Solskjaer Sacked – But Was He All That Bad?

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s time as Manchester United manager came to an end over the weekend when he was sacked, and it got me thinking. Just how bad was he as the Manchester United manager?

It is a question that is surprisingly difficult to answer, as it is dependent on what constitutes good and bad.

Many football supporters measure their team’s success in terms of trophies won, which is perfectly understandable. We all want to see our teams win a trophy or two, don’t we? On that measure, Solskjaer has failed. He won nothing as Manchester United manager, and indeed is the first United manager since Frank O’Farrell not to win anything.

So far so bad. But by another measure, Solskjaer is the third-best manager in the history of the club.

Take look at this table of Manchester United all-time manager, with the winning strike rates in the third-column from the right. Staggeringly, Solskjaer is ranked third (marginally!) behind only Sir Alex Ferguson and the supposed recent failure in the role, Jose Mourinho.

I’m not saying that Solskjaer is one of the all-time greats… But – just maybe – considering Manchester United is widely regarded as being a badly run football club, perhaps Solskjaer deserves plenty of credit for managing to win as many games as he did.

We can perhaps say the same for Mourinho before him too!

Wales as a deforestation measure

If you were a teenager in the 1990s like me, and you went to school in the UK, there is a fair chance that in at least one geography lesson you were told by your teacher something like this: “Every year globally, an area the size of Wales is deforested”. At the time nobody in my class believed it and to this day I have no real idea if it was true of that time, or was instead one of those facts that got repeated lazily without any checking, simply because Wales as a country sounded quite big to teenage ears.

For perspective, Wales is 5.1346 million acres in size. When I was originally told the Wales deforestation “fact”, it must have been around 1992, so let’s assume the preceding 10 years were also the same circumstance. Let us also assume for now that every year since 1992 has been exactly the same for poor old Wales-sized forests (more on this in a moment). That would give us a time period of 1981-2020, so 40 years (which is nice and convenient for multiplication).

So, according the famous Wales example, that would be a total of 40 x 5.1346 million acres lost to deforestation. That is a staggering 205.384 million acres of forest hacked to the ground for firewood, tables, and clearances for growing soya beans and the like in the last 40 years. It is of course part of the widely acknowledged climate change problem that is sending Planet Earth ever closer to an impending meltdown.

Alarmingly, that 205 million or so acres may well be massively underselling what has happened. The UN estimate that 11.6 million acres of forest have been lost on a net basis each year since 2010, which itself becomes a mind-boggling 24.7 million acres each year if you ignore any replanting of previously cut-down forest.

Why on Earth am I rambling on about this? Well, there was an interesting article reported today by The Guardian about a chap who wants to tackle this issue. Well, actually, he wants to go a bit further than that and reverse the effects of global warming, which is quite a lofty aim.

According to Yishan Wong, founder and CEO of a climate-emergency response company called Terraformation, to prevent the effects of climate change all we need to do as a species is reforest 3 billion acres of land.

Yes, that is right: 3 billion acres. To get an idea of this kind of scale, the United States of America is 1.9 billion acres in size.

The Silicon Valley-funded Terraformation has raised $30 million dollars so far from investors, and a further $2 million dollars from crowdfunding so that it can pursue its forestation goals.

You kind of have to wish them every success with the project, but at the same time, it is a slightly mad vision for a business to have. They are basically saying they will save the planet. Setting 12-month KPIs for staff bonuses should be interesting: “Reduce average global temperature by 0.5 degrees Celsius”.

I’m just nipping out – be back in a bit

How would you define crazy? Would it involve running 570 km in 85 hours?

That is what Harvey Lewis did earlier this week in Tennessee, USA, except it is a little more complicated than that. He covered that distance in an ultra event called the “Big’s Backyard Ultra”, which consists of the runners having to cover 6.7 km every hour until there is only one competitor remaining.

It does not matter if that distance is covered in 30 minutes or a full hour: as long as you cover it, and can stand on the start line for the next hour, you remain in the event. It is for this reason that the race is sometimes known as the “race with no finish”. I guess it is the running equivalent to “How long is a piece of string?”.

This mad achievement is, well, mad. Going for a 6.7 km run in one hour is not very taxing for most people of even average fitness, all things considered, but to do it a second hour, then a third, fourth, fifth, and so on, grinding out until you have done it for 85 hours (with all the physical exhaustion and lack of sleep that entails) is bordering on the psychotic.

