Thursday, December 10, 2015

Buybacks And Bonuses

A recent article discusses how buybacks at Humana earned CEO Bruce Broussard a $1.68 million bonus in 2014. Humana was on target to miss its target EPS of $7.50. However, the company announced a stock buyback of $500 million, which increased EPS to $7.51, triggering the bonus. In all, 255 of the S&P 500 companies have executive performance tied in part to EPS. As we have discussed, in our opinion, EPS is not an appropriate measure of performance as it is easily manipulated. Executive bonuses should be tied to measures that better align with increases in shareholder value. As an example of EPS manipulation, the article reports that, in 2012, then-CEO of Humana Michael McCallister received a $1.63 million bonus because the Board of Directors removed litigation expenses from the EPS calculation.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Evaulating Corporate Management

One of the most difficult task for an investor is how to evaluate company management. The CFA Institute recently published an article describing one method to analyze company management. First, concentrate on the numbers on the balance sheet and income statement. Of particular interest are gross margins, operating margins, income tax rates, foreign sales and earnings translations, and balance sheet concerns. Second, the company should have well understood and written processes for its critical functions. Finally, you should look at management. In this area, you should look for unquestioned integrity, innovation of products and processes, how well employees are treated, and good control of people and processes. If a company meets these screens, it indicates a strong management team.

Monday, December 7, 2015

2016 CFO Goals

A recent survey by Proviti asked CFOs about top priorities for 2016. At the top of the list was margin and earnings performance. Next on the list was cybersecurity risks, strategic planning, periodic forecasting, and budgeting. Executives are also seeking more precision in cash forecasting, an often overlooked area. From a student's point of view, the list of priorities can indicate areas in which they could hopefully make an immediate contribution to their employer.

IPOs Exhibit Material Weakness

From 2011 to 2014, the number of IPOs on the NYSE has more than doubled, from 128 to 293. However, from a financial reporting view, the IPOs have grown weaker. The percentage of IPOs that reported material weaknesses, or deficiencies, in financial reporting grew from 23 percent in 2011 to 31 percent for 2015 IPOs through September. One reason may be the JOBS Act, which allows smaller companies to raise external capital. Staggering 88 percent of IPOs with less than $500 million in revenue reported material weaknesses.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Retirement And Time Value Of Money

A recent article at discusses how saving earlier in your IRA can mean big money at retirement, which we hope you already know this. As the article discusses, many people make their IRA deposit right before April 15th each year when taxes are due. However, if the deposit were made a year earlier, the difference under Bankrate's assumptions would be $113,985 at retirement. The assumptions used in the article are a $5,500 annual deposit at 8 percent for 40 years. Check for yourself that if the deposits are at the end of the period, the future value is $1,242,810.85 and if the deposits are an annuity due, the future value is $1,538,795.72. So, Bankrate's article presents a set of calculations that we hope you are already familiar with. Of course, the future value will increase another $30,000 or so if you make your deposits on January 1st of each year, 15 months before the last date April 15th of the following year.  

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Clawbacks And Restatements

A major provision of the Dodd-Frank Act requires corporate executives to certify the accuracy of financial statements, in part to help reduce restatements. Another provision of the Act requires that all public companies have a "clawback" provision that permits the recovery of any incentive compensation paid to executives if the restated financial statements show that the incentive compensation should not have been paid. In 2012, 87 percent of publicly traded companies had a clawback provision. Previous research has found that companies with a clawback provision are less likely to have restatements. This was attributed to executives doing a more diligent job when certifying the original financial statements. However, new research indicates that the drop in restatements may also be due to executives fighting restatements. Often, restatements are the result of auditors disagreeing with the original financial statements because of the accounting choices made. Since a restatement that reduces the company's reported performance can cause the initiation of the clawback, corporate executives appear more likely to fight restatements.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Corporate Leverage Increases

According to Goldman Sachs, the level of debt on corporate balance sheets has risen to a level not seen since before 2008. With record low interest rates, companies have increasingly borrowed to fund buybacks and acquisitions. During 2014, about 10 percent of debt issues were used to fund buybacks. And, so far during 2015, about 8 percent of debt issues have been used for buybacks. Meanwhile, goodwill, which is created from mergers and acquisitions, has risen 32 percent since 2010 and more than $1 trillion in goodwill has been added to corporate balance sheets since 2008. While goodwill can represent real value, such as a brand name, it could also indicate that companies have made negative NPV acquisitions.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

WACC And Acquisitions

An article on CFO discusses the WACC for S&P 500 companies and the use of the WACC in mergers and acquisition. An interesting number in the article is that, according to research by Bain & Company, the average WACC for a company in the S&P 500 has dropped from 10 percent in 2010 to 8 percent in 2014. Much of this is likely due to lower interest rates. The article also discusses how companies add a risk premium of 200 to 300 basis points to the WACC (the subjective approach) when analyzing a potential acquisition, plus another 50 to 100 basis points due to conservatism about the WACC calculation. Although the article is not specific, we should reiterate the correct WACC to use when analyzing a potential acquisition is the WACC of the target company, not the WACC of the acquiring company. To clarify terminology, the hurdle rate used in the article is the required return, or cost of capital.  

