AHEAD OF PRINT                                                                                 Financial Analysts Journal ...
AHEAD OF PRINTFinancial Analysts Journal     I would make two points. First, pre-2008,               Zwe i g: A chilling m...
AHEAD OF PRINT                                                                             Opportunities for Patient Inves...
AHEAD OF PRINTFinancial Analysts Journal     Zweig: I once paraphrased Graham’s won-             My context, of about 6–12...
AHEAD OF PRINT                                                                              Opportunities for Patient Inve...
AHEAD OF PRINTFinancial Analysts Journalvaluable assets, a good education system, a great                Klarman: I would ...
AHEAD OF PRINT                                                                               Opportunities for Patient Inv...
AHEAD OF PRINTFinancial Analysts Journal     The ethical issue is tough. I regard as highly          Zweig: At Baupost, ho...
AHEAD OF PRINT                                                                               Opportunities for Patient Inv...
AHEAD OF PRINTFinancial Analysts Journal      In contrast to the private markets, the public            Some investors mis...
AHEAD OF PRINT                                                                                             Opportunities f...
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Seth Klarman Interview with Jason Z

  1. 1. AHEAD OF PRINT Financial Analysts Journal Volume 66 ! Number 5 ©2010 CFA Institute PERSPECTIVES Opportunities for Patient Investors Seth A. Klarman and Jason ZweigA t the CFA Institute 2010 Annual Confer- revert to the mean, as Graham and Dodd might have ence in Boston (held 16–19 May), Jason expected, is probably lower today than in the past. Zweig sat down with legendary investor Also, the financial books of a company may not Seth Klarman to gain insights into Mr. be as reliable as they once were. Don’t trust theKlarman’s successful approach to investing. numbers. Always look behind them. Graham and Zweig: The first question I would like to ask Dodd provide a template for investing, but notyou, Seth, concerns your work at Baupost. How exactly a detailed road map.have you followed Graham and Dodd, and how Zweig: Seth, you started your career athave you deviated from Graham and Dodd? Mutual Shares, working for Max Heine and along- Klarman: In the spirit of Graham and Dodd, side Mike Price. Can you give us a couple of lessonsour firm began with an orientation toward value you learned from those gentlemen?investing. When I think of Graham and Dodd, how- Klarman: What I learned from Mike—and Iever, it’s not just in terms of investing but also in worked most closely with him—was the impor-terms of thinking about investing. In my mind, tance of an endless drive to get information andtheir work helps create a template for how to seek value. I remember a specific instance when heapproach markets, how to think about volatility in found a mining stock that was inexpensive. Hemarkets as being in your favor rather than as a literally drew a detailed map—like an organizationproblem, and how to think about bargains and chart—of interlocking ownership and affiliates,where they come from. It is easy to be persuaded many of which were also publicly traded. So, iden-that buying bargains is better than buying over- tifying one stock led him to a dozen other potentialpriced instruments. investments. To tirelessly pull threads is the lesson The work of Graham and Dodd has really that I learned from Mike Price.helped us think about the sourcing of opportunity With Max Heine, I learned a bit of a differentas a major part of what we do—identifying where lesson. Max was a great analyst and a brilliantwe are likely to find bargains. Time is scarce. We investor—and he was a very kind man. I was mostcan’t look at everything. taken with how he treated people. Whether you Where we may have deviated a bit from were the youngest analyst at the firm, as I was, orGraham and Dodd is, first of all, investing in the the receptionist or the head of settlements, heinstruments that didn’t exist when Graham and always had a smile and a kind word. He treatedDodd were publishing their work. Today, some people as though they were really important,of the biggest bargains are in the hairiest, strang- because to him they were.est situations, such as financial distress and liti-gation, and so we drive our approach that way, Zweig: One of the striking lessons that cameinto areas that Graham and Dodd probably out of the global financial crisis of 2008 and 2009 iscouldn’t have imagined. the way traditional value investors got slaugh- The world is different now than it was in the era tered. What went wrong, and why did so manyof Graham and Dodd. In their time, business was smart people get caught by surprise?probably less competitive. Consultants and Klarman: Historically, there have been“experts” weren’t driving all businesses to focus on many periods in which value investing has under-their business models and to maximize perfor- performed. Value investing works over a longmance. The business climate is more volatile now. period of time, outperforming the market by 1 orThe chance that you buy very cheap and that it will 2 percent a year, on average—a slender margin in a year, but not slender over the course of time,Seth A. Klarman is president of The Baupost Group, given the power of compounding. Therefore, it isLLC, Boston. Jason Zweig is a columnist for the Wall not surprising that value could underperform inStreet Journal, New York City. 2008 and 2009.September/October 2010 AHEAD OF PRINT 1
  2. 2. AHEAD OF PRINTFinancial Analysts Journal I would make two points. First, pre-2008, Zwe i g: A chilling moment in Michaelnearly all stocks had come to be valued, in a sense, Lewis’s wonderful book The Big Short is whenon an invisible template of an LBO model. LBOs Michael Burry, a very talented hedge fund man-were so easy to do. Stocks were never allowed to ager in California, finds himself, in 2007, in theget really cheap, because people would bid them desperate situation of having to defend his shortup, thinking they could always sell them for 20 positions in leveraged mortgage securities againstpercent higher. It was, of course, not realistic that his own investors, who are just besieging him,every business would find itself in an LBO situa- screaming at him, why are you doing this? At thetion, but nobody really thought much about that. very moment when his temperament is telling him Certainly, many of the companies had some that he should be doubting his own judgment, hiselement of value to them, such as consumer clients are compelling him to explain to them whybrands or stable businesses, attributes that value he has no doubts about his judgment.investors might be attracted to. But when the How have you organized Baupost to discour-model blew up and LBOs couldn’t be effected, the age your clients from putting you in a similarinvisible template no longer made sense and