Category Archives: Investing Gurus

Why Do Value Investors Do Poorly?

gallowsIt is the emotional nonprofessional investor who sends the price of a stock up or down in sharp, sporadic and more or less short-lived spurts. The professional investor has no choice but to sit by quietly while the mob has its day, until the enthusiasm or the panic of the speculators and nonprofessionals have been spent.” –J. Paul Getty

Can You Explain This?

Starting on page 4, this money manager explains his firms consistent underperformance.   Do you agree or disagree? Why?  A lesson for investors.

wedgewood_view_3rd_quarter_2016_client_letter (Start on page 4)






There’s no such thing as “passive investing.” As Ben Graham defined it in his magnum opus, Security Analysis, “An investment operation is one which, upon thorough analysis, promises safety of principal and an adequate return. Operations not meeting these requirements are speculative.” Because passive strategies entail zero analysis of either of these qualifications they are, by definition, speculative. And those adopting them are speculators, not investors.

Like “jumbo shrimp,” “virtual reality,” “old news,” or “living dead,” the term “passive investing” is thus an oxymoron.

My point here is not to shame everyone who has embraced passive in recent years. There are plenty of good reasons to go passive, namely to dramatically lower your costs. My point is that if you want to call yourself an “investor” you need to do a little bit more thinking about the prices and fundamentals of risk assets than just buy at any price and hope. I think Jesse Livermore said it best in Reminiscences of a Stock Operator:

The average American is from Missouri everywhere and at all times except when he goes to the brokers’ offices and looks at the tape, whether it is stocks or commodities. The one game of all games that really requires study before making a play is the one he goes into without his usual highly intelligent preliminary and precautionary doubts. He will risk half his fortune in the stock market with less reflection than he devotes to the selection of a medium-priced automobile.

Embracing passive investing is exactly this sort of ‘cover your eyes and buy’ sort of attitude. Would you embrace the very same price-insensitive approach in buying a car? A house? Your groceries? Your clothes? Of course not. We are all very price-sensitive when it comes to these things. So why should investing be any different?

Value Managers Discussing Performance With Customers

Portrait of a contrarian; Steel Partners

Notice the flawed thinking and view of history by the “brilliant” bankers. Being laughed at is often a good sign if you are trying to avoid the herd.

Portrait of a contrarian

Steel Partners: Value Investors and Operators.







Is the unit cheap now? What do YOU think and why?  A great blog for NCAV stocks and more!



Hi John:

A while back you took my Investment IQ Test questionnaire. As you may recall, it was based on the character traits of the world’s most successful investors I outlined in my book, The Winning Investment Habits of Warren Buffett & George Soros.

Here, very briefly, are a few of the “highpoints” of the investment behaviors that made them so successful.

I trust you enjoy it and I appreciate your comments.

Best regards,

PS: If you prefer to read it in your browser just go here.

7 Investment “Tips” From the World’s Richest Investors

Warren Buffett, Carl Icahn, and George Soros are the world’s richest investors. Their investment styles are as opposite as night and day. Buffett buys companies that he considers to be good bargains; Soros is famous for his speculative forays into the currency markets, which is how he came to be known as “The Man Who Broke the Bank of England.”

But—as I have shown in The Winning Investment Habits of Warren Buffett & George Soros—they both practice the same 23 mental habits and strategies religiously. As do Sir John Templeton, Bernard Baruch, Peter Lynch, and all the other successful investors I’ve ever studied or worked. It doesn’t matter whether you buy stocks, short currencies, trade commodities, invest in real estate, or collect ancient manuscripts: adding these mental strategies to your investment armory will do wonders for your bank account.

To make it easy to get going, I’ve distilled these 23 mental habits into these seven simple (though not always easy to follow) rules:

1. If you’re not certain about what you’re intending to do, don’t do it

Great investors are always certain about what they are doing whenever they put money on the table. If they think something is interesting but they’re not sure about it, they do more research.

So next time, before you call your broker (or go online), ask yourself: “on a scale of 1 to 10, how certain am I that I will make money?” Choose your own cut off point, but if it’s less than a 7 or an 8, you definitely need to spend more mental energy before making a commitment.

Remember: the great investor’s sense of certainty comes from his own experience and research. If your sense of “certainty”doesn’t come from your own research, it’s probably a chimera.

2. Never take big risks

Warren Buffett, George Soros, Peter Lynch . . . they only invest when they are confident the risk of loss is very slight.

