Archive for March, 2013

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London Value Investor Conference 2013

David Harding
Winton Capital

Howard Marks
Oaktree Capital

Michael Price
MFP Investors

Anthony Bolton
Fidelity China Special Situations Fund
£50 Discount Code: GREENBACKD123 

Greenbackd has managed to secure a very limited number of discounted tickets to the forthcoming London Value Investor Conference 2013.This year’s conference takes place on 9th May 2013 at Central Hall Westminster with the following excellent speaker line-up:

As part of their presentation, each of the speakers will give at least one current investment idea. Winton Capital has also kindly agreed to sponsor a drinks reception after the event, which will be a great opportunity for networking amongst the value investing community.

With 9 weeks to go, the number of delegates attending is already well ahead of the total who came last year. It is expected that the 2013 conference will be the largest gathering of value investors ever outside of the USA.


In order to claim your special £50 discount on this conference, 
please use the code “
GREENBACKD123” when signing up here


The last London Value Investor Conference donated its profits to the children’s charity, the SMA Trust. This year’s conference will be supporting the children’s charity Place2be.


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There are good reasons for tracking activists. For one, research supports the view that stocks the subject of activist campaigns can generate significant above market returns, on the filing and, importantly, in the subsequent year. Recent industry research by Ken Squire, manager of the 13D Activist mutual fund (DDDAX), finds an average outperformance of 16% over the subsequent 15 months for companies larger than $1 billion in market cap:

Ken Squire is founder and principal of 13D Monitor, a research service that tracks activist investing and has data on Icahn-led activist situations since 1994, when the investor targeted Samsonite Corp. The average return of the 85 positions since then was 18.7% (measured until he closed the position, if at all), compared to 12.7% for the Standard & Poor’s 500 over comparable time frames.

Yet this impressive-seeming average outperformance should be viewed in the context of a general tendency of stocks to outperform once they have attracted the intense interest of known activist investors. In other words, this doesn’t apply to Icahn alone.

Squire calculates that, following a 13D filing, the shares of companies larger than $1 billion in market value have historically outperformed the S&P 500 by an average of 16 percentage points over the subsequent 15 months. A separate study of nearly 300 activist actions by hedge funds between April 2006 and September 2012 found a similarly strong record of success. Squire runs the relatively new (and so-far small) 13D Activist mutual fund (DDDAX), which chooses stocks from among ongoing activist situations and beat the S&P 500 by 5.27% in 2012, after fees.

Squire takes into account the past record of specific activist investors when considering fund holdings. Hedge fund JANA Partners, for example, has a strong success rate in its arm-twisting maneuvers on corporate executives it deems lacking. One of its prominent targets currently is Canadian fertilizer giant Agrium Inc. (AGU).

Squire’s research accords with earlier studies on this site, most notably these two:

  1. In Entrepreneurial Shareholder Activism: Hedge Funds and Other Private Investors, April Klein and Emanuel Zur examined recent “confrontational activism campaigns” by “entrepreneurial shareholder activists” and concluded that such strategies generate “significantly positive market reaction for the target firm around the initial Schedule 13D filing date” and “significantly positive returns over the subsequent year.” The authors find that the filing of a 13D notice by an activist hedge fund is a catalytic event for a firm that heralds substantial positive returns in the stock. Klien and Zur found that “hedge fund targets earn 10.2% average abnormal stock returns during the period surrounding the initial Schedule 13D. Other activist targets experience a significantly positive average abnormal return of 5.1% around the SEC filing window. These findings suggest that, on average, the market believes activism creates shareholder value. … Furthermore, our target abnormal returns do not dissipate in the 1-year period following the initial Schedule 13D. Instead, hedge fund targets earn an additional 11.4% abnormal return during the subsequent year, and other activist targets realize a 17.8% abnormal return over the year following the activists’ interventions.”
  2. In Hedge Fund Activism, Corporate Governance, and Firm Performance, authors Brav, Jiang, Thomas and Partnoy found that the “market reacts favorably to hedge fund activism, as the abnormal return upon announcement of potential activism is in the range of [7%] seven percent, with no return reversal during the subsequent year.” Further, the paper “provides important new evidence on the mechanisms and effects of informed shareholder monitoring.”

h/t @reformedbroker

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In How to Beat The Little Book That Beats The Market: Redux (and Part 2) I showed how in Quantitative Value we tested Joel Greenblatt’s Magic Formula outlined in The Little Book That (Still) Beats the Market).

We created a generic, academic alternative to the Magic Formula that we call “Quality and Price,” that substituted for EBIT/TEV as its price measure the classic measure in finance literature – book value-to-market capitalization (BM):

BM = Book Value / Market Price

Quality and Price substitutes for ROIC a quality measure called gross profitability to total assets (GPA). GPA is defined as follows:

GPA = (Revenue − Cost of Goods Sold) / Total Assets

Like the Magic Formula, it seeks to identify the best combination of high quality and low price. The difference is that Quality and Price substitutes different measures for the quality and price factors. There are reasonable arguments for adopting the measures used in Quality and Price over those used in the Magic Formula, but it’s not an unambiguously more logical approach than the Magic Formula. Whether one combination of measures is better than any other ultimately depends here on their relative performance. So how does Quality and Price stack up against the Magic Formula?