The Market Return For The Next Decade

So what will the stock market return be going forward? John Bogle, founder of Vanguard Mutual Funds and proponent of index investing, recently stated that investors should only expect about a 4 percent annual return from the S&P 500 for the next decade. According to Bogle, he expects a 2 percent dividend yield and earnings growth of 5 percent, for a 7 percent return. However, he also expects the PE ratio on the S&P 500 to fall from its current level of 20 times earnings to 15 times earnings. This decrease in the PE ratio will cause a 3 percent decrease in stock prices, resulting in his estimate of a 4 percent annual return. So is Bogle right? Check back with us in 2025 and we will let you know.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Democratization Of IPOs

So you have read about IPO "pops" in this chapter and want to buy IPOs. A major problem is that the majority of IPO allocations are sold to institutional investors like banks, mutual funds, and high-net worth investors who have an established relationship with the underwriter. JP Morgan has decided to change the IPO investing landscape. The company has teamed with online brokerage Motif Investing to allow small investors to participate in IPOs. Motif will allow investors to submit commission-free orders in IPOs underwritten by JP Morgan with a minimum order of $250. One risk of the new process is that while IPOs typically have very heavy trading on the first day, institutional investors tend to hold the securities for a relatively long time. Small investors may be hoping for the IPO pop and sell the stock quickly, which could lead to even larger trading volume early in the life of the IPO, with more price instability.  

Monday, November 2, 2015

Bond LIquidity And Yields

Many observers believe that the Federal Reserve may increase interest rates in December. According to a recent article, that could be the worst time for the bond market. During December, bond trading slows dramatically as banks clean up balance sheets in preparation for year-end stress tests. As a result, banks are less likely to enter into large trades. Strategists at RBC Capital Markets argue that the large jump in yields on bonds in late September was due to the lack of liquidity in the bond market because of banks preparing for quarterly reporting. If this is true, an increase in interest rates by the Federal may result in larger increases in bond yields than might be expected due to lack of liquidity, at least temporarily.     

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Startup Investing Expanded

Yesterday, the Securities and Exchange Commission approved Title III of the 2012 Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (JOBS Act). Title II of the JOBS Act, which was approved in in 2013, allowed accredited investors to in startups. The approval of Title III allows anyone to invest in startups, small businesses, and real estate through crowdfunding. The total amount of investment in such ventures is limited to 5 or 10 percent of the investors annual income, which provides protection to small investors from themselves. But, it does allow small investors into startups, which can provide very high returns. However, before you make these investments, remember the lessons from Chapters 10 and 11: The only way to increase your return is to increase the level of risk you take. 

Robert Schiller Examines Your Weaknesses

In a recent interview, Nobel Laureate Robert Schiller discusses how companies can mislead consumers and how the media latches on to smalls stories. His comments are based on human behavior, which is the basis for behavioral finance. His last comments are a very interesting take on investing: "We don't know the probabilities of future events. Still, you have to take action and so you do it on gut feeling. That's the world we live in. There's so much disagreement about investing, and it's because nobody really knows." Interestingly, although we greatly respect Dr. Schiller, he is still guilty of making his own market predictions.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Cat's Good Bad News

Caterpillar Inc., announced lower quarterly profits and that it expected sales in 2016 to decrease 5 percent, the company's 4th consecutive yearly sales decline. On this announcement of seemingly bad news, the stock was up as much as 5.7 percent on the day. So why was the stock price up today? The news in the announcement today was consistent with the company's warning last month.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Negative U.S. Interest Rates?

Back in March, we posted about negative interest rates in Europe. And while recent speculation has centered on the Federal Reserve increasing interest rates, at least one member of the Fed has pushed for negative interest rates. Narayana Kocherlakota, president of the Minneapolis Fed, has advocated for the Federal Reserve implementing negative interest rates in the U.S. Although Kocherlakota is a non-voting member of the Fed, he has been joined by other Fed officials arguing for negative interest rates. An extra mattress for your savings account is looking more appealing.

Ferrari Strong Off The Line

Ferrari stock was strong off the line on its IPO. The company's stock, which was priced at $52 in the IPO opened at $60, a 15.4 percent price jump, before closing at $55, a 9.5 percent price increase. The company raised $893 million in its IPO, which could increase to $982 million if the Green Shoe option is exercised. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

Buybacks Hit $600 Billion

S&P companies have announced about $600 billion in stock buybacks this year. A major reason for the high level of buybacks is the low interest rate. The dividend payout ratio for blue chip companies is about 3 percent, but the same company can borrow at about 2.2 percent. This means that it is actually cheaper to buy back stock with borrowed money as this will save the company .8 percent per year. Of course, there is a widespread belief that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates soon, which will lessen the appeal of buybacks funded with new borrowing.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

An Unsystematic Risk

Often, we get asked by students for examples of unsystematic, or firm specific, risks. We are sure that you have heard about Dieselgate, or Volkswagen's deliberate programming of emissions devices in its diesel vehicles to fool emissions tests. Dieselgate is a perfect example of unsystematic risk as it affects only Volkswagen, although it appears that other auto makers may face unsystematic risks as well as several other manufacturers may have similarly created programming to cheat emissions tests. If you think about Volkswagen's actions and the risk, the news will likely greatly affect VW's sales as some consumers will avoid the company's vehicles. And while these consumers will be forced to look elsewhere, the sheer number of alternative manufacturers means that it is unlikely any particular manufacturer will receive a huge spike in new customers.

