More Ray Dalio Wisdom


Additional excerpts from Ray Dalio’s Principles. By presenting thoughts along similar veins by other investors, I do not wish to imply that Dalio’s thoughts are unoriginal. Instead, I am merely attempting to highlight psychological and behavioral commonalities between these investors. Random coincidence that these overlaps exist? Perhaps. But it’s much more fun to contemplate other contributing possibilities. Psychology, Process Over Outcome

“It isn't easy for me to be confident that my opinions are right. In the markets, you can do a huge amount of work and still be wrong. Bad opinions can be very costly. Most people come up with opinions and there’s no cost to them. Not so in the market. This is why I have learned to be cautious. No matter how hard I work, I really can’t be sure. The consensus is often wrong, so I have to be an independent thinker. To make any money, you have to be right when they’re wrong.”

Successful investing often requires the ability to straddle a very thin line between humility (“I could be wrong”) and hubris (“I am right, they are wrong”) – seemingly paradoxical dispositions. Howard Marks dedicated a whole chapter to this concept titled “Knowing What You Don’t Know.

“I stress-tested my opinions by having the smartest people I could find challenge them so I could find out where I was wrong. I never cared much about others’ conclusions—only for the reasoning that led to these conclusions. That reasoning had to make sense to me. Through this process, I improved my chances of being right, and I learned a lot from a lot of great people. I remained wary about being overconfident, and I figured out how to effectively deal with my not knowing. I dealt with my not knowing by either continuing to gather information until I reached the point that I could be confident or by eliminating my exposure to the risks of not knowing. I wrestled with my realities, reflected on the consequences of my decisions, and learned and improved from this process.”

Asking others to torpedo your thesis and listening to their reasons helps avoid confirmation bias (seeking and retaining only information/facts that support your thesis while ignoring anything to the contrary). An example of this implementation in its extreme: as of 2010, Bruce Berkowitz of Fairholme didn’t employ analysts, and instead hired external experts to challenge his ideas and theses.


When To Buy

“I don’t make an inadvertent bet. I try to limit my bets to the limited number of things I am confident in.”

Charlie Munger once said the following: “…the one thing that all those winning betters in the whole history of people who’ve beaten the pari-mutuel system have is quite simple: they bet very seldom… the wise ones bet heavily when the world offers them that opportunity. They bet big when they have the odds. And the rest of the time, they don’t. It’s just that simple.” Yes, he’s talking about horseracing, but same rules also apply to investing.



Ray Dalio on Mistakes


A long time ago, I stumbled upon this gem/manifesto by Ray Dalio, the billionaire founder of hedge fund giant Bridgewater ($154Bn AUM). It doesn’t contain his investment principles or Bridgewater’s secret sauce (which is likely constantly evolving anyway, powered by talented and creative minds). Instead, it offers a wealth of general advice on life, collected by Dalio over a lifetime of observation and reflection. The excerpts below on mistakes are merely the tip of the 106-page iceberg. Enjoy! Mistakes

“Since I started Bridgewater, I have gained a lot more experience...mostly by making mistakes and learning from them. Most importantly:

I learned that failure is by and large due to not accepting and successfully dealing with the realities of life, and that achieving success is simply a matter of accepting and successfully dealing with all my realities.

I learned that finding out what is true, regardless of what that is, including all the stuff most people think is bad—like mistakes and personal weaknesses—is good because I can then deal with these things so that they don’t stand in my way.

I learned that there is nothing to fear from truth. While some truths can be scary—for example, finding out that you have a deadly disease—knowing them allows us to deal with them better. Being truthful, and letting others be completely truthful, allows me and others to fully explore our thoughts and exposes us to the feedback that is essential for our learning.

I learned that being truthful was an extension of my freedom to be me. I believe that people who are one way on the inside and believe that they need to be another way outside to please others become conflicted and often lose touch with what they really think and feel. It’s difficult for them to be happy and almost impossible for them to be at their best. I know that’s true for me.

I learned that I want the people I deal with to say what they really believe and to listen to what others say in reply, in order to find out what is true. I learned that one of the greatest sources of problems in our society arises from people having loads of wrong theories in their heads—often theories that are critical of others—that they won’t test by speaking to the relevant people about them.

I learned that everyone makes mistakes and has weaknesses and that one of the most important things that differentiates people is their approach to handling them. I learned that there is an incredible beauty to mistakes, because embedded in each mistake is a puzzle, and a gem that I could get if I solved it, i.e., a principle that I could use to reduce my mistakes in the future. I learned that each mistake was probably a reflection of something that I was (or others were) doing wrong, so if I could figure out what that was, I could learn how to be more effective. I learned that wrestling with my problems, mistakes, and weaknesses was the training that strengthened me. Also, I learned that it was the pain of this wrestling that made me and those around me appreciate our successes.

“I believe that our society's ‘mistakephobia’ is crippling, a problem that begins in most elementary schools, where we learn to learn what we are taught rather than to form our own goals and to figure out how to achieve them. We are fed with facts and tested and those who make the fewest mistakes are considered to be the smart ones, so we learn that it is embarrassing to not know and to make mistakes. Our education system spends virtually no time on how to learn from mistakes, yet this is critical to real learning. As a result, school typically doesn’t prepare young people for real life—unless their lives are spent following instructions and pleasing others. In my opinion, that’s why so many students who succeed in school fail in life.”

“I met a number of great people and learned that none of them were born great—they all made lots of mistakes and had lots weaknesses—and that great people become great by looking at their mistakes and weaknesses and figuring out how to get around them. So I learned that the people who make the most of the process of encountering reality, especially the painful obstacles, learn the most and get what they want faster than people who do not. In short, I learned that being totally truthful, especially about mistakes and weaknesses, led to a rapid rate of improvement and movement toward what I wanted.”

Soros’ Alchemy – Chapter 4


Seth Klarman of Baupost wrote in a 1996 Letter that one should always be cognizant of whether seemingly different investments are actually the same bet in order to avoid risk of concentrated exposures. In other words, the task of risk management involves identifying (and if necessary, neutralizing) common risks underlying different portfolio holdings. One such "common denominator" risk that comes to mind (in today's yield-hungry environment) is the availability of credit and its impact on asset and collateral values, which in turn greatly influences returns available to investors holding different securities across the capital structure. Below are some musing on the topic of credit reflexivity / boom and bust cycles from George Soros, derived from his book Alchemy of Finance – Chapter 4: The Credit and Regulatory Cycle.

Macro, Intrinsic Value, Psychology, Risk

“…special affinity between reflexivity and credit. That is hardly surprising: credit depends on expectations; expectations involve bias; hence credit is one of the main avenues that permit bias to play a causal role in the course of events…Credit seems to be associated with a particular kind of reflexive pattern that is known as boom and bust. The pattern is asymmetrical: the boom is drawn out and accelerates gradually; the bust is sudden and often catastrophic…

I believe the asymmetry arises out of a reflexive connection between loan and collateral. In this context I give collateral a very broad definition: it will denote whatever determines the creditworthiness of a debtor, whether it is actually pledged or not. It may mean a piece of property or an expected future stream of income; in either case, it is something on which the lender is willing to place a value. Valuation is supposed to be a passive relationship in which the value reflects the underlying asset; but in this case it involves a positive act: a loan is made. The act of lending may affect the collateral value: that is the connection that gives rise to a reflexive process.”

“The act of lending usually stimulates economic activity. It enables the borrower to consume more than he would otherwise, or to invest in productive assets...By the same token, debt service has a depressing impact. Resources that would otherwise be devoted to consumption or the creation of a future stream of income are withdrawn. As the total amount of debt outstanding accumulates, the portion that has to be utilized for debt service increases."

“In the early stages of a reflexive process of credit expansion the amount of credit involved is relatively small so that its impact on collateral values is negligible. That is why the expansionary phase is slow to start with and credit remains soundly based at first. But as the amount of debt accumulates, total lending increases in importance and begins to have an appreciable effect on collateral values. The process continues until a point is reached where total credit cannot increase fast enough to continue stimulating the economy. By that time, collateral values have become greatly dependent on the stimulative effect of new lending and, as new lending fails to accelerate, collateral values begin to decline. The erosion of collateral values has a depressing effect on economic activity, which in turn reinforces the erosion of collateral values. Since the collateral has been pretty fully utilized at that point, a decline may precipitate the liquidation of loans, which in turn may make the decline more precipitous. That is the anatomy of a typical boom and bust.

Booms and busts are not symmetrical because, at the inception of a boom, both the volume of credit and the value of the collateral are at a minimum; at the time of the bust, both are at a maximum. But there is another factor at play. The liquidation of loans takes time; the faster it has to be accomplished, the greater the effect on the value of the collateral. In a bust, the reflexive interaction between loans and collateral becomes compressed within a very short time frame and the consequences can be catastrophic. It is the sudden liquidation of accumulated positions that gives a bust such a different shape from the preceding boom.

It can be seen that the boom/bust sequence is a particular variant of reflexivity. Booms can arise whenever there is a two-way connection between values and the act of valuation. The act of valuation takes many forms. In the stock market, it is equity that is valued; in banking, it is collateral.”

“Busts can be very disruptive, especially if the liquidation of collateral causes a sudden compression of credit. The consequences are so unpleasant that strenuous efforts are made to avoid them. The institution of central banking has evolved in a continuing attempt to prevent sudden, catastrophic contractions in credit. Since a panic is hard to arrest once it has started, prevention is best practiced in the expansionary phase. That is why the role of central banks has gradually expanded to include the regulation of the money supply. That is also why organized financial markets regulate the ratio of collateral to credit.”