Okay, what about that person you heard about who made a bundle of money in copper or coffee futures or whatever by taking on enormous leverage and risk? A few simple questions:

  • Did he make any other big profits like that?
  • Did he do this last year as well, and the year before that, and the year before that?

If not, chances are that’s the only big profit he ever made.

(And what did he do with the money? If he spent his profits before he got his tax bill . . . )

The great investors make money year in year out. And they do it by avoiding risk like the plague.

3. Only ever buy bargains

This is another trait the great investors have in common: they’re like a supermarket shopper loading up on sale items at 50% off.

Of course, the stock exchange doesn’t advertise when a company’s on sale. What’s more, if everybody thinks something is a bargain, the chances are it’s not.

That’s how Benjamin Graham, author of the classic The Intelligent Investor, averaged 17% a year over several decades of investing. He scoured the stock market for what he considered to be bargains—companies selling under their break-up value—and bought nothing else.

Likewise, Warren Buffett. But his definition of a bargain is very different from Graham’s: he will only buy companies he can get at a discount to what he calls “intrinsic value”: the discounted present value of the company’s future earnings. They’re harder to identify than Graham-style bargains. But Buffett did better than Graham: 23.4% a year.

Even George Soros, when he shorted sterling in 1992, was convinced that the pound was so overvalued that there was only one way it could go: down. That’s a bargain of a different kind, but a bargain nonetheless.

4. Do your own leg work

How do they find investment bargains? Not in the daily paper: you might find some good investment ideas there, but you won’t find any true bargains.

The simple answer is: on their own. After all, almost by definition, an investment is only a bargain if hardly anybody knows about it. As soon as the big players discover it, the price goes up.

So it takes time and energy to find an investment bargain. As a result, all the great investors specialize. They have different styles, they have different methods, and they look for different things. That’s what they spend most of their time doing: searching, not buying.

So the only way you’re going to find bargains in the market is the same way: by doing your own legwork.

5. “When there’s nothing to do, do nothing”

A mistake many investors make is to think that if they’re doing nothing, they’re not investing.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Every great investor specializes in a very few kinds of investments. As a result, there will always be stretches of time when he can’t find anything he wants to buy.

For example, a friend of mine specializes in real estate. His rule is to only buy something when he can net 1% per month. He’s a Londoner so—aside from collecting the rent!—he’s been sitting on his thumbs for quite a while.

Is he tempted to do something different? Absolutely not. He’s made money for decades, sticking to his knitting, and every time he tried something different, he lost money. So he stopped.

In any case, his real estate holdings are doing very well right now, thank you very much.

6. If you don’t know when you’re going to sell, don’t buy

This is another rule all great investors follow. It’s a major cause of their success.

Think about it. You buy something because you think you are going to make a profit. You spend a lot of time so you feel sure you will. Now you own it. It drops in price.

What are you going to do?

If you haven’t thought about this in advance, there is a good chance you will panic or procrastinate while the price collapses.

Or . . . what if it goes up—doubles or triples—what then? I’ll bet you’ve taken a profit many times only to see the stock continue to soar. How can you know, in advance, when it’s likely to be the right time to take a profit? Only by considering all the possibilities.

The great investors all have; and will never make an investment without first having a detailed exit strategy. Follow their lead, and your investment returns should soar.

7. Benchmark yourself

It’s tough to beat the market. Most fund managers don’t, on average, over time.

If you’re not doing better than an index fund, then you’re not getting paid for the time and energy you’ve spent studying the markets. Much better to put your money in such a fund and spend your time looking for that handful of investments you are so positive are such great bargains that you’re all but guaranteed to beat the market.

Alternatively, consider the advice from a great trader. When asked what the average trader should do, he replied: “The average trader should find a great trader to do his trading for him, and then go do something he really loves to do.”

Exactly the same advice applies to the average investor.

Find a great investor to do your investing for you, and focus your energy on something you really love to do.

One other thing:

I’ve just published a “mini”-eBook titled How to Make More Money By Sitting on Your Butt.

You can download it here, with my compliments.

By the way, as it is not DRM-protected, you may share it as you wish.

Profitable reading!

