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Category Archives: Investing Gurus
Someone sent me a postcard picture of the earth.
On the back it said, “Wish you were here.” — Steven Wright
We left-off here Last Lesson on Gross Profitability and Magic Formula and in that post, the next focus would be on investment checklists. We have been reading Chapter 2: A Blueprint to a Better Quantitative Value Strategy in Quantitative Value (I will email the Book to new students if they are in the Deep-Value Group at GOOGLE. Go here: https://groups.google.com/forum/#!overview then type: DEEP-VALUE and ask to join.).
On pages 56 to 59 of this chapter the author discusses the case for a checklist. Atul Gawande in his book The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right argues for a broader implementation of checklists. The author believes that in many fields, the problem is not a lack of knowledge but in making sure we apply our knowledge consistently and correctly.
The Quantitative Value Checklist
- Avoid Stocks that can cause a permanent loss of capital or avoid frauds and financial distress/bankruptcy.
- Find stocks with the cheapest quality.
- Find stocks with the cheapest prices.
- Find stocks with corroborative signals like insider buying, buyback announcements, etc.
Below are several books on checklists.
- the_investment_checklist (EXCELLENT!)
As students may know, I throw A LOT of information at you to force a choice on your part. You have to focus on what material can be adapted to your needs. In the three books above, you will find many interesting ideas that may be helpful in learning how to build your own list.
The more experienced you are, then the shorter the checklist. The point of a checklist is to be disciplined and not overlook the obvious while freeing up your mind for the big picture. Yes, you check off if there is insider buying, but if insiders are absent, but the company has a strong franchise and the price is attractive, then those factors may be overwhelmingly positive. You may ask, “Do I understand this business?” Then it may take weeks of industry reading to say yes or no.
Checklists are helpful, but only if you adapt them to your method.
Next, we will be reading Chapter 3, Eliminating Frauds in Quantitative Value. We are trying to improve our ability to build a margin of safety.
The Problem with Investor Time-frames
Note the dark line in the chart above representing the returns of the Goodhaven Fund. Two analysts/PMs split off from Fairholme and started in mid-2011. They had a big inflow in early 2014 and then some of their investors panicked as they vastly “underperformed the market.” I don’t know if these managers are good or bad but making a decision on twelve to twenty-four months of data is absurd unless the managers completely changed their stripes (method of investing). Therein lies opportunity for those with longer holding periods like five years or more.
Shareholder_Message_1114 (Some investors run for the door)
HAVE A GREAT EASTER and WEEKEND!
Bull-market-top-in-for-the-u-s-dollar/ (Video-Market Psychology)
Jim Cramer at his best
In short, Maier is contending that advice Cramer was giving the public under the guise of helping them manage their savings (“SmartMoney“) was actually being driven by Cramer’s need to dump his own positions without cratering the market. When a trusting public acted on Jim’s tip and bought shares, he dumped his shares onto the public. The only lesson Cramer learned from the “four orphans” incident, Maier claims, was that he, Cramer, had the power to move stocks through the press.
The link above has an amazing article written by Patrick Byrne on the slimy sleaziness of Jim Cramer.
Excellent video on Austrian economics and entrepreneurship:
I am a first year MBA student in XXXX. I am from a background of (being) a software engineer and an equity researcher in China. I was very interested in Value Investing and tried to apply it to personal investment in past 8 years. Currently, I am exploring career opportunities in the Investment Management area and see that you have been working and teaching in this area for a long time. I would learn more about your experience in this area and get some advice from you.
I would write-up investment ideas within your circle of competence to show fund managers your critical thinking skills and approach to investing. Or if you have a great understanding of a particular industry or company that is public you can present your ideas to the fund managers who own the company. Show your past investment results. Why did you make the decisions you made? Try to sell your ideas to the appropriate money managers. But only you can determine what your strengths particular interests. Your reports should meld your interests with your skills.
Our activist friend, Carl Icahn’s High River LP, Icahn Partners LP and Icahn Partners Master Fund LP collectively bought 6.6 million Chesapeake shares on March 11 at $14.15 each, bringing the investor’s total stake in the company to 11 percent, according to a filing on Monday. Prior to the purchases, Icahn controlled about 9.9 percent of Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake. That compares with an 11.11 percent stake owned by Southeastern Asset Management Inc. as of Dec. 31, the largest holding according to the latest filings.
The Forgotten Depression (Video)
Kyle Bass Interview (good interview!)
