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George Putnam, one of the country's leading turnaround and distressed investing professionals, shares his timely insight on the economy and turnaround investing opportunities.

Money Manager Stocks / Mutual Funds

Where Are the Customers' Yachts?

March 19, 2012

This headline could easily apply to Goldman Sachs today, as recently described by former employee Greg Smith. Actually, it is the title of a book written in 1940 by a former Wall Street employee named Fred Schwed, Jr. The title refers to a story about person admiring the yachts owned by bankers and brokers who asks where the customers' yachts were. Of course, the customers, who had dutifully followed the advice of the bankers and brokers, couldn’t afford yachts.

This just goes to show that there is nothing new about the attitude that Goldman Sachs employees were purported (probably accurately) to have about their clients. It was just as true in 1940--and likely has been forever--as it is now.

The point is that stockbrokers, investment bankers, financial planners and the like are in business to make money. And that money can only come from one place: the customers. There is nothing wrong with this.  In fact, it is the one of the basic tenets of capitalism. But it is crucial for investors to remember this and to ask “Why is this person trying to persuade me to make this investment?”

In many--hopefully most--cases, it is because the person promoting the investment really believes it is a good investment for you. But in most cases it is also because the person makes money by selling you the investment. It is up to you to understand the investment so that you can judge whether it is truly right for you.

We don’t mean to disparage all brokers, planners or bankers. There are many terrific ones out there who can help you make lots of money. Just keep in mind the old Latin motto “Caveat Emptor” (“buyer beware”). It’s okay for your broker to make money. Just make sure that you do, too.

(Anyone who thinks we are being too cynical should read Michael Lewis’ very amusing first book, Liars Poker, about his initial job as a junior investment banker. You’ll never listen to an investment pitch quite the same way again.)

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2015 Bankruptcy Recap: 46% Increase Fueled by Oil & Gas/Mining Industry--Further Uptick Predicted

Looking back at 2015, research reveals a 14% decline in overall business bankruptcies but a 46% uptick in public company Chapter 11 filings—with a striking 51% of those filings coming from the battered Oil & Gas/Mining sectors. Economic indicators point to further increases in corporate bankruptcy, in general, and Energy-related filings, in particular. Just a few days into 2016, this viewpoint has already been validated by Arch Coal's long-awaited $8 billion Chapter 11 filing—and continuing oil price plummets severe enough that OPEC will likely convene an emergency meeting to address "shattered" economies. Read More.

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Spotlight: Junk Bond Market

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MarketWatch's Mark Hulbert recently tapped George's distressed investing expertise to determine the fate of the junk-bond market and what its nearly three-year decline likely means for your portfolio.

 

Hulbert writes, "What’s really going on? For insight, I turned to George Putnam, an expert in distressed-company investing. His Turnaround Letter advisory service has handily beaten the stock market over the past 15 years, according to the Hulbert Financial Digest’s tracking, by an impressive margin of 7.3 percentage points a year on an annualized basis."

 

Commenting on the rapid growth of high-yield exchange traded funds (ETF's), Putnam notes, "They have become the investment vehicle of choice for short-term investors….Those investors tend to be trend followers and, therefore, are just the opposite of being contrarian."

 

Read the full MarketWatch junk-bond article to find out what George thinks these recent indicators likely mean for future distressed investing profit.