Whitney Tilson in his email discusses ERN Poker Tournament on July 20th; Similarities between Ironman Training & Investing; Roddy Boyd nails Insys Therapeutics; To Secure Loans, Chinese Women Supply Nude Photos; books he has read; financiers supporting Trump; his favorite t-shirt; Trump discussion. Lots of good stuff in here!

Whitney Tilson: ERN Poker Tournament

1) The 7th annual Take ‘Em to School Poker Tournament, which I’m co-chairing, is coming up next month on Wednesday, July 20th. It benefits Education Reform Now, a non-partisan, non-profit organization committed to ensuring that all children can access a high-quality public education regardless of race, gender, geography, or socioeconomic status.

It’s always a great night for players, spectators, and education reformers alike. The tournament will feature 250 poker players battling for prizes that in past years have included golf outings at exclusive clubs, a table at Rao’s for 8, and power lunches with top investors. For those attending as cocktail guests there will be a variety of casino games and entertainment. The event also features a full swing golf simulator, which will host Long Drive and Closest to the Pin contests.

The event always includes specials guests and in the past has featured poker stars Phil Hellmuth, Erik Seidel, Sam Abernathy, and Layne Flack; sports icons James Blake, Alex Kovalev, Apolo Ohno, John Starks, Charles Smith and Allan Houston; America’s Next Top Model contestant Jamie Rae; and award-winning actors Hank Azaria, Billy Crudup, Shannon Elizabeth and Seth Gilliam. Our special guest speaker will be Congressman Hakeem Jeffries.

The event always sells out, so reserve your seat/table today by replying to this email or going to: www.TakeEmToSchool.org. I hope to see you there!

Whitney Tilson, Event Chair

John Sabat, Event Chair

Michael Sabat, Event Chair

David Black

Andy Frankenberger

Jae Hong

Allan Houston

Shavar Jeffries

Marc Lasry

Jason Mudrick

John Petry

Charles Smith

Alex Spiro

John Starks

Kasey Thompson

Whitney Tilson

Whitney Tilson: Similarities between Ironman Training and Long-term Investing

2) My friend and fellow value investor, Chris Woolford, did a triathlon and shared this email with me about the “Similarities between Ironman Training and Long-term Investing”:

Similarities between Ironman Training and Long-term Investing

For the first 8 months of 2015, I had the privilege of training for, and completing, my first Ironman triathlon (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run).  Completing an Ironman had long been a life goal of mine.  For my race, I picked the inaugural Ironman Muskoka since I was familiar with the location and would have lots of family support.

As I reflect on my experience, I often find myself comparing my Ironman training to my career in investment management.  The similarities are striking.

  1. It’s a marathon (literally), not a sprint. 

If the pace is too hard (like trying to make money too fast), slow down.

  1. The prepared body (and mind) wins.

Be prepared and have a plan.  I had a detailed training program and race day strategy for each event.  For each investment idea it is important to have a rigorous underwriting process, timeline with key signposts, robust monitoring mechanisms, and a pre-mortem.

  1. Focus on process, not outcome.

The unhappiest people in an endurance event are those that try to get a time.  This is similar to investors who try to get a certain percentage return regardless of market conditions.  When I look back on my race, I think about the journey – – the early morning swims, the long solo rides, the runs with friends.  I thoroughly enjoyed the training process.  Similarly, strong investment performance ensues from good process.

  1. If you compete (invest) long enough, sh** will happen.

You will get injuries, blisters and cramps; face unknown course obstacles, gear malfunctions, and flat tires; encounter rain, high winds, and/or intense humidity, etc.  The same holds true in investing: the unexpected will happen.  Your favorite short will get bought, you’ll have bad years, and your most supportive investor will abandon you.  Remember to smile, cope as best as possible, and keep moving forward.

  1. Both pursuits are multi-disciplinary. 

This sounds obvious, but to the main triathlon events I added physical therapy, yoga, strength training, nutrition, and rest/recovery.  Similarly, investing is about more than analyzing stocks.  It is also about time management, creative thinking, emotional intelligence, knowing the other side, visualization, networking, scuttlebutt, and communication.

  1. Compound everything.

As I trained and became a better cyclist, I noticed that I became a stronger swimmer and runner as well.  Similarly, becoming a better short seller can help improve your ability to identify great companies to own, or value traps to avoid.

  1. Find a coach and join a team.

Before I started my Ironman training I hired a coach and joined a local triathlon club.  For my career I have mentors both within and outside of my firm.  The support, feedback, advice and camaraderie are invaluable.  “If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.”

