Sunday, October 31, 2010

Impact of capital gains tax on U.S. investments

The reduced 15% tax rate on qualified dividends and long term capital gains is currently scheduled to expire on December 31, 2010.

Unless the U.S. Congress extends the reduction (which seems increasingly unlikely, given the lack of a bipartisan consensus on this and other tax reduction extensions), this means that in 2011, dividends will be taxed at the taxpayer's ordinary income tax rate, regardless of his or her tax bracket; and the long-term capital gains tax rate will be 20%.

All eyes will be on the lame-duck session of Congress after the November 2 elections. Even though President Obama and the Democrats have indicated this is one tax reduction they might consider extending (as well as the tax reduction for those earning less than $200,000, or $250,000 for couples filing jointly), it is possible that gridlock and partisanship will set in.

Thus, if you have been considering selling shares or other investments that have a considerable capital gain, it might be to your advantage to do this before December 31st.

There is a similar situation with the estate tax, which will jump from 0 % on Dec. 31st to 55 % on Jan. 1st, barring Congressional action. Other than emulating the plot of "Through your Momma off the train", the only option to get around this is through a donation, which is taxed at a 30 % tax rate.

It is possible that avoiding the increase in the capital gains tax will lead to a significant bear market in the coming two months in the United States, as investors rush to sell before the tax increases. Of course, if the fall in the share price exceeds the difference in the tax rate, it would not be to your advantage to sell.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

How to buy shares in Facebook, Zynga, Groupon, ICQ and other new stars

The hottest social networks and other new media stars have not yet launched an IPO (I am talking about companies like Facebook, Twitter, Zynga, LinkedIn, etc.).

However, there are two ways to buy pre-IPO shares:

1. Through the secondary market, as this Financial Times article spells out. You have to go through private equity firms, through investment funds, or through a secondary market, such as SecondMarket.

2. Or, you can buy shares in companies that, in turn, own shares in such new companies. Some examples are Microsoft or Google, but a greater exposure can be had through Group (formerly known as Digital Sky Technologies), which itself will be launching a London-based IPO for global depositary receipts on the LSE under the ticker ‘MAIL’. Group holds 10 % of Facebook, owns ICQ, and has large stakes of shares in Zynga, Groupon, and Russia’s biggest social network,

Further details on the MAIL IPO in techcrunch.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Interesting IMF study on housing prices

Interesting IMF study on housing prices.

In particular:

house prices in the United States and other advanced countries have already undergone substantial corrections since 2008. So in most countries, house prices have moved much closer to their economic fundamentals (see Chart 3). Our econometric estimates indicate that if the remaining adjustment were to happen over five years, house prices would fall modestly—an average annual rate of between 0.5 percent and 1.5 percent.
For countries such as Spain and Ireland there is an additional reason to expect slow recovery. In these countries, the construction sector grew much more rapidly than other sectors of the economy and became the engine of growth. The housing bust has thus brought severe contraction in construction output and employment. The unemployment rate is now three times its 2000–07 average in Ireland and twice its 2000–07 average in Spain, compared with a 20 percent increase on average among euro area countries.
... and problems in the housing market and the labor market are intertwined: U.S. states where the house price bust was more pronounced are also where employment has fallen the most

(that is, Nevada, Arizona, Florida, California).

In sum, in my opinion, prices should fall a little in the U.S. (particularly in States with high unemployment, and in which the prices have not fallen as much yet, such as Michigan and Rhode Island), and more in Great Britain, Austria, France and Spain (where the actual adjustment has been significantly less than the IMF-predicted adjustment).

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Great magazine on Latin American Investments

Looking for information on investments in Latin America, I came across this fantastic magazine: "Alternative Latin Investor"

In the most recent issue (No. 6, September 2010), these articles might be of particular interest:

Municipal Bonds in Latin America

Emerging Markets
Investment Flows and Stock Market Returns

Pinta: The Contemporary and Modern Latin American Art Show

Ashoka: Inspiring and Supporting Tomorrow’s Leaders

Renewable Energy
Opportunities in Argentine Biodiesel

Hedge Funds
The Spectrum of Investors for Latin American Hedge Funds by Merlin Securities

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Goldman's VIP list

Fascinating list of stocks predominantly owned by hedge funds, prepared by Goldman Sachs.

