Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Consortium OP 2011: Alumni Are Welcome

Consortium alumni, you are invited, too.

The Consortium's annual Orientation Program is not merely a five-day celebration of the Consortium's first-year MBA students. Alumni are welcome and can get involved in various ways. If they attend, they take advantage of the program's varied offerings--from career-strategy sessions to leadership and development seminars. And of course, the always-popular career fair.

Granted, the OP (including the Consortium's 45th this year in Minneapolis) is intended to be a memorable, festive welcoming event for over 300 first-year MBA students. First-year students get a head start on business school; 17 top business schools get acquainted with students formerly known to them for their GMAT scores, glowing recommendations and pertinent work experience. Corporate sponsors, by the hundreds, get access to diverse talent and get an early start on recruiting for summer internships.

Alumni can join the festivities, too. Consortium MBA alumni often say they want an opportunity to relive the OP experience of  their first years. But  now as experienced professionals, they look for reasons to attend and for programs geared to their interests and spots on the long career path. More and more, the Consortium has responded.

This year's OP will include ample programming for alumni--whether they are first-year associates at Morgan Stanley or team vice presidents at New York Life, whether they are in transition or they seek guidance on how to get the coveted promotion.   Throughout the orientation, alumni will be able to reconnect with their schools, with classmates or with others with similar interests.  Several school meetings and sessions are planned. 

A few workshops tailored for alumni and experienced professionals are scheduled. Alumni may also want to attend other sessions--including career panels and or seminars on innovation, leadership and strategy.  Alumni will flock, too, to various networking receptions and dinners.

Most sessions are intended for first-year students, especially career panels, which provide an in-depth introduction to, for example, corporate finance, investment banking, investment management and energy.  Alumni, however, in the past have appeared at such panels, especially to catch up on industry trends, to provide their own candid viewpoints, or to give feedback and guidance to first-year students. Career panels also attract alumni in transition, who, say, might have experience in marketing, but are pursuing roles in finance sales & trading.

Alumni in the past and certainly those in 2011 treasure the widespread corporate presence at the OP.  First, sponsoring corporations help make the event possible. Second, corporate representatives, officials and recruiters are visible and active throughout the several days. Accessible and approachable, they are eager to start relationships and recruiting dialogue with students and alumni.

This year, as usual, several companies will sponsor corporate receptions. Year in and year out the Consortium's major sponsors, such companies as 3M, Bank of America, Kraft, Colgate-Palmolive, Mattel, Nestle', Pepsico and Walmart will host gatherings.

The culmination of the OP's vast networking experience is the career fair, often held in a large hall with hundreds of company representatives present and willing to discuss careers, opportunities and specific job openings at their respective organizations.  Alumni are welcome, and many in past years have flown in just for this event.

Alumni need not attend the OP just for job search, career switching or transition soul-searching. They may come to help and be involved. The Consortium this year is welcoming alumni who want to volunteer to help in the dozens of program events, receptions, and panels. They may assist in advising or encouraging first-year Consortium students, who brace for the overwhelming tasks ahead of them in business school.

As in the past two years, the Consortium Finance Network (CFN) will have an OP presence (along with other Consortium special-interest groups). CFN will be at the career fair, will invite finance students to join, and will distribute (electronically) its guide for MBA students interested in finance careers.  Alumni in finance can invite students to join CFN and help steer them toward summer-internship offers.

For Consortium alumni, the OP need not be a one-year wonder or a fond first-year memory. There is a spot or role or purpose for all MBAs in Minneapolis.

For more information about the OP's schedule and registration this year, see http://www.cgsm.org.

For MBA alumni interested in volunteering, contact D-Lori Newsome-Pitts at newsome-pittsd@cgsm.org.

Tracy Williams

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Another Financial Crisis?

In 2006 I wrote an article titled “Another Financial Crisis ?” illustrating the possibility of one in the US, and it happened 2 years later. Now I’m writing for the same title but this time the target is CHINA!

In my recent talk in KL, one participant from China came to me and told me that in China there are more real estate investors than stock investors. Indeed the Chinese investors have seen real estate as the best investment because of its spectacular yields in the recent years.

Due to the Chinese government’s capital control, investors must pay a price to invest overseas, which compels them to invest domestically. In addition, the bank deposits and bonds have low to negative real yields, coupled with volatility in the China stock market, many have turn to real estate instead. In fact, China’s increasing inflation rate has helped housing price bubble growing even larger. More and more millionaires and billionaires are created in China every year. Recently The China Daily reported that there are close to one million millionaires in China with a personal wealth of US$1.5 million or more. Of them, 60,000 are considered super rich with 100 million yuan or more. Hence, no doubt they have all the money to drive the property prices in China and the rest of the world!

