Eros International PLC (EROS) Sues large number of short sellers

On September 29th, 2017 the Indian film distribution company Eros International PLC (EROS) filed a complaint in New York state supreme court against many different short sellers who have criticized the company.

Below is the text of the company’s press release:

ISLE OF MAN, United Kingdom–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Oct. 3, 2017– Eros International Plc (NYSE: EROS) (“Eros”), a leading global company in the Indian film entertainment industry, today announced that it has filed a lawsuit in New York County Supreme Court against Mangrove Partners, Manuel P. Asensio, GeoInvesting, LLC, and numerous other individuals and entities. The lawsuit alleges the defendants and other co-conspirators disseminated material false, misleading, and defamatory information about Eros and are engaging in other misconduct that has harmed the Company. The lawsuit also names various “John Doe” defendants who will be identified and joined as the case unfolds.

The complaint alleges that Mangrove Partners and many, if not all, of its co-conspirators held substantial short positions in Eros stock and profited when its share price declined in response to their multi-year disinformation campaign. Eros seeks damages and injunctive relief for defamation, trade libel, civil conspiracy, and tortious interference, including but not limited to interference with its customers, producers, distributors, investors, and lenders.

The filing of this lawsuit marks another important step in Eros’ vigorous defense of itself and the Company’s stakeholders. On 25 September, 2017, Eros also reported that the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed a putative securities class action, with prejudice, that was originally filed in November 2015 and arose from a series of baseless accusations that the Eros complaint alleges were disseminated by short sellers.

The Company previously announced that it retained Michael J. Bowe, a partner of Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP, to investigate and pursue all available legal remedies against those responsible for these blatant attempts at market manipulation. Counsel is continuing its investigation. Anyone with information about those responsible for the dissemination of this disinformation can submit that information confidentially at (212) 506-1777.

The case is 653096/2017 at the New York County Supreme Court. The complaint (pdf) is 115 pages long. First, I’ll start with the defendants, some of whom are well-respected short sellers. I have grouped the defendants below according to firm and employee/employer relationships.

  1. Mangrove Partners and Nathaniel August
  2. Manuel Asensio, Asensio & Company Inc, and Mill Rock Advisors Inc
  3. Geoinvesting, LLC, Christopher Irons, Daniel David, FG Alpha Management LLC, FG Alpha Advisors, and FG Alpha, LP
  4. ClaritySpring Inc, ClaritySpring Securities LLC, and Nathan Anderson
  5. John Does 1 to 30

As many of the alleged negative comments at issue were only posted on Twitter, I have linked defendants to their Twitter accounts below:

  1. Alpha Exposure on SeekingAlpha (allegedly Mangrove Partners); @Alpha_Exposure
  2. @Asensiocom (Manuel Asensio)
  3. @Geoinvesting,@DanGeoinvesting (Dan David), @dan_fgalphamgmt (FG Alpha Management LLC / Dan David),  @QTRResearch (Chris Irons)
  4. @ClarityToast (Nathan Anderson)
  5.  The most prominent John Doe is @Unemon1. Other John Does are @HindenburgRes, Spotlight Research (writer on SeekingAlpha), and Orange Peel Investments (writer on SeekingAlpha).

Here is a full listing of all the John Does (from the complaint; emphasis added by me):