Whitney Tilson: Roddy Boyd nails Insys Therapeutics

3) Kudos to Roddy Boyd, who’s nailed Insys:

Mr. Roper and a former sales representative, Fernando Serrano, were arrested on Thursday on federal anti-kickback charges, accused of paying thousands of dollars to doctors to participate in what federal prosecutors described as “sham” educational programs in exchange for prescribing millions of dollars worth of fentanyl. Criminal charges against drug company employees are unusual, legal experts said, underscoring the sordid nature of the case and its connection with fentanyl, which is frequently abused and can lead to deadly overdoses if inappropriately prescribed.

The federal indictment, which quotes Mr. Roper’s emails, does not mention Insys by name. But other details in the document — including when the drug was approved and its annual sales in 2015 — make it clear that Insys, based in Arizona, is the company in question. Insys has previously disclosed that it is under federal investigation for its sales and marketing practices. Last year, a nurse pleaded guilty to federal charges of accepting kickbacks from the company.

Federal prosecutors say that the case is particularly egregious because it involves inappropriate marketing of fentanyl, a drug that is 100 times more potent than morphine and abuse of which has been skyrocketing in the United States. Fentanyl is the drug that the musician Prince accidentally overdosed on, killing him, although it is not clear what form he took. Fentanyl is a generic drug and is sold in many forms. The version sold by Insys is for cancer patients.

“Fentanyl is an incredibly dangerous and highly addictive drug that is finding its way into, and destroying, too many lives in our communities,” Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan, said in a statement. “As alleged, Roper and Serrano helped feed this devastating surge of opioid addictions by tapping into another age-old addiction, greed.”

Here are all of Roddy’s articles about it:

Whitney Tilson: To Secure Loans, Chinese Women Supply Nude Photos

Just when I thought I’d read it all!

Women in China are sending naked photographs of themselves holding their ID cards to peer-to-peer lenders as collateral, Chinese state media have reported, in a trend that may involve thousands of people.

The phenomenon, which the Beijing Youth Daily said was taking place on a popular online peer-to-peer lender called Jiedaibao, is provoking alarm and sympathy on social media. It has also led to calls for women to protect themselves from predators who are reportedly blackmailing them with the nude photographs, sometimes demanding sexual services when the women cannot repay at interest rates that can be as high as 30 percent a week.

Whitney Tilson: Financiers supporting Trump

5) Interesting to see who’s supporting Trump (for my thoughts on this, see 7) and 8) below):

Donald J. Trump is holding a fund-raiser in New York City next week to be hosted by a who’s who of the financial world, including John A. Paulson, whose hedge fund made billions betting on the collapse of the housing market.

Joining him are Stephen A. Feinberg, the secretive financier and founder of Cerberus Capital Management, and Peter Kalikow, the politically connected real estate magnate. Neither man had publicly announced his support for the Republican presidential candidate and presumptive party nominee, until now.

The joint Republican National Committee and Trump fund-raiser will take place on Tuesday, at an undisclosed location in the city, according to an invitation seen by The New York Times. Tickets are going for $50,000 a person, though the hosts are paying $250,000 a couple. Additional details, the invitation said, will be disclosed when a reservation for a seat is made.

It is a sign that a small, but growing, crowd in the financial world is warming up to the idea of backing Mr. Trump. The financial industry represents a crucial group for the presidential candidate as he prepares to face off with Hillary Clinton, his well-financed political rival, before the general election in November. Mrs. Clinton’s donor network includes the former hedge fund star George Soros, who recently warned against the “siren song of the likes of Donald Trump.” She also has the backing of some well-known Wall Street executives.

Whitney Tilson: Book Recommendations

6) In case you’re looking for some summer reading ideas…

My cousin emailed me yesterday:

I wonder if you read mostly just for learning, or do you read for entertainment too? I think maybe I am reading too much entertaining stuff and need to focus more on pharmacy and health since there is so much information and new stuff all the time [she’s a pharmacist]. But I was wondering if you have read any biographies of people past or present that you really liked and learned from? Like any of the president biographies, Andrew Jackson?

Here was my reply:

I’d guess that 80% of my reading related to my work, but this is mostly emails, reports, investing website, newspaper and magazine articles, etc., not books.

But given that I read 12+ hours/day, the remaining 20% is still a lot of reading. I start by reading most of the NY Times and Wall St. Journal every day.

