Posts tagged ‘Benjamin Graham’

The Accomplished Mole – Seth Klarman

I do quite a bit of reading and in my spare time I came across something very interesting. Here are some of the characteristics that describe this unique living mammal: 1) You will rarely see this creature in the open; 2) It roams freely and digs in deep, dark areas where many do not bother looking; and 3) This active being has challenged eyesight.

If you thought I was talking about a furry, burrowing mole (Soricomorpha Talpidae) you were on the right track, but what I actually was describing was legendary value investor Seth Klarman. He shares many of the same features as a mole, but has made a lot more money than his very distant evolutionary cousin.

The Making of a Legend

Photo source: SuperInvestorDigest.com

Before becoming the President of The Baupost Group, a Boston-based private investment partnership which manages about $22 billion in assets on behalf of wealthy private families and institutions, he worked for famed value investors Max Heine and Michael Price of the Mutual Shares (purchased by Franklin Templeton Investments). Klarman also published a classic book on investing, Margin of Safety, Risk Averse Investing Strategies for the Thoughtful Investor, which is now out of print and has fetched upwards of $1,000-2,000 per copy in used markets like Amazon.com (AMZN).

Klarman chooses to keep a low public profile, but recently his negative views on stock market and inflation risk have filtered out into the public domain. Nonetheless, he is still optimistic about certain distressed opportunities and believes the financial crisis has cultivated a more favorable, less competitive environment for investment managers due to the attrition of weaker investors.

Philosophy

Klarman despises narrow mandates – they are like shackles on potential returns. Opportunities do not lay dormant in one segment of the financial markets. Investors are fickle and fundamentals change. He believes superior results are achieved through a broadening of mandates. He prefers to invest in areas off the proverbial beaten path – the messier and more complicated the situation, the better. Currently his funds have significant investments in distressed debt instruments, many of which were capitulated forced sales by funds  that are unable to hold non-investment grade debt.

In order to make his wide net point to investing, Klarman uses real estate as an illustration device. For example, investors do not need to limit themselves to publicly traded REITs (Real Estate Investment Trusts) – they can also invest in the debt of a REIT, convertible real estate debt, equity of property (such as own building), bank loan on a building, municipal bond that’s backed by real estate, or commercial/residential mortgage backed securities. 

Klarman summarizes his thoughts by saying:

“If you have a broader mandate, they let you own all kinds of debt, all kinds of equity. Perhaps some private assets, like real estate. Perhaps hold cash when you can’t find anything great to do. You now have more weapons at your disposal to take advantage of conditions in the market.”

 

Klarman’s 3 Underlying Investment Pillars

Besides mentors Heine and Price, Klarman is quick to highlight his investment philosophy has been shaped by the likes of Warren Buffett and Benjamin Graham, among others. In addition to many of the basic tenets espoused by these investment greats, Klarman adds these three main investment pillars to his repertoire:

1)      Focus on risk first (the probability of loss) before return. Determine how much capital you can lose and what the probability of that loss is. Also, do not confuse volatility with risk. Volatility creates opportunities.

2)      Absolute performance, not relative performance, is paramount. The world is geared towards relative performance because of asset gathering incentives. Wealthy investors and institutions are more focused on absolute returns. Focus on benchmarks will insure mediocrity.

3)      Concentrate on bottom-up research, not top down. Accurately forecasting macroeconomic trends and also profiting from those predictions is nearly impossible to do over longer periods of time.  

These are great, but represent just a few of his instructional nuggets.

Performance

I did some digging regarding Klarman’s performance, and given the range of markets experienced over the last 25+ years, the results are nothing short of spectacular. Here is what I dug up from the Outstanding Investor Digest:

“Since its February 1, 1983 [2008] inception through December 31st, his Baupost Limited Partnership Class A-1 has provided its limited partners an average annual return of 16.5% net of fees and incentives, versus 10.1% for the S&P 500. During the “lost decade”, Baupost obliterated the averages, returning 14.8% and 15.9% for the 5 and 10-year periods ending December 31st versus -2.2% and -1.4%, respectively, for the S&P.”

 

Here is some additional color from Market Folly on Klarman’s incredible feats:

“Despite Klarman’s typically high levels of cash [sometimes in excess of 50%], Baupost has still generated astonishing performance. It was up 22% in 2006, 54% in 2007, and around 27% in 2009. During the crisis in 2008, Klarman’s funds lost “between 7% and the low teens.” Still though, he certainly outperformed the market indices and much of his investment management brethren in a time of panic.”

 

Although Seth Klarman has plowed over the competition and remained underground from the mass media, it’s still extremely difficult to ignore the long-term record of success of this accomplished mole. In the short-run, volatility may hurt his performance – especially if holding 20-30% cash. But as I was told at a young age by my grandmother, it is not prudent to make mountains out of molehills. Apparently, Klarman’s grandma taught her mole-like grandson how to make mountains of money from hills of opportunities. Klarman’s investors certainly stand to benefit as he continues to dig for value-based gems.

Watch interesting but lengthy presentation video given by Seth Klarman

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®  

Plan. Invest. Prosper.  

www.Sidoxia.com 

*DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, and AMZN, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct positions in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

June 23, 2010 at 12:06 am 2 comments

Ackman Builds Fortune Through Optimism and Confidence

Source: Portfolio.com

Source: Portfolio.com

Bill Ackman, 43 year old famed hedge fund manager and activist, was profiled by Jesse Eisenger in a May 2009 Portfolio.com piece with a title that has special meaning to me…The Optimist. I would never be presumptuous enough to compare myself to Mr. Ackman, but my firm, Sidoxia Capital Management, shares something in common with him – the name of my firm is actually derived from the Greek word for optimism (aisiodoxia).

