Friday, July 20, 2012

Howard Marks on His Current Favorite Idea & Investment Strategy

We've long posted commentary from Oaktree Capital's Howard Marks (see his recent letter here) due to the amount of wisdom he often shares.  Warren Buffett has even said Marks' letters are the first thing he reads when they come in.  So today we wanted to highlight a longer conversation with Marks on Bloomberg recently.

His Current Favorite Idea: "We think the current combination of good opportunities and good quantity of dealflow is in real estate and real estate related debt"  (both in the US and abroad, but but the US looks a bit better currently).

He thinks there's more of an aversion to real estate today than other areas.  Marks has bet on single family rental properties, believing that there will be a comeback in housing.  The key is to have patient capital, he says.  Numerous other prominent investors also liked this idea at this week's Delivering Alpha conference real estate panel.

On Investment Strategy:  "In order to get above average results, you have to think different and better.  It doesn't always work to do the opposite of what the herd is doing.  You have to know what they're doing, know why they're doing it, know what's wrong with it, and then do the opposite."

He says that everyone is looking at the macro and it's very hard to make calls like that.  He points to great investors like Warren Buffett not making macro calls and instead focusing on specific company fundamentals.

On Opportunities:  He says opportunities usually exist because the sellers are making a mistake (because they're forced to sell, or panicking or they get a margin call).  He penned his entire last memo on mistakes.

On Europe:  "It's a complex area, very murky, very uncertain."

Embedded below is the video of Marks' appearance on Bloomberg:

For more from the Oaktree manager, we've posted an excerpt from his book on contrarianism.

What We're Reading ~ 7/20/12

Muddy Waters negative report on New Oriental Education [Muddy Waters]

Great drought driving food prices higher [Big Picture]

Conversation on potential secular themes [Reddit]

Longleaf Partners Q2 shareholder letter [Longleaf]

The wisdom of crowds in financial markets [Resource Investor]

Tail risk and hedge fund returns [SSRN]

Tech debate between Peter Thiel and Eric Schmidt [Fortune]

A look at the company Square's future [NYTimes]

Profile of Yahoo's new CEO, Marissa Mayer [Spectrum]

Marissa Mayer is in over her head [Slate]

Tons of other great reads from this week [Abnormal Returns]

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Whitney Tilson Becomes Sole Manager of T2 Partners, Glenn Tongue Starts Deerhaven Capital

Whitney Tilson recently sent out a letter detailing that his hedge fund T2 Partners will be losing its dual-portfolio manager structure.  Tilson will continue to manage the fund as its sole manager.  Glenn Tongue, the former co-manager, will takeover the former T2 SPAC Fund and rename it Deerhaven Fund, to be managed by his new firm, Deerhaven Capital Management.

As we tweeted out earlier today, in the letter Tilson says "I will adopt a much lower public profile and let my investment returns speak for themselves."  He will also be adopting a much more concentrated portfolio approach, targeting 15 longs and 25 (smaller) shorts.

Also worth noting is the fact that he sold all of T2's positions and will be re-building the portfolio (but will still buy old holdings like BRK).  Certainly there will be tax consequences for this decision.

Tongue, with his new firm, will be focusing on high quality businesses, special situations (mergers, workouts, SPACs), and mispriced options.  He'll also run a concentrated long book and diversified short book.

Embedded below is the T2 Partners letter detailing the changes:

It remains to be seen whether or not T2 will invest in AIG again, but we'd assume so given that they gave a presentation on AIG only two months ago.

Notes From Delivering Alpha Conference

Here's an index of notes from the various panels at CNBC & Institutional Investor's Delivering Alpha Conference:

- Best Ideas Panel featuring Omega's Leon Cooperman, Kynikos' Jim Chanos, BlueMountain's Andrew Feldstein, BlackRock's Robert Kapito, and Queen Anne's Gate Capital's Kathleen Kelley.

