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Peeking Into the Future with Ray Kurzweil

This is the most important research piece you will ever read, bar none. But you have to finish it to understand why. So, I will get on with the show.

I have been hammering away at my followers at investment conferences, webinars, and strategy luncheons this year about one recurring theme. Things are good, and about to get better, a whole lot better.

The driver will be the exploding rate of technological innovation in electronics, biotechnology, and energy. The 2020s are shaping up to be another roaring twenties, and asset prices are going to go through the roof.

To flesh out some hard numbers about growth rates that are realistically possible and which industries will be the leaders, I hooked up with my old friend, Ray Kurzweil, one of the most brilliant minds in computer science.

Ray is currently a director of Engineering at Google (GOOG), heading up a team that is developing stronger artificial intelligence. He is an MIT grad, with a double major in computer science and creative writing. He was the principal inventor of the CCD flatbed scanner, first text-to-speech synthesizer, and the commercially marketed large-vocabulary speech recognition.

When he was still a teenager, Ray was personally awarded a science prize by President Lyndon Johnson. He has received 20 honorary doctorates and has authored 7 books. It was upon Ray’s shoulders that many of today’s technological miracles were built.

His most recent book, The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, was a New York Times bestseller. In it, he makes hundreds of predictions about the next 100 years that will make you fall out of your chair.

I met Ray at one of my favorite San Francisco restaurants, Morton’s on Sutter Street. I ordered a dozen oysters; a filet mignon wrapped in bacon and drowned it all down with a fine bottle of Duckhorn merlot. Ray had a wedge salad with no dressing, a giant handful of nutritional supplements, and a bottle of water. That’s Ray, one cheap date.

The Future of Man

A singularity is defined as a single event that has monumental consequences. Astrophysicists refer to the big bang and black holes in this way. Ray’s singularity has humans and machines merging to become single entities, partially by 2040 and completely by 2100.

All of our thought processes will include built-in links to the cloud, making humans super smart. Skin that absorbs energy from the sun will eliminate the need to eat. Nanobots will replace blood cells, which are far more efficient at moving oxygen. A revolution in biotechnology will enable us to eliminate all medical causes of death.

Most organs can now be partially or completely replaced. Eventually, they all will become renewable by taking one of your existing cells and cloning it into a completely new organ. We will become much more like machines, and machines will become more like us.

The first industrial revolution extended the reach of our bodies, and the second is extending the reach of our minds.

And, oh yes, prostitution will be legalized and move completely online. Sound like a turnoff? How about virtually doing it with your favorite movie star? Your favorite investment advisor? Yikes!

Ironically, one of the great accelerants towards this singularity has been the war in Iraq. More than 50,000 young men and women came home missing arms and legs (in Vietnam these were all fatalities, thanks to the absence of modern carbon fiber body armor).

Generous government research budgets have delivered huge advances in titanium artificial limbs and the ability to control them only with thoughts. Quadriplegics can now hit computer keystrokes merely by thinking about them.

Kurzweil argues that exponentially growing information technology is encompassing more and more things that we care about, like healthcare and medicine. Reprogramming of biology will be the next big thing and is a crucial part of his “singularity.”

Our bodies are governed by obsolete genetic programs that evolved in a bygone era. For example, over millions of years, our bodies developed genes to store fat cells to protect against a poor hunting season in the following year. That gave us a great evolutionary advantage 10,000 years ago. But it is not so great now, with obesity becoming the country’s number one health problem.

We would love to turn off these genes through reprogramming, confident that the hunting at the supermarket next year will be good. We can do this in mice now which, in experiments, can eat like crazy but never gain weight.

The happy rodents enjoy the full benefits of caloric restriction with no hint of diabetes or heart disease. A product like this would be revolutionary, not just for us, healthcare providers, and the government, but, ironically, for fast food restaurants as well.

Within the last five years, we have learned how to reprogram stem cells to rebuild the hearts of heart attack victims. The stem cells are harvested from skin cells, not human embryos, ducking the political and religious issue of the past.

And if we can turn off genes, why not the ones in cancer cells that enable them to pursue unlimited reproduction, until they kill its host? That development would cure all cancers and is probably only a decade off.

The Future of Computing

If this all sounds like science fiction, you’d be right. But Ray points out that humans have chronically underestimated the rate of technological innovation.

This is because humans evolved to become linear thinking animals. If a million years ago, we saw a gazelle running from left to right, our brains calculated that one second later, it would progress ten feet further to the right. That’s where we threw the spear. This gave us a huge advantage over other animals and is why we became the dominant species.

However, much of science, technology, and innovation grows at an exponential rate and is where we make our most egregious forecasting errors. Count to seven, and you get to seven. However, double something seven times and you get to a billion.

The history of the progress of communications is a good example of an exponential effect. Spoken language took hundreds of thousands of years to develop. Written language emerged thousands of years, books in hundreds of years, the telegraph in a century, and telephones 50 years later.

Some ten years after Steve Jobs brought out his Apple II personal computer, the growth of the Internet went hyperbolic. Within three years of the iPhone launch, social media exploded out of nowhere.

At the beginning of the 20th century, $1,000 bought 10 X -5th power worth of calculations per second in our primitive adding machines. A hundred years later a grand got you 10 X 8th power calculations, a 10 trillion-fold improvement. The present century will see gains many times this.

The iPhone itself is several thousand times smaller, a million times cheaper, and billions of times more powerful than computers of 40 years ago. That increases price per performance by the trillions. More dramatic improvements will accelerate from here.

Moore’s law is another example of how fast this process works. Intel (INTC) founder Gordon Moore published a paper in 1965 predicting a doubling of the number of transistors on a printed circuit board every two years. Since electrons had shorter distances to travel, speeds would double as well.

Moore thought that theoretical limits imposed by the laws of physics would bring this doubling trend to end by 2018 when the gates become too small for the electrons to pass through. For decades, I have read research reports predicting that this immutable deadline would bring an end to innovation and technological growth and bring an economic Armageddon.

Ray argues that nothing could be further from the truth. A paradigm shift will simply allow us to leapfrog conventional silicon-based semiconductor technologies and move on to bigger and better things. We did this when we jumped from vacuum tubes to transistors in 1949, and again in 1959 when Texas Instruments (TXN) invented the first integrated circuit.

Paradigm shifts occurred every ten years in the past century, every five years in the last decade, and will occur every couple of years in the 2020s. So fasten your seatbelts!

Nanotechnology has already allowed manufacturers to extend the 2018 Moore’s Law limit to 2022. On the drawing board are much more advanced computing technologies, including calcium-based systems, using the alternating direction of spinning electrons, and nanotubes.

Perhaps the most promising is DNA-based computing, a high research priority at IBM and several other major firms. I earned my own 15 minutes of fame in the scientific world 40 years ago as a member of the first team ever to sequence a piece of DNA, which is why Ray knows who I am.

