“You can’t con people, at least not for long. You can create excitement, you can do wonderful promotion and get all kinds of press, and you can throw in a little hyperbole. But if you don’t deliver the goods, people will eventually catch on.”- Trump wrote in his book, The Art of the Deal.
I just got back from a two week trip to Toronto. The first week was spent exploring Toronto with my family. The second week of the trip was spent attending various investment events and I want to use this newsletter to share my insights. The events are based around the Fairfax Financial Annual General Meeting (AGM). Over time Fairfax has developed a following of investors and numerous events have spun-off from the AGM. There are conferences, stock picking competitions, dinners and plenty of opportunities for new investment ideas. When you spend most of your time reading company filing and looking at financial statements, these events are a welcome change. But first here are some thoughts on Toronto.
I took some time to visit my brother, Torontonian Hugh Langis, co-founder and co-owner of Half Hunter (design studio) and The Station (best co-working office space in Toronto), which I shamelessly just plug in. By the time of my visit it was already spring time in Toronto and it was just warm enough to walk around. There’s only so much you can do with a two and a half year old but if you get the chance, the Royal Ontario Museum is a good spot to take your family. There are plenty of dinosaur skeletons among other artifacts. I have to say that the city of Toronto got a lot better over the last ten years. When I first stepped in the city in 2002, I wasn’t that impress. Toronto is often described as “la ville reine” (the Queen City). When your nickname is linked to Queen Victoria’s reign, entertaining is not what comes to mind. “Banks and malls” is how I had described Toronto. But that has changed. Millennials and hipsters took over the suits and royalists and transformed the city for a better place. Now Toronto is populated with cool indie coffee shops, trendy restaurants and great pubs for happy hour. The places are jammed packed in the middle of the day. I’m not sure if anybody works in Toronto. While it’s fun to see the city alive, I never fully understood how they manage to pay rent considering the booming prices of real estate (more on that later). Toronto is certainly closing the gap with Montreal. Today Toronto can say they have decent smoked meat, poutine, and bagels, all trademarks of Montreal. I also found Toronto to be cleaner than Montreal. Right now, Montreal is going through a rough time with all the constructions and its orange cones scenery. Corruption and a lack of leadership have set the city behind but Montreal will be vastly improved in five years once the mess is cleaned up. When I was in Toronto there was a pulse in the city. The Maple Leafs was in the playoffs (that’s a very rare thing) so were the Raptors. It was also the beginning of the MLB season and the Blue Jays were playing in Toronto. The city felt alive!
Toronto Real Estate
The Toronto real estate situation was the topic du jour while I was in Toronto. Toronto stole the crown from Vancouver for the most ridiculous real estate prices in the nation, and maybe in the world. Owners and sellers are a very happy camp and while potential buyers are very frustrated. Toronto real estate has been considered expensive for at least the last seven years. Now the prices just shot up 33% year over year. What was considered “bubble price” a year ago now looked like a steal. Why did prices shot up 33% in one year? No reason. The fundamentals didn’t change. The economy didn’t boom. Population is modestly growing. Speculation is responsible for the booming prices. Sometimes higher prices are responsible for higher prices. There’s a pure disconnect between price and value. Housing basically should only rise by the extent of inflation, which is very low, and the extent of the productivity of the country, which in Canada is also very low. Real estate agents in Toronto like to cite the “strong demand” for the rise in price. But this runs against simple economic theory. Demand doesn’t increase the more you increase prices. In other words, the more expensive the real estate gets, the less demand there should be, not more. Need more signs that speculation is behind the rise in prices? A month ago Toronto held its real estate conference. The place was crowded with subprime lenders, third party lenders, and exhibits on how to get a second mortgage on your house. That’s should be enough red flags.
The wall on the Canadian side is now complete.
Below are my comments in an email on recent market valuation:
Are stocks expensive, yes. Is it a bubble no. Will there be a correction? Of course. When? Who knows. We are in the 8th year of a bull market rally. In the past there was a correction every 18 months on average. Look where we are today. Nobody predicted that. No one. The stock market reached a new high yesterday, again making a mockery of what savvy economic commentators though they know about the world. It’s absolutely ridiculous. Consider how things looked one year ago. The world economy seemed hopelessly trapped in a cycle of low growth and inflation. Markets recoiled at the mere possibility that the Fed would raise interest rates. Now, interest rates and inflation forecasts have risen substantially from last year; financial markets are shrugging off — or even rallying at the possibility of — imminent Fed rate increases; and it is all taking place during the Trump’s presidency. Now there are signs that the “new normal” will become the “old normal”. Good luck trying to make sense of all that.