- Global Opportunities Panel featuring Richard Perry (Perry Capital), Fortress' Peter Briger, Harvard Management's Jane Mendillo, and JPMorgan's Mary Callahan Erdoes

- Less Than Zero Panel featuring Avenue's Marc Lasry, Marathon's Bruce Richards & Morgan Stanley's Gregory Fleming

- Real Estate Panel featuring Pershing Square's Bill Ackman, Starwood's Barry Sternlicht, and Blackstone's Johnathan Gray

- Commodities Panel featuring Ospraie's Dwight Anderson, Arbalet's Jennifer Fan, and Taylor Woods Capital's Beau Taylor

Delivering Alpha Real Estate Panel: Ackman, Sternlicht & Gray

Continuing coverage of CNBC & Institutional Investor's Delivering Alpha Conference, we're now shifting to the real estate panel featuring Pershing Square's Bill Ackman, Starwood Capital Group's Barry Sternlicht and Blackstone Group's Johnathan Gray.

If you missed it, we've also posted up notes from the other panels at the conference.

Bill Ackman (Pershing Square):  Ackman's been in the news recently regarding a new stake in Proctor & Gamble (PG) so naturally he addressed that first saying, "We think it's a great company ... it's a cheap stock, but it's cheap for a reason.  We own the stock, we like the company, we own about $1.8 billion in equity in options."

That's a lot when you frame it in the context of a $10 billion dollar fund.  Recently, Ackman was also saying his PG bet is the largest initial bet on a company he's ever made.  Many have postured that he'll look to shake-up management and examine splitting the business up.

Ackman also touched on his stake in J.C. Penney (JCP), whose shares have been in steady decline.  He argued that it's the only company that can make 15-20x return (seems awful high), attributing the sell-off to a PR problem versus fundamentals.

On the subject of real estate, he advocated buying single family homes, arguing that it's a good business and an "asset class where institutions are underrepresented."  For more from this investor, we just posted up Ackman's recommended reading list.

Barry Sternlicht (Starwood Capital):  He noted that there's enough debt financing and that spreads are tight.  He also pointed out that you don't really see foreign banks here.

Echoing Ackman, Sternlicht says they've been buying houses and thinks the market could even possibly be overbought.  On Europe, he thinks it's still the first inning there so if you get involved, you've got to buy and hold.  We've highlighted thoughts from Sternlicht before in investing lessons learned from Richard Rainwater.

Johnathan Gray (Blackstone):  They bought a lot of commercial real estate near the top of the market but said it's not painful because rents are improving (due to lack of new construction).  He believes there's some opportunity out there to buy things that others aren't interested in.  The caveat, is that financing is harder to obtain than in the past.

Blackstone obviously likes Ackman's notion of buying homes as that's what they've been doing.  Two thousand for $300 million, saying execution is key.  He especially seems to like European deals and thinks the continent is not going into an abyss.  In summary, he wants to buy hard assets at a discount to replacement cost.

Be sure to check out more insights from top investors from the conference:

- Best ideas panel

- Global opportunities panel

- Chase for yield panel

Delivering Alpha Commodities Panel: Dwight Anderson, Jennifer Fan & Beau Taylor

The last set of notes from CNBC & Institutional Investor's Delivering Alpha Conference comes from the commodities panel featuring Ospraie's Dwight Anderson, Arbalet Capital's Jennifer Fan, and Taylor Woods Capital's Beau Taylor.

Be sure to check out notes from the Delivering Alpha conference for all the other panels.

Dwight Anderson (Ospraie):  The legendary commodities man thinks there's risk in corn, wheat and grain markets (corn has spiked insanely higher, trading limit up on numerous occasions).  He argued more investors should look into farmland.  We've highlighted in the past how Michael Burry likes farmland (yes, the Michael Burry of subprime shorting fame).  Two months ago at the Ira Sohn Conference, we also highlighted how Anderson was long palladium, short platinum.

