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Old vs New Warren Buffett: Silly Season

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The 10th Man: Old vs New Warren Buffett: Silly Season by Jared Dillian

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It’s getting weird out there.

I’ve been doing this long enough to see things get silly a couple of times.

  • Tech stocks
  • Housing
  • Now commodities

Both on the way up and the way down.

The markets always give you opportunities at the extremes. Problem is, nobody has either the liquidity or the… uh, cojones?... to take advantage of them.

Let’s explore this in further detail.


I am a big detractor of Warren Buffett, but not old Warren Buffett—new Warren Buffett.

The old Warren Buffett did some pretty cool stuff. Several times throughout his career, he has been the buyer of last resort. Most recently when he got those bank preferreds at ridiculous yields.

Guess what: You can’t be the buyer of last resort unless you have… drum roll…


To all readers of The 10th Man: Who here has cash? When I say cash, I mean cash as a significant percentage of your portfolio. 20 to 30% at least.

Having cash is so important.

Now, when tech stocks crashed, I had the cash, but I didn’t have the cojones.

When housing crashed, I didn’t have the cash.

Finally, in the middle of the commodity crash, I have cash. And I am deploying it in regular intervals (find out how in my monthly newsletter, Street Freak).

I see no point in ever being fully invested. It severely limits your options.

In the old days, mutual fund managers had the flexibility to raise cash in downturns. Now they really don’t. There is a lot of pressure for them to remain fully invested.

But you have the ability to carry around cash. That means you may underperform in a bull market, but it also means you will be able to take advantage of opportunities in a bear market.

Problem is, if you find yourself short on cash at this moment, it’s probably too late to raise it.

Time Takes Time

Here is the thing nearly everybody forgets about markets:

Trends take a lot longer to play out than you think.

For example, people started saying that tech stocks were overvalued as early as 1996.

They went up for four more years. That was the ultimate pain trade.

The way down was even worse. The Nasdaq 100 Index (NDX) was down 50% in a year. But the bear market still had two more years to go.

When I talk to people about this commodity crash, I tell them that the closest parallel is actually July 2002. Tech stocks went down day after day after day and got to absurd levels. Go back and see where you could have bought AMZN, or MSFT, or EBAY.

If you had the cash.

People started shorting banks and homebuilders as early as 2005. Most of the people I was running around with back then knew there was a bubble.

The top was two years later.  Two years of pain.

The bottom was two years after that.

Commodities have been going down for five years now. Long enough?

If you find yourself on the wrong side of the trade, cut your losses—it could have years to run.

If yourself on the right side of the trade… it could have years to run.

The Bearish Argument

This is actually a Jared Dillian quote; I did not steal this from anybody:

“The bearish argument is always most compelling on the lows.”

Stated another way, the bearish argument sounds the smartest.

The commodity bears sound pretty smart. They are right! Great.

When the turn happens, they will be wrong.

In other words, there is zero probability they will suddenly just have a change of heart and get bullish on commodities right on the lows.

So it is hard to use these folks as a coincident indicator. But when the volume of these arguments picks up, it’s time to pay attention.

I could find half a dozen people to argue with me why commodities should be even lower. Or zero, or negative. It would be a compelling argument. Because the bearish argument is most compelling at the lows.

At the lows, the bullish argument is totally nonsensical.  But often right.

This is a Market Wizards sort of discussion. What makes a great investor?

One more Jared Dillian quote:

“You have to be willing to be wrong and alone.”

Jared Dillian

If you enjoyed Jared's article, you can sign up for The 10th Man, a free weekly letter, at mauldineconomics.com. Follow Jared on Twitter @dailydirtnap

The article The 10th Man: Silly Season was originally published at mauldineconomics.com.

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Old vs New Warren Buffett: Silly Season

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