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You Can’t Prove Anything About the Future

'Security Analysis' by Graham and Dodd (ISBN 0071592539) Venture investing plays an important role in entrepreneurship not only because financial resources are important to new ventures, but also because early investors help shape the ventures’ managerial and strategic destiny. Value investing is conceivably the most prevalent and durable style of investing.

However, despite its reputation, the theoretical foundations of value investing have developed little since the ground-breaking work of Benjamin Graham and David Dodd espoused in their classic Security Analysis (1934). They advise value investors to focus their attention on securities “which are selling below the levels apparently justified by careful analysis of the relevant facts.” They further encourage value investors to concern themselves with “the intrinsic value of the security and more particularly with the discovery of discrepancies between the intrinsic value and the market price.” In providing wide-ranging guidance for the estimation of intrinsic value, they write down that:

In general terms it is understood to be the value which is justified by the facts, e.g. the assets, earnings, dividends, definite prospects, as distinct, let us say, from market quotations established by artificial manipulation or distorted by psychological excesses. But it is a great mistake to imagine that intrinsic value is as definite and as determinable as is the market price. Some time ago intrinsic value (in the case of common stock) was thought to be about the same thing as “book value,” i.e. it was equal to the net assets of the business fairly priced. This view of intrinsic value was quite definite, but it proved almost worthless as a practical matter because neither the average earnings nor the average market price evinced any tendency to be governed by the book value. Hence this idea was superseded by a newer view, viz., that the intrinsic value of a business was determined by its earnings power. But the phrase “earnings power” must imply a fairly confident expectation of certain future results. It is not sufficient to know what the past earnings have averaged, or even that they disclose a separate line of growth or decline. There must be plausible grounds for believing that this average or this trend is a dependable guide to the future.

Variation in long-horizon security returns is governed by fundamentals. Reckoning the prospective yield by aggregating expected earnings over more than a few future years dominates existing approaches to measuring value. This analysis highlights significant opportunities for improvement in the relative-value metrics used by academics and practitioners. To determine the source of variation in future stock returns to various investment strategies. The book-to-market ratio is a comparatively poor measure of value and that much of its prognostic ability with respect to future stock returns appears to arise from other sources.

Investor Howard Marks Renowned investor Howard Marks (b. 1946) of Citibank, TCW Group, and Oaktree Capital Management at “Investor Series” interview with Oaktree founder and American investor Bruce Karsh at Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania:

There’s no such thing as analysis of what’s coming. We don’t know anything about the future, and you can’t prove anything about the future.

But if you’ve been in business and you’ve seen some cycles, and you’ve gained some experience and you’ve gone through those cycles with your eyes open saying “What are the implications of cycles for our behavior?”, then I think you can reach a point where you say, “You know what, it just feels like the power is in the hands of the issuers, not the buyers. It feels like there aren’t many sellers, just a lot of buyers. And the market is not acting in a disciplined way.”

We want to buy when the market in panicked, not when the market is sanguine. [Warren] Buffett says that “The less prudence with which others conduct their affairs, the greater the prudence with which we must conduct our own affairs.”

When other people are optimistic, we should be worried. When other people are panicked, we should turn aggressive.

Comports with Sir John Templeton‘s famous dictums “If you want to have a better performance than the crowd, you must do things differently from the crowd” and “Invest at the point of maximum pessimism.”

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Warren Buffett on Taking a Few Big Swings

Warren Buffett on taking a big swing from a 1998 Q & A (video here) that he and Bill Gates did with students at the University of Washington (via valuewalk.com):

A few things have worked out very well [for me]. And the nice thing about the investment business is that you don’t need very many. You’ll see plenty of times when you get chances to do things that just shout at you. And the thing you have to do is, when that happens, you have to take a big swing. That is no time to be reading a book on the theory of diversification …. When you find something where you know the business is within your circle of competence, you understand it, the price is right, the people are right—then you take your thumb out of your mouth and you barrel in.

