Are Stock Market Prices an Accurate Reflection of the Value of Your Stock Portfolio?

stock-priceThe usual description of any market assumes that every trader wishes to purchase or sell a known quantity at each possible price.  All the traders come together, and in one way or another price is found that clears the market – that is, makes the quantity demanded as close as possible to the quantity supplied.

After all it has been said by the authoritative stock trader W. Haddad of B.K. Labovitch that ultimately economics is supply and demand.

This may or may not be an adequate description of the markets for consumer goods, but it is clearly inadequate when describing security markets.  The value of any capital asset depends on its future prospects, which are almost always uncertain.  Any information that bears on such prospects may lead to a, which s we know are always uncertain.  Any information that depends on its future prospects may lead to a revised estimate of value.  The fact that a knowledgeable trader is willing to buy or sell some quantity of a security or commodity at a particular price is bound to be information just of that sort.  Offers to trade May this affect other offers.  Prices may, therefore, both clear markets and covey information.

The dual role of prices has a number of implications.  For example, it behooves the liquidity motivated trader to publicize his or her motives and thereby avoid an adverse effect on the market. Thus, an institution purchasing securities for a pension fund that intends, simply to hold a representative cross section of securities should make it clear that it does not consider the financial interments under priced.  On the other hand, any firm trying to buy or sell al large number of shares that it considers wrongly underpriced should try to conceal its motives, its identity or both (and may try).  Such attempts may be ineffective, however, as those asked to take the other side of such trades try very hard as you know to find out exactly what is going on and many do well succeed in these days of rapid communications and access to many sources of information succeed.

Most securities are sold in very standard ways which requires payment and electronic notification of delivery within the standard settlement period (standard is three Business as opposed to calendar days).  On rare occasions, a sale may be made as a cash transaction requiring payment immediately on receipt.  Sometimes as a reward or as in effect a marketing or sales promotion payment may be extended over a longer time period – usually 15, 30 or 60 days.

Sometimes in the case of new issues a payment extension period is also granted for the same reasons as above.

It would be extremely insufficient if every securities transaction had to end with a physical delivery of transfer of actual share certificates from seller to buyer.  A brokerage firms might well sell 1000 shares of ABC Co. for one client. , Mr. Stevens to another client and later that day buy 1000 shares for Mr. Felon obtained by accepting delivery from her seller. Mr. Stevens’s shares could be delivered to his buyer, and Mr. Felon’s shares could be obtained by accepting delivery from her seller.

However, it would be much easier to transfer Mr. Steven’s shares to Mr. Felon and instruct Felon’s seller to deliver the 1000 shares directly to Mr. Steven’s buyer.

This would be especially helpful if the brokerage firm’s clients Mr. Felon and Mr. Stevens held their securities in street name.  Then, the 1000 shares they traded would not have to be physically moved and then the ownership would not even have to change at ABC Company.

As you can see valuation of your portfolio of stocks and securities are not always indicative of the true and exact value of your securities.  Actual logistics, human emotion and even greed play major and ongoing roles.


Against The Top Down Approach To Picking Stocks

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If you have heard fund managers talk about the way they invest, you know a great many employ a top down approach. First, they decide how much of their portfolio to allocate to stocks and how much to allocate to bonds. At this point, they may also decide upon the relative mix of foreign and domestic securities. Next, they decide upon the industries to invest in. It is not until all these decisions have been made that they actually get down to analyzing any particular securities. If you think logically about this approach for but a moment, you will recognize how truly foolish it is.

A stock’s earnings yield is the inverse of its P/E ratio. So, a stock with a P/E ratio of 25 has an earnings yield of 4%, while a stock with a P/E ratio of 8 has an earnings yield of 12.5%. In this way, a low P/E stock is comparable to a high – yield bond.

Now, if these low P/E stocks had very unstable earnings or carried a great deal of debt, the spread between the long bond yield and the earnings yield of these stocks might be justified. However, many low P/E stocks actually have more stable earnings than their high multiple kin. Some do employ a great deal of debt. Still, within recent memory, one could find a stock with an earnings yield of 8 – 12%, a dividend yield of 3- 5%, and literally no debt, despite some of the lowest bond yields in half a century. This situation could only come about if investors shopped for their bonds without also considering stocks. This makes about as much sense as shopping for a van without also considering a car or truck.