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GPO Box 9444
Hong Kong

What I learned from Ben Graham


As always, I try to also post the criticisms of investing legends:

Victor Niederhoffer, tireless critic of Benjamin Graham, Graham’s investment idea, and Warren Buffett, is blown up once again —to the tune of some 75% losses for his funds —as reported for a story in this week’s The New Yorker. Whereas Niederhoffer’s latest catastrophic losses might serve as schadenfreude for some students of value investing, this self-described Ayn Rand Objectivist is a living testament to the lethal nature of some spectacularly subjective biases, including a disdain for anything resembling a margin of safety.

The New Yorker article is a bit heavy on Niederhoffer’s personal life, but is still worth a read. Here’s the link:

Several years ago, Victor Niederhoffer was questioned during a radio interview about his rejection of the value investment paradigm as espoused by Benjamin Graham. The interviewer asked Niederhoffer how he might then explain the half-century success of Graham students such as Walter Schloss and others, given his rejection of Graham’s ideas. Niederhoffer replied that such success was “random.”

In Niederhoffer’s book, Practical Speculation, an entire chapter is devoted to refuting Graham’s pursuit of bargain issues. Only Niederhoffer hardly gets around to doing so. Instead, this sophisticated statistician attempts to stigmatize Graham and dwells on a small, essentially anecdotal sampling to prove his points about the lameness of value investing. One fellow Niederhoffer knew bought a stock below book value and watched as the stock proceeded to trade lower.

See? Graham’s ideas are useless.

When he is done expounding on the value investment discipline’s futility and ineffectualness, Niederhoffer allows as how he is troubled by the discipline’s ostensibly cynical premise: a dollar bought for fifty cents means that the seller is exploited. It seems odd that this cultivated observer of free-enterprise fails to recognize a couple of cold, hard facts: the business that fails to sell at half-price is likely to be sold for even less, and buyers of these ailing businesses are, in effect, upholding a competitive counterpoint to stronger businesses that might otherwise have a stranglehold in a capitalist system.

“Random”, the quality that Niederhoffer attributes to successful value investors and any successful value investments as defined by Benjamin Graham, might more aptly be attributed to Niederhoffer’s own quest for an intellectually sound speculative framework. This tendency is displayed in living color by Niederhoffer and other participants on, the website Niederhoffer hosts, as these traders engage in frothy examinations of the parallels between non-related phenomena, such as the evolved habits of exotic animals seen while on safari, and “trading”. Niederhoffer himself is especially fond of drawing wisdom from Captain Jack Aubrey, the main hero in Patrick O’Brian’s 18th century British Navy epics, as that wisdom might pertain to the markets. But after reading Practical Speculation, it is painfully obvious that if Captain Aubrey ever sashays into Niederhoffer’s trading-room and hands him a copy of The Intelligent Investor, Niederhoffer will politely accept the book, and promptly throw it overboard when the good Captain is out of site.

It’s easy to take potshots at this outspoken speculator gone off his trolley. But in the spirit of inquiry that Niederhoffer offers in his book, MSN articles and website, it seems reasonable to ask whether two catastrophic losses and one near-catastrophic loss offered to investors over a 10 year investment period —nearly 4 years of which were spent on hiatus— are more or less “random” than the market-beating investment success that Schloss, et al, offered to investors for over 50 years using a value framework. In any case, the simple fact is that the alternatives to a value framework in the securities markets frequently lead to misery, and by all accounts, Victor Niederhoffer is currently altogether miserable. In the manner that Walter Schloss’ 50-plus years of risk-averse investment returns are “random”, it may be safely said that Victor Niederhoffer’s self-inflicted misery is also randomly rendered.


Yes, There are Good Stockpickers (VIC)

Ted Talks

Evidence suggests the professional investors in my sample have significant stock-picking skills. Interestingly, these skilled investors share their profitable ideas with their competition. I test various private information exchange theories in the context of my data and determine that the investors in my sample share ideas to receive constructive feedback, gain access to a broader set of profitable ideas, and attract additional arbitragers to their asset market. The proprietary data I study are from a confidential website where a select group of fundamentals-based hedge fund managers privately share investment ideas. The investors I analyze are not easily defined: they exploit traditional tangible asset valuation discrepancies, such as buying high book-to-market stocks, but spend more time analyzing intrinsic value and special situation investments.

Can Investors Pick Stocks on VIC 01272010-Wesley Gray


Bubble in Safety?

