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Lip Gloss, GameStop, and Shorting the Market

February 16th, 2021 at 09:31 pm

Lip Gloss, GameStop, and Shorting the Market

GameStop has been in the news a lot this last month, leaving many excited, but scratching their heads.  What exactly just happened?  What does it mean to short a stock?  Can I get in on this action?  Well, let me tell you about a time when I accidentally shorted MaryKay lip gloss and how it is related as well as a bonus strategy for SAFELY shorting the market.

What is a “Short”?

Stock market contracts can extremely intimidating.  Everything is tied up in legal jargon and the word "risk" is plastered all over any honest explanation.  I don't recommend anyone's first stock market transaction being anything other than a stock or mutual fund.

Put in simple terms when you short a stock, you borrow a stock from your brokerage with the promise to return the stock on, or before, a specific date.  You immediately sell the borrowed stock and pray the stock drops in the meantime.  When the stock is low, or when your contract is about to expire, or any other time you wish, you buy the stock back and return it to the brokerage, closing out your position.  You get to pocket the difference between the amount you sold it for and the amount you bought it back at, minus contract fees.

Despite all my "doom and gloom" predictions, I never have shorted any stock or fund.  One reason is that inflation might raise the dollar price of a stock despite the actual value decreasing.  A bigger reason is timing.  When choosing stocks you can hold your position for as long as you want and wait for the profits to emerge.  When you short, you're on a tight time frame.  I don't know enough to call that type of timing.

The final reason is that I'm just not ready for that kind of commitment.  When buying stocks, you can only lose the money you put in.  With shorts, you can lose an infinite amount of money, kind of.  More on that later.

Let’s check out an example to help clarify:

My first, and thus far only, time "Shorting" the Market

I used to sell Mary Kay in college.  It was as bad idea.  I made a spur of the moment decision based on the fact that I could sell my unused inventory back if I decided to quit within the first year.  I planned to get what money I could then quit with only profit and no loss.

Time went on and I was up against the 1 year mark.  I was a lousy sales woman and was extremely busy with Differential Equations homework (YUCK).  It was time to quit.  I made many calls to my unit director requesting information on how to send my inventory back, but she never answered.  The calendar rolled past the date leaving me stuck with hundreds of dollars’ worth of stuff.  Most things I would never be able to sell at a profit.  I sold what I could deeply discounted to friends, then started listing on Ebay.

One listing I made was for "Sweet Raisin Nurishine Lip Gloss".  I had slow internet and a computer glitch which made me believe the listing didn't go through.  I listed it again and unknowingly ended up with two listings.  One sold, and I sent it off.  The second one sold and I realized my mistake.  I had a contract to send someone sweet raisin lip gloss, something that I no longer owned.

It turns out there are a lot of Mary Kay ladies out there in the same boat selling on the Ebay market.  At the time, there was a decent volume of sweet raisin lip glosses selling.  I simply bought someone else's listing that met my specifications and entered in my buyer's name and address.  I’m almost certain it is against Ebay's Policy to flip product like this, but so is not delivering the promised product.  I was in a bind.

Timing and Pricing

I was lucky.  By the time I realized that I had made the mistake and was told that none of the other colors that I did have would suffice, there were new listings selling at even lower prices.  In the end, I earned $0.52 on the transaction (buyer paid $6.5 - $5 purchase from other seller - $0.98 fees = $0.52).

Had instead the price jumped, I would have lost money.  What if a popular singer had declared Sweet Raisin Nurishine Lip Gloss the ONLY thing she would ever put on her lips?  Or another company announced a contract to buy enough Mary Kay lip glosses to put them on back-order for years?  The price could have jumped indefinitely.