The investing rules of George Soros Soros Investing Rules and MCCM 4Q2014_Market Review & Outlook
More commentary on the 2014 Berkshire Letter
I enjoyed reading Berkshire -Past, Present and Future, pages 24-28 2014ltr
Mr. Buffett’s anger at Stanton’s chiseling cost dearly because he didn’t sell at the first puff of the “cigar-butt” (Berkshire’s Textile Division). Buffett suffered in a value trap.
Notably, Buffett’s cigar-butt strategy worked well when managing small sums–the best of Buffett’s life in terms of relative and absolute investment performance. However, cigar-butt investing was not scalable or enduring with larger sums. Buffett then turned towards buying wonderful businesses at fair prices or, in other words, franchises with honest and able management.
His investment in See’s Candies was a turning point because the company generated high returns on invested capital which Buffett could then redeploy into other businesses. Note that See’s could only grow profitably within a defined region (Calif.?). A powerful brand coupled with economies of scale makes for a great business.
Berkshire Today (page 29) provides a description of Conglomerates and the mania that occurred in the 1960s with ponzi-scheme pooling of interests accounting and ever-rising P/E multiples–until the game crashed.
Buffett points out the folly of spin-offs, whereby the owning company loses purported “control-value” without any compensating payment. Investment bankers and private equity buccaneers were heartily savaged by Mr. Buffett’s pen.
Articles and Videos of Interest
25-old-investor-spurred-lumber A short-sellers uncovers Lumber Liquidators.
shark-tank-the-speculators-guide-to-junior-mining-investment-session-1-with-rick-rule/ A series of talks on speculating in junior miners.
Back to Deep Value
Before we dig deeper into Chapter Five in Deep Value, I thought we should read Chapter 2 in Quantitative Value so as to not skip over several important points. I will make sure new students receive a link to the books in the course.
Decades ago, Ben Graham pinpointed the blame for investment failure, using a quote from Shakespeare: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”
Comments on the Berkshire Hathaway 2014 letter, Part 1
Note the plug (page 6) for Where Are the Customers’ Yachts by Fred Schwed. That along with the Money Game by Adam Smith will teach you the ways of Wall Street. Also, see:
Intrinsic Value: Buffett reiterates that it is not a precise number for Berkshire nor, in fact for ANY stock.
GEICO delivers savings to its customers because it is a low-cost operation (source of structural competitive advantage). The company’s low costs create a moat—an enduring one—that competitors are unable to cross. Note Buffett’s comment on the animated gecko, a LOW-COST spokesperson.
Here’s how he explained it:
“In 2013, I soured somewhat on the company’s then-management and sold 114 million shares, realizing a profit of $43 million. My leisurely pace in making sales would prove expensive. Charlie calls this sort of behavior “thumb-sucking.” (Considering what my delay cost us, he is being kind.)
“During 2014, Tesco’s problems worsened by the month. The company’s market share fell, its margins contracted and accounting problems surfaced. In the world of business, bad news often surfaces serially: You see a cockroach in your kitchen; as the days go by, you meet his relatives.”
Buffett said the dawdling resulted in an after-tax loss of $444 million by the time Berkshire was no longer a Tesco shareholder. That, he added, is about 0.2% of Berkshire’s net worth. Only three times in 50 years has Berkshire recorded losses from a sale equal to more than 1% of its net worth.
Unfortunately, we don’t learn what exactly caused the loss. How did Buffett miscalculate intrinsic value? Did management worsen, but if so, then how can an investor sidestep that? I believe the economics changed as customers had more in-home deliveries and other choices coupled with poor store execution from Tesco. I was disappointed with this explanation of the Tesco loss, but Buffett would reply that it was only 1/5 of 1%.
Nominal vs. Real Returns
During the 1964-2014 period, the S&P 500 rose from 84 to 2,059, which, with reinvested dividends, generated the overall return of 11,196% shown on page 2. Concurrently, the purchasing power of the dollar declined a staggering 87%. That decrease means that it now takes $1 to buy what could be bought for 13 cents in 1965 as measured by the CPI (Flawed or whats wrong with cpi)
There is an important message for investors in that disparate performance between stocks and dollars. Think back to our 2011 annual report, in which we defined investing as the transfer to others of purchasing power now with reasoned expectation of receiving more purchasing power–after taxes have been paid on nominal gains—in the future.” (I wonder why Mr. Buffett makes no mention of the financial repression of ZIRP and NIRP? It is the elephant in the room because of the devastating effect it has on savers and on calculating discount rates for investment.)
