This week, David Einhorn has 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.
David Einhorn’s 2006 Speech at the Value Investing Congress
Friday, November 10, 2006
When people ask me what I do for a living, I generally tell them “I run a hedge fund.” The majority give me a strange look, so I quickly add, “I am a money manager.” When the strange look persists, as it often does, I correct it to simply, “I’m an investor.” Everyone knows what that is.
When people ask me what I did on my summer vacation, I generally tell them “I played in the World Series of Poker.” Nobody gives me a strange look.
So I am at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas and it is time for a break between rounds. A fellow comes up to me as says, “I am from CNBC and we’d like to interview you.” I ask, “About poker or investing?” The fellow looks at me like this is the strangest thing anyone has asked him in a long time; I realize he obviously picked me out due to my large chip stack or, according to my wife, due to my great looks. “About poker” he says as nicely as he can.
Today, I will discuss both. But for this group, who I bet all know what a hedge fund is, I will mostly discuss investing. Investing and poker require similar skills.
Different people approach poker different ways. Loose aggressive types play lots of hands – virtually any two cards – and try to win lots of small pots. They are the day traders of the poker tables. Others play any Ace or any King or any two high cards. They play too many hands, but don’t play them well. These folks can do fine for a while, but get outplayed after the flop by the loose aggressive types who eventually wear them down so that they wind up in a desperate spot playing a decent hand against a strong hand for the remainder of their chips. I would compare them to long-only closet indexers who trade too much. Then there are the rocks.
These folks sit around waiting for premium hands – high pocket pairs or an Ace, King. They fold and they fold and they fold. They are going to wait until they know they have a huge advantage. Then they bet as much as they can. It is very hard to beat a player like this. They can last a long time. Once people figure them out, nobody will play them when they do play. So they don’t get the chance to get enough chips in when they have a large advantage. Could this be what is becoming of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE:BRK.A) (NYSE:BRK.B)?
I will tell you my poker style. It is close to the patient players waiting for a big advantage. I don’t play a lot of hands. But I don’t just wait for the perfect hand. They don’t come up often enough. I try to pick out one or two people at the table I want to play against or who I sense don’t want to play against me. When the situation feels right, I put in a big, aggressive raise with a marginal holding. It is very hard to describe how I know the “feel” and sometimes I get it completely wrong. But to do well in a poker tournament, you have to recognize a few non-traditional opportunities and you need to get people to sometimes fold the better hand. I think we invest similarly. By this I mean that most of our investing lines up nicely in the disciplined, traditional value camp – very low multiples of book value, revenues, earnings, etc., but occasionally we are opportunistic and invest in situations that are difficult to justify under traditional criteria but for one reason or another we believe to be better situations than they first appear.
People ask me “Is poker luck?” and “Is investing luck?”
The answer is, not at all. But sample sizes matter. On any given day a good investor or a good poker player can lose money. Any stock investment can turn out to be a loser no matter how large the edge appears. Same for a poker hand. One poker tournament isn’t very different from a coin-flipping contest and neither is six months of investment results.
On that basis luck plays a role. But over time – over thousands of hands against a variety of players and over hundreds of investments in a variety of market environments – skill wins out.
My experience at the World Series of Poker was more like what can happen to a very lucky player in any given tournament. It sure was a blast. If I played a lot of poker, I know that over time the real pros would eat me alive. Personally, I think CNBC would be better served to ask me about investing. I think I have more to contribute in that area.
So let’s get to that. How many of you heard me last year? Now how many of you heard someone use the PEG ratio and kind of laughed to yourself when you heard it?
This year, I’d like to talk a bit about ROEs. One of the best investors around, Joel Greenblatt, has written a popular, charming and funny book about investing in great companies at low P/E multiples. To simplify an already simple book, great companies are generally measured as companies that can generate lots of profit without requiring a lot of capital. This means that they have high ROEs.
I recently met a smart hedge fund manager who has built a $10 billion fund around screening for companies with high ROEs and low P/E multiples for longs and low ROEs and high P/E multiples for shorts. The manager adds human analytical effort to confirm that the screened results are not anomalous accounting figures but instead generally confirm the performance of the business. This has been a successful approach.