Shorting the Stock Market works almost exactly the same way:

Lets say you think a company is overvalued and will see a decline in the next week.  You could place a short order with your broker for a number of the company's shares (typically 100).  The Broker will give you the 100 shares, which immediately get sold at the current market price.  Part or all of that money is held by the broker/lender as collateral against your loan (margin account).  You have until a set date (anywhere between a few days to months as agreed) to return the company shares.  At this point several things could happen:

  1. You could wait until the price drops to a level you are happy with, have your broker buy themselves the 100 shares with your margin account, then you pocket any extra after fees.  You can set this up to happen automatically with a trailing stop (percentage based) or a limit order ($ value based) so you can buy at or below your threshold even if it is only at that price for a split second.
  2. You could get scared as the price trends upward and try to cut your losses by buying early (also may be done with limit orders or trailing stops).  Again, you'd have the broker buy themselves the 100 shares with your money and any extra you have to put in, pay them their fees, and accept your loss.  
  3. If the price goes up significantly, your broker may automatically buy the shares back to minimize their potential losses in case you can’t afford to buy the 100 shares at the new price (margin call, more on this later).
  4. You could also wait all the way until the contract expires, and have them do the same thing.  If the price went down enough to cover your fees, you'll make a profit, if it went up, you'll lose money.

In my lip gloss scenario, I had a contract that ended as soon as I realized it existed, so I was forced to buy at the current market price.  Had my item been listed as ships within 1-30 days, I could have waited until I found an even lower listing on Ebay at the risk of losing the low prices already on the market.

The good news is you'd never accidentally short the stock market like I did with lip gloss!

Short “Squeezes”

GameStop’s recent behavior is a classic case of what they call a Short Squeeze. 

Imagine that a large group of MaryKay ladies in the know could see a huge demand drop of Sweet Raisin Nurishine Lip Gloss as the product was no longer going to be in future catalogs.  MaryKay ladies everywhere will be forced to sell their Sweet Raisins well below the MSRP and may become desperate enough to sell on Ebay.

That group of MaryKay ladies may start selling contracts to deliver Sweet Raisin Lip Gloss that they don’t currently own, knowing the market is about to be flooded with product.

Imagine also, that there’s a group of Ebay users that are tired of the tricks of these clever MaryKay ladies.  They see what is happening and they start buying up all the Sweet Raisin Lip Gloss they can, causing the price to actually go up.

The Pink Cadillac top sellers, aren’t too worried at first.  They have plenty of days before their contracts expire.  This little price spike is something they can wait out.  They figure there is no way these small players can keep the price inflated for long.  Sooner or later, they will start selling.

Imagine now that the people who bought the contracts from the MaryKay ladies also had control of their PayPal accounts (the brokerage firms). As they see the price of Sweet Raisin Lip Gloss sky rocket they start taking precautions to ensure they actually get their order.  If the price gets close to exceeding the balance in a particular PayPal account, they force the MaryKay lady to buy into the market now or to put more money into the account.  This is called a Margin Call.

The MaryKay ladies who were operating under a small cushion will be forced to buy at inflated prices.  As they struggle to get the product they need to deliver, they cause the price to increase further, triggering more margin calls for slightly more stable MaryKay ladies.  This continues to push the price upward until nearly every single MaryKay lady is unwilling or unable to put in enough cash to wait it out.  Ironically, the ones best suited to wait out the situations, stand to lose the most money.

There’s an old Wall Street saying that markets can stay irrational longer than you can stay liquid.  In other words, you can lose a ton of money even while making good calls.

Now finally, like in the case of many hedge funds shorting GameStop, imagine that these MaryKay ladies “in the know”, who had this brilliant play on a product that was almost certainly losing value, wasn’t just using their own money.  Imagine that they had pooled millions from pension plans that were desperate to find the yields they need to cover their promises to workers.  In the end, the Ebay manipulation group, might have robbed their parents and grandparents.

Quick note: GameStop was a prime target because it showed up in a list of heavily shorted stocks (let’s face it, their current business strategy is dying out) and was traded very thinly, so tiny movements could change the prices drastically.

A safer way to short

 A Put lets you buy a stock at a certain price regardless of market value.  Typically, you’ll buy a contract that allows you to sell a fixed number of shares at a specific agreed "strike" price (below current market).  Even if the share price drops to zero, the buyer must buy your shares at your request at the predetermined strike price so long as the contract has not expired.  