“Financial history is best interpreted as a reflexive process in which there are two sets of participants instead of one: competitors and regulators…It is important to realize that the regulators are also participants. There is a natural tendency to regard them as superhuman beings who somehow stand outside and above the economic process and intervene only when the participants have made a mess of it. That is not the case. They also are human, all too human. They operate with imperfect understanding and their activities have unintended consequences.”


BlueCrest’s Michael Platt


Michael Platt and BlueCrest Capital have been in the headlines recently as the latest hedge fund billionaire to return external capital and morph into a private partnership / family office. Below are portfolio management tidbits from Platt's interview with Jack Schwager in Hedge Fund Market Wizards. Capital Preservation, Risk, Team Management

“I have no appetite for losses. Our discretionary strategy’s worst peak-to-trough drawdown in over 10 years was less than 5 percent, and this strategy lost approximately 5 percent in one month. One thing that brings my blood to a boiling point is when an absolute return guy starts talking about his return relative to anything. My response was, ‘You are not relative to anything, my friend. You can’t be in the relative game just when it suits you and in the absolute game just when it suits you. You are in the absolute return game, and the fact that you use the word relative means that I don’t want you anymore.’”

“The risk control is all bottom-up. I structured the business right from the get-go so that we would have lots of diversification. For example, on the fixed income side, I hire specialists. I have a specialist in Scandinavian rates, a specialist in the short end, a specialist in volatility surface arbitrage, a specialist in euro long-dated trading, an inflation specialist, and so on. They all get a capital allocation. Typically, I will hand out about $1.5 billion for every $1 billion we manage because people don’t use their entire risk allocation all the time. I assume, on average, they will use about two thirds. The deal is that if a trader loses 3 percent, he has to give me back half of his trading line. If he loses another 3 percent of the remaining half, that’s it. His book is auctioned. All the traders are shown his book and take what they want into their own books, and anything that is left is liquidated.”

“Q: What happens to the trader at that point? Is he out on the street? A: It depends on how he reached his limit. I’m not a hard-nosed person. I don’t say, you lost money, get out. It’s possible someone gets caught in a storm. A trader might have some very reasonable Japanese positions on, and then there is a nuclear accident, and he loses a lot of money. We might recapitalize him, but it depends. It is also a matter of gut feel. How do I feel about the guy?

Q: Is the 3 percent loss measured from the allocation starting level? A: Yes, it is definitely not a trailing stop. We want people to scale down if they are getting it wrong and scale up if they are getting it right. If a guy has a $100 million allocation and makes $20 million, he then has $23 million to his stop point.

Q: Do you move that stop up at any point? A: No, it rebases annually.

Q: So every January 1, traders start off with the same 3 percent stop point? A: Yes, unless they carry over some of their P&L. One year, one of my guys made about $500 million of profits. He was going to get a huge incentive check. I said to him, ‘Do you really want to be paid out on the entire $500 million? How about I pay you on $400 million, and you carry over $100 million, so you still have a big line.’ He said, ‘Yeah, that’s cool. I’ll do that.’ So he would have to lose that $100 million plus 3 percent of the new allocation before the first stop would kick in.”

“I don’t interfere with traders. A trader is either a stand-alone producer or gone. If I start micromanaging a trader’s position, it then becomes my position. Why then am I paying him such a large percentage of the incentive fee?”

“We have a seven-person risk management team…The key thing they are monitoring for is a breakdown in correlation…because most of our positions are spreads. So lower correlations would increase the risk of the position. The most dangerous risks are spread risks. If I assume that IBM and Dell have a 0.95 correlation, I can put on a large spread position with relatively small risk. But if the correlation drops to 0.50, I could be wiped out in 10 minutes. It is when the spread risks blow up that you find out that you have much more risk than you thought.

Controlling correlations is the key to managing risk. We look at risk in a whole range of different ways…They stress test the positions for all sorts of historical scenarios. They also scan portfolios to search for any vulnerabilities in positions that could impact performance. They literally ask the traders, ‘If you were going to drop $10 million, where would it come from?’ And the traders will know. A trader will often have some position in his book that is a bit spicy, and he will know what it is. So you just ask him to tell you. Most of what we get in the vulnerabilities in positions reports, we already know anyway. We would hope that our risk monitoring systems would have caught 95 percent of it. It is just a last check.”

Creativity, Psychology

“The type of guy I don’t want is an analyst who has never traded—the type of person who does a calculation on a computer, figures out where a market should be, puts on a big trade, gets caught up in it, and doesn’t stop out. And the market is always wrong; he’s not…

I look for the type of guy in London who gets up at seven o’clock on Sunday morning when his kids are still in bed, and logs onto a poker site so that he can pick off the U.S. drunks coming home on Saturday night. I hired a guy like that. He usually clears 5 or 10 grand every Sunday morning before breakfast taking out the drunks playing poker because they’re not very good at it, but their confidence has gone up a lot. That’s the type of guy you want —someone who understands an edge. Analysts, on the other hand, don’t think about anything else other than how smart they are.”

“I want guys who when they put on a good trade immediately start thinking about what they could put on against it. They just have the paranoia. Market makers get derailed in crises far less often than analysts. I hired an analyst one time who was a very smart guy. I probably made 50 times more money on his ideas than he did. I hired an economist once, which was the biggest mistake ever. He lasted only a few months. He was very dogmatic. He thought he was always right. The problem always comes down to ego. You find that analysts and economists have big egos, which just gets in the way of making money because they can never admit that they are wrong.”

“Both the ex-market makers who blew up became way too invested in their positions. Their ego got in the way. They just didn’t want to be wrong, and they stayed in their positions.”

Psychology, Opportunity Cost, Mistake

“I don’t have any tolerance for trading losses. I hate losing money more than anything. Losing money is what kills you. It is not the actual loss. It’s the fact that it messes up your psychology. You lose the bullets in your gun. What happens is you put on a stupid trade, lose $20 million in 10 minutes, and take the trade off. You feel like an idiot, and you’re not in the mood to put on anything else. Then the elephant walks past you while your gun’s not loaded. It’s amazing how annoyingly often that happens. In this game, you want to be there when the great trade comes along. It’s the 80/20 rule of life. In trading, 80 percent of your profits come from 20 percent of your ideas.”

“…I look at each trade in my book every day and ask myself the question, 'Would I enter this trade today at this price?' If the answer is 'no,' then the trade is gone.”

“When I am wrong, the only instinct I have is to get out. If I was thinking one way, and now I can see that it was a real mistake, then I am probably not the only person in shock, so I better be the first one to sell. I don’t care what the price is. In this game, you have an option to keep 20 percent of your P&L this year, but you also want to own the serial option of being able to do that every year. You can’t be blowing up.”

How many of us have been in a situation when we were busy putting out fire(s) on existing position(s) when we should have been focused on new/better ideas?


“I like buying stuff cheap and selling it at fair value. How you implement a trade is critical. I develop a macro view about something, but then there are 20 different ways I can play it. The key question is: which way gives me the best risk/return ratio? My final trade is rarely going to be a straight long or short position.”

His core goal is not all that different from what fundamental investors are try to achieve: buy cheap, sell a fair or higher value. The main difference stems from how the bets are structured and the exposures created.

Creativity, Diversification, Correlation 

“I have always liked puzzles…I always regarded financial markets as the ultimate puzzle because everyone is trying to solve it, and infinite wealth lies at the end of solving it."

“Currently, because of the whole risk-on/risk-off culture that has developed, diversification is quite hard to get. When I first started trading about 20 years ago, U.S. and European bond markets weren’t really that correlated. Now, these markets move together tick by tick.”

“The strategy is always changing. It is a research war. Leda has built a phenomenal, talented team that is constantly seeking to improve our strategy.”

Markets are a zero sum game less transaction costs. Participants / competitors are constantly shifting and changing their approach to one-up each other because there is infinite wealth involved. What worked yesterday may not work today or tomorrow. Historical performance is not indicative of future result. This is also why so many quantitative frameworks for diversification and correlation that use historical statistics are so flawed. Investors must constantly improve and adapt to current and future conditions. Otherwise someone else will eat your lunch.


Soros’ Alchemy – Chapter 1, Part 3


Continuation in our series of portfolio management highlights from George Soros’ Alchemy of Finance – Chapter 1, Part 3: Soros introduces the theoretical foundations of reflexivity. Psychology, Intrinsic Value

“What makes the participants’ understanding imperfect is that their thinking affects the situation to which it relates…Although there is no reality independent of the participants' perception, there is a reality that is dependent on it. In other words, there is a sequence of events that actually occurs and that sequence reflects the participants' behavior. The actual course of events is likely to differ from the participants' expectations and the divergence can be taken as an indication of the participants' bias. Unfortunately, it can be taken only as an indication – not as the full measure of the bias because the actual course of events already incorporates the effects of the participants' thinking. Thus the participants' bias finds expression both in the divergence between outcome and expectations and in the actual course of events. A phenomenon that is partially observable and partially submerged in the course of events does not lend itself readily to scientific investigation. We can now appreciate why economists were so anxious to eliminate it from their theories. We shall make it the focal point of our investigation.”

“The connection between the participants' thinking and the situation in which they participate can be broken up into two functional relationships. I call the participants' efforts to understand the situation the cognitive or passive function and the impact of their thinking on the real world the participating or active function. In the cognitive function, the participants' perceptions depend on the situation; in the participating function, the situation is influenced by the participants' perceptions. It can be seen that the two functions work in opposite directions: in the cognitive function the independent variable is the situation; in the participating function it is the participants' thinking…

When both functions operate at the same time, they interfere with each other. Functions need an independent variable in order to produce a determinate result, but in this case the independent variable of one function is the dependent variable of the other. Instead of a determinate result, we have an interplay in which both the situation and the participants' views are dependent variables so that an initial change precipitates further changes both in the situation and in the participants' views. I call this interaction ‘reflexivity,’ using the word as the French do when they describe a verb whose subject and object are the same…

This is the theoretical foundation of my approach. The two recursive functions do not produce an equilibrium but a never-ending process of change…When a situation has thinking participants, the sequence of events does not lead directly from one set of facts to the next; rather, it connects facts to perceptions and perceptions to facts in a shoelace pattern. Thus, the concept of reflexivity yields a 'shoelace' theory of history.