Control Of GE

Activist investor Nelson Peltz, who has a one percent stake in General Electric through Trian Fund Management has outlined plans that he feels GE should follow to behave like a cash cow, not a growth company. For example, Peltz wants GE to get rid of its finance division, add debt to buy back stock, and cut costs. What is interesting is that GE has recently sold its appliance division for $3.3 billion, sold its vehicle-fleets assets business for $6.9 billion, sold its health finance unit for $9 billion, and today sold GE Capital, with $32 billion in assets, to Wells Fargo. In fact, since April 2015, GE has sold $126 billion of the $200 billion it plans to divest. It sounds like Peltz is suggesting GE do what it said it was going to do.

A Major Cover Up

It seems that cover ups are everywhere today, even in capital budgeting. Today, Playboy announced that it would no longer publish pictures of nude women. The company, which had a peak circulation of 5.6 million in 1975, has seen its circulation drop to 800,000. A company spokesman stated that with so much free porn available that nudity has become passe. As a result, the company exercised its option to alter the format of the magazine. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Bond Prices Relatively Unchanged

Bond prices were in both positive and negative territory today, with the yield of two-year Treasuries settling up 8 basis points, the highest level in four and a half years. Bond traders are uncertain of the direction of interest rates leading into the Federal Reserve meetings this week. So will the Fed raise interest rates this week? Yes, No, No, Yes.  

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Correlation With Apple

A recent article discusses the correlation that various stocks have with Apple and some of the stocks are surprising. For example, industrial products manufacturer Illinois Tool Works (ITW) has the highest correlation at .61. Payment technology firm Fiserv and Honeywell have the next highest correlations with Apple. Facebook and Texas Instruments also have high correlations with Apple, which is expected since Facebook is a tech stock and Texas Instruments is a major supplier to Apple. By now, we hope you understand how important correlation is to diversification, but, as with most numbers, we need to apply economic rationale to the numbers. There is no reason that ITW and Fiserv should have such high correlations with Apple, and in the future, these correlations will likely fall. Remember, what we really want is the correlations going forward, not correlations in the past. As Eric Chemi, the author of the article, states in the accompanying video: "That's where the data can get you and I think people need to be careful to not get trapped in these types of numbers."

Macy's Options

When a company makes an announcement, most people do not consider that many of these announcements are in fact real options. For example, yesterday Macy's made two separate announcements that are both real options. First, the company announced that it would close 35-40 underperforming stores, the option to abandon. Next, the company announced that it would open Best Buy outlets in 10 of its stores. While this is a small capital budgeting decision, it is an option to expand as Macy's and Best Buy both hope the combination is successful, in which case more Macy's will feature a Best Buy outlet.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Market Efficiency Wins Again

Skeptics of stock market efficiency are always ready to argue "evidence" that the stock market is grossly inefficient. One piece of evidence that has been used in recent years is the performance of hedge funds. An oft reported statistic is that the average hedge fund return since 1996 was 12.6 percent per year. A recent article highlights research that indicates this claim is incorrect. Overstated hedge funds returns are due to the fact that hedge funds self-report returns. So, if a fund has poor returns, it stops reporting returns. Additionally, when a hedge fund is started, it will often not report returns until it has "something to brag about."  After removing these biases, the researchers found that the average annual hedge fund return since 1996 was only 6.3 percent, half of the reported average!

Annuity Sales

The stock market crash in 2008 made many investors nervous. As a result, many of these investors have searched for more certain investments, including annuities. We describe annuities as an equal payment at some specified interval for a fixed period. In an investing prospective, annuities are an investment vehicle that can have a fixed rate. Although there is more involved in an annuity, the basics of an annuity are that an investor deposits money into the account and either immediately or at some point in the future receives payments. The payments are calculated like the annuity payments in the textbook. So, the payments are based off the amount deposited, the interest rate, and the number of payments. Since annuities are currently paying below 3 percent, it is surprising that sales of annuities have increased because this lower interest rate results in lower payments than when the interest rate is higher.

Stock And Gold Correlation

Historically, the correlation between the stock market and gold prices is low, or even negative during some periods. Because of this, gold is often seen as a good asset for a diversified portfolio since a low or negative correlation can increase diversification. However, just because it happened in the past does not mean that it will happen in the future. For example, while the market dropped on Monday, gold prices also took a hit. While one day does not a trend make, both the stock market as a whole and gold are down year-to-date. All of this should be taken as a warning. Just because two assets have had a low or negative correlation in the past does not mean that the correlation will hold going forward. In other words, when using correlation, we want the correlation going forward but are often forced to use historical correlation. 

