Jim Chanos, the hedge fund investor best known for his prescient bet against Enron, has a new company he's betting against: Caterpillar (CAT).
The founder of Kynikos Associates thinks that the industrial equipment maker will be a victim of a slowdown in commodities.
"I believe the commodities super-cycle built on the back of the Chinese construction boom is coming to an end," Chanos said before an audience at the CNBC Delivering Alpha conference in Manhattan on Wednesday.
Commodity prices have been mostly booming since 1990, but those prices should revert to historical means "with a viciousness" in the next 10 years, Chanos said.
Roughly half of Caterpillar's profits are tied to the capital expenditures of global mining companies, he explained. While there's been a general acknowledgement that global mining expenditures will decrease, it won't happen gradually, as most people have predicted, Chanos believes.
Chanos said the equipment maker's problems could be compounded by its accounting practices. He questioned the method Caterpillar used for marking recent acquisitions on its books. Caterpillar has already run into accounting troubles this year: The company took a $580 million write-down stemming from what it called accounting misconduct at a Chinese mining company it acquired in mid-2012.
Caterpillar's stock is down nearly 2% Wednesday following Chanos' short call.
Not all of Chanos' short bets have worked out as well as Enron. At CNBC's Delivering Alpha conference in July 2012, he told the audience he was betting against Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), the struggling printer and computer equipment company. Since then, its stock is up 39%.
Still, Chanos says he thinks his bet against HP will eventually be a winning one.
This article was published in the July issue of Money magazine.
You may think it's crazy to buy shares of companies that have a lot of people betting against them. Yet isn't that the very essence of contrarian investing?
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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Paul R. La Monica. Other than Time Warner, the parent of CNNMoney, and Abbott Laboratories, La Monica does not own positions in any individual stocks.
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