Eddie Lampert

The Failure Of Sears, FJ Benjamin & The Future Of Retail

If one were to step foot into a Sears store today, one might find a truly sad state of affairs for the retailer, run by once former high flyer and billionaire, Eddie Lampert of ESL Investments.  Empty carparks, chaotic arrangement of goods that are in no demand and a sparse density of people will greet you as you walk in. And we wonder what the heck is going on? Afterall, this wunderkid, Eddie Lampert, used to have the midas touch. Whatever he touched used to turn to gold. Not so anymore!  And a company  spokesperson mentions that they are still in the midst of turning operations around. Is that a joke and who are they kidding? This is the chart of Sears Holdings from the year 2004. And it isn't a pretty picture for shareholders. The share price has been languishing from 2007. To find out what had been happening to Sears, let us examine some of the numbers reported by the company. Now revenues are the lifeblood of a retailer. Falling revenues mean serious trouble. This of course can be attributed in part to the  closure of retail outlets. And partly, Sears no longer carries the kind of products that its customers value. This has been exacerbated by the fact that retail is dying, largely due to the effects of ecommerce. I think Eddie didn't see that coming ten years ago. More on the effects on ecommerce later. (more…)

Issues On Debt

Oil Prices Are Recovering, Upstream Operators Are Still In Agony But Pockets Of Opportunity Avail

The 2008 economic crisis brought the world to its knees. Some 6 to 8 years later, another crisis of sorts in our midst - an unprecedented fall in the price of oil to drastically low levels of around $20. On the surface of it, not much going on there. Looking deeper though, we see a loss of amounting to close to a trillion dollars. Don't take our word for it though! "Global upstream capital spend from 2015 out to 2020 has been reduced by 22% or US$740 billion. When we include cuts to conventional exploration investment, the figure increases to just over US$1 trillion. The impact of the drop in oil prices on global upstream development spend has been enormous. Companies have responded to the fall by deferring or cancelling projects. " `Wood Mackenzie (more…)

Issues On Debt

Swiber Holdings : Case Study Of A Failure

The whole fiasco surrounding Swiber reminds of a slow contrast effect, not visible to human perception. People, investors, bankers, creditors do not notice extremely slow changes taking place until *wham* - A slap in the face takes place. This was pretty much what happened to Swiber Holdings.  That slap in the face happened to be an inability to pay off its bondholders in terms of coupon payment and eventual redemption. And on hindsight, I am glad to say that we were just bystanders on the sidelines looking on with compassion for the many investors and bondholders who got burnt as a result. This reminds me of the frog in boiling water syndrome. If one were to put a live frog in boiling water, it feels the pain and danger to itself immediately and leaps out of the boiling water. But if one were to put a live frog into a pot of water and begin boiling it, the frog would just go along with what was happening, not noticing the small changes that are taking place to its surroundings. Eventually, the frog is boiled alive and dies. This is a great metaphor of explaining our inability to adjust and be aware of changes occurring in our world today. That awareness, incidentally, is what we need as investors. (more…)

Case Study

AEI Corporation : Attractive Risk And Reward


AEI Corporation is not new to me. In fact, since my days in university, this did pop up on the screen then. And that was more than a decade back. Incorporated since 1983, the company's operations include the import and export of aluminium products used within the electronics industry and also in the buildings and infrastructure segment. As you can guess, it should be considered a cyclical, moving and ebbing with the flow of economic activity. However an operational history of more than 30 years tells an inferential story of management doing an at least okay job at keeping the business alive through 1997 crisis, the dotcom bubble and the subprime crisis of 2008.  

The price to book value currently stands at a paltry 0.35 at the time of this writing. Since then, it has moved lower to 0.27.  This is not going to be an in depth analysis. Neither is it going to be a recommendation to buy or  sell. I suppose what I am trying to drive at is that bargains are beginning to appear and this could be a possible bargain since the advent of the decline in oil prices. The market is always forward looking and of course, not to mention a manic depressive, which should work to the smart investor's advantage. That being said of course, it is up to investor to recognize opportunities around them.  The recognition of potential opportunities, putting them on watchlist, studying them and waiting for the right entry price which represents a margin of safety is what all investors ought to do. But many don't.