position?stocks fell to their own level. Klarman: We have great clients. Having Second, because of the way the world had great clients is the real key to investment success. Itchanged, it was no longer sufficient to assume that is probably more important than any other factora bank’s return on book value would always be 12 in enabling a manager to take a long-term timeor 15 percent a year. The reality was that instru- frame when the world is putting so much pressurements that were rated triple-A weren’t all the same. on short-term results.Watching home-building stocks may not have been We have emphasized establishing a client basethe best clue to what was going on in the mortgage of highly knowledgeable families and sophisti-and housing markets. cated institutions, and even during 2008, we could Equity-minded investors probably needed to see that most of our institutional clients—althoughbe more agile in 2007 and 2008 than they had ever some of them had problems—understood what was going on.needed to be before. An investor needed to put thepieces together, to recognize that a deteriorating Zweig: If you were to give one piece ofsubprime market could lead to problems in the advice on how to raise the quality of one’s clientrest of the housing market and, in turn, could base, what would it be?blow up many financial institutions. If an investor Klarman: In our minds, ideal clients havewas unable to anticipate that chain of events, then two characteristics. One is that when we thinkbank stocks looked cheap and got cheaper and we’ve had a good year, they will agree. It would beearnings power was moot once the capital base a terrible mismatch for us to think we had done wellwas destroyed. That’s really what primarily drove and for them to think we had done poorly. Thethe disaster. other is that when we call to say there is an unprec- edented opportunity set, we would like to know Zweig: With hindsight, it strikes me that a that they will at least consider adding capital ratherproblem many traditional value investors had was than redeeming.that they didn’t have enough on their dashboard. At the worst possible moment, when yourThey were accustomed to bubbles forming in the fund is down because cheap things have gottenequity market, but the credit bubble was in the cheaper, you need to have capital, to have clientsperiphery. Equity investors didn’t take the credit who will actually love the phone call and—most ofbubble seriously enough, because it wasn’t in their the time, if not all the time—add, rather than sub-central field of vision. tract, capital. Having clients with that attitude Klarman: Another issue that affected all allowed us to actively buy securities through theinvestors, not just value investors, was the pressure fall of 2008, when other money managers hadto be fully invested at all times. redemptions and, in a sense, were forced not only When the markets are fairly ebullient, inves- to not buy but also to sell their favorite ideas whentors tend to hold the least objectionable securities they knew they should be adding to them.rather than the truly significant bargains. But the Not only are actual redemptions a problem,inability to hold cash and the pressure to be fully but also the fear of redemptions, because the moneyinvested at all times meant that when the plug was manager’s behavior is the same in both situations.pulled out of the tub, all boats dropped as the water When managers are afraid of redemptions, they getrushed down the drain. liquid. We all saw how many managers went from2 AHEAD OF PRINT ©2010 CFA Institute
  3. 3. AHEAD OF PRINT Opportunities for Patient Investorsleveraged long in 2007 to huge net cash in 2008, go to 50 or even 40, you may find it difficult to buywhen the right thing to do in terms of value would more; but if you know that the bond is covered,have been to do the opposite. with extremely high likelihood, between 80 and par Zweig: There is an interesting tension in the or even above par, the bond becomes more andway Baupost operates. You are organized for the more compelling as its price falls.long term, you invest for the long term, and yet you But you do have to worry about how a bondhave demonstrated that you can be extremely will trade and what your clients will think if youopportunistic in the short term. For example, in don’t have enough staying power to hold to matu-2008, you took distressed debt and residential rity or even beyond maturity in the case of a bank-mortgage-backed securities from basically zero to ruptcy. But if you have the conviction of yourmore than a third of the fund in a matter of months. analysis—are sure that your analysis wasn’t opti-How do you take a firm that thinks long term yet mistic or flighty or based on a snapshot of anget everyone to turn on a dime and jump on some- economic environment that cannot tolerate anything when it’s cheap? stress—then you will not panic if the bond’s price Klarman: Actually, we increased the position starts to drop.to about half of the fund by early 2009. There is no Our approach has always been to find compel-single answer. First, I have incredible partners. We ling bargains. We are never fully invested if thereshare common aspirations for the business and a is nothing great to do. We test all our assumptionscommon investment approach. And we are not con- with sensitivity analysis. Through stress testing,ventionally organized. We don’t have a pharma- we gain a high degree of conviction that we areceutical analyst, an oil and gas analyst, a financials right. We are prepared for things to go slightlyanalyst. Instead, we are organized by opportunity. wrong because we adhere to a margin-of-safetyWe have analysts whose focus is on spinoffs or principle that gives us the necessary courage to godistressed debt or post-bankrupt equities. against the tide. Not only do we not miss too many opportu- Yet, we don’t actually think of it as courage, butnities, but we also do not waste a lot of time more as arrogance. In investing, whenever you act,keeping up with the latest quarterly earnings of you are effectively saying, “I know more than thecompanies that we are very unlikely to ever market. I am going to buy when everybody else isinvest in. Instead, we spend a lot of our time selling. I am going to sell when everybody else isfocusing on where the misguided selling is,where the redemptions are happening, where the buying.” That is arrogant, and we always need tooverleverage is being liquidated—and so we are temper it with the humility of knowing we could beable to see a flow of instruments and securities wrong—that things can change—and acknowledg-that are more likely to be mispriced, and that lets ing that we have a lot of smart competitors. Thus, inus be nimble. It is fairly easy to say, “Well, this is worrying about all the things that can go wrong, youmuch better than what we own. Let’s move from can prepare, you can hedge—and you must remem-this direction to that direction”—and we are ber to sell fully priced securities so that you aredoing that all the time. underexposed when