Opinion

James Saft

Chesapeake lessons: Don’t invest where you earn

May 17, 2012 19:37 UTC

By James Saft

(Reuters) – Like all massive risks, holding large amounts of stock in your employer is a way to make an investment home run, but an even better way to strike out.

The sad tale of Chesapeake Energy employees is a reminder of a series of oft taught but seldom learned lessons, namely that when you hold too much of your employer’s stock you imperil your retirement, impair your ability to manage risk and set yourself up for expensive, emotionally driven investment decisions.

A massive 38 percent of Chesapeake’s main 401(k) retirement plan’s assets were in company stock, despite only 5 percent of those assets still being tied up in a vesting period.

It is no wonder that employees jumped at a generous offer to match, dollar-for-dollar, the first 15 percent of their salary with shares of stock. What makes a heck of a lot less sense is why they held on to them after they were free to diversify.

While this has been a bit of a disaster for employees, as Chesapeake shares have fallen by nearly half, I’d argue holding more than 5 percent of your financial assets in your employer’s stock is bad policy whatever the returns and no matter how well run the company.

Only the ECB can make it a bank run: James Saft

May 17, 2012 12:03 UTC

By James Saft

(Reuters) – A spreading bank run could hasten Greece’s exit from the euro zone but it certainly doesn’t have to end that way.

It is far less clear what the impact would be should the wave of withdrawals accelerate in other peripheral states such as Spain or Portugal, which are further from outright revolt over German-led austerity, and which, due to their sheer size, will enjoy a vastly improved negotiating position.

Greeks have been withdrawing hundreds of millions of euros of deposits from their banks in recent days, driven by a rational but dangerously self-reinforcing fear that a Greek exit from the euro will leave them holding far less valuable new drachma.

JP Morgan, TBTF and ZIRP: James Saft

May 15, 2012 04:02 UTC

By James Saft

(Reuters) – JP Morgan Chase’s loss is the perhaps inevitable result of the interaction of two policies: too big to fail and zero interest rates.

JP Morgan lost $2 billion when trades put on by its chief investment office blew up, prompting a sell-off in its stock, an investigation by regulators and new calls to limit speculative activities by banks.

Too big to fail, the de facto insurance provided by the U.S. to financial institutions so big their failure would be disastrous, provides JP Morgan and its peers with a material advantage in funding and as counterparties. Depositors see it as an advantage, as do bondholders and other lenders. That leaves TBTF banks flush with cash.

Saft on wealth: Much ventured, little gained

May 10, 2012 16:34 UTC

By James Saft

(Reuters) – Venture capital investors put their money down with dreams of backing the next Facebook, but the reality involves high fees and much disappointment.

A new study by the Kauffman Foundation, an entrepreneurship charity and a heavy and long-time backer of venture capital, makes disturbing reading oo.gl/eAp9E, detailing 20 years of disappointment, a failure by venture capital firms to deliver and of the foundation itself to take the needed steps to protect its own interests.

Kauffman, which has $249 million in venture capital, is providing insights which, because of tight disclosure agreements, are almost impossible to obtain elsewhere.

SAFT ON WEALTH: Much ventured, little gained

May 10, 2012 16:32 UTC

May 10 (Reuters) – Venture capital investors put their money
down with dreams of backing the next Facebook, but the reality
involves high fees and much disappointment.

A new study by the Kauffman Foundation, an entrepreneurship
charity and a heavy and long-time backer of venture capital,
makes disturbing reading oo.gl/eAp9E, detailing 20 years of
disappointment, a failure by venture capital firms to deliver
and of the foundation itself to take the needed steps to protect
its own interests.

Kauffman, which has $249 million in venture capital, is
providing insights which, because of tight disclosure
agreements, are almost impossible to obtain elsewhere.

An ungovernable slump: James Saft

May 8, 2012 04:06 UTC

By James Saft

(Reuters) – Received wisdom on Europe’s electoral results is that the throw-the-bums-out events in France and Greece represent a vote against austerity.

Here’s another possibility: it is an anti-reality vote.

That’s not to say that policies of austerity are helpful; they are not, especially when they are, as in the euro zone, taken as a futile means to support unsustainable debts in the financial system.

Rather, the elections illustrate a truth which will vex whatever policies are enacted next in all of the economies which are struggling with high amounts of total debt, be it corporate, banking, government or household. No one, no electorate, reacts well to the policies put in place during times when living standards are grinding slowly lower. Voters, just like investors, endow the things they can control, like who is in office and what they are doing, with far more power and ability to turn the course of events than they probably possess.

Chesapeake and the executive pay sell signal

May 3, 2012 21:58 UTC

By James Saft

(Reuters) – As Chesapeake Energy Corp shows, fat executive compensation all too often comes twinned with lousy investor returns.

Shares of Chesapeake have tumbled in the last two weeks after revelations by Reuters of unusual and disturbing pay and other arrangements between the company and its CEO and founder Aubrey McClendon. McClendon borrowed up to $1.1 billion to fund private investments he was allowed to make in company oil and gas wells under its “Founder Well Participation Program,” a hilarious euphemism if ever there was one.

He also was, at least from 2004 to 2008, actively helping to manage a $200 million hedge fund that speculated in commodities his company produced.

UK’s economic cheese and debt pickle: James Saft

May 3, 2012 04:04 UTC

By James Saft

(Reuters) – Pity poor Britain: their own currency to depreciate, their own central bank to print and buy government debt, and yet here we have the second recession in three years.

Not only did GDP shrink by 0.2 percent in the first quarter – the second consecutive contraction, but a sickly manufacturing survey and a drop in exports both indicate that there is a risk of something more sustained and deeper.

And it’s not as if labor hasn’t been sharing the burden; unemployment is high and wage earners are taking home less in inflation-adjusted terms than they were in 2005. That leaves many British households struggling with debts which haven’t really shrunk and must be repaid while earning, effectively, less. Inflation is high, leaving even less for consumption, and households continue to show a preference for paying back money rather than borrowing.

Europe’s credit crunch: James Saft

May 1, 2012 12:44 UTC

By James Saft

(Reuters) – Europe looks to be entering a credit crunch, with loans harder to get and those that are made coming on tougher terms.

Strikingly, banks are being tight despite falling demand for credit, pointing to a nasty interaction between the economy, its banking system and the choices of wary and indebted households and companies.

That this is all happening despite the massive efforts of the European Central Bank, which twice recently has made extraordinary amounts of nearly free money available to the banks, tells the grimmest tale of all.

Investing in the wretched: James Saft

Apr 27, 2012 18:22 UTC

By James Saft

(Reuters) – At a time when one super-stock, Apple, is driving returns and portfolio construction, it is important to remember that there is usually more to be gained from the widely derided than from the universally loved.

Choosing stocks like Apple, which makes great products and has the glow of success about it, is an easy and comfortable choice. Investors feel they are affiliating with something successful, and they get that blast of pleasurable chemicals to the brain every time they see a positive story in the press or a surge in share price.

That success comes with a price tag. A review of the literature shows that portfolios with stocks in widely admired companies usually underperform baskets of stocks with companies nobody much likes.

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