The unusual distance of a ‘Back Yard’ ultra comes about from dividing 100 miles by 24 hours. This leave us with 4.17 miles, which in kilometres is 6.7 km. While most of us do not have a back yard that big, the name is a mischievous tease, making the challenge sound way more friendly and inviting than it is in reality.

I mean, how many calories are needed to cover that kind of distance? Some quick maths suggests that Lewis must have burned off at least 40,000 calories over the period of the event, which itself is pretty astonishing. Having completed some long distance events myself, I reach a point where my body cannot fuel quickly enough to keep up with the energy being burned off. How this guy managed to do it for 85 hours I do not know!

Collaboration in the music industry

I am currently writing a book at the moment about 1990s UK Number One records (as you do), and in the course of doing some research a pattern struck me that might explain a bit about globalisation, the world wide web, and smarter marketing.

Before you think I am mad, let me explain.

What I noticed is that since the turn of the millennium, there have been a rising number of Number One records that are the result of collaborations between different acts. So, this does not include something like “Bill Haley and the Comets” in the 1950s, as they were known as the one act. It is more like “Beyonce and Shakira” in more recent times, performers who would typically never perform together but came together for that one occasion.

I gathered the numbers together and this is what I came up with:

2020s data up to October 14th 2021

Now isn’t that interesting? It immediately got me thinking to why this might be the case. I mean, this is not something that just ‘happened’. There has to be a reason for it.

I then got thinking about the themes I mentioned above – globalisation, smarter marketing, and the world wide web. The internet has helped make the world smaller over the last 20 years, and it has definitely facilitated globalisation. Is it a coincidence that the music industry has also seen the value in bringing people together in the same way, perhaps as a way of facilitating market penetration? I would have to lean towards a firm “no”.

I accept there is always going to be the novelty value of seeing two different acts performing together, but over above that it seems fair to view collaborations as a mirror of the world we’re currently living in. They often represent a coming together of different races, cultures, and segments of society, and always in a positive light. It feels like there is something quite warm and toasty about that.

Fighting Until The Twitter End

In the fallout from Donald Trump being given the boot from Twitter, I’ve just come across some great stats for his Twitter account that I had to share. On the world’s favourite open-source encyclopaedia there is a page dedicated to Trump’s social media usage. It seems that as his presidency has progressed, so did the number of Tweets he was producing on a daily basis. No surprise really, but the scale of the escalation was a surprise to me and is a rather fascinating insight into a bunker mentality in progress.

Here is a chart showing his daily average tweets from the start of Trump’s Presidency to the chaotic end-game that we are seeing now. The time periods are six-month chunks, apart from the most recent period which was cut short by Twitter no-platforming him:

In the grand scheme of things I am a bit of a nobody, so who am I to talk, but if my Twitter usage at work had rocketed over the past year or so to this extent, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have a work to go to.

If only we had access to other data around his daily habits over the past few years… A four-year chart on ‘Words Spoken By Melania To Donald’ might be very revealing.

Revisting “There’s no place like home”

Back in June I wrote a short post about how a lack of crowds in the Premier League might change the likelihood of their being home wins. The idea behind it is simple: does playing at a ground full of partisan football supporters give home teams an advantage?

Because supporters are banned from attending football matches, the Covid-19 pandemic has given us an opportunity to test this idea. Up to the point of the Covid-19 pandemic causing a temporary halt to the 2019/20 Premier League season in March 2019, these were the stats for the distribution of the results of the matches that had already taken place:

  • Home wins = 45%
  • Draws = 25%
  • Away wins = 30%

My theory back in June 2020 was that we might see the home win percentage drop to around 40%, purely due to the effect of teams not having a biased crowd act as a “twelfth man”. At the time, there were signs in La Liga and the Bundesliga that there might indeed have been an impact on the distribution of results by not having any crowd present.

Well… I’ve looked at the numbers in the Premier League since crowds were banned, and there does appear to be something in it. But not in the way I was expecting!

Looking at all 109 Premier League matches from the end of the 2019/20 season, as well as the matches played in the first two weeks of the 2020/21 Premier League season, all of which were played behind closed doors, there is a definite shift in results distribution.

  • Home wins: 50 out of 109 = 46%
  • Draws: 20 out of 109 = 18%
  • Away wins: 39 out of 109 = 36%

Before saying anything else, it is worth pointing out that we are only talking about 109 matches here, so relatively speaking that is not a big sample. However, there does appear to be something going on here as away teams have been winning at a greater frequency than previously.