“Returning to economic theory, it can be argued that it is the participants' bias that renders the equilibrium position unattainable. The target toward which the adjustment process leads incorporates a bias, and the bias may shift in the process. When that happens, the process aims not at an equilibrium but at a moving target…

Equilibrium analysis eliminates historical change by assuming away the cognitive function. The supply and demand curves utilized by economic theory are expressions of the participating function only. The cognitive function is replaced by the assumption of perfect knowledge. If the cognitive function were operating, events in the marketplace could alter the shape of the demand and supply curves, and the equilibrium studied by economists need never be reached. How significant is the omission of the cognitive function? In other words, how significant is the distortion introduced by neglecting the participants' bias?

In microeconomic analysis, the distortion is negligible…When it comes to financial markets, the distortion is more serious. The participants' bias is an element in determining prices and no important market development leaves the participants' bias unaffected. The' search for an equilibrium price turns out to be a wild goose chase and theories about the equilibrium price can themselves become a fertile source of bias. To paraphrase J.P. Morgan, financial markets will continue to fluctuate. In trying to deal with macroeconomic developments, equilibrium analysis is totally inappropriate. Nothing could be further removed from reality than the assumption that participants base their decisions on perfect knowledge. People are groping to anticipate the future with the help of whatever guideposts they can establish. The outcome tends to diverge from expectations, leading to constantly changing expectations and constantly changing outcomes. The process is reflexive.”


Soros’ Alchemy – Chapter 1, Part 2


Continuation in our series of portfolio management highlights from George Soros’ Alchemy of Finance - Chapter 1, Part 2: Soros discusses the flaws of human psychology, how it complicates the task of investing in a marketplace of other thinking participants, why historical performance is not indicative of future results. He also explains why the term “alchemy” is in the title of the book. Psychology

“Natural scientists have one great advantage over participants: they deal with phenomena that occur independently of what anybody says or thinks about them. The phenomena belong to one universe, the scientists' statements to another. The phenomena then serve as an independent, objective criterion by which the truth or validity of scientific statements can be judged. Statements that correspond to the facts are true; those that do not are false. To the extent that the correspondence can be established, the scientist's understanding qualifies as knowledge…scientists have an objective criterion at their disposal.

By contrast, the situation to which the participants' thinking relates is not independently given: it is contingent on their own decisions. As an objective criterion for establishing the truth or validity of the participants' views, it is deficient…one can never be sure whether it is the expectation that corresponds to the subsequent event or the subsequent event that conforms to the expectation.

Thinking plays a dual role. On the one hand, participants seek to understand the situation in which they participate; on the other, their understanding serves as the basis of decisions which influence the course of events. The two roles interfere with each other…If the course of events were independent of the participants' decisions, the participants' understanding could equal that of a natural scientist; and if participants could base their decisions on knowledge, however provisional, the results of their actions would have a better chance of corresponding to their intentions. As it is, participants act on the basis of imperfect understanding and the course of events bears the imprint of that imperfection…

Participants have to deal with a situation that is contingent on their own decisions; their thinking constitutes an indispensable ingredient in that situation. Whether we treat it as a fact of a special kind or something other than a fact, the participants' thinking introduces an element of uncertainty into the subject matter…Perhaps the most outstanding example of the observer trying to impose his will on his subject matter is the attempt to convert base metal into gold. Alchemists struggled long and hard until they were finally persuaded to abandon their enterprise…”

Historical Performance

“A world of imperfect understanding does not lend itself to generalizations which can be used to explain and to predict specific events. The symmetry between explanation and prediction prevails only in the absence of thinking participants. Otherwise, predictions must always be conditioned on the participants' perceptions; thus they cannot have the finality which they enjoy in the-D-N model. On the other hand, past events are just as final as in the D-N model; thus, explanation turns out to be an easier task than prediction. Once we abandon the constraint that predictions and explanations are logically reversible, we can build a theoretical framework which is appropriate to the subject matter.”

This is why historical performance is not indicative of future results, and why performance chasing produces sub-optimal results. As Mark Twain said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” It doesn’t repeat because markets are full of thinking participant forever shifting and adjusting their thinking, but it does rhyme because our fundamental psychological pathways remain unchanged over the span of centuries.

Soros’ Alchemy – Chapter 1, Part 1


Portfolio management highlights from George Soros’ Alchemy of Finance – Chapter 1: The Theory of Reflexivity. In part 1, Soros discusses the concept of price equilibrium, supply and demand, and why market prices fluctuate. Intrinsic Value

“The concept of an equilibrium is very useful. It allows us to focus on the final outcome rather than on the process that leads up to it. But the concept is also very deceptive…Equilibrium itself has rarely been observed in real life-market prices have a notorious habit of fluctuating. The process that can be observed is supposed to move toward an equilibrium. Why is it that the equilibrium is never reached? It is true that market participants adjust to market prices but they may be adjusting to a constantly moving target…

…modern economists resorted to an ingenious device: they insisted that the demand and supply curves should be taken as given…They argued that the task of economics is to study the relationship between supply and demand and not either by itself. Demand may be a suitable subject for psychologists, supply may be the province of engineers or management scientists; both are beyond the scope of economics. Therefore, both must be taken as given.

Yet, if we stop to ask what it means that the conditions of supply and demand are independently given, it is clear that an additional assumption has been introduced. Otherwise, where would those curves come from? We are dealing with an assumption disguised as a methodological device…

The shape of the supply and demand curves cannot be taken as independently given, because both of them incorporate the participants' expectations about events that are shaped by their own expectations.

Nowhere is the role of expectations more clearly visible than in financial markets. Buy and sell decisions are based on expectations about future prices, and future prices, in turn, are contingent on present buy and sell decisions. To speak of supply and demand as if they were determined by forces that are independent of the market participants' expectations is quite misleading.

The very idea that events in the marketplace may affect the shape of the demand and supply curves seems incongruous to those who have been reared on classical economics. The demand and supply curves are supposed to determine the market price. If they were themselves subject to market influences, prices would cease to be uniquely determined. Instead of equilibrium, we would be left with fluctuating prices. This would be a devastating state of affairs. All the conclusions of economic theory would lose their relevance to the real world.

“Anyone who trades in markets where prices are continuously changing knows that participants are very much influenced by market developments. Rising prices often attract buyers and vice versa. How could self-reinforcing trends persist if supply and demand curves were independent of market prices?”

“The theory of perfect competition could be defended by arguing that the trends we can observe in commodity and financial markets are merely temporary aberrations which will be eliminated in the long run by the ‘fundamental’ forces of supply and demand…The trouble with the argument is that there can be no assurance that ‘fundamental’ forces will correct ‘speculative’ excesses. It is just as possible that speculation will alter the supposedly fundamental conditions of supply and demand.”

“If we want to understand the real world, we must divert our gaze from a hypothetical final outcome and concentrate our attention on the process of change that we can observe all around us. This will require a radical shift in our thinking. A process of change is much more difficult to understand than a static equilibrium. We shall have to revise many of our preconceived ideas about the kind of understanding that is attainable and satisfy ourselves with conclusions that are far less definite than those that economic theory sought to provide.”


Soros' Alchemy - Preface & Intro


Dear Readers, apologies for the length of time since our last article. It’s been a busy year – got married, growing the business, grappling with a large position ruining otherwise healthy year-to-date performance – you know, all the usual life items. We have all experienced situations when the fundamentals of a business are moving in an expected direction, yet the price does not respond in kind. Many moons ago, we highlighted an interview with Stanley Druckenmiller in which he stated:

“…I focus my analysis on seeking to identify the factors that were strongly correlated to a stock’s price movement as opposed to looking at all the fundamentals. Frankly, even today, many analysts still don’t know what makes their particular stocks go up and down.”

“I never use valuation to time the market…Valuation only tells me how far the market can go once a catalyst enters the picture to change the market direction…The catalyst is liquidity…”

Very interesting indeed, but also incredibly vague. Thankfully, Druckenmiller’s zen master George Soros has written multiple books. And that’s where we went searching for more detailed explanations on how to gauge supply and demand, the driving forces behind market liquidity and price movement. Without further ado, portfolio management highlights from George Soros’ Alchemy of Finance – Preface & Introduction:

Psychology, Catalyst, Liquidity, Intrinsic Value

“The phenomena studied by social sciences, which include the financial markets, have thinking participants and this complicates matters…the participants views are inherently bias. Instead of a direct line leading from one set of conditions to the next one, there is a constant criss-crossing between the objective, observable conditions and the participant’s observations and vice versa: participants base their decisions not on objective conditions but on their interpretation of those conditions. This is an important point and it has far-reaching consequences. It introduces an element of indeterminacy which renders the subject matter less amendable to…generalizations, predictions, and explanations…”

“It is only in certain…special circumstances that the indeterminacy becomes significant. It comes into play when expectations about the future have a bearing on present behavior – which is the case in financial markets. But even there, some mechanism must be triggered for the participants’ bias to affect not only market prices but the so-called fundamentals which are supposed to determine market prices…My point is that there are occasions when the bias affects not only market prices but also the so-called fundamentals. This is when reflexivity becomes important. It does not happen all the time but when it does, market prices follow a different pattern…they do not merely reflect the so-called fundamentals; they themselves become one of the fundamentals which shape the evolution of prices. This recursive relationship renders the evolution of prices indeterminate and the so-called equilibrium price irrelevant.”

