David Einhorn Has Made a Lot of Bad Bets — And One Very Good One

It’s been a tough year for David Einhorn, one-time enfant terrible of hedge funds.

In fact, it’s been a tough six years: his flagship fund has lost 34% since the start of 2015. But after so many missteps, Einhorn, 52, still has one big thing going for him, and it starts in Plano, Texas. It’s called Green Brick Partners Inc., and it’s been propping up the otherwise-shaky returns coming out of Einhorn’s loss-ridden Greenlight Capital.

Einhorn’s losing investments -- notably, his high-profile bets against technology shares, including darlings Tesla Inc. and Netflix Inc. -- have gotten a lot of unwanted attention lately. But his years-long investment in the homebuilder Green Brick has been paying off handsomely, cushioning what would otherwise have been a dismal 2020.

How important is Green Brick to Greenlight? So far this year, the homebuilder has added about 15 percentage points of performance, according to a person familiar with the matter, while the fund overall is down 1.1% through November.

A Greenlight spokesman declined to comment on the fund’s returns or its positions.

That quasi-private holding -- Greenlight owns almost 50% of the company -- isn’t Einhorn’s usual fare. He tends toward less chunky stakes in beaten-down shares such as life insurer Brighthouse Financial Inc. or aircraft leaser Aercap Holdings NV, which have soared with other value-oriented stocks of late -- though with a much smaller impact to the portfolio than Green Brick. Meanwhile, his bets against the technology giants have weighed on returns and helped put him near the bottom of any ranking of the best known hedge fund managers.

Wary Clients

Clients have taken notice.

Greenlight managed $2.6 billion at the beginning of January, down from a peak of $12 billion in 2015, a period where he’s averaged a 7% annual loss. And while the firm has been open to new investments for the past two years, there’s no sign of any takers.

Einhorn started Greenlight in 1996 when he was just 27 and over the next 18 years posted annualized returns of about 20%. Among his prescient calls were the dot-com bust and the demise of Lehman Brothers Holdings.

In 2015 the streak ended with a 20% loss, and three years later he shed another 34%. Investors hit the exits.

That 2020 isn’t looking like those terrible years is in large part thanks to Green Brick. The company was born out of Einhorn’s relationship with Jim Brickman, a Texas developer he’d known and discussed investments with since 2002.

David Einhorn Has Made a Lot of Bad Bets — And One Very Good One

In 2009, Greenlight invested in a fund set up by Brickman to develop homes. It went public in October 2014 with the hedge fund manager as chairman.

The stock bounced around $10 until earlier this year. With historically low mortgage rates thanks to the Federal Reserve’s unprecedented response to March’s market crisis, as well as pandemic-driven demand for single-family detached housing, it has soared to more than $22. Last month, Green Brick gained 22%, more than double the 10% return for the S&P Homebuilders Select Industry Total Return Index.

While Greenlight’s portfolio is near flat for the year -- well behind the S&P 500’s 13.5% gain -- in the past two months the fund has jumped 18% as growth shares lagged their cheaper brethren for the first time in years.

Read more: ‘Miserable’ Markets Turn to Blessing for Battered Stock Pickers

But his aggressive bets against the tech sector haven’t shown signs of working out yet. In October he said the shares had peaked in early September, and that he had shorted a basket of bubble stocks. The Nasdaq 100 sits at roughly the same level today. He previously pronounced a tech bubble in April 2014, only to see that index gain almost 250%

Among his most public wagers have been Tesla and Netflix, which he’s been short since at least 2015. At the end of last year he increased his bet against Netflix, which has gained 54% in 2020 as Covid-19 lockdowns boosted subscriptions. Einhorn has criticized Elon Musk’s Tesla for accounting irregularities among other issues, but the stock has rocketed about 600% this year, helped by its soon-to-be inclusion in the S&P 500.

As more investors speculate that the current rotation out of growth and into value may stick this time, Einhorn expects his long slump will finally be over -- and that investors will see the wisdom of his wagers.

“Our investing style is not a closet index of long value and short growth,” Einhorn said in an August client letter. “We look for security-specific differences of opinion and hope to capitalize on being right and the market eventually seeing it our way.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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