In my case, I essentially had a “Put” on my original MaryKay inventory, but my one year contract expired before I learned how to use it.

For a fee, you could potentially insulate each of your holdings from things like the huge 50% drops we've seen several times since the turn of the century.  As Robert Kiyosaki (Rich Dad) says, "Professional investors always buy in pairs. One position is for growth, and the other is for protection." ( You should only gamble with money you can afford to lose.  If your stocks are your retirement, it might be worth looking into "insuring" them with puts.

Puts, used in a traditional way, are simply insurance: something that you pay a recurring fee for and hope to never cash in.

Shorting the Market with Puts

If Puts are used on stocks you don’t own, they are a safer way to short the market.  For example, if those clever MaryKay ladies had instead found a patient bulk buyer who was willing to buy up to 1,000 lip glosses at the low fixed price of $6, they could have waited for the prices to drop even lower, bought as much as they could without changing the price above $6, sell it at $6, and pocket the difference. 

It’s kind of like buying fire insurance on a house you don’t own.  It would be a great deal to buy a house after it has already burnt down at rock bottom prices, then turn around and collect insurance money on the original value of the home.  You just have to have the foresight to buy insurance on the house with fire hazards before it happens.  The worst case scenario is simply, you never cash in on the contract you paid for.

Political Side Note:

If you follow financial commentaries for entertainment (let's be friends!), you might have heard the phrase "the Powell Put".  That is referring to the fact that Jerome Powell (current Federal Reserve Chairman) is unlikely to let the stock market tank.  Should it be in peril, he will probably jump in with ever easier “easy money” to push the market back up and save the day.  Because we have money-printing-academics in charge, we are all somewhat "insured" against a crash.

Of course, this will mostly help the gamblers and hurt the savers in high inflation, but hey who wants to reward people for responsible actions anyways?  


Anyways... I hope I clarified market shorting a little better for you.  Enjoy the ride!


In case anyone cares: I lost $3.51 on the other Sweet Raisin sale (buyer paid $7.24 - $7.38 initial purchase - $1.09 fees - $2.28 shipping/ packaging = -$3.51), but that's $3.87 better than losing my whole $7.38 initial purchase!


Disclaimer: I am not a licensed or certified financial coach, planner, adviser, or anything else of the sorts.  I just love figuring out money.  Anything I recommend should be personally analyzed and discussed with your trusted financial adviser.  I cannot be held accountable for any loss or poor performance.

"Rich Dad Prophecy" by Robert Kiyosaki - Book Review

November 15th, 2019 at 08:35 pm

Robert Kiyosaki wrote this book in a somewhat narrative fashion. He goes through his early business struggles and includes conversations with his “rich dad” about the elder’s financial projections for the nation.

The book goes on to explain that there are some serious flaws in the law (Employee Retirement Income Security Act or ERISA) that encourages an unsustainable type of investing. Non-investors are thrown into the world of stocks, but it isn’t in their best interest unless they are also trained. The government has done this because there is a serious problem: people can’t afford to retire and that makes people unhappy, which then threatens their power position. Basically, government has been trying to kick this can down the road for a few decades now, causing the problems to get bigger and bigger. It looks like it will finally be too heavy to kick this next time, but who knows? The government is very talented at pushing off the root problems.

The good news is that this book also gives you some processes that should protect you. These processes are the same ones Robert Kiyosaki always says: buy cash producing assets and let them pay themselves off, get enough of them and they’ll pay your living expenses as well. What is different about this book is: 1. A stronger urgency, even for those who currently have comfortable lifestyles. 2. He addresses character traits as much as anything else. WHO you are matters as much, or even more, than anything else.

Kiyosaki takes all these concepts and wraps them nicely into a single biblical and nautical metaphor, Noah’s ark. But unlike Noah’s ark, the ark he teaches you to build will hold you afloat even if it doesn’t rain.

Where I found it:
I had been wanting to read this book ever since I learned of its existence about 2 years ago. For some reason I didn’t see it in the library catalog then. I considered buying it on ebay, but settled down when I realized there are plenty of good financial forecasting books out there to be had for free from the library. Then, one day I visited my sister in law and we visited the library. There it was sitting on the shelf. Luckily our libraries are also sisters, so I could check it out and return it at my own branch.

