Bet the Farm on Yourself

The most important lesson from Apple’s 2017 Q1 Earnings

Imagine taking all the money you have along with all that you can possibly borrow and then betting EVERY SINGLE PENNY of it that some stranger was going to trip and fall flat on his face while walking down the street on a specific day. No scientific reason behind it, you just have a hunch. Then imagine telling the world you were going to do it the week before the actual day of the bet. Don’t you think that sounds absolutely bat-shit crazy?

iPhone 7 propels Apple's earnings

Me too. But there’s a guy out there who doesn’t. Here’s his story.

On Tuesday, January 31st, after the market closed, Apple released its 2017 first quarter earnings. The company wowed analysts and investors by beating all expectations, earning $17.9 billion in net income and generating $78.4 billion in revenues for the quarter, $1 billion more than expectations. Billion with a “B.”

As a result of the strong earnings report, Apple’s stock rose more than $3 per share in after-hours trading and over $7 per share the next day, closing at $128.75. Investors everywhere celebrated with one notable exception: one investor who had very publicly “bet the farm” against Apple.

Last week in anticipation of the earnings announcement, in a post on the Reddit forum WallStreetBets, trader F.S. Comeau posted a lengthy detailed description of his huge personal bet ($240,000, representing all of his money) against Apple. He referred to the trade as his final “YOLO” (you only live once), an all-or-nothing proposition in which he would either come out a multi-millionaire or penniless, possibly even worse. According to his math, if Apple were to rise above $128 a share and stay there for any length of time, he would face a margin call that he would be unable to cover and find himself in deep, deep trouble.

I have no problem whatsoever with betting the farm. I’ve done it myself on more than one occasion. The problem is how he did it. I would stand and applaud, win or lose, if he had bet the farm on himself. Instead, Comeau bet the farm not on himself, but against something else, something far beyond his control. He bet it against one of the most successful companies of the 21st century and the eighth-largest company in the world.

In reading the post, Comeau comes off as a desperate, frustrated, emotional trader who found himself on the wrong side of Apple’s glowing earnings report. But let’s pretend for a minute that he got lucky and had called it exactly right, making millions instead of losing it all.

I would still think he was wrong.

Chalk it up to human nature, but most people have a hard time separating right decision/wrong decision from the ensuing result. You can make the wrong decision and win anyway, the same way you can make the right decision and still lose. Tens of thousands of examples of this play out every day in card rooms throughout Las Vegas in Texas Hold ‘Em, a tiny microcosm of life. Luck can play a big role in the short term, but plays almost no role at all in the long run. You can take a hand like 7-2 off suit and beat a pair of aces in any one given hand (7-2 off will win 12.67% of the time). But if you think it’s due to your superior skill and repeat that same action over and over, you’re going to be broke (pocket aces winning the other 87.33% of the time) and sitting on the rail before you realize what happened to you.

Which brings us to another example of the delusional stories we sometimes tell ourselves (and a good opportunity to mention my favorite statistic of all-time: 84% of people rate themselves as better than average at self-evaluation). When people get a good result, or a “win,” from their efforts, they often attribute factors such as detailed planning, skill, intelligence, and etc., every attribute being internal, within their control. When people get a poor result, or a “loss,” they blame bad timing, say that the game is rigged, label it bad luck, and etc., every attribute being something external, outside of their control. Specifically, Comeau’s 5000-word manifesto mentioned above and linked here again is littered with this type of thinking, excuse-making, and failed reasoning.

When Comeau decided to bet the farm on January 31st, it was an emotional decision after a long string of losses, and he placed his bet on something completely out of his control. It’s fitting that he bet against Apple, a company built – and rebuilt – because their legendary CEO, Steve Jobs, bet the farm on himself and his belief in Apple time and time again, including legendarily betting the farm as late as 2008 on the iPhone 3G. It was either fitting or ironic that Comeau based his bet on his mistaken belief that iPhone 7 sales would be disastrous. Record iPhone 7 sales propelled the huge quarter for Apple and sealed Comeau’s fate. Aside from Apple, Jobs also bet the farm with his purchase of Pixar, so strongly believing in what they were collectively creating that he funded the company with personal checks totaling more than $50 million until the breakthrough success of Toy Story catapulted Pixar into the cash flow stratosphere, ultimately making Jobs more money than he ever made at Apple.

If you find yourself racing towards an all or nothing, win or lose decision, make sure it’s one in which you can bet on yourself. Then, regardless of the end result, you can hold your head high and take pride in having put it all on the line. But if you do recognize that the moment is one in which you’ll be pushing all your chips in on a bet against someone or something else, find an escape route and find it quick. You’ve already lost.

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