In his 2000 Shareholder Letter, Michael Burry provided a simple example of the deleterious effect of permanent capital loss on portfolio returns. Here’s an excerpt from the letter:
My strategy is entirely designed to avoid and otherwise minimize the price risk in individual securities. As a result, I would argue that it is the lack of a loss in a month like November that represents the most reproducible and the most potent characteristic of the Fund.
It is a tenet of my investment style that, on the subject of common stock investment, maximizing the upside means first and foremost minimizing the downside. The deleterious effect of permanent capital loss on portfolio returns cannot be overstated.
Some basic math elucidates this point. When planning for a double, every dollar in excess cost amounts to two dollars in excess gain required. Every dollar saved amounts to the same two dollars in excess gain already realized. And it goes without saying that a 33.3% loss requires a 50% gain just to attain breakeven. On the flip side, 33.3% saved on the buy price makes a 50% gain back to the price of first consideration. On a percentage basis — and it is on this basis that we must evaluate each and every decision — lost dollars are simply harder to replace than gained dollars are to lose.
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