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The New House of Money - Chapter 2 - Jim Chanos

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The New House of Money - Chapter 2 - Jim Chanos
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  The New House of Money by Steven Drobny © Copyright 2014 Steven Drobny. All rights reserved. www.drobnycapital.com  225 Santa Monica Blvd, 10 th  floor Santa Monica, CA 90401 (310) 458-2003 contact@drobnycapital.com Chapter 2 The Biggest Short An interview with Jim Chanos By Steven Drobny I met Jim Chanos thanks to this book. He downloaded the first serialized chapter, an interview with Kyle Bass, on the day it was released. From there, I invited him to speak at one of my events, which he accepted. And he was brilliant. It is rare to find a manager who can blend a solid macro framework with granular expressions in individual names, long or short. Chanos has done it far more consistently on the short side than the long  –  which is even rarer. He then invited me to attend his Bears in Hibernation event which is a sort of annual “Short Sellers ’   Ball” during the winter in Miami. It was there that I saw him in his natural habitat, with   Definition of ‘Short Selling’   The sale of a security that is not owned by the seller, or that the seller has borrowed. Short selling is motivated by the belief that a security's price will decline, enabling it to be bought back at a lower price to make a profit. Short selling may be prompted by speculation, or by the desire to hedge the downside risk of a long position in the same security or a related one. Since the risk of loss on a short sale is theoretically infinite, short selling should only be used by experienced traders who are familiar with its risks. SOURCE: Investopedia  The New House of Money © Copyright 2014 Steven Drobny. All rights reserved. 2 www.drobnycapital.com  other short-sellers talking about stocks that have flawed business models, are overvalued, or are outright frauds. And it was there that I realized in a world of eclectic short-sellers, Chanos is quite simply King of the Shorts, a position he has held since the early 1980s. And now, after a roaring bull market from 2009 to 2014, fueled by quantitative easing and other unorthodox central bank policies, bears in general, and dedicated short sellers in particular, are becoming an endangered species. Yet Chanos has persevered. As Chanos himself likes to say, short sellers are often classified as guys in dark hats coming to rain on everyone else’s parade. But short sellers play an integral role in the efficient functioning of markets because they assist the price discovery process. This is especially so in the era of QE. Despite the tabloid image, Chanos is a gentleman and a scholar. He is the real deal; an investor who’s seen it all before and  who knows a lot about a lot of things. This is the definitive Jim Chanos interview, and it reads like a walk through the history of financial market blow-ups and frauds. I certainly learned a lot during this conversation, and hope that you will as well. And the timing couldn’t be better as volatility is inje cted back into markets. Now just might be time for bears and short sellers to shine once again. How did you become a short seller? I must have been dropped on my head at birth! Actually, I was fascinated with the stock market from the time I was a kid. My dad piqued my interest in it. During college at Yale University, I dabbled in the options market and stock market. Then I started out in investment banking in Chicago in 1980. How did you get to Chicago from Yale? After graduation, I took a job at Blyth, Eastman Dillon & Co., which was converting to Blyth Eastman, Paine Webber. Within a year-and-a-half, I knew I did not want to be in investment banking. I was fascinated by it but could not stand doing deal books and sitting in on presentations, advising McDonald’s whether to issue debt at 14 percent or 12.75 percent. The equity market was what interested me. The next year, I was offered a job as a generalist securities analyst at Gilford Securities, a Blyth spin-off founded by three of its partners. I jumped at the chance. The first stock I was asked to look at was a fast-growing company called Baldwin-United Corporation, formerly Baldwin Piano Company. It had morphed into financial services in the early 1980s and became quite the stock market darling. In fact, in 1982 it was Merrill Lynch’s favorite stock.  The New House of Money © Copyright 2014 Steven Drobny. All rights reserved. 3 www.drobnycapital.com  Merrill’s n umber one favorite stock? Yes. It had a charismatic CEO who had sold pianos door-to-door. If you can sell pianos door-to-door, you can probably sell anything. At the time, they were buying a company our clients had positions in, called Mortgage Guaranty Insurance Company, or MGIC, based in Milwaukee. It was the srcinal mortgage insurance company, run by a guy named Max H. Karl. It was clear to me and to the risk arbitrage community that Baldwin was using insurance company proceeds to fund acquisitions. That was unheard of then and, for the most part, still is today. They domiciled their insurance companies in Arkansas, whose regulations were, shall we say, behind the times. The Street began to think this was a deal too far and MGIC stock traded at a big discount to the bid. The deal actually ended up closing. They got approval to use insurance company money along with a lot of bank debt. The more I looked at Baldwin, the more I could not figure out how they were making money. At the time, in March 1982, there was a Financial World article by Rhonda Brammer, a great  journal ist who went on to write for Barron’s. Her article questioned Baldwin’s earnings. An odd quote from Baldwin’s CFO caught my eye, so I asked my boss if I could spend time figuring the company out, even though the deal was closing. He agreed and we put out a sell report on August 17, 1982. For stock market historians, that was the absolute bottom of the bear market that started in 1966. Depending on your perspective, it could also be considered the start of an 18-year bull market. My timing was impeccable. We made a reasonably well-documented case on why Baldwin was playing games with their numbers and was fundamentally overvalued, highly levered, and had regulatory issues. The stock went down a couple of points and then just about tripled almost immediately. That was my introduction to short selling. When Baldwin collapsed in late 1982, I was an analyst; I had no predisposition to be a short seller. But the firm’s hedge fund clients began asking what else we were looking at. That was when the light bulb went off  — I realized I could carve out a niche looking at institutional sell ideas.  The New House of Money © Copyright 2014 Steven Drobny. All rights reserved. 4 www.drobnycapital.com  When the stock tripled in your face, presumably Gilford clients lost a lot of money and you were a laughing stock? I was more than that. The New York partner threatened to fire me. But Bob Holmes, the Chicago partner, basically made my career in that moment. He vouched for my work, explaining that it was based on publicly available documents from the state of Arkansas. We examined letters from the consultant they had hired telling them they were insolvent and needed hundreds of millions of dollars more in their insurance companies. As the stock relentlessly went up in this great bull market, we had the smoking-gun documents. Bob not only stood behind me but supported a second, even more damning report we put out in early December 1982. Then, either on Christmas Eve or the day before, Bob Holmes called and said I was about to get the best Christmas present ever. He told me that Arkansas seized Baldwin’s insurance companies. Ultimately, it became the biggest financial bankruptcy in United States history until that time. It shook Wall Street. Merrill Lynch wrote off about $700 million dollars of the legal exposure they had for selling the annuities. It was my first glimpse of the inherent conflicts between investment banking and research because the firms that were selling the most annuities from Baldwin were
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