On the other hand, can this rising property prices be sustainable? According to Time magazine, many gigantic malls in China are virtually empty. One such example is the Kangbashi in Mongolia which is dubbed as the “Ghost Town” with 95% vacancy rate!

Usually the real estate price bubble comes from the artificially made difference between the price and value of housing. Capital competitions bid up prices that in turn induce builders to build more housing. Eventually, prices differ excessively from values of housing and an apparent overproduction will exist. Overproduction of housing relative to the affordable demand forces prices to fall into line with values. The debt-sustained buying would cause precipitous fall in prices and the loan default would make the bubble burst.

If you like my articles, please click "like" at my facebook

Happy investing,
Pauline Yong

Investment Talk @ CIMB Penang

Hi,

My next investment talk will be in Penang, the details are as follows:

Venue: CIMB Level 24, Menara BHL, 51 Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah, 10050 Penang
Time: 10:30am - 12:30pm
Topic: The Basics of Stock Investing

Please bring along your calculators, thanks!

See you there!

Happy investing,
Pauline Yong

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Firm Culture: Could You Work Here?


Dalio of Bridgewater Associates
 Bridgewater Associates is a successful, $90 billion hedge fund, located along the Connecticut corridor where other successful, gargantuan hedge funds have a home base. Ray Dalio, a Harvard Business School graduate, is its founder and leader. The fund's investors include pension funds and university endowments.

Over 1,000 people are employed in a variety of roles.  It recruits those who are tough-skinned, highly motivated and interested in a long-term career at the fund. MBAs in finance would no doubt be attracted to an opportunity there.

Would you want to work there?

Would it be a place where you can find a niche, thrive and be successful? Would you be able to endure hardships and demands to perform well? Would you be able to stomach equity volatility, risks of losses, and virulent market turmoil? And would you be able to perform under pulsating pressure and high expectations?

Bridgewater is also known as a fund that operates based on a set of cult-like principles, written and often updated and revised by founder Dalio.  "The principles" had been rumored and talked about for a long time. Before they were public, former employees, managers and investors mentioned them. They told tales of employees (traders, analysts, and researchers) being subjected to tough, unrelenting, bruising criticism--as required by the principles.

Dalio, perhaps tired of speculation about whether the principles exist or not, eventually decided to post them (all 122 pages) on the firm's website for all to see. (See  BRIDGEWATER-PRINCIPLES) There they are, to be seen and studied by competing funds, prospective employees, and academic experts in business strategy and corporate organizations.

In the world of hedge-fund blogs and chatter, some say Bridgewater is not a culture, but a cult. Others say if the firm is successful (having attracted talent and experience and having survived the financial crisis), then it's not a cult, but an organization whose culture might be replicated by other funds, institutions and organizations. Others who have worked there speak (anonymously) of having had demoralizing experiences or or having endured debilitating asssessments of their work.

Dalio is unapologetic. "We maintain an environment of radical openness," the Bridgewater site states. "(That) honesty can be difficult and uncomfortable."  Sharp criticism and open discussion, he explains, help people improve, which helps the firm be consistently profitable. There is pain, but there is ultimate gain for all.

Are there, however, costs to such success and consistent performance?  Bridgewater, as a private fund, does not report results and doesn't have to (except to investors and, even then, occasionally and in the manner it chooses).  As a reputable hedge fund with billions under management, fund managers, traders, analysts, researchers, and new MBA recruits are well-compensated. Yet at what costs?

How would a Bridgewater culture differ from the vaunted, well-examined cultures of such firms as GE and Goldman Sachs? If it works at Bridgewater, can it work in other industries? For new MBAs, how important is culture in evaluating a prospective employer?

Some outsiders say employee retention is low at Bridgewater. It's not unusual for 30-40% of those hired to  leave within the first few years. Some ex-employees say the smothering criticism starts during interviews, where interviewers crush prospects with analyses of weaknesses and deficiencies.

Dalio contends it works and suggests that employees who understand and absorb the principles thrive and benefit in the long term.

