Friday, May 25, 2007

Value Investing Congress West 2007: Recap
As I sit in LAX waiting for our redeye back to Philly, my wife somewhat annoyed that I’d rather write than talk (she just peered over my shoulder, saw what I wrote and now she’s really annoyed…I deserve it), I am reflecting on the excellent Value Investing Congress that ended earlier today (May 9th) in Hollywood.

The Congress, held twice a year, once in NY, and once in CA, is the ultimate gathering (besides Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting) of cheapskates, defined as those of us in the investment world who seek to pay as little as we can for a company, with a built-in margin of safety. We are a fickle bunch.

Hats off to Value Investing Congress founders John Schwartz and Whitney Tilson. Two class guys who are well on their way to orchestrating perhaps the best value conference out there. They assembled an excellent slate of speakers, and put on a world class conference.

Here are some of the highlights of the conference:

*Monish Pabrai, with an excerpt from his new book The Dhando Investor. I read this book in one sitting, poolside at the Renaissance Hollywood, just after the conference ended. Pabrai is a natural, and his track record demonstrates this.

*Carlo Cannell, from Cannell Capital, with a somewhat offbeat, and perhaps un-actionable, but still interesting and thought provoking presentation on of one of the new hot markets, Vietnam. Cannell discussed his adventures visiting, and investing in Vietnam, and the potential bargains that exist as this still Communist country begins to see its equity markets come to life, and state owned monopolies are put into public hands. Unfortunately, much of the audience was left with the question; “How do I get exposure?”, a question which unfortunately did not have much of an answer.

*Newcomer Zeke Ashton of Centaur Capital Partners, and his excellent discussion “How Concentrated Should Your Portfolio Be?” Your Cheap Stocks editor was thrilled to hear Ashton mention the concept that our website was built on: Companies Trading Below Net Current Asset Value. Just like us, though, Zeke is not finding many viable candidates these days. Ashton also discussed four actionable ideas , all micro or small caps.

*Robert Hagstrom (What was he doing at a value conference???) discussed “Growth Investing in a Value Based World”. The author of 3 Warren Buffet related books is not exactly a value investor, and proved as much in his discussion of why Amazon will be going through the roof. Still, Hagstrom is an excellent speaker, gave a great presentation, and it never hurts to hear from the other side (growth).

*Legend Bob Rodriguez was on fire, and unapologetic, taking on everything from Morningstar’s tax efficiency calculation to impatient shareholders who never read shareholder letters.

*Whitney Tilson’s discussion of Berkshire Hathaway’s intrinsic value ($150,000 per A share, by Tilson’s calculation) was excellent, and shows why Whitney is an up and comer in the value world.

All in all, this is a great conference, and the east coast version will take place in November. Visit the Value Investing Congress website for more details. See you in November.

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