On rather short notice, Cohanzick invited people to listen to David Sherman talk about the significance of “recent developments.” Reportedly, 90 people called in. No slides, just David at his desk talking through two topics and fielding questions.
1. none of his funds have exposure to banks or thrifts. Early in his career, at Leucadia, he was taught that this additional financial sector focus offered “incremental gains that were not worth the risk.”
2. in a “moral hazard” sort of way, institituions worldwide have “adopted an umbrella policy: avoid any failure at all cost.”
3. Sherman’s policy preference would be a 1-2 bps / year charge for insurance on accounts over $250k with an opt-out provision and some sort of preferential payments scheme (akin, I think, to what happens in a bankruptcy liquidation) to avoid runs on the bank. (James Mackintosh, in Friday's WSJ, speculates on investment regulations to pursue the same end; he suggests requiring banks to invest only in short-term Treasuries as backing for regular deposits, with greater flexibility for special high-yield accounts.)
4. He believes interest rates will remain higher for longer than commonly expected, unless the fed has to accommodate a systemic risk. A fed “pivot” now would be “ a bad sign regarding speculation and future inflation.”
5. the commercial real estate market, which is reliant on floating rate securities, is a major and generally unrecognized risk. High quality lenders like BlackRock “are handing the keys back to the bank.” Eventually the government will need to pursue a solution like the Resolution Trust (1989-1995) to work to resolve the savings & loan crisis.
6. Q: is the banking system close to melt-down? A: No. With the exception of a few incidents involving insolvent micro banks, there are no “FDIC-regulated banks where uninsured depositors didn’t get their money back.”
7. Q: are you positive on high yield this yield? A: we don’t speculate but “In general, active HY will outperform stocks over the next couple years based on valuations.”
8. Q: has the risk-return equation become more compelling? Are you playing offense or defense now? A: “I love this question. Compliance hates it. We love markets like this, even if they’re frustrating, difficult or stressful because they create volatility and volatility creates opportunity. Things were more shaky a year ago ... we’ve become more offensive over the past several months Dry powder not diminished but new money is getting invested at substantially higher returns. Dry powder (at year’s end his funds were 30% and 70% “dry powder”) reflects view that we’ll have more opportunities and we will not be forced to take duration risk. We’re avoiding highly stressed or distressed issuers whose business model is questionable relative to other opportunities. We think there will be more of opportunities; commercial RE will raise its ugly head to create them.”
9. Q: where do you get such great ideas? A: swiped one from a student in my Global Value Investing class at NYU. (Roughly.)
10. Q: Has the opportunity set changed since 1/1/2023? A: "We focus on business model, the group tried to be disciplined in our credit work in all periods though everyone occasionally gets out of their lane. We’re focusing on staying at the highest level of the capital structure. Social media makes everything worse. Investors do less work, act more in reaction to events, and since it’s easier to move money, it’s also easier to over-react. Across portfolios, we have the highest level of leveraged loan ownership in years. LLs significantly higher return than the bonds, assuming no rate collapse.”
David either reads the board or has a news alert set for his name, so I’m confident that if I’ve materially misrepresented his words, he’ll help guide us back to the light.
For what that’s worth, David