Capital Returns: Investing Through the Capital Cycle

27 Feb 2024

We live in an age of serial asset bubbles and spectacular busts. Economists, policymakers, central bankers and most people in the financial world have been blindsided by these busts, while investors have lost trillions. Economists argue that bubbles can only be spotted after they burst and that market moves are unpredictable. Yet Marathon Asset Management, a London-based investment firm managing over $50 billion of assets has developed a relatively simple method for identifying and potentially avoiding them: follow the money, or rather the trail of investment. Bubbles whether they affect a whole economy or merely a single industry, tend to attract a splurge of capital spending. Excessive investment drives down returns and leads inexorably to a bust. This was the case with both the technology bubble at the turn of the century and the US housing bubble which followed shortly after. More recently, vast sums have been invested in mining and energy. From an investor's perspective, the trick is to avoid investing in sectors, or markets, where investment spending is unduly elevated and competition is fierce, and to put one's money to work where capital expenditure is depressed, competitive conditions are more favourable and, as a result, prospective investment returns are higher. This capital cycle strategy encourages investors to eschew the simple 'growth' and 'value' dichotomy and identify firms that can deliver superior returns either because capital has been taken out of an industry, or because the business has strong barriers to entry (what Warren Buffett refers to as a 'moat'). Some of Marathon's most successful investments have come from obscure, sometimes niche operations whose businesses are protected from the destructive forces of the capital cycle. Capital Returns is a comprehensive introduction to the theory and practical implementation of the capital cycle approach to investment. Edited and with an introduction by Edward Chancellor, the book brings together 60 of the most insightful reports written between 2002 and 2014 by Marathon portfolio managers. Capital Returns provides key insights into the capital cycle strategy, all supported with real life examples from global brewers to the semiconductor industry - showing how this approach can be usefully applied to different industry conditions and how, prior to 2008, it helped protect assets from financial catastrophe. This book will be a welcome reference for serious investors who looking to maximise portfolio returns over the long run.


This webinar qualifies for up to 1 PL credit. CFA Society Switzerland members can record PL credit  for their participation using the online tracking tool (CFA Institute login required).




Edward Chancellor

Edward Chancellor

Edward Chancellor is a financial historian, journalist and investment strategist. Edward read history at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated with first-class honours, and later gained an M.Phil. in Enlightenment history from Oxford University. In the early 1990s he worked for the London merchant bank, Lazard Brothers. He was later an editor at the financial commentary site, Breakingviews. From 2008 to 2014, Edward was a senior member of the asset allocation team at GMO, the Boston-based investment firm. He is currently a columnist for Reuters Breakingviews and an occasional contributor to the Wall Street Journal, MoneyWeek, the New York Review of Books and Financial Times. In 2008, Edward received the George Polk Award for financial reporting for his article “Ponzi Nation” in Institutional Investor magazine. Edward Chancellor is the author of Devil Take the Hindmost: A History of Financial Speculation (Farrar Straus/Macmillan, 1999), a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Devil Take the Hindmost has been translated into more than half a dozen languages. In 2005, he published the report, Crunch-Time for Credit? (Harriman House), an analysis of the ongoing credit boom in the US and UK. Edward has also edited two well-received investment books, Capital Account (Thomson Texere, 2004) and Capital Returns (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015). His latest book, The Price of Time, is published by Allen Lane in the United Kingdom and Atlantic Monthly Press in the United States. The Price of Time has been longlisted for the FT 2022 Business Book of the Year and was awarded the 2023 Hayek Prize