Is it the case that away teams are more emboldened than previously, now that there is no large crowd to shout insults at them? Looks like it.

I am personally affected by this as my betting strategy on Premier League matches focuses on betting on the draw, where there has historically been a significant price edge to be had. Looks like I need to be wary of taking this approach, at least for the time being.

I shall update these numbers in another few months and see if home win strike rate falls a bit… I still expect it to if the crowds stay away. But time will tell, of course.

Tesla: worth a fortune

Tesla has caught my eye today. It has become the world’s most valuable carmaker despite never having made a profit. Tesla overtook Toyota (pun intended – sorry) with a valuation of $209 billion, earned partly on the back of growth in sales the company’s range of electric cars, and partly on the back of Elon Musk’s showmanship / marijuana smoking.

It seems a bit mad, doesn’t it?

Growth businesses with high valuations and not profit are nothing new, of course – they are not uncommon in the gambling industry where I work – but when you consider the sheer scale of the numbers involved, it all feels a bit wrong.

After some quick googling I found a really interesting article about valuable but loss-making companies on cnbc.com. It would seem that of the companies publicly listed in the USA in 2019, 76% were unprofitable in the preceding year before the initial IPO. The last time this figure was higher was in 2000, the year of the dot.com bubble bursting.

Time will tell about Tesla of course, but could some troubled times be on the way for the stock markets? If we’ve got a lot of over-valued companies out there, it feels like there may well be some kind of correction on its way. Might be time to buckle up and enjoy the ride!

There’s no place like home… Or is there?

The Premier League is back this weekend after its enforced hiatus. Even though it will feel odd to see Premier League football in the middle of June – so that clubs don’t need to hand a shedload of money back to the Sky and BT Sport – from my point of view there is potentially an opportunity here to measure just how important home advantage is to a team. More pertinently, how important football supporters are to the result of a match.

There are betting implications here, potentially, if bookmakers don’t factor this into their prices correctly. Also, at a grander level there perhaps might be implications for how football clubs treat their supporters: if football supporters really are worth extra points over the course of a season, this should favour clubs that restrict the number of away supporters allowed in the stadium on match day.

It is an established fact that of the three potential outcomes available for a football match – home, away, draw – the home win is the most likely to come up. In other words, picking a result at random isn’t a 33.3% (or, in betting parlance, 2/1) chance when home advantage is factored in.

Before the Premier League was put on hold back in March, the distribution of results for the 2019/20 season are as follows:

  • Home wins = 45%
  • Draws = 25%
  • Away wins = 30%

So, with football stadiums being empty for the remainder of this season’s matches (eight or nine matches left, depending on the team, which works out at 24.2% of this season’s matches left to be played), we have an opportunity to see if the big driver of home advantage is the urgings of the crowd. Or, whether it is other factors are more important (for example: familiarity of match-day routine for the home side; home players not having to travel far; home players being more familiar with the dimensions of the pitch; etc).

This won’t be the most scientific test in the world, and partly because some teams are going to have tougher fixtures than others which will in turn skew the results, but a sample size of 184 matches will at least give us a decent indicator.

There are some signs from the results seen in German and Spanish football since it returned after its Covid-19 break that the crowd really does make a difference. From 55 matches in Germany since football’s resumption, 11 have been won by the home team. That’s a miserly 20% strike-rate when something in the mid-40% range would be the norm. In Spain, from a smaller sample of only 12 matches, 4 have been home wins for a 25% hit-rate. This is normally closer to 50% in La Liga.

If I were a betting man, I’d be putting home wins in the Premier League for the remainder of this season around the 40% mark. Let’s see how this pans out.

Heavier Drinking in the UK

It would appear that Covid-19 has driven British people to excess drink and drugs. This is according to respondents of the Global Drug Survey Covid-19 special edition. For example, it seems like 46.8% of respondents have reported drinking earlier in the day during the pandemic, the most of the twelve countries include in the survey results.

This caught my eye when I read this story reported in the Guardian today, and I did wonder if it was the worst possible UK-focused headline that the newspaper could have generated, based on the contents of the Global Drug Survey findings. Bad news sells, of course.

Anyway, the answer to this question is… Probably.

Here is the survey result, which show the United Kingdom sitting at the head of the boozing table:

So, on the face of it, this does not look good for the United Kingdom, does it?