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Charlie Munger’s 10 Rules for Investment Success

Charlie Munger's 10 Rules for Investment Success When Charlie Munger talks, people listen— particularly if they want to know how to invest their money.

Munger, who is the vice-chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, has delivered instrumental guidance to Berkshire’s renowned founder, Warren Buffett, and many others. By means of what Munger identifies as “elementary world wisdom,” Munger’s technique weighs risk and reward, make the most of fact-based data and abating emotion.

Keeping it simple, Munger declares, “I observe what works and what doesn’t and why.” Like Buffett, Munger pulls much of his motivation from post-Great Depression era investor Benjamin Graham, a “value investor.” Graham sought “mispriced assets” with values greater than people think.

Charlie Munger has some advice for investors.

  1. Measure risk: All investment evaluations should begin by measuring risk, especially reputational.
  2. Be independent: Only in fairy tales are emperors told they’re naked.
  3. Prepare ahead: The only way to win is to work, work, work, and hope to have a few insights.
  4. Have intellectual humility: Acknowledging what you don’t know is the dawning of wisdom.
  5. Analyze rigorously: Use effective checklists to minimize errors and omissions.
  6. Allocate assets wisely: Proper allocation of capital is an investor’s No. 1 job.
  7. Have patience: Resist the natural human bias to act.
  8. Be decisive: When proper circumstances present themselves, act with decisiveness and conviction.
  9. Be ready for change: Accept unremovable complexity.
  10. Stay focused: Keep it simple and remember what you set out to do.

Munger has argued that if “you’re investing for 40 years in some pension fund, what difference does it make if the path from start to finish is a little more bumpy or a little different than everybody else’s so long as it’s all going to work out well in the end? So what if there’s a little extra volatility.”

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Warren Buffett’s Tips for Long-Term Investing

Warren Buffett's Tips for Long-Term Investing WSJ extracts four tips for long-term investing from Warren Buffett’s 2014 annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway’s shareholders. Here are excerpts.

  1. Own low-cost S&P 500 index funds: “Don’t try to pick winning stocks. Instead “own a cross section of businesses that in aggregate are bound to do well.” A low-cost S&P 500 index fund helps any investor do this well.”
  2. Ignore your or anyone else’s predictions about long or short-term price changes. “Focus instead on productivity of assets.”
  3. Ignore the macro environment and political environment: “Buffett notes that when he and his partner Charlie Munger buy stocks, they think of them as “small portion of businesses” and try to see the earnings power of these businesses over the next five years or more. “In the 54 years we have worked together, we have never forgone an attractive purchase because of the macro or political environment.””
  4. Make as few investments as possible: “Investors these days are pushed to be active and to buy low, sell high. Frequent buying and selling only cuts into long-term returns. Mr. Buffett continues: “Ignore the chatter, keep your costs minimal, and invest in stocks as you would a farm.””
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Ben Graham and Warren Buffett on Temperament in Investing

  • “We have seen much more money made and kept by “ordinary people” who were temperamentally well suited for the investment process than by those who lacked this quality, even though they had an extensive knowledge of finance, accounting, and stock-market lore.”
    Ben Graham, Father of Value Investing and mentor of Warren Buffett
  • “Success in investing doesn’t correlate with I.Q… Once you have ordinary intelligence, what you need is the temperament to control the urges that get other people into trouble in investing.”
    Warren Buffett
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To Allocate Capital, You Need a Good Search Strategy

'Keeping America Great' at Columbia with Warren Buffett and Bill Gates

At the 2009 CNBC Town Hall Event called “Keeping America Great” at Columbia University with Warren Buffett and Bill Gates (video here), Buffett said that to allocate capital, you need a good search strategy. Developing this strategy requires a lot of hard work, “turning pages” as Buffett calls it:

If you are going to spend a lot of time on investment, you know I just advise looking at as many things as possible and you will find some bargains. And when you find them, you have to act. … And you have to find them yourself. The world isn’t going to tell you about great deals. You have to find them yourself. And that takes a fair amount of time. So if you are not going to do that, if you are just going to be a passive investor, then I just advise an index fund more consistently over a long period of time. … Good businesses are going to become worth more over time. And you don’t want to pay too much for them so you have to have some discipline about what you pay. But the thing to do is find a good business and stick with it.

