Ron Baron Swinging for Long Term Home Runs
The CNBC interview is a tad long with the first eight minutes better than the last eight. I can’t say I agree with a lot of his political rants, but his long-term success (BPTRX) is difficult to argue with despite his challenging track record over the last few years.
Ron Baron is considered one of the greatest growth investors of all-time, but unlike many of his modern growth peers he chooses not to play the quick trigger, momentum-based, “buy high, sell higher” strategy that merely purchases what’s working and sells what’s not. Rather he is investing in growth businesses that create long-term value, and focusing on those securitities trading at attractive prices. Seems like a very reasonable strategy to me, and an approach other historic investors like Peter Lynch followed. Like Lynch, Baron appreciates the impact of long-term home run stocks (Lynch called them “multi-baggers”). For example, in the interview Baron talks about the 30x return he earned on his Devry (DV) investment from the early 1990s; his 50x return on Charles Schwab (SCHW) from 1990; or Manor Care, up 100x from 1969 to its acquisition. Lynch enjoyed similar successes, but had an itchier trading trigger finger – his multi “bucket” strategy was quite unique (another day, another blog post).
When it comes to passive investing, Ron Baron like other active fund managers discredits the powers of index investing:
“With index funds, you are going to be investing in the most successful businesses at that point in time, and at the top of the market you will be massively over-weighted in those companies.”
Like the scarce number of .300 hitters in baseball, I believe there are a select few investment managers who can consistently outperform the market (a study in 2007 showed only 12 active career .300 hitters in Major League Baseball). I believe Baron is one of those .300 hitters in the investment world. The problems with analyzing manager performance are luck and “law of large numbers.” These phenomena wreak havoc on the examinations of short-run performance. The wheat ultimately gets separated from the chaff over the long-haul, but with the “Great Recession” of 2008-2009, many long-term investors are still hiding or shaking in their boots.
Ultimately, I believe the horse trading game of actively managed funds is a tough game to win. Most investors end up chasing performance and rotating in and out of positions at the wrong times. Nonetheless, Ron Baron has proved his ability to generate above average returns over the long haul. Taking a swing with Ron Baron might not be a bad idea.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP
Plan. Invest. Prosper.