Wednesday, May 27, 2009

FSLR Downgrade; Falls; Is Still Overvalued

Originally published at The No Buy List:

Barrons wrote about First Solar's weaknesses and competitive threats this weekend (Reuters coverage of Barron's commentary here), and an analyst, FBR Capital Markets, followed up Barron's with a downgrade on Tuesday morning.

The FBR analyst, who slapped an "underperform" rating on FSLR, mused that "recent checks indicate at least one of First Solar's top customers has already switched from First Solar to a silicon-based module vendor for a project that is currently under construction."

The Yahoo! article covering the analyst downgrade elaborated. "Hosseini noted that FBR's meeting with the KfW Bank Group, a Frankfurt-based development bank that lends especially to economic, social and ecological projects internationally, revealed that its year-to-date photovoltaic project backlog has shifted dramatically toward silicon-based modules compared with its 2008 thin-film-focused mix."

I have previously drawn similar conclusions on this blog and on Student Stocks. First Solar is a company that is ALREADY overvalued even before considering the significant, growing competition that they face from both silicon-panel makers and thin-film outfits. Though the share price unfortunately increased after my last article, I made (real) money in the past shorting FSLR from $280 to $140. Though shares have fallen $20 (10%) since the Barrons and FBR pieces, shares still should have plenty of downside room. I tried to short FSLR a few weeks ago (shares were at levels similar to today's price) but none were available.

I continue to dislike FSLR shares at this price, in this environment. I'd never go long, and I will be considering initiating a short position.

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Final Kindle Thoughts: Good Device, Way Overpriced

I have enjoyed writing about the Kindle and on multiple occasions over the past few weeks, so I decided that I'd try to bring everything together in one last post on this topic.

Both the Kindle 2 and the Kindle DX are attractive devices that perform niche functions spectacularly. If you're into reading books, both devices can make that hobby better. The Kindles have the ability to carry an entire library of books everywhere, and the ability to add to that library instantaneously from anywhere courtesy of a Spring-powered network. The e-ink in the reader is easy on the eyes, allowing for extended reading without the eyestrain that often comes from extended reading of an LCD screen.

One of the best aspects of the Kindle (which often goes unreported) are the thousands of free titles available for it. Virtually every book that is off-copyright can be read for free on the Kindle (as on any other e-book reader). A Kindle user can read all of Shakespeare, Mark Twain, and more without spending a cent on the literature itself. The content is often available for free in the Kindle store (which means easy wireless downloads anywhere) or can be found in PDF format, which the Kindle can also utilize.

That function, coupled with a price decrease could be the feature that expands the Kindle's market appeal. The current price of $359 is still prohibitively expensive, as the $5 bills saved on Huck Finn or The Merchant of Venice take way too long to add up. But if Amazon was able to offer Kindles to schools for a price closer to $100, the savings would add up and schools may be motivated to integrate the Kindle into textbook curriculum.

So my reoccurring analysis is that the Kindle is a solid device that prices itself out of practicality. The bookiest of bookworms may be able to see some savings and yuppies may buy the device for the "cool" factor, but it is not yet practical to substitute the Kindle for paper books. But more and more e-readers are entering the market, which should force Amazon to price its reader more competitively in the future. I don't doubt that there will be a day when many 7th-graders read Uncle Tom's Cabin on an electronic reading device. But today is not that day.

And the same overpriced thesis can be applied to Amazon shares. Amazon is a great company that has allowed me to make money (via selling on the website, not by owning the stock). As eBay continues to slide towards irrelevancy, Amazon will become even more dominant in e-retail. But shares are ahead of themselves, and the potential for medium-term price appreciation from this point seems minimal.

Lastly, I feel compelled to acknowledge that my affiliate promotion of has surprisingly generated some decent results. I have sold two Kindles and a few other miscellaneous items via my promotion links (like the one at the bottom of this post), which have generated almost enough money for me to pay for one half of one accounting textbook. So thank you for reading this blog, and I humbly ask that if you ever make any purchases from, please start those purchases by clicking the link below.

