God is a Capitalist

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Myths of discounted cash flow

Discounted cash flow (DCF) is the adjustable wrench of modern financial mechanics. Essentially, the analyst forecasts the revenue and costs for several years out and applies an appropriate discount, or interest rate, to calculate what those future dollars are worth today. The process is supposed to provide a hard number for the current worth of the company.

But as many of us recognized in college, there is a lot of room for wiggle in the process. Forecasting revenues and costs is tricky and always based on assumptions. An optimistic analyst might generate a rosy forecast while a pessimist may predict gloom and doom. Usually, analysts just assume the future will look like the past, which is always a dangerous assumption. How many oil analysts saw the recent collapse in oil prices as a result of projecting the past into the future?

Thursday, September 17, 2015

New York manufacturing stumbles

In the Ricardo Effect, Hayek’s chief contribution to the Austrian business-cycle theory (ABCT), the turning point in the cycle from expansion to recession happens when the makers of consumer goods and services employee more workers and buy less equipment. Equipment makers face plummeting sales and rising costs for materials and labor, and therefore a profits squeeze. So they cut back on production.

Signs of that may have appeared in New York. The New York Federal Reserve released its August 2015 Empire State Manufacturing Survey reporting that the index fell to -14.9, its lowest level since 2009 in the depths of the latest recession. Naturally, economists had expected the number to be +3.86. A positive number suggests growth ahead and you can guess what negative numbers mean.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Don’t drink the Schwab Kool-Aid

The Schwab Center for Financial Research recently published an article intended to tranquilize investor nerves after the latest volatility and keep them shoveling funds into the stock market. “Schwab’s Perspective on Recent Market Volatility” begins with “Global markets may have swung wildly in recent days, but we think the recent selloff in stocks and commodities is not a sign of imminent global recession.”

I’m picking on Schwab because they are big and can take it, but they have said nothing that almost all mainstream financial service firms aren’t saying. Also, Schwab put their piece in nice bullet points that are easy to address. I’ll take them on one at a time:

1. The basics of investing have not changed.

They should change because the received wisdom is to always buy, never sell and just swallow the bitter pill of a major market decline. Instead, investors should try to time the market by getting out of stocks before a recession hits.