My takeaways:
I’ve heard a lot of solid reasons for a market collapse, here’s yet another angle: retirement.
Workers used to depend on a three legged retirement program: social security, pensions, and investments. As everyone knows social security is getting thin. The second leg, pensions, are becoming rare as companies shift the risk on to the employee.

Finally, by shoving everything and everyone into the stock market, people ill equipped for the risk world of investing are forced to participate. Their minds are set at ease by the word “diversify” and they dump their money into index funds. As more people blindly invest, the stocks continue to grow blindly as well. But what happens in market corrections? When the risk adverse employees see their portfolio going down, they switch out to bonds or another perceived safe haven, pushing stock prices even lower. Basically, the average employee has been duped into putting money they depend on into a non-dependable location and they don’t have the guts to make that work.

Maybe the employees aren’t as panicky as predicted. Maybe they have been properly indoctrinated to “invest for the long term” (even if they are retiring soon). The bad news is that there is also a built in time-bomb called “minimum distributions”. As the baby boomers reach 70 ½ years old in unprecedented numbers, they will be REQUIRED to start letting the air out of the stock market.

When all is said and done, your three legged stool is standing on a paper thin leg, and a leg that is mascaraing as two separate legs that also happens to be showered in sparks with a time bomb strapped to it. It is holding for now, but if any flames catch, your stool is toast.

It is time to take action and stop letting other people put your assets together for you. Get off the stool, and get in your boat. Choose your own cargo, strap it down carefully, and take responsibility for the steering. This book has a lot more to do with taking responsibility than following the normal “Rich Dad” method. It’s okay to build a “poor ark”, a “middle class ark”, or a “rich ark”, just don’t expect your government or job to take care of you. You are in control of your ship.

I recommend Rich Dad Prophecy to anyone who is preparing for retirement. I’m not talking about people who are 50+, but anyone who is planning their retirement whether it is next week or in 40 years. If you are still living paycheck to paycheck and retirement is undreamable, get that in line first.

This book opens your eyes to critically view the financial world around you and it motivates you to take action for your own retirement.

I do want to caution though, Robert Kiyosaki is the debt king. He believes in good debt (debt that someone else pays off for you such as the tenants in a rental property) like its God’s gift to investors. Sure, “good debt” is a great way to leverage your money and accelerate growth. It would be nearly impossible to get rich in one lifetime without it. However, too much good debt and you lose your margin of safety and go bankrupt at the first bump in the road (or storm on the ocean?). When Robert says something like, “you can retire with $15,000. Just go buy three $100,000 houses at 5% down, then live off the rent”, please take it with a grain of salt.

Also, note this book is old. Sure, the copyright is 2013, but most of the information is from the 1970’s to early 2000’s. Even if it were written from a 2013 perspective, that’s ancient in financial books.

Further Knowledge:
What got me interested in this type of book in the first place was one of Robert’s live online events. Check out

Text is Rich Dad Radio and Link is
Rich Dad Radio to listen to Robert (sometimes explicit language) any time and sign up for his emails for live events (yes, they do send more emails than I wish, but they also send occasional gems).

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"Making Money in Real Estate" by Dolf de Roos and Diane Kennedy - Book Review

November 15th, 2019 at 08:16 pm

This book is meant as a step by step guide to begin or improve making money in real estate. It starts with general education about cashflow, how real estate has a tax advantage in investments, how real estate employs leverage to accelerate your wealth’s growth, and how to organize your personal money so that you can be ready for the investment. It then lays out the process step by step, complete with checklists and goal setting. This step by step process includes defining what you want, checklists and equations to evaluate property, adding escape routes to your contracts, efficient ways to raise your property’s value on small budgets, and how to grow a powerful team.

Where I found it:
While reading “Rich Dad Prophecy”, I decided I wanted to read a book by Robert Kiyosaki’s Real Estate advisor. When I came across a book jointly written by his Tax Advisor and his Real Estate Advisor in my library’s catalogue, I put it on hold immediately.

