Contrary Opinion Forum
I recently attended the 52nd annual Contrary Opinion Forum at the beautiful Basin Harbor Club on Lake Champlain in Vergennes, Vermont, a haven characterized at this time of year by colorful foliage, crisp fresh air and spotty cell phone reception.
The Contrary Opinion Forum, to put it simply, is a cozy gathering of investment professionals and individual investors (often retired) who hear speeches from leading economists and other investment luminaries and then share opinions over drinks and dinner—over two days.
It was my 26th attendance at the Forum in 28 years. When I began, I was one of the youngest attendees, and I viewed the snowy-haired gentlemen around me as fonts of wisdom to be tapped. Now, my hair is rapidly graying and I’m becoming one of the old-timers!
But I continue to enjoy the Forum, for the opinions, for the camaraderie, for the chance to reflect in a peaceful environment, and for the buttons. At every Forum, two buttons are distributed that typically convey some worth of investing wisdom—frequently based on contrary thinking.
Here are two of my favorites.
You can see my whole collection of buttons here, along with my own explanations.
So what did I learn at the Forum this year?
Well, more and more, it’s not about learning; it’s about hearing opinions and incorporating them into my own. In investing, the only certainty is that things will change!
That said, there was quite a bit of love for gold at the Forum, and not much love for equities. And since then, he stock market has fallen apart, making these guys look pretty smart!
My favorite speaker was Walter Zimmerman of United/ICAP, who covered a lot of ground.
That Russia has transitioned from a Communist state to a Mafia state,
That countries get the government they deserve,
That Putin is therefore the chief thug of Russia,
And that in the same period, the U.S. has evolved from a democracy into a Capitalistic Commercial state.
That because investors focus on dollars instead of the Golden Rule, Wall Street has a gigantic ethical blind spot. As a result, a lot of rich people are miserable.
That Reagan didn’t beat the USSR with arms; instead Volcker bankrupted the country with high interest rates (and maybe we can repeat that success with a strong dollar and cheap energy).
And that stock buybacks, so common these days, are an easy way to boost a stock but that they actually do nothing to make a company better or build true value, and this is a troubling trend.
One minority position was voiced by Steve Leuthold of Leuthold Strategies in Minneapolis who’s been coming to the Forum for years. He said that his biggest long-term investment is in rranium, which no one likes now (thanks to the Japanese nuclear power plant leak) but which he expects to soar as China begins building nuclear plants to solve its pollution problem.
That’s the kind of long-term story I like to hear, especially if few other people are hearing the same story, so I’ll be watching uranium (the biggest uranium stock is Cameco CCJ). Right now it looks terrible.
Lastly, I’m very happy to report that Basin Harbor Club—run by the Beach family for over a century—recently installed a Tesla charger, and I was the first to use it! The drive from Boston to Lake Champlain over two mountain ranges is one of my favorites, and it was even better in the Tesla!