things go badly. All these ele- Zweig: In a Forbes article in the summer of ments give us the courage to follow our convictions.1932, Benjamin Graham wrote, “Those with enter- The last point I would make is that your psy-prise haven’t the money, and those with money chology as an investor is always important. If youhaven’t the enterprise, to buy stocks when they are lose your confidence, if you’ve made too manycheap.”1 Could you talk a little bit about courage? mistakes, if you are down too much, it becomesYou make it sound easy. You have great clients and very easy to say, “I can’t stand being down moregreat partners. Was it easy to step up and buy in the than this.” Unless you have a bet-the-businessfourth quarter of 2008 and the first quarter of 2009? mentality, you would worry about your business, Klarma n: You may be skeptical of my about client redemptions, and about your own netanswer, but, yes, it was easy. It is critical for an worth in the business.investor to understand that securities aren’t what So, by being conservative all the time—bymost people think they are. They aren’t pieces of being both a highly disciplined buyer to ensure thatpaper that trade, blips on a screen up and down, you hold bargains and a highly disciplined seller toticker tapes that you follow on CNBC. ensure that you don’t continue to own things at full Investing is buying a fractional interest in a price—you will be in the right frame of mind.business and buying debt claims on a business. If Avoiding round trips and short-term devastationyou are afraid that a bond you bought at 60 might enables you to be around for the long term.September/October 2010 AHEAD OF PRINT 3
  4. 4. AHEAD OF PRINTFinancial Analysts Journal Zweig: I once paraphrased Graham’s won- My context, of about 6–12 months ago, was thatderful sentence as, An investor needs only two virtually everything was being manipulated by thethings: cash and courage. Having only one of them government. Nothing was natural in the markets.is not enough. And you are saying that courage is Interest rates were held at zero, the governmentnot just a matter of temperament but also a function was buying all kinds of securities—notably, mort-of process. gage securities—and who knows what else has Klarman: Absolutely. ended up on the Fed’s balance sheet. Zweig: You were quite critical of indexing in We have had lending programs—TroubledMargin of Safety: Risk-Averse Value Investing Strate- Asset Relief Program (TARP), Cash for Clunkers,gies for the Thoughtful Investor,2 which you wrote and even Cash for Caulkers. We just don’t knowmany years ago. Have you changed that view? the full extent to which investors have been manip- Klarman: I still think indexing is a horren- ulated. But certainly, the government wants peopledous idea for a number of reasons. That said, the to buy equities, to invest so that the market willaverage person who spends a very small amount move higher, creating a wealth effect or at leastof time on investing doesn’t have a lot of good eliminating the negative wealth effect in order tochoices out there. make people feel better about their situation, to A tremendous disservice is perpetrated by the restore a degree of optimism so that the economyidea that stocks are for the long run, because you might recover.have to make sure you are around for the long run, I am worried to this day about what wouldthat when you have unexpected pain, as many happen to the markets, to the economy if, in thepeople did in 2008, you don’t get out and you midst of all these manipulations, we realized thatactually are a buyer. The prevailing view has been they are, in fact, a Twinkie. I think the answer isthat the market will earn a high rate of return if the that no one knows, including those in Washington.holding period is long enough, but entry point is Will the economy continue to recover and grow atwhat really matters. a healthy rate or will we sink into a double-dip Stocks trade up when they are put in an index. recession? As we can all see, the high degree ofSo, index buyers are overpaying just because a stock government involvement continues.is included in an index. I am much more inclined to The European bailout is gargantuan. I doubt itbuy a stock that has been kicked out of an index will work because it kicks the can further down thebecause then it may have value characteristics—it road and is yet one more manipulation that encour-has underperformed. A stock is kicked out of an ages people to own securities. It is almost as if ourindex because its market cap has shrunk below the government is in the business of giving people badtop 500 or the top 1,000. advice: “We are going to hold rates at zero. Please We all know that the evidence shows that buy stocks or junk bonds that will yield [an inade-when you enter at a low price, you will have good quate] 5 or 6 percent.” In effect, it forces unsophis-returns, and when you enter at a high valuation, ticated investors to speculate wildly on securitiesyou will have poor returns. That is why we have that are too overvalued.had 10–12 years of zero returns in the market. Andgiven the recent run-up, I am worried that we will Zweig: It also forces sophisticated investorshave another 10 years of, if not zero, at least very to do the same.low returns from today’s valuations. Klarman: For a different reason, but abso- The mentality of “I’ll save transaction costs and lutely.management fees by indexing” ignores the fact that Zweig: Because the money is free.the underlying still needs to produce for you. K l a r m a n : And because they are in aIndexing usually refers to equities, but the attrac- short-term-performance game where they have totive asset class a year ago, on a risk-adjusted basis, keep up.was clearly debt, not equity. Zweig: Are you concerned about the longer- Zweig: In one of your recent letters, you dis-cussed what you called the “Hostess Twinkie mar- term consequences of the Fed and the Treasuryket.” First, can you explain what a Hostess Twinkie having essentially turned the whole planet into ais? Second, can you explain what you meant when “carry trade at zero cost”?you compared markets to a Hostess Twinkie? Klarman: I am more worried about the Klarman: A Hostess Twinkie is a confection world, more broadly, than I have ever been inthat has made many childhoods slightly happier, my career.but it is composed of totally artificial ingredients. Zweig: Why?4 AHEAD OF PRINT ©2010 CFA Institute