My takeaways:
Much of the beginning discussion proves points that Robert Kiyosaki has made to me through his books many times: cashflow is king, debt can be good, real estate is ideal as it employs the bank’s money as leverage, etc. I will only list my new takeaways below.

Real estate is one of the few investment opportunities that isn’t dominated by computer analysis. Yes, there are some powerful tools in Zillow and other online sites, but you don’t have computers automatically pulling up listings, running the data, and placing offers (at least not that I know of). So far, real estate has too much of a personal, human, element to automate. This means that we can actually compete and win. The “deal of a lifetime” is available about once a week. You just have to go scope enough properties out to find it.

I was also floored by all the possible tax deductions a professional real estate investor can qualify for. It is clear from the tax code that the government wants you investing in this field. For example, any of my travel could be considered a business trip. I just have to visit a property and take notes. Not hard to do since real estate is literally everywhere. Also, the law assumes a residential home is worthless after 27.5 years. That means if you buy a $250,000 house, your depreciation deduction is about $9,000 a year! Basically, if you are paying taxes on your real estate investments, you need to have a talk with a real estate tax expert.

Commercial property was particularly interesting. I had never considered (or never knew about) many of the benefits: the tenant makes their income from the property and will likely maintain or even modernize at their own expense, the tenants usually sign longer leases, the tenant usually pays property taxes and insurance, and you can invest large chunks of money in only one property, thus simplifying your portfolio. Of course, there are some drawbacks. The vacant properties often sit longer and you usually need a 40% down payment.

Something that could help you at any point of your life is the advice they give in picking out a good team to help you. First, don’t try and do anything by yourself if you can get someone who can do it better for you. For example, instead of looking at hundreds of properties, talk to a real estate agent and give them a clear picture of what you are looking for. They look at hundreds of properties already and they will work hard for your commissions, especially if you are serious enough that you are a potential return customer. You should also ask them for good lenders, and ask them and the lenders for good tax guys and lawyers, etc. The better your network, the better you’ll be able to scale your investments. It also gives good advice on asking questions: ask them if they personally invest in real estate, what would make a good/bad client for them, what processes do they use for your job, do their clients invest in real estate… and once you have them on your team ask thought provoking questions such as “how can I prevent X” or “how can I write off X as a deduction”. Just asking them “can this be a deduction” usually gets a one word answer.

I recommend this book to anyone who is on the fence or ready to cross the fence and get into real estate. It is a very easy read, leaves you motivated, and gives you first steps to follow through on your motivation. This book helps you feel ready with a plan.

I had been on the fence worrying that I could not invest in Real Estate because my location wasn’t very secure and I didn’t dare buy farther away. About 4 months later, I’m putting in my first ever offer on an investment property in a market I feel very good about (yay!).

I would also like to add a little caution. Make sure you follow the advice about different bags of money and on insurances. Make sure you have your emergency fund and several month's expenses before throwing your money into income producing assets or growth assets. Debt is powerful, but it can also bite, so make sure you “cover your assets” before you buy them.


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"The Millionaire Next Door" by Thomas J. Stanley - Book Review

November 15th, 2019 at 05:36 am

Stanley wrote this book after extensive study of the American wealthy. At first, he thought he would be studying America’s upper class, but starting with his very first set of interviews, he realized that the truly wealthy do not live the lifestyle that one might imagine. This book works its way through many aspects of the lifestyle of the wealthy and contrasts it with the lifestyle of the high consumer. Private schools, car shopping, inheritance, neighborhoods, and marriage are all discussed. Everything is backed by data and/or interesting anecdotes.

Where I found it:
It is a little silly how long it took me to get around to this book. I became an avid consumer of everything financial literature in 2016, yet here I am in 2019, finally reading the book that so many have been shaped by. I found it while browsing the “for purchase” section of my local library and picked up the hardback book for $1.