Deoxyribo Nucleic Acid makes up the genes that contain the programming that makes us who we are. It is a fantastically efficient means of storing and transmitting information. And it is found in every single cell in our bodies, all 10 trillion of them.

The great thing about DNA is that it replicates itself. Just throw it some sugar. That eliminates the cost of building the giant $2 billion silicon-based chip fabrication plants of today.

The entire human genome is a sequential binary code containing only 800 MB information, which after you eliminate redundancies, has a mere 30-100 MB of useful information, about the size of an off-the-shelf software program, like Word for Windows. Unwind a single DNA molecule, and it is only six feet long.

What this means is that, just when many believe that our computer power is peaking, it is in fact just launching on an era of exponential growth. Supercomputers surpassed human brain computational ability in 2012, about 10 to the 16th power (ten quadrillions) calculations per second.

That power will be available on a low-end laptop by 2020. By 2050, this prospective single laptop will have the same computing power of the entire human race, about 9 billion individuals. It will also be small enough to implant in our brains.

The Future of the Economy

Ray is not really that interested in financial markets, or for that matter, making money. Where technology will be in a half-century and how to get us there are what get his juices flowing. However, I did manage to tease a few mind-boggling thoughts from him.

At the current rate of change, the 21st century will see 200 times the technological progress that we saw in the 20th century. Shouldn’t corporate profits, and therefore share prices, rise by as much?

Technology is rapidly increasing its share of the economy and increasing its influence on other sectors. That’s why tech has been everyone’s favorite sector for the past 30 years and will remain so for the foreseeable future. For two centuries, technology has been eliminating jobs at the bottom of the economy and creating new ones at the top.

Stock analysts and investors make a fatal flaw estimating future earnings based on the linear trends of the past, instead of the exceptional growth that will occur in the future.

In the last century, the Dow appreciated from 100 to 10,000, an increase of 100 times. If we grow at that rate in this century, the Dow should increase by 10,000% to 1 million by 2100. But so far, we are up only 6% even though we are already 19 years into the new century.

The index is seriously lagging but will play catch-up in a major way during the 2020s when economic growth jumps from 2% to 4% or more, thanks to the effects of massively accelerating technological change.

Some 100 years ago, one-third of jobs were in farming, one-third were in manufacturing, and one-third in services. If you predicted then that in a century, farming and manufacturing would each be 3% of total employment and that something else unknown would come along for the rest of us, people would have been horrified. But that’s exactly what happened.

Solar energy use is also on an exponential path. It is now 1% of the world’s supply but is only seven doublings away from becoming 100%. Then, we will consume only one 10,000th of the sunlight hitting the earth. Geothermal energy offers the same opportunities.

We are only running out of energy if you limit yourself to 19th-century methods. Energy costs will plummet. Eventually, energy will be essentially free when compared to today’s costs, further boosting corporate profits.

Hypergrowth in technology means that we will be battling with deflation for the rest of the century, as the cost of production and price of everything falls off a cliff. That makes our 10-year Treasury bonds a steal at a generous 2.60% yield, a full 460 basis points over the real long-term inflation rate of negative 2% a year.

US Treasuries could eventually trade down to the 0.40% yields seen in Japan only a couple of years ago. This means that the bull market in bonds is still in its early stages and could continue for decades.

The upshot for all of these technologies will rapidly eliminate poverty, not just in the US but around the world. Each industry will need to continuously reinvent its business model or disappear.

The takeaway for investors that stocks, as well as other asset prices, are now wildly undervalued, given their spectacular future earnings potential. It also makes the Dow target of 1 million by 2100 absurdly low, and off by a factor of 10 or even 100. Will we be donning our “Dow 100 Million” then?

Other Random Thoughts

As we ordered dessert, Ray launched into another stream of random thoughts. I asked for Morton’s exquisite double chocolate mousse. Ray had another handful of supplements. Yep, Mr. Cheap Date.

The number of college students has grown from 50,000 to 12 million since the 1870s. A kid in Africa with a cell phone has more access to accurate information than the president of the United States did 15 years ago.

The great superpower, the Soviet Union, was wiped out by a few fax machines distributing information in 1991.

Company offices will become entirely virtual by 2025.

Cows are very inefficient at producing meat. In the near future, cloned muscle tissue will be produced in factories, disease-free and at a fraction of the present cost, without the participation of the animal. PETA will be thrilled.

Use of nanomaterials to build ultra-light but ultra-strong cars cuts fuel consumption dramatically. Battery efficiencies will improve by 10 to 100 times. Imagine powering Tesla Model S1 with a 10-pound battery! Advances in nanotube construction mean the weight of the vehicle will drop from the present 3 tons to just 100 pounds but will be far safer.

Ray is also on a scientific advisory panel for the US Army. Uncertain about my own security clearance, he was reluctant to go into detail. Suffice it to say that the weight of an M1 Abrams main battle tank will shrink from 70 tons to 1 ton but will be 100 times stronger.

A zero-tolerance policy towards biotechnology by the environmental movement exposes their intellectual and moral bankruptcy. Opposing a technology with so many positive benefits for humankind and the environment will inevitably alienate them from the media and the public, who will see the insanity of their position.

Artificial intelligence is already far more prevalent than you understand. The advent of strong artificial intelligence will be the most significant development of this century. You can’t buy a book from Amazon, withdraw money from your bank, or book a flight without relying on AI.

Ray finished up by saying that by 2100, humans will have the choice of living in a biological, or in a totally virtual, online form. In the end, we will all just be files.

Personally, I prefer the former, as the best things in life are biological and free!

I walked over to the valet parking, stunned and disoriented by the motherload of insight I had just obtained, and it wasn’t just the merlot talking, either! Imagine what they talk about at Google all day.

To buy The Singularity is Near at discount Amazon pricing, please click here. It is worth purchasing the book just to read Ray’s single chapter on the future of the economy.

 

Did You Say “BUY” or “SELL”

The Future is Closer than You Think

Trade Alert – (MSFT) – EXPIRATION

Trade Alert – (MSFT) – EXPIRATION

EXPIRATION of the Microsoft (MSFT) December 2019 $134-$137 in-the-money vertical BULL CALL spread at $3.00

Closing Trade

12-20-2019

expiration date: December 20, 2019

Portfolio weighting: 10%

Number of Contracts = 38 contracts

Provided that (MSFT) does not fall $20.08, or 12.73% by the close today, our position in the Microsoft (MSFT) December 2019 $134-$137 in-the-money vertical BULL CALL spread will expire at its maximum profit at $3.00.

As a result, you have earned $1,520, or 15.38% in 22 trading days. If you bought the shares instead, keep them. They are going much higher.

You don’t get any better quality than Microsoft (MSFT) in the tech world. It is the safest stock in which to invest today. This is a stock that you want to hide behind the radiator and keep forever. It is also one of the great turnaround stories of the decade.