  5. 5. AHEAD OF PRINT Opportunities for Patient Investors Klarman: Until recently, I thought it was I am also troubled that we didn’t get the valueenough to have a good process at our firm, a clever out of this crisis that we should have. The Greatapproach, and that by our wits we would find Depression led us to a generation—or even twosufficient bargains. I worry now that a new element generations—of changed behavior. I grew up hear-has been introduced into the game, which is, in ing about how our grandparents had a “depressioneffect, Will the dollars we make be worth anything? mentality.” It’s awful to have a depression, but it’sAnd if we can print money in unlimited amounts, a great thing to have a depression mentalitywill the government intervene whenever it deems because it means that we are not speculating, weit necessary to save the financial system, to prop up are not living beyond our means, we don’t quit ourthe economy? There are not enough dollars in the job to take a big risk because we know we mightworld to do that unless we greatly debase them. It’s not get another job. There is something stable aboutnot clear that any currency is actually all that trust- a country, a society built on those values.worthy, and so I worry about all paper money. In some sense, from the recent crisis we have developed a “really bad couple of weeks” men- We judge ourselves in dollars. Our clients are tality, and that’s not enough to tide us through,all effectively in the United States. We don’t have teach us to avoid future bubbles, and ensure aan offshore fund, and so we hedge everything strong recovery.back to dollars. Perhaps today is no different from Zweig: Seth, the simplest way to look at whatother crises. Nevertheless, over time, politicians has happened in the world over the past three yearsfind it easier to create inflation and debase cur- is that the leverage that was taken on by the house-rency than to tackle hard problems, and so I worry hold, corporate, and financial sectors has beenabout the dollar. assumed by governments around the world, with We haven’t tackled a single hard problem. the United States in the lead. How is this going toThere is no evidence that we will, and in some play out, and is there an investment angle on it?sense, every can is being kicked further down the Klarman: I am a bottom-up value investor,road. So, I am very concerned about that. and so my partners and I are not experts on top- I would love to see some sign of energy in down investing. But broadly speaking, with sover-Washington that would suggest somebody is eign debt, in a Malcolm Gladwell kind of sense, wewilling—even if it means not being re-elected—to are talking about tipping points—we don’t knowtake a tough stand and try to tackle some of these how much debt is too much.serious problems, but I don’t see it. History, of course, is not a perfect guide, and Zweig: Do you think we will eventually sentiment plays a crucial role. In the 1990s, Jimtackle these problems? Grant wrote a book about credit called Money of the Klarman: People think of me as a pessimist, Mind.3 I think sovereign debt is “money of thebut I am actually an optimist. When somebody like mind.” For example, if we believe that the UnitedSenator Scott Brown of Massachusetts comes along States will repay its debt and inflation will not be aand says, “I am just going to speak plain English. I big problem, people will line up to buy U.S. debt.am going to tell what I see is the truth,” that has But if we become worried that the U.S. dollar will be debased, inflation will be high, or the Unitedappeal, especially in difficult moments when no States might default—although default isn’t realis-one else is saying that. I am optimistic that more tic because the government can just print morepoliticians will come along who realize that such a dollars—we will then have the risk of failed auc-stance is actually a path to electoral victory. tions and much higher interest rates. Large parts of the country understand that A tipping point is invisible, as we just saw inthere is no free lunch, that we have been lied to, that Greece. In most situations, everything appears fineall kinds of numbers are distorted and manipu- until it’s not fine, until, for example, no one showslated, that inflation is not really zero percent, and up at a Treasury auction. In the meantime, we canthat every adjustment the government makes to be lulled into thinking all is well, that the Unitedany reported data is to make the numbers more States will always be rated triple-A. Treasury Sec-favorable to its agenda. retary Timothy Geithner speaks as if—at least in his I am hopeful that people will understand that public statements—he has been lulled into thinkingwe can’t all just exist on handouts and no taxes, that the United States will always be triple-A. Thatand that we will begin to move in the right direc- kind of thinking guarantees that someday thetion. But I am not sure whether this crisis is bad United States will no longer be triple-A. A sover-enough to force us. eign deserves to be rated triple-A only if it hasSeptember/October 2010 AHEAD OF PRINT 5
  6. 6. AHEAD OF PRINTFinancial Analysts Journalvaluable assets, a good education system, a great Klarman: I would say that a commodity’sinfrastructure, and the rule of law, all of which are speculative nature is not what precludes invest-called into question by an eroding infrastructure, a ment. When Graham was talking about safety ofgovernment that changes the law or violates it principal, he was not referring to currency. Hewhenever there is a crisis, and a legislature that wasn’t really considering that the currency mightshows no fiscal responsibility. There is an old say- be destroyed, but we know that can happen, anding, “How did you go bankrupt?” And the answer has happened, many times in the 20th century.is, “Gradually, and then suddenly.” The impend- The investing game has historically been closering fiscal crisis in the United States will make its to checkers, but now it is more like chess—almostappearance in the same way. in three dimensions. The possibility that the dollars Zweig: In your book, Margin of Safety, you you make could be worth much less in the futuresaid as a general rule that commodities, with the leads an investor to think, How can I protectpossible exception of gold, are not investments myself? Should I be shorting the dollar againstbecause they don’t produce cash flow. Do you regard another currency, and if so, which one?commodities as investments in today’s market? Zweig: Right. And can you give us an indi- Klarman: No, I don’t. In the book, I was cation of how you are applying that principle tomostly singling out fine-arts partnerships and rare your portfolio?stamps—addressing the commodities that were Klarman: We try to protect against tail risk:trendy then. Buying anything that is a collectible, the risk of unlikely but possible events that couldhas no cash flow, and is based only on a future sale be catastrophic. Such an event would lead to muchto a greater fool, if you will—even if that purchaser higher inflation. There are ways to hedge againstis not a fool—is speculating. The “investment” inflation, including specific bets on the reportedmight work—owing to a limited supply of Monets, inflation rate. What we don’t like about thosefor example—but a commodity doesn’t have the hedges is that the government is the party thatsame characteristics as a security, characteristics that determines the official rate of inflation.allow for analysis. Other than a recent sale or appre- And it seems to me that we have much higherciation due to inflation, analyzing the current or inflation today—and have had for most of the lastfuture worth of a commodity is nearly impossible. 