The Goldman Sachs 'Very Important Positions' list aggregates the top 50 positions held by hedge funds that utilize fundamental investment strategies.

Among those new additions to the list this quarter are: Tyco International (TYC), Cognizant Tech Solutions (CTSH), Barrick Gold (ABX), Viacom (VIA.B), Covidien (COV), Freeport McMoran (FCX), Covanta (CVA), Davita (DVA), Schlumberger (SLB), US Bancorp (USB), Halliburton (HAL) and General Electric (GE).

Several of them are gold and mining-related.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

High-yield dividends

I came across this excellent note on companies with a high-yield in dividends.

Many of the companies are REIT or Business Development Companies (BDC), which are required to distribute most of their earnings in the form of dividends.

Among those mentioned are:

Company Yield %

PDL BioPharma (Nasdaq:PDLI) 16.89
Anworth Mortgage Asset Corporation (NYSE:ANH) 15.02
Annaly Capital Management (NYSE:NLY) 15.47
Frontier Communications Corporation (NYSE:FTR) 13.33
Alpine Total Dynamic Dividend (NYSE:AOD) 12.11
Apollo Investment Corporation (Nasdaq:AINV) 11.65
MFA Mortgage Investments (NYSE:MFA) 10.48

Another note has an interesting overview of the Business Development Companies.

Business development companies are similar in some respects to a REIT in that they must pass on 90% of their income to shareholders. In addition BDCs may not place more than 5% of assets in one company, can't own more than 10% of the voting stock and can't invest more than 25% of their assets in companies that are considered to be in the same industry. This provides a modicum of diversification.

Of particular interest, perhaps, Apollo Investment Corporation (AINV), which allows retail investors to invest in a quasi-private equity environment.

According to the Morningstar Equity Research Profile,

Externally managed by the private-equity firm of the same
name, Apollo is a closed-end business-development
company that invests in the debt and equity issuances of
middle-market companies. Subordinated debt, second-lien
loans, equity, and preferred stock make up 58%, 26%, 13%,
and 3%, respectively, of its investment book.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Brazil is (probably) coming down

The iShares MSCI Brazil Index ETF (EWZ) is probably coming down.

It has already fallen from its 52 week high of 80.93 (reached in January) to 68.3 (with a fall of -1.7 % just yesterday).

However, it is still probably over-valued, for several reasons:

a) the Brazilian real is over-valued.

b) Emerging Market stock indices are over-valued in general, including Brazil's (the EEM Emerging Markets index ETF is down from 46.66 to 40.65 in the same period).

c) Many commodities that Brazil exports are over-valued (including agricultural and mineral products), and will probably fall in price given China's slowdown.

d) the Brazilian economy is slowing down, posting a negative growth (or fall) of -1.0 % in industrial production in June 2010 (the third consecutive fall).

e) Lula's handpicked successor, Dilma Rousseff, is gaining in the polls, and may prove to be more populist than Lula (particularly in economic policy).

Other than shorting EWZ, another way to benefit from this fall would be to buy ProShares Ultrashort MSCI Brazil (BZQ).

UPDATE:  As of December 12, 2013, the iShares MSCI Brazil Index ETF (EWZ) has fallen to 43.8 (that is, almost half its level of January 2010).  Almost all of the factors I mentioned in this 2010 post have come to pass, except that Dilma Rousseff actually has run a tighter policy than Lula.  The HSBC Brazil Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) has slipped into contractionary territory. On the other hand, the Brazilian stock market seems to have been pummeled enough, and might be ready for a correction.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Doing well by doing good

These three SICAV (the European equivalent of an ETF) offer the opportunity of obtaining a fairly good performance by investing in development-oriented and socially responsible funds.

1. responsAbility Global Microfinance Fund, ISIN: LU0180190273, has managed to have a positive return in each of the past five years!