CEO Pay Ratio

One of the most controversial provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act is the CEO pay ratio rule. This rule requires that public companies report CEO pay as a ratio of the median employee pay. And while this seems like a relatively easy computation, many large multinationals are arguing that it is a difficult and expensive proposition. Compensation around the world is measured in different ways, depending on government regulations about social benefits, healthcare, and taxes. Additionally, whether part-time employees should be included in the calculation has become a contentious issue. Since wages overseas are often lower than in the U.S., companies are eager to exclude foreign workers. Either way, the rule will be expensive: The SEC has estimated the cost to all companies in the first year will be $1.2 billion.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Greek Stocks Tank

Even though Greece reached an accord on the repayment of its sovereign debt, there are still those who believe the reprieve will be short-lived. Given this fear, coupled with the weak Greek economy, it is little surprise that the Athens stock market nose dived when it opened for the first time in five weeks. Overall, the Athens market fell 16.2 percent today, with several bank stocks dropping 30 percent, the maximum allowed according to Greek stock market regulations.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Losing Money At Zero Percent

One thing that can drive students crazy when first learning Finance is that sometimes things seem counterintuitive. For example, a recent article highlights that while a zero percent interest rate on car loans seems like a good deal, it can actually cost the uninformed buyer money. One specific example is the 2015 Jeep Cherokee SUV.  The vehicle lists for $27,153, but the buyer can take a $2,000 rebate or zero percent financing for 60 months. While many people would jump at the zero percent financing, the monthly payment under this option would be $452.55. If the buyer takes the rebate instead and finances the vehicle at 2 percent, the monthly payments would only be $440.88 per month. Although the article does not discuss a breakeven interest rate, we hope your time value of money skills allow you to calculate that the breakeven rate is 3.10 percent. So, if you can borrow at any rate below 3.10 percent for 60 months, the $2,000 rebate is preferable to zero percent financing!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Chinese Stock Market Rout

Any market can experience a bear market and the Shanghai Composite, the 144 China-based companies that have a primary listing on major U.S. stock markets, is no exception. The Shanghai Composite lost about 8.5 percent on Monday and is down about 27 percent since its June 12 peak. The result is a loss of about $40 billion in stock value! Another measure of Chinese stock performance, the CSI300, which comprises the largest listed companies in Shanghai and Shenzhen, fell 8.8 percent Monday. As a result, the Chines government has said that it was ready to buy shares of stock to stabilize the market and stop the "systematic risk." Regulators also said that they would harshly punish anyone who was malicously shorting stocks.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Really Bad Financial Analysis

There are times when we get a headache from slapping our foreheads after reading really bad financial analysis, especially when done by a well-respected S&P 500 company like Boeing. But, after reading this recent article, it may be a headache that lasts for a while. As you can read, the article states that Boeing loses $23 million on each 787 it sells. And while we understand Microsoft loses money on every XBox One, it makes up for those losses on the sale of each video game. So, we were wondering how Boeing was making up the losses on the sale of each 787 until we read this:

"Commercial jetliner programs typically lose money in the early years of production until the heavy upfront investments in engineering and production are repaid. Boeing's accounting spreads those costs over a large block of planes the company expects to deliver."

In other words, Boeing is losing money only because they are spreading the initial cost of the project over the life of the project! Accounting for the initial cost of a project in this manner not only violates a basic tenet of capital budgeting, but gives a misleading profitability number to investors.

If You Don't Like It, Create Your Own

Russian authorities are upset that Standard & Poor's and Moody's, who cited falling oil prices, a recession, and international sanctions due to the conflict in the Ukraine, rated the country's debt as junk. With the mindset "We can do it ourselves and everyone will believe", Russia announced that is starting its own credit rating agency. We are sure that Russian sovereign debt will be AAA rated. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Apple's Cash Hoard Grows

Apple's cash balance, which has been enormous by any measure, topped $200 billion for the first time. Cash held internationally has reached 89 percent, or about $180 billion, of Apple's cash. Apple has been reluctant to repatriate the money back to the U.S. as it would be forced to pay the full 35 percent corporate tax rate on the repatriated money. In an effort to pay investors, Apple has issued $50 billion in debt in various currencies around the world.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A $120 Million Bogey?

So what affects stock prices? In reality, pretty much everything, possibly even a bogey at the famed Road Hole at St. Andrews in Scotland. For the non-golfers, phenom Jordan Spieth made a bogey (one over par) on the 17th hole in the final round of The Open Championship on Monday, which virtually eliminated him from contention. Shortly after he made the bogey, stock in Under Armour, the company Spieth has a marketing deal with, fell from $89.47 to $88.79. While this is a relatively small dip, it reduced the market value of the company by $120 million. All in all, a pretty expensive round of golf.

