#124 - Howard Marks - It's Not What You Buy, It's What You Pay for It That Determines Whether Something is a Good Investment

43 minutes

In Episode 124, we welcome legendary investor, Howard Marks. Meb begins with a quote from Howard’s new book, Mastering the Market Cycle, and asks him to expound. Howard gives us his top-line take on market cycles, ending with the idea that if you understand them, you can profit from them.

Meb follows up by asking about Howard’s framework for evaluating where we are in the cycle. Rather than look at every input as individual, Howard looks at overall patterns. What is the collective mood? Or is it depressed, sad, and people don’t want to buy? Or is it buoyant? Second, are investors optimistic and thrilled with their portfolios and eager to add more, therein increasing risk? Or are investors regretful and hesitant, burned by recent experience? Then there are quantitative aspects – valuations, yield spreads, cap rates, multiples, and so on. All of these variables help give Howard a feel for whether assets are high- or low-priced.

Next, Meb asks Howard to use Oaktree’s actions during the Financial Crisis as a real-world example of how an investor could act upon cycles. Howard tells us there are two parts to what happened during the Crisis – what Oaktree did during the run-up to the meltdown, and then what it did during the event itself. In short, Oaktree was cautious during the lead-up. They raised their standards for investments. Why? Howard notes that they didn’t know ahead of time how bad things would be. Rather, they were hesitant because they looked at the securities being issued, and it seemed that every day, something was coming out that didn’t deserve to be issued. This was a tip-off.

Then the event happened, culminating in Lehman bankruptcy, and that’s when Oaktree became very aggressive, buying half a billion dollars each week for 15 weeks. Howard tells us that, yes, our job as investors is to be skeptical, but sometimes that skepticism needs to be applied to our own fears. In other words, skepticism also might appear like “no, that scenario is too bad to actually be true.”

Meb notes that the challenge is investors want precision, picking the exact top and bottom. But this isn’t really how it works. Meb asks if there a time when Howard felt he misinterpreted a point in the market cycle.

Before answering Meb’s questions, Howard agrees that trying to find the bottom or top is a huge mistake. He notes that trying to find the perfect day upon which to buy or sell is impossible. In terms of potentially misreading the cycle, Howard tells us that Oaktree has been perhaps too conservative over the last few years, so they haven’t realized all the gains of the market. That said, he stands by his decision telling us, “anybody who buys or holds because of the belief that something that’s fully valued will become overvalued…is embarking on a dangerous course.”

Meb asks how Howard sees the world today.

Howard tells us we’re in the 8th inning of this bull market. Assets are highly priced relative to history. People are bullish. Risk aversion is low. He notes it’s a time for caution – but – we have no idea how many innings there will be in this game.

What follows is a great conversation about bull markets, what ends bull markets, and how to implement market cycles into an investment approach. The guys touch on investor exuberance… whether markets need to be exuberant for a bull market to end… bullish action despite bullish temperament… the need to “calibrate” your portfolio… and the average investor’s ability to live with pain.

There’s so much more in this episode: How Howard’s market approach has evolved over the years… how “it’s not what you buy, it’s what you pay for it that determines whether something is a good investment or bad investment”… Howard’s thoughts on contrarian investing… and, of course, his most memorable trade. This one yielded him 23x.

What are the details? Find out in Episode 124.

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Start listening to #125 - Tom Barton - The Biggest Problem Investors Have is Things Change...and They Don't Change
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