Toby Carlisle (of DEEP VALUE FAME) Live at NYSSA Aug. 22nd

YSSA’s Value Investing Thought Leadership Group presents

NYSSA Author Series™:
Tobias Carlisle

Monday August 22, 2016 6:00 PM through 8:00 PM
NYSSA Conference Center
Available as: Live Session
Categories: Market Integrity, NYSSA Author Series™, Programs for Members, Seminar, Value Investing

Deep Value: Why Activist Investors and Other Contrarians Battle for Control of Losing Corporations” is a must-read exploration of the deep value investment strategy, describing the evolution of the theories of valuation and shareholder activism from Graham to Icahn and beyond. The book combines engaging anecdotes with industry research to illustrate the principles and methods of this complex strategy and explains the reasoning behind seemingly incomprehensible activist maneuvers. Written by an active value investor, Deep Value provides an insider’s perspective on shareholder activist strategies in a format accessible to both professional investors and laypeople.

The Deep Value investment philosophy described by Graham is rarely available in the modern market, forcing activists to adapt. Current activists exploit a much wider range of tools to achieve their goals. Deep Value enumerates and expands upon the strategies available to value investors today and describes how the economic climate is allowing value investing to re-emerge.

This event will cover:

  • Strategies and tactics of effective activism
  • Unseating management and fomenting change
  • Target identification
  • Determining advantageous strategies
  • Eyeing conditions for the next M&A boom

Who should attend?

Portfolio Managers and Analysts


Tobias Carlisle is the founder and managing director of Carbon Beach Asset Management LLC. He is best known as the author of the well regarded website Greenbackd, the book Deep Value: Why Activists Investors and Other Contrarians Battle for Control of Losing Corporations (2014, Wiley Finance), and Quantitative Value: A Practitioner’s Guide to Automating Intelligent Investment and Eliminating Behavioral Errors (2012, Wiley Finance). He has extensive experience in investment management, business valuation, public company corporate governance, and corporate law. Prior to founding Eyquem in 2010, Tobias was an analyst at an activist hedge fund, general counsel of a company listed on the Australian Stock Exchange, and a corporate advisory lawyer. As a lawyer specializing in mergers and acquisitions he has advised on transactions across a variety of industries in the United States, the United Kingdom, China, Australia, Singapore, Bermuda, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, and Guam. He is a graduate of the University of Queensland in Australia with degrees in Law (2001) and Business (Management) (1999).

NYSSA expects all attendees to comply with NYSSA’s Code of Conduct while attending NYSSA events or meetings. NYSSA expressly reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to grant or deny access to any individual, or to expel any individual from any NYSSA event or meeting.

Program Details
Monday, August 22, 2016

6:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m.

6:00 – 7:30 p.m. Presentation
7:30 – 8:00 p.m. Networking

NYSSA Conference Center
1540 Broadway, Suite 1010, (entrance on 45th Street)
New York, NY 10036

Member $25
Non-member $50
$10 surcharge for walk-ins.

Registration Deadline

Wednesday, August 19, 2016

Elliot Trexler

CFA Institute CEs
Credits= 1.5

Tobias Carlisle

Consider Becoming a Member 

Additional Information
If you are unable to register for this event online, please call (212) 541-4530 for assistance.

Register via Mail/Fax
Policies and Procedures

How to Lose Money Consistently; A Contrarian Speaks

buy buy sell sell

First, I get my stock tips from experts.

Second, I wait until the recommended stock goes up after the broadcast tip to make sure the trend is your friend.  Who needs to understand accounting anyway or the present value of free cash flow.  I mean understanding the magnitude and sustainablility of free cash flow or how the business makes money is old news.  Compare expectations versus funamentals?  I go with price because price is all.

I don’t need to think probabilistically because there are sure things like following Jim Cramer’s recommendations.

I am often wrong but never in doubt.

What behavioral biases? I am right, always right.  I don’t need losers like you second guessing me.

Now why would I blindly follow Jim Cramer?  The most important part of investing is having someone to blame when you lose money.  I typically lose 9 out of ten times and my losses are triple my wins.   Consistency wins!

Please read:   A fantastic blog of knowledge from an experienced investor.

This article hits home because I have also felt the pain of being a contrarian as anyone who types in “gold stocks” in the search box can see.


