Investing Wisdom from Howard Marks of Oaktree CapitalMy regular listeners probably heard one of my earlier segments where I spoke about Howard Marks, the 67-year old billionaire who co-founded investment management firm Oaktree Capital which now manages about $84 billion in assets and is a publicly-traded company with ticker symbol OAK.Oaktree focuses its investments on high-yield bonds, distressed debt and private equity, and has delivered a whopping 23% average annual return over the past 25 years… so Marks has rightly earned his fame and fortune. To give you an idea of just how much a 23% rate of return is: If you invested $10,000 25 years ago, it would be worth $1,769,000 today.And, like Buffett, Marks too sends out folksy memos to Oaktree clients where he outlines his views on investing, the markets and the economy that are insightful, direct and sharply written. And today, I’m going to share a few insights from Marks’ latest memo – morphing his thoughts so they apply to individual financial planning. I’ve decided to break this up into a two-part series – with the first half of Marks’ memo today, and the rest to follow next week.Key Questions to Ask FirstSo in this latest memo, Marks first addresses philosophical questions on what to consider in setting up your investment portfolio. Once you have a clear idea on what your investment goals are, based on your retirement needs, Marks says you should discuss the following questions with your advisor:- Is it possible to build a retirement portfolio that can beat the market? If yes, then how, and to what extent can we beat the market?- What’s the best way to manage risk?- How do we define success, and what risks are we willing to take to achieve investment success?Then, as you build your portfolio, you’d want to balance it out between index investments (where you should not expect market-beating returns), individual stocks such as dividend payers, and perhaps some alternative investments to a smaller extent. If you’re closer to retirement, you might also want the safety of inflation-protected bonds. And for the safety of bonds, index investments and dividend stocks, you should be willing to accept “average” performance. But for the alternative investment portion of your portfolio, you should expect above-average or superior returns, as Marks calls it.Pick Funds that Dare to be DifferentFor your alternative investments where you’re seeking superior returns, look for funds that are backed by a strong track record, and where fund managers dare to be different. You see, if you pick a mutual fund that’s run by a manager who is essentially following or mimicking what others are doing, you’ll just end up paying high fees without getting any real bang for your buck.So for this alternative portion of your portfolio, look for managers that are courageous enough to be different and open to being wrong… managers who assemble a portfolio that is different from those held by most other funds. As Marks puts it, to be a top performer, the fund manager has to “escape the crowd” by being active in unusual market niches, buying things others haven’t found, don’t like or consider too risky to touch. A good alternative fund manager avoids what the market considers to be a darling, or all the rage, and engages in contrarian cycle timing, and concentrates heavily in a small number of things that he thinks will deliver exceptional performance… everything that personifies great investors such as Howard Marks and Warren Buffett.As Marks puts it “the cautious seldom err or write great poetry” in referring to fund managers that follow the herd.So look for fund managers who dare to be different, have a consistent history of market-beating performance and are transparent with their investors. That said, you also need to recalibrate your expectations with such alternative funds because their investments often could take longer to bear fruit… so only invest a small portion of your funds that you’re not planning on touching till you reach retirement… because if you picked the right alternative investment fund, those superior returns could compound very nicely over time.Now I know that it’s near impossible for most individual investors to really evaluate alternative investment funds, so this is where a good, qualified advisor can offer advice and help kick some of your returns into high gear.And as I mentioned above, Marks’ company – Oaktree Capital – is publicly traded with ticker symbol OAK, so you can buy shares to participate in Oaktree’s success; When you invest shares in OAK, you are not buying into Marks’ portfolio, but rather participating the company’s profit from its portion of the investment it takes for itself and the fees that are generated from his clients. Oaktree shares also offer a pretty compelling 7.7% dividend yield at current levels… but this is not a recommendation so please do your own research should you consider buying Oaktree.Most great investments begin in discomfort.Most people feel good about making investments where the underlying premise is widely accepted, where recent performance has been positive and where the outlook is rosy – but such investments are high in demand and are unlikely to be available at bargain prices.Bargains are usually found among things that are controversial, that people are pessimistic about, and that have been performing badly of late – investments that generate discomfort for most people. And this is where good alternative funds excel. For example, Oaktree Capital focuses on distressed debt – bonds issued by companies that are on the ropes in some way or another, bonds that are priced at pennies-to-the-dollar… bonds that comfort-seeking investors would not even think about. This discomfort is what causes distressed debt to be priced cheaper than it is really worth, and it’s one sector that has helped fuel Oaktree’s outsize returns. This area of investing is practically impossible for the typical investor to get into and one has to have superior skills in order to avoid being burned badly if things don’t work out.Marks also says; Dare to Be WrongMarks also reminds us that with courageous, discomfort-generating investments, you must also be prepared for failure as an inescapable potential consequence of trying to do really well. In other words, be prepared to lose money on this alternative portion of your portfolio… it’s not something anyone wants, but get into alternative investments with the understanding that non-mainstream investments could be harder to liquidate and have greater risk, and while your fingers are crossed for the upside, be aware that you could also lose money. That said, a good alternative investment fund should protect you significantly on the downside too.So look for alternative funds that invest judiciously, have more successes than failures, and make more on their successes than lose on their failures.Alas… No Magic FormulaMarks also cautions us that there is no easy formula to produce superior risk-adjusted returns – because if there were, everyone with a positive IQ would be rich.Or, as good ol’ Charlie Munger, Warren Buffet’s Partner bluntly puts it, “Investing is not supposed to be easy. Anyone who finds it easy is stupid” and does not understand investing’s complex and competitive nature. Hardly the words of someone who wants to be politically correct, but he makes a good point. Why should successful investing be so easy that the uneducated and lazy investor achieves superior rate of return? It just doesn’t happen that way.Superior investment results can only come from a better-than-average ability to figure out when risk-taking will lead to gain and when it will end in loss. And this is not easy task. So it’s good to look for fund managers that ideally have a strong background in economics, financial math, accounting and investment analysis.Okay, I’ll wrap up here for today, and continue with more on Howard Marks’ thoughts on investing next week.