20 years—than the government admits to. We The line I draw in the sand is that if an asset has believe it is likely that the bond market vigilantescash flow or the likelihood of cash flow in the near will call the government on inflation before theterm and is not purely dependent on what a future actual inflation shows up in the government’sbuyer might pay, then it’s an investment. If an asset’s accounting. Therefore, we have bought way-out-value is totally dependent on the amount a future of-the-money puts on bonds as a hedge againstbuyer might pay, then its purchase is speculation. much higher interest rates. If rates reach 5–7 per- The hardest commodity-like asset to catego- cent, we won’t make anything on the hedge. But ifrize is land, an asset that is valuable to a future rates go to double digits, we can make anywherebuyer because it will deliver cash flow, not because from 10 to 20 times over money, and if rates go toit will be sold to a future speculator. 20 or 30 percent, we can make 50 or 100 times our Gold is unique because it has the age-old outlay. The puts are one kind of disaster insurance.aspect of being viewed as a store of value. Never- I think the odds are low that such high infla-theless, it’s still a commodity and has no tangible tion will happen in the near future, but lookingvalue, and so I would say that gold is a speculation. ahead five years, it becomes more likely, althoughBut because of my fear about the potential debasingof paper money and about paper money not being certainly not a 50/50 chance. With a very limiteda store of value, I want some exposure to gold. initial outlay, I think a hedge like ours is a reason- able protection. Zweig: Benjamin Graham drew a sharp andclassic distinction between investment and specu- Zweig: So, it’s cheap insurance.lation. I believe his exact words were, “An invest- Klarman: Yes, it’s cheap insurance in thement operation is one which, upon thorough same sense that if you have a $400,000 home andanalysis, promises safety of principal and an ade- homeowner’s insurance costs $2,500 a year, you’llquate return. Operations not meeting these buy the insurance. But if homeowner’s insurancerequirements are speculative.” costs $150,000 a year, you’ll say, “I am going to be But Graham sometimes speculated over the more careful with matches.”course of his career. So, maybe regarding commod- Zweig: If clients should give you moreities as speculative doesn’t preclude you from own- money when things are undervalued, do you giveing them, right? it back when markets are overvalued?6 AHEAD OF PRINT ©2010 CFA Institute
  7. 7. AHEAD OF PRINT Opportunities for Patient Investors Klarman: Great question. That is probably Zweig: How do you decide whether you havenumber one in my mind most of the time—how to the right amount of assets under management?think about firm size and assets under management. Klarman: Our capacity level is absolutely Throughout my entire career, I have always market dependent. We don’t want to be athought size was a negative. Large size means small distressed-debt firm that suddenly buys bonds atideas can’t move the needle as much. You may be par. We want to buy bargains, and our only goalless nimble because you have larger positions. as a firm is excellence. I really don’t care if our firmToday, we have $22 billion in assets under manage- has $5 billion or $25 billion in assets. And I don’tment, but 20 years ago we were at $200 million. care to ever go public, to sell out, which would, I As we entered the chaotic period of 2008, we think, ruin our firm.anticipated that things would start to get pretty If my partners and I can go to bed every nightwild. And so, around February 2008, for the first and retire at the end of a long career feeling that wetime in eight years, we went to our wait list because have done right by our clients, that we have putwe recognized that the opportunities were likely to them first, that we have always thought about theirbe both plentiful and large—and lumpy and arriv- interests before our own, that we haven’t gougeding unpredictably. them and haven’t proliferated products, I am going We believed that having more money under to feel great, even if I have made a small fraction ofmanagement might let us take advantage of oppor- what I could have made, because that’s not, in mytunities that otherwise we would have had to pass mind, what any of this is about. What my partnerson because we didn’t have enough buying and I do every day is about the sacred trust ofpower—and that proved to be right. managing clients’ money, not about how we can make more for ourselves. We certainly didn’t foresee the events ofSeptember 2008, but we were ready for them. We Zweig: Seth, that’s a great segue into the nextgot a lot of interesting phone calls from people who question. Please discuss the change in the moralneeded to move merchandise in a hurry—some of fabric and ethics of Wall Street since the time ofit highly illiquid, and most of it, in one way or Graham and Dodd.another, fairly illiquid. So, to have a greater Klarman: Wall Street exists to make money,amount of capital available proved to be a good and I don’t think it has ever been otherwise. Themove. If we had waited until the crisis hit to raise perception of Wall Street as a horribly evil place is,cash, we would probably have been much less from my perspective, misguided.successful in doing so. With new-fangled securities and with propri- Today, we are trying to walk a tightrope. Even etary trading, there may be more inherent conflictsas we are trying to build our firm to manage the of interest today than in the era of Graham and Dodd. For instance, our firm is in contact withcapital we have, we are also—psychologically and maybe 10–15 different desks at each of the majorin other ways—readying ourselves to return it. firms. How each of the firms manages potential One of the nice things about our investment conflicts of interest is open to question.approach is that we always have cash available to I know that Wall Street is always trying to riptake advantage of bargains—we now have about our eyeballs out, but I never know on which trade.30 percent cash across our partnerships—and so if Anybody who thinks they can do business withclients ever feel uncomfortable with our approach, Wall Street without their eyes being widethey can just take their cash back. open—without caveat emptor applying—is taking We have a lockup on a portion of our capital unnecessary risks. Wall Street certainly has athat is running off at the end of 2010. After that, we responsibility not to lie, but they owe us no fidu-have lengthy notice periods but no real lockup. ciary responsibility on a trade. They are a counter-Thus, clients can have their cash back if and when party or a market maker connecting us with a seller.they’d like it. In addition, we are discussing whether The idea of a Wall Street broker betting againstwe should return cash. If our cash position rose a customer on a transaction is a little bit different,materially higher than it is today, we would send but even there, it is highly complicated. The situa-some cash back—and we’ve told our clients this. tion could be that the customer wants to buy aOur clients appear not to like to hear that and would mortgage security, whereas the firm that sells itthus far like us to keep it. But I think returning cash wants to hedge its exposure, which should not beis probably one of the keys to our future success in a concern. In my opinion, we should celebratethat it lets us calibrate our firm size so that we are Goldman Sachs for not blowing up, rather thanmanaging the right amount of money, which isn’t wishing they had blown up like their peers monthsnecessarily the current amount of money. earlier by not hedging.September/October 2010 AHEAD OF PRINT 7