I bought AG in mid-2014 at $8, then $4.50, then $3. Over two years, I was down over 45% based on my average price.  Clients screamed. One said that if my IQ was higher, he could call me stupid.   One client took out an insurance policy on me and told me that I might have an accident.   Now all is forgiven. Yes, I have sold some AG but still retain a position because conditions haven’t changed, but the price has begun to discount the good news. Risk is higher now than in 2015. Yet, there doesn’t seem to be a mania into these stocks–so far.  But mining stocks are burning matches where their assets deplete and deplete.  You have to jump off the train when people are clamouring for these companies.

Parachute Pants

Did your parents ever tell you not to worry about what other people think? I remember my mother telling me this when I was in eighth grade. I’m not sure if she was simply giving good advice or trying to talk me out of buying parachute pants. In the early 80’s parachute pants were a must have for the in crowd. I wanted to fit in, but my mom convinced me it wasn’t necessary to act and dress like everyone else. In hindsight, good call mom. Now if only she would have talked me into cutting off my glorious “Kentucky waterfall” mullet! The pressures of conforming and fitting in don’t go away after eighth grade – it sticks around many years thereafter. Investing is no different.

In the past I’ve discussed and written about the psychology of investing and the role of group-think. The pressure to conform in the investment management industry is tremendous, especially for relative return investors. As their name implies, these investors are measured relative to the crowd. One wrong step and they may look different. Looking different in the investment management business can be the kiss of death, even if it’s on the upside. If a manager outperforms too much, he or she must have done something too risky or too unconventional. For some relative return investors being different (tracking error) is considered a greater risk than losing money. Losing client capital is fine as long as it’s slightly less than your peers and benchmarks. From what I’ve gathered over the years, to raise a lot of assets under management (AUM) in the investment management industry, the key is looking a little better, but not too much better, and definitely not a whole lot worse.

How did we get here? Since my start in the industry, relative return investing has gradually taken share from common sense investing strategies such as absolute return investing. How well one plays the relative return game is a major factor in determining how capital is allocated to asset managers. I believe this is partially due to the growing role of the institutional consultant and their desire to put managers in a box (don’t misbehave or surprise us) and turn the subjective process of investing into an objective science. Institutional consultants allocate trillions of dollars and are hired by large clients, such as pension funds, to decide which managers to use for their plans. The consultants’ assets under management and their allocations are huge and have gotten larger over time, increasing the desire by asset managers to be selected. This has increased the influence consultants have on managers and how trillions of dollars are invested.

During my career I’ve presented hundreds of times to institutional consultants. While I have a very high stock selection batting average (winners vs. losers), my batting average as it relates to being hired by institutional consultants is probably the lowest in the industry. It isn’t that they don’t understand or like the strategy. In fact after my presentations I’ve had several consultants tell me they either owned the strategy personally or were considering it for purchase. Although they appreciated the process and discipline, they couldn’t hire me because I invested too differently and had too much flexibility and control (for example, no sector weight and cash constraints). In other words, they liked the strategy, but they were concerned that the portfolio’s unique positioning could cause large swings in relative performance and surprise their clients. In conclusion, in the relative return asset allocation world, conformity is preferred over different, as investing differently can carry too much business risk (risk to AUM).

Over the past 18 years the absolute return strategy I manage has generated attractive absolute returns with significantly less risk than the small cap market. Isn’t that what consultants say they want – higher returns with lower risks? Yes, this is what they want, but they want it without looking significantly different than their benchmark. This has never made sense to me. How can managers provide higher returns with less risk (alpha) by doing the same thing as everyone else? Maybe others can, but I cannot. For me, the only way to generate attractive absolute returns over a market cycle is to invest differently.

Investing differently and being a contrarian is easy in theory. When the herd is overpaying for popular stocks avoid them (technology 1999-2000). Conversely, when investors are aggressively selling undervalued stocks buy them (miners 2014-2015). It’s not that complicated, but in the investment management industry, common sense investment philosophies like buy low sell high have been losing share to investment philosophies and processes that increase the chances of getting hired. Instead of asking if an investment will provide adequate absolute returns, a relative return manager may ask, “What would the consultant think or want me to do?” I believe the desire to appease consultants and win their large allocations has been an underappreciated reason for the growth in closet indexing, conformity, and group-think.

