Supervalu is, in the end, one of the largest supermarkets in the country, with some of the best brand names in the business, brands such as Acme, Albertson's, Cub, Jewel Osco, Lucky and Shaw's Star Market. These are all terrific places to shop and are often loved in their communities. The problem was the balance sheet, and with rates low, a private-equity outfit like Cerberus can leverage its balance sheet to fix the real problem, which is too much debt.
Nokia? Turns out that big expense cuts coupled with a hot, cheap smartphone were enough to get the company to report sharply better-than-expected numbers.
Now you could have two different takeaways here. One is that you might say, terrific, Jim, you lost a fortune before you were able to get a fraction of your money back. I bridle at that, because fortunately, I disliked all of these on the way down.
Second, though, is that you could correctly argue that I stayed too negative, not liking Supervalu and Clearwire at their lows, thinking the bond holders would end up with their companies. But I did manage to nail Sprint and did say it was way too late to sell Nokia.Now I know some are probably thinking right now that they should be buying other down-and-outers, like RadioShack (RSH), or Best Buy (BBY) or Hewlett-Packard (HPQ). My take is that as with Nokia, there's no reason now to hate Radio Shack. Too low. Best Buy? Still falling. And Hewlett-Packard, I would rather be a buyer than a seller at this point. The moral of the story: Speculate. It can work. And from Sprint, Clearwire, Supervalu and Nokia, I can tell you that it works much bigger than even I could ever dream.