34. Defendant John Doe No. 1 refers to the individual or entity, whose identity is
presently unknown to Eros, behind the pseudonym “Spotlight Research.”
35. Defendant John Doe No. 2 refers to the individual or entity, whose identity is
presently unknown to Eros, behind the pseudonym “Orange Peel Investments.” Orange Peel
Investments purports to be a “family office” (or “family fund”) based in New York, New York.
36. Defendant John Doe No. 3 refers to refers to the individual or entity, whose
identity is presently unknown to Eros, behind the pseudonym “Parke Shall,” a purported
employee in the retail and consumer goods division of Orange Peel Investments and an
“anonymous contributor” for Orange Peel Investments’ two Seeking Alpha articles on Eros.
37. Defendant John Doe No. 4 refers to the individual or entity, whose identity is
presently unknown to Eros, behind the pseudonym “Thom Lachenmann,” a purported employee
in the technology division of Orange Peel Investments and an “anonymous contributor” for one
of Orange Peel Investments’ Seeking Alpha articles on Eros.
38. Defendant John Doe No. 5 refers to the individual or entity, whose identity is
presently unknown to Eros, behind the pseudonym “Unemon.”
39. Defendant John Doe No. 6 refers to the individual or entity, whose identity is
presently unknown to Eros, behind the pseudonym “Hindenburg Research.”
40. Defendants John Does Nos. 7-9 refer to Mangrove’s or August’s affiliate(s), or
any related investment fund(s) owned in whole or in part by Mangrove or August, that Mangrove
or August used between January 1, 2015 and the present to short Eros’ stock, whose identities
are presently unknown to Eros.
41. Defendants John Does Nos. 10-12 refer to the Asensio Defendants’ affiliate(s), or
any related investment fund(s) owned in whole or in part by the Asensio Defendants, that the
Asensio Defendants used between January 1, 2016 and the present to short Eros’ stock, whose
identities are presently unknown to Eros.
42. Defendants John Does Nos. 13-15 refer to the GeoInvesting Defendants’
affiliate(s), or any related investment fund(s) owned or in whole or in part by the GeoInvesting
Defendants, that the GeoInvesting Defendants used between 2013 and the present to short Eros’
stock, including but not limited to F.G. Alpha Management, LLC, FG Alpha Advisors, LLC and
FG Alpha, L.P., whose identities are presently unknown to Eros.
43. Defendants John Does Nos. 16-18 refer to the ClaritySpring Defendants’
affiliate(s), or any related investment fund(s) owned in whole or in part by the ClaritySpring
Defendants, that the ClaritySpring Defendants used between January 1, 2017 and the present to
short Eros’ stock, whose identities are presently unknown to Eros.
44. Defendants John Does Nos. 19-30 refer to other individuals or entities, whose
identities are presently unknown to Eros, who work with or at the direction of Defendants.

Below are references to pseudonymous or anonymous Twitter accounts in the complaint (emphasis added by me):

10. Defendants, in a tactic they used repeatedly throughout their conspiracy, created
an “echo chamber” for Asensio, Spotlight Research and Orange Peel Investment’s lies using the
social media site Twitter. Defendants exploited Twitter’s ability to disperse attention-grabbing
sound bites and buzzwords to a global Internet audience, and they created anonymous Twitter
shell accounts to multiply and spread their false and misleading allegations even further.

56. To further their scheme, Defendants used Twitter, which has a number of features
that make it the ideal platform for Defendants’ disinformation. Twitter allows its users to post
anonymously, and thus escape repercussions for false content. Twitter also allows its users to
publish posts, called “tweets,” that are public to any Internet user (not just those registered with
Twitter). Other users can then republish those tweets, called “re-tweeting.” Further, Twitter
allows users to “like” a tweet; the total number of “likes” and identities of the users who “liked”
a tweet are displayed at the bottom of each tweet. Users can thus take advantage of these
features, as Defendants have done, to create the appearance of more interest in a particular story
than there actually is, thus constructing an echo chamber.

