The Tarnishing of David Einhorn

A recent article in Institutional Investor chronicles the fall-from-grace of hedge fund legend David Einhorn, billionaire founder of Greenlight Capital.

“It takes a certain amount of self-confidence to think you’re smarter than everyone else,” the article says. “That’s especially the case when the markets are telling you something else—as has been the case for a decade with [David] Einhorn.” It describes Greenlight’s 14.9% loss through April– compared to a 0.4% loss for the S&P 500—as “the latest embarrassment for a former star who has not bested the stock market since 2009.” The loss of investor confidence is reflected in the firm’s assets under management, which have contracted from a peak of $11.8 billion in 2014 to $6.4 billion by the end of 2017.

Einhorn started Greenlight in 1996 at the tender age of 27 and rose to fame through the fund’s annualized returns of 26 percent during its first ten years, the article reports, “far outpacing broader markets with bets on homebuilders, subprime lenders, and other highfliers of the decade.” His bet against Allied Capital in 2002 netted Greenlight a profit of $35 million, but it was his “attack against Lehman Brothers in 2007, less than a year before it filed for bankruptcy,” that made him a short-selling legend.

Since then, however, this staunch value investor has been missing the mark (with shorts on companies including Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and Chipotle Mexican Grill, among others). Einhorn’s admirers attribute Greenlight’s poor performance to the broader decline of value investing and the rise of quants, ETFs, index funds and momentum stocks. But the article suggests that Einhorn’s adherence to his “value investing paradigm”, and subsequent refusal to buy stocks of companies whose prices are above a certain multiple of discounted cash flow, or other value metrics, has left him limited choices. The article quotes one individual close to Einhorn who said that, as a result, “David has found himself with a lot of lower-quality businesses because he wouldn’t pay up.”