All investments are ultimately cash to cash operations. As such, they should be judged by a single measure: the discounted value of their future cash flows. For this reason, a top down approach to investing is nonsensical. Starting your search by first deciding upon the form of security or the industry is like a general manager deciding upon a left handed or right handed pitcher before evaluating each individual player. In both cases, the choice is not merely hasty; it’s false. Even if pitching left handed is inherently more effective, the general manager is not comparing apples and oranges; he’s comparing pitchers. Whatever inherent advantage or disadvantage exists in a pitcher’s handedness can be reduced to an ultimate value (e.g., run value). For this reason, a pitcher’s handedness is merely one factor (among many) to be considered, not a binding choice to be made. The same is true of the form of security. It is neither more necessary nor more logical for an investor to prefer all bonds over all stocks (or all retailers over all banks) than it is for a general manager to prefer all lefties over all righties. You needn’t determine whether stocks or bonds are attractive; you need only determine whether a particular stock or bond is attractive. Likewise, you needn’t determine whether “the market” is undervalued or overvalued; you need only determine that a particular stock is undervalued. If you’re convinced it is, buy it – the market be damned!

Clearly, the most prudent approach to investing is to evaluate each individual security in relation to all others, and only to consider the form of security insofar as it affects each individual evaluation. A top down approach to investing is an unnecessary hindrance. Some very smart investors have imposed it upon themselves and overcome it; but, there is no need for you to do the same.


Blue chip stocks – not a poker game


blue-chip-stockInvesting in conservative blue chip stocks may not have the allure of a hot high-tech investment, but it can be highly rewarding nonetheless, as good quality stocks have outperformed other investment classes over the long term.

Historically, investing in stocks has generated a return, over time, of between 11 and 15 percent annually depending how aggressive you are. Stocks outperform other investments since they incur more risk. Stock investors are at the bottom of the corporate “food chain.” First, companies have to pay their employees and suppliers. Then they pay their bondholders. After this come the preferred shareholders. Companies have an obligation to pay all these stakeholders first, and if there is money leftover it is paid to the stockholders through dividends or retained earnings. Sometimes there is a lot of money left over for stockholders, and in other cases there isn’t. Thus, investing in stocks is risky because investors never know exactly what they are going to receive for their investment.

What are the attractions of blue chip stocks?

1. Great long-term rates of return.

2. Unlike mutual funds, another relatively safe, long term investment category, there are no ongoing fees.

3. You become a owner of a company.

So much for the benefits – what about the risks?

1. Some investors can’t tolerate both the risk associated with investing in the stock market and the risk associated with investing in one company. Not all blue chips are created equal.

2. If you don’t have the time and skill to identify a good quality company at a fair price don’t invest directly. Rather, you should consider a good mutual fund.

Selecting a blue chip company is only part of the battle – determining the appropriate price is the other. Theoretically, the value of a stock is the present value of all future cash flows discounted at the appropriate discount rate. However, like most theoretical answers, this doesn’t fully explain reality. In reality supply and demand for a stock sets the stock’s daily price, and demand for a stock will increase or decrease depending of the outlook for a company. Thus, stock prices are driven by investor expectations for a company, the more favorable the expectations the better the stock price. In short, the stock market is a voting machine and much of the time it is voting based on investors’ fear or greed, not on their rational assessments of value. Stock prices can swing widely in the short-term but they eventually converge to their intrinsic value over the long-term.

Investors should look at good companies with great expectations that are not yet imbedded in the price of a stock.


Canadian Coalbed Methane Stocks: 7 Things to Know Before Investing

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More investors are now inquiring about Coalbed Methane exploration companies. Just as uranium miners were flying well below the radar screen in early 2004, coalbed methane exploration may very well be the next very hot sector later this year and next. Historically, coalbed methane gas endangered coal miners, resulting in alarming fatalities early in the previous century. This is the fate suffered today by many Chinese coal miners in the smaller, private coal mines. Typically, the methane gas trapped in coal seams was flared out, before underground mining began, in order to prevent those explosions. Rising natural gas prices have long since ended that practice.

Today, coalbed methane companies are turning a centuries-long nuisance and byproduct into a valuable resource. About 9 percent of total US natural gas production comes from the natural gas found in coal seams. Because natural gas prices have soared, along with the bull markets found in uranium, oil, and precious and base metals, coalbed methane has come into play. It is after all a natural gas. But because it is outside the realm of the petroleum industry, coalbed methane, or CBM as many industry insiders call it, is called the unconventional gas. It may be unconventional today, but as the industry continue to grow by leaps and bounds, on a global scale, CBM may soon achieve some respect. Please remember that a few years ago, there was very little cheerleading about nuclear energy. Today, positive news items are running far better than ten to one in favor of that power source.

CBM is the natural gas contained in coal. It consists primarily of methane, the gas we use for home heating, gas-fired electrical generation, and industrial fuel. The energy source within natural gas is methane (chemically, it is CH4), whether it comes from the oil industry or from coal beds.