215. Moreover, the Asensio Defendants fabricated Twitter aliases to further
reverberate their false, misleading and highly offensive themes. One such alias, “Forest Gump,”
joined Twitter in June 2016, at the precise time period Defendants re-commenced their short and
distort scheme. Forest Gump has only ever published 12 tweets. All of his tweets except for one
were negative commentary on Eros; in his standalone non-Eros tweet, Forest Gump reached out
to anonymous short-seller “Unemon” with the cryptic request, “Can you follow please.” A
sample of Forest Gump’s 11 Eros-related tweets, which all respond to pro-Eros tweets, reveals
that he attempted to spread salacious falsehoods about Eros’ management and to defend Asensio
under the guise of an independent twitter user.
216. Further, an anonymous user acting under the guise of the alias “Market Farce” resurfaced
on Twitter to hype Asensio’s and other conspirators’ lies, including during phases when
those defendants laid dormant. Market Farce’s false and defamatory tweets include, among
other fictions, the baseless assertion that Eros’ accounting practices warrant SEC scrutiny:

288. Defendants, in coordinated fashion, again amplified the baseless concerns they
touted in articles and blog posts using Twitter, including through new anonymous aliases such as
“Lolwut02” and “mboom1991.”

293. Moreover, Defendants fabricated Twitter aliases to further reverberate their false,
misleading and highly offensive themes. One such alias, “Lolwut02,” joined Twitter in May
2017. Lolwut02 has only ever published six tweets, all on May 23, 2017 and related to Eros. In
one tweet, Lolwut02 responds to Unemon’s derisive tweet concerning a securities filing by Eros
International Media with the mocking question, “[t]hey do this every year?” In another tweet,
Lolwut02, purports that it is “getting kind of nervous” at the baseless prognosis of the
Company’s looming liquidity crisis. Another alias, “mboom1991,” joined Twitter in June 2017.
Since then, mboom1991 has published zero tweets of his own but consistently rubber-stamps
Unemon’s negative tweets about Eros by “liking” them.

I cannot find Forest Gump on Twitter. Here is the link to Market Farce. Lolwut02 is on Twitter but shows no tweets. Mboom1991 has two tweets and 106 likes.

Regarding this assertion from the complaint: “Market Farce’s false and defamatory tweets include, among
other fictions, the baseless assertion that Eros’ accounting practices warrant SEC scrutiny:” I present without comment the report from ProbesReporter (John Gavin) on his inquiry into an SEC investigation into Eros.

Read the full ProbesReporter report on Eros (pdf).

One of the interesting things about this suit is how Eros used FOIA requests to purportedly identify Mangrove Partners / Nathaniel August as being behind Alpha Exposure:

67. Specifically, Alpha Exposure disclosed in a June 21, 2013 Seeking Alpha article
that it submitted a FOIA request letter to the SEC concerning Uni-Pixel, Inc. (“Uni-Pixel”).
Alpha Exposure’s article hyperlinked to a partially redacted response letter from the SEC, which
redacted its true identity, but did not redact the fact that the SEC received Alpha Exposure’s
request on June 10, 2013 and denied it in full.
68. The SEC, in turn, keeps public FOIA “logs” that record metadata for the FOIA
requests that it receives. FOIA logs are public and available on the SEC’s website.2 The
metadata recorded by FOIA logs reflect information such as the requestor’s name, the subject of
the request (e.g., company name), the date the SEC receives a request, the date it closes a request
and its final disposition.
69. Here, the SEC’s public FOIA records could not be clearer about the identity of
“Alpha Exposure.” The log dated FY 2013 reveals that the SEC received a FOIA request
concerning Uni-Pixel on June 10, 2013, the same date that the SEC received Alpha Exposure’s
request, and that the request was made by someone named “August, Nathaniel” of “Mangrove
Partners.” The log further reveals that August’s request was “[d]enied in full” and closed on
June 21, 2013, which again conforms to the SEC letter that Alpha Exposure hyperlinked in its
June 21, 2013 Seeking Alpha article.
70. Moreover, the same SEC log shows that the only FOIA request concerning UniPixel
in all of FY 2013 was from “August, Nathaniel” of “Mangrove Partners.” This irrefutable
fact, coupled with Alpha Exposure’s June 21, 2013 article, amount to conclusive proof that
August and Mangrove are, in fact, “Alpha Exposure.”
71. “Alpha Exposure” again leaked its identity through a slipshod admission in a
November 19, 2015 post on its blog ( In that post, Alpha
Exposure, after publicizing a FOIA letter it had sent the SEC demanding information on Eros,
divulged that its “last” FOIA request to the SEC concerned Uni-Pixel – which, as the SEC’s
FOIA log reveals, was made by none other than August himself

After reading this I would warn anyone considering submitting a FOIA request to not submit it in their own name but have an attorney submit it for them.

