Distressed Investing Panel: Dan Loeb & Daniel Krueger (CIMA Conference) ~ market folly

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Distressed Investing Panel: Dan Loeb & Daniel Krueger (CIMA Conference)

Continuing the series of notes from the CIMA conference (Columbia Investment Management Association), we turn to the distressed investing panel with some featured comments from Third Point's Dan Loeb and Owl Creek Asset Management's Daniel Krueger as well as some answers from Bruce Berkowitz (Fairholme Capital).

Distressed Investing Panel

Dan Loeb's Comments: Distressed investing applies to a process in securities that are not performing, it starts with a valuation of the enterprise- they buy anywhere in the capital structure. When they find one they like, they “jump in with both feet.”

In Q4 last year, it seemed that the concerns about the Europe crisis were well discounted in the market, and the US data was getting better. As January progressed, tail risk appeared off the table, and valuations of stocks were cheap. Administration realized that either beating up on the banks, or allowing them to grow, it was better to let them grow.

He got much more bullish in Jan, especially financials (Third Point has increased net long exposure). Bought Unicredito rights. Tech is ridiculously cheap- owns AAPL, GOOG, CSCO. “I’ve made more money going with the along with the crowd than against it.” Still maintain shorts, exposure went from 20% to 40% net long. Still long-tail hedges in case they’re wrong. Portuguese debt looks cheap. You can see Loeb's rationale for owning UniCredit and more in Third Point's investor letter.

Daniel Krueger's Comments: Besides just valuation, they look at each situation totally differently. Most situations require different skills than just valuation.

In distressed, you don’t need to know what is going to happen, for example, no one would have predicted with certainty that MF global was going to happen. You wait for situations to emerge. WAMU is an example- anyway that was an expert on WAMU the day before it was seized by the FDIC knew nothing now, it was all changed.

Distressed in Europe? 3% default rate vs. 2% in US. US high yield market current prices implies 7% default rate in the US over the next 5 years. (This seems ridiculously high). Europe has different rules than the US Chapter 11 rules. Look at process, not just outcome. Distressed is very binary. Your investment in Fannie for example at 5 cents on the dollar could go to zero. Assuming that is a bad decision may be wrong, if your process is right. The upside to these deals could be 20x, so don’t just look at outcome to decide if it was right or not, win or lose.

Idea: Seat Pagine Gialle SpA in Italy, yellow pages company. Been crushed all year, easy to hate yellow pages business, but has 40% EBITDA margins, no CAPEX, true monopoly, cheap price. Enough FCF over 4 years to repay the entire capital structure.

Bruce Berkowitz's Comments: “Shows you what kind of year I had last year, I didn’t think I WAS a distressed investor!” We often underestimate how important the price you pay for an investment; it may be 50-75% of the investment process, what price you pay for it.

Q&A Session:

1. Chrysler situation does not affect how they invest today.

2. How has Loeb’s process evolved? Started out in a single office, by himself, trying to raise money early, picked stocks during the day, and did bookkeeping at night. Now he has a 60 person staff, he has had to create an organization. Totally transparent, totally collaborative, defined investment framework. Research process defined. Learning turns on his team. He likes “high performance activity” like skiing, surfing, ran a triathlon. Something youthful about it. Had former CIA agents teach them deception detection. Always learning. It will naturally find itself into your investment process.

3. Tail hedges? About 50-100 bp of overall fund, that would have 10-20-30x payoffs if they materialize. Out of money calls on oil, for example, used to hedge against war in Iraq. Australian dollar put options, hedge against things slowing down in China.

4. When do they cut their losses? Berkowitz says if the facts tell you you’re right but the price tells you you’re wrong, you give yourself a lot of time. He basically never uses stops, he goes for years. Ask yourself “what am I missing?” Krueger says same thing – has never cut losses. Loeb: we may realize management is not as good as we thought, in case of YHOO, we try to change their behavior, or we just move on. Earnings misses- when stock falls, is the value impaired or our analysis was wrong. He sells at a loss often.

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

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

- David Einhorn Question & Answer Session

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

- 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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