Seth Klarman Compares Phony U.S. Economy to “The Truman Show”

Seth Klarman is one of the most talented fund managers of our time. I have been consistently awed by his intelligence and consistent performance, as well as a strong sense character and honestly.

ValueWalk just put together a synopsis of his latest investor letter, and there are some choice phrases in there. While I completely disagree with him on Bitcoin (he seems to see it as merely a currency rather than an efficient, global, P2P, decentralized payment system), I’m not going to hold that against him.

Now from ValueWalk:

Baupost Group, among the largest hedge funds in the world, returned $4 billion in assets to clients at the end of 2013 because it didn’t want to grow too quickly and dilute performance, according to an investor letter reviewed by ValueWalk.  Seth Klarman’s fund, which in 2013 had a high of 50% of his portfolio in cash, up from 36% in 2012, posted 2013 returns in the mid-teens consistent with the fund’s nearly 22-year track record.

Like many of the best market analysts, Seth Klarman looks at both sides of the issue, the bull and bear case, in depth.  “If you’re more focused on downside than upside, if you’re more interested in return of capital than return on capital, if you have any sense of market history, then there’s more than enough to be concerned about,” he wrote.  Citing a policy of near-zero short-term interest rates that continues to distort reality and will have long term consequences, he ominously noted “we can draw no legitimate conclusions about the Fed’s ability to end QE without severe consequences,” a thought pervasive among many top fund managers. “Fiscal stimulus, in the form of sizable deficits, has propped up the consumer, thereby inflating corporate revenues and earnings. But what is the right multiple to pay on juiced corporate earnings?”

“In an ominous sign, a recent survey of U.S. investment newsletters by Investors Intelligence found the lowest proportion of bears since the ill-fated year of 1987,” he wrote. “A paucity of bears is one of the most reliable reverse indicators of market psychology. In the financial world, things are hunky dory; in the real world, not so much. Is the feel-good upward march of people’s 401(k)s, mutual fund balances, CNBC hype, and hedge fund bonuses eroding the objectivity of their assessments of the real world? We can say with some conviction that it almost always does. Frankly, wouldn’t it be easier if the Fed would just announce the proper level for the S&P, and spare us all the policy announcements and market gyrations?” he said in a somewhat hilarious moment that bears a degree of truth.

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