Yesterday, we were beyond amused when we reported that the market's response to rumors of Zillow's $2 billion take over of Trulia was not only to push Trulia stock higher by $500 million but send the market cap of incomeless, EBITDAless Zillow higher by $1 billion. It appears we are not the only ones fascinated by the market's reaction to every M&A announcement, which is to send not only the target but the acquiror stock soaring. One other such person is David Einhorn who laments precisely this bubblyness in his just released letter to investors, saying that "takeover season has returned and in a new twist, the buyers’ stock prices are also advancing in response to announced deals, enabling companies, including some of our shorts, to see gains as acquirers – even of other troubled companies."
He proceeds to give several examples of how his shorts have worked against him, a trend which as we reported first in 2012 will continue indefinitely under a centrally-planned regime in which the Fed is the Chief Risk Officer of the market, and where no price declines are allowed, and thus the need to hedge (which means that going long the most hated, vile, worthless companies will, sadly, by and large continue to be a winning strategy).
Still, with a return of 5.2% in Q2 and 7.1% YTD, at least Greenlight is only barely underperforming the market, something that 90% of his hedge fund peers can only dream about.
Here are Einhorn's full thoughts on the M&A bubble:
Costly takeovers of our shorts appear to be a cyclical phenomenon: We went from 1996-2003 without incurring a single material loss due to a takeover. Then in 2006-2007 we had a number of our shorts taken over in rapid succession, the most costly being Medtronic’s $4.2 billion acquisition of Kyphon at a 32% premium over Kyphon’s already lofty share price. In reviewing historical takeovers of our shorts where we lost money, almost none proved to be good deals for the acquirers.
Well, yes: it's called forced capital misallocation for a reason.
Things got quieter again for a few years but now takeover season has returned and is again causing losses in our short portfolio. Companies we are short often have serious problems of which the boards and management are probably aware. This makes them more eager than usual to sell at any sort of premium. The prospective buyers ought to discover these problems during due diligence, which should make them walk away. But in the current environment, debt financing is so inexpensive that acquirers can pay premiums and have the deals be accretive to EPS, making them more willing to overlook or ignore any problems they discover.
And speaking of bubble, here is Einhorn on a topic near and dear to Yellen Capital Advisors, LLC: the tech bubble:
In our last quarterly letter, we wrote about the bubble in momentum stocks, most of which are in the technology sector. The media latched onto a single sentence embedded in a lengthy discussion about ‘cool kid’ stocks and suggested that we were declaring all technology stocks to be in a bubble. Nothing could be further from the truth. Many of our largest long positions are in technology, and we are not holding them with a cynical view that we want to play a bubble. We believe that stocks including Apple, Lam Research, Marvell Technology and Micron Technology have strong prospects and are undervalued.
At the same time, there are a number of tech stocks that are caught up in a smaller version of the 1999-2000 internet bubble, and as we mentioned, we created a bubble basket to short them. At this year’s Sohn Investment Conference in May, David presented athenahealth (ATHN), a healthcare IT company, as an example of a bubble basket stock. In response to our assertion that the shares are absurdly overvalued, CEO Jonathan Bush summed things up perfectly a few days after the conference when he told Bloomberg TV, “And those who buy our stock should not be sort of bottom [line] watching value investors. They should be people who dream of a health care cloud.” At Greenlight, dreams do not form the basis of investment theses.
How about hope? We only ask, because that seems to be the most profitable and widespread investment strategy over the past 5 years.