Monday, February 18, 2008

A Slew of Stocks - Tech, Banks, Coal, and More.

Well, let's hope I don't, but last time I wrote about the prospects of a strong opening/daily performance, the market didn't perform positively.

However, once again, futures are up after a positive sessions in Europe (on Monday) and in Asia (on Tuesday).

I'm hoping for a couple pops on stocks I personally own; over the weekend, both Microsoft and Crocs received positive writeups in Barron's. (I own MSFT calls and CROX shares). Also, I'm long VIX puts and the VIX price has been falling as the market makes small (1%) positive moves. Also, in another post, someone reported that bank shares were up overseas; I'm hoping that bodes well for my CFC stock.

To substantiate this post with something other than personal investments most of you don't care about, I'll write about a bearish idea I have (and have executed in a paper account).

Coal stocks were sitting at 52-week highs before a downgrade by Goldman on Friday. On Wednesday, I discussed a potential trade in shorting coal with my father (who is a registered investment adviser). He discouraged the idea, so I didn't do anything immediately in any real-money account, but in my paper account at (more on that site later) I shorted both CNX (Consol Energy) and KOL (the new coal ETF).

My reasoning is thus: extraordinary circumstances have caused a temporary bubble in coal demand. Snowstorms in China and floods in Australia caused production to cease from many mines, and a combination of legitimate supply concerns and speculative fears drove the price of coal skyward.

There's one problem with coal getting this expensive this fast - there's so much of it in the ground. Unlike oil, which might have 50-100 years left, or natural gas, with a slightly longer timeframe, it's common knowledge that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of years of coal consumption left in the ground.

According to simple economic theory, what happens when the price of a good increases? Producer surplus increases, and producers become even more motivated to bring goods to market. As they record huge profits (as they may in the coming quarters), coal producers will surely ramp up production.

Then, when the snow melts, the waters retreat, and the coal dust settles, there will be more production capacity than there will be demand.

Big coal companies like CNX are trading at valuations of about 50-70x TTM earnings and 15x forward earnings (which take into account higher prices). But if prices fall (or even stabilize), these valuations will be unjustifiable. Look at big oil/gas companies - Exxon, Chevron, Conoco, Marathon, BP, and most others trade at multiples of less than 10.

So when the coal companies tanked Friday, I made nice 5% one-day returns on my newly-shorted shares. If only I would have done it with real money.

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