In a recent interview with his alma mater Wharton School of Business, Oaktree Capital Management, LP cofounder and chairman Howard Marks explained some of the unconventional influences that impacted the way that he approaches investments today.
As a Wharton student, Marks was required to study foreign literature, and decided to focus on Japan for no particular reason, but then it “really contributed to my philosophy as an investor [teaching me], among other things, that change is inevitable, you can’t hold back the process, and you have to adapt.”
Success depends on what you pay: Marks
This point of view was reinforced when Marks got his start at Citibank, where the standing policy was to invest in the best companies in the US, almost regardless of what the stocks actually cost, an investment strategy called the Nifty 50 that cost the bank a lot of money. When it switched directions and started looking for companies that didn’t have as much growth but were also much cheaper, the opposite happened.
“It shouldn’t take you too long to figure out that success in investing is not a function of what you buy. It’s a function of what you pay,” says Marks.
He says that what’s important is finding a company with good intrinsic value that will weather difficult economic times, which are sure to hit any long-term investment, and avoid losing money more than seeking big returns. As long as losses are kept to a minimum, he figures that there will be enough winners to pull up the average and provide good returns. The result is that Oaktree has averaged 23% returns over the last quarter century with 95% of all outcomes being positive.
He also warns students to stay away from assets without any intrinsic value (gold, internet start-ups, Bitcoin) because you are relying on other people’s opinion of what they are worth, while a company that pays dividends and will likely do so for many years has at least some baseline value.
Marks warns students not to work their lives away
Since Marks is talking to business students (who would probably love to have a career half as successful as his has been), he gives some parting advice that you wouldn’t normally expect from such a successful investor and fund manager.
“It’s OK to take a drudge job and work in an investment bank 20 hours a day for a couple of years if it will advance you up that career path, but don’t do it for 30 years. This is the only life you get.”