Jennifer Fan (Arbalet Capital):  She was named one of Institutional Investor's rising stars in 2011 and Arbalet was one of the biggest fund launches this year.  Her comments included that being a farmer is harder than being a hedgie.  She also echoed Anderson's sentiment that corn is risky.  She also pointed out that Chinese GDP numbers are volatile (much more-so than what's reported).

Beau Taylor (Taylor Woods Cap): He feels that crude oil could go much higher ($200 per barrel), citing violence in countries like Syria, Iraq, Iran and some African countries.  He likes Brent over WTI.  He also likes farmland, but says it's hard to scale.

Sources: Notes from readers, II's blog@ldelevingne

Be sure to check out all the other notes from the Delivering Alpha Conference.

East Coast's Q2 Letter: What Defines A Great Business & A Look At IBM

Christopher Begg's is out with East Coast Asset Management's Q2 letter entitled, "The Beekeepers" where he makes an excellent analogy to investing.  In it, he also delves into what defines a great business and discusses IBM (IBM) as one of their new holdings in context of a larger theme.

Before diving into the IBM idea, we wanted to highlight a few of his salient points from the letter.  He makes a great analogy in the letter writing, "Bees also suffer from the biggest problem of most investors - the inability to sit in a room and do nothing."  Indeed, many great investors have extolled the virtues of patience in investing.

And on the topic of crowded trades, Begg writes,

"We observe that many investors appear to share similar behavior.  Too much demand chasing too little supply will eventually drive prices to extremes, diminishing the resources or future returns for a particular asset class.  We are witnessing this today with money markets and fixed-income securities where yields hover near all-time lows and the crowded hive has to swarm to find more resources."

Why East Coast Likes IBM

Begg highlights that Warren Buffett's Berkshire has become the largest shareholder of IBM (over $13 billion).  East Coast added the name to their books in the quarter and here's some of the rationale as to why:

- IBM has averaged unlevered returns on net tangible assets over the last five years of greater than 20%.

- Their durable competitive advantage exists in the sheer depth of their proprietary intellectual knowledge with which they can solve their customer's complex problems.

- They've targeted four key areas of market opportunity: developing markets, cloud and smarter computing, business analytics and optimization, and smarter planets/smarter cities.

- Perhaps one of the most important: pricing power.  As we all know, Buffett loves pricing power.

- Effective management.

Read their full thoughts in East Coast's Q2 letter embedded below:

For more from this firm, be sure to also check out their Q1 letter on mispricings as well as their thoughts on competitive advantage.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Delivering Alpha Less Than Zero Panel: Lasry, Richards & Fleming

Continuing coverage of CNBC and Institutional Investor's Delivering Alpha Conference, next up is the Less Than Zero Panel featuring Avenue Capital's Marc Lasry, Marathon Asset Management's Bruce Richards, and Morgan Stanley's Gregory Fleming in a talk on the hunt for yield.

If you missed previous posts from the conference, check out a summary of the best ideas panel as well as the global opportunities panel.

Marc Lasry (Avenue Capital):  He argued that 10 year Treasuries will be around 2.5% to 3% in 5 years.  He talked about investing in European debt, saying that you're getting (over)paid for the risk premium.  We've highlighted Lasry on European opportunities recently.  He said that he's buying bank debt in private markets (in Europe), saying that you want to be in regions where "everyone's nervous."  Lasry also argued that 10% plus annual returns are doable if there's a 7-year lockup.

Bruce Richards (Marathon Asset Management):  He said that government bonds = highest risk, lowest return.  He likes structured credit as he thinks the hunt for yield will get insane through 2014 as he made a Hunger Games reference.  He also says that everyone knows inflation is the way out for the US government.  Additionally, he argued he could make 12-14% in high yield.

Gregory Fleming (Morgan Stanley):  He highlighted the retail investor's demand for yield while still having major risk aversion.  It's difficult to combine the two, obviously.  Citing Jim Grant, he also called Treasuries "return free risk."