In addition, this particular combination of strikes prices gave you huge support at the 50-day moving average at $140.67. Please note this option spread will be profitable whether the market goes up, sideways, or down small over the next four weeks.

This was a bet that Microsoft shares would NOT fall below $137.00 by the December 20 option expiration date in 22 trading days.

This was also a bet that we are not already in a recession, which I believe is still at least 12 months off.

You don’t need to do anything, as the expiration process is now fully automated. The profit will be deposited into your account and the margin freed up on Monday morning.

Well done, and on to the next trade!

EXPIRATION 38 December 2019 (MSFT) $134 calls at…….……$23.08
EXPIRATION short 38 December 2019 (MSFT) $137 calls at…….$20.08
Net Cost:………………………….…………..…..….……..$3.00

Profit: $3.00 – $2.60 = $0.40

(38 X 100 X $0.40) = $1,520 or 15.38% in 22 trading days.

The optics today look utterly different from when Bill Gates was roaming around the corridors in the Redmond, Washington headquarter and that is a good thing in 2018.

Current CEO Satya Nadella has turned this former legacy company into the 2nd largest cloud competitor to Amazon and then some.

Microsoft Azure is rapidly catching up to Amazon in the cloud space because of the Amazon-effect working in reverse. Companies don’t want to store proprietary data to Amazon’s server farm when they could possible destroy them down the road. Microsoft is mainly a software company and gained the trust of many big companies especially retailers.

Microsoft is also on the vanguard of the gaming industry taking advantage of the young generation’s fear of outside activity. Xbox related revenue is up 36% YOY, and its gaming division is a $10.3 billion per year business. Microsoft Azure grew 87% YOY last quarter.

To see how to enter this trade in your online platform, please look at the order ticket above, which I pulled off of Interactive Brokers.

If you are uncertain on how to execute an options spread, please watch my training video on “How to Execute a Vertical Bull Call Spread” by clicking here at
http://members.madhedgefundtrader.com/ltt-vbpds/

The best execution can be had by placing your bid for the entire spread in the middle market and waiting for the market to come to you. The difference between the bid and the offer on these deep in-the-money spread trades can be enormous.

Don’t execute the legs individually or you will end up losing much of your profit. Spread pricing can be very volatile on expiration months farther out.

Keep in mind that these are ballpark prices at best. After the alerts go out, prices can be all over the map.

The Eight Worst Trades in History

As you are all well aware, I have long been a history buff. I am particularly fond of studying the history of my own avocation, trading, in the hope that the past errors of others will provide insights into the future.

History doesn’t repeat itself, but it certainly rhymes.

So after decades of research on the topic, I thought I would provide you with a list of the eight worst trades in history. Some of these are subjective, some are judgment calls, but all are educational. And I do personally know many of the individuals involved.

Here they are for your edification, in no particular order. You will notice a constantly recurring theme of hubris.

1) Ron Wayne’s sales of 10% of Apple (AAPL) for $800 in 1976

Say you owned 10% of Apple (AAPL) and you sold it for $800 in 1976. What would that stake be worth today? Try $120 billion. That is the harsh reality that Ron Wayne, 78, faces every morning when he wakes up, one of the three original founders of the consumer electronics giant.

Ron first met Steve Jobs when he was a spritely 21-year-old marketing guy at Atari, the inventor of the hugely successful “Pong” video arcade game.

Ron dumped his shares when he became convinced that Steve Jobs’ reckless spending was going to drive the nascent startup into the ground and he wanted to protect his own assets in a future bankruptcy.

Co-founders Jobs and Steve Wozniak each kept their original 45% ownership. Today, Jobs’ widow, Laurene Powel Jobs, has a 0.5% ownership in Apple worth $4 billion, while the value of Woz’s share remains undisclosed.
Today, Ron is living off of a meager monthly Social Security check in remote Pahrump, Nevada, about as far out in the middle of nowhere as you can get where he can occasionally be seen playing the penny slots.

 

2) AOL’s 2001 Takeover of Time Warner

Seeking to gain dominance in the brave new online world, Gerald Levin pushed old-line cable TV and magazine conglomerate, Time Warner, to pay $164 billion to buy upstart America Online in 2001. AOL CEO, Steve Case, became chairman of the new entity. Blinded by greed, Levin was lured by the prospect of 130 million big spending new customers.

It was not meant to be.

The wheels fell off almost immediately. The promised synergies never materialized. The Dotcom Crash vaporized AOL’s business the second the ink was dry. Then came a big recession and the Second Gulf War. By 2002, the value of the firm’s shares cratered from $226 billion to $20 billion.

The shareholders got wiped out, including “Mouth of the South” Ted Turner. That year, the firm announced a $99 billion loss as the goodwill from the merger was written off, the largest such loss in corporate history. Time Warner finally spun off AOL in 2009, ending the agony.

Steve Case walked away with billions, and is now an active venture capitalist. Gerald Levin left a pauper, and is occasionally seen as a forlorn guest on talk shows. The deal is widely perceived to be the worst corporate merger in history.

Buy High, Sell Low?

 

3) Bank of America’s Purchase of Countrywide Savings in 2008

Bank of America’s CEO Ken Lewis thought he was getting the deal of the century picking up aggressive subprime lender, Countrywide Savings, for a bargain $4.1 billion, a “rare opportunity.”

As a result, Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo pocketed several hundred million dollars. Then the financial system collapsed, and suddenly we learned about liar loans, zero money down, and robo-signing of loan documents.

Bank of America’s shares plunged by 95%, wiping out $500 billion in market capitalization. The deal saddled (BAC) with liability for Countrywide’s many sins, ultimately, paying out $40 billion in endless fines and settlements to aggrieved regulators and shareholders.

Ken Lewis was quickly put out to pasture, cashing in on an $83 million golden parachute, and is now working on his golf swing. Mozilo had to pay a number of out-of-court settlements, but was able to retain a substantial fortune, and is still walking around free.

The nicely tanned Mozilo is also working on his golf swing.

 

4) The 1973 Sale of All Star Wars Licensing and Merchandising Rights by 20th Century Fox for Free

In 1973, my former neighbor George Lucas approached 20th Century Fox Studios with the idea for the blockbuster film, Star Wars. It was going to be his next film after American Graffiti which had been a big hit earlier that year.

While Lucas was set for a large raise for his directing services – from $150,000 for American Graffiti to potentially $500,000 for Star Wars – he had a different twist ending in mind. Instead of asking for the full $500,000 directing fee, he offered a discount: $350,000 off in return for the unlimited rights to merchandising and any sequels.
Fox executives agreed, figuring that the rights were worthless, and fearing that the timing might not be right for a science fiction film. In hindsight, their decision seems ridiculously short-sighted.