Bridgewater's principles, as they appear for all to see and examine, aren't corporate-polished. They are bluntly presented. They are ruminations from Dalio--imperative statements based on experiences in the past and based on what has worked for him the past three decades. They boil down to understanding reality, not hiding from it, identifying mistakes, learning from them, and using them to get better. Identifying, exposing and calling out mistakes boldly, brashly, and purposefully. That's where it gets uncomfortable.

Bridgewater is susceptible to being called a cult, because the principles are presented as a one-way stream of thoughts from its founder. The principles never address the details of Bridgewater's fund business. They expound on goals, planning, and behavior. Nothing about capital, risk management and asset allocation; nothing about arbitrage, currencies, technicals, trading momentum and value-investing.

Some of its principles make sense--at least for this type of organization, a large hedge fund required to make trading and investment decisions in swift-moving markets. They may work for a fund, but not for a manufacturer, an industrial complex or a conglomerate.

The principles address decision-making--a critical element in hedge-fund trading and investing fund capital. What are the goals in making decisions? How should decisions be made? How can the fund ensure that people will make the best decisions on behalf of the fund?

The principles discuss goals. Reaching goals requires identifying and solving problems. And solving problems requires harsh, candid assessment of employees. "Once you identify your problems, you must not tolerate them," Dalio writes. Diagnose the problem, he says, and solve them--even if it requires upsetting employees. After goals and problem-solving, the principles address planning and execution.

Some of the principles are reasonable and well-rationalized.  For example, Dalio says managers should obsess in putting people in the right roles, increasing the probability they can succeed.  He says in evaluating employees, pay for the person and not the job; weigh an employees' values and abilities more than skills.

Dalio says, "In our culture, there’s nothing embarrassing about making mistakes and having weaknesses....At Bridgewater people have to value getting at truth so badly that they are willing to humiliate themselves to get it." Elsewhere, he says, "(E)valuate (employees) accurately, not kindly."

As an MBA in finance (with or without experience), could you work and thrive in this environment? Would potential compensation and experience offset possible personal humiliation?


He values communication, even excess communication to ensure everybody throughout the organization understands goals, issues, and corrective action. He values managers, employees, and colleagues maintaining healthy, tight relationships with each other, making it easier to evaluate the performance of each other.

In 122 pages, almost all aspects of management and organization behavior are covered--from performance metrics to firing employees (when they exhibit no potential to improve). Some topics are not addressed, possibly because Dalio has not gotten around to writing them down. He dismisses job-related stress, leaving it to employees to internalize egos or handle the frustration of being humbled by a jarring critique of a recently completed project.

The principles don't address the value and importance of diversity in organizations--except when Dalio explains the value of permitting all voices within an organization to speak up and share their views or criticism of others.

For the most part, the Bridgewater approach is "take it or leave it." But Dalio heartily believes you might be better off "taking it."

Would you be willing to do so?

Tracy Williams

Monday, April 11, 2011

Experts' Views on US Dollar and Gold

The US dollar ended 2010 about where it started; does it resume its downtrend in 2011, or are fears about its demise overblown?

Jim Rogers: No, but further down the road.

Bill Bonner: No opinion. But there is more risk in the dollar than potential reward.

John Williams: There remains high risk of a dollar selling panic unfolding in the year ahead, as the US economy tanks anew, as the Fed continuously expands its easing, and as dollar holders dump the US currency and dollar-denominated paper assets. Such would be a precursor to the inflation problem.

Steve Henningsen: Similar to my thoughts last year, I still believe the dollar is headed down long-term, but it could bounce around over the next year. If sovereign debts become a problem again, like I think they will later this year, then everyone will go running back to "Mother Dollar" once again for one last hug before she lies back down on her sickbed.

Frank Trotter: As the economy waffles and the global investing community's attention is drawn from one crisis to the next, I expect the US dollar to bounce up and down in the current range. After that, however, my analysis suggests that measured by the key factors of fiscal and monetary policy, combined with a significant trade deficit, the US does not look as good as our major trading partners, and I thus expect the dollar to decline, perhaps significantly, in the intermediate term. Big geopolitical events may accelerate this or create a flight to US dollar quality, so hold on to your hats.

Krassimir Petrov: I think the dollar resumes lower. I expect QE3 and QE4 - a dollar-printing fest that will eventually sink the dollar. Sure, all fiat currencies are in deep trouble and prone to overprinting, but the reserve status of the dollar actually makes it more vulnerable now. Whether the dollar sinks against other currencies is a fool's game not worth playing. It is like being in the hospital, where all patients are suffering from cancer, and trying to guess who will feel best at the end of next year, or trying to guess who will succumb first. That's why it is so much safer to play the dollar against gold.