It is not possible to pick the bottom. Learn how to value companies, practice until you get good, and buy when you find a good business that you understand, with good management, available at an attractive price.

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Charlie Munger’s Sit-on-Your-Ass Investing Concept

Charlie Munger presented the model of “Sit on your ass investing” at the 2000 Berkshire Hathaway Annual meeting. Description courtesy of Losch Management Company, an Orlando, Florida-based investment advisor.

'Charlie Munger: The Complete Investor' by Tren Griffin (ISBN 023117098X) You have value investing, and growth investing, but now we also have “sit on your ass investing”, which is better.

The problem with value investing is it requires too much work.

First you have to find an undervalued stock and buy it cheap. Then you have to sell it when it the price reaches or exceeds your calculated figure for its intrinsic value.

Because this requires many decisions over a long period of time, Charlie Munger prefers his own method in which all you have to do is pick a really great company when it is attractively priced, and then just sit on your ass. The great advantage being that it only requires one decision.

Charlie said: “If you buy a business just because it’s undervalued then you have to worry about selling it when it reaches its intrinsic value. That’s hard. But if you can buy a few great companies then you can sit on your ass … that’s a good thing.”

The whole idea of not having to do something extraordinary is one all investors should heed, yet it is easy to forget, particularly in stressful situations.

Recommended Reading: ‘Charlie Munger: The Complete Investor’ by Tren Griffin

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Mungerisms: Amusing Quotes from Charlie Munger from the Berkshire Hathaway 2014 Annual Meeting

Amusing Quotes from Charlie Munger from the Berkshire Hathaway 2014 Annual Meeting

Charlie Munger is not always politically correct, always offers a wealth of information, and hilarious now and then. At the 2014 annual meeting of Berkshire Hathaway, here are some of his best zingers:

  • On the interplay between CEOs and corporate directors regarding compensation: “You start paying directors of corporations two or three hundred thousand dollars a year, it creates a daisy chain of reciprocity where they keep raising the CEO and he keeps recommending more pay for the directors.”
  • On CEO pay and work habits: “Does the Supreme Court work less hard because they don’t get paid like corporate executives? We have some corporate directors who draw more pay than members of the Supreme Court. That’s crazy,”
  • 'Poor Charlie's Almanack: The Wit and Wisdom of Charles T. Munger' by Peter D. Kaufman and Ed Wexler (ISBN 1578645018) On taxing the 1%: “The taxes on wealth were much higher when I was much younger. So for somebody of my age, I don’t think they’re ruining the world because I’ve lived through way more punitive taxes on the rich than we have now … I don’t think everybody who’s been especially favored should take the last dollar that he or she should get. I think we all have an obligation to dampen these fires of envy.”
  • On Facebook, Twitter, and the appeal of social media: “It just doesn’t interest me at all to gab all the time on the Internet with people and I certainly hate the idea of young people putting in permanent form the dumbest thoughts and the dumbest reports of action that you can ever imagine.”
  • On his favorite advance in technology: “I’m in love with the Xerox machine.”
  • On Donald Sterling, the then-owner of NBA Clippers, who then faced racial remarks and lifetime ban:”He’s a peculiar man. He’s past 80. His girlfriend has had so many facelifts she practically can’t smile. This is not the noblest ideal of what the American businessman should be.”

Insightful books about Charlie Munger

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Prem Watsa’s Recommended Books for 2015

Prem Watsa of Fairfax Financial Holdings (Canada)

Legendary investor and philanthropist John Templeton was Prem Watsa’s mentor and was deeply interested in spiritual growth. In the past, Watsa has recurrently recommended Templeton’s “Riches for the Mind and Spirit”, “The Templeton Plan”, and “Discovering Laws of Life”.

