David Einhorn's Extensive Q&A Session from the CIMA Conference ~ market folly

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

David Einhorn's Extensive Q&A Session from the CIMA Conference

Continuing the series of notes from the CIMA conference (Columbia Investment Management Association), we move on to the portion with Greenlight Capital's David Einhorn. He did his entire session in question and answer format.

David Einhorn's Q&A Session (CIMA Conference)

1. How do you look for ideas on a day-to-day basis? No method for doing it. We are looking for situations where we think something is mispriced. We start with a story, a thesis of why it’s misvalued. There is no systematic way to do this; it’s like going to a bookstore to browse for books. We don’t start with “is it cheap?” That’s easy to find on the computer, but we view cheap as secondary situation. Our goal is weed out as many things as fast as we can.

Example? Process is lack of a process. Sometimes an analyst generates the idea, sometimes other fund managers, a conference, or an idea dinner. Market Folly note: you can also get a good look at Einhorn in action in his book: Fooling Some of the People All of the Time. Be sure to also check out Einhorn's recommended reading list.

2. Once you have an idea, what is your edge? We want to find out what the misunderstanding is. Sometimes it’s a conspiracy to misinform people. Wall Street has this agenda. We like to identify something in which the public has been misinformed. How do you know you’re right? That’s what the work is. We find out what everyone thinks, and then what we think, and then we test it. What we need to know to convince ourselves that we understand it. Fairly informal process, not a firm checklist.

3. Where do you see the most promise today- an example? Long first: large position in AAPL. What could we possibly figure out that not every other person on the planet could figure out? Come to the view that large cap stocks have the same efficiencies as small cap stocks if you take a step back. Compare to KO a decade ago, selling bottlers to make earnings, and it was a high multiple stock. We didn’t short it because, we thought, “What could we possibly know about coke?” KO then declined like crazy- we realized we were making a big mistake by ignoring large companies with large inefficiencies.

What is the inefficiency at AAPL? It trades at a low multiple because people have seen the history of hardware companies, such as the Motorola RAZR, which has been learned. Issue with AAPL is it started with the iPod, got all your music. Now you have the music on your iPhone. TV, iPad, photos. Once you have an Apple device, you buy a second. You become an “Apple customer.” You’re not going to choose your next phone by it being 5% better than the iPhone5. Most people will just go buy the new iPhone5. It’s not a one-time hardware sale; you need a new one every 2 years. They simply wear out, it’s not just to get better phone. Market thinks it’s a hardware company that could lose its edge. Instead, it’s a growth, recurring revenue business that the market has refused to award it. The majority of market practitioners misunderstand it. Bought at 60, sold at 80. Watched, watched, and bought back at 240.

4. More on AAPL: TVs with low margins. Answer: (Note that AAPL shares have jumped 25% since he made these comments) At this valuation, you are not paying for TV at all. You’re not even paying for the current business. $390 per share for business ex cash, earn $45, getting it at 8x p/e. Grew rev at 70% last year, still penetrating the world on early stage iPads, geographically still penetrating for iPhone, especially in China. Even on a bad day, that multiple should be more than a premium of the market. Best company on the market, and trading for half the market premium. Room for value destruction at this price. Never done big acquisitions, R&D expenditure is tight, CAPEX is smart. On TVs: they’ll have to revolutionize the TV like they have the iPhone. Otherwise, they won’t do it. The cable companies might even subsidize the TV. But you don’t have to be right about the TV to make money on the stock.

5. Risk/position sizing? He doesn’t believe in any of the quantitative measures of risk- instead the common sense of risk- how much can you lose? How quickly can you get out of a position? Never bet the whole firm on one position. Large long position is small double digits. Short position smaller, because of upside risk.

6. On poker: skills are somewhat related, you have some information you can see for sure, and some you can deduce, and then you have the future which is a range of possible outcomes. You try to optimize it based on all these factors. In the past, we've highlighted the growing number of hedge fund managers that play poker.

7. Japan- still in trouble, out of the money options are mispriced because people pricing them are using VAR, which is fundamentally flawed.

8. Gold: how do you value it? He is long a lot of gold, has been for a few years, since the financial crisis. Moved all the problems from the private sector to the public sector, which will have an effect on the currency. Gold is money; you don’t value it for its use as a productive commodity. This money only grows at 1-2% per year and the other kind of money changes whenever the central banks decide they need to lend the banks a trillion euros. Policies being pursued now are fraught with risk. Makes sense to have a fraction of your assets that is not exposed to the consequences of their decisions.

Einhorn originally bought physical gold in 2009. Since then, he's also bought gold miners.