Overall it is up an annual average of 3.83 % in the past five years; not much, but much better than the markets! The fund's objective, according to its fact sheet, is "To invest its assets in securities with which financial service companies in less developed countries are financed and/or refinanced".


This one has had a less smooth ride (2008 was a bummer year), but overall it has also achieved a positive return in the past 5 years (+3.11 %).

According to Google Translate (a great tool!), "The Fund aims to beat its benchmark (75% EONIA + 25% DJ Eurostoxx) by allocating diversified equity and fixed income products selected in consideration of ethical criteria".

Does being ethical mean never having to say you are sorry?

Here is a Guide to Ethical Investing. "These charts show that you don’t necessarily have to sacrifice investment performance when investing ethically", it claims.

3. DWS Invest Africa LC, LU0329759764.

After a very bumpy start, this fund that invests primarily in Africa has had a gangbusters ride. It's "Tax Year Return" was 78.9 %!

It's investment objective is: "At least 70% of the sub-fund’s total assets (after deduction of liquid assets) are invested in shares, share certificates, participation and dividend-right certificates, and equity warrants of issuers which have their registered offices or their principal business activity in Africa or which, as holding companies, hold the majority of interests in companies registered in Africa, particularly in South-Africa, Egypt, Mauritius, Nigeria, Morocco and Kenya".

Africa may be the flavor of the month, but if you consider that it is a Region that has a huge need for capital investments, and a long way to go in developing their capital markets, there are many opportunities ripe for the picking.

In any case, I would advise you to devote at least part of your portfolio to socially and environmentally sustainable investments (also known as SRI).

Here is the definition from EUROSIF: "Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) combines investors' financial objectives with their concerns about social, environmental, ethical (SEE) and corporate governance issues. SRI is an evolving movement and even the terminology is still very much in the evolving phase. Some SRI investors refer only to the SEE risks while others refer to ESG issues (Environmental, Social, Governance). Eurosif believes both are relevant to SRI. SRI is based on a growing awareness among investors, companies and governments about the impact that these risks may have on long-term issues ranging from sustainable development to long-term corporate performance".

Considering the recent BP oil spill, and the huge liabilities faced by tobacco and chemical companies, perhaps they have a point.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Emerging Markets Index comes down, as predicted

In January, I had forecast that the EEM (iShares MSCI Emerging Markets) would "come down to at least 35 within the next 6 months".

As of this writing, it has come down to 36.9.

Feels good to be right :-)

Lithium stocks revving up

Lithium stocks have taken off, as forecast several months ago.

Rockwood Holdings - up from a low of 11.96 to 24.35 per share
Western Lithium - up from 0.53 to 0.95
Lithium One Inc. - up from 0.73 to 1.35
Lithium Corporation - up from 0.50 to 0.77
American Lithium - up from 0.31 to 0.88

With the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, continuing troubles in several oil-exporting countries, and the subsidies to green growth, hybrid and electrical-car related stocks should continue to do well.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

They ain't no fools

I am starting to believe that these Motley Fools are no fools.

Since I bought VMWARE and Akamai, based on their advise, they are up 40 and 83 %, respectively!

I think I am going to try to buy into their new mutual fund, FOOLX.

I had been thinking of buying some of the stocks they own any way, such as Berkshire Hathaway Inc. B (BRK.B) and Yum Brands, Inc. (YUM).

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Sobre el colapso de la economía argentina en el siglo XX

Escribi esta breve nota en respuesta a un comentario de un amigo:

- es cierto que la inestabilidad ha generado problemas en la conducción de la política económica, pero más grave aún ha sido la orientación de la misma (populismo económico). Esto ha llevado a la economía argentina a caer de la octava de mundo en 1900 al puesto No 84 en el 2008 (ingreso per capita en el 2008, ligeramente superior al de Panamá).

- Aquí una interesante comparación del crecimiento en Argentina y Australia:

- EL PIB per capita de Argentina no creció en absoluto entre 1975 y 2001.

- Este articulo de Isabel Sanz compara el crecimiento económico en Argentina, Australia y Canadá ( Destaca que el PIB per cápita de Argentina superó a Canadá hacia 1900, y se aproximó al de Australia. El declive más pronunciado del PIB argentino se produjo tras 1950 (no coincidentemente, Perón tomo el poder en 1946).