Since 1977, the Star Wars franchise has generated about $27 billion in revenue, leaving George Lucas with a net worth of over $3 billion by 2012. In 2012, Disney paid Lucas an additional $4 billion to buy the rights to the franchise.

The initial budget for Star Wars was a pittance at $8 million, a big sum for an unproven film. So, saving $150,000 on production costs was no small matter, and Fox thought it was hedging its bets.

George once told me that he had a problem with depressed actors on the set while filming. Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher thought the plot was stupid and the costumes silly.

Today, it is George Lucas that is laughing all the way to the bank.

$150,000 for What?

 

5) Lehman Brothers Entry Into the Bond Derivatives Market in the 2000s

I hated the 2000s because it was clear that men with lesser intelligence were using other people’s money to hyper leverage their own personal net worth. The money wasn’t the point. The quantities of cash involved were so humongous they could never be spent. It was all about winning points in a game with the CEOs of the other big Wall Street institutions.

CEO Richard Fuld could have come out of central casting as a stereotypical bad guy. He even once offered me a job which I wisely turned down. Fuld took his firm’s leverage ratio up to 100 times in an extended reach for obscene profits. This meant that a 1% drop in the underlying securities would entirely wipe out its capital.

That’s exactly what happened, and 10,000 employees lost their jobs, sent packing with their cardboard boxes with no notice. It was a classic case of a company piling on more risk to compensate for the lack of experience and intelligence. This only ends one way.

Morgan Stanley (MS) and Goldman Sachs (GS) drew the line at 40 times leverage and are still around today but just by the skin of their teeth, thanks to the TARP.

Fuld has spent much of the last five years ducking in and out of depositions in protracted litigation. Lehman issued public bonds only months before the final debacle, and how he has stayed out of jail has amazed me. Today he works as an independent consultant. On what I have no idea.

Out of Central Casting

 

6) The Manhasset Indians’ Sale of Manhattan to the Dutch in 1626

Only a single original period document mentions anything about the purchase of Manhattan. This letter states that the island was bought from the Indians for 60 Dutch guilders worth of trade goods which would consist of axes, iron kettles, beads, and wool clothing.

No record exists of exactly what the mix was. Indians were notoriously shrewd traders and would not have been fooled by worthless trinkets.

The original letter outlining the deal is today kept at a museum in the Netherlands. It was written by a merchant, Pieter Schagen, to the directors of the West India Company (owners of New Netherlands) and is dated 5 November 1626.

He mentions that the settlers “have bought the island of Manhattes from the savages for a value of 60 guilders.” That’s it. It doesn’t say who purchased the island or from whom they purchased it, although it was probably the local Lenape tribe.

Historians often point out that North American Indians had a concept of land ownership different from that of the Europeans. The Indians regarded land, like air and water, as something you could use but not own or sell. It has been suggested that the Indians may have thought they were sharing, not selling.

It is anyone’s guess what Manhattan is worth today. Just my old two-bedroom 34th-floor apartment at 400 East 56th Street is now worth $2 million. Better think in the trillions.

 

7) Napoleon’s 1803 Sale of the Louisiana Purchase to the United States

Invading Europe is not cheap, as Napoleon found out, and he needed some quick cash to continue his conquests. What could be more convenient than unloading France’s American colonies to the newly founded United States for a tidy $7 million? A British naval blockade had made them all but inaccessible anyway.

What is amazing is that president Thomas Jefferson agreed to the deal without the authority to do so, lacking permission from Congress, and with no money. What lies beyond the Mississippi River then was unknown.

Many Americans hoped for a waterway across the continent while others thought dinosaurs might still roam there. Jefferson just took a flyer on it. It was up to the intrepid explorers, Lewis and Clark, to find out what we bought.

Sound familiar? Without his bold action, the middle 15 states of the country would still be speaking French, smoking Gitanes, and getting paid in Euros.

After Waterloo in 1815, the British tried to reverse the deal and claim the American Midwest for themselves. It took Andrew Jackson’s (see the $20 bill) surprise win at the Battle of New Orleans to solidify the US claim.

The value of the Louisiana Purchase today is incalculable. But half of a country that creates $17 trillion in GDP per year and is still growing would be worth quite a lot.

Great General, Lousy Trader

 

8) The John Thomas Family Sale of Nantucket Island in 1740

Yes, my own ancestors are to be included among the worst traders in history. My great X 12 grandfather, a pioneering venture capitalist investor of the day from England, managed to buy the island of Nantucket off the coast of Massachusetts from the Indians for three ax heads and a sheep in the mid-1600s. Barren, windswept, and distant, it was considered worthless.

Two generations later, my great X 10 grandfather decided to cut his risk and sell the land to local residents just ahead of the Revolutionary War. Some 17 of my ancestors fought in that war including the original John Thomas who served on George Washington’s staff at the harsh winter encampment at Valley Forge during 1777-78. Maybe that’s why I have an obsession about not wasting food?

By the early 19th century, a major whaling industry developed on Nantucket fueling the lamps of the world with smoke-free fuel. By then, our family name was “Coffin,” which is still abundantly found on the headstones of the island’s cemeteries.

One Coffin even saw his ship, the Essex, rammed by a whale and sunk in the Pacific in 1821. He was eaten by fellow crewmembers after spending 99 days adrift in an open lifeboat. Maybe that’s why I have an obsession about not wasting food?

In the 1840s, a young itinerant writer named Herman Melville visited Nantucket and heard the Essex story. He turned it into a massive novel about a mysterious rogue white whale, Moby Dick, which has been torturing English literature students ever since. Our family name, Coffin, is mentioned seven times in the book.

Nantucket is probably worth many tens of billions of dollars today as a playground for the rich and famous. Just a decent beachfront cottage there rents for $50,000 a week in the summer.

The 2015 Ron Howard film, The Heart of the Sea, is breathtaking. Just be happy you never worked on a 19th-century sailing ship.

Yes, it’s all true and documented.

Hi Grandpa!

 

Trading the New Apple in 2020

Not a day goes by when someone doesn’t ask me about what to do about Apple (AAPL).

After all, it is the world largest publicly-traded company at a $1.2 trillion market capitalization. It is the planet’s most widely owned stock. Almost everyone uses their products in some form or another. It buys back more of its own stock than any other company on the planet. Oh yes, it is also one of Warren Buffet’s favorite picks.

So, the widespread adulation is totally understandable.

Apple is a company with which I have a very long relationship. During the early 1980s, I was ordered by Morgan Stanley to take Steve Jobs around to the big New York Institutional Investors to pitch a secondary share offering for the sole reason that I was one of three people who worked for the firm who was then from California.

They thought one West Coast hippy would easily get along with another. Boy, were they wrong, me in my three-piece navy blue pinstripe suit and Steve in his work Levi’s. It was the worst day of my life. Steve was not a guy who palled around with anyone. He especially hated investment bankers.