I will not rehash the details of the short sellers’ accusations against Eros International other than to say that there are many different accusations of impropriety. Here is a listing of all of the negative articles published about Eros referenced in the complaint (that I found). Please note that I take no position on whether any of these articles or the allegations in them are true or not.

Unemon1 blog posts on SeekingAlpha

EROS Is Everything But The Netflix Of India. I Honestly Believe This Company Is Going Down! (3/30/2017)
Eros Worldwide Pledged Shares In Eros Intl Media As Collateral Last Week: Liquidity Problems And Lack Of Alternatives Never Seemed So Real To Me (4/6/2017)
EROS: Desperately Raising Cash And At The Same Time Buying Assets From Insiders. How Messed Up Is That? IMO: A LOT! (6/28/2017)

Alpha Exposure articles on SeekingAlpha

Unlike The Name, Investors Should Not Love EROS (10/30/2015)
Eros: Return Of The Short Seller (2015) (11/10/2015)
Eros: Is The Game Finally Over? We Think So (11/13/2015)
Eros: Revising Our TopCo Analysis (11/20/2015)
Eros: Roll The Credits (8/14/2017)

Manuel P. Asensio articles on SeekingAlpha

EROS’s ‘Dozen Unknown’ Unaudited Subsidiaries Out-Earn ‘Big Name’ Grant Thornton ‘Audited’ Parent (6/8/2016)
Eros Backs Away From Skadden’s Independent Review (6/8/2016)
ErosNow’s ‘Fullerton Deal’ Brings ‘New Round Of Questions’ (6/9/2016)
EROS: Prem’s Dilemma (7/18/2016)

Hindenburg Investment Research articles on SeekingAlpha

Eros Earnings Review: An Abundance Of Red Flags (8/2/2017)
Eros International: New Receivables Accounting Red Flags (8/24/2017)

Orange Peel Investments articles on SeekingAlpha

Continue To Avoid Eros After Terrible Earnings (2/18/2016)
New Red Flags About Eros Raised (6/9/2016)
Eros Stock Bump With Lack Of Cash Generation Makes It Attractive Short (7/4/2016)
Eros: Shelf Indicates Possible Coming Equity Issuance, Continued Pressure On Stock
Eros: Take Rumors With A Grain Of Salt (8/7/2017)

Geoinvesting articles on

Eros’ Failed Bond Offering, S&P Downgrade, Could Signal a Very Real Liquidity Crisis (3/16/2017)
Eros Associated Execs Admit on Hidden Camera They Will Launder Money Through Films (3/29/2017)
Eros International (EROS): Critical Warning Signs Ahead of Upcoming Annual Report? (7/14/2017)

Spotlight Research articles on SeekingAlpha

EROS’s Secret: Undisclosed Related Party Links In The UAE? (6/9/2016)
Globus: EROS’s Elephant In The Room (8/18/2016)

Eros, not content to hit back with a simple libel/defamation suit, alleges in its lawsuit that the short sellers conspired against it. In the complaint the word “conspire” is used three times while “cabal” is used twice, “conspiracy” is used 13 times, and “conspirator” is used 32 times. I read through most of the complaint and I really don’t understand how any of the evidence provided supports the conspiracy claims.

The first two counts in the lawsuit are the expected (defamation per se and defamation, against all defendants). Count three is against all defendants and is for commercial disparagement (this is a new one to me — basically it is unfairly disparaging a business). Count four is false light (under Pennsylvania law) against Geoinvesting defendants only. Counts five and six are tortious interference and tortious interference with contract, against all defendants. Count seven is the big one, civil conspiracy, against all defendants. Now I am not a lawyer, but I do believe that Eros included the claim of civil conspiracy to be able to expand the scope of discovery and litigate all the claims against the various defendants in one suit, rather than having to file separate suits against each defendant.