Sources: Notes from readers, II's blog, @iimag, @ldelevingne, @footnoted, @aarontask

For more from the Delivering Alpha Conference, head to a summary of the best ideas panel (including Leon Cooperman, Jim Chanos and more) as well as the global opportunities panel (featuring Richard Perry).

Delivering Alpha Global Opportunities Panel: Perry, Briger, Mendillo & Erdoes

Today we're posting up highlights from CNBC & Institutional Investor's Delivering Alpha Conference.  We've already posted up the best ideas panel and the chase for yield panel, now we're posting up the global opportunities panel featuring Perry Capital's Richard Perry, Fortress' Peter Briger, Harvard Management's Jane Mendillo, and JPMorgan's Mary Callahan Erdoes.

Richard Perry (Perry Capital):  The hedge fund founder thinks the ECB will keep pumping liquidity into the system, straight to banks rather than governments.  He actually feels the crisis in Europe has been blown out of proportion (at least the extent of it) and it will be a smoother recovery than expected.  Perry feels the euro will survive.

Perry said he likes Italy and Spain sovereign debt but emphasized that he's a trader and could change his mind as fast as tomorrow and also said that "at the end of the quarter, you can't have Spain and Italy on your books."  (Related: we've highlighted how Dan Loeb's Third Point has been long Portuguese sovereign debt.)  Perry noted they've been worried about Spain for three years now.  He also says that in Washington they need to focus on spurring mortgage lending and focusing on immigration reform.

Peter Briger (Fortress):  Briger disagrees with Perry and feels that European bank balance sheets have lots of risk assets that haven't been priced appropriately, saying there's still a lot to work through (debt).  He basically wants to get excited about these opportunities but says prices aren't intriguing enough (cash is still king right now for him).  He says we're in a "period of transitional finance."  His favorite play is financial services "garbage collection" over the next 5 years.  He also mentioned that if he was a long-only investor, he'd be intrigued by the US mortgage market.

Jane Mendillo (Harvard Management Co):  She noted how she's seeing a lot of investors looking for distressed credit in Europe, almost in a frenzy, as there's more dollars than opportunities.  They are not piling in now but are indeed looking at long-term opportunities.  Her favorite space right now is natural resources as she thinks there's still inefficiencies there: farmland, energy, water, timberland, infrastructure.

Mary Callahan Erdoes (JPMorgan):  The CEO of JPMorgan Chase Asset Management said her top pick is to short the Euro.  Coming off a trip to Asia, she notes that investors over there are still looking at US opportunities. She also said that "buy and hold" is definitely dead.  Erdoes made the case for European equities (with an emphasis on luxury), calling it a stock picker's market.

Sources: Notes from readers, II's blog, @iimag, @ldelevingne, @footnoted, @aarontask

For more from the Delivering Alpha Conference, head to a summary of the best ideas panel featuring Leon Cooperman, Jim Chanos as well as the hunt for yield panel featuring Marc Lasry.

Delivering Alpha Best Ideas Panel: Cooperman, Chanos, Feldstein & More

CNBC and Institutional Investor's Delivering Alpha Conference is going on today and we wanted to aggregate the highlights.  The "best ideas" panel included Omega Advisors' Leon Cooperman, Kynikos Associates' Jim Chanos, BlueMountain Capital's Andrew Feldstein, Queen Anne's Gate Capital's Kathleen Kelley, and BlackRock's Robert Kapito.

From the conference, we've also posted up the global opportunities panel as well as the chasing yield panel.

Leon Cooperman (Omega Advisors):  He pitched going long US stocks and called them the best house in the financial neighborhood, a tune he has been singing for well over a year.  However, he did make an excellent point that the maximum "pain trade" is going higher as tons of people are sitting on large sums of cash earning nothing. 

As for specific names he likes: Capital One (COF), Express Scripts (ESRX), Halliburton (HAL), Gannett (GCI), Kinder Morgan (KMI), MetLife (MET), Qualcomm (QCOM), Watson Pharma (WPI) and Western Union (WU).  He also likes AIA Group (1299.HK) traded in Hong Kong.