This isn’t much of a post but instead a link to Business Insider. They have a great piece on Uber’s finance with tables and charts. It appears that they pieced together a bunch of leaks from various sources. It’s not complete and there are holes in the data but it pretty much confirm a lot about we thought about Uber’s financial state, which is aggressive growth combined with mega losses.
Anyway here’s the piece:
Find credit to value investor François Denault.
Let’s say you are on the road and you need a quick, healthy, fast meal. If you had to choose between A&W, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Tim Hortons, and Subway, you would probably hop for the last one. Subway has always positioned itself as a healthier alternative. So all the time that you went to Subway because you though you were making a healthier choice, well you are in for a slap in the face. It turns out that the chicken in your Subway chicken sandwich might not contain very much chicken meat at all.
Trent University and the CBC’s marketplace conducted a DNA analysis of the poultry in several popular grilled chicken sandwiches and wraps found at those popular fast food joints. The study revealed that in the case of two popular Subway sandwiches, the chicken was found to contain only about half chicken DNA. In testing, Subway’s oven roasted chicken and the chicken strips in its Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki sandwich clocked in with just 53.6% and 42.8% chicken, respectively. The results stood up after extra rounds of sampling.
So it looks like chicken, might taste like chicken, but it’s not chicken. So what is it? An unadulterated piece of chicken from the store should come in at 100 per cent chicken DNA. Seasoning, marinating or processing meat would bring that number down, so fast food samples seasoned for taste wouldn’t be expected to hit that 100 per cent target.
Here are the results:
In the tests, most of the meat from Subway’s competitors was shown to contain 85 to 90% chicken DNA.“Subway’s results were such an outlier that the team decided to test them again, biopsying five new oven roasted chicken pieces, and five new orders of chicken strips,” CBC News explained. Surprisingly, A&W and Wendy’s topped the chart. Now I didn’t expected that. McDonald’s and Tim Hortons did well. So if you are limited in your options, you know you are getting at least 85% chicken. McDonald’s has been working very hard at cleaning its reputation in the last few years. I wish they did the study 10 years (I’m sure its out there) to compare the progress they made.
Naturally, Subway disagree with the results. Subway claimed to use only 100% white meat chicken in their chicken products, they did admit to using soy as a stabilizer. They are going to check with their suppliers. I wonder if A&W and Wendy’s are going to ride high with the results with some kind of marketing campaign. Wendy’s is delicious, but its delicious for all the wrong reasons. You committing a sin eating there, but it’s a sin that makes you feel good (well just at first when you are eating). Now the quality of their chicken is superior to Subway!!??? “Sorry hunny, I’m skipping Subway today for Wendy’s, I want to eat healthy today”. I smell class action lawsuit for misleading consumers…
Subway’s chicken also caused a stir in late 2015 following a study by the environmental group Friends of the Earth, which awarded the franchise an F for using antibiotics in their meat. In response, Subway announced that they would be removing poultry raised with antibiotics from its 27,000-plus of its U.S. locations by the end of 2016.
We want high returns from our investments, but we want much more. We want to nurture hope for riches and banish fear of poverty. We want to be number 1 and beat the market. We want to feel pride when our investments bring gains and avoid regret that comes with losses. We want the status and esteem of hedge funds, the warm glow and virtue of socially responsible funds, and the patriotism of investing in our own country. We want good advice from financial advisors, magazines, and the Internet. We want financial markets to be fair but search for an edge that would let us win, sometimes fair and at other times not. We want to leave a legacy for our children when we are gone. And we want to leave nothing for the tax man. The sum of our wants and behaviors make financial markets go up or down as we herd together or go our separate ways, sometimes inflating bubbles and other times popping them.
It’s this time of the year again.
*Deal ends on November 14, 2016
I received 5 codes from Nespresso. The codes gives you $80 off the ORIGINALLINE machines. The code is not applicable for the cheapest INISSIA $149 machine and the luxury VERTUOLINE machines. So everything in the middle is game. Each claim gives me $40 in credit. It’s a win-win situation.
Here’s the code: N16.D4B.J34.A9F
How to use it: Sign up at Nespresso.com, buy a ORIGINALLINE machine, and apply code. You can also do it at their boutique or at 1-855-325-5781.
Even though I rarely drink coffee anymore (find it better for my health but still love it), I have a Nespresso machine and they are top of the class. They look great and they make great coffee. They have a large selection of capsules so you are not stuck always stuck with the same 2-3 flavors. Great to entertain guess too!
By the way this is not some weird spam offer. I wouldn’t post it if I though it was garbage. If you can save $80 off and I get a $40.