Blog: Blogs

Pershing Square's 2020

Bill Ackman's now managing $17b, after making 70% returns this year and 60% the year before, with his Pershing Square hedge fund. These two years, though, follow several years of losses. This shows, perhaps, how different investors with their own investing style perform differently in different market conditions.

In March, investors who are very risk-taking, of who foresaw somehow the certain quick recovery, would have performed the best. Going all in after the first week of the crisis in March would have shown the best results, particularly if you went into things like gold and mineral mining companies, vehicle companies like Ford, etc., which have all gone up hundreds of percent since then. Meanwhile, traditional investors like Warren Buffet performed really poorly in the crisis. Perhaps he didn't expect the Fed to do so much stimulus which many credit as doing almost all the lifting of the economy up until November or December when word of vaccine trial conclusions hit the press. But why didn't he? Doesn't he have access to this kind of information? Couldn't his giant investment company get basic forecast information and do the math?

Ackman didn't make his money on being wise after the pandemic, though. He made $2.6b off a single move. A low-downside-risk $26m hedge in the credit default swap index markets. Basically, he made a bet credit spreads, which were at an all time tightest levels ever, would widen going into what he saw to be a serious economic crisis. This would be caused when people would panic and sell and drive prices lower when pandemic news really hit. Notably, he did a voice call with CNBC where he sounded paniced and talked about how everything could go to zero.

His usual style is publicly pressuring management to make changes, an activist style, it is said. He made good returns off doing something like this with Canada's largest railway company a couple years ago, I think.

He's now one of the most talked-about investors of the year, along with Kathy Woods who's also had a good track record, I think largely because of her bet on Tesla a few years ago. I'd put money with him, going forward, I think only if I though he was going to do more highjinx like the panic-call short sell which made him so much.

Ackman interview on it at the end of 2020:


Anthropology in neighborhoods with Nextdoor app

It's an app that works kind of like Facebook, but for realworld community members to post about and to other members. The mods are often the first person in a given community to join, and they have undemocratic power to ban members. It's turned into a big of an issue since people's biases and fears are amplified and given power through the app. People reporting suspicious people on the streets, threatening other members to report them to their employers, etc., in addition to the benefits of posting if someone has fresh fruit to give away. There are a few other apps that are also becoming highly used that do similar things, and Facebook is looking at doing a Neighborhoods feature. Another example of why I doubt I would ever want to live in the future world, even a decade or two ahead. The third and second world where I live might last a little longer, maybe not. The next step is a deserted island, but with the new internet satellites that are planned to deliver service to the entire world, plus solar power so you don't need a power source, plus the ever-sharper eyes in the sky, even deserted islands won't be a refuge from the shitworld. Maybe the best locations will be the worst, like Haiti, where the culture is so violent and untrustworthy that they can never build anything, where although you might live a shitty life there at least it will be relatively and acceptably free. The app is currently privately valued at $2b, and might IPO soon a a $5b $6b valuation. Users are growing.

Every piece of technology that empowers causes problems because it empowers. People in general are not prepared to use power responsibly because they're too mentally limited and mostly don't have the energy or will to control their more destructive tendencies. That's why we see every tool that gives them power cause social problems more than benefits.

Another reason is that in the first world there is so little real problems to fix in terms of problems caused by people. Crime has been declining for decades. It's declined for the past 10 years also, although perception of crime has risen for 10 years, thanks I guess to social media and journalism. It has been declining despite the creation of new and senseless laws making more unharmful things crimes, and more tools empowering the State to impose its laws. Perhaps a large part is that people in the West have nothing to do, and are denied many of the things they could enjoy or pursue in their own lives, so try to nose into or cause problems or 'solve' other people. Part of that no doubt is simply the lazy, nosy nature of people, as we see it in tribes as much as in suburbs.