The unconventional, but inescapable, conclusion to be drawn from the past fifty years is that it has been far safer to invest in a diversified collection of American businesses than to invest in securities—Treasuries, for example—whose values have been tied to American currency. That was also true in the preceding half century, a period including the Great Depression and two world wars. Investors should heed this history. To one degree or another it is almost certain to be repeated during the next century. Buffett’s comments are backed up by history as shown here:and triumph_of_the_optimists
Stock prices will always be far more volatile than cash equivalent holdings. Over the long term, however, currency-denominated instruments are riskier investments—far riskier investments. Than widely –diversified stock portfolios that are bought over time and that are owned in a manner invoking only token fees and commissions. That lesson has not customarily been taught in business schools, where volatility is almost universally used as a proxy for risk. Though this pedagogic assumption makes for easy teaching, it is dead wrong. Volatility is far from synonymous with risk. Popular formulas that equate the two terms lead students, investors and CEOs astray.
It is true, of course, that owning equities for a day or a week or a year is far riskier (in both nominal and purchasing power terms) than leaving funds in cash-equivalents. That is relevant to certain investors-say, investment banks—whose viability can be threatened by declines in asset prices and which might be forced to sell securities during depressed markets. Additionally, any party that might have meaningful near-term needs for funds should keep appropriate sums in Treasuries or insured bank deposits.
For the great majority of investors, however, who can—and should—invest with a multi-decade horizon, quotational declines are unimportant. Their focus should remain fixed on attaining significant gains in purchasing power over their investing lifetime. For them, a diversified equity portfolio, bought over time, will prove far less risky than dollar-based securities.
Note the multi-decade horizon. Stocks were unchanged from 1964-1981, please see page 79: A Study of Market History through Graham Babson Buffett and Others. Read what Buffett has to say about stock markets. Some say it is Time to exit because of high valuations for big-cap stocks in the U.S. market. So even if stocks decline for a decade but your holding period is MULTI-Decade, then hold tight. Tough to do, but history seems to bear his thesis out: valuing-growth-stocks-revisiting-the-nifty-fifty. I prefer to act like the pig farmer in A Study of Market History (see link above).
If the investor, instead, fears price volatility, erroneously viewing it as a measure of risk, he may, ironically, end up doing some very risk things. Recall, if you will, the pundits who six years ago bemoaned falling stock prices and advised investing in “safe” Treasury bills or bank certificates of deposit. People who heeded this sermon (to panic) are now earning a pittance on sums they had previously expected would finance a pleasant retirement. (The S&P 500 was then below 700; now it is about 2,100.) If not for their fear of meaningless price volatility, these investors could have assured themselves of a good income for life by simply buying a very low-cost index fund whose dividends would trend upward over the years and whose principal would grow as well (with many ups and downs, to be sure).
Investors, of course, can, by their own behavior, make stock ownership highly risky. And many do. Active trading, attempts to “time” market movements, inadequate diversification, the payment of high and unnecessary to managers and advisors and the use of borrowed money can destroy the decent returns that a life-long owner of equities would otherwise enjoy. ….Anything can happen anytime in markets. And no advisor, economist, or TV commentator–and definitely not Charlie nor I–can tell you when chaos will occur. Market forecasters will fill your ear but will never fill your wallet.
A plug for Jack Bogle’s The Little Book of Common Sense Investing. Basically, Buffett is saying keep it simple, think and hold L O N G – T E R M, avoid high fees and commissions, and don’t use leverage.
Next, let’s look at Berkshire–Past, Present and Future in Part II
Buffett_Lecture_Fla_Univ_Sch_of_Business_1998 (transcript of above lecture–see page 7 for See’s Candies)
329_Buffett_Seminar_1978 to a value investment class at Stanford University.
The Essays Of Warren Buffett – Lessons For Corporate America (Please read pages 82 to 97, especially the section on cigar-butt investing).
Valuation of Western Insurance_2 (A reader, WAPO mentioned in the comments section of the Dempster Mill Post that Chapter 3 of Deep Value didn’t include Buffett’s other early investments like Western Insurance, Genesee Valley, Union Street Railway, American Fire Insurance, and Rockwood. Does anyone wish to dig these investments up from somewhere? Just post in the comments section and/or I can post your work for the readers.
In the Dempster Mill Post we learned that Buffett succeeded in this investment because he:
- Most importantly and in deference to Graham, he bought well--he started paying $18 in 1956 for Dempster with its $70 per share of book value and $50 of net working capital per share. He bought right. Note in the video lecture above, Buffett mentions that he paid 1/3 of working capital for a windmill company (probably Dempster).