CBM has several strong points in its favor. The gases produced from CBM fields are often nearly 90 percent methane. Which type of gas has more impurities? No, it isn’t the natural, or conventional, gas you thought it might be. Frequently, CBM gas has fewer impurities than the “natural gas” produced from conventional wells. CBM exploration is done at a more shallow level, between 250 and 1000 meters, than conventional gas wells, which sometimes are drilled below 5,000 meters. CBM wells can last a long time – some could produce for 40 years or longer.

Natural gas is created by the compression of underground organic matter combined with the earth’s high temperatures thousands of meters below surface. Conventional gas fills the spaces between the porous reservoir rocks. The coalification process is similar but the result is different: both the coalbed and the methane gas are trapped in the coal seams. Instead of filling the tiny spaces between the rocks, the coal gas is within the coal seams.

One of the past problems associated with CBM exploration was the reliance upon expensive horizontal drilling techniques to extract the methane gas from the coal seams. Advanced fracturing techniques and breakthrough horizontal drilling techniques have increased CBM success ratios. As a result, a growing number of exploration companies are pursuing the early bull market in CBM. Market capitalizations for many of these companies mirror similar “early plays” we mentioned during our mid 2004 uranium coverage (June through October, 2004). Industry experts told us there would be a uranium bull market. Now, we are hearing the same forecasts about CBM.

SEVEN TIPS BY DR. DAVID MARCHIONI

We asked Dr. David Marchioni to provide our subscribers with his 7 Tips to help investors better understand what to look for, before investing in a CBM play. Dr. Marchioni helped co-author the CBM textbook, An Assessment of Coalbed Methane Exploration Projects in Canada, published by the Geological Survey of Canada. He is also president of Petro-Logic Services in Calgary, whose clients have included the Canadian divisions of Apache, BP, BHP, Burlington, Devon, El Paso Energy, and Phillips Petroleum, among others. He is also a director of Pacific Asia China Energy and is overseeing the company’s CBM exploration program in China.

Our series of telephone and email interviews began while Dr. Marchioni sat on a drill rig in Alberta’s foothills, the Manville region, until he finished outlining his top 7 tips, or advices, on how to think like a CBM professional.

1) COAL SEAM THICKNESS

Is there a reasonable thickness of coal? You should find out how thick the coal seams are. With thickness, you get the regional extent of the resource. For example, there must be a minimum thickness into which one can drill a horizontal well.

2) GAS CONTENT

Typically, gas content is expressed as cubic feet of gas per ton of coal. Find how thick it is and how far it is spread. Then, you have a measure of unit gas content. Between coal seam thickness and gas content, you can determine the size of the resource. You have to look at both thickness and gas content. It’s of no use to have high gas content if you don’t have very much coal. The industry looks at resource per unit area. In other words, how much gas is in place per acre, hectare, or square mile? In the early stage of the CBM exploration, this really all you have to work with in evaluating its potential.

3) MATURITY LEVEL OF THE COAL

This is the measure of the stage the coal has reached between the mineral’s inception as peat. Peat matures to become lignite. Later, it develops into bituminous coal, then semi-anthracite and finally anthracite.

There is a progressive maturation of coal as a geological time continuum and the earth’s temperature, depending upon depth. By measuring certain parameters, you can determine where it is in the chemical process. For instance, the chemistry of lignite is different from that of anthracite. This phrasing is called “coal rank” in coal industry terminology.

4) PERMEABILITY

When you are beginning to think about CBM production, this and the next item must be evaluated. How permeable is the CBM property? You want permeability, otherwise the gas can’t flow. If the coal isn’t permeable at all, you can never generate gas. The gas has to be able to flow. If it is extremely permeable, then you can perhaps never pump enough water. The water just keeps getting replaced from the large area surrounding the well bore. The water will just keep coming, and you will never lower the pressure so the gas can be released.

5) WATER

In a very high proportion of CBM plays, the coal contains quite a lot of water. You have to pump the water off in order to reduce the pressure in the coal bed. Gas is held in coal by pressure. The deeper you go, typically the more gas you get, because the pressure is higher. The way to induce the gas to start flowing is to pump the water out of the coal and lower the “water head” of pressure. How much water are we going to produce? Are we going to have to dispose of it? If it’s fresh, then there may be problems with regulatory agencies. In Alberta, the government has restrictions on extracting fresh water because others might want to use it. One could be tapping into a zone that people use as water wells for farms and rural communities. Both water quality and water volume matter. For example, Manville water is very salient so nobody wants to put it into a river; this water is pushed back down into existing oil and gas wells in permeable zones (but which are also not connected to the coal).

6) FUNDING

To be able to access land and do some initial drilling, i.e. the first round of financing, it would cost a minimum of C$4 million. This would include some geological work and drilling at least five or six wells. In Horseshoe, that would cost around C$4 million (say 1st round of finance); in Manville, about C$9 million. This is under the assumption that the company doesn’t buy the land. The land in western Canada is very expensive and tightly held. Much of the work is done as a “farm in” drilling on land held by another for a percentage of the play. (Editor’s note: During a previous interview, Dr. Marchioni commented about his preference for Pacific Asia China Energy’s land position in China because comparable land in western Canada would have cost “$100 million or more.”

