Seth Klarman's comments on "The Truman Show" market and "born bulls" appeared to upset the status quo today on CNBC leaving none other than Joe Kernan and then later, Jim Cramer questioning Klarman's credentials with a passive-aggressive "when did Klarman turn negative? We should look into that..." question. We found it intriguing and wondered how much the investing public weights the differing views of these veritable titans of stock market wisdom. The answer - a market-based answer - lie in the purest measure of all... the cost of acquiring their knowledge...
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With 40% of the portfolio in cash and having returned $4 billion to clients at year-end, Seth Klarman's Baupost Group has "drawn the line in the sand" as they reflect on the diminished opportunities in the so-called "Truman Show" market we see today. In the face of mixed economic data and at a critical inflection point in Federal Reserve policy, Klarman notes, the stock market, heading into 2014, resembles a Rorschach test - "what investors see in the inkblots says considerably more about them than it does about the market." From "born bulls" to "worry genes" and from Bitcoin to flash-mob-speculation, "there is a growing gap between the financial markets and the real economy...and the overall picture is one of growing risk and inadequate potential return almost everywhere one looks... as every 'Truman' under Bernanke’s dome knows the environment is phony."
As Bill Clinton once famously stated; "What is....is" and while the current market "IS" within a bullish trend currently, it doesn't mean that this will always be the case. This is why, as investors, we must modify Clinton's line to: "What is...is...until it isn't." That thought is the foundation of this weekend's "Things To Ponder." In order to recognize when market dynamics have changed for the worse, we must be aware of the risks that are currently mounting.
If they’re bailing on the market… what are the odds trouble is approaching?
Size matters, it would seem, in the world of elite hedge fund managers. George Soros' Quantum Fund had its 2nd-best year on record, adding $5.5bn (22%) to the pound-breaking billionaire's horde and has now shifted above Ray Dalio's Bridgewater fund as the most successful hedge fund of all time. As The FT reports, since inception in 1973, Quantum has generated almost $40bn. Four other funds including Tepper's Appaloosa, Mandel's Lone Pine, and Klarman's Baupost also made more than $4 bn for their investors. Since they were set up, the top 20 hedge funds have made 43 per cent of all the money made by investors in more than 7,000 hedge funds.
These men are masters of the capital markets. They are voting with their feet and pulling their capital out of them. Given that their personal compensation is closely linked to assets under management and profit sharing, this decision is akin to the choice to forego additional wealth that could be made quite easily (none of these individuals would have trouble raising several billion more in capital) rather than trying to find opportunities in a challenging market.
While hardly as spectacular as Hugh Hendry's supernova flameout, or the far more boring, slow motion conversion of the assorted other famous and less famous bears, a legendary hedge fund titan has decided he too has no use for excess capital in this broken market. No surprise then that Institutional Investors' Alpha reports that Baupost's Seth Klarman is returning $4 billion in capital to investors for only the second time in its history due to "a lack of investment opportunities." And watching how the epic farce that Bernanke's wealth effect known as the Stalingrad & Poorski trades in the last 30 minutes of every day nobody can blame him. And no, Klarman is not returning cash due to some hidden underperformance: "Baupost’s many partnerships were up 13 percent, on average, through the September quarter. Its annualized return since inception is in the high teens." This happens to push it in the top decile of all hedge funds in 2013.
These men are masters of the capital markets. They are voting with their feet and pulling their capital out of them.
Seth Klarman's Baupost Group will be returning money to investors at year-end. As II Alpha reports, though the amount has yet to be determined, this would be only the second time the hedge fund has returned money in the firm's 31-year history. With the world of asset managers, as we recently noted, increasingly become herd-like beta-chasers, it seems Klarman - just as he noted earlier in the year - will return capital unless investment opportunities dramatically increased - and that hasn't happened.
Today, to much fanfare, the FT and other media blast that "Japan posts highest inflation rate since 2008" using this as evidence that Abenomics is once again working (i.e., that the Nikkei 225 has resumed its upward nominal path). Unfortunately, as usually happens, there is a problem here: this is simply not true.
US equities closed the week at new all-time highs - and yay-verily the world of long-only asset-gethering talking heads celebrated this as in some way confirming their long-held 'belief' that the US is the cleanest dirty shirt and where-else are you going to invest (you dummy!!). Of course, reality is far different - as Seth Klarman noted, if it's all so great then why did Bernanke need to stick-save us again this week? The bottom-line from the top-down is that the US is in fact the 2nd worst performing macro-economy of the year of the majors (2nd only to China) compared to expectations. What the following charts indicate though, is an interesting divergence between macro-reality and market-perception that is evident among the nations of the world that print money to save themselves... and those that are not (yet)...
While we are told that history doesn't repeat, it seems Baupost's Seth Klarman is oddly prophetic in his rhyming reality vision of the markets from over 20 years ago. This brief 'warning' from one of the most independent-thinking asset managers of our time (and least sheep-like) sum it up perfectly: "Caution has not been a profitable investment tactic for a long time now. I strongly believe it is about to make a comeback."
Klarman Clarity: "If The Government [Still] Can't Allow Failure Then We Are Indeed Close To Collapse"Submitted by Tyler Durden on 07/11/2013 10:06 -0400
If the economy is so fragile that the government cannot allow failure, then we are indeed close to collapse. For if you must rescue everything, then ultimately you will be able to rescue nothing.
- Seth Klarman, Baupost
It may come as a surprise to some that the total level of commercial bank loans outstanding as of the most recent week, May 22, was "only" $7.303 trillion. We say only because this number is $20 billion less than the total commercial loans outstanding as of the weeks following the Lehman failure, just before the most epic deleveraging episode in recent US history began. It is also just $600 billion higher than the cyclical lows of $6.7 trillion (net of the February 2010 readjustment of the commercial loan terminology). So does this mean that deposits in the US financial system have been unchanged in the past nearly 5 years? Not at all. As the chart below shows, while commercial loans have flatlined, deposits, which previously used to track loans on a dollar for dollar basis, took off, and are now at $9.4 trillion (as per the latest H.8), or $2.2 trillion more than the $7.2 trillion when commercial banks loan hits a record in October 2008, just after Lehman filed. What's more notable, is that as of the latest week, the excess of deposits over loans just hit an all time record of $2.079 trillion