I got into Apple with my personal account when the company only had four weeks of cash flow remaining and was on the verge of bankruptcy. I got in at $7 which, on a split-adjusted basis today, is 50 cents. I still have them. In fact, my cost basis in Apple is less than the 77-cent quarterly dividend now.

Today, some 200 Apple employees subscribe to the Diary of a Mad Hedge Fund Trader looking to diversify their substantial holdings. Many own Apple stock with an adjusted cost basis of under $5. Suffice it to say, they all drive really nice Priuses.

So I get a lot of information about the firm far above and beyond the normal effluent of the media and stock analysts. That’s why Apple has become a favorite target of my Trade Alerts over the years.

And here is the great irony: Nobody would touch the stock with a ten-foot pole at the end of 2018. Since then, Apple has rallied 71%, creating more market cap in a year than any company in history.

Here’s why. Apple was all about the iPhone which then accounted for 75% of its total earnings. The TV, the watch, the car, the iPod, the iMac, and Apple Pay were all a waste of time and consumed far more coverage than they are collectively worth.

The good news is that iPhone sales are subject to a fairly predictable cycle. Apple launches a major new iPhone every other fall. The share price peaks shortly after that. The odd years see minor upgrades, not generational changes.

Just like you see a big pullback in the tide before a tsunami hits, iPhone sales are flattening out between major upgrades. This is because consumers start delaying purchases in expectation of the introduction of the new iPhones 7 more power, gadgets, and gizmos.

So during those in-between years, the stock performance was disappointing. 2018 certainly followed this script with Apple down a horrific 30.13% at the lows. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but the previous generation in Apple shares in 2015 brought a decline of, you guessed it, exactly 29.33%.

The coming quarter could bring quite the opposite.

After March, things will start to get interesting, especially post the Q1 earnings report in April. That’s when investors will start to discount the rollout of the new 5G iPhone seven months later. Everyone and his brother is waiting for 5G until they purchase their next iPhone, unless it gets lost or stolen first.

The last time this happened, in 2018, Apple stock rocketed by $86, or 55.33%. This time, I expect a minimum rally to $400 high, or much higher. After all, I am such a conservative guy with my predictions (Dow 120,000 by 2030?).

Even at that price, it will still be one of the cheaper stocks in the market on a valuation basis which currently trades at a 20X earnings multiple. The is up from a subterranean multiple of 14X a year ago. The value players will have no choice to join in, if they’re not already there.

But Apple is a much bigger company this time around, and well-established cycles tend to bring in diminishing returns. It’s like watching the declining peaks of a bouncing rubber ball.

This is not your father’s Apple anymore. Services like iTunes and the new Apple+ streaming service are accounting for an even larger share of the company’s profits. And guess what? Services companies command much higher multiples than boring old hardware ones. It’s the old questions of linear versus exponential growth.

A China trade deal will bring a new spring to Apple’s step, where sales have recently been in free fall. Their new membership lease program promises to deliver a faster upgrade cycle that will allow higher premium prices for their products. That will bring larger profits.

It all adds up to keeping Apple as a core to any long term portfolio.

Just thought you’d like to know.

What the Next Recession Will Look Like

The probability of a recession taking place over the next 12 months is now ranging as high as 40%. If the trade war with China escalates, you can mark that up to 100%.

And here’s the scary part. Bear markets front-run recessions by 6-12 months, i.e. now. The bear case is now more persuasive than at any time in the last decade.

We’ll get a better read when the Chinese announce their retaliation for the last American escalation of tariffs on September 1, or in eight trading days. The timing couldn’t be worse. The bad news will come over the US three-day Labor Day weekend, allowing market volatility (VIX) to bunch up, setting up an explosive Tuesday, September 3 opening.

So, it’s time to start asking the question of what the next recession will look like. Are we in for another 2008-2009 meltdown, when friends and relatives lost homes, jobs, and their entire net worth? Or can we look forward to a mild pullback that only economists and data junkies like myself will notice?

I’ll paraphrase one of my favorite Russian authors, Fyodor Dostoevsky, who in Anna Karenina might have said, “all economic expansions are all alike, while recessions are all miserable in their own way.”

Let’s look at some major pillars in the economy. A hallmark of the last recession was the near collapse of the financial system, where the ATMs were probably within a week of shutting down nationally. The government had to step in with the TARP, and mandatory 5% equity ownership in the country’s 20 largest banks.

Back then, banks were leveraged 40:1 in the case of Morgan Stanley (MS) and Goldman Sachs (GS), while Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns were leveraged 100:1. In that case, the most heavily borrowed companies only needed markets to move 1% against them to wipe out their entire capital. That’s exactly what happened. (MS) and (GS) came within a hair’s breadth of going the same way.

Thanks to the Dodd Frank financial regulation bill, banks cannot leverage themselves more than 10:1. They have spent a decade rebuilding balance sheets and reserves. They are now among the healthiest in the world, having become low margin, very low-risk utilities. It is now European and Chinese banks that are going down the tubes.

How about real estate, another major cause of angst in the last recession? The market couldn’t be any more different today. There is a structural shortage of housing, especially at entry-level affordable prices. While liar loans and house flipping are starting to make a comeback, they are nowhere near as prevalent a decade ago. And the mis-rating of mortgage-backed securities from single “C” to triple “A” is now a distant memory. (I still can’t believe no one ever went to jail for that!).

And interest rates? We went into the last recession with a 6% overnight rate and 7% 30-year fixed rate mortgage. Now, overnight rates are at 2.25% and the 30-year is at 3.6% with both falling like a stone. It’s hard to imagine a real estate crisis with rates at zero and a shortage of supply.

The auto industry has been in a mild recession for the past two years, with annual production stalling at 16.8 million units, versus a 2009 low of 9 million units. In any case, the challenges to the industry are now more structural than cyclical, with new buyers decamping en masse to electric vehicles made on the west coast.

Of far greater concern are industries that are already in recession now. Energy has been flagging since oil prices peaked seven years ago, despite massive tax subsidies. It is suffering from a structural over supply and falling demand.

Retailers have been in a Great Depression for five years, squeezed on one side by Amazon and the other by China. A decade into store closings and the US is STILL over stored. However, many of these shares are already so close to zero that the marginal impact on the major indexes will be small.

Financials and legacy banks are also facing a double squeeze from Fintech innovation and collapsing interest rates. There isn’t much margin in a loan where the customer is paying only 3.6%, and 2% in a year. All of those expensive national networks with branches on every street corner will be gone in the 2020s.

And no matter how bad the coming recession gets, technology, now 26% of the S&P 500, will keep powering on. Combined revenues of the four FANGs in Q2 came in at $118.7 billion and earnings were at $26.5 billion. That leaves a mighty big cushion for any slowdown. That’s a lot more than the “eyeballs” and market shares they possessed of a decade ago.

