Doc's note: I've long been called a contrarian... whether it's in terms of finance or health, I've never bothered to follow the crowd. I don't worry about what the herd will think of what I say. What's most important to me is finding the truth in research to help folks live their healthiest and wealthiest lives.
Today, I'm sharing a special essay from someone who shares my contrarian mindset and curiosity – Herb Greenberg. Herb is a business journalist you might have read in well-respected papers like the Wall Street Journal, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Chicago Tribune. Or maybe you've seen him as a senior stock contributor on CNBC.
Herb has spent years investigating problematic companies. For example, the CEO and CFO of Media Vision both went to prison after his exposé of its fake revenue.
He's received bomb threats... been subpoenaed... had his phone records stolen... and been attacked by everyone from Michael Kors to the founder of Overstock.com.
But last year, at the age of 69, Herb decided to start a new journey in his career. In today's issue, he explains how major surgery changed his outlook on his future, and how his latest venture could help folks double their money in the markets...
A funny thing happened while I was starting a new venture in activist short selling...
It was an out-of-the-blue e-mail from Enrique Abeyta, a source from my days as a journalist, that simply said, "Catch up?"
This was about a month into my new gig. I thought that, since Enrique's a former hedge-fund guy with a short-selling bias, he wanted to share a stock idea we could chase. Not even close.
Instead, Enrique wondered if I would consider joining him and a few of his ex-hedge-fund friends at an investment newsletter company they had started... long-term investing for individual investors.
My first reaction was: You've got to be kidding.
Long-biased investing isn't exactly on-brand for me. Nor are these types of newsletters. And with the market at all-time highs, the timing wasn't ideal.
Still, I wondered if maybe it's time to do something different... and maybe even a bit more upbeat.
If you haven't read my work before, for years, originally as a journalist, I carved out a niche of flying red flags over companies. For a while, I was even CNBC's in-house skeptic – going all the way back to a weekly segment playing the foil to the eternally optimistic Jim Cramer during the first year of Mad Money.
I later levered my skeptical side into a business, co-founding two institutionally oriented short-biased research firms.
It was a great run, but in June, I walked away – handing the keys over to my business partner. I had simply stopped having fun and was bored to the point of practically sleepwalking through the days. After nearly seven years of pouring all my energy into our firm, working weekends and vacations – even publishing a report on an insanely rocky ship while crossing the notorious Drake Passage on my way to Antarctica – I was worn out.
Looking back, I barely stopped long enough in March 2020 to have heart surgery at the Cleveland Clinic. While my surgery and recovery thankfully went without a hitch, I never had a chance to reflect on what had just happened because I landed back home in San Diego into the chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic... and a lockdown.
I was back at my desk the next day – albeit at half-speed – throwing myself into the business.
Maybe it was the emotional upheaval of COVID-19, which seemed to break the momentum not just for me, but for everybody. Maybe it was the exhaustion of providing short-selling research in a market that seemed to do nothing but go straight up. Maybe it was a delayed response to my heart surgery. Maybe it was a little bit of everything. What I knew was that I needed something new... anything to reinvigorate me as I headed into what I hoped would be the final stretch of my career.
Enter activist short selling. Activist short sellers seemed to me to be the only people still outing corporate frauds. And the diligence that goes into it is something I've done much of my career. It's the stock market equivalent of jumping out of a plane, with fingers crossed that the parachute will open. There is no salary. You're paid on the back end. It's high risk, high reward. And if it works, high adrenaline.
I've always been a risk-taker with my career... and this would be the ultimate risk. I figured the worst that could happen would be that I would fail.
But suddenly, despite doing everything that goes into starting a new business – including all the legalities and even having a website built – it was like I had suddenly fallen off the grid. My phone stopped ringing. My e-mails dried up. No texts. I was working in dead silence – not just in terms of noise, but in terms of the intensity that drove me all those years.
Then it dawned on me... I had unintentionally throttled back, something I had never done in my 47-year career.