“Natural science studies events that consist of a sequence of facts. When events have thinking participants, the subject matter is no longer confined to facts but also includes the participants' perceptions. The chain of causation does not lead directly from fact to fact but from fact to perception and from perception to fact.”

“Economic theory tries to sidestep the issue by introducing the assumption of rational behavior. People are assumed to act by choosing the best of the available alternatives, but somehow the distinction between perceived alternatives and facts is assumed away. The result is a theoretical construction of great elegance that resembles natural science but does not resemble reality…It has little relevance to the real world in which people act on the basis of imperfect understanding…”

“The generally accepted view is that markets are always right – that is, market prices tend to discount future developments accurately even when it is unclear what those developments are. I start with the opposite point of view. I believe that market prices are always wrong in the sense that they present a biased view of the future. But distortion works in both directions: not only do market participants operate with a bias, but their bias can also influence the course of events. This may create the impression that markets anticipate future developments accurately, but in fact it is not present expectations that correspond to future events but future events that are shaped by present expectations. The participants' perceptions are inherently flawed, and there is a two-way connection between flawed perceptions and the actual course of events, which results in a lack of correspondence between the two. I call this two-way connection ‘reflexivity.’”

“Making an investment decision is like formulating a scientific hypothesis and submitting it to a practical test. The main difference is that the hypothesis that underlies an investment decision is intended to make money and not to establish a universally valid generalization. Both activities involve significant risk, and success brings a corresponding reward-monetary in one case and scientific in the other. Taking this view, it is possible to see financial markets as a laboratory for testing hypotheses, albeit not strictly scientific ones. The truth is, successful investing is a kind of alchemy. Most market participants do not view markets in this light. That means that they do not know what hypotheses are being tested…”

“…I did not play the financial markets according to a particular set of rules; I was always more interested in understanding the changes that occur in the rules of the game. I started with hypotheses relating to individual companies; with the passage of time my interests veered increasingly toward macroeconomic themes. This was due partly to the growth of the fund and partly to the growing instability of the macroeconomic environment.”

“Most of what I know is in the book, at least in theoretical form. I have not kept anything deliberately hidden. But the chain of reasoning operates in the opposite direction: I am not trying to explain how to use my approach to make money; rather, I am using my experiences in the financial markets to develop an approach to the study of historical processes in general and the present historical moment…If I did not believe that my investment activities can serve that purpose, I would not want to write about them. As long as I am actively engaged in business, I would be better off to keep them a trade secret. But I would value it much more highly than any business success if I could contribute to an understanding of the world in which we live or, better yet, if I could help to preserve the economic and political system that has allowed me to flourish as a participant.”


“Monetary and real phenomena are connected in a reflexive fashion; that is, they influence each other mutually. The reflexive relationship manifests itself most clearly in the use and abuse of credit. Loans are based on the lender's estimation of the borrower's ability to service his debt. The valuation of the collateral is supposed to be independent of the act of lending; but in actual fact the act of lending can affect the value of the collateral. This is true of the individual case and of the economy as a whole. Credit expansion stimulates the economy and enhances collateral values; the repayment or contraction of credit has a depressing influence both on the economy and on the valuation of the collateral.”

“Periodic busts have been so devastating that strenuous efforts have been made to prevent them. These efforts have led to the evolution of central banking and of other mechanisms for controlling credit and regulating economic activity. To understand the role of the regulators it must be realized that they are also participants: their understanding is inherently imperfect and their actions have unintended consequences.”


My New Crush: Stanley Druckenmiller


I have a new (intellectual) crush: Stanley Druckenmiller. If you don’t share my feelings, you will after you read his Jan 2015 speech at the Lost Tree Club. Portfolio management related excerpts below: Diversification, Sizing

“I think diversification and all the stuff they're teaching at business school today is probably the most misguided concept...And if you look at all the great investors that are as different as Warren Buffett, Carl Icahn, Ken Langone, they tend to be very, very concentrated bets. They see something, they bet it, and they bet the ranch on it. And that's kind of the way my philosophy evolved, which was if you see - only maybe one or two times a year do you see something that really, really excites you. And if you look at what excites you and then you look down the road, your record on those particular transactions is far superior to everything else, but the mistake I'd say 98 percent of money managers and individuals make is they feel like they got to be playing in a bunch of stuff. And if you really see it, put all your eggs in one basket and then watch the basket very carefully.”

“…you don't need like 15 stocks or this currency or that. If you see it, you got to go for it because that's a better bet than 90 percent of the other stuff you would add onto it.” “So, how did I meet George Soros? I was developing a philosophy that if I can look at all these different buckets and I'm going to make concentrated bets, I'd rather have a menu of assets to choose from to make my big bets and particularly since a lot of these assets go up when equities go down, and that's how it was moving.

And then I read The Alchemy of Finance because I'd heard about this guy, Soros. And when I read The Alchemy of Finance, I understood very quickly that he was already employing an advanced version of the philosophy I was developing in my fund. So, when I went over to work for George, my idea was I was going to get my PhD in macro portfolio manager and then leave in a couple years or get fired like the nine predecessors had. But it's funny because I went over there, I thought what I would learn would be like what makes the yen goes up, what makes the deutsche mark move, what makes this, and to my really big surprise, I was as proficient as he was, maybe more so, in predicting trends.

That's not what I learned from George Soros, but I learned something incredibly valuable, and that is when you see it, to bet big. So what I had told you was already evolving, he totally cemented. I know we got a bunch of golfers in the room. For those who follow baseball, I had a higher batting average; Soros had a much bigger slugging percentage. When I took over Quantum, I was running Quantum and Duquesne. He was running his personal account, which was about the size of an institution back then, by the way, and he was focusing 90 percent of his time on philanthropy and not really working day to day. In fact a lot of the time he wasn't even around.

And I'd say 90 percent of the ideas he were [ph.] using came from me, and it was very insightful and I'm a competitive person, frankly embarrassing, that in his personal account working about 10 percent of the time he continued to beat Duquesne and Quantum while I was managing the money. And again it's because he was taking my ideas and he just had more guts. He was betting more money with my ideas than I was.

Probably nothing explains our relationship and what I've learned from him more than the British pound. So, in 1992 in August of that year my housing analyst in Britain called me up and basically said that Britain looked like they were going into a recession because the interest rate increases they were experiencing were causing a downturn in housing. At the same time, if you remember, Germany, the wall had fallen in '89 and they had reunited with East Germany, and because they'd had this disastrous experience with inflation back in the '20s, they were obsessed when the deutsche mark and the [unint.] combined, that they would not have another inflationary experience. So, the Bundesbank, which was getting growth from the [unint.] and had a history of worrying about inflation, was raising rates like crazy. That all sounds normal except the deutsche mark and the British pound were linked. And you cannot have two currencies where one economic outlook is going like this way and the other outlook is going that way.

So, in August of 1 92 there was 7 billion in Quantum. I put a billion and a half, short the British pound based on the thesis I just gave you. So, fast-forward September, next month. I wake up one morning and the head of the Bundesbank, Helmut Schlesinger, has given an editorial in the Financial Times, and I'll skip all the flowers. It basically said the British pound is crap and we don't want to be united with this currency. So, I thought well, this is my opportunity. So, I decided I'm going to bet like Soros bets on the British pound against the deutsche mark.

It just so happens he's in the office. He's usually in Eastern Europe at this time doing his thing. So, I go in at 4:00 and I said, ‘George, I'm going to sell $5.5 billion worth of British pounds tonight and buy deutsche marks. Here's why I'm doing it, that means we'll have 100 percent of the fund in this one trade.’ And as I'm talking, he starts wincing like what is wrong with this kid, and I think he's about to blow away my thesis and he says, ‘That is the most ridiculous use of money management I ever heard. What you described is an incredible one-way bet. We should have 200 percent of our net worth in this trade, not 100 percent. Do you know how often something like this comes around? Like one or 20 years. What is wrong with you?’ So, we started shorting the British pound that night. We didn't get the whole 15 billion on, but we got enough that I'm sure some people in the room have read about it in the financial press.”


“I've thought a lot of things when I'm managing money with great, great conviction, and a lot of times I'm wrong. And when you're betting the ranch and the circumstances change, you have to change, and that's how I've always managed money.”                “I made a lot of mistakes, but I made one real doozy. So, this is kind of a funny story, at least it is 15 years later because the pain has subsided a little. But in 1999 after Yahoo and America Online had already gone up like tenfold, I got the bright idea at Soros to short internet stocks. And I put 200 million in them in about February and by mid-march the 200 million short I had lost $600 million on, gotten completely beat up and was down like 15 percent on the year. And I was very proud of the fact that I never had a down year, and I thought well, I'm finished.

So, the next thing that happens is I can't remember whether I went to Silicon Valley or I talked to some 22-year-old with Asperger's. But whoever it was, they convinced me about this new tech boom that was going to take place. So I went and hired a couple of gun slingers because we only knew about IBM and Hewlett-Packard. I needed Veritas and Verisign. I wanted the six. So, we hired this guy and we end up on the year - we had been down 15 and we ended up like 35 percent on the year. And the Nasdaq's gone up 400 percent.

So, I'll never forget it. January of 2000 I go into Soros's office and I say I'm selling all the tech stocks, selling everything. This is crazy. [unint.] at 104 times earnings. This is nuts. Just kind of as I explained earlier, we're going to step aside, wait for the net fat pitch. I didn't fire the two gun slingers. They didn't have enough money to really hurt the fund, but they started making 3 percent a day and I'm out. It is driving me nuts. I mean their little account is like up 50 percent on the year. I think Quantum was up seven. It's just sitting there.

