Hello QS readers! Welcome to my first article for the site. Some of you may know me as an admin for the MTGFinance Central Facebook group, where I would typically post content. Well, I’m thrilled to now be a part of the QS team and community (still an admin for the FB group)! I'm excited for the opportunity to write with the team, and thank you for taking the time to read. As always, let’s chat about your thoughts in the comments.
With that quick intro out of the way, let’s dive right into….
Other People’s Money (or OPM)
“The legendary investor Leon Levy always told me the best business in America was investing other people’s money.” – Robert Lenzner; Forbes
QS readers tend to cut to the facts, so rather than elaborate on my background in Magic, I’ll tie it right into the topic of this piece. My first foray into MTGFinance actually began with no money at all- or rather– none of my own money. I purchased my very first MTG investment, several near mint Revised Underground Seas and Volcanic Islands, using a $1,000 credit card promotion I received in the mail. The offer consisted of 0% APR and no fees, for one year. At the time, I had enough cash in the bank to actually cover the credit, so I knew my investment was protected should something happen to the cards or their value. More importantly, the plan was that I would use this line of credit to purchase cards with the intent of reinvesting their dividends through the year, as a means of establishing a foundational base of capital to work with, while not using a dime of my own.
I was, in effect, using other people’s money to finance my MTG investments.
**NOTE** - Before I continue, I am NOT advocating that you pick up the next credit card offer you can find and utilize it for MTG investing. This is simply an anecdotal example to illustrate the concept of Other People’s Money. Please do not put yourself into debt to invest in Magic. It can be very dangerous to your finances, particularly if you do not have a clear plan for yourself.
The concept of OPM is not new in traditional investing. Simply put:
OPM leverages third party financing to alleviate personal investment risk.
Utilizing other people’s money is very popular in real estate, where buyers minimize outlay by putting money down for a property loan for a percentage of the purchase price, then use investor financing for the remaining balance. Spread over multiple pieces of property, the buyer actually nets more ROI than if they had used only their own capital. Asset managers on Wall Street make millions strategically handling other people’s money. Debt, unsecured loans and even credit cards are all forms of OPM. Most of you have probably financed a car or had a student loan- that’s OPM in its simplest form. Often, there is a cost associated, usually in the form of interest or fees, but not always. For example, if a daughter’s parents give her an additional $15 in allowance to start a lemonade stand, she is utilizing OPM.
How does this tie in to MTGFinance? Well, for myself, that “free” line of credit allowed me to invest in eternal cards that I could potentially sell or trade down for a profit. For example, let’s say I purchase a near-mint Dark Confidant at TCG low, which is currently $35, using OPM. I then trade down that Dark Confidant at a premium for Standard cards, we’ll say at a rate of 20%. TCG Mid for a Modern Masters Dark Confidant is currently $42. With the trade down premium, our trading power for the Confidant is now $50. That $35 in third party financing is already yielding a 20% trade return. No speculation involved.
Now we have to factor in paying back that principle to our OPM lender (the credit balance). We can attempt to sell our new Standard cards, or we can take one step deeper to mitigate our risk. Utilizing Trader Tools during our transaction, we notice that Dragonlord Ojutai has a spread of 13%, buylisting for $10.50 currently, and Ojutai's Command at 21% for 1.50.
Let’s make the following theoretical trade across TCG Mid values:
Dark Confidant : $50 (w/20% trade down premium)
4x Dragonlord Ojutai : $48
1x Ojutai's Command : $2
Total Buylist Value: $43.50
We have just earned a near 20% profit margin, in cash, all using other people’s money. Wash, rinse and repeat, reinvesting those returns each time and over the course of a year, you’ve got a small pool of capital all built from someone else financing your work.
On a slightly larger scale, commission dealers adeptly maximize other people’s resources. If you have ever seen a dealer who sets up shop in a local hobby store, selling on commission, they are utilizing other people’s resources to lower their own cost and risk. They leverage OPM - in this instance the store front, client base, lights, glass card case, etc. - at a modest cost (sometimes a sales percentage to the store, or sometime a flat commission) to minimize their own risk exposure.
But, as I encouraged earlier, this is not an endorsement to max out credit cards to purchase MTG investments! Nor can we all be commission dealers. And, unfortunately, the job of "MTG Asset Manager" does not exist - though it would be interesting to hypothesize what such a role would look like.
So can the concept of OPM be applied to your day-to-day Magic trading?
Vendor Credit as OPM
Vendor buylist credit bumps are an incredibly powerful mechanism in MTGFinance and often under-utilized. They’re also an excellent form of OPM. When you receive a 30% buylist credit bump from Card Kingdom, for example, that vendor is “giving” you 30 cents of their money on every buylist dollar you trade in. For every $100 you trade, CK offers you an additional $30 if you convert to credit. This is a clear example of OPM at work. The popular argument against vendor credit is that a stores retail price is typically far above the total value of the buylist amount plus credit, netting a loss. However, this is not always true. In fact, there are many gems that vendors have for sale at or near TCG Low pricing. For example, Flooded Grove Expeditions are a hair less than 10% higher at Card Kingdom than the lowest retail near mint price on TCG.
If you manage your collection, specs and trades, keeping an eye on spreads with Trader Tools, you can use that 30% OPM to bring your trade values closer to retail of your purchases, having vendors subsidize many, if not much, of your trades. Additionally, if you spread that 30% across multiple smaller buys, your earning potential grows even more. In a sense, the vendor is now your investor. They’re offering you 30% to do the legwork of finding solid deals, and sometimes charging a fee with slightly higher (though not always) costs for product.
Trade Binders as OPM
If you view the secondary trade market through the lens of a large pool of money being circulated, anytime you trade at any premium, you are earning and using OPM. While abit more abstract than store credit, the additional value you gain through the trade is essentially other people’s money working for you. Conversely, when you trade against a premium, the additional value you offer is your money working for another person in exchange for the more collectible or less volatile card. Whenever you have a successful spec that earns you a profitable trade, or sell a card at release-hype pricing, all that additional value is a form of OPM. This is why trading into profits from successful specs is always the best approach, as this is giving you the perpetual benefit of other people’s money continuing to work for you. Holding on to specs is letting that money potentially slip away.
The trick to OPM is finding ways to maximize it to your advantage. Buylist credit is the best way to do this, as it is effectively an interest-free bonus that can be used to help fuel your portfolio (and doesn’t need to be paid back). Carefully playing into thin spreads allows you to acquire singles near buylist prices, then turning the additional credit into real cash as you move it into valuable cards near lowest retail cost. Trading eternal cards into Standard cards at a premium allows you additional access to other people’s money, as you can either sell into profits or move them into more OPM through buylists. Trading successful specs accomplishes the same. You also have the option of taking on risk by using OPM for speculation. That's riskier, but when successful, adds a nice bump to the pool of other people’s money at your disposal.
I hope this article offered you a new perspective on MTG risk mitigation. Though ostensibly simple in theory, the concept of Other People’s Money offers a powerful shift in perspective. When you begin to see added value as a form currency, you can look for creative ways to have it work for you. Just as real estate uses OPM through private investors to reduce risk and increase returns, so can it help you minimize your MTG outlay.
Thanks for reading, and let’s discuss more in the comments!