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all of which helped his fund to a 119% net gain in 2020 and a further 36% gain so far in 2021.
Wyden bought a large position in Fiat Chrysler in 2014 after learning investors were getting ownership of its Ferrari subsidiary at virtually no cost. The supercar maker was spun off in 2016 and now trades at a $50 billion market value, many times Fiat’s entire market cap when Wyden first invested. He calls such investments “Russian doll” stocks because inside, they hold valuable hidden assets.
“This is the golden age of active investing,” Wyden says. “Companies worth $1 billion to $10 billion are under-researched and underappreciated.”
Raised in Washington, D.C., Wyden caught the investing bug early from his grandmother Nancy, who ran an investment club with members of a local synagogue in Portland, Oregon, where he spent summers. As a teen, to make extra money for investments, Wyden started a car detailing business. He also bought the parts for Tamiya remote-control cars and sold them as finished goods on eBay at a fourfold markup. In 2002, Wyden was admitted to Penn’s Wharton School, and as a junior he interned at hedge fund D.E. Shaw. But rather than returning for a full-time job at the quant firm after graduation, he became an analyst at a small merchant bank, where he was introduced to value investing. He was especially impressed by the methods of Joel Greenblatt, a legendary value investor and best-selling author who studied spinoffs and hidden assets.
In 2008, as the stock market was crashing, Wyden enrolled at Warren Buffett’s alma mater, Columbia Business School, and began to invest his savings aggressively, looking for “blood in the street” bargain stocks. His focus was on cash-rich, undervalued microcap companies like bottom-tier brokerage firm Rodman and Renshaw, which was trading at between 10 and 30 cents but was profiting by arranging dubious Chinese reverse mergers for hefty fees. The stock went from 10 cents to over $6 in 90 days, and Wyden sold. He then found an even better opportunity in IDT Corporation, a seller of prepaid phone cards and comic books, which was trading at $2 per share but carried $10 a share of cash on its books and another $10 of tax loss carry-forwards. Wyden plowed more than half his growing savings into the company, which ripped higher to $30.
By graduation in May 2010, Wyden’s “stack” was a few million dollars, and in January 2011 he decided to launch ADW, raising over $1 million in its first month, mostly from friends and family. (Senator Wyden isn’t an investor.)
ADW generated a 91% net return in its first year and went on to score uninterrupted gains for seven years. Even after fees, the fund’s value soared sixfold. But big bets on small, illiquid companies carry big risks—and in 2018, Wyden faltered.
EVI Industries, a distributor of commercial laundry equipment, which had soared to $47 from $6 in 2016, when Wyden invested, shed nearly half its value. Wyden lashed out, accusing the company of misalignment. When other stocks in his portfolio began to underperform, he turned activist.
He pilloried the management of PAR Technology, which was family-run. “Clearly, the market must be assigning a ‘Sammon family discount’ given the family’s total disregard for minority shareholders,” he groused in a letter to the founders. “[O]ne must wonder if Mr. Sammon has spent the last 30+ years writing his Ph.D. dissertation on ‘how to destroy shareholder value.’” Wyden won: PAR management was replaced in 2018, and it has gone on to become one of Wyden’s better-performing stocks.
Wyden was even harsher to Atlanta’s Select Interior Concepts, which makes flooring and tiling. “In Yiddish, we call these people gonifs,” he says. “It’s easier to steal value than to create value.”
In 2018, ADW lost 33%, and a further 6% in 2019 as the market roared higher by 30%. Then came the pandemic, which initially slammed his portfolio but ended up the reboot he needed.
Holding 50% cash heading into the calamity, Wyden figured that the decade-long bull market would resume, particularly for value stocks and companies tied to the real economy that had missed out on the tech stock–fueled rally.
“The market needed a reset,” he says. “Now we had it, and everybody’s f’ing miserable in their house, and everybody wants to go to strip clubs, go to Vegas and travel and eat in restaurants . . . . I’m really bullish.”
“If I never raise another dollar again, I’m going to become a multibillionaire,” he predicts.
As for tax increases on the rich, Wyden is a realist. “I don’t think I have any sway over my father,” he says. As a hedge, he moved his entire New York–based operation to income tax–free Florida last July, spending $4.1 million for a teardown on Biscayne Bay’s exclusive La Gorce Island. He has already flipped the property for a $1.4 million profit and is now in contract to buy a larger, brand-new waterfront mansion.
“We are happy Floridians,” he says, grinning.
FINAL THOUGHT “THE ART OF TAXATION CONSISTS IN SO PLUCKING THE GOOSE AS TO GET THE MOST FEATHERS WITH THE LEAST HISSING.” —Jean-Baptiste Colbert