“If You’re A Pro On Wall Street Just Shut Up And Read This Book.”
Here’s your book for the fall if you’re on global Wall Street. Tobias Carlisle has hit a home run deep over left field. It’s an incredibly smart, dense, 213 pages on how to not lose money in the market. It’s your Autumn smart read.
This is a book about deep value, the reason activist investors and other contrarians seek out losing companies. Deep value is investment triumph disguised as business disaster. It is a simple, but counterintuitive idea: Under the right conditions, losing stocks—those in crisis, with apparently failing businesses, and uncertain futures—offer unusually favorable investment prospects.
This is a philosophy that runs counter to the received wisdom of the market. Many investors believe that a good business and a good investment are the same thing. Many value investors, inspired by Warren Buffett’s example, believe that a good, undervalued business is the best investment. The research offers a contradictory view.
This book is an investigation of the evidence, and the conditions under which losing stocks become asymmetric opportunities, with limited downside, and enormous upside. It is intended to be a practical guide that canvases the academic and industry research into theories of intrinsic value, management’s influence on that value, and the impact of attempts to unseat management on both market price and value.
As a portfolio, deeply undervalued companies with the conditions in place for activism offer asymmetric, market-beating returns. Activists exploit this property by taking large minority stakes these stocks and then agitating for change. What better platform than a well-publicized proxy fight and tender offer to highlight mismanagement and underexploited intrinsic value, and induce either a voluntary restructuring or takeover by a bigger player in the same industry?
We’ll see how activist investing can be understood as a form of arbitrage. Activists invest in poorly performing, undervalued firms with underexploited intrinsic value. By remedying the deficiency, or moving the company’s intrinsic value closer to its full potential, and eliminating the market price discount in the process, they capture a premium that represents both the improvement in the intrinsic value, and the removal of the market price discount. We scrutinize the returns to activism to determine the extent to which they are due to an improvement in intrinsic value, or simply the returns to picking deeply undervalued stocks. Finally, we examine valuation metrics used to identify the characteristics that typically attract activists—undervaluation, large cash holdings, and low payout ratios. These metrics favor companies with so-called lazy balance sheets and hidden or unfulfilled potential due to inappropriate capitalization. Activists target these undervalued, cash-rich companies, seeking to improve the intrinsic value and close the market price discount by reducing excess cash through increased payout ratios. We analyze the returns to these metrics, and apply them to two real world examples of activism. The power of these metrics is that they identify good candidates for activist attention, and if no activist emerges to improve the unexploited intrinsic value, other corrective forces act on the market price to generate excellent returns in the meantime.
Each chapter tells a different story about a characteristic of deep value investing, seeking to demonstrate a genuinely counterintuitive insight.Through these stories, it explores several ideas demonstrating that deeply undervalued stocks provide an enormous tail wind to investors, generating outsized returns whether they are subject to activist attention or not. It begins with former arbitrageur, and option trader Carl Icahn. An avowed Graham-and-Dodd investor, Icahn understood early the advantage of owning equities as apparently appetizing as poison. He took Benjamin Graham’s investment philosophy and used it to pursue deeply undervalued positions offering asymmetric returns where he could control his own destiny.