Here are the results of our study comparing the Magic Formula and Quality and Price strategies for the period from 1964 to 2011. Figure 2.5 from the book shows the cumulative performance of the Magic Formula and the Quality and Price strategies for the period 1964 to 2011.

Magic Formula vs Quality and Price

Quality and Price handily outpaces the Magic Formula, turning $100 invested on January 1, 1964, into $93,135 by December 31, 2011, which represents an average yearly compound rate of return of 15.31 percent. The Magic Formula turned $100 invested on January 1, 1964, into $32,313 by December 31, 2011, which represents a CAGR of 12.79 percent. As we discuss in detail in the book, while much improved, Quality and Price is not a perfect strategy: the better returns are attended by higher volatility and worse drawdowns. Even so, on risk-adjusted basis, Quality and Price is the winner.

Figure 2.7 shows the performance of each decile ranked according to the Magic Formula and Quality and Price for the period 1964 to 2011. Both strategies do a respectable job separating the better performed stocks from the poor performers.

Qp MF Decile

This brief examination of the Magic Formula and its generic academic brother Quality and Price, shows that analyzing stocks along price and quality contours can produce market-beating results. This is not to say that our Quality and Price strategy is the best strategy. Far from it. Even in Quality and Price, the techniques used to identify price and quality are crude. More sophisticated measures exist.

At heart, we are value investors, and there are a multitude of metrics used by value investors to find low prices and high quality. We want to know whether there are other, more predictive price and quality metrics than those used by Magic Formula and Quality and Price.

In Quantitative Value, we conduct an examination into existing industry and academic research into a variety of fundamental value investing methods, and simple quantitative value investment strategies. We then independently backtest each method, and strategy, and combine the best into a new quantitative value investment model.

Order from Quantitative Value from Wiley FinanceAmazon, or Barnes and Noble.

Click here if you’d like to read more on Quantitative Value, or connect with me on LinkedIn.

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Renowned deep value investment firm Tweedy Browne’s recipe for deep value is simple:

The crux of the firm’s investing style comes down to buying a stock for less than its so-called intrinsic value — just plain ”value” to these veterans — a relatively simple concept introduced by Mr. Graham. As John D. Spears, 50, a third managing partner, described it, ”Value is what a business, its assets or its earning power would be worth if you or I own it and we were to sell it to a competitor down the street.”

Simple. But if figuring value is easy, why do so many value investors fall flat? ”To buy deep value takes a lot of courage, because it looks really ugly,” Christopher Browne said. ”The companies are cheap because there are a lot of bad stories out there.”

William Browne added, ”It’s like looking for the ugliest spouse because she will love you the most.”

And, real talk, am I odd for wanting to spend some time in this library?:

THE bookshelves in the conference room of Tweedy, Browne & Company are lined with financial history. Dry securities references, some of them filigreed and bound in cracked brown leather, date back to 1939.

See Investing with Tweedy, Browne and Co.

h/t Fundamental Hedgie

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Wes sent through this outstanding more-than-30-year-old speech, Trying Too Hard (.pdf), which foreshadows many of the ideas we discuss in Quantitative Value, so much so that I feel that I should point out that neither Wes nor I had read it before we wrote the book. The speaker, Dean Williams, named the speech for this story:

I had just completed what I thought was some fancy footwork involving buying and selling a long list of stocks. The oldest member of Morgan’s trust committee looked down the list and said, “Do you think you might be trying too hard?” A the time I thought, “Who ever heard of trying too hard?” Well, over the years I’ve changed my mind about that. Tonight I’m going to ask you to entertain some ideas shoe theme is this: We probably are trying too hard at what we do. More than that, no matter how hard we try, we may not be as important to the results as we’d like to think we are.

The speech covers the following themes, among others:

  • Prediction

…[M]ost of us spend a lot of out time doing something that human beings just don’t do very well. Predicting things.

  • Forecasting, information, and accuracy

Confidence in a forecast rises with the amount of information that goes into it. But the accuracy of the forecast stays the same. 

  • Expertise and forecasting

And when it comes to forecasting – as opposed to doing something – a lot of expertise is no better than a little expertise. And may be even worse.

  • The importance of mean reversion

If there is a reliable and helpful principle at works in our markets, my choice would be the ones the statisticians call “regression to the mean”. The tendency toward average profitability is a fundamental, if not the fundamental principle of competitive markets.

It can be a powerful investment tool. It can, almost by itself, select cheap portfolios and avoid expensive ones.

  • Simplicity

Simple approaches. Albert Einstein said that “… most of the fundamental ideas of science are essentially simple and may, as a rule, be expressed in a language comprehensible to everyone“.

  • Consistency

Look at the best performing funds for the past ten years or more. Templeton, Twentieth Century Growth, Oppenheimer Special, and others. What did they have in common?

It was that whatever their investment plans were, they had the discipline and good sense to carry them out consistently.