I sometimes think of something said by that British spy novel writer, who had himself been a low-level spy in the years after WWII, that more spy tools or more ability to collect information was useless, because it didn't find the important parts that were needed. What was required was a very skilled person to know what he needed to find, or the specific-ish things that were valuable, go in to a specific location and get those things, and then they could use them. When they instead had access to more and more spying and tools, it just created useless, unusable mass, to which their labor now had to turn to to work on and try to sort or make sense of, taking them away from doing something targeted and specific to reach valuable specific goals. This is the same thing we have at the public State level now, with their rationales of protecting people from terrorism and other super-rare crimes, as well as some made-up crimes. They collect all data on everyone all the time, and store it all in giant buildings. They completely do more wrong and harm than they possibly could to benefit. But they could never use this information responsibly because it's not targeted and sensibly and responsibly collected and employed. It's just mass. Again, part of it is there isn't much real crime for them to find. Even their main target, terrorism, they can't prevent often as long as the terrorists are the least bit savvy or even if their not. The same thing at the neighborhood level, where people don't have anything really of value to do in terms of watching their neighbors. Any real harm would be so rare. Instead they just create and make up problems so they can find them.

In the Napoleonic wars in Spain of those discounted some soldiers were killed, many more were wounded, and others were deserters. In the battles, they seized the moment they weren't under supervision of their superiors to go in groups of 10 or 15 or 20, all armed and all hungry, down the hill they were fighting on to the village at the bottom of the hill, and ask who the French supporter was, and find out who was the person in the village with the most money, and the French supporter they produced was the most rich person in town, and that's exactly who they killed and took his things.

Today in those same towns we have something just like this banditry, terrorism, whether it be Basques or IS. Who wouldn't join such a group if they thought it was the best way to take things they wanted and didn't see themselves getting otherwise? And at a larger, more convoluted level, communities can be fonts of the same guerrilismo.


US is blacklisting more Chinese companies

I don't invest in any Chinese companies, so I don't care much, but it's interesting that no one is really framing this in terms of the fact China and it's companies aren't doing anything new that is considered bad. Closer to the truth is that the US has been bad in allowing China to do these things, dating to Kissinger I guess.


Notes on Elixir, Phoenix, LiveView

Install on Windows or Mac, because it requires things that pertain to those systems. I put it on a Windows10. (It can be done on Linux, but the things you have to install seemed like they might compromise Linux security so may as well do it on a Windows machine. I could be wrong about this.)


Install the Elixir exe file from the website. (It also comes with something called Erlang, which you can do coding in with Elixir, but I don't know if anyone uses it.)


Then open Command Prompt and install the 'Phoenix app generator' (change the version number to most recent) with:

mix archive.install hex phx_new 1.5.7

It will prompt you to also install 'hex.'

At this point you can make new Phoenix projects with:

mix projectname

You will have created a folder in your 'User' folder which has whatever 'projectname' you gave it. You can also now cd to that folder in Command Prompt with 'cd projectname'

However, you want to use a code editor for auto-predicting code text, because Command Prompt doesn't do this. I put in Visual Studio, which is what YouTubers were using. Go to their site and install. It's about 700mb I think. When it opens I pick 'dark mode' since YouTubers use that.


Install Git on the computer from the page. You need it to install LiveView from the github repository.

Now, in Visual Studio, open the folder projectname. Go to mix.exs and add the dependency for Phoenix Liveview. To do this, under the phoenix, 1.5.7 line add:

{phoenix_live_view, github: "phoenixframework/phoenix_live_view"};

then go to Command Prompt, where you are still cd'd to your project folder, and type:

mix do, deps.get, compile

However, at this step it might not compile because Erlang 21 has an issue on Windows, so you would have to downgrade to Erlang 20.


Stocks seem to be in a trading range

After going up in November quite significantly. I had some positions then, and increased as we entered the range.

Being comfortably invested, about 90% or so, I have no stocks really to trade, and am trying to find someone to teach me Phoenix/Liveview to code a couple of apps as a way to never have to think about working again and fund some projects I'd actually like to do.