In episode 136, we welcome Steve Romick. The conversation begins with Steve explaining that he hated losing more than he enjoyed winning, and while there wasn’t one event that led him to value investing, he considers his aversion to loss a contributor to being drawn to the value-oriented investment approach.
Meb then transitions the conversation by asking Steve to characterize the investment strategy of FPA’s Crescent Fund. Steve talks about the value investing framework as investing with a margin of safety and how it has morphed over the years from being about the balance sheet to now, through technological innovation, the corporate lifecycle has been as short of it has ever been with the most of the density of innovation happening in the past 50 years.
Next, the discussion turns to investment framework. Steve describes this team of 11, and how the job of his team is to understand the business and industry first on both a quantitative and qualitative basis. He describes the go-anywhere mandate as a potential recipe for disaster as there are more places to lose money. Steve then discusses looking at equities and debt for the portfolio. In the equity space, they’re looking at two categories, the high quality growing businesses considered “compounders,” and more traditional value investments, where there’s potential for 3 times upside to downside. Meb then asks Steve about Naspers, and Steve follow’s up with commentary about one of the biggest losers the portfolio’s ever had, but reiterates that his biggest concern is permanent loss of capital, and as the holding is still in the portfolio, he’d be surprised if they didn’t make money on it long-term.
Meb asks Steve about credit. Steve talks about high yield and distressed debt as an asset class being periodically attractive and one doesn’t need to be there all the time. He explains that the gross yield of roughly 6.5% looks interesting on the surface, but once you consider the history of defaults and recovery, the yield drops significantly to 4.4%, right above the investment grade yield, and it isn’t so attractive. Steve talks about how the fund allows the freedom to seek asset classes that offer value, and that for the first time, they now own a municipal bond. Steve then discusses the small allocation they have to farmland.
Meb follows with a question about holding cash. Steve expands by talking about going through the research process, and when there aren’t enough opportunities that meet their parameters, cash results as a byproduct.
The discussion then gets into Steve’s background at FPA, and what it was like going through the late 1990s. Steve talks about trailing the market going into the late 90s as valuations appeared unsupportable, but fast forward a few years and he and the team were validated. They allocated to high yield, small cap, and value, and made money in 2000, 2001 and 2002 when the market was down.
Meb then asks how Steve views the rest of the world. Steve responds that while it is more expensive generally here in the U.S., it is important to remember that international exposure can be had by owning U.S. stocks with revenue exposure overseas, and that like-for-like companies are trading at similar valuations outside of the U.S.
Next, Meb and Steve discuss the importance of managers investing alongside their clients. Steve feels it is important that investor’s energy should be aligned with the client’s interests and holdings.
All this and more, including Steve’s thought on the catalysts that could end the current bull market in episode 136.