Notes From Virginia Investment Symposium 2013: Julian Robertson, Paul Tudor Jones & John Griffin ~ market folly

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Notes From Virginia Investment Symposium 2013: Julian Robertson, Paul Tudor Jones & John Griffin

The University of Virginia's McIntire School of Commerce recently held its 2013 Spring Symposium entitled "Investing in Markets, Society, and Ourselves: Views from Investment Masters."  The panelists included hedge fund legends Julian Robertson of Tiger Management, Paul Tudor Jones of Tudor Investment Corp and John Griffin of Blue Ridge Capital.

Market Folly obtained access to a recording of the event through a Freedom of Information Act request and we wanted to highlight some brief notes and pearls of wisdom from these great investors.

Notes From UVa's Spring Investment Symposium 2013

Julian Robertson (Tiger Management)

On starting his fund:  He founded the firm with $8 million and at its peak managed $22 billion.  He noted how there wasn't as much short selling going on when he started.  He also said shorting is much harder today and back then you essentially had interest rate arbitrage on your shorts because interest rates were so much higher than dividends.  

Julian says he learned from Bob Wilson, who he labeled as one of the first hedge fund managers out there.

On traits he looked for in making hires at Tiger:  "We found out subsequently some real personality traits: competitiveness is right up there with brains and honesty."

As our Hedge Fund Wisdom newsletter drew attention to, Robertson recently sold out of Apple (AAPL) and he mentioned that at the event.  He says it's because he went back and re-read the book on Steve Jobs and realized his importance to the company as an innovator.

On the other hand, Robertson continues to like Google (GOOG) and thinks it's a great company.  He joked he can't wait to get some Google Glasses.  He also mentioned he still owns Daiwa Securities (TYO:8601) and has for a long time.

He says he feels you have to be playing Japan now given the policies there and notes that someone he knows is starting an all-Japan hedge fund.

Robertson called the hedge fund business 'a lifesaver' after losing his wife as he's been re-energized seeding managers and looking at businesses/investment ideas.

Paul Tudor Jones (Tudor Investment Corp)

He emphasized his focus on technical analysis as that's the method he learned for trading commodities originally.  He said, "I have one strong rule and that is when it comes to a stock if it's above the 200 day moving average, I'm gonna be long it, and if it's below it, I'm either not gonna own it or I'm gonna be short it, period end of story and I just let that govern every single thing that I do."

On crashes/financial crises:

"The crash of 1987 was a 100% derivatives inspired event.  So someone from my background, that came from trading futures, it was very easy for me to see what was about to transpire, because I understood that at that point in time, the tail was going to wag the dog.  If you look at the biggest financial crises of the past three decades, generally speaking they've been derivatives inspired.  Because that's the easiest way to bring knowingly and unknowingly a huge amount of leverage into any kind of particular instrument and it's the leverage that brings the volatility."

On Japan: Jones says to watch late next year for verification if Japan has been able to reduce their debt-to-GDP.   He said, "If it doesn't work, and all of a sudden they have a debt crisis, I would think you could just take 35% off all equity markets, including this one, by the time that one unwinds."

He also thinks Europe is pretty interesting with all the central bank action over there.

On when he might retire: He originally planned to potentially retire when his last child graduated from college, but he really enjoys the business and sees it as the biggest game in the world.  He wants to hang around to see how the Japan situation plays out. He said, "I think the next few years are gonna be, I think some of the most exciting times for macro in the last couple of decades."

On long/short strategies:  "When I think of long/short business, to me there's 5 ways to make money: 2 of those are you either play mean reversion, which is what a lot of long/short strategies do, or you can play momentum/trend, and that's typically what I do.  We've seen cheap companies get cheaper many, many times.  If something's going down, I want to be short it, and if something's going up, I want to be long it.  The sweet spot is when you find something with a compelling valuation that is also just beginning to move up.  That's every investor's dream."

Tudor Jones also noted that it's hard for a macro trader to not be perpetually long the US dollar against the South African Rand.

On short selling:  "I spent 20 years doing it, it's not the right way to make a living trading.  It's simply not.  And I've done really well on the short side.  There's nothing more exciting than a bear market.  But it's not a wonderful way for long-term health and happiness."

John Griffin (Blue Ridge Capital)

Griffin moderated the panel, though he also added some anecdotes of his own.

On Tiger's hiring practices: "Julian was always willing to take a risk on people who knew nothing if he felt they had characteristics of integrity, competitiveness, smart, and would be interested in the business.  And I think in someways that was a breakthrough back then."

Griffin impersonating Robertson after he initially met Andreas Halvorsen (who worked at Tiger and eventually founded Viking Global):  "Well, I mean, he may be one of the smartest people I've ever met, that's number one.  Number two, he's one of the most aggressive person I've ever met."

Griffin cited mentoring and having the open office layout at Tiger as some of the biggest reason for its success and the success of people who left to start their own funds.

Adding on to Jones' comments about Europe, Griffin said that if Draghi follows actions of other banks then "Europe stocks would fly because they're half the valuations."

Griffin also basically confirmed what everyone largely knew already: that Tiger alums often talk and share ideas.  He said Julian would call him and ask him for his favorite short idea then joked that after he told him the idea Julian would take off before Griffin could get Julian's best idea.

On investing: "In stock investing, the way I do it, because I'm not an activist, you're completely helpless.  You buy the stock, and if you don't like what the company's doing, you can sell the stock ... In investing, the only way to be really good at it, you have to accept the fact that everything is greater than yourself.  If it ever becomes anything to do with your action, unless you're an activist, you're smoked.  You're a taker.  The markets are like the ocean... you can't be in a boat and say 'bring it on' to the ocean."  

Investment Pitches

Two current students and one former student pitched investment ideas to the panel:

1. Long ADT (ADT): They highlight ADT's position as the market leader in a fragmented industry and cited their dealer network as compelling.  The main part of the thesis centers around the company's new Pulse product where people can turn off lights and control other household functions in addition to home security from their smartphones.

While the street is seeing 30% adoption rate of this system, dealers they spoke to are seeing 80% installation rates.  They think concerns from competition from cable companies like Verizon (VZ) and AT&T (T) is overblown as they've tried to enter the business in the past and haven't been as successful.

2. Short Canon (CAJ): Melting ice cube short as the company faces lower unit sales & average selling prices, as well as increased competition.  They think that smartphones are replacing 'point and shoot' cameras and that mirrorless cameras will be favored over DSLR cameras.

They also cite the company's weak printer market and think the conservative management team is a drag on the stock.  Julian Robertson said he thinks it's a very good idea.

3.  Short Truworths:  Additionally, a former UVa student and former analyst at John Griffin's Blue Ridge Capital, Hoda Alibair, came up and presented a negative view on South Africa's lenient consumer credit policies.

She highlighted that 66% of the GDP is from household expenditure and there's been a significant growth in unsecured lending and 76% of households are running at a 76% household debt to income ratio.  So what's the best way to play this?

She noted how the tendency would be to short the banks exposed to this (and we highlighted how Conatus Capital's David Stemerman said to short African Bank at the Ira Sohn Investment Conference).

She instead looked for other plays on this in the consumer sector and she laid out the case to short TruWorks.  She says the company has peak margins that just aren't sustainable.  Zara, a big retail competitor, is just now moving in to the country as well.  Over 60% of Truworths' growth came from a brand called Identity, and these consumers are truly low-income consumers.

blog comments powered by Disqus