9. Emerging Markets? Don’t invest in emerging markets; not comfortable with accounting, risks.

10. Walgreens? Thought about being long WAG, due to fight with ESRX. Idea is they will make up eventually and the stock will pop higher. First, figured out they can’t get any edge on whether they work it out or not. Now they think that since WAG customers can’t use ESRX, it is already a permanent loss for WAG because they may change already. Compromise will still be a lower price per prescription, so everyone else will want the same deal as ESRX gets with WAG. Caremark could demand the same deal since ESRX did. Believe it will be a more sustained, permanent impairment of earnings.

11. Why doesn’t Android win? AAPL has high switching costs. They don’t have a lifetime guaranteed annuity, what they have is a happy, loyal customer. Most of the time these types of franchises have 20-30x multiples, but it’s being priced as a deteriorating business, which it’s not.

12. Fed Balance Sheet: He can’t figure out what the implications of the increased fed balance sheet means, and he doesn’t need to for holding his longs. We’re not going to know what could go wrong, it’s almost certain to be something we don’t think it will be. The fed chairman is a “fanatic” who is living out his academic thesis. We could have a real problem on the way out.

13. New York Mets: of all of his investments, he thought for sure this was the most certain to be negative risk-adjusted return, which made it so irritating that he couldn’t do it.

14. Research in Motion (RIMM): has problems, but could be an interesting long (Einhorn established a new long position in RIMM in Q4 2011). Critical mass for app developers, and they may have missed it. Has a good B/S, trades at a low multiple, and has some IP that a lot of tech companies would want. Trades on a run-off basis, it’s a reasonable speculation that it won’t melt. Not a fantastic investment, but the price has come down so far, that it makes no sense to short it.

15. Shorting GMCR and being public about it - do you have confidence in the SEC? He has no confidence in the SEC. There are about 20 or 30 ways he can win on the GMCR short, but SEC is not on the top of the list. Accounting practices are rather blatant and obvious that the SEC should do something about it, but they don’t look likely to do anything.

If you haven't seen it yet, you can view Einhorn's short case on Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR).

16. Time arbitrage: he thinks their time horizons of 1-3 years is longer than most market active participants. Most hedge funds under 6 months, long only 6-12 months. Don’t want to hold things that could be in half before it works. But don’t say “dead money” because it could move when you least expect it.

MF note: Blue Ridge Capital's John Griffin has often classified investments as time arbitrage or catalyst driven. Joel Greenblatt's Gotham Capital also utilizes time arbitrage as part of its investment strategy.

17. Long DELL: AAPL is much better than DELL, but DELL has been a great business innovator. They were lousy capital allocators, bought back stock at 40-50x earnings. Then once the stock collapsed, they bought businesses at high multiples instead. In the middle of 2011, they woke up and started buying back stock cheap. They haven’t made any bad acquisitions lately either. $15 stock, $7 per share, $2 EPS, getting stock at 4x P/E even if they’re not growing fast. If they use part of the $7 to buy back stock, you could win. Misunderstanding is at least half of their business is not PCs or notebooks. If you put 8x p/e on other stuff, you get the PC business for free. You can see further thoughts on DELL in Einhorn's investor letter.

18. Industries he won’t touch? He learned to never say never. Six months before he bought gold, he said never to buy gold. His mind can change at times. Betting on outcome of clinical trials is very challenging, and he has no expertise. But he still won’t rule it out. He never would have a large allocation in technology 11 years ago. Time and place for everything just recognize which areas are harder for you.

19. Economics is not a science, it’s an art. He’s very critical of it, people make some very bad conclusions that have had awful consequences for our society. Winning Nobel prizes, but enacting their views as if their science instead of art, have had huge negative consequences.

20. Online gaming? He has no idea how it will sort out. If it opens up, it will be very competitive.

21. St. Joe (JOE): concept stock runs into a math problem. You know exactly what the values are today, because you have transactions and you know what the value is. They can’t create value through actively managing. All they can do is reduce the amount of value that’s being destroyed every day. Land worth $7, stock worth $14. not levered, but it’s also good that it can’t rocket up either. Only way it works is if they discover oil, and his diligence says they’ve already looked.

If you haven't seen it, check out Einhorn's short thesis on JOE.

22. Commodities business? Very hard- need to figure out the normal price of the company, and see if the business is value added or subtractive, and then see if the business is cheap. So when the prices swing quick, you can get hurt badly. You need to have an insight on which way the commodity price will go.

For the rest of the notes from the CIMA Conference, head to these posts:

- Dan Loeb: Lessons He's Learned as an Investor

- Distressed Investing Panel (Dan Loeb & Daniel Krueger)

- Bruce Berkowitz's Basic Checklist for Investing & What He's Learned

- Long/Short Equity Investing Panel: Whitney Tilson

- Bill Miller on What Stocks He Likes Now

- Michael Karsch on Risk Management

- Bruce Greenwald's Market Comments

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