How to Construct a Winning Investment Thesis

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how to write an investment thesisYou can turn to many places online and offline to find someone articulating an investment thesis. Depending on the presenter, an investment thesis can sound extremely compelling at the time, only to turn out a dud or worse. It seems a lot easier to construct a compelling-sounding investment thesis than it is to formulate a thesis that is actually compelling. Interestingly, some of the best investment theses may not come across as such at the time they are articulated. Often, great investment theses have a component of uncertainty, i.e., some potential event or liability investors simply cannot get their arms around. Think of the BP oil spill or the loan book of Countrywide within Bank of America.

While no recipe exists for constructing a winning investment thesis, it pays to learn from successful investors. One of the most impressive rising stars of value investing is Glenn Surowiec, founder and portfolio manager of GDS Investments. Glenn spent more than a decade at Alsin Capital Management prior to starting his own firm in 2012. Since Glenn assumed primary responsibility for managing client portfolios in late 2008, he has amassed a track record featuring annualized returns of 24.3% during one of the most volatile periods in market history. We normally do not ascribe significant weight to five-year track records. However, Glenn’s willingness to articulate an investment thesis in real time and then have it re-examined at a later date reflects an intellectual honesty that is sometimes lacking in the investment community.

When we spoke with Glenn in April 2012, he articulated a long investment thesis on Overstock (OSTK) when the stock traded around $5 per share. Overstock shares recently changed hands for roughly $25 per share. In my year-ago conversation with Glenn, he also argued that Bank of America (BAC) warrants were a compelling investment. Bank of America shares have roughly doubled since then, while the A warrants have roughly tripled. That’s it — those were the only two ideas Glenn presented as his highest-conviction ideas last year.

What made Glenn’s theses on Overstock and Bank of America so compelling, and would you have invested based on his argument? Fortunately, we have the full record available for review right here. To maximize the learning opportunity, you may like to listen first to my interview with Glenn from a year ago, and then scroll down to Glenn’s latest update on Overstock and Bank of America, including his “play by play” on how the investments unfolded and why the outperformance materialized.

How to Construct an Investment Thesis — “Point in Time”

The following is my full interview with Glenn Surowiec from April 2012. I have to admit I found Glenn’s investment thesis on both Overstock and Bank of America compelling but somehow failed to act.

investment thesis on overstockMaybe I suffered from the same shortsightedness that keeps many investors from seizing an investment opportunity. If I recall correctly, I passed on Overstock because I thought they would have a tough time competing against and because I was not sure the Overstock brand lent itself to gift-related categories in which the potential buyer did not want to gift someone an “overstock” item. The company’s roller-coaster history with short sellers may also have played a role in my decision, although I have always held Patrick Byrne in the highest regard. Looking back, I committed one of the rookie mistakes of investing: I let prejudice and some fundamental concerns detract from the actual facts, which included a rapidly improving financial profile. I also failed to calibrate my fundamental assessment versus Overstock’s extremely low valuation. What would you have done at the time?

How to Construct an Investment Thesis — A Year Later

In the following just-recorded conversation, Glenn explains how the Overstock and Bank of America investments have unfolded over the past year. He compares actual events to his expectations, showing that the investments not only worked out — more importantly, they worked out for the right reasons.

Glenn also mentions a new investment opportunity on which he appears to gaining increasing conviction. We’ll be sure to circle back with Glenn as soon as he has another Overstock or BofA-like investment thesis to share with us. Stay tuned for Glenn’s next high-conviction idea in The Manual of Ideas Members Area.

Glenn Surowiec started GDS Investments in 2012. From 2001 to 2012, he worked for Alsin Capital Management, Inc. as an Equity Research Analyst (2001-2003), co-Portfolio Manager (2003-2008), and most recently as Portfolio Manager from 2008 to 2012. In this role, he worked directly with clients in developing and managing portfolios specific to their needs and objectives. Before joining ACM, Glenn worked as a Derivatives Structuring Manager for Enron Corp. and as a Commercial Real Estate Credit Analyst for Commerce Bancorp (now TD Bank). Glenn serves as a strategic advisor to ValueConferences, a fully online investment conferences provider featuring some of the most prestigious value investors across the globe. Glenn has a BA in Management (Accounting concentration) from Gettysburg College and an MBA (Finance concentration) from Southern Methodist University – Glenn graduated in the top 10% of his MBA class and participated in study abroad programs both as an undergraduate (Seville, Spain) and graduate student (Melbourne, Australia).