The Omega Advisors founder also continued to bash bonds, saying "buying US bonds right now is like walking in front of a steam roller and picking up dimes.  It's just not a good policy."

As far as the election goes, he thinks that if Romney wins, the market will spike by 150 points, but if Obama wins, it drifts lower. For more from the Omega man, we just posted up Leon Cooperman on 14 attributes that make a good portfolio manager.

Jim Chanos (Kynikos Associates):  The noted short-seller was out again negative on tech companies.  He mainly pitched the bear case on Hewlett Packard (HPQ), calling it a value trap.  We just recently highlighted Chanos' presentation on global value traps where HPQ was highlighted among other names.

He says that "when you lose the paradigm shift, you spend an awful lot of money defending what you have."  He compared HPQ to Eastman Kodak as the company is in declining businesses.

Chanos also touched on how instead of giving cash back to shareholders, companies will make value-destroying acquisitions.  He cited HPQ's buy of Autonomy last year.  The Kynikos man argues that HPQ has overspent on acquisitions and they're hiding research & development expenditures through them.

He's also negative on Dell (DELL) saying that the company finances its subprime customers (financing their revenue growth).  For more on Chanos we just recently posted up his thoughts on the psychology of short selling.

Andrew Feldstein (BlueMountain Capital):  He likes less liquid credit, angling for 8-12% returns over a 3-7 year time horizon.  He says you have to be patient as this opportunity is available due to everyone's obsession with liquidity (i.e. don't put your money here if you don't have an appropriate time horizon).  He mentioned bonds such as Prospect Medical if you can buy and hold.  Feldstein also mentioned he's less excited about legacy distressed assets in Europe.

Kathleen Kelley (Queen Anne's Gate Capital):  Formerly of Tudor and Kingdon, she pitched two ideas: short the British pound (against long US dollar) as well as short platinum, targeting 20-30% moves to the downside.  She wants to be long the USD against the sterling because the USD can be a commodity currency.

She also likes shorting platinum as there's an oversupply due to slowing Euro auto sales.  At the Ira Sohn conference two months ago, Ospraie's Dwight Anderson pitched going short platinum as well (in addition to going long palladium).

Robert Kapito (BlackRock):  He's going for the "income hog" approach by focusing on equity dividend funds, dividend stocks like AT&T (T), Verizon (VZ), Merck (MRK), Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), high yield bond funds (or individual issues from Sprint, Ally) and municipal bonds such as the San Francisco Airport, New Jersey Tolls.  He thinks that default worry surrounding munis is "overrated."

Sources: Notes sent by readers, II's blog, @iimag@ldelevingne, @footnoted, @aarontask

For more from Delivering Alpha, head to the global opportunities panel (featuring Richard Perry) as well as the hunt for yield panel (featuring Marc Lasry)

What We're Reading ~ 7/18/12

Jack Schwager's new book: Hedge Fund Market Wizards [Amazon]

Make or break time for China [Bespoke Investment Group]

Investors' 10 most common behavioral biases [Above the Market]

Don't let models doom your portfolio [Rick Ferri]

Mega cap stocks may be poised to outperform [Disciplined Investing]

Are there secrets in SEC filings? [footnoted]

Why Windows 8 made one investor sell Microsoft [Institutional Investor]

Lone Pine Asia Chief launches hedge fund [FINalternatives]

How to get a job at a hedge fund [Forbes]

Hedge funds: mastered by the universe [The Economist]

Passport Capital winds down materials hedge fund after loss [Bloomberg]

Harbinger Capital announces second permanent capital vehicle [FINalternatives]

4 reasons the hedge fund industry is structurally dead [Minyanville]

Value investors at Research in Motion annual meeting [Barel Karsan]

Jack Welch: Corporations are people [WSJ]

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Strategist Jeff Saut: Same Recession "Head Fake" Third Year in a Row

Market strategist Jeff Saut is out with his weekly commentary entitled "Cognitive Dissonance."  He titled his piece as such due to certain economic readings softening while others strengthened.  Saut also addresses how it can often pay to go against the crowd, likening the current market action to that of the past two years.

