“We thought it was the eighth inning, and it was the ninth. I did not think it would go down 33 percent in 15 days.”
In April 2000, Stanley Druckenmiller, who managed the phenomenally successful Quantum fund for George Soros, called it quits – saying “I overplayed my hand” in technology stocks. The Nasdaq composite had suffered the first blow of what was to become a much deeper loss, with the index losing an additional 70% by 2002 low. Still, getting out was a good idea in hindsight.
With one of the best records in the industry, Druckenmiller has expressed increasing concerns recently that “all the lobsters are in the pot.” A few weeks ago, he said of equities that he holds “the smallest positions I’ve had,” and warned “a necessary condition for a financial crisis, in my opinion, is too loose monetary policy that encourages people to take undue risk.”
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Floyd Norris of the New York Times reported in 2000 that Druckenmiller was actually the second high-profile hedge manager to call it quits in that cycle. The first was Tiger Fund’s Julian Robertson, who had lagged the advance because he (correctly, in hindsight) viewed technology stocks as vastly overvalued. The article quoted an analyst saying “The moral of the story is that irrational markets can kill you. Julian said ‘This is irrational and I won’t play,’ and they carried him out feet first. Druckenmiller said ‘This is irrational and I will play,’ and they carried him out feet first.”
As I noted a few weeks ago “The problem with bubbles is that they force one to decide whether to look like an idiot before the peak, or an idiot after the peak. There’s no calling the top, and most of the signals that have been most historically useful for that purpose have been blazing red since late-2011.” My impression remains that the downside risks for the market have been deferred, not eliminated, and that they will be worse for the wait.