Great letter by Mark Yusko on Julian Robertson
Morgan Creek Capital Management market review and outlook for the first quarter ended March 31, 2015.
Morgan Creek’s Letter to Fellow Investors
Not Lyin’, The Big Tiger’s A Bear, Oh My!
The father of the hedge fund was Alfred Winslow (A.W.) Jones. Jones was born in Australia, graduated from Harvard, was a U.S. diplomat and earned a PhD in Sociology from Columbia, before becoming a member of the editorial staff at Fortune magazine where he was inspired to try his hand at asset management while writing an article about current investment trends in 1948. He raised $100,000 (including $40,000 of his own money) and created a partnership that employed a long/short equity investment model where he combined leverage and short selling of securities, as a means to control risk and produce more stable returns. In 1952, Jones converted the fund to a limited partnership and added a 20% incentive fee as compensation for the general partner. The hedge fund concept did not catch on until 1966 when Fortune ran an article entitled The Jones Nobody Keeps Up With . That article showed that Jones’ track record was superior to all listed mutual funds, had beaten them by double digits in the past year, and by high double digits over the past five years. Importantly, the article pointed out that the strategy was profitable in most Bear markets, including only a small loss in 1962, and that Jones himself had become rich as the manager. Suddenly, by 1968, some 150 hedge funds had been started, as many high profile investors were attracted to the lucrative compensation structure. However, in an effort to maximize returns, many managers turned away from Jones’ original “hedged” strategy (the original fund name ended with a “d”) and chose instead to simply add leverage to long positions. This long-biased positioning led to heavy losses in the downturn in 1969-70 and many funds never recovered and were forced to close during the Bear market of 1973-74. It has been estimated that 85% of the original hedge funds shut down during this period and the nascent industry was in a serious crisis. Even famed investor Warren Buffet shut down his investment partnership in 1969 to “pursue other interests” (turned out alright for him…). At the time, there were cries for more regulation of the industry, higher taxation on the incentive compensation structure and greater oversight by the SEC (which sounds eerily similar to today). With just a few handfuls of hedge funds left in the market and total assets estimated to have fallen to less than $1 billion, it seemed prophetic that Fortune had written another article in 1970 entitled Hard Times Come to the Hedge Funds.
Julian Hart Robertson Jr., was born in Salisbury, NC, graduated from Episcopal High School in 1951 and from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1955 before serving as U.S. Naval officer until 1957. After the Navy, he moved to New York City where he worked as a stockbroker at Kidder, Peabody & Co. and was eventually convinced by his peers to run the firm’s asset management division. Interestingly, despite his success at Kidder, in 1979, he moved his family to New Zealand for a year to write a novel. On his return, Julian launched a hedge fund, Tiger Management, with $8 million of initial investments from friends and family. Intriguingly, one of Julian’s colleagues at Kidder was Robert Burch (son-in-law of A.W. Jones) and it is hypothesized that Burch and Jones gave him the idea of starting a hedge fund as they were among the first investors and because Tiger employed the Jones Model strategy (150% long, 100% short, 50% net) that A.W. had pioneered. Starting a hedge fund in 1980 was a daunting endeavor given that the industry had continued to languish and given that the equity markets were still locked in the grip of a grinding Bear market that had been going on since 1966 (and would not officially end until 1982). Julian said in an early interview that when he launched Tiger, his perception of the industry was that “there was Soros and one other fund and I would estimate that there was less than half a billion dollars invested in hedge funds, total.” Perhaps it was being fresh from his time away in NZ, or perhaps it was confidence from his reputation on the Street for having the Midas touch in stock picking that no one could match, but whatever the reason, Tiger was formed and the hedge fund industry would never be the same. One interesting fact is that both A.W. Jones and Julian started their hedge funds at age 48 and one thesis for their great success starting funds so late in their careers is that they had developed an incredibly strong network of contacts where they could mine for investment ideas and that their seniority was a tremendous advantage in that regard (interestingly, Lee Cooperman was also the same age when he left Goldman Sachs to start Omega). In the early days of Tiger, Julian’s stock picking prowess and his ability to attract incredible young analyst talent to the emerging firm led to outstanding results. The rapid rise of Tiger prompted a 1986 article in Institutional Investor touting the double-digit performance of the fund, which reversed the negative sentiment about hedge funds that had persisted for the previous two decades. Julian’s investment acumen was so highly regarded, he became known as the “Wizard of Wall Street,” hence the Wizard of Oz reference in the title of the letter.
In fact, there are few hedge fund managers who could be said to have had a greater formative impact on the industry than Julian Robertson (perhaps Soros and Steinhardt too). It might even be fair to say that were it not for the runaway success of Tiger in the 1980s, the hedge fund industry, as we know it today, would probably not exist. The incredible success of the Tiger fund is well documented and is truly impressive, growing from humble beginnings to become the largest hedge fund in the world in 2000, with $22 billion in assets (of an industry wide $300 billion at the time) and producing 25% compound returns for 20 years, handily beating the 17.5% gain in the S&P 500 and the 14.7% gain in MSCI World Index (an original investor in Tiger made 85 times their money vs. 25 times for the S&P 500 and 15 times for the World Index). Perhaps even more impressive, however, is the amazing cadre of Tiger alumni who currently manage hundreds of billions, known as the Tiger Cubs (those who worked directly for Julian) and Tiger Seeds (new hedge funds backed by Julian). Today, there are close to 100 hedge funds around the world with Tiger DNA and there is no other organization in the industry that has had this magnitude of success in producing talent. To that point, it was Fortune magazine again in 2008 that wrote a piece, called Tiger’s Julian Robertson Roars Again, that discussed the incredible returns Julian had generated since closing Tiger in 2000, and I was quoted as saying that “I think Julian is the greatest identifier, trainer, developer and backer of talent that our business has ever seen. He’s also the most competitive guy I’ve ever met. The beautiful thing about his life now is he gets to cherry pick the very best ideas from the best guys on the planet.”
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