Legendary investor and philanthropist John Templeton In the Fairfax Financial Holdings’ annual meetings in previous years, Watsa has also highlighted an inspirational movie called “The Little Red Wagon” that the Templeton Foundation supported. In an interview with online investment community Gurufocus, Watsa previously said,

But I try to be neutral, sometimes more short than long, but that’s John Templeton. So John, one of the key lessons he taught me was to be flexible. His investment philosophy was always value oriented, long term, buy at the point of maximum pessimism, but be flexible in your thinking, and that’s what we try to apply.

Books Recommended by Prem Watsa at Fairfax’s Annual Meeting on 16-Apr-2015

At the annual meeting of shareholders of Fairfax Financial Holdings Limited on 16-Apr-2015 at the Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto, Prem Watsa recommended the following books:

  1. John Templeton’s “Riches for the Mind and Spirit”. Watsa mentioned a quote about giving that he said Fairfax feels very strongly about: “Self-improvement comes mainly from trying to help others.” In speaking of Fairfax’s philanthropic efforts, Watsa also said it’s better to help the receivers grow.
  2. Stephen G. Post’s “Is Ultimate Reality Unlimited Love?” For fifteen years, Post held discussions with John Templeton on the topic of pure unlimited love. The book covers how John Templeton arrived at his philosophy as a youth growing up in Tennessee. This book draws from previously unpublished letters and interviews with physicists, theologians, and other close associates and family of John Templeton.
  3. 'Investing the Templeton Way' by Lauren Templeton, Scott Phillips (ISBN 0071545638) Lauren Templeton and Scott Phillips’s “Investing the Templeton Way”. Lauren Templeton is the grand-niece of John Templeton and Scott Phillips is her husband. Together, they run Chattanooga, Tennessee-based Templeton & Phillips Capital Management. Investing the Templeton Way focuses on the critical role of temperament, and how mastering this element to investing equips the investor to succeed across the span of time and varying market circumstances.
  4. Louis V. Gerstner, Jr.’s “Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?” This book is an account of IBM’s historic turnaround led by Gerstner during his tenure as chairman and CEO of IBM from April 1993 until March 2002. Gerstner led IBM from the brink of bankruptcy and mainframe obscurity back into the forefront of the technology business.
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Few Professional Investors, Hedge Funds, and Mutual Funds Routinely Beat the Market

Wall Street, New York

Vanguard founder John Bogle, Warren Buffett, Charlie Munger, and many wise people have, with plenty of persuasive evidence, adviced that most people shouldn’t even try to beat the market or attempt to manage their investments actively. Instead, they should just pick low-cost index funds and assemble a balanced and portfolio based on their specific risk profiles and financial goals.

Few professional investors have actually managed to outperform the rising market consistently over those years. A study quoted in the New York Times indicates that perhaps only two mutual fund managers have beat the broad stock market indices: the Hodges Small Cap Fund and the AMG SouthernSun Small Cap Fund.

In other words, if all of the managers of the 2,862 funds hadn’t bothered to try to pick stocks at all—if they had merely flipped coins—they would, as a group, probably have produced better numbers. Instead of two funds at the end of five years, basic probability theory tells us there should have been three. (If you’re curious, I explained how the math works in a subsequent column, “Heads or Tails? Either Way, You Might Beat a Stock Picker.”

Warren Buffet’s The Million-Dollar Bet

In 2008, Warren Buffett bet that over a 10-year period the S&P 500 would outperform a sampling of hedge funds. Buffett’s The Million-Dollar Bet with was New York money manager Protege Partners pits the S&P 500, as represented by the Vanguard 500 Index Fund Admiral Shares, against five funds of hedge funds chosen by Protege Partners, the names of which have never been disclosed. A charity of the winner’s choice will receive $1 million or more at the end of the wager.

Fortune’s Carol Loomis mentions that, during the seven years through the end of 2014, the Vanguard 500 Fund is up 63.5% compared 19.6% for the Protege hedge funds of funds. Not all of the five funds had their final figures for 2014, when the Fortune article was published.

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