My takeaways:
Stanley makes an interesting point about how people acquire wealth. He uses a formula as a ballpark estimator of how much wealth people usually have in life based on age and current income. Age x income x 10% = how much an average person would have accumulated. For example, if I were 30 and made $100,000 annually, I should have $300,000 in assets (30*$100,000*0.1). If I have twice that amount, than I am a “Prodigious accumulator of wealth” or PAW. If I have half, than I am an “Under Accumulator of Wealth” or UAW. Using this method, it is much easier to see who has learned to grow wealth. Of course, there are some major flaws. For example, if someone lost their job and had to settle for a lower salary, they would look very good on this continuum when compared to someone who just got promoted to a fat salary.

I was surprised by some of the stories in this book. I expected the usual, earn a good salary, but live like you don’t. This book portrayed something more extreme. It had horror stories about how assistance from rich parents trapped their children in a desperate lifestyle. It had a boss gently refuse his employee’s gift of a custom Rolls Royce because it would only cause him expenses and he couldn’t throw his fish in the backseat. This book boils all finances into two very simple statements: do what makes your net worth grow and teach your kids to stand on their own.

I’m not going to lie. Much of this book is tedious. There’s lots of tables of data and lots of redundant points. My impression was that it read like someone’s research report, but they stuck a bunch of stories in it to make it into a proper book. There were nuggets on most pages, but the read felt tedious, and that's coming from a numbers person.

I recommend this book to someone who is ready to start taking a big picture look at their net worth and see if they are growing it properly. I recommend this book to someone who is wealthy or a high income earner and is thinking about how to support their children. I recommend this book to people whose dream is to buy a status item such as a Ferrari. You’re going to have to be committed to reading though or you’ll have a hard time getting through it.


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"Hardship and Hope" by Victoria Sherrow - Book Review

January 7th, 2019 at 08:56 pm

Hardship and Hope- America and the Great Depression walks you through day to day life as the stock market collapses, jobs are lost, welfare runs out, the government throws out experimental programs, the programs bring hope, economic hardship persists, productivity jumps to support the war, and we remember the legacy. It addresses topics on many levels such as individual entertainment, racism, unions, ideological shifts, and survival methods.

Where I found it:
I found this book while browsing the very limited financial section of my local library.

What I learned:
Hardship and Hope was a very interesting read for me for several reasons. First, I think we are headed towards another severe depression. It was encouraging to see the human endurance. That when your surviving off the coal dropped from trains and eating mostly cabbage, you can still survive. It made me realize that humans can do anything.

Secondly, I learned accounts where government welfare saved people’s lives. Many New Deal programs were unconstitutional, funded by debt, and not terminated after the crisis subsided or set a bad precedent for future government programs. In the moment, Americans felt that capitalism and democracy had failed and allowed the legislative and executive branches beat out the judicial branch and have destroyed much (or even most!) of the intent of the constitution.

Despite my hard feelings for how Roosevelt dealt with the crisis by sacrificing what America is, a Harry Hopkins quote really stood out to me “People don't eat in the long run, they eat every day”. When faced with the Great Depression, the New Dealers weren’t thinking about the long run, they were trying to save the lives of families all across the nation. I guess this book helped me remember both sides of the story so that I can be better balanced when faced with proposed welfare programs that violate what America stands for.

I have a few problems with this book. For one, math people will be driven a little crazy because it compares sums to percentages and hourly wages to weekly wages. Without looking up population data or labor statistics of the day, many of their numbers are useless. Even the appropriately stated numbers are hard to put into comparison because we have no baseline for how much things were worth prior to the depression. The other problem that some of the points are presented in ways I disagree with, such as praising unions for ensuring that as profits are increased, wages are increased etc. The libertarian inside of me was definitely rubbed the wrong way at times. I thought it was healthy to see it from a new angle though. Overall, I was actually impressed at the presentation of facts without a political message. Sherrow did a pretty good job at staying neutral.

I recommend this book to anyone who wants a quick (only 110 easy print pages) glimpse into the past so that they can live a better future. I don’t know that this particular book is any better than others on the topic though. If your library doesn’t have it, try a different one or look up some research papers. I just like that it is short and walks you through the depression fairly chronologically.


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