At the age of 69, the feeling was weird.
This new, slower pace, it turns out, was both brutal, but also possibly a blessing. It was as if I was on a sabbatical. I became deeply introspective and, like so many people during the pandemic, began reflecting on my past – reassessing where I was in my life and seriously pondering what I really wanted to do going forward.
For the first time, I started thinking about the sheer significance of my heart surgery...
How they had sliced a nine-inch incision into my chest, sawed open my ribs, spread them apart, and stopped my heart for an hour and 10 minutes while a heart/lung machine kept me alive. And while the surgeon replaced my aortic valve, aortic root, and part of my ascending aorta, he tossed in a single bypass of a minor artery as a bonus. The whole procedure lasted five hours. But I was treating it almost like just another visit to the doctor.
I had just cheated death, and it took several months of working in silence – as well as this era of COVID-19 and the wake-up call it gave people – to realize it.
In cardiac rehab, the big takeaway is how to get rid of stress and how to keep your blood pressure low. That's critical to the longevity of the kind of biologic valve I have. In the best of circumstances, it will last eight to 12 years before it needs to be replaced – 15 if I'm lucky. Yet here I was taking on more stress and watching my blood pressure rise.
My big surprise after heart surgery was that it didn't slow me down... If anything, I had more energy. But this past summer, I started thinking about how I had almost taken this life-saving surgery for granted.
I realized that I don't want to be known as the grumpiest guy in the graveyard. (A CEO once said I lived in a "cocoon of negativity.")
And I thought about how much I love driving up to see my one-year-old grandson, who lives 500 miles away... And how much my wife and I like to travel – and how I would love to take just one trip without having to think about publishing a report after a day of sightseeing.
But, despite all of that (and being at the age most people are ready to stop working), I knew I still wanted to work. Even now, I never set an alarm, and my body clock geared to East Coast market hours still gets me up between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. every morning, including weekends – just because I want to.
I had vowed never to retire if I still enjoyed and had the capacity for the mental gymnastics of researching and writing about companies. It's calisthenics for the brain – very much like putting together a puzzle. To this day, I still get a kick out of it.
That gets us back to that out-of-the-blue call from Enrique, who had become prolific with several newsletters at Empire Financial Research...
I've known Empire's founder, Whitney Tilson, for years.
Enrique's pitch to me was to ultimately launch a newsletter under the Empire umbrella. I would also be writing a few essays every week to anybody who subscribes – topics and tone of my choosing. But the real attraction was that it wouldn't be just me...
Idea generation and trading strategies would be in partnership with Enrique and another hedge- fund veteran and all-around nice guy, Gabe Marshank – the calm, under-caffeinated counter to the intensely over-caffeinated Enrique.
Both of them have spent much of their professional lives shorting stocks, and like me, they're cursed with a skeptic's DNA. Ditto for the Empire team, including Whitney and Berna Barshay, another old friend.
Even better, the end market is not Wall Street. It's individuals looking for stock ideas – a throwback to my roots as a newspaper columnist. And while most of the ideas will be longs, the plan is for the team collectively to research and publish a few significant shorts a year.
So, after months of careful planning, we're finally launching my paid newsletter later this month...
On Thursday, March 24 at 8 p.m. Eastern time, I'm pulling back the curtain on the strategy I've been fine-tuning for the last five months.
I've been carefully working through a huge pile of potential investment ideas, vetting dozens of opportunities, and bouncing ideas off some of the smartest people I know, to come up with a portfolio of high-quality stocks to buy today.
I hope you'll join me on March 24 where I'll discuss my strategy in detail... share some of my favorite "war stories"... and reveal the name and ticker symbol of one of my favorite stocks to buy today. You can save your seat for this event by clicking here.
P.S. During the event – The 2022 Wall Street Exposé – we'll explain what's really causing the huge shake-ups we've seen in the market this year... And how it represents a unique money-making opportunity the likes of which we haven't seen in two decades. Learn more here.