- Para el 2008, los PIB per capita respectivos son: $41,730 para Canadá, $40,350 para Australia y $7,200 para Argentina (según el método Atlas; según el método de Paridad de Poder de Compra, $36,220 para Canadá, $ 34,040 para Australia; $14,020 para Argentina. (

- El artículo de Isabel Sanz, atribuye el colapso económico en Argentina al deterioro de un “índice de libertad económica reducido”, igualmente tras 1950 (y nuevamente en 1970-75; no coincidentemente, Perón y su esposa volvieron al poder en 1973-76). “This index consists of a series of macroeconomic variables – including the relative weight of public consumption compared with total consumption, the real depreciation rate of the currency, the level of nominal protection and the difference between the official and the market rates of exchange”.

- En términos generales, discrepo con quienes piensan que se puede “aumentar la competitividad” devaluando o depreciando el tipo de cambio. La productividad real solo aumenta mediante inversiones en capital físico y humano.

- La devaluación o depreciación monetaria se traduce, a mediano plazo, en mas inflación, y por ende no altera los precios relativos (excepto, quizás, puede disminuir los salarios reales y los ingresos erales de los pensionistas).

- Manejar un esquema de tipos de cambio múltiples es una receta para la catástrofe económica (demostrado, empíricamente, en el estudio de Sanz citado).

The cointegration analysis carried out between this index for Argentina relative to Australia and Canada and the respective series of relative Argentinean GDP per capita lead us to the conclusion that Argentina’s comparative economic performance may have been shaped and caused by the different level of economic freedom present in this country throughout the period under consideration. Consequently, this study identifies macroeconomic results as being responsible for Argentina’s economic failure and her relative loss of ground

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Donate to Haiti earthquake victims today

Please donate what you can to provide immediate and urgent assistance to the victims of the earthquakes in Haiti.

Some reputable organizations which are already working on the ground, are the following:

American Red Cross:

(you can also receive frequent flyer miles on some airlines for your donation; for example:

Doctors without Borders:


(through Facebook Causes:

World Food Programme:

(through Facebook Causes: )

Give a loved one a Gift donation:

UN Foundation

Other options:

Find a charity with a proven track record of success in providing disaster relief and one that has worked in Haiti; avoid possible scams. Start with the list of charities on this list:

Detailed information about the emergency response available at:

Please donate what you can today!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Ten money-making ideas (and comments)

In general, I like Marketwatch's "Ten money-making ideas for 2010", by Jonathan Burton.

A few comments:

1. Some asset classes are clearly entering into a bubble, as highlighted by The Economist in this week's cover story. This would include Chinese, Argentine and Brazilian stock markets, among other emerging markets.

2. I agree that some pharmaceutical stocks are undervalued, including Pfizer.

3. In contrast, some tech stocks are clearly overvalued, including Amazon, Apple and Google. I do like Microsoft, IBM and Oracle, as Mr. Burton does.

4. I always recommend "plain vanilla" index funds, such as those tracking the S&P 500.

5. Although oil prices have been rising in response to the cold front in most of the Northern hemisphere, this is probably not sustainable. Other indicators suggest that - the current freezing temperatures notwithstanding - 2010 should be the hottest year on record.

6. I do have to disagree with the "bullish sentiments" on the U.S. dollar. The sky-high deficits do not bode well for the greenback, and already it has fallen back compared to the euro and the yen.

7. I completely disagree with the advise on emerging market index funds (such as iShares MSCI Emerging Markets, EEM). This encapsulates the bubble in emerging market stocks, and will clearly collapse in the coming months. Currently, EEM is trading near its 52-week high of 43.47, and it should come down to at least 35 within the next 6 months.

The main problem with the note is that it does not factor in a very likely rise in inflation and interest rates (except in the recommendation to avoid long-term government bonds). Alternative investments, as mentioned before on this blog, are gold and other commodity ETFs, as well as TIPS (Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities), and some staple goods ETFs.

Happy New Decade!