- Then he was patient. This investment was held for at least seven years.
- Finally, he had Harry Bottle to turn the business around.
Thanks for the intelligent and thoughtful comments on Dempster. We learn from the questions and thoughts of others.
Perhaps his success in Dempster Mills lured him to buy Berkshire Hathaway?(considered by Buffett to be his worst investment)
Next we will review See’s Candies, Sanborn Map. We will focus on Buffett’s writings in his shareholder letters on valuation. See the Essays of Warren Buffett above.
For new investors you may feel frustrated by the lack of clear rules. Net/nets depend upon reversion to the mean before total value destruction, but franchises manage to repel the forces of competitive entry for longer than investors expect. Early, fast growing franchise companies like Wal-Mart (in the 1970s) or Costco trade at what appear to be sky-high multiples of earnings (30+) yet the market is UNDER-pricing the profitable growth of those companies. There seem to be grey areas. Congratulations, we are making progress. And for experienced investors, we can never reread the writings of investment greats like Graham and Buffett as many times as we should, but it may seem like
Have a Great Weekend!
Effective money managers do not go with the flow. They are loners, by and large. They are not joiners; they’re skeptics, cynics even. Whatever label you want to put on them, they trait they all share is that they don ‘t automatically trust that what the majority of people–especially the experts–are doing is necessarily correct or wise. If anything, they move in the opposite direction of the majority, or they at least seek out their own course.
Warren Buffett is the best example of this contrarian impulse. In the 1960s, when Buffett started out (An excellent recounting of that era is The Go-Go Years, The Drama and Crashing Finale of Wall Street’s Bullish 1960s by John Brookes, Good review of the book, the Go-Go Years) most money managers were investing in highly cyclical, heavily indebted and capital-intensive industrial giants like U.S. Steel (X). As a consequence, stock in those kinds of companies were overpriced in Buffett’s view, especially when compared to their earnings. Instead of following the majority and buying into that mini-bubble, he consciously sought out companies on the other end of the spectrum–businesses with lower capital expenditures and higher profit margins–and he wound up buying relatively cheap stocks in ad agencies and regional media companies like Capital Cities, Gannett, and the Washington Post. This was a complete departure from the consensus of the time, and it made Buffett a ridiculous amount of money. (Scott Rearon, Dead Companies Walking, 2015)
As we study Chapter 3 in Deep Value and Buffett’s early career, we should learn more about this tribe called value investors. Have they had success and why?
Below are four (4) articles you should read in sequence. Watch for what these investors do differently than the majority of institutional investors. Lessons we can use?
- The Superinvestors of Graham and Doddsville by Warren Buffett
- Graham Dodd Revisted by Lowenstein
- Searching for rational investors in a perfect storm
- KLARMAN in response to Lwenstein Article on Rational Investors
This Friday/Weekend I will review our readings. By the way, I don’t know if the graph above is accurate, but it might stimulate our reading of the articles.
How to join Deep-Value group at Google I ask enrollees to join to make communication and emailings easier.
A Nor’easter is coming my way (up to two to three feet of snow with high winds) so I may be out of contact for two or three days. But push on we must. We continue to study Chapter 3, in Deep Value and Buffett’s investing career.
The best investment article I have ever read of Buffett’s is:
A key case for you to focus on is See’s_Candies_Case_Study. Combined with Buffett’s Inflation Swindles the Equity Investor (Fortune Article: Buffett – How Inflation Swindles the Equity Investor), you will see a leap in Buffett’s thinking. Both are important to understand and complementary to each other.
Finally, Sanborn_Map_Case_Study_BPLs is another case mentioned in Chapter 3 of Deep Value.
Hopefully, students will discuss in the comments section.
Time to bring out the snowshoes!
It’s not entirely clear what will happen in the near term, but the financial markets are already pushed to extremes by central-bank induced speculation. With speculators massively short the now steeply-depressed euro and yen, with equity margin debt still near record levels in a market valued at more than double its pre-bubble norms on historically reliable measures, and with several major European banks running at gross leverage ratios comparable to those of Bear Stearns and Lehman before the 2008 crisis, we’re seeing an abundance of what we call “leveraged mismatches” - a preponderance one-way bets, using borrowed money, that permeates the entire financial system. With market internals and credit spreads behaving badly, while Treasury yields, oil and industrial commodity prices slide in a manner consistent with abrupt weakening in global economic activity, we can hardly bear to watch.. John Hussman, Jan. 26, 2015 www.hussmanfunds.com