In my opinion, the business risk associated with looking different has reduced the number of absolute return managers and contrarians. And some of the remaining contrarians don’t look so contrarian. For example, look at the four-star Fidelity Contra Fund. According to Fidelity this “contra” fund invests in securities of companies whose value FMR believes is not fully recognized by the public. Three of its top five holdings are Facebook, Amazon, and Google. I suggest the fund be renamed to the “What’s Working Fund”. With $105 billion in assets under management, one thing that is working is the sales department! Wow, that’s impressive. What would AUM be if the fund actually invested in a contrarian manner? My guess is it would be a lot lower, especially at this stage of the market cycle when owning the most popular stocks is very rewarding for performance and AUM.

I’m not just picking on Fidelity. The relative return gang is in this together. After the last cycle we learned most active funds underperformed on the downside. Given the valuations of some of the buy-side favorites currently, I suspect they’ll have difficulty protecting capital again this cycle once it undoubtedly concludes. This could be the nail in the coffin for active management. If the industry is unwilling to invest differently and they don’t protect capital on the downside, why not invest passively and pay a lower fee?

In my opinion, given the broadness of this cycle’s overvaluation, the most obvious and most difficult contrarian position today is not taking a position, or holding cash. In an environment with consistently rising stock prices and the business risk associated with holding cash, I don’t believe many managers are willing to be patient. That’s unfortunate because I’ve found the asset that is often the most difficult to own is often the right one to own. The most recent example of this is the precious metal miners.

After the precious metal miners crashed in 2013, I became interested in the sector and began building a position. Besides a couple positions I purchased during the crash of 2008-2009, I had never owned precious metal miners before. They were usually too expensive as they sold well above replacement value (how I value commodity companies). Miners are a good example of how quickly overvalued can turn into undervalued. In addition to selling at discounts to replacement cost, I focused on miners with better balance sheets to ensure they’d survive the trough of the cycle.

After the miners crashed in 2013, they eventually crashed again in 2014 and became even more attractively priced. I held firm and in some cases bought more in attempt to maintain the position sizes. After adding to the positions in 2014, they crashed again in 2015 and early 2016. I again bought to maintain position sizes. I’ve never seen a group of stocks so hated. Many were down 90% from their highs – similar to declines seen in stocks during the Great Depression. The media hated the miners with article after article bashing them and calling their end product “barbaric”. I haven’t seen many of those articles recently. The bear market in the miners ended in January. Today they’re the best performing sector in 2016, as many have doubled and tripled off their lows.

Owning the miners is a good example of how difficult it can be to be a contrarian. While clearly undervalued based on the replacement cost of their assets, there didn’t appear to be many value managers taking advantage of these opportunities. I thought, “Isn’t investing in the miners now the definition of value investing? Where did everyone go?” It was extremely lonely. Some investors argued they weren’t good businesses as they were capital intensive and never generated free cash flow. Obviously they’re volatile businesses, but after doing the analysis I discovered that good mines can generate considerable free cash flow over a cycle. Pan American Silver (PAAS) did just that during the cycle before the bust. As a result of past free cash flow generation, Pan American entered the mining recession with an outstanding balance sheet. New Gold (NGD) is another miner with a tremendous asset in its low-cost New Afton mine, which also generates considerable free cash flow. I also owned Alamos Gold (AGI). Alamos had a new billion dollar mine, Young Davidson, which was paid for free and clear net of cash and was expected to generate free cash flow. Alamos was an extraordinary value near its lows and was the strategy’s largest position in 2016.

Assuming a mining company had developed mines in production, generated cash, and had a strong balance sheet, I believed while the trough would be painful, these companies would survive and prosper once the cycle turned. They weren’t all bad businesses when viewed over a cycle, as all cyclical businesses should be viewed. Furthermore, many had very attractive assets that would take years if not decades to replicate. In the end, survive and thrive is exactly what happened for many of the miners this year. I sold several of the miners as they appreciated and eventually traded above my calculated valuations. The remainder were liquidated when capital was returned to clients.  It was a heck of a ride and was one of the most grueling and difficult positions I’ve ever taken. But it was worth it.

The reason I bring up the miners is not to boast, but to illustrate how difficult it is to buy and maintain a contrarian position in today’s relative return world. I believe it helps in understanding why so few practice contrarian investing, or for that matter, disciplined value and absolute return investing. During the two and a half years of pain (late 2013-early 2016), equity performance in the strategy I manage suffered. I initially incurred losses and was getting a lot of questions — I had to defend the position. Relative performance between 2012-2014 was poor (high cash levels also contributed to this). During this time, the strategy lost considerable assets under management. People were beginning to believe I lost my marbles. Whether or not I was going crazy is still up for debate, but one thing was certain, holding a large position in out-of-favor miners wasn’t encouraging flows into the strategy. While the miners were eventually good investments, in my opinion, they were not good for business.