So like around March I could feel it coming. I just - I had to play. I couldn't help myself. And three times during the same week I pick up a - don't do it. Don't do it. Anyway, I pick up the phone finally. I think I missed the top by an hour. I bought $6 billion worth of tech stocks, and in six weeks I had left Soros and I had lost $3 billion in that one play. You asked me what I learned. I didn't learn anything. I already knew that I wasn't supposed to do that. I was just an emotional basket case and couldn't help myself. So, maybe I learned not to do it again, but I already knew that.”

Probably one of the few people in this world who knows what it feels like to lose $3 billion dollars in a single day. For additional reading, please see our previous article titled Mistakes of Boredom.


When asked what qualities he looks for in money managers:

“Number one, passion. I mentioned earlier I was passionate about the business. The problem with this business if you're not passionate, it is so invigorating to certain individuals, they're going to work 24/7, and you're competing against them. So, every time you buy something, one of them is selling it. So, if you're with one of the lazy people or one of the people that are just doing it for the money, you're going to get run over by those people.

The other characteristic I like to look for in a money manager is when I look at their record, I immediately go to the bear markets and see how they did. Particularly given sort of the five-year outlook I've given, I want to make sure I've got a money manager who knows how to make money and manage money in turbulent times, not just in bull markets.

The other thing I look for…is open-mindedness and humility. I have never interviewed a money manager who told you he'd never made a mistake, and a lot of them do, who didn't stink. Every great money manager I've ever met, all they want to talk about is their mistakes. There's a great humility there. But and then obviously integrity because passion without integrity leads to jail. So, if you want someone who's absolutely obsessed with the business and obsessed with winning, they're not in it for the money, they're in it for winning, you better have somebody with integrity.”

“If you're early on in your career and they give you a choice between a great mentor or higher pay, take the mentor every time. It's not even close. And don't even think about leaving that mentor until your learning curve peaks. There's just nothing to me so invaluable in my business, but in many businesses, as great mentors. And a lot of kids are just too short-sighted in terms of going for the short-term money instead of preparing themselves for the longer term.”


“…earnings don't move the overall market…focus on the central banks and focus on the movement of liquidity… most people in the market are looking for earnings and conventional measures. It's liquidity that moves markets.”

However, to borrow from Soros’ reasoning within the Alchemy of Finance, one could argue that anticipated earnings influence market participant behavior and therefore influence liquidity.


“…never, ever invest in the present. It doesn't matter what a company's earning, what they have earned. He taught me that you have to visualize the situation 18 months from now, and whatever that is, that's where the price will be, not where it is today…you have to look to the future. If you invest in the present, you're going to get run over.”


Klarman 1991 Interview with Barron's


This 1991 Barron's interview with Seth Klarman offers some intriguing insights into how Baupost got its start, and the nature of Klarman’s initial client base and business structure. Baupost currently manages ~$32 Billion AUM (per latest firm ADV), whereas ~24 years ago that figure stood at $400mm, and ~33 years ago only $27mm. Time + compounding + inflows can lead to staggering absolute sums. Clients

“My first real education in investing came when I took a summer job in my junior year at college with Max Heine and Mike Price at Mutual Shares. They invited me back to join them in January of '79. I worked there about 20 months until I left for business school. Just before graduation, I was offered the opportunity to join with several individuals who had decided to pool their assets and helped to form the Baupost Group to steward those assets. That was 9 1/2 years ago…These people are all still involved. They were never active day to day…They are wonderful partners…They are on the board of the company. They are partial owners of the company. And each of them has all of his liquid investable assets here, as do all the principals, all the people who run the money.”

“We set out at the beginning to be somewhat unconventional, with our clients acting as board members and as part owners. The incentive really was to do whatever it took to maximize the return on their money, not necessarily to grow a profitable business. Along the way, some decisions were made, including one to turn down most of the people who tried to become clients. We actually closed for new clients about five years ago. And we have grown from compounding ever since…over the years we have grown through word of mouth. In the earlier years, we grew beyond the initial three families, for a couple of reasons. One was that they had some friends who liked the idea of what we were trying to do and wanted to come in. They are the kind of people who say yes to friends. And also partly because we didn't want to be overly dependent on any one person for the success of our business going forward…There were the three families and I had a partner who was a part-time person who focused primarily on administrative matters… The compound return to investors after our profit-sharing arrangement has been 20%-25% in the limited partnerships…over the 8 3/4 years the partnerships have been in existence.”

“They correctly perceived that they could spend a lot of their time clipping coupons, collecting dividends, making sure that all the numbers were right. And it could become, if not a full-time job, at least one that consumed a substantial amount of their time. And these were the kind of people who didn't want to spend all their time just counting their money and paying attention to such details. So they pooled it to form Baupost.”

“We are blessed with a client base that is not short-term-oriented. I don't think any money manager knows how deep the reservoir of client goodwill is.”

Maximizing performance returns and building a profitable investment management business are not necessarily mutually inclusive objectives. The latter often requires quick AUM ramp. This is why seed investor arrangements can lead to potential conflicts.

Klarman and his capital partners first defined the goal and alignment of interest (usually the hardest part). The rest was structuring and execution. Baupost wasn’t conventional or unconventional, simply a solution to their circumstance and situation.


“Q: How much money do you manage? A: A little bit over $400 million. Q: And how much did you start with 10 years ago? A: $27 million.”

“Q: …Can we take it you stopped accepting new money because you think there is only a certain amount of money you can efficiently manage? A: That is a fair way to put it. There are dis-economies of scale in terms of the returns that can be earned on managed money. That probably kicks in a lot smaller than we are. It probably kicks in at $50 million or $100 million. But over the realm of all possible sizes, you just don't want to get beyond a certain level, particularly when you have an eclectic strategy like ours. There is only so much that you can buy that fits our kind of criteria. And we are comfortable at our current size. Q: So this is pretty much a matter of feel? A: That's right. I think we also want to stay small because it is frankly more fun. We enjoy the camaraderie of being a small firm with everybody doing work, and everybody understanding pretty much where we are going. The last thing I want to be is manager of a staff of a dozen analysts and portfolio managers. I wouldn't like that at all.”

Um, that obviously changed. A friend recently commented that all successful investors must eventually learn to manage larger amounts of capital. Why? Even without large inflows, compounding alone will force you into ever larger realms of AUM.


“Q: Is this institutional money you're managing? A: All individual money. Q: It's really unusual to have that much individual money…”

“Q: Do you call yourself a hedge fund? A: No. We do not. We are compensated somewhat like hedge funds but do not hedge in the sense of always being long and short. We tend to be long investors. We are rarely on the short side.”

It’s okay to admit that you’re not a “hedge fund”…

“…perhaps most important, we are not just focusing on equities. We focus on any security of a company that is mispriced. We can even find some companies where one security, like the equity, is overvalued, but where another security, like the debt, might be undervalued. We have flexibility in our partnership agreement to do pretty much anything we like. Right now, and for the better part of the last two years, much of our investment has been in the senior securities of overleveraged companies.”

It puzzles me when people fixate on Baupost’s 13F (the latest discloses $5.9Bn worth of public equity assets). This is only ~18% of the firm’s total AUM. The remaining 82% is invested elsewhere included private real estate & bankruptcy workouts (such as a large position in Lehman).

“If you are asking, ‘Is there more competition in many of the areas that we are looking at?’ that is absolutely true. The good news is that first of all, we are flexible enough to not be committed in any single area. Take, for example, distressed securities. In 1985, as far as we can remember there was only one firm doing research in dis tress. That was R.D. Smith. In 1991, we check our faxes and our research reports, and we count 44 firms doing work in that area…So there is no question that there's now a crowd. The research coverage and Wall Street's attention to it have increased probably more than the considerable proliferation of opportunities in that area. So we have more competition. But we have flexibility, we also have patience. These people have special-purpose funds to do whatever it is they are doing, to do distressed securities, to do LBOs, whatever their funds are looking for. And when opportunities cease to exist, they will probably distribute the funds and go out of business. Already, we see many of the arbitrageurs from the 'Eighties disappear and go into new lines of business like distressed securities.”

Mandate flexibility provides a competitive advantage. Investing is a fiercely competitive. Why make your life harder by limiting where you may seek returns? Klarman may have lots of institutional capital today, but it didn’t start off that way. An institutional capital base may/will constrain the type of investments you can or can’t make.


The Sugar Cookie


Many moons ago, we shared with you this matrix highlighting the importance of focusing on process over outcome.


In every investor’s lifetime, there will inevitably be one or more instances of “bad breaks” – when the investment process was solid, but the outcome was nonetheless bad. If that has ever happened to you, then you know what it feels like to be a sugar cookie.

What the heck is a sugar cookie? Here is the definition as explained by Naval Admiral William H. McRaven in a recent speech given at the University of Texas:

“Several times a week, the instructors would line up the class and do a uniform inspection.  It was exceptionally thorough. Your hat had to be perfectly starched, your uniform immaculately pressed and your belt buckle shiny and void of any smudges. But it seemed that no matter how much effort you put into starching your hat, or pressing your uniform or polishing your belt buckle--- it just wasn't good enough. The instructors would fine ‘something’ wrong.

For failing the uniform inspection, the student had to run, fully clothed into the surf zone and then, wet from head to toe, roll around on the beach until every part of your body was covered with sand. The effect was known as a ‘sugar cookie.’ You stayed in that uniform the rest of the day, cold, wet and sandy. There were many a student who just couldn't accept the fact that all their effort was in vain. That no matter how hard they tried to get the uniform right, it was unappreciated.

Those students didn't make it through training. Those students didn't understand the purpose of the drill.  You were never going to succeed.  You were never going to have a perfect uniform. Sometimes no matter how well you prepare or how well you perform you still end up as a sugar cookie. It's just the way life is sometimes. If you want to change the world get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward.


