Seth Klarman – Beware of Value Pretenders

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Seth Klarman – Beware of Value Pretenders

With so many articles dedicated to the debate on value stocks vs growth stocks I think it’s a good time to revisit what Seth Klarman calls ‘Value Pretenders’ in his best-selling book, Margin of Safety.

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Here’s an excerpt from that book:

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“Value investing” is one of the most overused and inconsistently applied terms in the investment business. A broad range of strategies make use of value investing as a pseudonym.

Many have little or nothing to do with the philosophy of investing originally espoused by Graham. The misuse of the value label accelerated in the mid-1980s in the wake of increasing publicity given to the long-term successes of true value investors such as Buffett at Berkshire Hathaway, Inc., Michael Price and the late Max L. Heine at Mutual Series Fund, Inc., and William Ruane and Richard Cunniff at the Sequoia Fund, Inc., among others. Their results attracted a great many “value pretenders,” investment chameleons who frequently change strategies in order to attract funds to manage.

These value pretenders are not true value investors, disciplined craftspeople who understand and accept the wisdom of the value approach. Rather they are charlatans who violate the conservative dictates of value investing, using inflated business valuations, overpaying for securities, and failing to achieve a margin of safety for their clients. These investors, despite (or perhaps as a direct result of) their imprudence, are able to achieve good investment results in times of rising markets.

During the latter half of the 1980s, value pretenders gained widespread acceptance, earning high, even spectacular, returns. Many of them benefitted from the overstated private-market values that were prevalent during those years; when business valuations returned to historical levels in 1990, however, most value pretenders suffered substantial losses.

To some extent value, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder; virtually any security may appear to be a bargain to someone. It is hard to prove an overly optimistic investor wrong in the short run since value is not precisely measurable and since stocks can remain overvalued for a long time.

Accordingly, the buyer of virtually any security can claim to be a value investor at least for a while. Ironically, many true value investors fell into disfavor during the late 1980s. As they avoided participating in the fully valued and overvalued securities that the value pretenders claimed to be bargains, many of them temporarily underperformed the results achieved by the value pretenders. The most conservative were actually criticized for their “excessive” caution, prudence that proved well founded in 1990.

Even today many of the value pretenders have not been defrocked of their value-investor mantle. There were many articles in financial periodicals chronicling the poor investment results posted by many so-called value investors in 1990. The top of the list, needless to say, was dominated by value pretenders.

This article was originally published at The Acquirer's Multiple

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The Acquirer’s Multiple® is the valuation ratio used to find attractive takeover candidates. It examines several financial statement items that other multiples like the price-to-earnings ratio do not, including debt, preferred stock, and minority interests; and interest, tax, depreciation, amortization. The Acquirer’s Multiple® is calculated as follows: Enterprise Value / Operating Earnings* It is based on the investment strategy described in the book Deep Value: Why Activist Investors and Other Contrarians Battle for Control of Losing Corporations, written by Tobias Carlisle, founder of acquirersmultiple.com. The Acquirer’s Multiple® differs from The Magic Formula® Earnings Yield because The Acquirer’s Multiple® uses operating earnings in place of EBIT. Operating earnings is constructed from the top of the income statement down, where EBIT is constructed from the bottom up. Calculating operating earnings from the top down standardizes the metric, making a comparison across companies, industries and sectors possible, and, by excluding special items–earnings that a company does not expect to recur in future years–ensures that these earnings are related only to operations. Similarly, The Acquirer’s Multiple® differs from the ordinary enterprise multiple because it uses operating earnings in place of EBITDA, which is also constructed from the bottom up. Tobias Carlisle is also the Chief Investment Officer of Carbon Beach Asset Management LLC. He's best known as the author of the well regarded Deep Value website Greenbackd, the book Deep Value: Why Activists Investors and Other Contrarians Battle for Control of Losing Corporations (2014, Wiley Finance), and Quantitative Value: A Practitioner’s Guide to Automating Intelligent Investment and Eliminating Behavioral Errors (2012, Wiley Finance). He has extensive experience in investment management, business valuation, public company corporate governance, and corporate law. Articles written for Seeking Alpha are provided by the team of analysts at acquirersmultiple.com, home of The Acquirer's Multiple Deep Value Stock Screener. All metrics use trailing twelve month or most recent quarter data. * The screener uses the CRSP/Compustat merged database “OIADP” line item defined as “Operating Income After Depreciation.”

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