On a final note, I have started my summer internship and writing will take a backseat to my real work. But I plan on continuing to post regularly, so check back for the content that you can't live without. Also, visit The No Buy List, which is a more frequently-updated compilation of short ideas.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Why I Voted Against Barack Obama

I was reading some WSJ today and came across an article that linked to this graph, which I hadn't seen before.

Graph of US budget deficit:

Please vote against big-government supporters in the next election, no matter what political party they may be affiliated with.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Follow up to Amazon Short-Call

Originally published at The No Buy List:

Though I myself didn't short shares of (AMZN) despite all of my recent negatively-slanted pieces, I am glad to report that shares are sitting lower than they were on every date that I published anything about them.

AMZN's recent decline can be attributed to the general market pullback, but looking forward, shares may continue to underperform. Below is a six month chart of AMZN:

Shares are still trading at $75 though the company is only expected to earn roughly $2/share next year. Even a 50% upward surprise (meaning yearly earnings of $3/share) still wouldn't make shares look cheap.

Looking at the chart, shares seemed to touch resistance (both 50 day moving average and some previous lows) today, so further movement downward could be looked at as a weak technical sign. Shares have also clearly broken the upward trend that began in march. Looking downward, there had previously been consolidation between $60 and $65, which could be a reasonable mid-term price if the wider market continues to correct. There's still a glaring gap between $50 and $57, but I wouldn't expect that to be filled anytime soon.

The bottom line, once again, is that Amazon is a great company but AMZN shares are still overvalued. I'm personally not initiating any short position at this point, but I'd rather short than buy long AMZN shares tomorrow.

And as always, if you're in the market for one of Amazon's new Kindle readers, please do through so my link below.

Buy a Kindle 2, Kindle DX, or anything else at Amazon.

Time to Short Treasurys?

Originally Published at The No Buy List:

Is it time to short treasuries?
Seeking Alpha contributor Larry McDonald thinks so.

Many market analysts and observers have been screaming to short Treasurys for months as rates have hovered near all-time lows. Even Warren Buffet has now acknowledged that the current treasury situation appears to be bubble-like.

I agree that the current Treasury bond environment is unsustainable, but "when" is the key unknown. I was early when I called for an oil-bubble implosion, and I have also been early on shorting stocks like FSLR and CMG. But yields for Treasurys can't really get much lower, so it seems like downside risk for the shorting instruments (TBT) might be more limited.

The article is worth a read, and you can check it out here:
Read "Rising Treasury Yields Could Mean Its Time to Short Them" at Seeking Alpha.

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E*Trade Monthly Statistics Give Investors Hope

Today, E*Trade (ETFC) released its monthly customer statistics, and the statistics were pleasantly surprising.

The full run-down of statistics can be found here on Yahoo! Finance, but I'll summarize some important stuff below:

Total gross new accounts:

Net new accounts:

End of period total accounts: 4,518,638
Total customer assets:
$ 121,779,000,000


"Total Daily Average Revenue Trades (“DARTs”) increased 7.2 percent sequentially and 34.5 percent from the prior year to 230,345." Plus, "Asset flows continued to be positive, as the Company realized $300 million in net new customer assets during April, marking the seventh consecutive month of positive inflows." (quoted from linked article).

ETFC's brokerage business is obviously healthy, which is an encouraging sign considering the overall company's murkier picture. ETFC recently announced that it would sell $150 million in common stock, boosting capital reserves to meet regulatory requests. The shares would be sold "from time to time at market prices" by JP Morgan.

As I wrote in March, ETFC shareholders will have to wait and see if the thriving brokerage business can endure and outlast losses from the asset-holding component of the business. The capital raise and continued healthy customer statistics are promising, though the battle is likely far from over.