Monday, July 20, 2015

An Overconfident Donald

One of the biases often discussed in behavioral finance is overconfidence, that is the belief your abilities are better than they are. Further, many people actually have overconfidence in individuals who tell everyone how good they are. Take Donald Trump. Although his wealth is estimated by Forbes at $4.1 billion, he recently stated that he was worth $10 billion as a self-made man (who started with his father’s millions.) And while his companies have filed bankruptcy four times, The Donald will tell you how good of an investor he is. Unfortunately, a recent article disputes this statement. If The Donald had taken his stated wealth of $500 million in 1982 and invested in the S&P 500, he would now have $20 billion, twice his stated worth. We hope you note a couple of important points. First, as we discuss in the textbook, the power of compounding greatly increases the value of a portfolio over time. Second, don’t always believe the hype of self-styled investment gurus.

International Corporate Ethics

It often seems that many people believe corporate ethics problems are limited to U.S. companies. Unfortunately, ethical problems are a worldwide problem. Toshiba, which is base in Japan, just announced that it had overstated profits by ¥151.8 billion ($1.22 billion) over the past several years. The CEO of Toshiba, Hisao Tanaka, and his predecessor Norio Sasaki, were both apparently aware of the accounting fraud. It is believed that both men, along with the board, will be replaced.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Venture Capital On The Rise

Aided by several "unicorns," including Uber and Airbnb, venture capital investment reached $35.9 billion in the first half of 2015, more than was invested during 2013. Although VC investment is growing, it is still well short of the record $85 billion in 2000. During the second quarter, there were 1,034 deals, a slight decline from the same period in 2014.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Spirit Grows To Grow

In its recent quarterly report, Spirit Airlines reported poor results. In a sharp criticism of company management, an analyst notes “growth for growth’s sake will not be rewarded in this environment.” Evidently, Spirit has yet to figure out that growth is only good if the new projects are positive NPV projects. In Spirit's case, the industry is experiencing weakening prices, yet Spirit continues to expand, with an announced capacity growth of more than 20 percent in 2016.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Crowdfunding Greece

The Greek debt crisis reached a new level when Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras claimed that the international bailout deal was blackmail. However, one optimistic Londoner has decided that the Greek debt crisis can be resolved through crowdfunding. The Greek Bailout Fund, which was started on Indiegogo by Thom Feeney, is a an effort to raise the €1.6 billion necessary to repay the Greek national debt. As this is written, the campaign has raised about €1.2 million, or less than one percent of the necessary amount.

The Stock Market's Bad Breadth

While we aren't big believers in technical analysis, many of our students are interested in the the topic. So, another technical tool we don't mention in the textbook is market breadth. Breadth is measured by a ratio of stock that are at a 52-week high minus the numbers of stocks. (As with any ratio, the calculation can be different. In this case, another calculation is the number of highs divided by the number of lows.) The idea behind market breadth is that the stock market is stronger when more stocks are increasing in value. A market with bad (low) breadth can be an indication of a weak market. A recent article discusses this point further in that although the stock market is increasing, the market breadth is relatively low, a possible indication of market weakness.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Discussion Of Markets

Alvin Roth, the co-recipient of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Economics, is an expert on markets. In a recent interview, he discusses stock market, as well as other markets such as Amazon and eBay. The interview touches many topics, including more inefficient markets such as the real estate market.

Darden Split

Darden Restaurants was in the news last year when its Board was effectively fired. Yesterday, the company made a big announcement to split up. More than 430 of the company's restaurants will be spun-off as a real estate investment trust (REIT). The company will then lease the restaurants back from the REIT. Additionally, the company will execute a sale and leaseback on 75 individual restaurants. The plan is expected to allow Darden to pay off about $1 billion in debt.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

2015 Working Capital Survey

CFO just published the 2015 working capital survey by REL Consulting. The 967 large U.S. companies included in the survey had $1.0541 trillion in excess working capital. However, low interest rates appear to have led to a level of apathy in working capital management as very little improvement has been seen in the past year. Overall, the companies in the survey have increased total debt by 62 percent since 2007, and the cash balance at these same companies reached $932 billion, a 74 percent increase since 2007. Even with cheap debt, days' sales outstanding increased by one day, from 37.4 days to 36.4 days, although much of this was a one-time improvement in the gas and oil industry.

The best performer in the cash conversion cycle was Anadarko Petroleum with a negative 346 days due to a paypables period of 397 days! Some of the other top performers in the cash conversion cycle were Deere (negative 29 days), Southwest Air (negative 17 days), Intuit (negative 81 days), and SunEdison (negative 52 days). On the other end of the performance scale, some of the longest cash conversion cycles were at Toll Brothers (770 days), Boeing (202 days). FLIR systems (207 days), and Tiffany (494 days).

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

George Zimmer Guarantees It

Proving you can't keep a good entrepreneur down, George Zimmer, the founder of Men's Wearhouse  who was let go in 2013, is back. In order for you to like the way you look now, Zimmer as started a new business, zTailors. Calling the business the Uber of the tailor world, you can use the app to set up an appointment with a tailor who comes to meet you, take your measurements, and then brings your clothes back in 5 to 7 days. Zimmer expects the cost of the tailor to be comparable to current cost of going to a tailor.