Whitebox on Risk & Risk Management


There must be something in the Whitebox water supply: it's producing an army of investment math nerds with acute self-awareness and sensibilities, led by their fearless leader Andy Redleaf. Those of you who have not yet seen Whitebox's "10 Enduring Principles To Interpret Constant Market Change" are missing out -- it is absolutely worth three minutes of your day. The text below is extracted from a Jan 2015 Andy Redleaf article titled "Getting Past the Romance of Risk":

“The courage to ‘take a chance.’ The fearlessness of being a ‘risk taker.’ Risk as the force of entrepreneurship. These ideas are so ingrained in the American psyche that in the investment industry they have become dogma: to increase returns the investor must be willing to accept more risk. That is the core result of Modern Portfolio Theory, even if it is hedged with theories about how to accept risk systematically on the “efficient frontier.”

Given this persistent quasi-romance with risk, we have to ask: What great investor or entrepreneur ever succeeded by deliberately taking on more risk?

...the entrepreneur’s goal should always be to create asymmetries of risk and reward in which there is far more to be gained than lost. We strongly believe all investment managers should be doing the same, which is why the first of Whitebox’s 10 Investment Principles is: The source of investment return is the efficient reduction of risk.

If risk is not the basis of return, should an investor strive to take no risk at all? No. There is no such thing as a risk-free portfolio. We believe that the right goal is to reduce risk efficiently: reduce the risks of a position more than one reduces its potential return. One can do this in various ways, but it comes down to the investor striving to own only and exactly what he wants to own…


How do we believe an investor can own only and exactly what he wants to own? In practical terms, what does this look like?

In reality, most securities, taken individually, are bundles of both good and bad qualities. Even a stock that presents generally favorable prospects for potentially good returns is likely to contain at least some unfavorable qualities; the same is generally true for bonds. As such, we believe the key – and the whole point of alternative investing – is to be able to identify and isolate the good from the bad, so that you own only and exactly what you want.

How is this achieved? Sometimes this is done at the security level, by buying securities with desirable qualities and canceling out the undesirable qualities through carefully constructed positions in our short book. Sometimes it is done at the portfolio level, by combining investment “themes” in ways that retain the attractive qualities of an investment idea while, hopefully, canceling out the risks.

Sometimes, it can be achieved by striving to identify and implement hedges that are in themselves what we perceive as sound, attractive investments, the goal being to reduce risk through tactics and decisions that are themselves potentially return-generating investments…

Viewing risk-reduction in itself as a source of potential returns is in stark contrast to a more traditional approach, which we believe accepts some measure of loss in exchange for potential payoff.

Exercising sound judgment in investing, we believe, involves choosing the particular over the abstract. This can mean the difference between buying up “lots” of securities in bundles (often to satisfy a predetermined allocation percentage, for example) versus sorting through individual names, looking for nuances lurking beyond-the-obvious that enhance value, and identifying idiosyncratic dislocations – even among securities that are bought and sold in “lots.” It means looking at risk specifically, not from a high level of abstraction, striving to reduce that risk efficiently through a hedge that in itself is an investment with potential payoff.

Put another way, we believe efficient reduction of risk begins with and cannot be separated from the investment process. To us, every investment decision, therefore, should be a decision about risk. We reject the concept of risk management as an “overlay.”

Most of all, we believe this investment principle entails viewing risk and risk mitigation as a matter of judgment. We feel confident in our belief that investors who exercise good judgment are more likely to prosper than investors who do not…

Seen from this perspective, the concept of risk is somewhat reframed. We simply reject the idea that says “the greater the risk, the greater potential for return.” To us, a truly alternative approach to investing involves what we believe to be a fairly straightforward endeavor: efficiently reduce risk so as to own only and exactly what you want to own.”

On efficient markets: “We believe this…approach to investing isn’t safe, mostly because we see it as lazy. On every point listed above, we’re convinced that money managers who go along with these dogmas are saving themselves work, but risking investors’ money.”

Cross-Pollination: Volatility & Options


In our continual search for differentiation in this fiercely competitive investment biosphere, we remain intrigued by the idea of cross-pollination between investment strategies. After all, regardless of strategy, all investors share a common goal: capital compounding through the creation of return asymmetry over time. Fundamental investors often shy away from options and volatility, labeling them as too complicated and esoteric. Are they truly that complicated, or merely made to seem so by industry participants enamored with jargon and befuddlement?

In this brief video (8:30-8:35am time slot), Richard “Jerry” Haworth of 36South shares a few thoughts & observations on options and volatility that all investors can incorporate into their portfolios.

Summary Highlights:

Options (a type of “volatility assets”) are a potentially rich source of alpha since pricing in options market are mainly based on models, not fundamental analysis. Occasionally massive mispricings occur, especially in long-dated options.

Most wealth is generated by luck or asymmetry of risk & return. Most options have asymmetry. Long options positions (especially long-dated) behave like “perfect traders” – they always obey stop loss (downside is limited by premium outlay) and positions are allowed to run when working in your favor (especially as delta improves for out-of-the-money options).

Options also have natural embedded leverage (especially out-of-the-money), providing cheap convexity. Better than debt, because it’s non-recourse – max loss is limited to premium outlay.

Volatility (a $65 trillion notional market) is counter intuitive – people tend to sell vol when low, and buy when high – great for contraians who like to buy low and sell high. Natural human behavioral bias makes it so this phenomenon will never go away.

Portfolio managers are in the “business of future-proofing people’s portfolios” – seeking to maximize return while minimizing risk and correlation. The “further you get away from $0 the more you are future-proofing a portfolio…” But this is extremely difficult to implement well, especially in low interest rate environment where future expected returns are difficult to find.

Short-term downside volatility is noise. But long-term volatility on the downside is permanent loss of capital – counter to goal of “future-proofing” portfolios. When people think about risk, they tend to use volatility as proxy for risk, but this is a very limiting definition. Volatility has been minimized by low rates, which has lead people to mistakenly think that we’ve minimized risk since we’ve minimized volatility. Classic mistake: people are now taking on “risk and correlation that they don’t see…for returns that they do see.”

Correlation – only important in crisis, no one cares about correlation when asset prices going up. Perceived vs. Actual Correlation: dangerous when you think you have a “diversified” portfolio (with low correlation between assets) when in reality correlation of assets in portfolio actually very high. People focus on minimizing correlation, but often fail when truly need minimized correlation (example: during a systemic crisis).

Writing / shorting volatility (such as selling options) in a portfolio increases yield & adds to expected return, but makes correlation and risk more concave, with a tendency to snowballs to downside. Whereas long volatility assets are convex, it takes slightly from return (cuz premium outlay) but offers uncapped expected return on the upside.

Mistakes of Boredom


Flying back to Los Angeles after Christmas, somewhere over New Mexico, I rediscovered an article written by Ted Lucas of Lattice Strategies in 2011, quoting mathematician and logician Blaise Pascal’s Pensées on the psychological propensity of humans to seek out diversion and action, and the boredom caused by inaction:

“Sometimes, when I set to thinking about the various activities of men, the dangers and troubles which they face in court, or in war, giving rise to so many quarrels and passions…I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room…

Imagine any situation you like, add up all the blessings with which you could be endowed, to be king is still the finest thing in the world; yet if you imagine one with all the advantages to his rank, but no means of diversion, left to ponder and reflect on what he is, this limp felicity will not keep him going…with the result that if he is deprived of so-called diversion he is unhappy, indeed more unhappy than the humblest of subjects who can enjoy sport and diversion.

The only good thing for men therefore is to be diverted from thinking of what they are, either by some occupation which takes their mind off it, or by some novel and agreeable passion which keeps them busy . . . in short it is called diversion.”

If true, as asset prices move ever higher, this psychological tendency has immense implications on investment decisions. Avoiding overvalued assets/securities and holding cash may be easier said than done, for psychological reasons beyond whether or not your mandate/investors allow you to hold cash.

Perhaps it’s time to convince your boss that a paid vacation / sabbatical to pursue distractions (other than investing) during expensive market environments may actually help improve performance returns by avoiding mistakes born of boredom.

Glancing Back At 2014


It’s that time of year – calendar year 2014 draws to an end. For one's trackrecord, there's particular emphasis on annual calendar year returns. Convention dictates that the annual return period fall between January 1st and December 31st, although there is no particular rhyme or reason behind this convention (e.g., why not April 1st to March 31st of the following year?).

For investors currently managing capital (especially those hoping to woo additional capital), we are subjected to the rules of the game – however arbitrary or nonsensical they may seem. Instead, let’s turn our attention to a more productive topic (something we can control) related to the calendar year convention…

2015 approaches – a new year, your oyster and blank slate – the possibilities are boundless! But before you say goodbye to 2014, will you glance back to examine, really breakdown, your 2014 returns? The exercise builds not only awareness, by forcing us to assess and admit our strengths or weaknesses and what we did well or poorly, it also reinforces a process over outcome approach to investing. How much of performance was due to luck? How much performance was due to process and skill? While not guaranteed to make us better investors, these are likely good questions to ask ourselves and perhaps even considerations to be worked into our investment processes throughout the next year.

For those needing ideas on how to evaluate your 2014 performance, below are excerpts from an article written by Mariko Gordon of Daruma Capital almost exact a year ago in December 2013:

“As the year ends, whether bull or bear market, the time of reckoning draws near. Now, mind you, scorekeeping happens all year round. But there's something about the nights getting longer and the coming winter solstice that creates an extra level of soul searching.