So, netting all this out, how bad will the next recession be? Not bad at all. I’m looking at a couple of quarters small negative numbers. Then the end of the China trade war, which can’t last any more than 18 months, and ultra-low interest rates, will enable recovery and probably another decade of decent US growth.

The stock market, however, is another kettle of fish. While the economy may slow from a 2.2% annual rate to -0.1% or -0.2%, the major indexes could fall much more than that, say 30% to 40%. Don’t forget, we already saw a horrendous 20% swan dive in the run-up to last December.

Earnings multiples are still at a 17X high compared to a 9X low in 2009. Shares would have to drop 47% just to match the last low, and earnings are already falling. Equity weightings in portfolios are high. Money is pouring out of stock funds into bond ones.

Corporations buying back their own shares have been the principal prop from the market for the past three years. Some large companies, like Kohls (KSS), have retired as much as 50% of their outstanding equity in ten years.

So get used to the high market volatility (VIX) we have seen in August. It could be only the trailer for the main show.

 

 

 

 

The Next Bear Market is Not Far Off

Welcome to the Deflationary Century

Ignore the lessons of history, and the cost to your portfolio will be great, especially if you are a bond trader!

Meet deflation, upfront and ugly.

If you looked at a chart for data from the United States, consumer prices are showing a feeble 1.6% YOY price gain. This is below the Federal Reserve’s own 2.0% annual inflation target, with most of the recent gains coming from rising oil prices.

And here’s the rub. Wage growth, which accounts for 70% of the inflation calculation, has been practically nil. So, don’t expect inflation to rise much from here despite an unemployment rate at a 50-year low.

We are not just having a deflationary year or decade. We may be having a deflationary century.

If so, it will not be the first one.

The 19th century saw continuously falling prices as well. Read the financial history of the United States, and it is beset with continuous stock market crashes, economic crisis, and liquidity shortages.

The union movement sprung largely from the need to put a break on falling wages created by perennial labor oversupply and sub living wages.

Enjoy riding the New York subway? Workers paid 10 cents an hour built it 120 years ago. It couldn’t be constructed today, as other more modern cities have discovered. The cost would be wildly prohibitive.

The causes of 19th-century price collapse were easy to discern. A technology boom sparked an industrial revolution that reduced the labor content of end products by ten to a hundredfold.

Instead of employing 100 women for a day to make 100 spools of thread, a single man operating a machine could do the job in an hour.

The dramatic productivity gains swept through the developing economies like a hurricane. The jump from steam to electric power during the last quarter of the century took manufacturing gains a quantum leap forward.

If any of this sounds familiar, it is because we are now seeing a repeat of the exact same impact of accelerating technology. Machines and software are replacing human workers faster than their ability to retrain for new professions.

This is why there has been no net gain in middle class wages for the past 30 years. It is the cause of the structural high U-6 “discouraged workers” employment rate as well as the millions of millennials still living in parents’ basements.

To the above, add the huge advances now being made in healthcare, biotechnology, genetic engineering, DNA-based computing, and big data solutions to problems.

If all the major diseases in the world were wiped out, a probability within 10 years, how many healthcare jobs would that destroy?

Probably tens of millions.

So the deflation that we have been suffering in recent years isn’t likely to end any time soon. If fact, it is just getting started.

Why am I interested in this issue? Of course, I always enjoy analyzing and predicting the far future using the unfolding of the last half-century as my guide. Then I have to live long enough to see if I’m right.

I did nail the rise of eight-track tapes over six-track ones, the victory of VHS over Betamax, the ascendance of Microsoft (MSFT) operating systems over OS2, and then the conquest of Apple (AAPL) over Microsoft. So, I have a pretty good track record on this front.

For bond traders especially, there are far-reaching consequences of a deflationary century. It means that there will be no bond market crash, as many are predicting, just a slow grind up in long-term bond prices instead.

Amazingly, the top in rates in this cycle only reach the bottom of past cycles at 3.25% for ten-year Treasury bonds (TLT), (TBT).

The soonest that we could possibly see real wage rises will be when a generational demographic labor shortage kicks in during the 2020s. That could be a decade off.

I say this not as a casual observer but as a trader who is constantly active in an entire range of debt instruments.

 

 

 

Yup, This Will Be a Real Job Killer

The Secret Fed Plan to Buy Gold

The recent appointment of my old acquaintance, Judy Shelton, to the Fed places a monetary policy once considered impossible solidly on the table. For your see, Judy has long advocated that the US return to the gold standard.

If the American economy moves into the next recession with interest rates already near zero, the markets will take the rates for all interest-bearing securities well into negative numbers. This has already happened in Japan and Germany.

At that point, our central bank’s primary tool for stimulating US businesses will become utterly useless, ineffective, and impotent.

What else is in the tool bag?

How about large-scale purchases of Gold (GLD)?

You are probably as shocked as I am with this possibility. But there is a rock-solid logic to the plan. As solid as the vault at Fort Knox.

The idea is to create asset price inflation that will spread to the rest of the economy. It already did this with great success from 2009-2014 with quantitative easing, whereby almost every class of debt securities were Hoovered up by the government.

“QE on steroids”, to be implemented only after overnight rates go negative, would involve large scale purchases of not only gold, but stocks, government bonds, and exchange-traded funds as well.

If you think I’ve been smoking California’s largest cash export (it’s not the raisins), you would be in error. I should point out that the Japanese government is already pursuing QE to this extent, at least in terms of equity type investments and ETFs and already owns a substantial part of the Japanese stock market.

And, as the history buff that I am, I can tell you that it has been done in the US as well, with tremendous results.

If you thought that president Obama had it rough when he came into office in 2009 with the Great Recession on, it was nothing compared to what Franklin Delano Roosevelt inherited.

The country was in its fourth year of the Great Depression. US GDP had cratered by 43%, consumer prices crashed by 24%, the unemployment rate was 25%, and stock prices vaporized by 90%. Mass starvation loomed.

Drastic measures were called for.

FDR issued Executive Order 6102 banning private ownership of gold, ordering them to sell their holdings to the US Treasury at a lowly $20.67 an ounce.

He then urged congress to pass the Gold Reserve Act of 1934, which instantly revalued the government’s holdings at $35.00, an increase of 69.32%. These and other measures caused the value of America’s gold holdings to leap from $4 to $12 billion. That’s a lot of money in 1934 dollars, about $208 billion in today’s money.

Since the US was still on the gold standard back then, this triggered an instant dollar devaluation of more than 50%. The high gold price sucked in massive amounts of the yellow metal from abroad creating, you guessed it, inflation.

The government then borrowed massively against this artificially created wealth to fund the landscape altering infrastructure projects of the New Deal.

It worked.

During the following three years, the GDP skyrocketed by 48%, inflation eked out a 2% gain, the unemployment rate dropped to 18%, and stocks jumped by 80%. Happy days were here again.

Monetary conditions are remarkably similar today to the those that prevailed during the last government gold buying binge.