I have accumulated some more shares of ETFC over the past few weeks after shares fell nearly $1 from the recent highs near $2.50. I plan on continuing to occasionally buy shares on weakness as long as ETFC's business doesn't change materially.

On a final note, I'd like to criticize another analyst (partially because my material is often scrutinized by commenters here and on Seeking Alpha). where he did a great job demonstrating that he knows nothing about E*Trade.

He writes "Either way this is a brokerage growth story." Sorry, Aristotle, but that is incorrect; it is a story of inadequate capital cushions to cover losses on portfolios of mortgages and other troubled assets. Any naive investor who thinks about buying ETFC shares based on that article will have been horribly misled.

It is very dangerous and unprofessional for Motley Fool editors to let that article hit the internet. As someone who has been criticized for not thoroughly researching, I don't know how a professional writer can publish an article where so much material information is omitted. Shame on you, Motley Fool.

On a related note, I'm available for hire for freelance writing. Motley Fool, if you're interested, feel free to contact me at studentstocks@gmail dot com.

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Friday, May 8, 2009

Time to Short Chipotle Mexican Grill?

How's this for a nice throwback - Short Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG).

On this blog, I have written plenty about CMG's ridiculous valuation in late 2007 and early 2008. I was never actually able to short CMG shares, as I could never find any available, but that was ok - my initial call on October 31, 2007 was a bit early, and I would have probably covered as shares rose from $130 to $150. However, my thesis was eventually vindicated as shares fell from $150 to about $40 over the course of 2008.

Now shares have recovered back to about $80, and armchair analysts are once again labeling CMG shares as too expensive. Though company results have been impressive over the past few quarters, there appear to be some cracks under the surface that will cause a slip-up going forward.

Two article below are worth reading: The first, at Zachstocks, is a general overview on the bearish CMG case. The second is another piece at Seeking Alpha about recent insider sales of CMG shares.

Read the article "Chipotle - A Tasty Short Opportunity" at Zachstocks.
Read "Why are Insiders Losing their Taste for Chipotle" at Seeking Alpha.

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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

More Kindle DX Details: Still Not Impressed

Originally published on the No Buy List:

Well, most leaked pre-release facts seem to be right: the new Kindle is big, pretty, and textbook- and newspaper-friendly. As I mentioned in my last post, a few colleges will be participating in trials to see if the Kindle textbook experience can catch on.

A troubling new piece of information is the price of the Kindle DX: $489. For $500, a consumer can buy a newest-generation iPod or iPhone, competing ebook reader, or one of many high-quality netbooks. I think that Amazon has priced the device far too high, as the allure of a device with relatively-limited functionality diminishes considerably as price increases.

And once again, Amazon is paying 10% to anyone that can sell one, which is a very significant amount of foregone revenue. On a similar note, if anyone was looking to buy a Kindle DX, feel free to put $48.90 in my pocket for (old-fashioned) textbooks, you can click this link to pre-order a Kindle DX.

My original thesis before the release of the Kindle 2 was that the new Amazon e-media readers would not be game-changers, and I stand by this sentiment. The function-to-dollar ratio for the Kindle 2 and Kindle DX cannot compete with an iPod or a netbook. The Kindle family is a wonderful niche product for a certain group of people - bookworms that travel - but I still cannot conceptualize mass appeal at this current level of high price and low functionality. Amazon's core business is still growing healthily, and shares may continue to enjoy a rich valuation, but I wouldn't expect the Kindle to add materially to Amazon's bottom line anytime soon.

Buy a Kindle 2
Buy a Kindle DX

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Amazon's Kindle 2.5? Nothing to Get Excited About.

Would you like to buy a Kindle 2 or a Kindle DX?
Check them out at Amazon by clicking this link?

This post was originally published at The No Buy List:

Amazon is holding a press conference at a New York university tomorrow to probably announce what many optimistic investors had been waiting for: a Kindle with a bigger screen.