  8. 8. AHEAD OF PRINTFinancial Analysts Journal The ethical issue is tough. I regard as highly Zweig: At Baupost, how do you avoidethical virtually every buy-side manager I know. I groupthink?would put my money with them and trust them to Klarman: That’s a fabulous question. At ourdeal with my affairs in my absence. I would also recent investment team retreat, virtually everygive those on the sell side fairly high marks in terms speaker—many of the leading thinkers in the mar-of personal integrity and character and in realizing kets and in business—was of the opinion that terri-that life isn’t just about making every last nickel, ble problems await in terms of paper money andbut with the understanding that some people will that gold is an asset investors should seriouslytake advantage in the short run to get a bonus or to consider. Also, the prevailing opinion was that thelook good in front of their boss. European Monetary Union is likely to break up. All Zweig: Are there any particular reforms of our partners instinctively said, “Wow! That’syou would like to see or not see coming out of groupthink. We better be really careful beforeWashington? assuming that because everyone thinks that, it is Klarman: We don’t engage in any activities definitely going to happen.”that would be regulated away or would likely be I think we are very good at intellectual honesty.affected by new regulation. We don’t borrow We actually hire for intellectual honesty. In anmoney. We don’t use margin. Any requirements interview, we work hard to see whether people canregarding disclosure or limits of leverage would be admit mistakes. We hold our people accountable tofine with us. that standard. Everybody is going to make mis- I would love for proprietary trading to go takes, but we like to know that people will acceptaway, however, so that we have fewer competi- that they have made them, figure out what theytors. I believe that proprietary trading creates a have learned from them, and move on.conflict for brokerage firms that can’t give us the We are aware of our biases, which are proba-best service if their desks are aware of our orders bly to be worried and to be pessimistic about theand are front-running them, which we thinkhappens—but again, we don’t blame them markets and the economy, but they help us inbecause we know it goes on. being thorough so we can be right. We are aware Systemic risk regulators will not be effective of the risks of being unduly biased in either direc-because the pressure on them will be so great. tion. Investors need to pick their poison: EitherPeople like it when stock prices are up, when the make more money when times are good and haveeconomy is strong. It’s human nature. A systemic a really ugly year every so often, or protect on therisk regulator will have to pull away the punch downside and don’t be at the party so long whenbowl when the party has barely started and likely things are good.would be called before Congress to explain why. At Baupost, we are all clearly in the sameRegulating risk in that way is almost impossible. camp. We have all our own money invested in the Bank capital requirements should be higher. firm, and so we are very conservative. We haveThe potentially growing bank rescue fund also has picked our poison. We would rather underper-its problems. In effect, we are saying to Jamie form in a huge bull market than get clobbered in aDimon, “When your less successful, less capable really bad bear market.competitors screw up, it’s your problem. Friends Zweig: How do you hire for intellectualdon’t let friends drive drunk. So, Jamie, you are honesty? How do you screen for that? How do youreally running Bank of America and Citigroup and find it?all the other banks.” That’s craziness. It’s not fair. Klarman: We dwell a lot on past experiences.In no other business would we penalize the suc- We ask people, What is the biggest mistake you’vecessful firm for not instructing its less astute com-petitors on how to run their businesses better. But ever made? It’s a very open-ended question becauseI don’t really know how to fix that. it’s not solely an investment question, although Broadly speaking, there are ways to prevent a prospective hires often answer as if it were.financial crisis. If we could make it so that the We ask a lot of ethics-related questions toequity is wiped out of failing financial firms and the gauge their response to morally ambiguous situa-subordinated debt converts automatically to tions. We care that they can identify a tough callequity, we wouldn’t need government capital injec- and a conflict of interest.tions. We’ve seen a lot of firms get bailed out unnec- We also look for ideational fluency, which essen-essarily, such as the AIG holding company’s tially means that someone is an idea person. Increditors, who are getting par as debt matures for response to an issue, do they immediately have 10no reason that I can fathom. We could have rescued or 15 different ideas about how they would want tothe subsidiary without rescuing the parent. analyze it—threads they would want to pull á la8 AHEAD OF PRINT ©2010 CFA Institute
  9. 9. AHEAD OF PRINT Opportunities for Patient InvestorsMichael Price—or are they surprised by the ques- If short sellers are wrong on fundamentals—iftion? We don’t want them to be sitting at their desks they want to short a stock at 10 that I know isnot knowing how to pursue the next opportunity worth 20 and they want to drive it to 8 and 6—Iwhen it comes along. We throw out a lot of different am going to buy and they are eventually going tothings in interviews, but we are looking for people be wiped out.who have it all: ethics, smarts, work ethic, intellec- I don’t understand the worry about computerstual honesty, and high integrity. selling stocks at a penny, other than it creates a false Zweig: Does short selling by hedge funds sense of calm in investors’ minds that the marketsamount to the biggest market manipulation out won’t be volatile, which would be a false sense ofthere? well-being because markets are, and should some- Klarman: I would be surprised to find out times be, volatile. If someone wants to sell me athat that is true. stock worth 50 bucks for a penny, it doesn’t