There has been a de facto currency war underway since 2009. The Fed started when it launched QE, and Japan, Europe, and China have followed. Blue-collar unemployment and underpayment is at a decades high. The need for a national infrastructure program is overwhelming.

However, in the 21st century version of such a gold policy, it is highly unlikely that we would see another gold ownership ban.

Instead, the Fed would most likely move into the physical gold market, sitting on the bid for years, much like it recently did in the Treasury bond market for five years. Gold prices would increase by a multiple of current levels.

It would then borrow against its new gold holdings, plus the 4,176 metric tonnes worth $200 billion at today’s market prices already sitting in Fort Knox, to fund a multi trillion-dollar infrastructure-spending program.

Heaven knows we need it. Millions of blue-collar jobs would be created and inflation would come back from the dead.

Yes, this all sounds like a fantasy. But negative interest rates were considered an impossibility only years ago.

The Fed’s move on gold would be only one aspect of a multi-faceted package of desperate last ditch measures to extend economic growth into the future which I outlined in a previous research piece (click here for “What Happens When QE Fails” .

That’s assuming that the gold is still there. Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin says he saw the gold himself during an inspection that took place of the last solar eclipse over Fort Knox in 2018. The door to the vault at Fort Knox had not been opened since September 23, 1974. But then Steve Mnuchin says a lot of things. Persistent urban legends and Internet rumors claim that the vault is actually empty or filled with fake steel bars painted gold.

 

 

 

The Next QE?

They’re Not Making Americans Anymore

You can count on a bear market hitting sometime in 2038, one falling by at least 25%.

Worse, there is almost a guarantee that a financial crisis, severe bear market, and possibly another Great Depression will take place no later than 2058 that would take the major indexes down by 50% or more.

No, I have not taken to using a Ouija board, reading tea leaves, nor examine animal entrails in order to predict the future. It’s much easier than that.

I simply read the data just released from the National Center for Health Statistics, a subsidiary of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (click here for their link).

The government agency reported that the US birth rate fell to a new all-time low for the second year in a row, to 60.2 births per 1,000 women of childbearing age. A birth rate of 125 per 1,000 is necessary for a population to break even. The absolute number of births is the lowest since 1987. In 2017, women had 500,000 fewer babies than in 2007.

These are the lowest number since WWII when 17 million men were away in the military, a crucial part of the equation.

Babies grow up, at least most of them do. In 20 years, they become consumers, earning wages, buying things, paying taxes, and generally contributing to economic growth.

In 45 years, they do so quite substantially, becoming the major drivers of the economy. When these numbers fall, recessions and bear markets occur with absolute certainty.

You have long heard me talk about the coming “Golden Age” of the 2020s. That’s when a two-decade long demographic tailwind ensues because the number of “peak spenders’ in the economy starts to balloon to generational highs. The last time this happened during the 1980s and 19990s, stocks rose 20-fold.

Right now, we are just coming out of two decades of demographic headwind when the number of big spenders in the economy reached a low ebb. This was the cause of the Great Recession, the stock market crash and the anemic 2% annual growth since then.

The reasons for the maternity ward slowdown are many. The great recession certainly blew a hole in the family plans of many Millennials. Falling incomes always lead to lower birth rates, with many Millennial couples delaying children by five years or more. Millennial mothers are now having children later than at any time in history.

Burgeoning student debt, which just topped $1.5 trillion, is another. Many prospective mothers would rather get out from under substantial debt before they add to the population.

The rising education of women is another drag on child bearing and is a global trend. When spouses become serious wage earners, families inevitably shrink. Husbands would rather take the money and improve their lifestyles than have more kids to feed.

Women are also delaying having children to postpone the “pay gaps” that always kicks in after they take maternity leave. Many are pegging income targets before they entertain starting families.

As a result of these trends, one in five children last year were born to women over the age of 35, a new high.

This is how Latin American moved from eight to two-child families in only one generation. The same is about to take place in Africa where standards of living are rising rapidly, thanks to the eradication of several serious diseases.

The sharpest falls in the US have been with minorities. Since 2017, the birthrates for Hispanics have dropped by 27% from a very high level, African Americans 11%, whites 5%, and Asian 4%.

Europe has long had the same problem with plunging growth rates but only much worse. Historically, the US has made up for the shortfall with immigration, but that is now falling, thanks the current administration policies. Restricting immigration now is a guaranty of slowing economic growth in the future. It’s just a numbers game.

So watch that growth rate. When it starts to tick up again, it’s time to buy….in about 20 years. I’ll be there to remind you with this newsletter.

As for me, I’ve been doing my part. I have five kids aged 14-34, and my life is only half over. Where did you say they keep the Pampers?

The Death of the Financial Advisor

About one-third of my readers are professional financial advisors who earn their crust of bread telling clients how to invest their retirement assets for a fixed fee.

They used to earn a share of the brokerage fees they generated. After stock commissions went to near zero, they started charging a flat 1.25% a year on the assets they oversaw.

So it is with some sadness that I have watched this troubled industry enter a long-term secular decline which seems to be worsening by the day.

The final nail in the coffin may be the new regulations announced by the Department of Labor at the end of the Obama administration that controls this business.

Brokers, insurance agents, and financial planners were already held to a standard of suitability by the government based on a client’s financial situation, tax status, investment objectives, risk tolerance, and time horizon.

The DOL proposed raising this bar to the level already required of Registered Investment Advisors, as spelled out by the Investment Company Act of 1940.

This would have required advisors to act only in the best interests of their clients, irrespective of all other factors, including the advisor’s compensation or conflicts of interest.

What this does is increase the costs while also greatly expanding advisor liability. In fact, the cost of malpractice insurance has already started to rise. All in all, it makes the financial advisor industry a much less fun place to be.

As is always the case with new regulations, they were inspired by a tiny handful of bad actors.

Some miscreants steered clients into securities solely based on the commissions they earned, which could reach 8% or more, whether it made any investment sense or not. Some of the instruments they recommended were nothing more than blatant rip-offs.

The DOL thought that the new regulations will save consumers $15 billion a year in excess commissions.

Legal action by industry associations has put the DOL proposals in limbo. Unless it appeals, it is unlikely to become law. So, there will be a respite, at least until the next administration.

Knowing hundreds of financial advisors personally, I can tell you that virtually all are hardworking professionals who go the extra mile to safeguard customer assets while earning incremental positive returns.

That is no easy task given the exponential speed with which the global economy is evolving. Yesterday’s “window and orphans” safe bets can transform overnight into today’s reckless adventure.

Look no further than coal, energy, and the auto industry. Once a mainstay of conservative portfolios, all of these sectors have, or came close to filing for bankruptcy.

Even my own local power utility, Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PGE), filed for chapter 11 in 2001 because they couldn’t game the electric power markets as well as Enron.

