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Use Your Imagination

Use Your Imagination

The main problem with most investors is that they have a very small imagination.

GE is a single digit midget. Who could have predicted that?

I have been speculating about the probability that GE could go bankrupt.

Bankrupt? A stock that was in the Dow for 100 years?

Yes, bankrupt. You can look at option prices and back out a probability of about 2-3% that GE will go down for the dirtnap.

There is a property in finance where good things tend to get better and bad things tend to get worse. Trend followers know this. Also, turnarounds are exceedingly rare. Everyone loves an underdog, but it is a terrible investment strategy.

Some readers of The 10th Man are probably holding onto GE, thinking that it is temporarily mispriced and will soon reclaim higher prices.

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Very unlikely.

GE has a lot of debt, and is furiously trying to sell assets, but it may not be able to move quickly enough.

A few weeks ago, we talked about portfolios and rebalancing, and we talked about people whose portfolios were dominated by one stock that had grown to the sky.

Well, the opposite can happen, too. One of your stocks can go to zero. If you have a portfolio of ten stocks, each at a 10% weight, and one of them goes to zero, it is going to be hard to have a good year.

So the idea is to sell before it gets to zero. But psychologically speaking, it is not so easy to sell a stock like GE at $8.

It is even harder to sell it at $2. But selling at $2 is preferable to watching it go to zero.

I’m not sure if there is a name for this phenomenon, where it gets harder to sell something on the way down. Endowment effect, maybe, but maybe not. Either way, we don’t need a name for it. Don’t fall into this trap.

Speaking of Which

Speaking of stocks that are in trouble, some people are starting to talk about AT&T.

Full disclosure: I own a small amount of AT&T, which I have held in a DRIP since I was literally 8 years old, in a UGMA account. A widows and orphans stock, and I was an orphan. It’s not much. Now I am thinking of launching it.

Anyway, AT&T has $181 billion in debt. It’s easily the most indebted company in the US (and possibly the world), adding lots of it with its recent misadventures into media and entertainment.

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The stock yields 6.5%, and I’m sure some people think that’s a great dividend yield.

Actually, that is not a great dividend yield. Usually when a stock yields over 6% (unless it is a REIT or a tobacco stock), it means trouble.

So this is how the story goes. There is a lot of corporate debt out there, and if the credit markets get funky, people will go after AT&T first.

I assure you that will happen.

My prediction is that AT&T will one day be in the same predicament as GE. That dividend yield is not so safe—they will have to cut it to make interest payments on the bonds. But that will not be enough, and asset sales are next. Hard to pay back $181 billion in debt.

Heaven forbid AT&T ever gets cut to junk. That will be a day to remember in bond market history.

As the title of this piece implies, use your freaking imagination. If I told you even a year ago that GE and AT&T could cease to exist, you would have said no waaaaaay. Way. Throw in Sears and some other old-line retailers, too.

It is an achievement for a company to last 100 years. It is hard to last much longer than that.

The Lesson

The lesson here isn’t to dive into your brokerage account and sell your own stocks. The lesson here is that you should exercise a little brainpower and long-term thinking.

I spend a lot of time telling people not to fool around with dumb stuff like bitcoin and pot. It’s also worth telling people not to screw around with stocks that are like an anvil on a glide path. People don’t sell these stocks because they are afraid that they’ll sell the low and the stocks will pop back up. They are trying to minimize regret.

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It’s probably not the low.

If we have a bear market and a recession, there will be more stories like this. Actually, the worst part about owning a stock that goes to zero is that it then goes to the Pink Sheets. At that point you won’t be able to trade it, and it just sits in your brokerage account and mocks you when you pull up the screen.

Then it really will be pointless to sell it, because you’ll get something like a dollar.

I like to make fun of trend followers, because they say things like “I buy the stocks that go up, and sell the stocks that go down.” Trend followers are simpletons. But there is a weird sort of wisdom in a statement like that. You really should sell the stocks that go down.

I’m a proponent of not staring at your portfolio on a daily basis, but I recommend checking in fairly regularly to make sure everything is okay.

If You’ve Gotten This Far…

…you know you shouldn’t fool around with bitcoin and pot, and that you should sell stocks that go down.

But what should you buy? That’s the question I answer regularly in Street Freak, which is now a more active, smarter, bolder trading service.

In Street Freak, we buy garbage. Yes, literally garbage—we buy stuff that nobody else wants right now, but that I’m confident will come back into favor (unlike GE). There’s a lot more to it than that, of course. Take a look.

One thing—there are only a couple of days left for you to get in at the lowest price Street Freak will ever be.

If you don’t want to miss out on that, but you’re not 100% sure Street Freak is for you, you can give it a try and get your money back if it’s not a good fit.

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If you’re interested in committing a small part of your portfolio to going after bigger returns (without resorting to stupid risk), check it out right here.

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We welcome your comments. Please comply with our Community Rules.

Nov. 15, 2018, 9:30 a.m.

Perhaps an even bigger issue than debt for GE is the increasing relative weight of retiree pensions and benefits. As the company sells off assets and shrinks, and retirees continue to live longer, the financial burden of these defined benefits grows. Bethlehem Steel would be an extreme example of this in years past. Now add in increasing cost of debt in a rising interest rate environment. I bought GE at $6 in market despair of March 2009 and sold it for $18 about a year later. This isn’t one of those times. Though the current price is starting to get interesting, investments in GE today would have to be viewed more like junk bonds than investments based on strategic advantage and fundamentals. In other words, high risk, high potential reward, assuming the dividend takes a long vacation and corporate leadership is able to adroitly maneuver.

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