Mark-To-Market Accounting And FedEx

FedEx announced that it would take a $2.2 billion charge as it would be changing the way it accounted for pensions. The company will use mark-to-market accounting for the assets in its pension account moving forward. Mark-to-market accounting means that the assets are recorded at "fair value", or market value, rather than historical value.

Currency Losses Hit Record

Companies in North America lost a record $28.94 billion in the first quarter of 2015 due to currency fluctuations. The loss was an increase of 55.1 percent from the previous quarter. Of the 820 North American companies analyzed, 279 reported currency losses, with the euro the most commonly cited currency. On average, currency losses reduced EPS by 8 cents.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Pain Of A Strong Dollar

Earnings season is upon us and companies seem to be falling line in blaming the strong dollar for earnings weakness. And while some argue that the strong dollar excuse is invalid, in reality the strong dollar is hurting most U.S. based companies. Companies in the S&P 500 have overseas sales that average 45 percent of total sales. And things are even worse for Nike, which has sold more shoes this year than last year, but the company's revenue has declined because of the strong dollar.

The Cost Of Unethical Behavior

Finance textbooks do not generally spend a lot of time on ethics. This is because in finance, we generally argue that if the market believes that certain behavior is unethical, the company is punished financially, which means management is not maximizing the company value. This week, Deutsche Bank was fined $2.5 billion for its role in fixing LIBOR and Euribor, and Petrobas was forced to write-off $5 billion due to the corruption scandal that has entangled the company.  

Sunday, March 22, 2015

An Uber Valuation

So is Uber ($40 billion) really worth more than insurers Aetna ($38 billion), Prudential ($38 billion), or grocer Kroger ($37 billion)? Probably not, but venture capital valuations can be quite tricky. A recent article discusses some of the fuzziness associated with valuing a private company. In fact, some venture capitalists argue that the valuation of private companies is just a placeholder. Snapchat, the photo-messaging app, has a $15 billion valuation, yet the company has almost no revenues to speak of. One reason for the extraordinarily high valuation of private companies is that VCs often have deals that protect them going forward.

Bondholders Lose Protections

With the recent low interest rates, investors are searching for yields. As a result, borrowers are able to reduce protections offered to lenders. Moody's Investors Services tracks bond covenants and recently the Moody's Bond Covenant Index reached 4.51, a record high. In this index, 1 indicates the strongest covenants, while 5 indicates very weak covenants. In other words, investors are willing to give up protection in an effort to increase yields.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Actavis' Bond Price Jump

Actavis completed its $21 billion bond offering yesterday. The bond issue, which will be used to pay for the company's acquisition of Allergan, was the second largest corporate bond issue ever. Although you might think that it was difficult for Actavis to sell $21 billion in debt, the company received offers to purchase $90 billion in bonds. The high demand for the bonds proved to be a benefit to investors in the bonds, as the market value of the bonds increased by $334 million today in the first day of trading.

Exxon Slows Capital Spending

As we mention in the textbook, capital spending is often cyclical. For example, although the recent drop in oil price is welcome news at the gas pump, it is bad news for Exxon's capital budgeting. Exxon said that it may delay some investments if oil prices stay low. Even though Exxon's projects are long-term, a short-term decrease in the price of oil can still affect the profitability of a new project. In a filing last week, Exxon announced that its capital spending in the next several years would only be $34 billion, down from a previously announced capital budget of $37 billion.

Overseas Cash Continues To Grow

Eight of the largest U.S. tech companies increased overseas cash balances by $69 billion last year. In fact, overseas cash held by U.S. firms grew to $2.10 trillion during 2014, up 8 percent from 2013. The high U.S. tax rate is the reason for the cash holdings, although several companies took a tax hit in 2014 to repatriate earnings. For example, Duke Energy repatriated $2.7 billion in foreign earnings, but paid $373 million in taxes to do so. GE still has the largest offshore cash balance, at an astounding $119 billion.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015


A recent video on Bloomberg might be of interest to those of you who invest in NASDAQ stocks. The video discusses whether the PE of the NASDAQ is too high and if there is a bubble on the NASDAQ.

How Low Can Rates Go?

With companies holding record amounts of cash, banks may be reporting record earnings as the Commonwealth Bank of Australia estimates that about one quarter of bank deposits worldwide are earning negative interest rates. Switzerland and Denmark lead the pack, with savings account rates of negative .75 percent. Previously, zero percent was seen as the lower bound for savings rates, but some analysts argue that the new lower bound is considerably lower than negative .75 percent.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Negative Rates Grow

Recently, we posted about negative interest rates for savings accounts in Denmark. Now, it appears that negative interest rates are sweeping Europe. Earlier this week, Germany sold five-year government bonds with a YTM of negative .08 percent. Normally, we would make sure to put an exclamation point after that sentence, but Finland auctioned off negative interest rate government bonds earlier this month. The Netherlands, France, Belgium, Austria, and Italy all also have negative YTM bonds outstanding. Even more unique, an entrepreneur in Denmark took out a small business loan at negative .0172 percent! In other words, she is actually being paid to borrow money. Sign us up! The negative interest rate phenomenon appears to have hit the U.S as JPMorgan Chase announced that it would start charging some institutional clients to hold their money.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Sweet Home Chicago?

