Patience in the Time of Least-Worsts

Yesterday, I caught myself chain-drinking Diet Cokes again.  With about ten ounces left in my Double Big Gulp, I'd start waltzing over to the 7-11 on Lytton.  By the time I got through the door, it'd be time to reload. 

Maybe it was the caffeine, but back in the office after my third trip – cumulatively $2.97 lighter in one kind of liquidity, but 192 ounces heavier in the other – I started freaking out.  After all, there are a lot of chemicals in Diet Coke.  Would my habit end with a baseball size tumor in my head?  I am the lab rat. 

I once talked to my pal Ross about my Diet Coke problem.  He's a legit M.D. (as in Medical Doctor) and he went on a riff about caffeine addiction.  He then talked about the psychological issues that caused me to chug DC.  Cliche that I am, I drink up in times of stress.

And what stressful times we live in!  You can't take a meeting nowadays without hearing tales of struggling portfolio companies.  And some of these companies need serious cash infusions to stay alive.  Good money after bad?  Bad money after good?  Who knows?  Either way, people are spending a lot of time facing dilution and worrying about company mortality.

And then, there's the constant stream of managers asking for amendments to their documents allowing them to do crazy stuff like borrow money so they can buy Elbonian sovereign debt (don't worry about UBTI or style drift, lad, we're being opportunistic!).

Now, LPs want to be supportive, but only to a point.  And for some LPs, GPs are getting perilously close to crossing a line.  And some of those LPs are starting to talk about pitching out every last one of their seemingly-hapless managers.  Or at least refocusing their portfolios on something that's hot.  Like secondaries.  Or distressed.  Or distressed secondaries.  Or secondary distress. 

Now I'm not against being nimble, but we've gotta guard against being rash.  After all, rashness is the curse of the public market investor.  In charitable moments, I like to think that we private market investors are more patient, more thoughtful.  At less sanguine times, I'm glad that the PE fund structure keeps us from being too quick on the trigger, like those wacky individual investors.

Which leads me to my all-time favorite bit of research: there's a great Morningstar study that recounts the experience of mutual fund investors over a five year period beginning at the end of 1989.  Over that time, the S&P returned 12.22% per annum over the period (ahhh, the good old days!)  And in the same period, a group of funds Morningstar examined returned 12.01% (on a time-weighted basis).  Fair 'nuff.  But the kicker was that the actual investors in those funds only achieved a 2.02% dollar weighted annual return.  That's over a thousand basis points of leakage (!) due largely to market timing.  There's a lesson there about chasing performance.

But wait a second: it's not just the individual investors who are buying high and selling low.  I mean, look at commitments to VC about a decade ago, or to megabuyouts a couple of years back.  I guess it's just human nature to chase the shiny new penny (and to take comfort in the fact that other people are doing it alongside you).

Sometimes, too, people fixate on running from something, instead of what they're running to.  We've all had anywhere-but-here moments — they're particularly common nowadays — but it's important to resist the whip-saw.  After all, our managers didn't collectively take a buffoon pill during late-2008.  Of course, we may have missed potential land mines in our diligence, or perhaps the stress of funky markets has exposed previously-unseen flaws.  But we loved all our GPs once, and we loved them for a reason. 

And every now and again, we need a little reminder of those reasons.  So when I find my conviction a-flaggin', I'll pull open the bottom drawer and re-read some old investment memos.  That's a great way to pull yourself back from the ledge. 

And in a time when people want to do something (anything!) to feel like they're in control of uncontrollable events, it might be worth taking a moment to reflect on the admonition that Truman's Secretarty of State, Dean Acheson, directed at staffers who were getting over-excited during the early days of the Cold War: "don't just do something, stand there!"  And just as in those days, we're living in a time of least-worsts.  Maybe now, as then, patience may end up being a critical element of the road out of this mess.

3 thoughts on “Patience in the Time of Least-Worsts

  1. Andrei Vorobiev

    Chris, you wrote: “After all, there are a lot of chemicals in Diet Coke.”
    I can’t personally attest to it, but here is a Russian anecdote (the best I can translate it) to that effect:
    Two salivating alcoholics just bought a bottle of vodka with their last pennies and, leaving the store, discuss the upcoming “feast”:
    – So, what do we have to chase the vodka with?
    – Diet Coke…
    – Oh no, I’ll pass then, my liver is too weak…
    Also, on the core of your message: if my memory doesn’t fail me, Mad Money’s Jim Cramer used to say that there are two types of players on Wall Street: the fast and the dead.
    I honestly hope that you’re right, and with your admirable wit and patience, you’ll end up among the wise tortoises vs. the dead ones.
    But, to think of it, all that stress of enduring the ever-deepening losses and loading up on Diet Coke to alleviate it… Can’t it do you in anyway?.. 🙂


  2. Diet Coke? That’s not what I’m reaching for these days.


  3. Different fields of our life utilize a lot of time and efforts, therefore why must we expend valuable time for term paper format creating? It is better to use a essay writing service to order the term paper at, I guess.


Comments are closed.