Last week, we posted some quotes and commentary on the Baupost 2004 Letter to Investors penned by Seth Klarman. We continue our wisdom / quotes from the Baupost 2005 letter.
"For most investments, much can go wrong, including numerous factors beyond an investor's control: the economy, the markets, interest rates, the dollar, war, politics, tax rates, new technology, labor problems, competition, litigation, natural disasters, fraud, dilution, accounting gimmicks, and corporate mismanagement. Some but not all of these risks can be hedged, often only imprecisely and always at some cost. Other factors are under an investor's control, but are not always controlled: discipline; consistency; remaining within your circle of competence; matched duration of client capital with underlying investments; prudent diversification; reacting rationally to news or market developments; and of course, not overpaying"
"Is or past success the result of skill or luck? Is it replicable, or merely a lengthy run of good fortune? We are confident that our success has not been the result of a favorable spin of a roulette wheel or a timely roll of the dice. It has been truncated, not heightened, risk. Our gains over the years have been earned, banked, redeployed into the next advantageous investment, and thereby compounded, again and again. With sound investment principles, a committed and dedicated investment organization, a healthy and vigilant awareness of what can go wrong, and a strong sell discipline, investing is more akin to a high-yielding, periodically volatile, and non-guaranteed bank account than a game of chance. Can gains be lost? Of course they can, through laziness, sloppiness or hubris. Buck such a reversal is hardly inevitable, especially when one is aware of these risks. We work assiduously to maintain our gains, emphasizing as always the preservation of capital and, only when attractive opportunities become available, its enhancement."
"While you know that our investments often stand apart from those of the crowd, you may not be aware of how deeply this contrarianism permeates our activities. Our investments can be remarkably contrary; we regularly search the "new low" list for investment ideas, while shunning names on the "new high" list. We purchase what the crowd is dumping. We typically buy stocks in the face of Wall Street "sell" recommendations, and reduce positions in their "buys" We eagerly assess financially distressed companies for opportunity while the world experiences revulsion. For us, analytically complex, litigious, stigmatized, and shunned situations bought at the right price form the backbone of a limited risk portfolio of opportunity."
"Rather than ratchet up risk, our approach has been to hold cash in the absence of opportunity, accepting a minor diminution in expected return where, and only where, the historic returns have been particularly out sized for the risk. There was never any logic, for example, behind the consensus industry annual return targets of 20% or more on bankrupt bonds or private investments. At times, an expected 15-18% return is ample, given the qualify of the underlying assets, the conservative nature of the assumptions made, and the limited spectrum of things that can go wrong. Other times, even a projected 25-30% return might be inadequate, where the quality of the assets is suspect, the return is earned in a risky and unhedged currency, and the downside risk is larger than usual. The quality of management must be factored in. The expected duration of an investment may also play a role; a short-dated investment earning inadequate return is over soon, and one can move on to better opportunity. Long duration mistakes are the gifts that keep on taking, locking you in to low returns, or significant capital losses if you exit early."
"We believe that while investors need to focus great attention on the fundamentals, they must simultaneously answer the question: What's your edge? To succeed in today's overcrowded environment, investors need an edge, an advantage over the competition, to help them allocate their scarce time. Since most everyone has access to complete and accurate databases, powerful computers, and well-trained analytical talent, these resource provide less and less of a competitive edge; they are necessary but not sufficient. You cannot have an edge doing what everyone else is doing; to add value you must stand apart from the crowd. And when you do, you benefit from watching the competition at work."This 2005 Letter may need a second post. Seth Klarman offers many more nuggets of wisdom. Stay tuned.