As value investors we often talk about being fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful. However, in practice it’s extraordinarily difficult. In addition to the pain one must endure personally from investing differently, a portfolio manager also takes considerable career and business risk. Given how the investment and consultant industry picks and rewards managers, it can be easier and more profitable to label yourself as a contrarian or value investor, but avoid investing like a contrarian or value investor. Instead simply own stocks that are working and are large weights in benchmarks – the feel good stocks. I’ve always said I know exactly what stocks to buy to immediately improve near-term performance. Playing along is easy. Investing differently is not.

Investing to fit in with the crowd may feel good and it may be good for business in the near-term, but fads are cyclical and often end in embarrassment (google parachute pants and click on images). Participants in fads and manias often walk away asking “What was I thinking?”. But for now owning what’s working is working, so let the good times roll. I’ll stick with a more difficult position. Just like I did with the miners, until it pays off, I plan to stay committed to my new most painful contrarian position – 100% patience.   —

Boy does the above post ring true. 


CASE STUDY Activist Action on Coke 2014 Proxy


We are taking up from the last post

This case study teaches us about reading a proxy, management compensation, board governance, and the struggles of activism.

Mr. David Winters of wintergreen_fund_annual_report_2015_1231 has struggled since inception. From inception on 10/17/2005, Wintergreen has returned 68.73% vs. 113.22% for the S&P 500.   Another fund started in 12/30/2011 returned 15.95% vs. 77% for the S%P 500.   Nevertheless, he has done a service for the investment community by pointing out egregious compensation plans in Wintergreen-TheTerrible10-2-web.  Then note the passiveness of the big index funds in terms of protecting their own shareholders, 20150430-Wintergreen-Advisers-BigIndex.

Mr. Winters began his battle with Coke in 2014. KO_VL Jan 2015. Coke has a fine franchise with high returns on capital, but its cost structure (including management’s compensation) may be far too high considering the competitive pressures that incombents are facing.   Coke has had to make pricey acquisitions to diversify out of brown sugary fizz drinks. Also, all incumbents are facing new pressures like breaching of Gillette’s (P&G) moat–see below

Dollar Shave Club Hurting Gillette


Analysis of Dollar Shave Ads

As a review: Mr. Winter’s on Wealth Track:

Ok, back to Coke’s Proxy and Wintergreen’s battle to have Coke’s Board rescind the 2014 incentive compensation plan.   See the progression of the battle along with the slide presentations: Wintergreen Faults Coca Cola Management (KEY DOCUMENT TO READ!)

Then view Wintergreen’s presentations along with the articles in the link above:

What do you make of Mr. Winter’s struggle?  How can you explain Mr. Buffett’s actions? I was DISAPPOINTED but not surprised.  What did you learn that would be of help to your investing–the key to anything you spend time on?   Note Mr. Winter’s designation of corporate buybacks as another shareholder expense.   I believe shareholder buybacks are a use of corporate resources (a shrinking of the equity capital) that may either be a waste or a good use of resources depending upon whether the purchase price of the shares is below intrinsic value. Mr. Winters stresses that buybacks simply use corporate funds to mop up shareholder dilution. Regardless, Mr. Winter points out the huge shifting of shareholder property to a management that hasn’t performed exceptionally well.  Coke’s Board had granted exceptional awards for middling performance–now that is a travesty.

When I think of Coke, a great franchise that is not currently super cheap, I think of other “stable” franchise stocks like Campbell Soup or Kellogg’s.  The market has bid these up so your future returns will be low.  Do not misunderstand me, these companies are massive, slow-growth franchises, but if you pay too much, then you may have lower future returns for many years.

CMP Soup

CMP Soup



Lie with statistics


MAJOR ANALYST EXAM: Reading a Proxy then Assessing Management and Directors


KO ten

You always read the proxies and the notes to the financials. Today you read Coke 2014 Proxy.   

What is your assessment of management and the Board of Directors? What do you notice? Please justify your reply.

If you are struggling, then here is a hint:

You react:  Why?

Another hint: KO_VL Jan 2015 for context.

Take a few days if necessary.   This is a critical case study that should be taught at every business school!

