I just got back from the Value Investing Congress--http://www.valueinvestingcongress.com/. The event was exceptional and very thought-provoking.
While Einhorn's annihilation of Green Mountain Coffee was impressive (here is Einhorn's theme song), and Whitney Tilson's outline of the opportunity in Berkshire Hathaway was compelling, the speaker that I enjoyed most was Joel Greenblatt.
Joel's content was certainly not new and/or interesting to me, however, the audience's reactions and questions were entertaining. I'll summarize (gross approximation) the conversation between Joel and the audience:
Joel: "Quantitative value investing is a compelling way to earn solid returns and deploy large amounts of capital in a cost-effective manner"
Audience: "But Joel, the top decile for the Magic Formula's returns are around 15%, which are better than 95% of our returns. Are you suggesting that all of us who paid $2,400 for the conference and have spent our lives picking stocks are wasting our time?"
Joel: "Yes, exactly"
Interestingly, during the coffee break Joel passed by our table with a gaggle of groupies. The conversation we overheard went like this:
Groupie 1: "Joel, why not do the Magic Formula on the short-side? This seems like a compelling opportunity!"
Joel: "Because you will go broke."
Me and the gang at my table: "Ha!"
"Because you will go broke"
What does Joel mean by "because you'll go broke?"
First, a graph from our backtesting module on Turnkey Analyst (free if you sign up for an account). This chart shows the performance of the top 10% magic formula stocks and the bottom 10% magic formula stocks from Jan 1998--Dec 2002. You'll notice an ugly spread at the height of the internet bubble.
Let's dig a littler deeper in to the performance of the magic formula long/short:
First, how about some basics (CAGR, vol, alpha, beta exposures, etc.):
Okay, so things look kinda pretty from that angle: 5-10% annual alpha, negative beta exposure, and a decent 10% CAGR. A theoretical dream asset for a pension fund looking for an instrument with negative beta, but positive return!
How about the cumulative return chart? HOLY SNIKES. This is Bill Miller deja vu! For almost 30 years a L/S magic formula investor would have enjoyed one of the more admirable track records known to the investment world--a Jim Simmons in the making. But when '99 comes around it is almost entirely erased--incredible, fascinating, scary, and downright heart-pounding.
Just how bad is the drawdown during the internet bubble?
How about -86% bad!
The drawdown runs from Sept 98--Feb 00.
So let's put the L/S in perspective. L/S is all about risk management: -86% is not risk management.
When Joel Greenblatt says, "Because you'll go broke," now you'll know why!