What to watch in 2011: stay focused on the sovereign debt crisis and bond yields. Spiking yields will trigger the next stage of the crisis.

Gold has risen 10 years in a row, so some are calling it a bubble, yet it's roughly $1,000 below its inflation-adjusted high. What's your outlook for the metal in 2011?

Jim Rogers: It is hardly a "bubble" when very few own it still. Who knows? Overdue for a correction, but who knows?

Bill Bonner:
The smart money is in gold. It will stay in gold until the bull market that began 10 years ago finally reaches its peak. It is extremely unlikely that the top will come in 2011; it's probably years in the future. In the meantime, gold is bound to have a losing year or two. Don't worry about it. Buy gold. Be happy.

John Williams: As the US dollar increasingly is debased, and where gold tends to preserve the purchasing power of the dollars invested in it, the upside to gold in the year ahead is open-ended, restricted only by any limits to the massive downside potential for the US dollar. Any intermittent gold price volatility, extreme or otherwise, will be short-lived. There is no bubble - only increasing weakness in the US dollar - with the gold price fundamentally headed much higher in the years ahead.

Steve Henningsen: I believe gold will once again prove the bubble-boys wrong and end the year positive (I have no idea by how much and don't really care). However, I think this year will be more volatile and that Gold Bugs better remain seated on the precious metals express or they might get squished.

Frank Trotter: I still think that with price inflation on the rise and big political events occurring, there may be room to continue to rise. If stock markets take off, then there will be a reduction in appreciation or even a significant decline, but based on the factors I mentioned above, I don't see that as highly likely.

Krassimir Petrov:
Gold still has outstanding fundamentals. I believe that over the course of 2010, the fundamentals have strengthened significantly: (1) "No Exit [Strategy] for Ben" as he unleashed QE2, and will likely unleash QE3, QE4, etc., (2) no more central bank selling of gold, (3) more central banks become buyers of gold, and (4) trial balloons for a global gold-backed currency.

I have no idea how people could even claim that gold is in a bubble - barely 1 out of 100 people have any idea about investing in gold. During the real estate bubble, every second person was involved in it. Maria "Money Honey" Bartiromo has yet to report from the COMEX gold pits; gold fund managers and analysts have yet to obtain rock-star status; and glamorous models are not yet dating the gold guys. Who is the Henry Blodget [co-host of Tech Ticker] of the gold sector, do we have one yet?

Yes, gold will eventually become a bubble, but that feels 5-8 years away.

What's your best investment advice for 2011?

Jim Rogers: Buy the rmb [renminbi, the Chinese currency].

Bill Bonner: We are in a period much like the period following WWI, in which the great debts and losses of the war had to be reckoned with. It is an era of great risk. The US faces many of the same challenges faced by Germany and England after WWI. Like England, it has huge debts. It is a waning imperial power. And it has the world's reserve currency. And like Germany, it is attempting to fix its problems by printing more money. This is not a good time to be long either US stocks or US bonds.


John Williams:
As an economist, I look for the US dollar ultimately to lose virtually all of its current purchasing power. Accordingly, for those living in a US dollar-denominated world, it would make sense to move to preserve wealth and assets over the long-term. Physical gold is a primary hedge (as is silver). Holding some stronger currencies outside the US dollar, as well as having some assets outside the United States, also may make sense.

Steve Henningsen: Dramamine (for volatile markets), a stash of cash (for potential investment opportunities), and move some of your assets offshore if you haven't already.

Frank Trotter: My advice is first to look at the other side of your balance sheet - the liability and risk equation - before seeking out absolute gains. What are your goals, what resources do you already have to meet those goals, and what events (health, income stream, upheavals) might impact these risks? Place some assets to hedge these risks directly, then look to diversify globally into markets with higher growth potential than we see here at home, and that may balance your global purchasing power risk. Almost like a religion, we have had the phrase, "Stocks are the only legitimate hedge against inflation" beaten into our heads. I say, look at assets that define inflation like commodities and currencies and evaluate where these fit into your risk portfolio.


Krassimir Petrov:
Last year I recommended silver, and I would stick to silver again, despite its phenomenal run. Then it gets tricky. I usually don't recommend diversification, but now I would again recommend a broad portfolio of commodities. Investing during the rest of 2011 should be easy: stay out of real estate, out of bonds, out of fiat currencies, and out of stocks; stay fully invested in commodities, overweight gold and silver.