The main lawyer for Eros International is Michael J. Bowe of Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP. Michael Bowe, besides having a sense of humor like mine, is most well known (at least among investors/traders) for representing Fairfax Financial against short sellers (this case lasted over a decade). The Fairfax Financial case also involved allegations of a conspiracy of short sellers.

One last note: this case has a couple defendants (Chris Irons and the Clarity Spring defendants) who wrote no articles or blog posts but only tweeted about Eros. Below is a screenshot of the complaint showing Irons’ tweets:

Perhaps the scariest part of this complaint is the following:

86. Irons, using his “Quoth the Raven” alias, defamed and disparaged Eros, including
by redistributing false information about Eros on Twitter.

In other words, Eros International and its lawyers are asserting that merely spreading information on Twitter (commonly done through a retweet rather than an URL link) can qualify as defamation.

If Eros is victorious in its lawsuit (or even if this just drags on for years) this could have a chilling effect on criticism of controversial companies, online in general and in particular on Twitter.

Post updated on 10/4/2017 with links to more articles, more excerpts from complaint on John Doe defendants, and link to ProbesReporter report.

Disclaimer. No position in any stocks mentioned and I have no relationship with anyone mentioned in this post except that I follow some of them on Twitter and respect their work. This blog has a terms of use that is incorporated by reference into this post; you can find all my disclaimers and disclosures there as well.

Taxes for day-traders

See the embedded video for a quick summary of the major tax issues for traders and what business trader status means. Obviously I am not a CPA and I have no formal accounting training. Please see JK Lasser’s Your Income Tax 2012 and Robert Green’s Tax Guide for Traders. If you want to really get hard-core, see the relevant IRS publications:

IRS Publication 550
(the portion of this that relates to business traders as opposed to investors is excerpted below the video)

Please note that futures contracts are treated differently and I do not address that in the video.

Here is the relevant portion of IRS Publication 550 on business traders:

Special Rules for Traders in Securities

Special rules apply if you are a trader in securities in the business of buying and selling securities for your own account. To be engaged in business as a trader in securities, you must meet all the following conditions.

  • You must seek to profit from daily market movements in the prices of securities and not from dividends, interest, or capital appreciation.
  • Your activity must be substantial.
  • You must carry on the activity with continuity and regularity.

The following facts and circumstances should be considered in determining if your activity is a securities trading business.

  • Typical holding periods for securities bought and sold.
  • The frequency and dollar amount of your trades during the year.
  • The extent to which you pursue the activity to produce income for a livelihood.
  • The amount of time you devote to the activity.

If your trading activities do not meet the above definition of a business, you are considered an investor, and not a trader. It does not matter whether you call yourself a trader or a “day trader.”


You may be a trader in some securities and have other securities you hold for investment. The special rules discussed here do not apply to the securities held for investment. You must keep detailed records to distinguish the securities. The securities held for investment must be identified as such in your records on the day you got them (for example, by holding them in a separate brokerage account).

How To Report

Transactions from trading activities result in capital gains and losses and must be reported on Form 8949 and Schedule D (Form 1040), as appropriate. Losses from these transactions are subject to the limit on capital losses explained earlier in this chapter.

Mark-to-market election made.   If you made the mark-to-market election, you should report all gains and losses from trading as ordinary gains and losses in Part II of Form 4797, instead of as capital gains and losses on Form 8949 and Schedule D. In that case, securities held at the end of the year in your business as a trader are marked to market by treating them as if they were sold (and reacquired) for fair market value on the last business day of the year. But do not mark to market any securities you held for investment. Report sales from those securities on Form 8949 and Schedule D, as appropriate, not Form 4797. See the 2011 Instructions for Schedule D.

