Intellectual Honesty

This note was originally published at 8am on May 20, 2011. INVESTOR and RISK MANAGER SUBSCRIBERS have access to the EARLY LOOK (published by 8am every trading day) and PORTFOLIO IDEAS in real-time.

“I think we are very good at intellectual honesty.”

-Seth Klarman

I was flying to Kansas City from Denver last night and an outstanding interview in the Financial Analysts Journal bubbled up to the top of my pile – an interview with one of the world’s most thoughtful Risk Managers, Baupost’s Seth Klarman.

“We actually hire for intellectual honesty. In an interview, we work hard to see whether people can admit mistakes. We hold our people accountable to that standard.” (Klarman, “Ahead Of Print”, 2010 CFA Institute)

Accountability. Honesty. Standards.

That works for me and, from what I can tell, it works for a lot of our clients who understand that there is a difference between running a P&L and running a business. There’s a difference between rigorous research and disciplined risk management too. The best teams in this business do both.

“We have all our own money invested in the firm, and so we are very conservative. We have picked our poison. We would rather underperform in a huge bull market than get clobbered in a really bad bear market.” (Klarman, “Ahead Of Print”, 2010 CFA Institute)

Ownership. Preservation. Conviction.

Those principles work for me too.

“We ask people, what is the biggest mistake you’ve ever made? It’s a very open-ended question because it’s not solely an investment question, although prospective hires often answer it as if it were.” (Klarman, “Ahead Of Print”, 2010 CFA Institute)

Introspection.

Back to the Global Macro Morning Grind

In the face of awful US Economic data yesterday:

  1. CONFIDENCE: Bloomberg Weekly Consumer Comfort Index dropped to a fresh YTD low of -49.4 vs -46.9 last week.
  2. HOUSING: US Existing Home Sales  fell -0.8% for April, dropping from 5.09 million in March (seasonally adjusted annualized) to 5.05 in April.  This is a sharp divergence from the March Pending Home Sales, which increased 5.1% month-over-month.
  3. GDP GROWTH: US Leading Indicators for April were down (0.3%) sequentially vs. +0.7% in March (the sharpest decline in well over a year)

And … with the US Dollar down on the day… the inverse relationship (The Correlation Risk) between Fiat Fool policy and stocks continued to hold (USD down = stocks up). The US stock market was able to hold a +22 basis point gain. With the SP500 closing at 1343, it’s down -1.5% from its April 2011 YTD high, and down -14.2% from its October 2007 all-time high.

You mean, on alarmingly low-volume, the mistakes we’ve all made between late 2007 (where I got bearish too early) and early 2011 (where consensus has been too bullish on US Growth) has only equated to lower immediate-term and long-term highs in US stocks? Yep. This special case of making lower-highs in stocks has been occurring in Japan since 1992. Big Government Intervention has its perks.

No matter where I go this morning, the entire risk management community can see all of my mistakes. My current mistakes are attached at the bottom of every morning’s Early Look (my biggest mistake on the long side is currently Suncor (SU) at -5.3% and, on the short side, Consumer Staples (XLP) at -2.9% against me). My longer term mistakes are all time stamped on our website and on the back of my ankle.

Transparency. Accountability. Trust.

These are principles that plenty of politicians give lip service to. In real-life, they are extremely hard to achieve. I don’t think my firm is there yet, but I do know that the people I have working with me have Intellectual Honesty – and in terms of re-thinking industry standards on independent research, I think we’re well on our way.

My immediate-term support and resistance ranges for Gold, Oil, and the SP500 are $1480-$1502, $95.16-$100.91, and 1324-1358, respectively.

Best of luck out there today,

KM

Keith R. McCullough
Chief Executive Officer

Intellectual Honesty - Chart of the Day

Intellectual Honesty - Virtual Portfolio