Tilson Stresses Stock-Picking in "Muddle-Along" Period

Value investor Whitney Tilson says he’s playing defense on the long side of his portfolio while finding plenty of opportunities on the short side.

Tilson tells Forbes.com that he sees neither a V-shaped economic recovery nor a double-dip recession as likely. Instead, like Jeremy Grantham, he sees a period of “seven lean years” in which growth is subpar as individuals and governments deleverage. That has him “looking first and foremost for safety: companies with strong balance sheets, market positions and cash flows. So even if economic growth is weak, they will still be able to generate decent growth.” While such high-quality firms’ shares usually come at a premium, today big-cap blue chips are “one of the only areas in the marketplace where we’re finding attractive risk-reward equations,” he says.

On the short side, Tilson says he thinks his portfolio is as strong as it’s ever been in the 12 years he’s managed money.

“Today there’s all sorts of froth, nonsense and speculation in the marketplace, if you know where to look,” he says, though he adds that shorting is dangerous and he doesn’t recommend it for anyone who isn’t a seasoned professional. “In summary,” he says, “we think we have a get-rich-slowly, safe, defensive long book and a get-rich-quickly, massively over-valued short book.”

Tilson adds that he doesn’t think we’re headed for a “disaster” scenario. “Today and for the foreseeable future we’re just in a muddle-along period, where good stock-picking and being conservative will pay off,” he says. Tilson also offers a few picks on both the long and short side of the market.

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