Value Investing Congress Summary: Marks, Romick, Tilson, Leonard & More ~ market folly

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Value Investing Congress Summary: Marks, Romick, Tilson, Leonard & More

Below is a summary of yesterday's Value Investing Congress in California. Tomorrow we'll provide a summary of day two so if you haven't already, make sure to sign-up to receive our free updates via email.

Howard Marks (Oaktree Capital): Oaktree manages over $80 billion and we've covered Marks' insightful commentary numerous times. His presentation highlighted the "human side of investing" and the difference between theory and practice. The manager said he splits investors up into two categories: those who know and those who don't, pointing out that it's what investors *think* they know that gets them into trouble. Risk can be introduced when investors overestimate what they know about the future.

Marks says that the main difference between value and growth investors is that value investors focus on the present. He went onto say that, "(The) most important science for investors is psychology. Investors who have their psyches under control will do best." This of course beckons the age old concept of not letting your emotions get in the way of making rational decisions.

He also went on to focus on the importance and difficulty of being contrarian and that market tops typically occur during a time of rampant bullish euphoria. Marks noted that pro-cyclical behavior is a huge mistake.

Oaktree's funds currently have a lot of cash on hand as opportunities are not abundant; Oaktree seems to be doing more selling than buying these days. He also mentioned he thinks that most institutions over-diversify.

Marks said that the gist of his presentation is featured in his new book that we highlighted yesterday, The Most Important Thing: Uncommon Sense for the Thoughtful Investor.

Steve Romick (First Pacific Advisors): Romick noted that enticing opportunities today are scarce and compared it to trying to ski in the middle of summer. The one pocket of snow he does see potential in is large cap stocks as he believes small caps are overvalued.

Romick presented CVS Caremark (CVS) as a business with good tailwinds and a store footprint that's hard to replace. He says the company is undervalued, trading at a P/E of 12.2x net of the pharmacy benefit management (PBM) hedge. He also points out that management owns a lot of stock and that private label is an opportunity for them to grow as it's only 17% of revenue right now.

Interestingly enough, CVS also seems to be under pressure to split up from its previous merger (combining drugstore chain CVS with pharmacy benefit manager Caremark). Numerous analysts and investors believe the break-up value is much higher than CVS' current share price. Rival Walgreen's (WAG) recently sold-off its PBM segment.

Lastly, Romick also gave another investment idea in Hong Kong traded Goldlion (HK 533). It is an apparel and goods manufacturer in China that caters to the mid-high end consumer, akin to Coach or Polo.

Steve Leonard (Pacifica Capital Management): Pacifica focuses on picking good businesses, but more importantly places emphasis on not making mistakes since they run a highly concentrated book (typically with 10 or fewer holdings). Pacifica originally started out as real estate investors and currently does not see any opportunities in commercial real estate. After shifting their focus to equities, they've beaten the S&P 500 by 9.4% each year since inception.

They primarily invest in domestic companies but like plays with exposure to global growth. They started buying Fairfax Financial (FRFHF) 10 years ago and today it's their largest position. Their second largest holding is Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A). They haven't really stepped too far out of the box as those are perennial value investing picks.

Whitney Tilson & Glenn Tongue (T2 Partners): Their ideas centered on land companies: one long and one short. They provided an update on St. Joe (JOE ~ their largest short position) and said that the company had incentive not to writedown its developments because around $1 billion of its market cap was attributed to them. As an example, T2 cited how Windmark is worth $12 million, but St. Joe is carrying it at an inflated value 92% higher (T2 said that JOE can do this because of accounting rules). For more on this rationale, head to David Einhorn's short thesis on JOE.

T2's is also long a land-oriented company in the form of General Growth Properties' spin-off, Howard Hughes Corp (HHC). They like HHC because it's undervalued and has a portfolio of high quality assets in desirable locations. The company is difficult to value due to various development properties and other assets, but T2 says that it's obviously worth much more than the $0 carrying value some pieces currently garner (like the air rights over Fashion Mall in Las Vegas). We posted up Tilson's presentation on JOE & HHC here.

Tilson also appeared on CNBC to talk about their stance on JOE and HHC (video embedded below):

On their recent conference call, T2 mentioned they were adding to their HHC position on the recent pullback. Bill Ackman is the Chairman of HHC and his hedge fund Pershing Square owns HHC too. For more from Tilson, head to T2's thoughts on contrarianism.

Rahul Saraogi (Atyant Capital India Fund): Given that Saraogi manages an Indian-focused fund, it should come as no surprise that his presentation focused on this country and the ability to find gems in a "minefield of value traps." Overall, he thinks India has nice tailwinds: depth of markets, domestic demand, and solid demographics. The main question he focused on was what prevents a stock from reaching its intrinsic value?

While there are 6,000 publicly traded companies in India due to the low cost of going public, the trick is identifying the real value. Saraogi thinks the country is a paradise for value investors who are willing to put in the work to separate the gems from the value traps. Liquidity is volatile and there's little analyst coverage outside of the top stocks, so there's some hairy situations investors can dig into. However, he also notes that corporate governance is still a problem there, citing examples of frequent equity dilution.

David Nierenberg (D3 Family Funds): Nierenberg works directly with companies in a constructive manner in order to unlock value. Back in 2008 he learned a valuable lesson that the macro picture matters as cheap got even cheaper. He offered two investment ideas: Multiplus (SAO: MPLU3), a Brazilian loyalty program administrator and MBAC (NEX: MBC), another Brazilian play that focuses on phosphate.

Guy Gottfried (Rational Investment Group): Gottfried, previously of Bruce Berkowitz's Fairholme Capital, turned to Canada for value investing opportunities. The inefficient market there has priced Morguard Corp (TSX: MRC) quite cheap at less than 5x cashflow while the company is very well-run. He argues that you essentially get their owned properties for free.

Ori Eyal (Emerging Value Capital Management): Eyal's presentation focused on a company's management and their (lack of) care about minority shareholders. Eyal's global focus means he has to research not only the company, but the country as well.

He presented two ideas: first, a share-class arbitrage of Grupo Prisa. He says to simply long the B shares (PRIS/b) and short the A shares (PRIS/a) as the risk/reward is skewed favorably with 50% potential upside and limited downside.

His second idea was Israel-traded Willi Foods, the leading kosher food distributor in Israel that is also looking to acquire a distributor in the United States. The company trades for around 5x this year's earnings net of cash (the $50 million cash stockpile represents half the market cap).

Kian Ghazi (Hawkshaw Capital Management): Hawkshaw runs a concentrated long/short fund and focuses on high quality companies. Ghazi presented Ingram Micro (IM) as a one-stop-shop and says that the threat from "the cloud" is overblown and that not all software is shifting there.

The company has 25% market share (leading its competitors) and Ghazi thinks it can still grow 3-4% as the industry has been focusing on ROIC. While Ingram Micro trades at .9 times tangible book value, the primary risk here is a global slowdown in IT spending.

Tomorrow we'll post a summary of day two so be sure to subscribe to our free updates via email or via RSS reader.

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