Dynamic Marketing Communiqué

A wolf hiding in sheep’s clothing? This checklist will help you identify such companies! [Wednesday: The Independent Investor]

November 22, 2023

Miles Everson’s The Business Builder Daily speaks to the heart of what great marketers, business leaders, and other professionals need to succeed in advertising, communications, managing their investments, career strategy, and more. 

A Note from Miles Everson

Happy midweek and welcome to “The Independent Investor!”  

We’re excited to share with you another insightful topic for today. 

Each Wednesday, we publish articles about basic investing tips, strategies, insights, and advice. Our goal is to help you strategically think about your financial choices and achieve true financial freedom in the long term. 

For today’s article, let’s talk about a coaching comment my friend and colleague, Professor Joel Litman, delivered to his workforce at Valens Research. 

Continue reading below to know how you can avoid being “eaten” by corporate “wolves.” 

Miles Everson
CEO, MBO Partners
Chairman of the Advisory Board, The I Institute

The Independent Investor 

What picture comes to your mind when you hear the word, “fraud”?

Smoke-filled rooms? 

Shady people skulking in alleyways? 

SUVs meeting in quiet parking lots? 

Some of you probably think of something out of a Hollywood movie—such as a bunch of folks lounging around their executive offices—whenever you hear stories of fraud. However, in the real world, especially in the investing world, fraud isn’t always what you expect or imagine it to be. 

Oftentimes, if someone is trying to take you for a ride, that person will do his/her best to make it look like that’s exactly what he/she is NOT doing. 

Photo from Stampli

Protecting Your Investments from Corporate Fraud 

Professor Joel Litman, Chairman and CEO of Valens Research and Chief Investment Strategist of Altimetry Financial Research, says he and his team of financial analysts often tell their Microcap Confidential Advisory subscribers that even the most “healthy” and “successful” businesses can actually be wearing sheep’s clothing. 

By the time unwitting investors realize their mistake, their money has already been devoured by a hungry “corporate wolf.” 

According to Professor Litman, the allure of high returns and the fear of missing out (FOMO) can cause investors to ignore warning signs and rationalize away red flags. What else? 

More often than not, smaller companies get overlooked by regulators and Wall Street. 

As a result, investors must take it upon themselves to police such companies. Professor Litman and his team created a framework—the Do Not Buy Checklist—to help investors determine whether or not such companies are trustworthy. 

The checklist looks something like this: 

Photo from Altimetry

As you can see on the photo above, the checklist contains a range of major warning signs for companies. Using this list helped Professor Litman and his team discover issues in electric-vehicle company Nikola in December 2022. 

Nikola: Pushing the Boundaries of… Possibility? 

Photo from Reuters

In June 2020, Nikola went public via a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC). 

[Special purpose acquisition company (SPAC): A publicly traded company created for the purpose of acquiring or merging with another existing company.] 

As investors and industry experts rushed to find the “next Tesla,” Nikola founder and former CEO Trevor Milton was happy to oblige. He proclaimed Nikola was going to revolutionize the U.S. transportation industry by launching a wave of electric- and hydrogen-powered tractor trailers, and building out stations to fuel these vehicles around the U.S.

Throughout much of the 2010s, Milton pushed the story of Nikola’s “innovation.” However, when the company went public, all of Milton’s hype caught up with him. 

Milton was convicted of fraud in October 2022 for lying about the progress of research and innovation at Nikola. He repeatedly staged false promotional events about the company’s trucks, including a fake “road test” where a truck was just pushed down a slight slope.

That’s not all!

Milton’s lies were so endemic that even the CEO who helped make Nikola public, Mark Russell, didn’t find out the company’s trucks had no power until after he’d been hired.

So, using the Do Not Buy Checklist, Professor Litman and his team found company red flags that triggered three items on the list. Here’s how it turned out… 

Photo from Altimetry

As with other companies that engaged in fraudulent activities, Nikola ended up losing significant market value. Its stock fell from its USD 80-per-share peak to USD 12 per share by the time Milton was charged with wire fraud in July 2021. Now, Nikola is trading for less than USD 1 per share.

Since Milton has been kicked out of the company, the management team has made progress… and investors might be tempted to give it the benefit of the doubt under new leadership.

However, as Professor Litman and his team flagged in December 2022, Nikola still has lots of issues… 

Russell, who didn’t know the trucks didn’t work when he signed on as CEO in 2019, helped the company sell its first trucks. In such cases, it’s easy to assume bringing the company to revenue would be a cause for celebration.

… but that’s not what happened. 

Almost immediately, Russell announced he would step down as Nikola’s CEO at the end of 2022. He has also unloaded roughly 80% of his shares in the company.

That’s not really a vote of confidence.

Professor Litman and his team continue to warn investors to steer clear from Nikola. There’s no “miraculous turnaround” to be expected from it anytime soon. 

The bottom line here? 

When putting your money to work, make sure to heed the warning signs. According to Professor Litman, red-flag checklists will help you identify “corporate wolves” and stocks that could tank your portfolio… BEFORE buying in. 

Keep this important investing insight in mind! 

(This article is from The Business Builder Daily, a newsletter by The I Institute in collaboration with MBO Partners.) 

About The Dynamic Marketing Communiqué’s
“Wednesdays: The Independent Investor”

To best understand a firm, it makes sense to know its underlying earning power. 

In two of the greatest books ever written on investing, the “Intelligent Investor” by Benjamin Graham and “Security Analysis” by David Dodd and Benjamin Graham (yes, Graham authored both of these books), the term “earning power” is mentioned hundreds of times. 


Despite that, it’s surprising how earning power is mentioned seldomly in literature on business strategy. If the goal of a business is wealth creation, then the performance metrics must include the earning power concept. 

Every Wednesday, we’ll publish investing tips and insights in accordance with the practices of some of the world’s greatest investors. 

We make certain that these articles help you identify and separate the best companies from the worst, and develop your investing prowess in the long run. 

Our goal? 

To help you get on that path towards the greatest value creation in investing. 

Hope you’ve found this week’s insights interesting and helpful.

Stay tuned for next Wednesday’s “The Independent Investor!”


Kyle Yu
Head of Marketing
Valens Dynamic Marketing Capabilities
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