However, it is interesting to note that a country widely regarded as having had a very robust – and some might say, most inspiring – response to the Covid-19 pandemic, New Zealand, feature in the top half of this list as well, ranking in fifth on 36.8%.

Scroll through the report and you find an even more eye-catching piece of information. Look at where New Zealand feature in the binge drinking chart:

New Zealand rank second for binge drinking! God knows how they would have responded if Jacinda Ahern had come up with a bad Covid-19 plan of action for her country!

Time may well tell that the United Kingdom’s response to Covid-19 has been sub-standard, but there is probably a lesson to be learned here about statistics being able to tell any story you want them to.

Appraising The Stock Market: Part 2

Over the past week I’ve been doing some number crunching in an effort to find some good stock market investments (you can read here Part 1 of “Appraising The Stock Market”). This means I’ve selected another cliched image for the blog! Also, and more importantly, even though I am only an amateur investor I do kind of feel that with a bit of number work, and a dollop of common sense, it is possible to make sensible investment decisions that won’t come back to bite me on the bottom.

As I detailed in Part 1, I spent some time applying a bit of logic to the FTSE 100 Index and split it into sectors that made sense to me, before then trying to estimate – in very broad terms – how those sectors might fare in the near future, bearing in mind we’re on the cusp of recession.

The next step was to dig a bit deeper into the sectors of interest and see what the analysis spits out at me… So here goes nothing…

Rationale For My Fundamentals Analysis Approach

My guiding principal is that I want to be investing in companies that make money. It might sound like an obvious thing to say, but we know that some companies don’t make a penny yet still cost a lot to invest in. This is because market capitalisation of companies is based on future value, of course, and so share prices in some companies can be high, even if not a penny has been made in profit thus far.

That kind of investment is not for me though as it represents too much risk. I want some proven cash generation. As such, I’ve chosen to focus on fundamentals around earning and efficiency:

  • EPS (Earnings Per Share)
  • ROCE (Return On Capital Employed)
  • Revenue increase from 2018 > 2019
  • Increase In Cash

Each measure on its own has its plus points and negatives, but used together I believe they can give me a fairly accurate broad picture of where a company is at now, which itself is the springboard for a deeper dive – namely, Discounted Cashflow Analysis. But more on that another time.

What Does My Analysis Tell Me?

Here is an example of data I looked at for the Banking Sector:

So, it is worth clarifying that this is only a small sample. And yes, this data only scratches the surface. However, at first glance Lloyds Banking Group leap out as a company that might be of interest. The share price has dropped by 48% in the past 12 months, more than some peers, yet it appears – at first glance – to have a bit more momentum than sector rivals. Lloyds have increased their cash position of lat e, too, which I find reassuring. I have also represented this increase as a percentage of 2019 revenue to see how much of the annual revenue growth has ended up as cash. 6% is on the high side, by my reckoning.

The downside to investing in Lloyds is that banks were ordered to cancel dividends in the short-term by the Bank of England, but that won’t last forever. It might not belong in a ‘sexy’ sector, but Lloyds Banking Group is definitely of interest to me (currently trading at around 30p).

Two More Companies I Like The Look Of

I’m also potentially sweet on two other companies. First up is Hikma Pharmaceuticals. My biggest worry here would be that I’ve already missed the boat, as the share price has improved 57% over the past 12 months. However, if the aim is to invest over the long-term in solid, well-run businesses that generate cash then this looks a decent investment. Here are the numbers:

This makes for impressive reading. Hikma Pharmaceuticals (trading around 2,502 as I type) has gone on my shortlist.

Finally, for now, I also think ITV might be worth a look:

The ITV share price has plunged 26% in the past year, with the Covid-19 crisis not helping in that regard. However, before Covid-19 they managed to increase revenue in a competitive operating environment, while also managing to increase cash by more than their increase in annual revenue. This to me suggests ITV is a well-run business (which is backed up by ROCE, which looks strong compared to leading peers). ITV is trading at around 81p at the moment – it might well be worth a dabble.

Some Conclusions

The three companies above are only potential investments for now, but I feel like I’ve got a sound basis for moving forward with some even more detailed analysis. Of course, what my sector analysis also tells me is that I don’t need to concentrate only on the FTSE 100 – there could well be some similar firms lurking in the FTSE 250, or AIM, that could be of investment interest.

More research is needed!