Expenses.   Interest expense and other investment expenses that an investor would deduct on Schedule A (Form 1040) are deducted by a trader on Schedule C (Form 1040), Profit or Loss From Business, if the expenses are from the trading business. Commissions and other costs of acquiring or disposing of securities are not deductible but must be used to figure gain or loss. The limit on investment interest expense, which applies to investors, does not apply to interest paid or incurred in a trading business.

Self-employment tax.   Gains and losses from selling securities as a trader are not subject to self-employment tax. This is true whether the election is made or not. For an exception that applies to section 1256 contracts, see Self-Employment Income earlier under Section 1256 Contracts Marked to Market.

How To Make the Mark-to-Market Election

To make the mark-to-market election for 2012, you must file a statement by April 17, 2012. This statement should be attached to either your 2011 individual income tax return or a request for an extension of time to file that return. The statement must include the following information.

  • That you are making an election under section 475(f) of the Internal Revenue Code.
  • The first tax year for which the election is effective.
  • The trade or business for which you are making the election.

If you are not required to file a 2011 income tax return, you make the election by placing the above statement in your books and records no later than March 15, 2012. Attach a copy of the statement to your 2012 return.

If your method of accounting for 2011 is inconsistent with the mark-to-market election, you must change your method of accounting for securities under Revenue Procedure 2011-14 (or its successor) available at Revenue Procedure 2011-14 requires you to file Form 3115, Application for Change in Accounting Method. Follow its instructions. Enter “64” on line 1a of the Form 3115.

Once you make the election, it will apply to 2012 and all later tax years, unless you get permission from the IRS to revoke it. The effect of making the election is described under Mark-to-market election made, earlier.

For more information on this election, see Revenue Procedure 99-17, on page 52 of Internal Revenue Bulletin 1999-7 at


Disclaimer: I AM NOT A CPA OR TAX EXPERT! What I say above may be wrong. Please consult your CPA or tax lawyer for tax advice. I use Green’s accounting firm to prepare my taxes. The links for the above books are using my affiliate link. This blog has a terms of use that is incorporated by reference into this post; you can find all my disclaimers and disclosures there as well..

Book Review: Essentials of Corporate Fraud

I have many great things to say about Tracy Coenen, who is a blogger, author, and above all, a forensic accountant. I love her blog and I find her to be witty and intelligent. As a short seller I am also something of a fraud connoisseur, so I appreciate what she does. I eagerly anticipated her first book, Essentials of Corporate Fraud. She was kind enough to let me review before it was published, for which I thank her.

Here is the synopsis of the book from the publisher:

The book guides executives, managers, attorneys, and auditors through the basics of corporate fraud. In order to effectively fight fraud, it is important to understand who commits fraud, why they do it, how they do it, and how it affects the company as a whole.

Essentials of Corporate Fraud is more than a primer on fraud detection and prevention. It is a real-world look at how fraud occurs from an expert who has investigated hundreds of internal frauds, including embezzlement, financial statement fraud, investment fraud, bribery, and corruption. Tracy’s broad experience ranging from law enforcement to traditional auditing and finally to forensic accounting and fraud investigations brings a unique perspective to this publication.

To describe my overall impression of the book I find that I must resort to analogies. The book is like Michael Jordan scoring 18 points or like me only making a 20% return on a stock I have sold short. It is good, and a worthy read, but it is not great. I had expected better. However, I did find the book to be a worthy primer on fraud. There are of course a couple reasons that the book did not live up to my expectations, neither really Tracy’s fault: the book appears to be geared towards management types and it is an introductory book.

While being president of a small company, I am decidedly not a management-type; in fact, I would say that my IQ is about 2 standard deviations higher than the IQ of most managers (or at least people who read management books). The other problem is that this book is an introductory book. To someone who deals with messing up financial statements on a weekly basis (as bookkeeper of my company) and analyzing them on a daily basis (as a short seller), I am already familiar with many ways to defraud.

