2012 in Review

While many eyes were fixed on the fiscal cliff, trying to perceive how far the drop might be, others were concerned about a larger issue: the end of the world. On December 21, 2012, the Mayan calendar turned its last page. Humanity, say your prayers.

But hark! Nothing happened. It was like a Y2K redux, without all of the wasted expenditures and hoopla. Christmas came and went, and 2012 rolled into 2013 uneventfully. We’re still here publishing and you’re still there reading and life goes on. Whew!

From a stock market point of view, many prognosticators opined that 2012 was going to be, if not quite the end times, then somewhere between subpar and miserable. There were many reasons why pundits seized the “wall of worry.” Greece, with a government-debt-to-GDP ratio of 161 percent, was the lead basket case poised to kibosh the euro, although Italy, Portugal and Spain were also quivering.

Japan, meanwhile, with government-debt-to-GDP of 236 percent, was the real outlier in this regard, but providentially for this country, it cannot be kicked out of the yen.

Meanwhile, the US was geared up for a presidential race that offered a bevy of diametrically opposed views, with one of the few points of agreement being that bags of money must be splurged to achieve success. After all the puffery and buffoonery, pretty much the status quo resulted.

And closer to home, the NHL lockout was a blow to the Canadian national psyche as our national sport (well, that’s really lacrosse, but who remembers?) lay in ruins as billionaires and millionaires fought over the spoils.

Perhaps the US and Canadian governments should simply reduce all of these wealthy people’s taxes to make the agreement more palatable. Of course, we don’t advocate such relief for the ushers and concessions staff. Let them eat popcorn!

So, after all of the teeth gnashing, political haggling, and spoutings of opinion on paper and in cyberspace, what the heck did we end up with? Not a stupendous year in the global stock markets, but certainly not an awful one by any means.

The TSX was up 4 percent, one of the poorest performances of any major stock exchange. The best —and rumour has it the result was predicted by a couple of swamis vacationing in a tent in Libya — was Venezuela, up an otherworldly 303 percent. We always figured Chavez for a capitalist’s capitalist.

At Contra, it was boffo. The Vice-President’s Portfolio was up a very handsome 12.7 percent. Every year since its inception in 2010, it has handily beaten the averages. And the President’s Portfolio swatted it out of the park again, with a return of better than 30 percent.

Alas, that was not good enough to raise the 10- and 15-year annualized returns, which were pared down from 15.3 percent each to 13.9 and 14.9 respectively.

Wha’ happen? The “problem” was that this year’s performance took the place of a 53.2 percent return in 1997 and one of 47.3 percent in 2002. We should continue to have such woes!

Speaking of problems, it has been a primary aim of ours to avoid blowouts. Generally, we have been successful, although not perfect. In the PP last year, the biggest loser was Richmont Mines, at 73 percent, a stock that had been very good to both portfolios and sold for huge gains. Fortunately, only 10 percent of the position remained.

The only other stock that lost in the double digits was Hartco, a takeback of 14 percent. Not so terrible.

On the positive side, Intertape Polymer led the pack, rising an incredible 142 percent. Also in triple digits were VIST Financial — now Tompkins — up 105 percent, and the goliath Bank of America, cruising in at 109 percent. Yep, diving into financials is paying off.

In the VPP, Fairborne (rechristened as Santonia Energy a couple of weeks ago) and International Datacasting both took it on the chin, down 53 and 37 percent respectively. The biggest winner was another bank stock, Sun Bancorp, climbing 46 percent.

Late-year acquisition Research in Motion jumped 43 percent in less than two months after the first purchase. That’s positive gyration, baby!

This year, neither portfolio had a tax-loss sale, and winners in both portfolios were only sold for huge gains. Service Corporation, Viterra and Theragenics kissed in at 207 percent, 187 percent and 90 percent.

And once again, as has happened every year except one in our existence, there was a takeover. In fact, two. Call it the year of the Big V, as VIST and Viterra became beholden to others.

But enough of looking backwards. Where are we right now? With markets well into a recovery — some are calling it a bull — the array of potential acquisitions that meet our criteria has slimmed down more than most Jenny Craig adherents. Those stocks that reach our target prices will likely be dispatched more quickly than if markets were spindly. There is no great desire to leave large winnings on the table.

So at the end of the day, on whichever one you are reading this, odds are that the Contra Guys are still here. The plan is to be here for some time. But be aware: Jeane Dixon, the astrologer who advised Nancy Reagan, predicted Armageddon would come in 2020.

She had gained renown for predicting JFK’s assassination — ignore the fact that she said Nixon would win the presidency in 1960, that World War III would start in the year of Ben’s birth (an event she didn’t foresee) and that she also saw the world ending in 1962. She may be right this time. Just in case, please be sure to have lots of fun in the interim.