7) INFRASTRUCTURE

The geology only tells you what’s there, and what the chances of success are. You then have to pursue it. Can we sell it? Gas prices are “local,” meaning they vary from country to country, depending whether it is locally produced and in what abundance (or lack thereof). How much can we extract? How much is it going to cost us to get it out of the ground? Are there readily available services for this property? Will you have to helicopter a rig onto the property at some incredible price just to drill it? Will you have to build a pipeline to transport the gas? Or, in China as an example, are there established convoys for trucking LNG across hundreds of kilometers?

One addition, which we have mentioned in previous articles, and especially in the Market Outlook Journal, “Quality of Management Attracts PR,” it is important that the CBM company have experienced management. This would mean a management team that includes those who have gotten results, not only a veteran exploration geologist but a team that can sell the story and bring in the mandatory financing to move the project into production.

There are two primary reasons why many of these coalbed methane plays are being taken seriously. First, the macroeconomic reason is that rising energy costs have driven companies in the energy fields to pursue any economic projects to help fill the energy gap. Coalbed methane has a more than two decades of proof in the United States. The excitement has spread to Canada, China and India, where CBM exploration is beginning to take off. Second, the fundamental reason is that exploration work has already been done in delineating coal deposits. There are, perhaps, 800 coal basins globally, with less than 50 CBM producing basins. In other words, there is the potential for growth in this sector.


Forex Trading Demystified

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Forex involves the trading of currencies. It is the largest financial market in the world and has an estimated daily turnover of 1.9 trillion dollars. This turnover is larger than all the worlds? stock market on any given day.

The forex market does not have a fixed exchange. The forex market is considered an over-the-counter (OTC) market. The forex market is completely electronic and trades are executed over the phone or on the Internet. Until 10 years ago the forex market was the preserve of large financial institutions. Now an ever-increasing amount of individual traders thanks to the advent of the Internet and an increasing amount of online forex brokers are trading forex.

Currencies are always traded in pairs. A typical pair would be EUR/USD (Euro over US dollars). The first currency is the base. The second currency is the counter currency. The pair can be viewed, as the amount of the secondary currency that is needed to buy 1 unit of the first currency. If you were to buy the above pair you would buy Euro and simultaneously selling US dollars. If the pair were sold the reverse would happen you would sell the Euro and buy the US dollar. This might sound confusing but simply think of the pair as one item and you are buying or selling one item. If you think the Euro will go up against the US dollar you buy the EUR/USD pair. If you think the EUR will decrease against the US dollar you sell the EUR/USD pair.

When you see forex quotes you will see two numbers. If we use the EUR/USD as an example you might see 1.2350/1.2355 the first number 1.2350 is the bid price and is the price traders are prepared to buy euros against the US dollar. The second number 1.2355 is the offer price and is the price traders are prepared to sell the EURO against the US dollar. The difference between the bid and the offer price is the called the spread. The spread for the major currencies is usually 3 to 5 pips (explained later).

The most common increment of currencies is the pip. If the EUR/USD moves from 1.2350 to 1.2351 that is one pip. A pip is the last decimal point of quotation. Most currencies quoted to 4 decimal points. The exception is the Yen, which is quoted to 2 decimal points eg 139.41. The term pip is just forex lingo so if a forex trader says the EURO has gone up 20 pips against the US dollar add 20 points to decimal part of EUR/USD pair.

Forex is traditionally traded in lots also referred to as contracts. The standard size for a lot is $100,000. In the last few a mini lot size of 10,000 dollars has been introduced and this has become increasing popular. Forex trading is leveraged with most forex brokers offering 1% margins. This means you can control one standard lot of $100000 with $1000. Typically you would need a minium of $2500 to open a standard size forex account.

A mini account can be opened with $300 with most forex brokers. To trade a one mini lot you need a margin of $100, which in turn controls $10000. If the currency goes up 1% and if you traded one mini lot of $10000 you would make $100 dollars or 100% of your original margin. Forex trading is a very lucrative market to get into and it is suggested that traders new to forex trading trade a mini account for an extended amount of time. Trading a mini account is a low cost entry to the forex market, as only $300 is required to open an account. You can still make money while you become more experienced in forex trading. You can trade one mini lot until you have made your first $100 dollars then start trading 2 mini lots. As you gain more experience you can trade standard sized lots.

Forex trading is becoming increasing popular with traders of other financial products. It can be traded in amounts a lot smaller than other financial products, which makes learning forex trading safer than other markets. Forex trading can be a very lucrative market, which no trader can dismiss.


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