Despite not being wowed by the book, I found it to be a solid introduction to fraud. It was easily readable, not repetitive (unlike most books geared towards management), and it got me thinking. This book made me reconsider certain ways that my small company operated. Since reading it I have made changes to reduce the risk of fraud. For a book such as this, the best compliment is to say that it was useful, and this book was a useful read for me.

While this book would be useful to many, it is decidedly not useful (nor does it pretend to be) to investors who only care about financial statement fraud. If you are a CPA, manager, or business owner who is not an experienced fraud fighter, this seems to be a good place to start, so you should buy the book.

Whether or not you buy the book I definitely suggest reading Tracy Coenen’s Fraud Files Blog.

Buy my book!

Okay, well it is not my book, but I co-authored a chapter. Plus, it is an interesting book. Are We Free? Psychology and Free Will gives the opinions (and research) of some of the world’s top psychologists on whether (and how) humans have free will. I have not read any chapter but my own, but I am familiar with many of the authors, and their research is intriguing and sometimes disturbing. If you have ever wondered whether you were truly free, this book will be of interest.

Book Review: The Theory of Investment Value

John Burr Williams wrote The Theory of Investment Value as his dissertation. First published in 1938, this book is one of the classics of investing. I will not say that the book is a fun read, for it is not. It is dry and difficult. Half the pages are filled with equations. However, this book was a landmark and it remains relevant. This book is far too large and detailed for me to describe in detail, so I will present but a few of the highlights.

John Burr Williams invented the dividend discount model of stock valuation. Previous economists and stock analysts had only guessed at what the proper P/E valuation was for a company or what the proper dividend yield was. Also, most previous analysts ignored the sustainability of the dividend. In his book, Williams made the point that a company could be valued by calculating the present value of the future dividends (discounting those future dividends at the risk-free interest rate).

However, companies sometimes pay dividends that are unsustainable or that are below their true dividend-paying ability. Williams thus showed how to calculate the sustainable dividend payout. This is also known as owner earnings—it is a measure of the earnings after subtracting necessary reinvestment.

Williams also shows that this can be applied even to companies that do not pay a dividend. He made the point that a company increases in value once it has made money, and thus dividends are not necessary (the stock will increase in value proportional to how much would have been paid out in dividends). (As history has since shown, though, companies that do not pay dividends tend to do worse than those that do, simply because they may reinvest the money unwisely.) Williams thus laid the groundwork for what has later become discounted cash flow (DCF) models of valuation. For some types of companies, dividend discount models are still useful today.

Besides this, the last section of the book is a series of examples, ranging from Phoneix Insurance to GM and US Steel. Even if you only read this section, the book is worth the price. The problems facing investors 70 years ago remain today. We would be wise to learn from the past. By all means buy this book and read it.

Disclosure: This article was originally written two years ago and published elsewhere.

A short book review of much importance

I could have spent a few pages extolling the virtues of David Dreman and his book, Contrarian Investment Strategies: The Next Generation. Fortunately for you, I did not do that. Instead, I tell you simply to buy the book. It deserves a spot on your library shelf adjacent to Ben Graham’s Intelligent Investor. It is one of the most important investment books you will read. In the book, Dreman discusses at length the problems with estimating future earnings and psychological impediments to effective investing. He also lays out the key reasons why value investing works so well and he gives much data that support his arguments. Much of the data in my forthcoming article on regression to the mean is taken from this book.

Buy this book.

Just One Thing

I just finished John Mauldin’s new book, Just One Thing. It took me only two days to read. I cannot enthusiastically recommend this book even thought there are some nuggets of wisdom in it. In the book, twelve investment writers each give their one best investment idea.

Some of the authors rambled and others (Bill Bonner, George Gilder, John Mauldin) did not have anything useful to say that you could not have already picked up from reading Mauldin’s email newsletter or other sources. For those who are not familiar with Dennis Gartman, James Montier, Gary Shilling, and Richard Russell, their chapters make good reading.

