How the SEC should reform market structure

  1. Stop giving broker-dealers (and by extension, market makers) special trading advantages over institutional and retail investors.  There is no reason why broker-dealers should be able to price in sub-penny increments while investors cannot.  It’s bullshit.
  2. Tighten spreads.  Historically, this has been the biggest reason why trading costs have gone down for investors.  However, the SEC should be careful not to make spreads too narrow to preempt the “shaving” trading strategy.  Shaving is basically a strategy where you bid one penny more (on 100 shares) to stand in front of the line.  It currently exists as market makers can jump in front of any order by bidding an additional penny on 100 shares (e.g. sub-penny front running).
  3. Ban retail brokerages from taking kickbacks via payment for order flow.  Doing this would force retail brokerages to raise their rates to compensate for lost revenue from selling out their customers.  It may put an end to the “free” trades offered by some brokers.  This move might have bad optics politically but it would be the right thing to do.  This move would devastate the order internalization industry, which would have no reason to exist.
  4. Ban exchanges from giving special trading advantages to market makers.  (This stuff gets really complicated because there are so many trading advantages and because many of them are subtle.)  Of course the market makers would claim that they provide “liquidity” and are performing a valuable service for the markets.  They will claim that they need incentives to provide liquidity.

While the steps above won’t get rid of all the market abuses, they would dramatically reduce trading costs for investors.

The chance of this happening is almost zero.  The SEC gave special trading advantages to broker-dealers.  It played a role in creating the sub-penny front running game.  Currently, the SEC seems like it wants to confuse and mislead the investing public.  You can read their Twitter feed and the articles on their website (e.g. “research” that totally misses the point and this speech where a staff member pretends that complexity is a good thing).

In the past, I would blindly assume that regulators are the “good guys”.  Nowadays, I am disappointed in myself for being naive.  The reality is that the human beings who work at the SEC sometimes do the right thing and sometimes do not.

LMCA predictions March 18, 2014

Predictions:

  1. Liberty will buy back shares below $135.  A year ago, Liberty was buying back shares below $135.  Since then, Liberty’s stock portfolio has gone up in value.  SIRI is mostly flat while CHTR, LYV, and BKS have gone up.
  2. Liberty will continue selling its Barnes and Noble shares since (A) the share price is rather high and (B) it looks like the Nook will die.  Both Liberty and Leonard Riggio (founder and major shareholder) have been selling.
  3. If Liberty sell shares to pay for share repurchases, Live Nation shares will be the first to go after Barnes and Noble.  I think that Live Nation is largely mature and will not grow as fast as Sirius XM or Charter.  Management strikes me as slightly promotional.  Their metrics (e.g. adjusted operating income) consider their IT investments as growth capex rather than maintenance capex.  In my opinion, their business is one where they have to keep running just to stay in place.  Adding new features simply maintains their competitiveness rather than growing market share.  Lastly, Live Nation shares have gone 62% in the past year.
  4. Both Sirius XM and Charter will continue to grow their free cash flow at high rates in the next few years (at least 10%).

The reason I am putting my predictions down is to test my investment thesis.  If my predictions don’t pan out, then I will need to reconsider my position in Liberty.

I have recently sold some of my Altius Minerals shares (Altius is not buying back its shares) to buy more LMCA shares (LMCA should be buying back more shares).  Liberty’s current assets consist mainly of wonderful companies (Sirius XM and Charter) alongside a mismash of other random assets (LYV, BKS, True Position, Atlanta Braves, a potential lawsuit windfall, cash, and a very large interest free loan from the IRS in the form of deferred taxes).  It is essentially a wonderful company trading at a small discount to its assets.

Restoration Hardware: Their numbers don’t make a lot of sense

Restoration Hardware is a retailer with a shrinking store count, going from 95 stores in YE2010 to 70 stores in YE2014.  Despite this drop in store count, capital expenditures have grown from $2.024M to $93.868M in that timeframe.  One explanation is that Restoration Hardware is improperly capitalizing expenses to inflate its earnings.  Of course, it is also possible that there is no accounting fraud here.  Perhaps Restoration Hardware is legitimately making a huge investment in software and store renovations.  As always, you should do your own due diligence and come to your own conclusions.

Market cap:  $2.6B
Borrow:  <1%
Shares short / shares outstanding: 10.3% (Shares short as a % of float would be higher)

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The Wolf of Wall Street

This book by Jordan Belfort tells the tale of how his firm used its army of brokers to sell stocks at inflated prices to rich retail investors.  This is secretly one of the best books on short selling.  By understanding the criminal point of view, I started realizing more of the footprints that pump and dump-style frauds leave behind.

The book does have its flaws.  The author isn’t exactly a reliable narrator.  Jordan Belfort is not a “wolf of Wall Street” at all.  The book talks about how he specifically kept his offices and those of his affiliates away from Manhattan.  As well, most of the book does not talk about securities fraud.  Nevertheless, if you want to develop a gimmicky skillset that is only useful for short selling, I highly recommend this book.

wolf-of-wall-street-money-laundering

The book was also adapted into a Hollywood movie.

KMI and the $1 club

Kinder Morgan’s CEO has voluntarily taken $1 in salary for a very long time.  The chief operating officer, Steven Kean, looks like he will follow in his boss’ footsteps.  Kean will still get paid stock so his overall compensation won’t be as low as Richard Kinder’s.  Still, I think it reflects very well on management’s integrity.  From the proxy statement:

In 2013, Mr. Kean made a similar request to Mr. Kinder to change his annual base salary to $1. Mr. Kean also requested that he receive no annual bonus from us or any of our affiliates. As a result, Mr. Kean’s total compensation consists of a restricted stock grant received in 2013 which is subject to six-year cliff vesting, dividend equivalents paid on that restricted stock, and benefits available to our U.S. employees generally (such as healthcare, life insurance and 401(k) plan benefits). There are no plans at this time to grant additional restricted stock to Mr. Kean until the vesting terms of his 2013 grant have been met.

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What I learned about HFT from day trading

Years ago, I briefly tried my hand at day trading with a company called Title Trading.  Title Trading is a proprietary day trading firm similar to Swifttrade (the pioneer) and somewhat similar to SMB Capital (SMB has an excellent blog).  These firms will take almost anybody, sit them in front of a computer and get them to trade very small amounts of money.  The end game is to find talented traders to day trade the company’s capital.

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China 2.0

Apparently there is a new wave of Chinese stocks hitting US exchanges.  Some of them are Web 2.0 related.  Needless to say, I am extremely skeptical about these Chinese stocks.  Historically, there has been an extreme level of blatant fraud from China.  This is mainly because these Chinese stocks were listed on foreign exchanges around the world and because scumbags gravitate towards reverse mergers.  (To be fair, these China 2.0 stocks are not reverse mergers.)  The underwriting of these China 2.0 stocks seem rather loose.  They do not have to comply with all parts of Sarbanes-Oxley thanks to the JOBS act.  At least 3 of these companies (GOMO, WBAI, WUBA) have identified material weaknesses in their internal controls.

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