Klarman’s Margin of Safety: Ch.13 – Part 3


This is a continuation in our series of portfolio construction & management highlights extracted from Seth Klarman’s Margin of Safety. In Chapter 13 (Portfolio Management and Trading) - Part 3 below, Klarman shares his thoughts on a number of portfolio construction and management topics such as risk management, hedging, and correlation.

Portfolio Management, Risk

“The challenge of successfully managing an investment portfolio goes beyond making a series of good individual investment decisions. Portfolio management requires paying attention to the portfolio as a whole, taking into account diversification, possible hedging strategies, and the management of portfolio cash flow. In effect, while individual investment decisions should take risk into account, portfolio management is a further means of risk reduction for investors.

“….good portfolio management and trading are of no use when pursuing an inappropriate investment philosophy; they are of maximum value when employed in conjunction with a value-investment approach.”

Portfolio management is a “further means” of risk management.

Cash, Liquidity, Risk, Expected Return, Opportunity Cost

“When your portfolio is completely in cash, there is no risk of loss. There is also, however, no possibility of earning a high return. The tension between earning a high return, on the one hand, and avoiding risk, on the other, can run high. The appropriate balance between illiquidity and liquidity, between seeking return and limiting risk, is never easy to determine.”

Everything in investing is a double-edged sword. See Howard Marks’ words on this same topic

Risk, Diversification

“Even relatively safe investments entail some probability, however small, of downside risk. The deleterious effects of such improbably events can best be mitigated through prudent diversification. The number of securities that should be owned to reduce portfolio risk to an acceptable lever is not great; as few as ten to fifteen different holdings usually suffice.”

“Diversification is potentially a Trojan horse. Junk-bond-market experts have argued vociferously that a diversified portfolio of junk bonds carries little risk. Investors who believed them substituted diversity for analysis and, what’s worse, for judgment…Diversification, after all, is not how many different things you own, but how different the things you do own are in the risks they entail.

Awhile back, we posed an interesting question to our Readers, would you ever have a 100% NAV position (assuming you cannot lever to buy/sell anything else)? And if not, what is the cutoff amount for “excessive” concentration? 

Risk, Hedging, Expected Return

“An investor’s choice among many possible hedging strategies depends on the nature of his or her underlying holdings.”

“It is not always smart to hedge. When the available return is sufficient, for example, investors should be willing to incur risk and remain unhedged. Hedges can be expensive to buy and time-consuming to maintain, and overpaying for a hedge is as poor an idea as overpaying for an investment. When the cost is reasonable, however, a hedging strategy may allow investors to take advantage of an opportunity that otherwise would be excessively risky. In the best of all worlds, an investment that has valuable hedging properties may also be an attractive investment on its own merits.

Correlation, Volatility

“Investors in marketable securities will not have predictable annual results, however, even if they possess shares representing fractional ownership of the same company. Moreover, attractive returns earned by Heinz may not correlate with the returns achieved by investors in Heinz; the price paid for the stock, and not just business results, determines their return.”

Different types of correlation:

  • portfolio returns to indices/benchmarks
  • portfolio assets/securities with each other
  • price performance of assets/securities with the actual underlying operating performance