The two best chapters were Ed Easterling’s chapter on the capital asset pricing model (CAPM) and its faults and Rob Arnott’s chapter on non-market-weighted index investing. Easterling does a good job of explaining problems with how we look at risk. Arnott makes a good case for avoiding index investing in market-weighted indexes such as the S&P 500. In a market-weighted index, companies that are selling above their true value will be overweighted while companies that are selling below their true value will be under-weighted.

The solution is to invest equal amounts in all different companies. By investing equal amounts in the stocks in the S&P 500, you can average a return of 2% more per year over the market-cap weighted S&P 500. Of course, that is what investors in individual stocks should do. By putting the same amount of money into each stock, regardless of market-cap or price, investors lower their risk while increasing our returns.

Overall, Just One Thing is a decent book and a quick read. Consider buying it.

Disclosure: This review was originally written two years ago and published elsewhere.

The Intelligent Investor

It was Ben Graham who taught me how to invest. Sure, I had played around with stocks before him, but I didn’t really know what I was doing. His book, The Intelligent Investor, is a one-book course on investing by understanding value.I recommend (and link to) the most recent edition, which has the 1970 edition of Graham’s writing, plus a 2002 commentary by financial writer Jason Zweig. This swells the book to over 600 pages, but it is all useful. I will try to outline below a couple of Graham’s key points.

The most important point that Graham emphasizes is that because we cannot accurately predict the future, we must have an adequate margin of safety. That is, we do not buy a company when it is fairly valued, because there is no room for error. Rather, we buy a stock that is very undervalued; even if the business starts to do a little worse it will still be a great value.

There are two ways we can look at value in companies. We can look at value from the viewpoint of the present value of the future earnings of the company or we can look at the present value of the assets of the company.

Graham liked to buy companies that were trading below 2/3 of their net tangible asset value. You calculate net tangible assets by subtracting all the debts of a company from all ‘hard’ assets, such as cash, receivables, investments, property (while ignoring goodwill, patents, and other hard to value assets).

In buying a company trading at a fraction of its tangible asset value, we are in essence buying it for less than its assets; theoretically, we could close the company and sell off its assets and make a decent profit.

Graham was not usually looking to do this, but in buying a company like that, he knew that its price could not fall much further–if it did, someone would buy up a majority of the company and sell off its assets for a profit. This gave the investor a very small downside risk but a lot of chance for a large profit on the upside.

Companies selling for less than their assets are rare nowadays, although if we wait until the next bear market, we will be able to find some and profit from them. In the meantime, though, we will most often buy companies that are undervalued in terms of their earning potential.

Another important point that Graham made is that, for an intelligent investor, there should be no difference between ‘growth’ and ‘value’ investing. If a company is increasing its earnings at a rapid pace, then its present value will be higher than a company that is not growing.

Thus, a rational value investor will be willing to pay more for a fast-growing company than for a slow-growing company. The problem with most so-called ‘growth’ investors is that they are willing to pay so much for stellar growth that they are left with no margin of safety. During the internet stock bubble, companies such as Yahoo [[YHOO]] and [[AMZN]] sold at astronomical P/E ratios. If you had bought Yahoo in late 1999 and held until today, you would have lost over half your money. Buying Amazon would have netted you a small loss–better than Yahoo, but not good considering it has been 8 years since 1999.

Even today, with P/E ratios of 44 and 108, these companies are not cheap. Most likely holding them for the next few years will not be a great investment.

While a company with a high valuation may continue to grow impressively, if its growth starts to slow even a bit, the stock will get hammered. This is why we stay away from overvalued companies, no matter how good they are. There is just too much risk.

Well, in one page I cannot do Ben Graham justice. Buy his book. If you buy only one investment book, this should be it.

Disclosure: I am neither long nor short any of the stocks mentioned above. I own The Intelligent Investor. See my disclosure policy.