Sam Zell Epitomizes Contrarian Investing

There is a reason you won’t see any day traders, market timers, or technical analysts on the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans. Those strategies simply have not proven to be consistently successful ways to make money over the long term. You will, however, find Sam Zell’s name in the 52nd slot on the 2006 list. If you are wondering what type of investment philosophy Zell abides by, you only have to look at the moves he has made so far in 2007.

After building his commercial real estate company, Equity Office Properties, into an industry Goliath, Zell sold it to the Blackstone Group for $23 billion earlier this year. Given that it was the largest real estate investment trust (REIT) deal ever, coupled with Zell’s brilliance, many have suggested the deal signaled the top in the red hot commercial real estate market. Regardless of whether or not that proves true, it is certainly apparent that Zell felt it was a prudent time to cash out of Equity Office when times were good. By definition, very much a contrarian move on his part.

Perhaps even more interesting was the news on Monday morning that Zell had been victorious in launching an $8.2 billion takeover bid for Tribune (TRB), owner of the Chicago newspaper that bears its name and the Chicago Cubs, among many other businesses. The deal is striking because of how many people have called the newspaper business dead, or on the brink of death anyway. Again, Zell is showing an extreme bias toward contrarian investing; selling Equity Office when everybody loved it and buying Tribune when everybody hates it.

Following what Zell is doing is important because the guy is one of the smartest investors around. His place on the Forbes 400 is notable, not just because he is rich, but because the tactics he has used to accumulate wealth are exactly the ones that have proven to be the most successful over time. It’s a very important lesson for everyone, especially if you are a proponent of contrarian investing.

Full Disclosure: No position in Tribune at the time of writing