Moodys' cut the credit rating on Chicago's debt to Baa2, two steps above junk status. The city's debt still has a negative outlook, meaning that another rating drop could happen in the future. The rating cut was caused in large part by the city's underfunded public pension plan. Only Detroit has a lower credit rating than Chicago among the largest U.S. cities, and Illinois is lowest credit rated state. S&P and Fitch maintained their credit rating on Chicago.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Shareholders Get Paid

2014 was a record year for shareholders of S&P 500 stocks. Companies in the S&P 500 paid out a record $350.4 billion in dividends during the year. The total dividends paid equals the GDP of South Africa. Share buybacks are expected to reach about $550 billion, the largest value since 2007. So, for 2014, the total payouts to shareholders are expected to be just under $900 billion, topping the $846 billion paid in 2007.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Inventory Shortage Costs

What is the optimal days' sales in inventory? It depends! Too much in inventory will result in large opportunity costs. In other words, a company has cash tied up in inventory that costs the company money and does not earn a return. However, too little inventory can be problematic as the company can experience shortage costs. In this article, the costs of inventory shortages are explained. For example, although just-in-time delivery is popular, it does create problems in supply chain management. Not only does a company need to monitor its suppliers to ensure they will be able to meet obligations, but a company must also monitor the supplier of the company's supplier. A disruption at any point in the supply chain can result in an inventory shortage. So, how much does an supply chain disruption affect a company's value? One study indicates that supply chain disruption can reduce a company's value by up to 7 percent.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

RBS Goodwill Writeoff

An expected writeoff by the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) is further evidence that acquisitions are an inexact science. It is believed that RBS will announce a £4 billion ($6.2 billion) writeoff related to its acquisition of Citizens Financial. The writeoff will almost entirely erase the company's 2014 profit. RBS has already sold 29 percent of Citizens Financial in a public offering, and plans to sell more of the company. RBS purchased Citizens for $130 billion in 1988, but the current market capitalization of Citizens is a much smaller $13.7 billion.

Mutual Fund Efficiency

In a nod to market efficiency, 2014 was one of the worst years on record for mutual fund managers, with fewer than 20 percent beating their benchmark. In the article, several reasons are given for the poor performance. For example, relative, not absolute skill is what matters. In other words, if fund managers as a whole are getting smarter, it is harder for an individual fund manager to distinguish themselves from the pack. Additional explanations, such as the necessity of small caps doing better than large caps, cash not being a drag on the fund return, and good performance of international stocks, are given as possible explanations for the poor performance in 2014. While we see merit in these explanations, a simpler reason also emerges. In very few years do mutual fund managers as a whole outperform the market. This leads us to the argument that the market is efficient and the reasons given in the article are only reasons that mutual fund managers performed even more poorly than usual.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Interest Rates Later This Year

It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.
                          - Yogi Berra, Niels Bohr, Albert Einstein, Mark Twain, et al. 

As you have seen in Finance what is happening now, while interesting, is not as important as what will happen in the future. Of course, that is easier said than done. For example, knowing what will happen to interest rates later this year can give valuable information about optimal decisions today. So, what will  happen to interest rates later this year? Many believe that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates later this year, even though there is a currency war. Of course, this may not happen. In fact, economists at Goldman Sachs can even foresee circumstances that the U.S. interest rate goes below zero!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Coca-Cola's Currency Woes

Coca-Cola reported earnings in the fourth quarter of 2014 that were down 55 percent from the same quarter in 2013. However, sales dropped only 2 percent over the same period. The reason for the large drop in net income was currency related. Because of the devaluation of the Venezuelan bolivar, Coca-Cola experienced a revaluation of its assets in Venezuela in the amount of $393 million in the fourth quarter alone. Previously, in the first quarter of 2014, Coca-Cola was forced to write off $247 million because of the bolivar devaluation in that quarter.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

U.S. Winning (Losing) Currency Wars

With anemic global growth, most central banks are in a race to the bottom in an attempt to devalue the country's domestic currency. Over the past year, the U.S. dollar has gained 16 percent versus a basket of 26 major trading partners. And U.S. exporters are beginning to feel the crunch. For example, Proctor & Gamble blamed a 31 percent drop in second quarter profits on the stronger U.S. dollar. The stronger dollar expanded the U.S. trade deficit to $46.6 billion, the highest level in two years.