What Do The Experts Say!

Let's take a look at what some experts say about the economic outlook:

A lot of economists, including the government, believe the worst is behind us economically. Do you agree? If not, what should we be on the lookout for in 2011?

Jim Rogers: It is better for those getting all the government largesse, but the overall situation is worse. More currency turmoil. State and local problems, plus pension problems.

Bill Bonner:
None of the problems that caused the crises in Europe and America have been resolved. They have been delayed and expanded by more debt and more money printing and will lead to more and worse crises. Deleveraging takes time. 2011 will, most likely, be a transition year...not unlike 2010. But the risk is that one of these latent crises will become an active crisis.

John Williams: An intensifying economic downturn – what formally will be viewed as the second dip of a double-dip depression – already has started to unfold. The problem with the economy remains structural, where household income is not growing fast enough to beat inflation, and where debt expansion – encouraged for many years by the Fed as a way to get around the economic growth problems inherent from a lack of income growth – generally is not available, as a result of the systemic solvency crisis. Accordingly, individual consumers, who account for more than 70% GDP, do not have the ability, and increasingly lack the willingness, to fuel the needed growth in consumption on which the US economy is so dependent.

Steve Henningsen: The governments worldwide (I don't pay much attention to economists) want us to believe that the worst is behind us because the financial system is built upon the foundation of trust and confidence. Both of these were battered badly when it was shown that much of the world's prosperity over the past few decades was simply a mirage that, once dispersed, left behind only debt with no means of future production. Now they want us to believe that they fixed the problem via more debt.

What I will be watching for this year is sovereign and US municipal debt corpses floating to the surface sometime in the months ahead.

Frank Trotter: Right now I have a somewhat dark but not dismal outlook. I think that over 2011, we will continue to experience a Jimmy Carter- style malaise that combines continuing high unemployment, tentative business investment, rising prices, low housing numbers when looked at on an absolute basis, and creeping interest rates.

As a very large mortgage servicer, we are not seeing significant improvements in payment patterns that would indicate the worst is fully behind us, and with mortgage rates moving upward, we see less ability for current mortgage holders to refinance and reduce payments.

Krassimir Petrov: No, the worst is yet to come. No structural changes have been made, no problems have been fixed. Printing money, a.k.a. Quantitative Easing, is a quick fix that has postponed the problem, yet also made it a lot worse. I would say that we are still in the early stages of the crisis and have another 4-8 years to go.

Price inflation is creeping up, but the enormous amount of money printing hasn't really hit the system yet. Does that happen in 2011, further down the road, or not at all?

Jim Rogers: It is happening. The US and CNBC lie about it. Most other countries do not lie and acknowledge it is worsening.

Bill Bonner: Most likely, substantial consumer price inflation will not show up in 2011. The explosion of money printing is being contained by the bomb squad of deleveraging. That will probably continue in 2011. But not forever.

John Williams: The problems of the money creation will become increasingly obvious in exchange-rate weakness of the US dollar. Related upside pricing pressure already is being seen on dollar- denominated commodities such as oil. There is high risk of consumer prices rising rapidly before year-end 2011, setting the stage for a hyperinflation. The outside date for the onset of a US hyperinflation is 2014.

Steve Henningsen: My guess is further down the road, as the deleveraging cycle continues with deflationary-housing winds in our face and the banks still hoarding money like my 9-year-old daughter stockpiles American Girl doll paraphernalia. I still expect inflation to continue in areas such as energy, bread, circuses, and whatever else provides sustenance to the Romans – I mean people.

Frank Trotter: Most research has shown that over time the increase in money supply is not a short-term economic stimulus, but rather has a moderate effect in the 18- to 36-month range. In addition, this theory contends that a growth in the monetary base – which is what has happened so far – only increases economic activity when accompanied by a decent multiplier; this is not occurring. The real risk is that with rising rates and continued soft economy, the Fed will feel obliged to continue to QE3, QE4, and so on, all of which may have a significant inflationary impact.

I am more concerned about general price inflation here in the US and the potential it has to reduce global growth.

Krassimir Petrov: This is a tough one. I would have thought that price inflation would have been raging by now, but this is obviously not the case. I have the feeling that 2011 will be a repeat of early 2008, with commodity prices (CRB) making new all-time highs. A falling dollar will trigger a rush into commodities as a hedge against inflation. I am really tempted to make a totally outrageous forecast that oil could make a run for $200 as QE3 unleashes another dollar scare, or maybe even a dollar crisis.