Tag Archives: Invest

How the Mormon Church Made Millions on GameStop

There have been a lot of winners in GameStop’s dizzying, over tenfold rise in the last year. An unlikely one is the Mormon Church, which made over $8 million on GameStop shares through its investment arm:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ play for stock in GameStop paid off big-time as the Utah-based faith saw its shares in the video game retailer swell in value from $867,000 to $8.7 million in a matter of months.

Overall, the church’s largest investment fund, managed by Ensign Peak Advisors in Salt Lake City, grew by $2.4 billion in early 2021, continuing a dramatic rebound from pandemic-induced losses last spring and catapulting its total value to $46.5 billion.

More here.

Their timing was superb: Ensign bought 46,000 shares at the end of 2020, just before a short squeeze briefly pushed the stock to prices over $300. The church also scored huge gains on Tesla shares. Ensign Peak Advisors is wholly owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, making it perhaps the only church in the world with its own hedge fund.

The fund’s assets total over $100 billion, greater than the GDP of Ethiopia. The church has banked up over $6,000 for each member, a staggering rainy day fund. This money comes primarily from all members being required to donate 10% of their income to the church, a practice called tithing.

I’ve always found the Mormon church fascinating and have read several books about it. I was intrigued to find out they played a part in something as far removed from religion as the GameStop saga!

Dig into these posts for more on GameStop:

Photo: “Salt Lake City Temple” by SheldonPhotography is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

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Save Money on Stuff I Use:

Fundrise

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The New Black Wall Street: Young Black Investors are Piling Into Stocks

A new survey finds that young black Americans now invest in stocks at the same rate as whites:

In a year like no other, however, there is also evidence of growing engagement in the stock market by younger Black Americans, with 63 percent under the age of 40 now participating in the stock market, equal to their white counterparts. The closing of this gap among younger investors is being driven by new investors: three times as many Black investors as white investors (15% vs. 5%) report having invested in the market for the first time in 2020.

Stocks are a major vehicle for wealth creation, and black Americans have long been less involved in the stock market than whites:

A majority (61%) of non-Hispanic white households own some stock, compared with 31% of non-Hispanic black and 28% of Hispanic households. Median investments vary here as well: Among whites the median is about $51,000. By comparison, the median for black families is $12,000, and for Hispanic families it is just under $11,000.

Behind this growth is a huge increase in the use of stock trading apps like Robinhood and Webull. Downloads in the last year are up 157% and 371% respectively. For all their faults in enabling speculation, these apps also seem to be opening up opportunity. The minimum investment in Vanguard’s S&P 500 index fund is $3,000, for example. This is far out of reach for many young people, particularly minorities. Meanwhile, Robinhood allows users to buy fractions of a share of stock for as little as $1. Webull has no minimum at all.

I’m happy to see more people get an opportunity to be a part of this amazing capitalist wealth creation system of ours. More people benefiting from our system helps preserve it. And more people getting rich makes me smile.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Dig into these posts for more on markets:

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Photo: Black Wall Street Durham, NC

To Replace Gold, Bitcoin Needs a Massive Increase in Transaction Capacity

Bitcoin is often referred to as “digital gold.” A major attraction of the cryptocurrency is its fixed supply and lack of connection to fiat money like the US dollar. But unlike gold, bitcoin has no storage costs and is hard to steal. Given these facts, bitcoin could be poised to replace gold as a store of value and inflation hedge.

But it faces one huge hurdle in doing so: the bitcoin system can only process seven transactions per second:

As a piece of global financial infrastructure, the Bitcoin network is hobbled by severely limited capacity. The worldwide network of miners can process a maximum of only seven transactions a second, and today the rate is running at around five, according to de Vries’s estimates. In comparison, Visa can process up to 65,000 payments per second. Hence, any spike in the volume of payments or transfers causes a backlog.

De Vries adds that Bitcoin performs poorly at the checkout counter. If you were to buy $100 in groceries using Bitcoin, it may take an hour to receive adequate confirmation.

Not only does this make bitcoin unsuited to processing daily transactions like grocery trips, it may even limit its use as a store of value. There are currently $22 billion in bitcoin transactions per day, and transactions already take a long time to settle.

Gold does $146 billion in transactions daily. To match that, bitcoin would have to increase its transaction throughput approximately five fold (if the current $22 billion in transactions represents 5/7ths of possible volume). Is that feasible when trades already settle so slowly?

And what if bitcoin becomes a lot more widely held? It’s very difficult to determine the number of bitcoin holders, but some estimates put the number at around 100 million people out of a world population of over 7 billion. That’s a ton of new potential bitcoin buyers, but the currency is likely to struggle to accomodate them given its low transaction bandwidth.

In all, this rapidly growing currency faces some significant barriers to wide adoption as a store of value like gold. I’m curious to see what workarounds blockchain developers come up with to meet these challenges.

Dig into these posts for more on bitcoin:

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Photo: “Bitcoin, bitcoin coin, physical bitcoin, bitcoin photo” by antanacoins is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Short Sellers Have Abandoned the Stock Market

Short sellers have abandoned the stock market after massive losses in GameStop shares, among others:

According to data from Goldman Sachs, median short interest as a percentage of float across the S&P 500 has fallen to 1.6%, near the lowest reading since 2004.

More here (see the April 19 post.)