Some advisors even go the extent of scouring the Internet for a trade mentoring service that can ease their burden, like the Diary of a Mad Hedge Fund Trader, to get their clients that extra edge.

Traditional financial managers have been under siege for decades.

Commissions have been cut, expenses increased, and mysterious “fees” have started showing up on customer statements.

Those who work for big firms, like UBS, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sacks, Merrill Lynch, and Charles Schwab, have seen health insurance coverage cut back and deductibles raised.

The safety of custody with big firms has always been a myth. Remember, all of these guys would have gone under during the 2008-09 financial crash if they hadn’t been bailed out by the government. It will happen again.

The quality of the research has taken a nosedive, with sectors like small caps no longer covered.

What remains offers nothing but waffle and indecision. Many analysts are afraid to commit to a real recommendation for fear of getting sued, or worse, scaring away lucrative investment banking business.

And have you noticed that after Dodd-Frank, two-thirds of a brokerage report is made up of disclosures?

Many advisors have, in fact, evolved over the decades from money managers to asset gatherers and relationship managers.

Their job is now to steer investors into “safe” funds managed by third parties that have to carry all of the liability for bad decisions (buying energy plays in 2014?).

The firms have effectively become toll-takers, charging a commission for anything that moves.

They have become so risk-averse that they have banned participation in anything exotic, like options, option spreads, (VIX) trading, any 2X leveraged ETF’s, or inverse ETFs of any kind. When dealing in esoterica is permitted, the commissions are doubled.

Even my own newsletter has to get compliance review before it is distributed to clients, often provided by third parties to smaller firms.

“Every year, they try to chip away at something”, one beleaguered advisor confided to me with despair.

Big brokers often hype their own services with expensive advertising campaigns that unrealistically elevate client expectations.

Modern media doesn’t help either.

I can’t tell you how many times I have had to convince advisors not to dump all their stocks at a market bottom because of something they heard on TV, saw on the Internet, or read in a competing newsletter warning that financial Armageddon was imminent.

Customers are force-fed the same misinformation. One of my main jobs is to provide advisors with the fodder they need to refute the many “end of the world” scenarios that seem to be in continuous circulation.

In fact, a sudden wave of such calls has proven to be a great “bottoming” indicator for me.

Personally, I don’t expect to see another major financial crisis until 2032 at the earliest, and by then, I’ll probably be dead.

Because of all of the above, about half of my financial advisor readers have confided in me a desire to go independent in the near future, if they are not already.

Sure, they won’t be ducking all these bullets. But at least they will have an independent business they can either sell at a future date, or pass on to a succeeding generation.

Overheads are far easier to control when you own your own business, and the tax advantages can be substantial.

A secular trend away from non-discretionary to discretionary account management is a decisive move in this direction.

There seems to be a great separating of the wheat from the chaff going on in the financial advisory industry.

Those who can stay ahead of the curve, both with the markets and their own business models, are soaking up all the assets. Those that can’t are unable to hold on to enough money to keep their businesses going.

Let’s face it, in the modern age, every industry is being put through a meat grinder. Thanks to hyper accelerating technology, business models are changing by the day.

Just be happy you’re not a doctor trying to figure out Obamacare.

Those individuals who can reinvent themselves quickly will succeed. Those that won’t, will quickly be confined to the dustbin of history.

 

It’s Not As Easy As It Looks

Take a Leap Into LEAPS

I am repeating this story because this is the best strategy with which to cash in on the gigantic market swoons, which have become a regular feature of our markets.

Since the advent of the spectacular market volatility, I have been asked one question.

What do you think about LEAPS?

LEAPS, or Long Term Equity Participation Securities, are just a fancy name for a stock option with a maturity of more than one year.

You execute orders for these securities on your options online trading platform, pay options commissions, and endure option like volatility.

Another way of describing LEAPS is that they offer a way to rent stocks instead of buying them, with the prospect of enjoying many years’ worth of stock gains for a fraction of the price.

While these are highly leveraged instruments, you can’t lose any more money than you put into them. Your risk is well defined.

And there are many companies in the market where LEAPS are a very good idea, especially on those gut-wrenching 1,000-point down days.

Interested?

Currently, LEAPS are listed all the way out until June 2021.

However, the further expiration dates will have far less liquidity than near month options, so they are not a great short-term trading vehicle. That is why limit orders in LEAPS, as opposed to market orders, are crucial.

These are really for your buy-and-forget investment portfolio, defined benefit plan, 401k, or IRA.

Because of the long maturities, premiums can be enormous. However, there is more than one way to skin a cat, and the profit opportunities here can be astronomical.

Like all options contracts, a LEAP gives its owner the right to “exercise” the option to buy or sell 100 shares of stock at a set price for a given time.

LEAPS have been around since 1990, and trade on the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE).

To participate, you need an options account with a brokerage house, an easy process that mainly involves acknowledging the risk disclosures that no one ever reads.

If a LEAP expires “out-of-the-money” – when exercising, you can lose all the money that was spent on the premium to buy it. There’s no toughing it out waiting for a recovery, as with actual shares of stock. Poof, and your money is gone.

LEAPS are also offered on exchange-traded funds (ETFs) that track indices like the Standard & Poor’s 500 index (SPY) and the Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDU), so you could bet on up or down moves of the broad market.

Not all stocks have options, and not all stocks with ordinary options also offer LEAPS. Note that a LEAPS owner does not vote proxies or receive dividends because the underlying stock is owned by the seller, or “writer,” of the LEAP contract until the LEAP owner exercises.

Despite the Wild West image of options, LEAPS are actually ideal for the right type of conservative investor.

They offer more margin and more efficient use of capital than traditional broker margin accounts. And you don’t have to pay the usurious interest rates that margin accounts usually charge.

And for a moderate increase in risk, they present outsized profit opportunities.

For the right investor, they are the ideal instrument.

Let me go through some examples to show you their inner beauty.

By now, you should all know what vertical bull call spreads are. If you don’t, then please click here for a quick video tutorial at (you must be logged in to your account).

Let’s go back to February 9, 2018 when the Dow Average plunged to its 23,800 low for the year. I then begged you to buy the Apple (AAPL) June 2018 $130-$140 call spread at $8.10, which most of you did. A month later, that position is worth $9.40, up some 16.04%. Not bad.

Now let’s say that instead of buying a spread four months out, you went for the full year and three months, to June 2019.

That identical (AAPL) $130-$140 would have cost $5.50 on February 9. The spread would be worth $9.40 today, up 70.90%, and worth $10 on June 21, 2019, up 81.81%.

So, by holding a 15 month to expiration position for only a month you get to collect 86.67% of the maximum potential profit of the position.

So, now you know why we leap into LEAPS.

When the meltdown comes, and that could be as soon as today, use this strategy to jump into longer-term positions in the names we have been recommending and you should be able to retire early.
 


 

Time to Leap Into LEAPS