At Daruma, here are the things we ponder as we perform a post-mortem on the year's performance:

  1. What percent of the stocks we owned over the last year and three years went up? And by how much compared to those that went down? It's easy to focus on the 'hit rate,' but if the pluses are small and the minuses are big, having a positive hit rate isn't going to do much good.
  2. Did we add any value with adds and trims? Did we do a better job when we added or trimmed on the way up, or when we added or trimmed when the stock went down? Did we waste too much energy chasing squirrels when we should have focused on elephants? Activity does not always translate into returns.
  3. How did the stocks that we sold do compared to the stocks we replaced them with or decided to keep? 'Out of sight, out of mind' means that we risk scoring ourselves only for what happened, and not for what could have been.
  4. How did we spend our time? Since one team is responsible for two products, did we allocate our time properly between the two? And while we're at it, did we get the right balance of new ideas versus maintenance research? And did we have the right mix of tasks – calls with analysts versus field trips to companies, for example? It's easy to look at results without examining the success of the actions that led to those results.
  5. How did we perform on an absolute and relative basis - in addition to the benchmark, sectors and industries - against the true investable universe? Not every stock in a small-cap benchmark in particular can be bought, as there are many teeny and illiquid banks and companies. Did we catch the best possible fish in our pond?”

Howard Marks' Book: Chapter 19


This concludes our series on portfolio management highlights from Howard Marks’ book, The Most Important Thing: Uncommon Sense for the Thoughtful Investor, Chapter 19 “The Most Important Thing Is…Adding Value” Trackrecord, Compounding, Capital Preservation

“It means relatively little that a risk taker achieves a high return in a rising market, or that a conservative investors is able to minimize losses in a decline. The real question is how they do in the long run and in climates for which their style is ill suited…Without skill, aggressive investors move a lot in both directions, and defensive investors move little in either direction

Aggressive investors with skill do well in bull markets but don’t’ give it all back in corresponding bear markets, while defensive investors with skill lose relatively little in bear markets but participate reasonably in bull markets. Everything in investing is a two-edged sword and operates symmetrically, with the exception of superior skill.”

“The performance of investors who add value is asymmetrical. The percentage of the market’s gain they capture is higher than the percentage of loss they suffer…Only skill can be counted on to add more in propitious environments than it costs in hostile ones. This is the investment asymmetry we seek.”

“In good years in the market, it’s good enough to be average. Everyone makes money in the good years...There is a time, however, when we consider it essential to beat the market, and that’s in the bad years…it’s our goal to do as well as the market when it does well and better than the market when it does poorly. At first blush that may sound like a modest goal, but it’s really quite ambitious. In order to stay up with the market when it does well, a portfolio has to incorporate good measure of beta and correlation with the market. But if we’re aided by beta and correlation on the way up, shouldn’t they be expected to hurt us on the way down? If we’re consistently able to decline less when the market declines and also participate fully when the market rises, this can be attributable to only one thing: alpha, or skill…Asymmetry – better performance on the upside than on the downside relative to what our style alone would produce – should be every investor’s goal.”

For more on the topic of asymmetry, be sure to check out our article titled “Asymmetry Revisited


“A portfolio with a beta above 1 is expected to be more volatile than the reference market, and a beta below 1 means it’ll be less volatile. Multiply the market return by the beta and you’ll get the return that a given portfolio should be expected to achieve…If the market is up 15 percent, a portfolio with a beta of 1.2 should return 18 percent (plus or minus alpha).”

We often find common threads between different investors. For example, there is evidence that Buffett was thinking about expected beta as early as the 1950s and 1960s (back in the day when he did not have permanent capital) -- see our articles on Buffett Partnership Letters and Volatility.

Expected Return, Risk

“Although I dismiss the identity between risk and volatility, I insist on considering a portfolio’s return in the light of its overall riskiness…A manager who earned 18 percent with a risky portfolio isn’t necessarily superior to one who earned 15 percent with a lower-risk portfolio. Risk-adjusted return holds the key, even though – since risk other than volatility can’t be quantified – I feel it is best assessed judgmentally, not calculated scientifically.”

“‘beating the market’ and ‘superior investing’ can be far from synonymous…It’s not just your return that matters, but also what risk you took to get it…”

Opportunity Cost, Benchmark

“…all equity investors start not with a blank sheet of paper but rather with the possibility of simply emulating an index...investors can decide to deviates from the index in order to exploit their stock-picking ability…In doing so they will alter the exposure of their portfolio to…price movements that affect only certain stocks, not the index…their return will deviate as well."

We are all faced with this choice that, at a minimum, we can emulate an index. If we choose not to, it’s because we believe we can generate outperformance via higher returns and same risk, similar returns at lower risk, or higher returns at lower risk. If we cannot accomplish any of the above, then we have failed to do better than an index (and failed to add value as investors). But if we did not have an index or benchmark against which to measure progress, how would we know whether we have succeeded or failed?



Howard Marks' Book: Chapter 18


Continuation of portfolio management highlights from Howard Marks’ book, The Most Important Thing: Uncommon Sense for the Thoughtful Investor, Chapter 18 “The Most Important Thing Is…Avoiding Pitfalls” Risk, Volatility

“…trying to avoid losses is more important than striving or great investment successes. The latter can be achieved some of the time, but the occasional failures may be crippling. The former can be done more often and more dependably…and with consequences when it fails that are more tolerable…A portfolio that contains too little risk can make you underperform in a bull market, but no one ever went bust from that; there are far worse fates.

“You could require your portfolio to do well in a rerun of 2008, but then you’d hold only Treasurys, cash and gold. Is that a viable strategy? Probably not. So the general rule is that it’s important to avoid pitfalls, but there must be a limit. And the limit is different for each investor.”

Volatility, Psychology, Trackrecord, When To Buy, When To Sell, Clients

“…almost nothing performed well in the meltdown of 2008…While it was nigh onto impossible to avoid declines completely, relative outperformance in the form of smaller losses was enough to let you do better in the decline and take grater advantage of the rebound.”

“In periods that are relatively loss free, people tend to think of risk as volatility and become convinced they can live with it. If that were true, they would experience markdowns, invest more at the lows and go on to enjoy the recovery, coming out ahead in the long run. But if the ability to live with volatility and maintain one’s composure has been overestimated—and usually it has—that error tends to come to light when the market is a its nadir. Loss of confidence and resolve can cause investors to sell at the bottom, converting downward fluctuations into permanent losses and preventing them from participating fully in the subsequent recovery. This is the great error in investing—the most unfortunate aspect of pro-cyclical behavior—because of its permanence and because it tends to affect large portions of portfolios.”

“While it’s true that you can’t spend relative outperformance, human nature causes defensive investors and their less traumatized clients to derive comfort in down markets when they lose less than others. This has two very important effects. First, it enables them to maintain their equanimity and resist the psychological pressures that often make people sell at lows. Second, being in a better frame of mind and better financial condition, they are more able to profit from the carnage by buying at lows. Thus, they generally do better in recoveries.”

Volatility is not the true risk; the true risk lies in what investors do / how they behave during volatile periods.

Mistakes, Creativity, Psychology

“One type of analytical error…is what I call ‘failure of imagination’…being unable to conceive of the full range of possible outcomes or not fully understanding the consequences of the more extreme occurrences.”

“Another important pitfall…is the failure to recognize market cycles and manias and move in the opposite direction. Extremes in cycles and trends don’t occur often, and thus they’re not a frequent source of error, but they give rise to the largest errors.”

“…when the future stops being like the past, extrapolation fails and large amounts of money are either lost or not made…the success of your investment actions shouldn’t be highly dependent on normal outcomes prevailing; instead, you must allow for outliers…"

“…the third form of error doesn’t consist of doing the wrong thing, but rather of failing to do the right thing. Average investors are fortunate if they can avoid pitfalls, whereas superior investors look to take advantage of them…a different kind of mistake, an error of omission, but probably one most investors would be willing to live with.”

“The essential first step in avoiding pitfalls consists of being on the lookout for them…learning about pitfalls through painful experience is of only limited help. The key is to try to anticipate them…The markets are a classroom where lesson are taught every day. The keys to investment success lie in observing and learning.”

“The fascinating and challenging thing is that the error moves around. Sometimes prices are too high and sometimes they’re too low. Sometimes the divergence of prices from value affects individual securities or assets and sometimes whole markets – sometimes one market and sometimes another. Sometimes the error lies in doing something and sometimes in not doing it, sometimes in being bullish and sometimes in being bearish…avoiding pitfalls and identifying and acting on error aren’t susceptible to rules, algorithms, or roadmaps. What I would urge is awareness, flexibility, adaptability and a mind-set that is focused on taking cues from the environment.”

Correlation, Diversification, Risk

“There’s another important aspect of failure of imagination. Everyone knows assets have prospective returns and risks, and they’re possible to guess at. But few people understand asset correlation: how one asset will react to a change in another, or that two assets will react similarly to a change in a third. Understanding and anticipating the power of correlation – and thus the limitations of diversification – is a principal aspect of risk control and portfolio management, but it’s very hard to accomplish…Investors often fail to appreciate the common threads that run through portfolios.”

“Hidden fault lines running through portfolios can make the prices of seemingly unrelated assets move in tandem. It’s easier to assess the return and risk of an investment than to understand how it will move relative to others. Correlation is often underestimated, especially because of the degree to which it increases in crisis. A portfolio may appear to be diversified as to asset class, industry and geography, but in tough times, non-fundamental factors such as margin calls, frozen markets and a general risk in risk aversion can become dominant, affecting everything similarly.”

Hedging, Expected Return, Opportunity Cost, Fat Tail

“…a dilemma we have to navigate. How much time and capital should an investor devote to protecting against the improbable disaster? We can insure against every extreme outcome…But doing so will be costly, and the cost will detract form investment returns when that protection turns out not to have been needed…and that’ll be most of the time.”


