Seth Klarman: Recent financial market events, including subprime loan losses, hedge fund and quant fund woes, and the bailout or takeover of numerous financial institutions and structured vehicles,that are suddenly strapped for cash, highlight the extreme risk taking and leverage that have lately permeated our financial system. The current distress will likely create opportunities for patient investors, but while proper investing requires a disciplined and long-term perspective,few market participants are able to ignore short-term phenomena. The daily blips of the market are, in fact, noise—noise that is very difficult for most investors to tune out.
Investors unfortunately face enormous pressure—both real pressure from their anxious clients and their consultants and imagined pressure emanating from their own adrenaline, ego and fear—to deliver strong near-term results. Even though this pressure greatly distracts investors from a long-term orientation and may, in fact, be anathema to good long-term performance, there is no easy way to reduce it. Human nature involves the extremes of investor emotion—both greed and fear—in the moment; it is hard for most people to overcome and act in opposition to their emotions. Also, most investors tend to project near-term trends—both favorable and adverse—indefinitely into the future. Ironically, it is this very short-term pressure to produce—this gun to the head of everyone—that encourages excessive risk taking which manifests itself in several ways: a fully invested posture at all times; for many, the use of significant and even extreme leverage; and a market-centric orientation that makes it difficult to stand apart from the crowd and take a long-term perspective.
Right at the core, the mainstream has it backwards. Warren Buffett often quips that the first rule of investing is to not lose money, and the second rule is to not forget the first rule. Yet few investors approach the world with such a strict standard of risk avoidance. For 25 years, my firm has strived to not lose money—successfully for 24 of those 25 years—and, by investing cautiously and not losing, ample returns have been generated.
Seth Klarman 2007 full speech embedded below