  • And finally, value

Spend your time measuring value instead of generating information. Don’t forecast. Buy what’s cheap today.

Read Trying Too Hard (.pdf). You won’t regret it.

h/t/ The Turnkey Analyst

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In How to Beat The Little Book That Beats The Market: Redux I showed how in Quantitative Value we tested Joel Greenblatt’s Magic Formula outlined in The Little Book That (Still) Beats the Market). We found that Greenblatt’s Magic Formula has consistently outperformed the market, and with lower relative risk than the market, but wondered if we could improve on it.

We created a generic, academic alternative to the Magic Formula that we call “Quality and Price.” Quality and Price is the academic alternative to the Magic Formula because it draws its inspiration from academic research papers. We found the idea for the quality metric in an academic paper by Robert Novy-Marx called The Other Side of Value: Good Growth and the Gross Profitability Premium. The price ratio is drawn from the early research into value investment by Eugene Fama and Ken French. The Quality and Price strategy, like the Magic Formula, seeks to differentiate between stocks on the basis of … wait for it … quality and price. The difference, however, is that Quality and Price uses academically based measures for price and quality that seek to improve on the Magic Formula’s factors, which might provide better performance.

The Magic Formula uses Greenblatt’s version of return on invested capital (ROIC) as a proxy for a stock’s quality. The higher the ROIC, the higher the stock’s quality and the higher the ranking received by the stock. Quality and Price substitutes for ROIC a quality measure we’ll call gross profitability to total assets (GPA). GPA is defined as follows:

GPA = (Revenue − Cost of Goods Sold) / Total Assets

In Quality and Price, the higher a stock’s GPA, the higher the quality of the stock. The rationale for using gross profitability, rather than any other measure of profitability like earnings or EBIT, is simple. Gross profitability is the “cleanest” measure of true economic profitability. According to Novy-Marx:

The farther down the income statement one goes, the more polluted profi tability measures become, and the less related they are to true economic profi tability. For example, a firm that has both lower production costs and higher sales than its competitors is unambiguously more profitable. Even so, it can easily have lower earnings than its competitors. If the firm is quickly increasing its sales though aggressive advertising, or commissions to its sales force, these actions can, even if optimal, reduce its bottom line income below that of its less profitable competitors. Similarly, if the firm spends on research and development to further increase its production advantage, or invests in organizational capital that will help it maintain its competitive advantage, these actions result in lower current earnings. Moreover, capital expenditures that directly increase the scale of the firm’s operations further reduce its free cash flows relative to its competitors. These facts suggest constructing the empirical proxy for productivity using gross profits.

The Magic Formula uses EBIT/TEV as its price measure to rank stocks. For Quality and Price, we substitute the classic measure in finance literature – book value-to-market capitalization (BM):

BM = Book Value / Market Price

 We use BM rather than the more familiar price-to-book value or (P/B) notation because the academic convention is to describe it as BM, and it makes it more directly comparable with the Magic Formula’s EBIT/TEV. The rationale for BM capitalization is straightforward. Eugene Fama and Ken French consider BM capitalization a superior metric because it varies less from period to period than other measures based on income:

We always emphasize that different price ratios are just different ways to scale a stock’s price with a fundamental, to extract the information in the cross-section of stock prices about expected returns. One fundamental (book value, earnings, or cashflow) is pretty much as good as another for this job, and the average return spreads produced by different ratios are similar to and, in statistical terms, indistinguishable from one another. We like [book-to-market capitalization] because the book value in the numerator is more stable over time than earnings or cashflow, which is important for keeping turnover down in a value portfolio.

Next I’ll compare show the results of our examination of Quality and Price strategy to the Magic Formula. If you can’t wait, you can always pick up a copy of Quantitative Value.

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This letter from Howard Buffett, the highly libertarian “Old Right” United States Representative father of Warren, to anarcho-capitalist historian and economist Murray Rothbard, if real, is incredible. Buffett the Elder wrote to Rothbard that he “read that Rothbard had written a book on ‘The Panic of 1819‘” and wanted to know where he could buy a copy for his son “who is a particularly avid reader of books about panics and similar phenomena.”

Here is the letter:


The timing of the letter – July 31, 1962 – is interesting. The first “flash crash” occurred in May 1962, and was at the time the worst crash since 1929. Time LIFE described the 1962 “flash crash” thus:

The signs, like the rumblings of an Alpine ice pack at the time of thaw, had been heard. The glacial heights of the stock boom suddenly began to melt in a thaw of sell-off. More and more stocks went up for sale, with fewer and fewer takers at the asking price. Then suddenly, around lunchtime on Monday, May 28, the sell-off swelled to an avalanche. In one frenzied day in brokerage houses and stock exchanges across the U.S., stock values — glamor and blue-chip alike — took their sharpest drop since 1929.

Memory of the great crash, and the depression that followed, has haunted America’s subconscious. Now, after all these years, was that nightmare to happen again?

The article continues that, “although the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell almost 6 percent on that one vertiginous Monday and the market was anemic for a year afterwards, the markets as a whole, at home and abroad, did bounce back.” Good to know.


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