But that’s not all. As downward pressure on stocks from short sellers has all but disappeared, upward pressure via margin buying is exploding. Margin buying lets traders borrow money to buy more stock than they could otherwise afford. All those buy orders push up prices:

While the bears head for the hills, the bulls double down. Data from FINRA released today (thank you, Kevin Duffy) show that margin debt among member firms reached a record $822.5 billion in March. That’s up 35% from the average for March across 2018 and 2019 and 82% above last year’s virus-influenced figure.

These are worrying signs for stocks. True believers mortgaging themselves to the hilt along with a lack of skeptics looks like an excessively frothy market to me. I cut back my allocation to stocks several weeks ago, buying beaten-down Treasury securities instead. Especially if your portfolio is out of balance, with stocks accounting for a share that’s above your target due to recent gains, it may be time to take some profits.

Especially if your portfolio is out of balance, with stocks accounting for a share that’s above your target due to recent gains, it may be time to take some profits.

For more on the stock market, check out these posts:

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Photo: “Tumbleweed” by jezarnold is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

This Is How Startups Pitch Investors

You walk into the room, palms sweating. You go over your script in your head. You pray to God your computer doesn’t crash. Eyeing you skeptically are a bunch of grey haired money guys. Don’t screw this up.

At the very least, that may be how the public imagines the meetings where startups pitch investors. The reality isn’t quite so dramatic, especially now that virtually all meetings are conducted via Zoom. I just got off such a meeting myself with a Software as a Service (Saas) company that was looking to raise about half a million in funding. While I can’t discuss the specifics of the company, here’s an overview of what these meetings are like:

1) Intro: The founders describe what the company does, what the market is like, and how the company has grown so far.

2) Deck: The founders go through a slide deck (PowerPoint presentation) that provides further details on what their product does, what makes it different from its competitors products and the size and growth of the market.

3) Demo: This is when the founders actually show you the product in action. I found this part the most interesting. I remember doing software demos myself when I worked in the field, and invariably, something seems to go wrong that worked in rehearsal 1,000 times. But investors understand that, especially if you can get it working in a few minutes.

4) Q&A: The other investors on the call asked a lot about the competition. How is this company different from others in its area? What stops larger companies from shoving their way into the market, elbowing you aside?

I was immediately struck by what a small room one of the founders was in during the call. His chair appeared to nearly touch the door behind him. This brought a smile to my face: they’re not using investor money to pay themselves exorbitant salaries before the company is a clear success.

The other co-founder mentioned getting a refund of $30 from a vendor that accidentally overcharged them. I don’t think he was trying to make any particular point with this story…it was an incidental detail to a larger narrative. But it made a strong impression on me: these are frugal founders that will be good stewards of the capital they’re raising.

I can’t say for sure, but I think this company has strong odds of being funded by our investor group. The round is led by other investors and they’ll already be getting a substantial sum from them, in any event.

The competence and frugality of the founders, coupled with year-on-year growth in the hundreds of percent, is likely to convince a large number of investors.

For more on startups, check out these posts:

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Photo: “Rich Uncle Pennybags” by Sean Davis is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

How to Lose $8 Billion in 10 Days

Archegos Capital Management, run by Bill Hwang, is imploding, racking up losses at a record pace:

Mr. Hwang alone lost approximately $8 billion in 10 days, a person familiar with the matter said, in what traders and investors say was one of the fastest losses of such a large sum they had ever seen.

Archegos borrowed massive sums of money to invest it in just a few stocks. Like addicts that get 10 oxycontin prescriptions from 10 different doctors, Hwang never revealed how deep in debt he was to the banks he dealt with:

Archegos was regularly putting up $15 of collateral to borrow $85, on the high end of leverage for stock-trading firms with similar strategies, said a banking executive familiar with the borrowing.

Archegos’s lenders say they were unaware of the extent of trades he was making with other banks, information that would have encouraged them to curb their lending.

The fact that Archegos used swaps, rather than owning shares directly, further obscured his activities. In the “contract for difference” swaps he used, the bank owns the shares while Hwang’s firm pays for the losses or receives the gains on the stock.

This is important because investors have to disclose to the SEC when they own over 5% of a company. Hwang would have had to make several such disclosures. But because he used swaps instead, none of that information was public, making it harder for banks to find out how heavily leveraged he was. This may have been by design.

A further odd wrinkle is that Hwang, the son of a pastor, suffused Archegos with religious fervor:

Mr. Hwang returned clients’ money in 2012 and turned his firm into an office to manage his family’s wealth. He named it Archegos, which, translated from Greek means “leader” or “prince of Christ.” A Christian ethos permeated the firm, with voluntary Friday morning Bible studies where a recording of Bible readings would play to music.

He tended to view gains as signs of God’s favor:

“Do I think God loves it? Of course!” Mr. Hwang said in a video, referring to his early investment in LinkedIn. “I’m like a little child looking for, what can I do today, where can I invest, to please our God?”

If Hwang had a religious certainty about his positions, he’d be all the more likely to hold them even as he lost money, expecting to be vindicated.

It strikes me how incredibly simple this one-time billionaire investor’s strategy was. Borrow a bunch of money and invest it in a few well-known stocks like Viacom. Anyone could do that if they had access to capital. There was no special sauce, and now Hwang is paying the price for his recklessness.

For more on Archegos and financial markets, check out these posts:

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Photo: “Gamble” by jetglo is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0