July 22, 2014 Comments

On Tuesday, the S&P 500 rose 0.5% and set a within the trading day record. It’s very close to 2000. In theory there is absolutely nothing special about 2000. In practice a bunch of traders will take that as either a buy or a sell signal and generally get all excited about it.

Toronto rose 0.4%.

Winners today included Canadian National Railway, up 2.0%, and Element Financial up 3.3%.

Activist investor Bill Ackman pretty much appeared to lose his marbles today with a tearful three hour presentation suggesting that Herbalife was a pyramid scheme. Well apparently it is a pyramid selling scheme. But there is nothing necessarily wrong with that.

I am not sure what to think about short sellers who loudly spread the word that a stock is over-valued. In some way this is no different than owning a stock and then telling everyone what a bargain it is. No one seems to have a problem with that. Probably both should be okay as long as the view being spread is a legitimately held view. It is wrong and should be illegal to try to push a stock up or down based on no valid reason and done just for the purpose of manipulating a stock.

In my own case I have always wanted to predict which stocks will rise or fall through analysis. I never wanted to cause a stock to rise or fall by pushing the price around such as by convincing others to buy or sell. Even if doing so was based on reasons I thought were correct, the whole idea of doing that does not seem entirely ethical to me. It just smacks of pump and dump.

Anyhow Ackman apparently has a great track record with CP Rail and other investments. But he is looking like a crackpot over Herbalife. I know he is involved with Valient / Allergan and to me, that is a negative as far as Valient goes.

Ackman may be perfectly correct that Herbalife products are basically snake oil with no redeeming features. But the same may be true of half the crap we buy. I am not sure that should be the concern of a stock analyst. Ackman contends that Herbal life basically sells an awful lot of its product to its own recruits rather than to external customers. If so, that can’t go on for ever. To a greater or lesser degree the same probably applies to Amway and Mary Kay and Avon. If so, so what? Most recruits will never make much money in these type of multi-level (pyramid if you will) marketing “schemes”. But I know a couple people who have done very well at it. Most kids will never make money at hockey either. But that does not mean we crush the dream of every eight year old hockey player and his parents. 100% of the people who never try will never succeed. A 0.001% or whatever chance is still a lot bigger than a zero % chance.

I have no idea if Herbalife is a good investment. But I am not sure anyone should take Ackman’s biased word on the amtter.

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