Continuation in our series on portfolio management and Seth Klarman, with ideas extracted from old Baupost Group letters. Our Readers know that we generally provide excerpts along with commentary for each topic. However, at the request of Baupost, we will not be providing any excerpts, only our interpretive summaries, for this series.
Risk, Sizing, Diversification, Psychology
In 1996, Baupost had a number of investments in the former Soviet Union. Klarman managed the higher level of risk of these investments by limiting position sizing such that if the total investment went to zero, it would not have a materially adverse impact on the future of the fund.
“Unfamiliarity” is a risk for any new investment. Klarman approaches new investments timidly to ensure that there isn’t anything that he’s missing. He does so by controlling sizing and sometimes diversifying across a number of securities within the same opportunity set.
Baupost mitigates risk (partially) by:
- Sizing slowly and diversifying with basket approach (at least initially)
- Balancing arrogance with humility. Always be aware of why an investment is available at a bargain price, and your opinion vs. the market. Investing is a zero-sum game, and each time you make a purchase, you’re effectively saying the seller is wrong.
Reading in between the lines, the Russian investments must have held incredibly high payoff potential (in order to justify the amount of time and effort spent on diligence). Smaller position sizing may decrease risk but it also decreases the potential return contribution to the overall portfolio.
Interestingly, this method of balancing risk and return through position sizing and diversification is more akin to venture capital than the traditional value school. For example, recently, investors have been buzzing about a number of Klarman’s biotech equity positions (found on his 13F filing). I’ve heard through the grapevine that these investments were structured like a venture portfolio – the expectation is that some may crash to zero, while some may return many multiples the original investment. Therefore, those copying Klarman’s purchases should proceed with caution, especially given Klarman’s history of making private investments not disclosed on 13F filings.
Klarman believes in sufficient but not excessive diversification.
This may explain the rationale behind why Klarman has been known to purchase baskets of individual securities for the same underlying bet – see venture portfolio discussion above.
Always cognizant of whether seemingly different investments are actually the same bet to avoid risk of concentrated exposures.
Baupost has a flexible investment mandate, to go anywhere across asset classes, capital structure, geographies, etc., which allows it to differentiate from the investment fund masses. Opportunities in different markets happen at different times, key is to remain adaptive and ready for opportunity sets when they become available.
The flexible mandate is helpful in smoothing the return stream of the portfolio, and consequently, the trackrecord. Baupost can deploy capital to where opportunities are available in the marketplace, therefore ensuring a (theoretically) steadier stream of future return potential. This is in contrast to funds that cannot take advantage of opportunities outside of their limited mandate zones.
Klarman is willing to accept illiquidity for incremental return.
This makes total sense, but the tricky part is matching portfolio sources (client time horizon, level of patience, and fund redemption terms) with uses (liquidity profile of investments). Illiquidity should not be accept lightly, and has been known to cause problems for even the most savvy of investors (for example: see 2003 NYTimes article on how illiquidity almost destroyed Bill Ackman & David Berkowitz in the early stages of their careers).
For international exposure [Russia], Baupost spent 7 years immersed in research, studying markets, meeting with managements, making toe-hold investments to observe, hired additional members of investment team (sent a few analysts to former Soviet Union, on the ground, for several months) to network & build foreign sell-side & counterparty relationships.
Buy securities if available at attractive prices. Sell when securities no longer cheap. Go to cash when no opportunities are available.
We’ve discussed the concept of selectivity standards in the past, and whether these standards shift in different market environments. For Klarman, it would seem his selectivity standards remained absolute regardless of market environment.
Baupost will always hedge against catastrophic or sustained downward movement in the market. This can be expensive over time, but will persist and remains part of investment strategy.
Klarman embedded hedging as an integrated “process” that’s part of the overall investment strategy. This way, Baupost is more likely to continue buying hedges even after years of premium bleed. This also avoids “giving up” just as disaster is about to hit. For more on this topic, be sure to check out the AQR tail risk hedging piece we showcased a few months ago.