Wednesday, January 26, 2011

#350 and Whac-a-Mole

We bought our 350th TRE auction this morning. Of that number, 293 have been re-paid to date.

We have now bought auctions offered by 71 Sellers including invoices due from 162 Account Debtors.

The Sellers break down as follows, by type of business:

Service 39%
Manufacturing 32%
Staffing 13%
Technology 10%
Trade 6%

The Account Debtors break down as follows, by ownership structure:

Public Companies 37% (including subsidiaries and divisions)
Privately-Owned Companies 63%

Two auctions were sold this morning before we bought #350 that we WOULD have bought based on our view of the Seller, the Account Debtor(s), the transaction history and the pricing available. Neither of those became #350 because they were bought before we could see them.

I mean that literally.

I was at my desk, watching the activity, ready to bid. As soon as these auctions appeared I moved to pull up the bidding screen. Before the screen loaded, buy-out bids had been recorded.

For the past several weeks it’s become a “Whac-a-Mole” market.

The Buyer with the fastest internet connection and processor gets first chance at the auction.

That’s troublesome on many levels.

First, I’ve got to upgrade my tech capacity. But that’s just a symptom, really.

The real problem continues to be excess liquidity in the market. And that excess liquidity does not just drive down pricing. It also alters both Buyer and Seller behavior.

As I write, there are more live auctions on the TRE screen than there have been at this time of day for quite a while. But that’s the exception.

The rule has been that Buyers have been so motivated to deploy funds that they’ve been willing to accept ever lower returns with less and less evidence of deal quality.

A couple of days ago a deal offered by a first-time Seller, involving an invoice from a first-time Debtor, sold very quickly at a pricing level that would normally reflect a well-known Seller with a substantial amount of transaction experience with the Debtor.

That deal might well work out just fine. But sooner or later the odds favor disappointment from that sort of bidding.

And now it’s confession time:

I bought deal #348 yesterday morning. It was only the third time in 350 purchases when I said immediately afterward: “Damn, that was a mistake!”

It wasn’t a mistake because of the Seller. I’d actually been waiting for that Seller to post an auction for some time. I’ve bought quite a few of their auctions, I like them and they hadn’t posted an auction for sale in over a month.

It wasn’t a mistake because of the Debtors. I have had good experience with all of them.

And it wasn’t even a mistake because of the terms of sale. The price represented a much lower return than that Seller had offered in the past, but in the current climate I was prepared for that.

It was a mistake because I acted too quickly. I got into the Whac-a-Mole game.

I saw the Seller that I’d been looking for. I saw Debtors that I knew. I saw pricing that was marginal but at least it was marginal. And I acted.

Only after I “won” the auction and looked more closely at the invoice terms did I realize that the likely duration was too short to reasonably support the pricing parameters. The TRE fees were going to eat up much more of the gross return than was acceptable.

I had succumbed to the Whac-a-Mole motivation and in doing so I missed the duration issue that I’ve written about on a number of occasions.

To make matters worse, as I was berating myself for being so dumb, the same Seller posted another auction at the same pricing but with a likely duration that WAS reasonable and I couldn’t get to it fast enough to try to mitigate my error. It was gone before I could load the page.

In the end, I have every expectation that the auction will be paid properly. And it was small. I’ll make a little money and that one auction does no significant or lasting damage. Unless I don’t learn from it.

So, I acknowledge this dumb mistake publicly because the motivation to avoid another such public confession is stronger than the motivation to win at Whac-a-Mole!

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