Lesson: READ WITH A PURPOSE.   Why do you read a proxy?  Unless it is a merger proxy, you focus on who the management and Board of Directors are and how they are compensated.   Go to the heart of the matter, don’t read all 100 pages.

Update: Between Euphoria and Despair.

If you invest in cyclical companies, then you should listen to and SALT-Earnings-Presentation-Q2-2016-Supplemental-Information and SALT 2Q 2016 Q Report

Richard Oldfield: Simple But Not Easy–A Deep Value Investor Speaks


Simple But Not Easy

“Value investors are born not made.” Richard Oldfield

I am an investor similar to Walter Schloss and Peter Cundhill.

Simple But Not Easy Quotes
“One should invest in equities, which are volatile, only with a long-term perspective, and in the most volatile of equities with an especially long-term perspective – 5 years or more – and only with money which one can be sure of not needing in the next few years.”
“Different meanings of safety to different investors. For someone needing a lump of money in a year’s time, the only safe investment is a cash deposit or a short-term government bond. For someone with no imminent need of the money and a desire to accumulate capital and increase purchasing power in the long-term, it may be safer to invest in equities – volatile but with the historic and likely future characteristic of a high return after inflation – than to put money on deposit with the risk that over the years the real value of the investment will be eroded by inflation.”
“A share looks cheap; you buy it; it goes down and looks cheaper; you buy more; it goes down and down, getting cheaper and cheaper, until it reaches what practitioners call euphemistically the ultimate cheapness – zero. This is what is generally called the value trap.”
“A long-term temperament as well as long-term circumstances A Japanese man went into a bank to change some Japanese notes into sterling. He was surprised at how little he got. “Please explain,” he said to the cashier. “Yesterday I was changing same yen for sterling and I received many more sterling. Why is this?” The cashier shrugged his shoulders. “Fluctuations,” he explained. The Japanese man was aghast. “And fluck you bloody Europeans too,” he responded, grabbed the notes, and walked out. Fluctuations matter if the money could be needed soon. Money invested in equities must not be money which will be wanted in a year or two, or might be urgently wanted at any time, because there is a fair chance that the moment when it is needed will be a bad one for the stock market and the investor will therefore be selling at low prices. If investors think they might need the money soon, the message is clearly stay away: the chance of a minus return is just too great. Even if investors are in a position to allocate a fair amount to equities, they should not necessarily do so. It is not enough that the circumstances are right. Investors need to be temperamentally inclined to the sort of long-term investment which equities are. Long-termness must be subjective as well as objective. The fact that the circumstances of a particular investor might objectively lead to a certain viewpoint does not mean that he or she necessarily has that viewpoint. A baby is in an objective position to take a long-term view, but will not actually look beyond the next feeding-time.”
“The great advantage of the property-centred policy was that in a panic property was very difficult to sell. The British kept their property because they could not do otherwise, and prices always recovered. They were prevented by the illiquidity of property from selling at the bottom.”
Richard Oldfield, Deep Value Investor from the UK VIDEO Worth the view and to be seen with this presentation:
2016_Oldfield  Presentation on March 2, 2016

A Reader’s Question on Modelling (Munger and Buffett’s View)



Just wanted to shoot you a quick email applauding you for putting together the “Ultimate Investor Checklist.”  investment_principles_and_checklists_ordway This may be the most valuable word document I have on my computer.


Quick question, I’m a huge fan of Charlie Munger (currently am reading Poor Charlies Almanack)- In the checklist when he describes being a business owner Charlie says:

      • Ignores modeling forecasts for the next quarter, next year, or next ten years.
      • Ignores forecasting completely. (Search through this link on Munger’s Mental Models.

If Charlie Ignores modeling and forecasting, how does he go about estimating Intrinsic Value? I know Charlie has said in the past that he has never seen Warren Buffett use DCF, so how do they go about estimating Intrinsic Value?

John Chew: A good question.  First, a model is not reality but a metaphysical description of reality.   You probably should build a simple spread-sheet of sales, capex, taxes, etc. to understand the economic model of the business you are looking at–we are not all geniuses like Buffett or Munger.

But rather than have me say what I think Buffett would say, read the source. Note his analysis of Coke and Sees Candies:

Buffett_Lecture_Fla_Univ_Sch_of_Business_1998  Hope that helps!

Arbitrage by Buffett_Research  (just for Buffaholics)