bother We don’t sell short at Baupost, but my experi- me at all. I don’t think it should bother any of us.ence is that short sellers do far better analysis than Zweig: What about the problem of individ-long buyers because they have to. The market is ual investors who had market orders in and just gotbiased upward over time—as the saying goes,stocks are for the long run. And just by the nature crushed?of what they do, the street is biased toward the Klarman: Nobody should ever put in a mar-bullish side, and so there is more low-hanging fruit ket order. It doesn’t make sense because the marketon the short side. can change rapidly. Short sellers are the market’s police officers. If Zweig: What are your top investment assetshort selling were to go away, the market would classes for the next decade?levitate even more than it currently does. In myopinion, it would not be in the country’s best inter- Klarman: My answer is that we are highlyest to have short selling prohibited. There would be opportunistic, and I will be buying what othermore scams, more potential for the little guy to rack people are selling, what is out of favor, what isup painful losses because securities would be loathed and despised, where there is financial dis-allowed to rise unchecked. The act of selling some- tress, litigation—basically, where there is trouble.thing short, of voting that it’s overvalued, is a pos- That is how we direct our search. We don’t have aitive for the system. crystal ball, and so we don’t know what those asset The one exception is when short sellers, in classes will be.effect, yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater in an Zweig: All right. The next question is the sis-attempt to create fear or spread malicious rumors. ter of the last question. I can’t resist asking it A potential market manipulation is the pur- because I know it will drive you crazy. The questionchase of credit default swaps by those who want is, how are you making money?companies to file for bankruptcy rather thanrecover. That activity has a problematic aspect to it. Klarman: Typically, we make money when Zweig: Can you think of any possible mech- we buy things. We count the profits later, but weanism that would limit the kind of short selling that know we have captured them when we buy thefeeds on self-fulfilling rumor while permitting bargain.more “fundamental” short selling? Right now, we are buying, or trying to buy, Klarman: I really don’t have a problem with private commercial real estate because the stressesmost rumors. It’s yelling “Fire!” in the theater and in that market are creating bargains. The privatecausing problems for a company that needs to roll market in commercial real estate, especially theits debt that I am worried about. But I would also private market for anything less than center citysay there should be some burden on companies that Class A office or malls, has terrible fundamentals,continue to be dependent on rolling over debt and the likelihood that they will get better soon isregardless of the market environment. not good. Yet the government has propped the For example, what General Electric did going market up with TARP money and Public-Privateinto the financial crisis was irresponsible. GE Investment Program money and also, essentially,assumed that the markets would be the same asthey had been for decades and that it could always by winking at the banks. I think the Federal Depositroll commercial paper—and when it couldn’t, the Insurance Corporation has told banks, “Don’t be ingovernment rescued it. In my view, GE had a a hurry to sell your commercial real estate. We willresponsibility to extend the maturity on its debt so bear with you.” Servicers of commercial real estateas not to be dependent on access to the capital securities and mortgage securities have also beenmarkets at all times. slow to sell and eager to restructure.September/October 2010 AHEAD OF PRINT 9
  10. 10. AHEAD OF PRINTFinancial Analysts Journal In contrast to the private markets, the public Some investors missed some very importantmarket in real estate has rallied enormously. Many hedges over the last few years because they wereREITs are yielding 5 or 6 percent, which reflects unduly worried about their counterparties, whichvastly higher prices and less attractive yields than isn’t to say we shouldn’t have that concern. We verythe private market offers. much do, but we live in a world where you have to Nevertheless, we are not making any money in make tough decisions. Sometimes, we choose areal estate right now. We are putting money to good enough counterparty over doing nothing.work in private commercial real estate when we Zweig: You spoke of deploying capital andcan, very selectively, because those investments being fully invested in 2008 and 2009. Can youwill yield a good return over time, unlike the public give an example of a situation that justifiedpart of real estate that is quite unattractive. deploying your capital in the midst of a decline of We are making money on the distressed debt that magnitude?we bought two years ago, which has gone from 40 Klarman: We began by asking, Is there any-or 50 or 60 to 90 or par, and on other similar secu- thing we can buy and still be fine in the midst of arities that have been grinding along, throwing off depression? Our answer was yes—the bonds of thecash, mostly rising in price or going through a captive auto finance companies, which were trad-process that will ultimately deliver a profit to us. ing as low as 40 cents on the dollar. Ford Motor Zweig: How does Baupost define a value Credit was particularly attractive because Fordcompany, and what is your average holding period? seemed to be the best positioned of the Big Three, Klarman: With the exception of an arbitrage the most likely to survive.or a necessarily short-term investment, we enter If Ford’s loan losses went from the existing runevery trade with the idea that we are going to hold rate to eight times the run rate, 40 percent of theto maturity in the case of a bond and for a really company’s entire loan portfolio would be totally wiped out. But the bonds we were interested in,long time, potentially forever, in the case of a stock. which we could buy at 40 cents on the dollar, wouldAgain, if you don’t do that, you are speculating and still be worth 60 cents on the dollar. That, to me, isnot investing. We may, however, turn over posi- a depression-proof investment.tions more often. Auto loans did not show the same signs of If we buy a bond at 50 and think it’s worth par overreaching by lenders as did subprime and otherin three years but it goes to 90 the year we bought housing loans, yet many people were extrapolatingit, we will sell it because the upside/downside has the problems associated with housing to autos. Astotally changed. The remaining return is not attrac- we saw it, the same deterioration in credit stan-tive compared with the risk of continuing to hold. dards, broadly speaking, that plagued subprime In our view, there is no such thing as a value housing loans was not apparent