Much of the reason for the press conference seems lost as the important info has been leaking out over the past few days. Engadget, a popular electronics blog, published this post about the new Kindle, including leaked pictures.

Supposedly, the new Kindle will feature a 9.7 inch screen, enhanced browsing capabilities, and a built-in PDF reader, adding some more functionality to the device. However, the Kindle is still far from being a full-fledged computer-alternative (I'd argue that the most recent iPods are much more functional) so I don't know if the Kindle buzz is merited.

Newspaper and textbook publishers are looking to this bigger Kindle to try to increase popularity of their products: apparently, Case Western, Pace, Princeton, Reed, Arizona State, and Darden School at the University of Virginia will be participating in a trial where Kindles will be used in the classroom.

However, as a college student, I don't see this application of the device gaining much traction. Traditional textbooks are convenient because they can be taken everywhere (though not necessarily all at one time). The new Kindle will replicate this ability, with the added convenience of carrying a single device weighing ounces instead of lugging a half-dozen textbooks weighing 20 pounds. However, the appeal ends there. Paper textbooks can easily be marked up to enhance the learning experience; even with some sort of highlighting or annotation feature, the effect is largely lost on-screen. The best part about paper textbooks are their reusability; books used year after year are very cheap to buy secondhand, and even new books can be returned or resold for a significant portion of their face value. Though the user will likely be able to keep their Introduction to Macroeconomics book forever, it retains little value after the course is over.

I also think that there is an emotional objection to electronic textbooks. In my Penn State-mandated public speaking course, the required text was electronic. It amounted to a PDF with links to a limited-access website with additional material and assignments. For this, the publisher charged about $70 - a hefty price for intellectual property. Students were outwardly angry and hostile, and many, like myself, didn't bother to even purchase the textbook. People would rather spend $100 for a paper version that they can sell to a friend or the bookstore for $50 than pay for material that feels like it should be free.

Maybe schools like Princeton will have free course materials or heavily subsidized textbooks, but I don't see the Kindle catching on at Penn State.

The other highly-touted new application is the reading of newspapers, and struggling companies like the Times are hoping that they can sell a lot of $10 monthly subscriptions to help stop the widespread bleeding. But as other bloggers and writers have pointed out, why would someone pay $10/month for the Times limited-feature Kindle edition when their regular website features much deeper and richer content for free?

Unless there are some mind-blowing details that haven't been leaked yet, I don't see this new Kindle creating much of an addition to Amazon's bottom line anytime soon. I think that Amazon's shares are already more than fully valued, so if AMZN shares do pop tomorrow, that pop simply provides a juicier entry point for a short position.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Buying BGZ as a Hedge and Speculation

Originally posted at The No Buy List:

My portfolio is made up of plenty of high-beta stocks with questionable futures.... I am proud to hold 1000+ shares of ETFC. Other winners (note to reader: that's typed sarcastically) include AIG. Rounding out some other holdings are Penn Gaming and US Steel.

To hedge this exposure and to attempt to profit off of a market correction that I believe is overdue, I just purchased some shares of BGZ, one of Direxion's 3x ETFs. BGZ is 3x bear Large-Caps, so I expect it to more closely track the indexes (S&P 500/Nasdaq) than any of their other highly-leveraged instruments.

The Direxion products are widely criticized for destroying share value simply because of the details of how it leverages up performance, so holding it for forever isn't recommended. But with market strength today, I figured I'd buy it with a one- to two-week timeframe due to stock-market strength and the potential for forthcoming weakness (such as stress-test results released later this week).

As with any volatile instrument, I entered a stop-limit sell order to protect against huge losses. My stop-limit is currently at $38.50, which may be adjusted up if the shares move up as I think they will. My intended exit is roughly $50/share, which should happen if the market is down 2%/day for 3 days in a row.

So this is how I'm attempting to trade what I feel is current exuberance in the market... We'll see how well this method really works.

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