Joel Greenblatt: The Big Secret For Value Investors (Presentation From Value Investing Congress) ~ market folly

Monday, October 17, 2011

Joel Greenblatt: The Big Secret For Value Investors (Presentation From Value Investing Congress)

At the Value Investing Congress today, Joel Greenblatt of hedge fund Gotham Capital gave a presentation entitled "The Big Secret For Value Investors".

Be sure to check out all of our notes from the Value Investing Congress.

Joel Greenblatt (Gotham Capital): Value Investing

He started out with a review of the concepts in his book, The Little Book That Still Beats the Market. He says you want stocks that are “cheap and good” and used the Compustat database to rank them by the two measures. Cheap: EBIT/EV. Good: EBIT/ (Net WC + Net fixed assets) (return on tangible capital).

Updated results through 2009: Decile 1: +15.2%, bottom decile: -0.2%. For 20 years ending 12/31/10: SPX annualized 9.1%, 11.8% on equal weight, “Value 1000” value-weighted index is 16.1%. Same Beta as SPX, same std dev. 1.01 Beta vs. 0.99 SPX.

Now, the current situation, and the meat of the presentation: A week ago, the Russell 1000 had average FCF of 9.2% (in the 94th percentile toward cheap!) Looking backwards, cheaper than 94% of periods over the last 20 years and that correlates with a 15-20% return over next one year (market up 5% over week since slide finished) "on only 10-15% left, but still pretty nice."

Average FCF of Value 1000 a week ago was 13.7% and was cheaper than 93% of the last 20 years, which correlates with a year forward return of 30-35% for value index. Greenblatt said that "Not only is the market cheap, but the value stocks are even cheaper."

Large cap long/short portfolio is in the 82% percentile- very big spread between long and short opportunity. ROIC long 59.4%, shorts 4.8%. Arguments against stocks being cheap (playing devils advocate): one argument is that we are at peak operating margins, but he showed a graph that indicated it is unclear what the real mean operating margins should be. The second argument is return on tangible capital continues to climb. In addition, outsourcing of factories, moving to a service economy, so tangible capital may not be the right way to look at it, and again it's unclear where the mean level is. He also showed a graph of tangible capital per dollar in sales is declining to 35 cents from 50 cents, 20 years ago.

Some of companies currently in the value 1000: Gamestop (GME), Aeropostale (ARO) ~ (Revolting companies, you’d never want to buy, he joked), Hewlett Packard (HPQ) ~ terrible, but selling at 5x eps, Dell (DELL), Microsoft (MSFT), General Dynamics (GD), Wells Fargo (WFC), and Merck (MRK). For every name, he mentioned why they are terrible, only half-joking. Part of the reason this works is “it’s really hard to buy these companies.”

He says that the current fixation on short-term returns causes managers to avoid buying cheap companies, because they need the ones that are doing well right now. Buying these stocks with very low expectations gives you a chance for asymmetric returns on the upside if they do even a little bit better than expected. He expects this “time arbitrage” will continue to be exploitable. He is very optimistic for the next year.

Q&A Session:

1. Role of dividends? He's indifferent in his strategy.

2. How does he incorporate financials now, he used to exclude them? He now ranks the financials separately, and adds to index if they are cheap, but he didn’t give what metrics he used.

3. Question about Michael Burry. (Background: In “The Big Short”, writer Michael Lewis made Greenblatt out for a villain for taking money from Burry even as Burry was right.) Greenblatt was a little annoyed by the question: “Michael Lewis has never let the facts get in a way of a good story. What they got wrong in the book is Burry wanted to side pocket both mortgage and corporate CDS... we did not want him to side pocket the liquid corporate CDSs … only reason we took money from him was we were getting redemptions.”

4. Where does he see the market now? He’s not a market timer, but he would argue for raising exposure to stocks now if asked.

5. Can you use the value screen and really juice returns by using further fundamental analysis? Answer: we were small, had 6-8 concentrated names, that’s why we made 40% returns - it’s impossible on large amounts of money or a very diversified portfolio. This solution is good for a very diversified portfolio, same beta as the market and beats the SPX. We’ve tried, but haven’t been able to beat the indexed approach. “We’re pretty good at picking stocks, so it’s hard to do.”

6. Large cap stocks are pretty cheap, this is an interesting time- HPQ at 5 times earnings. Bond bubble, even bigger than the stock bubble- which is crazy. Still plenty of opportunity in special situations for smaller funds.

About Joel Greenblatt: He manages Gotham Capital and saw 40% annualized returns for 20 years. He's the author of the new book The Big Secret for the Small Investor: A New Route to Long-Term Investment Success. And for aspiring investors, numerous prominent hedge fund managers such as Seth Klarman have recommended Greenblatt's other book: You Can Be a Stock Market Genius.

You can view our notes from the Value Investing Congress for the rest of the hedge fund manager presentations.

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