As for books, over the past two decades, with the rise of email and the internet, I’ve read fewer and fewer books (it’s a struggle just to keep up with the deluge of incoming emails!). But then a year ago I discovered Audible.com – i.e., listening to books, rather than reading them. Now, rather than listening to music (or nothing at all) when I’m exercising, riding around the city on my bike (only in one ear!) and in the car (rarely, as I don’t drive much), I listen to a book. Plus, I’ve trained myself to listen at high speed – generally at the maximum 3x. Thus, I can listen to most books (~12 hours at normal speed) in only four hours. As a result, I’ve gone from reading only a few books a year to one a week on average, which has changed my life (seriously!).

As for book recommendations, I have a ton.

Re. political leaders, I really loved Hamilton by Ron Chernow, Being Nixon by Evan Thomas, and I’m in the middle of The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Volume I by William Manchester (though it’s far too detailed (and long) for me).

I’m also in the middle of Shoe Dog by Phil Knight (the founder of Nike) and The Orphan Master’s Son (life in North Korea).

I’ve bought and downloaded but haven’t yet listened to Truman by David McCullough, His Excellency by Joseph Ellis (about George Washington), Never Give In (the speeches of Winston Churchill), and Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts.

Here’s a list of all of the rest of the books I’ve listened to (generally at 3x speed) in the past year (when I discovered Audible.com), grouped by topic and, under each topic, in rough order of favorites:

Business

Better thinking/rationality/self-improvement

Political/social

  • Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson (death penalty in Alabama)
  • Dark Money by Jane Meyer (how the Koch Brothers and their ilk have built their immense political power and how they’re using it)
  • Black Flags by Joby Warrick (the rise of ISIS)
  • The Divide by Matt Taibbi (the many ways in which the poor get screwed)
  • Missoula by Jon Krakauer (college rape)
  • Dreamland by Sam Quinones (the opioid epidemic)
  • Evicted by Matthew Desmond (the housing crisis among the poor)
  • The Teacher Wars by Dana Goldstein
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Other countries

History

Adventure/sports

  • A dozen books by/about Navy SEALs
  • Alone on the Wall by Alex Honnold (great climber)
  • Indentured by Joe Nocera (how corrupt the NCAA is and how it exploits its mostly black football and basketball players)
  • The Martian by Andy Weir (just watch the movie)
  • Born to Run by Christopher McDougall (a hidden tribe of ultramarthoners in Mexico)
  • Pedro (autobiography of pitcher Pedro Martinez)

Miscellaneous

  • Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
  • The Job by Steve Osborne (tales of a NYC police officer)

Phew! But if you break it down, it’s about one book a week, which I hope to sustain.


STOP READING HERE IF YOU’RE A TRUMP SUPPORTER AND DON’T WANT TO READ MY HIGHLY PARTISAN THOUGHTS ABOUT HIM.


Whitney Tilson: Favorite Trump T-Shirt

7) Last night I attended a fundraiser for Matt Dunne, a great guy who’s running for governor of Vermont – and of course I wore my new favorite Trump NOPE t-shirt! Here’s a picture of me with my friend Cami Anderson (former Newark school superintendent):

Whitney Tilson

I’ve been wearing it every day since I got it earlier this week — and every time I do, it’s a hit! I get tons of stares walking down the street (it takes a moment to figure out that it’s an anti-Trump shirt) and lots of people want to take pictures of it. (And notice how well it goes with a blazer and slacks!) It’s only $6.99 on Amazon and comes in 13 different colors; you can order one here.

Whitney Tilson: Trump discussion

Speaking of Trump (gosh, I hate writing that!), I’ve had some interesting email and Facebook discussions with friends/acquaintances about him. Here’s one: An acquaintance invited me to a breakfast in NYC next week with Trump himself to raise money for Trump Victory, a joint fundraising committee of his campaign and the Republican National Committee. Here is our exchange of emails (also posted here):

I wrote: I understand you fighting to maintain the Republican majorities in the House and Senate, but are you seriously still supporting Trump – even after what he’s said in the past two weeks? REALLY?!

I used to think he’s a narcissistic, dangerous madman, but now I also think he’s a monster. After what he’s said in the past two weeks about the judge and banning all Muslims, I think he’s the single most dangerous threat to the long-term future of our country because he tears (with enthusiasm!) at the very fabric of our nation.

You have an ethnic sounding last name, so if he’s elected, he’ll probably deport your ass! LOL! (If you don’t want to cry, I guess you gotta laugh.)