Some confuse his confidence with arrogance, but regardless of your opinion, he has a track record to back up his bold assertions. For example, his six year investment in MBIA Inc. (MBI) netted Ackman about $1.1 billion in profits. At the end of 2008, his firm (Pershing Square Capital Management) managed $4.4 billion.  His brainpower has been sought after by the upper echelon of Washington finance – Ackman has rubbed elbows and provided his views to the likes of Lawrence Summers (director of President Barack Obama’s National Economic Council) and Timothy Geithner (Treasury Secretary). Those who have invested for long periods know there is a fine balance between confidence and hubris as Ackman recognizes:

“The investment business is about being confident enough to know that you’re right and everyone else is wrong. Yet you have to be humble enough that you recognize when you’ve made a mistake.”

 

Another common trait with all good investors is the ability and willingness to put yourself out on a limb. As legendary investor Benjamin Graham states, “You’re neither right nor wrong because others agree with you. You’re right because your facts and reasoning are right.” This is exactly the approach Ackman took when he researched MBIA. While the rest of the world was following the real estate herd as they were about to fall off a cliff, Ackman realized the calamitous situation brewing and warned others of the pending disaster. Being a contrarian is hard-work, and requires detailed analysis for the necessary conviction, a key ingredient for successful investments. Lots of blood, sweat, and tears were certainly used in Ackman’s long-lasting review and attack on MBIA Inc. that began in 2002, punctuated with a 66 page report entitled “Is MBIA Triple A?”

Ackman Charlie Rose

                     Click Here to Watch November 2008 Interview With Charlie Rose

There is another universal bond between all great investors – failure. Ackman is no exception and suffered his fair share of bumps along the road. Most notably, the forced closure of his hedge fund and investment firm Gotham Partners in 2003 was an unpleasant experience. His concentrated fund that held Target (TGT) investments was down -93% in early March 2009, according to Portfolio.com. Throughout all the trials and tribulations, Ackman remains as he likes to call  it, “resilient.”

Life is never easy for the great investors, or as Don Hays says, “You are only right on your stock purchases (and sales) when you are sweating.” Ackman has had to sweat out a volatile ride ever since he first dove in to purchase Target Corp. shares. As the article in Portfolio.com points out, at one point Ackman had nearly lost $2 billion with his bet on Target and suffered a hard fought loss in a proxy battle with the Target board.

Investing bystanders should do themselves a favor and carefully track Ackman’s moves. The outcome of his Target investment is unknown; however I’m confident and optimistic that Bill Ackman will ultimately build on his long-term track record of success.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

 Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®  

Plan. Invest. Prosper.  

www.Sidoxia.com 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds and AAPL, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in MBI, TGT, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

August 5, 2009 at 4:00 am 1 comment

Religious Pursuit of Stock Knowledge (Top 5 Books)

Feed Your Brain

Feed Your Brain

In this stress-filled society dominated with endless amounts of information, and where the masses chase instant gratification, it is difficult to find the time, energy, and focus to curl up to a good book. But in life, knowledge acquisition requires more than a quick keyboard dance on Google.com, or a fleeting skim of a Wikipedia passage. Mastering a subject requires in-depth, nuanced analysis, and books are ideal vehicles used to achieve this aim.
 
When it comes to the topic of equity investing, it feels as though there are an infinite number of books scattered on the investment menu. Investing in many ways is like religion – there are so many different styles to choose from, even if many of them strive for the same or similar goals. Therefore, I believe if investors are fine-tuning or shopping for an investment philosophy, it makes sense to explore a cross-section of investment styles/religions.
 
In my view, successful equity investing integrates a balanced mix of “art” and “science.” Too much emphasis on either aspect can be detrimental to investors’ financial health. Although understanding the science takes time, training and patience, generally a committed student can learn the nuts and bolts of investing by mastering the key financial equations, ratios, and concepts. However, becoming a fluent investment artist requires the adept understanding and prediction of human behavior – no easy task. 
 
Having logged thousands of hours and decades of years, my blood shot eyes and finance-soaked brain came up with a balanced mix of “art” and “science” in what I call my, “Top 5 Stock Book Starter Kit”:

A Random Walk Down Wall Street by Burton Malkiel
A great foundational investment book that tackles the major internal and external factors impacting our complex financial markets.

Beating the Street by Peter Lynch
A “Hall-of-Famer” growth investor, Lynch successfully managed the Fidelity Magellan Fund from 1977 to 1990 and averaged a +29% annual return. This book provides countless pearls of wisdom for both the seasoned pro and the bushy-tailed novice.

The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham
When Warren Buffet pronounces this, “By far the best book on investing ever written,” people should pay attention. Graham is considered by many to be the father of “value” investing.

Reminiscences of a Stock Operator by Edwin Lefevre
This book profiles the life and times of early 20th century trader Jesse Livermore, commonly believed to be the greatest trader of all-time. Livermore provides a view into the “fast money” approach that contrasts the traditional “growth” and “value” investment styles.

Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits by Phil Fisher
A Wall Street legend that explains the key factors of superior stock returns.

There you go…upon completion, you will have officially become a stock guru!

May 27, 2009 at 3:34 am Leave a comment

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