Conversely, Tasker said, “People find a group of companies that appear to be great because they are bucking the trend of the poor economic environment and appear to be prospering. Guess what? It doesn't last.”
For Tasker, the lesson of Japan is that when markets sour, seeing everything through the dark lens of pessimism is best. “What is dangerous, actually, is optimism,” he said. “You have to wear your sunglasses. Be like Bono and wear your sunglasses all the time, even in the shower.“
Finding your inner cockroach – six rules for survival
Cockroaches may or may not take over the Earth after the human race wipes itself out, but they are proven survivalists – 300 million years and counting – and, according to Tasker, they make pretty good role models in a bear market. Tasker laid out five lessons he’s learned from his antennaed role models.
- Be omnivorous. Cockroaches survive by being some of nature’s least-picky eaters – they’ve even been known to eat plastic, according to Tasker. Likewise, “as a value investor you have to be prepared to look at anything, looking across the spectrum of all kinds of stocks,” Tasker said. “Sometimes they may be slightly unappetizing – or putrid, even, as the Dirty 30 I mentioned. But if they are cheap enough, if the price is low enough, they are worth looking at.”
- Have a hard shell. Tasker advised bear market investors that they would have to learn how to endure pain, because the kind of investing that succeeds in these markets requires taking risks that won’t always turn out well. “People say to you, ‘Look, everybody knew this company had trouble, had problems, everybody knew about their management. You are supposed to be experts and you invested in it. Look at what happened. You're an idiot,’” Tasker said. “What can you say? You just smile and say yeah.”
- Thrive in extreme conditions. Cockroaches keep going in any weather, and so should you. Tasker said this was one of the benefits of focusing on value. “Value stocks did well in Japan in the 1980s as well,” Tasker noted. “During a ferocious bull market they did well, and they have continued to do well in the bear market, and the financial-crisis-type environment since then.”
- Learn how to scuttle… Just as cockroaches can quickly scuttle in any direction when the light comes on, you have to be able to move from one definition of value to another as conditions change – be relentlessly responsive to the market situation as it evolves.
- … but be prepared to hide in the dark. Market conditions shift inevitably, but it doesn’t happen overnight. In the meantime, you need to have the patience to wait things out, even when it feels dark and lonely. This is particularly true in Japan, because, thanks to Japan’s decimated financial sector and aversion to equities, analysts simply don’t cover parts of the market, because no would-be analyst can make a decent living. “For patient investors, you can hide in these positions for a long time,” Tasker said. “They can rise quite significantly, and still no one cares. You can exit, and still no one cares. Nobody has even noticed.”