Investing Superheroes: Howard Marks

Howard Marks has demonstrated the concept of consistent excellence as an investor, managing portfolios for over forty years. Marks has one of the best long-term track records over this time frame. He has led Oaktree Capital Management since founding the company with five other partners in 1995. 

Key Concepts

  • Markets are random. Investing strategies must take this into account. Howard says, “You can’t tell from an outcome whether or not it was a good decision. Even if you know what is most likely, other things can happen.” Of course this brings to mind the importance of diversification and limiting Portfolio exposure to any single factor. However, this statement also points to the difficulty of knowing whether an investor is good or just lucky. The same concept applies in determining whether an investment plan is on track in spite of initial poor performance. Marks’ answer is to focus on the decision making process rather than the results of this process.  
  • Consistency trumps outstanding individual results over the long run. Marks says, “Be a little bit better than average all of the time.” A study he did over decades of market performance showed that the top ten percent of long term investors showed up in the second quadrant decade after decade, being rarely either in the top group, or below average over those periods. He says that trying to be a top performer, rather than just being consistently better than average, usually requires taking too much risk and relying on luck. 
  • “You don’t make money by buying good stocks. You make money by buying assets for less than they are worth.” Howard is saying that even an excellent company can be a terrible investment. For example, an investor buying Cisco, Intel, or Microsoft in 2000 ended up with poor results even though those companies are still market leaders sixteen years later. Might Facebook, Amazon, or Tesla be similar today? Conversely, Marks points out that truly massive investing profits were made in the 1980’s in bonds that were more likely to default than to pay off. It’s all in the price and he encourages investors to avoid popular investments while giving those that “everyone knows are bad” a second look.   

Brief Bio

Marks started his career as an equity research analyst for Citicorp in 1969. From 1978 to 1985 he served as Vice President and senior portfolio manager focusing on convertible and high yield debt. In 1985 he joined RCW Group and again led he high yield and convertible securities group, but also started one of the first distressed debt funds in a mainstream financial institution. 

Mr. Marks periodically writes his widely read “memos to Oaktree clients” which outline his views on investing the markets and economics. Warren Buffett has remarked, “When I see memos from Howard Marks in my mail, they’re the first thing I open and read. I always learn something, and that goes double for his book”. In 2011, Marks published “The Most Important Thing: Uncommon Sense for the Thoughtful Investor” via Columbian Business School Press. 

Sources: www.oaktree.com, www.wikipedia.com , www.youtube.com 

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