Seth Klarman On Selling “The Hardest Decision of All”

Seth Klarman On Selling “The Hardest Decision of All”

by VW StaffFebruary 14, 2014, 1:47 pm

Seth Klarman On Selling ”The Hardest Decision of All”  From Seth Klarman’s Margin of Safety: Risk-Averse Value Investing Strategies for the Thoughtful Investor

Many investors are able to spot a bargain but have a harder time knowing when to sell. One reason is the difficulty of knowing precisely what an investment is worth. An investor buys with a range of value in mind at a price that provides a considerable margin of safety. As the market price appreciates, however, that safety margin decreases; the potential return diminishes and the downside risk increases. Not knowing the exact value of the investment, it is understandable that an investor cannot be as confident in the sell decision as he or she was in the purchase decision.

To deal with the difficulty of knowing when to sell, some investors create rules for selling based on specific price-to-book value or price-to-earnings multiples. Others have rules based on percentage gain thresholds; once they have made X percent, they sell. Still others set sale price targets at the time of pur-chase, as if nothing that took place in the interim could influ-ence the decision to sell. None of these rules makes good sense. Indeed, there is only one valid rule for selling: all investments are for sale at the right price.

Decisions to sell, like decisions to buy, must be based upon underlying business value.’ Exactly when to sell-or buy-depends on the alternative opportunities that are available. Should you hold for partial or complete value realization, for example? It would be foolish to hold out for an extra fraction of a point of gain in a stock selling just below underlying value when the market offers many bargains. By contrast, you would not want to sell a stock at a gain (and pay taxes on it) if it were still significantly undervalued and if there were no better bar-gains available.

Some investors place stop-loss orders to sell securities at specific prices, usually marginally below their cost. If prices rise, the orders are not executed. If the prices decline a bit, presum-ably on the way to a steeper fall, the stop-loss orders are exe-cuted. Although this strategy may seem an effective way to limit downside risk, it is, in fact, crazy. Instead of taking advan-

tage of market dips to increase one’s holdings, a user of this technique acts as if the market knows the merits of a particular investment better than he or she does.

Liquidity considerations are also important in the decision to sell. For many securities the depth of the market as well as the quoted price is an important consideration. You cannot sell, after all, in the absence of a willing buyer; the likely presence of a buyer must therefore be a factor in the decision to sell. As the president of a small firm specializing in trading illiquid over-the-counter (pink-sheet) stocks once told me: “You have to feed the birdies when they are hungry.”

If selling still seems difficult for investors who follow a value-investment philosophy, I offer the following rhetorical ques-tions: If you haven’t bought based upon underlying value, how do you decide when to sell? If you are speculating in securities trading above underlying value, when do you take a profit or cut your losses? Do you have any guide other than “how they are acting,” which is really no guide at all?

 

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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