As investors, we are bombarded with information. Whether it be macro news, political turmoil, or earnings releases (just to name a few), its oftentimes hard for investors to filter out the noise from things that actually change the intrinsic value of securities. With so many things happening through the year, the one thing I'll remember about 2012: equity recoveries in bankruptcy.
Do not get me wrong. When I tell friends or family about what stocks I am invested in, most of them think I am speculating on some pump and dump scheme of a failing company. Maybe I monitor Twitter or Yahoo message boards for the next stock that's going to EXPLODE. Look at most of the stock message boards for companies entering the Chapter 11 process and you may go blind and/or cry.
2012 was different. In 2012, there were huge returns to be made by diligent investors invested in the bankrupcies of certain equities. During 2012, I was invested in (and in many case still invested in via the liquidation trust)
If Europe imploded, or China went into a deep deep recession, maybe my returns would have been lower than what they printed at for the year. But probably not terribly different because at the end of the day, the macro news (noise) had little effect on the intrinsic value of these securities.
I do not remember a year when there was so much money to be made in bankrupt equities and seriously doubt 2013 will come close to the sort of opportunities that were presented. There have definitely been years prior (2009) where buying incredibly stressed, levered equities was the most profitable trade out there (Dollar Thrifty anyone?).
Comically, there are a number of trades I still missed despite being deeply knowledgeable about the players, docket, and companies that had filed. In fact, one of the most profitable trade I've seen in my life is right in front of me but I haven't been able to buy the stock for 3 months. Frustrating to say the least.
The distressed cyle in general in 2012 was in line with what people had expected. I am hearing numbers all over the place for fund returns for 2012 with some eye popping numbers barbelled with some generally poor numbers and a number of funds in the mid single digits - low teens. This relative to a low double digit return for high yield is frustrating to funds that hedged rate and only picked up spread tightening which would contribute a far less return. If you were long housing (via homebuilders, subprime mortgages, Ambac etc) you did very well. Some on and off the run situations that I spoke about in the blog were all over the place (Petroplus dropping to 10 then quickly doubling, MF Global grinding to 60+, etc).
2013 inevitably will be a harder year for funds to generate absolute returns but probably an easier year to generate better returns than their benchmarks. If you were long S&P vs short funds in 2012 you are now counting your money. I don't think that will be the case this year for a variety of reasons. I really do think this year will be a stock pickers market where money will be made in catalyst driven opportunities on the long side (when financing is cheap, event driven things pick up...think M&A, spin offs, IPO of business units) and on the short side simply because valuations are stretched for a number of industries especially if you consider a sub optimal growth tragectory for the U.S. and abroad. Commodities are interesting from the short perspective given the supply outlook for a number of materials in the 2014-2015 time frame.
The stars were definitely aligned for distressed equities in 2012. Here's to hoping a few more come down the pipe in 2013.