongoing) market cap declines in history are:

1.) PetroChina - US$ 807 Billion
2.) Tencent - US$ 235 Billion
3.) Alibaba - US$ 163 Billion

I think I'm beginning to see a pattern here.....




Calculations/Sources


1.) PetroChina - 2007-2008 - $807 Billion  $1.01 Trillion - $203 Billion
https://www.cnbc.com/2018/08/02/petrochina-did-not-fare-well-after-reaching-1-trillion-in-market-cap.html
https://www.bloomberg.com/quote/PTR:US

2.) Tencent - High - HK476x 9.45B shares = HK4.498T /7.8exrate = US$576B
Low - HK300x 9.45B shares = HK2.658T /7.8exrate = US$341B dif = US$235B

3.) BABA - $211.7 x 2.54B = $537.7 B compared to $145 x 2.54B = $375B = $163B
https://www.bloomberg.com/quote/BABA:US

Friday, November 2, 2018

Off the grid....

I skipped the BABA earnings call this morning as I'm pressed for time.  I'm catching a flight to India  shortly and am going to be off the grid (intentionally limited/spotty access) for a couple of weeks.

That said, I can't resist taking 20 minutes and review a few things from the Press Release that absolutely jumped off the page at me.  I'm sure, because of my limited time, I've missed some excellent comedy, nevertheless, I'll forge ahead.

Press Release:
https://www.alibabagroup.com/en/news/press_pdf/p181102.pdf
Presentation:
https://alibabagroup.com/en/ir/presentations/pre181102.pdf 
Webcast:
https://edge.media-server.com/m6/p/8fd6emny

Here are the Bullets:

A.) The format of the presentation has been completely updated!  Lots of pictures & graphics.  Sophisticated Investors LOVE pictures and graphics!  Nice work!

B.) On page five (5) of the Press Release, they reduced guidance giving the following rationale:

"In light of current fluid macro-economic conditions, we have recently decided not to monetize, in the near term, incremental inventory generated from growing users and engagement on our China retail marketplaces. We expect this decision to benefit SMEs on our marketplace platforms."

Again, I didn't get a chance to listen to the Investor Call Q&A, but I'm hoping that at least one of the analysts asked something like "exactly what the hell does that mean?"

C.) They've somehow managed to really tighten their belts, keeping Share-Based Compensation (SBC) at only US$1 Billion for the quarter, constant at 8% of Revenue from the same prior year quarter. (Pg. 10 & 11)  This is, of course, down substantially from the June 30th 2018 quarter where SBC topped 20% of revenue.  I'm not sure how the management team and the all those elite with their hands in the cookie jar can possibly scrape by on this pittance, but I'm sure US Shareholders are grateful.

D.) Equity Investees are continuing to be consolidated (hidden from view) yet the businesses in the catch-all category of  "Other Investees" have somehow, in aggregate, turned their fortunes around, booking a profit (increased valuation) of US$282 Million in the quarter.  Thank goodness they've finally got these undisclosed, money losing boondoggles under control.

E.) "Questionable Assets" (Investment Securities, Equity "Investees", Intangibles and Goodwill) now sit at US$71 Billion (59%) of the balance sheet, up from 51% of the Balance Sheet at the March 31st 2018 Year End and up from zero (0%) at the time of the 2015 IPO.  I'm sure these businesses are worth every penny of their current book value.  Balance Sheet (pg 24)

F.)  They also posted yet another "Gain on deemed disposals" of US$771 million in the quarter.  They are "deeming" asset write-ups and gains all over the place.  Seems odd when Chinese Stock Markets are in the dumper. (Pg 29)

G.)  The most amazing pronouncement in the Presser was that the self-proclaimed E-Payment juggernaut, Ant Financial actually lost money "net" in the quarter. (Pg 14)  Here's what they said.

"The loss was primarily due to net loss sustained by Ant Financial during the quarter as a result of its investments in user acquisition, product innovation and international expansion. In the September 2018 quarter, Ant Financial strategically stepped up its investment to acquire more users and capture growth opportunities of the offline payment market by leveraging its technology for financial service industries. During the quarter, domestic annual active users exceeded 700 million, almost 70% of which used three or more categories of Ant Financial’s services." 

Interestingly, Alibaba is (by far) Ant's biggest Customer.  If I'm reading this correctly, this "net" loss is the loss incurred after the processing/escrow fees incurred, accrued and paid by Alibaba to Ant.  So what was the processing/escrow fee actually incurred by Alibaba to Ant?

If they are indeed losing money "net" we'd be hard pressed to justify the US$150 Billion (monopoly-like) valuation indicated by the completion of the insider led Series C US$14 Billion funding round they trumpeted in the June Presser/Filing.

Ant/Alipay, by all accounts is as close to a state supported monopoly as it could be.  Incurring a loss on this business is tantamount to Rockefeller calling J.P. Morgan, at the height of the Standard Oil Trust empire and opining "Yeah....we had a really bad quarter...I just can't figure out how to raise prices!"

There are only three possible explanations for this:

    1.) Ant Financial management is the most incompetent management team on the planet.

    2.) The losses are actually due to all sorts of ill-advised, undisclosed, non performing SME loans (see "incompetent management" in #1 above)

    or:

    3.) Alibaba/Ant, most likely at the behest of the CPC, has built an amazing electronic payment system using the benevolence of US Shareholder philanthropy.  Chinese consumers and by extension, Alibaba (and US Shareholders) must be paying minuscule, unsustainable escrow/processing fees, inflating Alibaba net income, presumably to support the stock price.  It's the essence of earnings management.  It looks like yet another effort to move cost out of the BABA "ecosystem" reflecting a much higher economic value on the business than it deserves. Salivating US investors have continued to take the bait (until recently), piling in as CPC insiders have been bailing out at ever higher valuations.  American investors, as the world well knows, have always been generous souls, giving much and asking for little in return.  It's what globalization is all about. 

If you'd like some more in depth "comedy gold" on the evolution of these concepts, feel free to check out my 20-F analysis from the March 31, 2018 Year End.

https://deep-throat-ipo.blogspot.com/2018/08/the-baba-20-ffinancial-comedy-gold.html


Anyway, that's all for today.....I'm off to India.....

All the best!