Howard Marks’ Book: Chapter 17


Continuation of portfolio management highlights from Howard Marks’ book, The Most Important Thing: Uncommon Sense for the Thoughtful Investor, Chapter 17 “The Most Important Thing Is…Investing Defensively” -- a rather apt topic given today's market environment. Psychology, Capital Preservation, Expected Return, Risk, Opportunity Cost

“What’s more important to you: scoring points or keeping your opponent from doing so? In investing, will you go for winners or try to avoid losers? (Or, perhaps more appropriately, how will you balance the two?) Great danger lies in acting without having considered these questions.

And by the way, there’s no right choice between offense and defense. Lots of possible routes can bring you to success, and your decision should be a function of your personality and leanings, the extent of your belief in your ability, and the peculiarities of the markets you work in and the clients you work for.”

“Like everything in investing, this isn’t a matter of black and white. The amount of risk you’ll bear is a function of the extent to which you choose to pursue return. The amount of safety you build into your portfolio should be based on how much potential return you’re willing to forego. There’s no right answer, just trade-offs…Because ensuring the ability to survive under adverse circumstances is incompatible with maximizing returns in the good times, investors must choose between the two.” 

Are capital preservation (defense, avoiding losers, etc.) & expected return (offense, going for winners, etc.) mutually exclusive concepts? Perhaps in the short-run, but in the long-run, they are two side of the same coin. Avoiding loss is essential to capital compounding over time. This is because the effects of compounding math are not symmetrical. A 50% loss in one period requires a 100% in a subsequent period just to break even! See our previous article titled: “Asymmetry Revisited” for more on the interplay between capital preservation and compounding.

Capital Preservation, Volatility, Diversification, Leverage

“But what’s defense? Rather than doing the right thing, the defensive investor’s main emphasis is on not doing the wrong thing.

Is there a difference between doing the right thing and avoiding doing the wrong thing? On the surface, they sound quite alike. But when you look deeper, there’s a big difference between the mind-set needed for one and the mind-set needed for the other, and a big difference in the tactics to which the two lead.

While defense may sound like little more than trying to avoid bad outcomes, it’s not as negative or non-aspirational as that. Defense actually can be seen as an attempt at higher returns, but more through the avoidance of minuses than through the inclusion of pluses, and more through consistent but perhaps moderate progress than through occasional flashes of brilliance.

There are two principal elements in investment defense. The first is the exclusion of losers from portfolios…and being less willing to bet on continued prosperity, and rosy forecasts and developments that may be uncertain. The second element is the avoidance of poor years and, especially, exposure to meltdown in crashes…this aspect of investment defense requires thoughtful portfolio diversification, limits on the overall riskiness borne, and a general tilt toward safety.

Concentration (the opposite of diversification) and leverage are two examples of offense. They’ll add to returns when they work but prove harmful when they don’t: again the potential for higher highs and lower lows from aggressive tactics. Use enough of them, however, and they can jeopardize your investment survival if things go awry. Defense, on the other hand, can increase your likelihood of being able to get through the tough times and survive long enough to enjoy the eventual payoff from smart investments.”

Psychology, Luck, Process Over Outcome

“The choice between offense and defense investing should be based on how much the investor believes is within his or her control…But investing is full of bad bounces and unanticipated developments…The workings of economies and markets are highly imprecise and variable, and the thinking and behavior of the other players constantly alter the environment…investment results are only partly within the investors’ control…The bottom line is that even highly skilled investors can be guilty of mis-hits, and the overaggressive shot can easily lose them the match.”

“Playing for offense – trying for winners through risk bearing – is a high octane activity. It might bring the gains you seek…or pronounced disappointment. And there’s something else to think about: the more challenging and potentially lucrative the waters you fish in, the more likely they are to have attracted skilled fishermen. Unless your skills render you fully competitive, you’re more likely to be prey than victor. Playing offense, bearing risk and operating in technically challenging fields mustn’t be attempted without the requisite competence.”

Psychology plays an integral role in successful investing. One must learn to distinguish between the impact of process (avoiding the mis-hits) vs. the outcome (sometimes uncontrollable), and to not be deterred by the occasional but inevitable “bad bounce.” Additionally, there’s the self-awareness and honesty requirement so that one can exercise discipline and remove oneself from the game if/when necessary.

Psychology, Trackrecord

“Investing is a testosterone-laden world where too many people think about how good they are and how much they’ll make if the swing for the fences and connect. Ask some investors of the ‘I know’ school to tell you what makes them good, and you’ll hear a lot abut home runs they’ve hit in the past the home runs-in-the-making that reside in their current portfolio. How many talk about consistency, or the fact that their worst year wasn’t too bad.”

“One of the most striking things I’ve noted over the last thirty-five years is how brief most outstanding investment careers are. Not as short as the careers of professional athletes, but shorter than they should be in a physically nondestructive vocation.

Where’d they go? Many disappeared because organizational flaws render their game plans unsustainable. And the rest are gone because they swung for the fences but struck out instead.

That brings up something that I consider a great paradox: I don’t think many investment managers’ careers end because they fail to hit home runs. Rather, they end up out of the game because they strike out too often – not because they don’t have enough winners, but because they have too many losers. And yet, lots of managers keep swinging for the fences.”

“Personally, I like caution in money managers. I believe that in many cases, the avoidance of losses and terrible years is more easily achievable than repeated greatness, and thus risk control is more likely to create a solid foundation for a superior long-term trackrecord.”

Related to the above, please see our previous articles on the concepts of “Toward vs. Away-From Motivationand “Outer vs. Inner Scorecard.”


Montier on Exposures & Bubbles


Below are some wonderful bits on bubbles and portfolio construction from James Montier. Excerpts were extracted from a Feb 2014 interview with Montier by Robert Huebscher of Advisor Perspectives – a worthwhile read. Cash, Expected Returns, Exposure

“The issue is…everything is expensive right now. How do you build a portfolio that recognizes the fact that cash is generating negative returns…you have to recognize that this is the purgatory of low returns. This is the environment within which we operate. As much as we wish it could be different, the reality is it isn’t, so you have to build a portfolio up that tries to make sense. That means owning some equities where you think you’re getting at least some degree of reasonable compensation for owning them, and then basically trying to create a perfect dry-powder asset.

The perfect dry-powder asset would have three characteristics: it would give you liquidity, protect you against inflation and it might generate a little bit of return.

Right now, of course, there is nothing that generates all three of those characteristics. So you have to try and build one in a synthetic fashion, which means holding some cash for its liquidity benefits. It means owning something like TIPS, which are priced considerably more attractively than cash, to generate inflation protection. Then, you must think about the areas to add a little bit of value to generate an above-cash return: selected forms of credit or possibly equity-spread trades, but nothing too risky.”

Dry powder is generally associated with cash. But as Montier describes here, it is possible that in certain scenarios cash is not the optimal dry-powder asset.

His description of creating a perfect dry-powder asset is akin to creating synthetic exposures, something usually reserved for large hedge funds / institutions and their counterparties.

Interestingly, anyone can (try to) create synthetic exposures by isolating characteristics of certain assets / securities to build a desired combination that behaves a certain way in XYZ environment, or if ABC happens.

For more on isolating and creating exposures, see our previous article on this topic

Hedging, Fat Tail

“Bubble hunting can be overrated…I’m not sure it’s particularly helpful, in many regards…

Let’s take an equity‐market bubble, like the technology‐media‐telecom (TMT) bubble. Everyone now agrees I think, except maybe two academics, that TMT was actually a bubble. To some extent it didn’t really matter, because you had a valuation that was so extraordinarily high. You didn’t actually have to believe it was a bubble. You just knew you were going to get incredibly low returns from the fact that you were just massively overpaying for those assets.

Knowing it was a bubble as such helped reassure those of us who were arguing that it was a bubble, though we could see the more common signs of mania like massive issuance, IPOs and shifting valuation metrics that eventually were off the income statement altogether.

All of those things are good confirming evidence, but ultimately it didn’t matter because the valuation alone was enough to persuade you to think, ‘Hey, I’m just not going to get any returns in these assets even if it isn’t a bubble.’

Bubblehunting is much more useful when it is with respect to things like credit conditions and the kind of environments we saw in 2007, when it was far less obvious from valuation alone. Valuation was extended, but wasn’t anywhere near the kinds of levels that we saw in 2000. It was extended, but not cripplingly so by 2000 standards. But the ability to actually think about the credit bubble or the potential for a bubble in fundamentals or financial earnings is very useful.

The use of bubble methodology is certainly not to be underestimated, but people can get a little too hung up on it and start to see bubbles everywhere. You hear things about bond bubbles. Do I really care? All I need to know is bonds are going to give me a low return from here. Ultimately, for a buy-and-hold investor, the redemption yield minus expected inflation gives me my total return for bonds. There can’t be anything else in there.

You get the conclusion that, ‘Hey, I don’t really care if it’s a bubble or not.’ I suspect bubble hunting can be useful in some regards. But people use the term too loosely and it can lead to unhelpful assessments.

Expected Return, Capital Preservation

“You can imagine two polar extreme outcomes: Central banks could end financial repression tomorrow. You would get realrate normalization and the only asset that survives unscathed is cash. Bonds suffer, equities suffer and pretty much everything else suffers. Or, the central banks keep their rates incredibly low for a very, very long period.

The portfolios you want to hold under those two different outcomes are extremely different. I have never yet met anyone with a crystal ball who can tell me which of these two outcomes is most likely – or even which one could actually happen. You’re left trying to build a portfolio that will survive both outcomes. It won’t do best under either one of the two outcomes or the most probable outcome, but it will survive. That really is the preeminent occupation of my mind at the moment.”

When To Buy, When To Sell, Psychology

“One of curses of value managers is we’re always too early both to buy and to sell. One of the ways that were trying to deal with that is to deliberately slow our behavior down, so we try to react at least to a moving average of the forecast rather than the spot forecasts.”