In the pas weeks, David Einhorn had been all over the news. We covered the news, but thought some of his old speeches/ideas before he was super famous would be of interest to readers. We found some material from 2007/08. If you have anything earlier we would LOVE to see it send us a tip (thank you to a reader for sending this one to us). Here is a speech Einhorn made in 2006. We will be posting more. sign up for our free newsletter to ensure you do not miss any.

Also see: David Einhorn At 2006 Value Investing Congress Discusses Poker Tips and David Einhorn 2005 VIC Speech: Using Peter Lynch’s PEG Ratio

David Einhorn Greenlight Capital

David Einhorn, Greenlight Capital, “Liquor before Beer… In the Clear”

Value Investing Congress

October 19, 2009

One of the nice aspects of trying to solve investment puzzles is recognizing that even though I am not always going to be right, I don’t have to be. Decent portfolio management allows for some bad luck and some bad decisions. When something does go wrong, I like to think about the bad decisions and learn from them so that hopefully I don’t repeat the same mistakes. This leaves me plenty of room to make fresh mistakes going forward. I’d like to start today by reviewing a bad decision I made and share with you what I’ve learned from that error and how I am attempting to apply the lessons to improve our funds’ prospects.

At the May 2005 Ira Sohn Investment Research Conference in New York, I recommended M.D.C. Holdings, Inc. (NYSE:MDC), a homebuilder, at $67 per share. Two months later MDC reached $89 a share, a nice quick return if you timed your sale perfectly. Then the stock collapsed with the rest of the sector. Some of my MDC analysis was correct: it was less risky than its peers and would hold-up better in a down cycle because it had less leverage and held less land. But this just meant that almost half a decade later, anyone who listened to me would have lost about forty percent of his investment, instead of the seventy percent that the homebuilding sector lost.

I want to revisit this because the loss was not bad luck; it was bad analysis. I down played the importance of what was then an ongoing housing bubble. On the very same day, at the very same conference, a more experienced and wiser investor, Stanley Druckenmiller, explained in gory detail the big picture problem the country faced from a growing housing bubble fueled by a growing debt bubble. At the time, I wondered whether even if he were correct, would it be possible to convert such big picture macro-thinking into successful portfolio management? I thought this was particularly tricky since getting both the timing of big macro changes as well as the market’s recognition of them correct has proven at best a difficult proposition. Smart investors had been complaining about the housing bubble since at least 2001. I ignored Stan, rationalizing that even if he were right, there was no way to know when he would be right. This was an expensive error.

The lesson that I have learned is that it isn’t reasonable to be agnostic about the big picture. For years I had believed that I didn’t need to take a view on the market or the
economy because I considered myself to be a “bottom up” investor. Having my eyes open to the big picture doesn’t mean abandoning stock picking, but it does mean managing the longshort exposure ratio more actively, worrying about what may be brewing in certain industries, and when appropriate, buying some just-in-case insurance for foreseeable macro risks even if they are hard to time. In a few minutes, I will tell you what Greenlight has done along these lines.

But first, I’d like to explain what I see as the macro risks we face. To do that I need to digress into some political science. Please humor me since my mom and dad spent a lot of money so I could be a government major, the usefulness of which has not been apparent for some time.

Winston Churchill said that, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others that have been tried from time to time.”

See full David Einhorn’s 2009 Speech: “Liquor before Beer… In the Clear” in PDF format here.