Jacob Wolinsky Interviews John Dorfman Chairman Of Thunderstorm Capital And Bloomberg Columnist

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John Dorfman

John Dorfman’s bio from http://www.thunderstormvalue.com. John Dorfman founded Thunderstorm Capital in August 1999, and launched Thunderstorm Value Fund at the beginning of 2008.

Before he became a money manager, Mr. Dorfman was a financial journalist for many years. He covered the world of investments and related topics at Forbes (1982-1984) and Consumer Reports (1984-1986). From 1986 through 1997 he was a Senior Special Writer for The Wall Street Journal. At the Journal, he was one of the principal writers of the “Heard on the Street” stock-market column, and also created numerous special features for the newspaper, including objective ratings of Wall Street research.

During his years at the Journal, Mr. Dorfman made the acquaintance of many of the most famous money managers of our era, including David Dreman, Sir John Templeton, Peter Lynch, Phil Carret, Jim Rogers and Michael Steinhardt. Inspired by these individuals, Mr. Dorfman at age 50 made a career change into investment management.

In 1997 Mr. Dorfman began to work for David Dreman of Dreman Value Management, first as an analyst and later as a portfolio manager. He regards Dreman, a leading proponent of value investing, as his mentor.

Since 1997, he has written a stock-market column syndicated by Bloomberg News. In addition, he has written nine books, including Family Investment Guide and The Stock Market Directory. He appears frequently on radio and television including “Nightly Business Report.”

John Dorfman was kind enough to answer several questions about value investing and his Bloomberg columns. Below is our conversation.

I would like to especially thank Beth Kittredge Marketing Associate of Thunderstorm Capital, who devoted a lot of time and effort to making this interview possible.

You are a value investor writing for a 24 hour news agency. Warren Buffett has stated “Only buy something that you’d be perfectly happy to hold if the market shut down for 10 years.” How hard is it to maintain a value approach while working for a company that has up to the minute business coverage?

That is a very good question. It hasn’t been hard because of the leeway my editors at Bloomberg give me. They are very flexible and I make it clear in my columns that my recommendations are long term picks ranging up to five years. The editors are okay with this because they feel there is an audience for longer-term advice. We try to make this clear in the column. Other Bloomberg columnists touch on value investing, but I am the only one for whom it’s a central focus.

I always ask this question to value investors. Value investing is contrary to human nature, how did you come along the path of becoming a value investor? What inspired you?

The natural reaction of human beings is to run away from ugly stocks, and sell in times of economic uncertainty. However, David Dreman has documented that stocks with lower expectations perform much better than stocks with high expectations.

There were two great influences that got me on my value investing path.

The first person is Sir John Templeton. My father bought shares in Templeton Growth Fund in 1954; the year it first opened. He put in $500 for each of his children. When I needed the funds in the early 1980s, I sold out for $13,000, up 25 fold in approximately thirty years! Since I was an investor in the fund, I received annual reports from the fund over the years. Reading them as a teenager and adult is how I was acquainted with equities at a very young age.

David Dreman also greatly influenced me through his books and his columns in Forbes Magazine. In 1997, I applied for a job with him at Dreman Value Management. I was happy when he agreed to hire me.

He hired a variety of people to work with him from various backgrounds. Many people he hired came from non financial backgrounds. There was a professor, an astrophysicist, and me, a journalist. I asked him why he hired all these people and he told me, “this way I don’t have to un-train them from their bad habits.”

I had been reading David Dreman’s columns for years prior to working for him. I finally met him as a Wall Street Journal reporter in 1986. I interviewed him10 or 12 times over the years, and overtime we became friends. When I decided to make a career switch from financial journalism to fund management in 1997, he hired me. A few years later I decided I wanted to launch my own firm. Surprisingly, David allowed me to continue my work with him, while I ran my own fund. I launched Thunderstorm Capital in 1999 and continued working with him part time till March of 2002. After that point, I left his fund and decided to devote my time exclusively to Thunderstorm Capital.

David Dreman is my mentor and I have said that various times in print.

You launched your fund in late 1999. What was it like launching a value fund at the height of the tech bubble?

We did our first trade in November of 1999, which was fortunate because it was at the end of 1999. Since growth and value indexes have been kept, 1999 was the worst year for value versus growth stocks in history. So, I am glad we missed that period of underperformance. We started with around one million dollars under management in my basement, and right now we manage a little over $50 million, mostly for high net worth individuals.

Our Separate Account Composite outperformed the S&P 500 in 9 out of 10 years, and has beaten the S&P 500 by 167.79 percentage points since inception. Of course, past performance doesn’t guarantee future results.

We also have a mutual fund, Thunderstorm Value Fund, which launched on January 2, 2008, and beat the S&P both in 2008 and 2009.

Can you clarify exactly how many products Thunderstorm Capital offers?

Thunderstorm Capital offers three investment products.

We run separate accounts for high net worth individuals. We also have a mutual fund, Thunderstorm Value Fund – fund ticker (THUNX). The two products are run in a very similar style – long only, deep value with a focus on valuations, balance sheets, and insider buying. But, the separate accounts tend to focus on small and mid-cap companies while the mutual fund is all-cap. Also, the separate accounts can be tailored to the individual needs or specifications of the specific client. Finally, we have a long/short strategy.

I tend to ask this question when I interview value investors. There is no set definition of value investing. In fact there are numerous styles of value investing. Warren Buffett looks for moats,Martin Whitman emphasizes the balance sheet, David Dreman looks for low metrics such as P/E, P/B etc. I know you have mentioned Dreman as your mentor but do you subscribe to his value style of investing.

My style is very similar to David Dreman’s. We look for stocks that are cheap based on traditional metrics such a price/earnings and price/book ratios. We look for strong balance sheets. One

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