He argues that just like the past two years, the markets have peaked in May/June and will decline for a few months before surging higher into year-end as no evidence of a recession emerges.

However, Saut isn't sure if the current decline is over yet.  He won't be completely comfortable until the S&P 500 breaks 1366 to the upside and holds it (it's currently around 1358).

In the mean time, he's been recommending slow accumulation of select stocks such as decent dividend payers like Allstate (ALL), Covanta (CVA), Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), Plum Creek Timber (PCL), Rayonier (RYN) and Stonemor (STON).

And on the topic of cognitive dissonance Saut writes, "in order to reduce the anxiety of decision making, people perceive things in ways that may or may not be logical.  Simply stated, people talk the way they bet.  From a stock market perspective this means that the interpretation of economic and market news varies in direct relationship to the investor's bullish, bearish, or cautious market position."

Embedded below is Jeff Saut's latest commentary where you can read why he thinks this year is just like the past two:

You can download a .pdf copy here.

For more from the strategist, we've also highlighted some of his rules for position sizing as well as profit-taking and loss prevention.

Trian Fund Sells Some Family Dollar (FDO)

Nelson Peltz's Trian Fund Management was the largest institutional holder of Family Dollar (FDO) shares at the end of the first quarter.  However, according to a recent Form 4 filed with the SEC, Trian has sold some shares.

Per the SEC filing, Trian's co-manager Ed Garden (who sits on FDO's board) sold 597,000 shares at prices between $69.75 and $70.71 on July 10th and 11th.  After these sales, Trian was left owning 9,369,201 shares.  We've posted up the firm's thoughts on FDO in Trian's Q1 letter.

Readers who have followed this name will recall that Trian actually made a bid to take the company private at $60 per share.  Many assumed this was posturing to induce other bids, which never materialized. 

A few months ago, we highlighted how Bill Ackman's Pershing Square sold out of FDO to allocate capital to more compelling opportunities.  While Trian has sold some shares, it could merely be profit taking as they're up on their position.

At the end of the first quarter, Family Dollar counted numerous institutional firms as top shareholders, including: Alan Fournier's Pennant Capital, Scout Capital, Dan Loeb's Third Point, Paulson & Co, and many more.  We'll have to wait and see who continues to own FDO when the second quarter filings are released in August.

Per Google Finance, Family Dollar is "operates a chain of more than 7,000 general merchandise retail discount stores in 44 states, providing primarily consumers with a selection of merchandise in neighborhood stores. The Company merchandise assortment includes Consumables, Home Products, Apparel and Accessories, and Seasonal and Electronics. A Family Dollar store is between 7,500 and 9,500 square feet, with an average of approximately 7,100 square feet of selling space."

For more from this investment firm, we've posted up Trian's recent presentation on Lazard.

John Griffin's Blue Ridge Capital Buys Colfax (CFX)

John Griffin's hedge fund firm Blue Ridge Capital filed a 13G with the SEC after market close yesterday disclosing a brand new position in Colfax (CFX).

Per the filing, Blue Ridge now owns 5.73% of the company with 5,370,000 shares due to portfolio activity on July 6th.  They did not own a position at the end of the first quarter, so they've built this position somewhere between April and July.

In other activity from this fund, we've detailed how Blue Ridge was buying Martin Marietta Materials as well.

Per Google Finance, Colfax is "a global industrial manufacturing and engineering company. The Company provides gas- and fluid-handling and fabrication technology products and services to commercial and governmental customers worldwide under the Howden and ESAB brand names and by Colfax Fluid Handling. Colfax’s products are marketed principally under the brand names Allweiler, Baric, Fairmount Automation, Houttuin, Imo, LSC, COT-Puritech, Portland Valve, Tushaco, Warren and Zenith."

For more from John Griffin's firm, check out Blue Ridge's recommended reading list.