Klarman-Zweig Banter: Part 2

by on May 7, 2012  •  In Seth Klarman

Here is Part 2 of tidbits from a conversation between Seth Klarman and Jason Zweig. Part 1 and the actual text of the interview is available here.

Time Management

“…sourcing of opportunity…a major part of what we do – identifying where we are likely to find bargains. Time is scarce. We can’t look at everything.”

“…we also do not waste a lot of time keeping up with the latest quarterly earnings of companies that we are very unlikely to ever invest in. Instead, we spent a lot of time focusing on where the misguided selling is, where the redemptions are happening, where the overleverage is being liquidated – and so we are able to see a flow of instruments and securities that are more likely to be mispriced, and that lets us be nimble.

Team Management

“…we are not conventionally organized. We don’t have a pharmaceutical analyst, an oil and gas analyst, a financials analyst. Instead, we are organized by opportunity.” Examples include spinoffs, distressed debt, post-bankruptcy equities.

During the recruiting and screening process, Baupost looks for “intellectual honesty…we work hard to see whether people can admit mistakes…We ask a lot of ethics-related questions to gauge their response to morally ambiguous situations. We also look for ideational fluency, which essentially means that someone is an idea person…do they immediately have 10 or 15 different ideas about how they would want to analyze it – threads they would want to pull a la Michael Price…we are looking for people who have it all: ethics, smarts, work ethic, intellectual honesty, and high integrity.”

Michael Price, Creativity

Mike taught him the importance of an endless drive to get information and seek value, as well as creativity in seeking opportunities.

“I remember a specific instance when he found a mining stock that was inexpensive. He literally drew a detailed map – like an organization chart – of interlocking ownership and affiliates, many of which were also publicly traded. So, identifying one stock led him to a dozen other potential investments. To tirelessly pull treads is the lesson that I learned from Mike Price.”

Risk, Creativity

The process of risk management is not always straightforward and requires creative thought. “An investor needed to put the pieces together, to recognize that a deteriorating subprime market could lead to problems in the rest of the housing markets and, in turn, could blow up many financial institutions. If an investor was unable to anticipate that chain of events, then bank stocks looked cheap and got cheaper.”

Capital Preservation, Conservatism

“Avoiding round trips and short-term devastation enables you to be around for the long term.”

“We have picked our poison. We would rather underperform in a huge bull market than get clobbered in a really bad bear market.”

During 2008, Baupost employed a strategy of identifying opportunities by underwriting to a depression scenario. “We began by asking, ‘Is there anything we can buy and still be fine in the midst of a depression?’ Our answer was yes…Ford bonds had an amazing upside under almost any scenario – if default rates only quadrupled (rather than octupled, as we assumed) to 20%, the bonds were worth par – and thus appeared to have a depression-proof downside.”

“Our goal is not necessarily to make money so much as to do everything we can to protect client purchasing power and to offset, as much as possible, a large decline in market value in the event of another severe global financial crisis…we also want to avoid the psychological problem of being down 30 or 40 percent and then being paralyzed.”

Foreign Exchange, Benchmark, Inflation

“We judge ourselves in dollars. Our clients are all effectively in the United States…we hedge everything back to dollars.” Michael Price used to do the same. Please see an earlier post on an interview given by Michael Price.

“When Graham was talking about safety of principal, he was not referring to currency. He wasn’t really considering that the currency might be destroyed, but we know that can happen, and has happened many times in the 20th century.”

Klarman is worried “about all paper money,” and has also mentioned Baupost’s goal to “protect client purchasing power.” Does he mean purchasing power on a global basis? Which brings forth an interesting dilemma: as the world becomes increasingly connected, and clients become increasingly global, will return benchmarks still be judged in US dollars and US-based inflation metrics?

Tags: , , , , , , , ,