Russell 2000 Facts And Figures

A recent article about the Russell 2000 has some interesting facts and figures about the index. In case you don't know, the Russell 3000 index consists of the largest 3,000 stocks by market capitalization in the U.S. The Russell 2000 consists of the smallest 2,000 stocks in the Russell 3000 index. So, the Russell 2000 is a small cap index. The largest company in the index has a market cap of $5 billion and the median market cap is about $528 million. What we found interesting in the article was several ratios. For example, the current PE ratio for the Russell 2000 index is 22.7, higher than the historical average of 16.2. And, the current price-sales ratio is 1.6, 67 percent higher than its historical average. As for sales, while only 64.3 percent of the sales for all S&P 500 companies comes from within the U.S., 81.3 percent of the total sales for Russell 2000 companies come from within the U.S.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Amazon's Leasing Cash Flow

In the textbook, we argue that cash flows are most often a better measure of company performance than net income. Amazon fully exploits this concept. In most recent quarters, the company has shown an operating loss, but has touted its positive operating cash flow as the measure that investors should examine. Now, it appears that Amazon may have been glossing over a more negative reality for the company. In the company's most recent earnings announcement, it disclosed another cash flow, which is the operating cash flow minus the capital leases. Amazon has a large number of capital leases. Ignoring the cash flows necessary to pay these leases ignores a significant outflow each year to which Amazon has committed to paying. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

Saving In Denmark

For the past several years, most central banks have been engaged in currency wars in an effort to devalue that country's currency. The race to the bottom is an effort to increase exports and jump start domestic growth. Denmark is making an effort to avoid becoming the next victim of the currency wars. Recently, the country spent 100 billion kroner ($15 billion) in an attempt to weaken its currency. Now, Denmark has lowered its interest rate. You will pay .5 percent for deposits at the bank!

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Citigroup's Swiss Franc Loss

In 2011, the Swiss National Bank pegged the Swiss franc to the euro, at a rate of 1.2 francs per euro. As recently as December, Swiss officials stood by the peg. Then, on January 15th, the Swiss National Bank unexpectedly removed the peg, sending the Swiss franc up up by 30 percent on the day. Unfortunately for Citigroup, the company had let it's Swiss franc hedge expire the previous week. As a result, Citigroup lost more than $200 million in the hours following the announcement. Of course, not everyone lost: It was reported that JPMorgan Chase & Co. had gained $300 million on the removal of the franc peg. The cost of the hedge was likely a reason that Citigroup allowed the position to expire. During the previous year, Citigroup lost $100 million on a hedge tied to unrest in the Ukraine.  

Friday, January 30, 2015

Shake Shack IPO Doubles

Shake Shack went public today, at a price of $21 per share. Evidently investors were hungry for the stock, as it opened at $47 per share, climbed to $52 per share, before closing at $45.90, an increase of about 119 percent. The company, which began as a hot dog cart in Manhattan, is now worth about $1.6 billion.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

S&P Junks Russian Debt

S&P has downgraded Russian sovereign debt, as the company lowered Russia's credit rating to BB+. Although Moody's and Fitch still have a BBB- rating on Russian debt, both companies are expected to follow suit and downgrade Russian debt soon. The downgrade is due to the bleak economic growth prospects for the country. As a result, Russian corporations will likely have a more difficult time refinancing as the credit markets in Russia tighten as a result of the downgrade.

Skymall Flies Into Bankruptcy

Even though the ubiquitous Skymall magazine reached 650 million travelers a year in the seat back in front of you, the company was recently forced to file for bankruptcy. Skymall famously offered such products as a globe that could be opened into a liquor bar ($189) or a chess set ($212). The company suffered as airlines offered internet access and passengers began bringing smartphones and tablets, which meant they weren't forced to look in the seat back in front of them for reading material. In the bankruptcy filing, Skymall suggested an auction be held at the end of March.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

An Uber Investment

Mobile car booking company Uber just raised $1.6 billion in convertible debt from Goldman Sach's clients. The company is still in talks to raise $600 million from hedge funds and just raised $1.2 billion in financing in December. An interesting note is the structure of the convertible bond. The bond has a six year maturity, and allows bondholders to convert the bond into equity at a 20 to 30 percent discount to Uber's valuation at the time of the company's IPO. However, if Uber does not go public in the next four years, the coupon rate increases.

Monday, January 19, 2015

A Hip Hop IPO

We love when finance becomes an integral part of a popular television show. The new Fox show Empire is one we can grow to love since it deals with a company undergoing an IPO. And while we know that television and movies often stretch the truth, The Wall Street Journal blog Moneybeat promises to keep track on how realistically each episode portrays the IPO process. For example, in the first two episodes, the company didn't disclose the fact that the CEO has a terminal illness (it must be disclosed), dealing with the dilution that founders typically experience, and a company funded by drug money (disclose, disclose, disclose). Keep up with Moneybeat to see how truthful Empire is going forward.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Exchange Rate For Pizza

So what does pizza have to do with exchange rates? Quite a lot if you live in Switzerland. About a year ago, Swiss customs changed the law and allowed food deliveries like pizza to avoid having to pass through customs. However, over the past year, the Swiss franc has strengthened while the euro has lost value. With a strong Swiss franc, the Swiss customs administration changed the law back, forcing pizza deliveries to pass through customs. As a result, bargain-hunting Swiss can no longer have pizzas delivered from Germany or France.