Best,

Whitney

——————-

He replied: Great to hear from you! Maybe I am trying to get deported!! Neither side is a demon! Going to be a rough fall.

——————-

I love the way you wade into fights, stick your neck out, take risks, and suffer slings and arrows for people/issues/causes you believe in — I’m the same way.

It’s the right way to live and make a difference in the world — especially if you’re in a position to do so, as we are.

But when the facts change and new information emerges, you gotta be willing to pivot.

I would argue to you that what Trump has said in the past two weeks should cause you to pull your support of him (but not of Republicans in other races) for three reasons:

1) He’s shown his true (and abhorrent) colors. A month or so ago, one could have argued that he was just playing a role during the primaries, pandering to the far right, angry whites, etc. to win the nomination, but then, having secured it, would cleverly pivot back to the center and position himself as a pragmatic, business-oriented guy and stop whipping up hatred toward just about everybody except white men. That argument is now in shreds. It’s now clear that he has no coherent ideas or policies — he is just about fomenting hatred, nothing more.

2) The risk that your personal reputation is materially and permanently harmed has gone up a lot because, while you obviously haven’t (yet) reached the conclusion that he’s a monster, that’s the emerging consensus view, so the reputational cost of tying yourself so closely to him has gone up materially.

3) It might be worth risking 1) and 2) if he had a good chance of winning. As one of his few supporters, you’d have great influence and could probably have your pick of a number of Cabinet positions. But his odds of winning (according to https://electionbettingodds.com) have plunged by a third, from 32% on May 24th to 20.2% today. In other words, there’s now an 80% chance that you’re going to go down with a sinking ship — and it likely won’t be pretty.

Best,

Whitney

I posted this exchange on Facebook, which has triggered some interesting discussion. One friend with a very important (and courageous) comment:

“Pivoting indeed. You can tell him that you know someone (me) who thinks the deal with Iran was the lowest moment in post-war US foreign policy and vowed never to vote for anyone who supported it. Who now is voting for the candidate that supported it over the one who opposes it — and views that as a non-negotiable imperative to save American democracy. And I’m far from the only one I know who takes that position.”

A discussion with a friend’s mom. She writes:

Love you dearly my friend….. But NOT your Politics……Hillary will ALTER the U.S. Landscape FOREVER Trump will either turn out to be good…… Or be Gone in 4 years…..Minimal Damage…. Just a little embarrassment

My reply:

I’ve been hearing that argument (“Gone in 4 years…Minimal damage…Just a little embarrassment”) from a few folks who are trying to rationalize voting for someone they know, deep down, is a monster (but, I guess, think Hillary is an even bigger monster?). This is some SERIOUSLY bad thinking. You’re OK with an obvious madman having his (stubby) fingers on the nuclear button for FOUR YEARS?! Shredding the Geneva Convention (torture, carpet bombing civilians, etc.), our Constitution (freedom of the press, etc.), the things that make America so powerful and unique (a great melting pot, the sense that we’re all Americans, in this together, regardless of our race or religion or where our parents were born) for FOUR YEARS?! That said, maybe I’m wrong and he’ll end up doing no more long-term damage than, say, Jesse Ventura did to Minnesota. But I’m sure not willing to roll the dice on that.

Her response:

One thing I cannot agree with you on now…… Trump is not a monster!!! No more than Hillary who left innocent civil servants to die…… Knowing full well that they were being attacked by Terrorists! So Stop calling him a Monster!! We are not calling Hillary a Monster. Neither of them may turn out to be good presidents..

My reply:

The things Trump has said, again and again, are monstrous and contrary to everything this nation stands for — hence he is a monster (and a madman). And I’m going to keep saying it, over and over, until he’s soundly defeated and relegated to the footnotes of history, like David Duke and Joe McCarthy before him.

In response to another guy, I wrote:

Tim, you are entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts. When you write “I’ve never heard him spew hatred of any race or ethnicity, although the liberal media loves to portray otherwise” and “I’d love to see the quote about women and abortions as I don’t believe it exists”, you are demonstrating shocking ignorance — like saying the moon is made of Swiss cheese or the sun rises in the west and sets in the east. These are not debate points, they are facts. If you want to say, “Yes, Trump has said these things, but I agree with him/think he’s right and/or I don’t believe he means it and/or even if he does, he’ll never be able to implement it and/or as much as I don’t like what he’s saying, I think Hillary is much worse, so I’m holding my nose and supporting him,” then fine. I will disagree with you, but at least I’ll understand where you’re coming from. But don’t argue that the moon is made of Swiss cheese.