As the world around us continues to adapt to a new sense of normal in light of COVID-19, we at Smythe LLP (Smythe), recently sat down (virtually) with Kendall Hanson from CHEK News to discuss how we’re adapting to working from home and what is means for us as a firm, as well as the communities we live and work in.
Although we may be smack dab in the middle of our busiest time of year, things at Smythe are still business as usual – with a few notable exceptions.
The first, and probably most obvious, is that nearly all our staff have now transitioned to working from home.
“The first week of office closures and having everyone work from home was definitely a week of transition, but I think everyone’s really quickly adapted to it and gotten used to it and a lot of people are really enjoying it,” said Partner, Trevor Topping.
During a time where our offices would normally be a buzz with client visits and meetings, our offices are now closed to the public and a skeleton crew has been put in place to ensure clients are able to safely drop off necessary files and mail is being received and sent out.
To read the full article and to hear what Trevor had to say about Smythe’s new normal, click here.
For more information on our response to COVID-19, or to learn what support is available to you, please visit our COVID-19 Resource Centre, or reach out to your Smythe Partner directly.
Given the current economic uncertainty, effective cash flow management will be critical for the success of many businesses. This will likely involve a combination of:
Managing working capital levels
Managing discretionary expenses
Obtaining additional financing
Working capital management can take the form of:
Implementing Credit Policies
By implementing credit policies with your customers you can speed up the collection process. This could include requiring upfront deposits, reducing the credit terms or offering incentives for early payment. Always ensure you follow-up on overdue accounts.
Utilizing a Just-in-Time Inventory System
Unless it will hurt your ability to sell, don’t carry extra inventory.
Using Credit Terms to your Advantage
Unless they are offering worthwhile incentives, don’t pay your suppliers until it is necessary.
A tool that should be utilized to help with managements’ decision making, is a cash flow forecast. This will help you assess the impact of working capital and expense management decisions, as well as determine whether additional financing will be required.
If you decide that you need to obtain financing (see below), it is likely that the lender will require a forecast as part of the application process.
Obtaining Additional Financing
As part of the economic stimulus package, the Government of Canada is working to ensure businesses have access to traditional financing, from both the government and private lenders.
Among the products being targeted to COVID-19 relief are:
Working Capital Loans
Funds to provide working capital for the operations, and cover general operating expenses, as opposed to capital purchases or expansions. There are currently programs in place where loans can be approved within 48 hours or maybe available without any payments for the first six months. BDC loans of up to $100,000 can be applied for online.
Loan Guarantee for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises
As part of the Business Credit Availability Program, EDC is partnering with financial institutions to guarantee 80% of new loans or credit requests up to $6.25 million for small and medium-sized enterprises. Financing is meant to be used for operating costs and is available to exporting and non-exporting companies. The idea behind the program is to encourage additional funding from banks as the EDC provides a re-payment guarantee of 80%. This program is now available through your bank or credit union.
Bridge Financing Program
Offered through BDC Capital, this special program may match (with a convertible note) a current financing round being raised through qualified existing and/or new investors made into eligible Canadian start-ups. This program is best suited for high-potential companies that have venture capital investors willing to support them. BDC will then invest alongside these groups. There are separate criteria for both companies and investors who wish to take advantage of this program – for full details, click here.
Term Loan and Lease Payment Relief
Ability to delay payment of principal for up to six months on existing loans.
Increases to Existing Line of Credit
Financial institutions are providing increases to the borrowing limits on existing lines of credit.
Purchase Order Financing
Flexible terms are being offered to ensure existing and future orders can be fulfilled.
Export Development Canada is providing buyer financing and direct financing for international sales to ensure Canadian businesses are able to participate in international trade opportunities.
If your business requires cash flow management or additional financing, please contact your Smythe Partner directly as additional reporting may be required. Our team can match your business with the appropriate product and guide you through the process and provide financial information to the lending institutions.
the Government of Canada announced the Canada Emergency Business Account interest-free loans that provide up to $40,000 for small businesses and not-for-profits that have been financially impacted by COVID-19. On December 4, 2020, the program was expanded to offer an additional $20,000 to businesses that continue to be seriously impacted by the pandemic. The loans are available through eligible financial institutions, and businesses must apply through a financial institution where they had an existing relationship. The loans are interest-free, and 25% of the original $40,000 of the balance and 50% of the additional $20,000 of the balance is forgivable if the business repays the loan by the end of 2022. Businesses are required to have had an annual payroll of $20,000 to $1,500,000 or non-deferrable expenses of at least $40,000 in 2019 to qualify.
Businesses have until March 31, 2021, to apply for a loan or the $20,000 expansion. In the case where applicants are waiting for their financial institution to finalize the submission of additional information, they will have until May 7, 2021, to complete the submission.