in the loan portfo-company. Price is the essential determinant in lios of the Big Three auto companies.every investment equation. At some price, every In addition, current erosion was not a problem.company is a buy; at some price, every company is Although housing delinquencies and defaults wenta hold; and at a still higher price, every company is through the roof in late 2006 and 2007, nothing sim-a sell. We do not really recognize the concept of a ilar occurred in auto loans. And into 2008, no majorvalue company. uptick in delinquencies and defaults materialized. Zweig: Regarding the way-out-of-the-money Even assuming a much worse default rate than weputs on bonds that you mentioned earlier, are you were seeing at the time, Ford bonds had an amazingconcerned about counterparty risk down the road? upside under almost any scenario—if default rates Klarman: Yes. We worry about counter- only quadrupled (rather than octupled, as weparty risk in everything we do, including the puts. assumed) to 20 percent, the bonds were worthWe diversify counterparties. We try to choose only par—and thus appeared to have a depression-proofthe best-run, most solvent, best-capitalized coun- downside. We all agreed to make those investments.terparties. As often as possible, we make sure that Zweig: Is there any situation like that outthey post collateral; so, if the trade goes our way, there today?we have valid collateral that we can collect if they Klarman: No. The rally may very well behave trouble. overblown. It’s certainly overblown on the credit Even if we run into trouble with counterpar- side because risks remain real in the world, yetties, it doesn’t mean we will lose all our money. It bonds are starting to be priced for close to perfec-may be that we would collect, down the road, 50 tion, especially in the junk-bond market, wherecents instead of a dollar, but that still might be pay-in-kind (PIK) bonds and dividend recap bondsbetter than not having the protection. are appearing once again.10 AHEAD OF PRINT ©2010 CFA Institute
  11. 11. AHEAD OF PRINT Opportunities for Patient Investors Essentially, the problem is that government and interesting strategies, and The Aggressive Con-intervention interfered with the lessons investors servative Investor,7 by Marty Whitman and Martinneeded to learn. Those who stared into the meta- Shubik, is also very interesting.phorical abyss are right back at it, with the possible Anything Jim Grant writes is wonderful. Evenexception of college endowments, for whom the if he’s not always right on his predictions, he ispain has been long lasting because of their spend among the best thinkers and financial historians.rate. Almost everybody else is drinking the Kool- Michael Lewis has never written a bad book.Aid again, and it is very troubling. We could have Moneyball8 is about value investing. Looking backanother serious collapse, and people would again 20 years from now, The Big Short9 may be the defin-not be prepared for it. itive book about this era. It is about a microcosm, Zweig: How are you protecting your clients but the microcosm explains everything. Andrewagainst unanticipated inflation and a decline in Ross Sorkin’s Too Big to Fail10 is fabulous, as isthe dollar? Roger Lowenstein’s The End of Wall Street.11 In fact, Klarman: Our goal is not necessarily to make all of Roger Lowenstein’s books are excellent, andmoney so much as to do everything we can to so we should read everything Roger has written.protect client purchasing power and to offset, as Never stop reading. History doesn’t repeat,much as possible, a large decline in market value in but it does rhyme. Jim Grant has a wonderfulthe event of another severe global financial crisis. expression: In science, progress is cumulative, andWe not only care about the intrinsic underlying in finance, progress is cyclical. Fads will come andvalue of our clients’ investments, but we also want go, and people will think we are on to a new thingto avoid the psychological problem of being down in finance or investing; but the reality is that it is30 or 40 percent and then being paralyzed. probably not really new, and if we have seen the At this juncture, there are just too many scenar- movie or read the book, maybe we know how itios to enumerate. We have thought about scenarios turns out.in which the dollar remains the reserve currencyand those in which it doesn’t; those in which gold Zweig: By the way, I would recommend agoes berserk on the upside and those in which it few more books that I have no financial interest in.stays flat and then falls, because gold is currently One is called How to Lie with Statistics,12 by Darrellat a record high. All scenarios are worth contem- Huff. It was first published in 1954 and has neverplating. This type of analysis is really very much art gone out of print. You could read it on a singleand not science. subway or bus ride. It’s a terrific book. Zweig: Can you recommend a few books I would also recommend any book by Richardother than those by Graham and Dodd that our Feynman, the Nobel Prize–winning physicist,audience might enjoy? because I think if you pick up any of his books, you will learn more about how to think in the time it Klarman: Certainly. First, however, let me takes you to read that book than you could learn insay that Graham’s The Intelligent Investor,4 whichyou recently revised, is probably more accessible just about any other way.than Graham and Dodd’s Security Analysis, 5 Seth, unfortunately, we are out of time, and Ialthough the nifty thing about the sixth edition of am the most disappointed person in the room.Security Analysis is the updated comments. Thank you. Joel Greenblatt’s You Can Be a Stock Market This article qualifies for 0.5 CE credit.Genius6 is tactical and includes some very specificNotes1. Benjamin Graham, “Are Corporations Milking Their 6. Joel Greenblatt, You Can Be a Stock Market Genius (New Owners?” Forbes (1 June 1932). York: Simon & Schuster, 1997).2. Seth A. Klarman, Margin of Safety: Risk-Averse Value Invest- 7. Martin J. Whitman and Martin Shubik, The Aggressive Con- ing Strategies for the Thoughtful Investor (New York: servative Investor (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2006). HarperCollins, 1991). 8. Michael Lewis, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game (New York: W.W. Norton, 2003).3. James Grant, Money of the Mind: Borrowing and Lending in 9. Michael Lewis, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine America from the Civil War to Michael Milken (New York: (New York: W.W. Norton, 2010). Farrar Straus Giroux, 1992). 10. Andrew Ross Sorkin, Too Big to Fail (New York: Viking, 2009).4. Benjamin Graham, The Intelligent Investor, edited by Jason 11. Roger Lowenstein, The End of Wall Street (New York: Zweig (New York: HarperCollins, 2003). Penguin, 2010).5. Benjamin Graham and David L. Dodd, Security Analysis, 12. Darrell Huff, How to Lie with Statistics (New York: W.W. 6th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2009). Norton, 1993).September/October 2010 AHEAD OF PRINT 11