Category Archives: Investing Gurus

Focus on Management Excellence; My Interview Did NOT Go Well!

Identifying-Managers-with-Talent-and-Integrity-May-2017

Perhaps you should differentiate yourself by focusing on management’s character and skill.  However, you will need to focus and work hard to make a difference in understanding who is unique.

Find founder-led companies who are mission driven–one place to start your search.

Imagine putting the numbers of Berkshire Hathaway during the early days of Buffett’s takeover into a spreadsheet–would ANYONE have bought Berkshire.   Who would have focused on Buffett’s integrity and skills?

Also: https://microcapclub.com/2018/05/invest-in-owner-management/

My Interview at Goldman Sachs

 

Interviewer: Are you unbiased?
John Chew: What a dumb question! Next.

Interviewer: No matter how you answered that question, how could you have an edge in researching companies?
John Chew: Well, I ……………..

and

Any suggestions? Is it possible to be unbiased? And based on your answer, how can you have an edge researching companies? Prize.

A BUFFETT Buffet

A Complete Video Archive of Warren Buffett

https://buffett.cnbc.com/warren-buffett-search-results/?query=inflation

A Reader kindly shared this: Warren Buffett Letters from 1957 to 2017! Now you can do a search through 60 + years of his writings on any subject.  Use as a learning tool.

Also: https://buffett.cnbc.com/warren-buffett-archive/

Warren Buffett 1957 to 2017 letters

Don’t forget Munger! http://latticeworkinvesting.com/

Here is Charlie Munger’s ‘first rule of value investing’

Ethan Wolff-Mann  Senior Writer       Yahoo FinanceMay 7, 2018

Value investing has changed over the years, but the fundamental way its disciples think about it hasn’t, according to Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A, BRK.B) vice chair Charlie Munger.

“It’s gotten hard in the United States to find easy value investments because the world is so competitive,” Munger told Yahoo Finance editor-in-chief Andy Serwer after the Berkshire Hathaway 2018 Annual Shareholders Meeting.
“That accounts for a lot of what you see in Berkshire, where we buy securities like Apple that we wouldn’t have bought in the old days when we had more mundane things that were serving us very well,” said Munger.

For a company that operated for decades in the insurance business and other “mundane” areas, Munger and Warren Buffett’s moves at Berkshire Hathaway into tech appear to be a jarring change from the original value investing approach. Tech companies have historically been known to be the paths of “growth-oriented” investors. Value investors focus on a company’s price versus its value.

But Berkshire’s moves of late aren’t a deviation of value investing, Munger says, because rule number one is still the same.

“Now there are various ways to look for value investments, just as there are various places to fish. And the first rule of fishing is to fish where the fish are,” said Munger. “The first rule of value investing is to find some place to fish for value investments where there are a lot of them.“
Now, in a tougher environment, Berkshire has to fish in places it didn’t fish before. “So we’re just looking in different places, but we’re value investors,” said Munger.

In the end, Munger noted, value investing as a philosophy is tough to define precisely because, “All good investing is value investing by definition.”
“Some people, when they say ‘value investor,’ they mean somebody that emphasizes working capital or something,” said Munger. “Meaning, you should fish in that particular place, but I think that’s all a bad use of the language to think that the difference between value investing and other good investing.”
No formulas in value investing

During the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholders Meeting, Munger and Buffett were asked about whether they use a formulaic approach to valuing companies and investing. Munger’s answer shed some light on why Berkshire’s business model is often-attempted-but-rarely-duplicated.

“I can’t give you a formulaic approach because I don’t use one,” Munger told a curious shareholder. “I just mix all the factors, and if the gap between value and price is not attractive, then I go on to something else. And sometimes, it’s just quantitative.”

Munger gave an example about Costco, (COST) noting that the stock was selling for 12 to 13 times earnings. (Berkshire Hathaway owns about a percent of the company.)

“I thought that was a ridiculously low value, just because the competitive strength of the business was so great, and it was so likely to keep doing better and better,” said Munger. “But I can’t reduce that to a formula for you.”
Some things Munger does like when he’s considering a company’s value, like Costco?

“I liked the cheap real estate. I liked the competitive position. I liked the way the personnel system worked. I liked everything about it,” said Munger. “And I thought, even though it’s three times book, or whatever it was then, that it’s worth more. But that’s not a formula.”

In fact, Munger has contempt for formulas.
“If you want a formula, you should go back to graduate school,” said Munger. “They’ll give you lots of formulas that won’t work.”

https://finance.yahoo.com/news/charlie-mungers-first-rule-value-investing-204323719.html

Buffett at his Best

Buffett on Start-Up Investing

CS of Buffett Filter on Catastrophic Risk

The above is an example of how Buffett would approach a “start-up”.  You can assume that he would almost 99.9999999999999999% pass on all opportunities.

Gold Allocation

Performance_Update_2017_12

Today the Fed reports it holds 8133 tonnes of gold, worth $349.4  billion at $1,330 an ounce, which equals 7.9$ of the Fed’s reported $4.4 TRILLION in liabilities.  The current model suggest a 56% weighting of gold to 44% holding of S&P 500.

CFA Seminar on Financial History; Bubble Studies; Advanced Study in Human Action

Seminar of Financial History

In an age when an algorithm is the main competitor for many fund managers, what can we know that they don’t? Algos understand the data trail of history, but this trail provides only limited insight into the key lessons of financial history for investors. In this talk, first provided at the 62nd Annual CFA Institute Financial Analysts Seminar, Russell Napier discusses those 21 most important lessons from financial history that allow human beings to profit at the expense of the machines.    1 Hour on-line seminar Feb. 1, 2018. Register (CSInvesting.org: I believe it is free: https://www.cfainstitute.org/learning/events/Pages/02012018_138012.aspx

Regardless of whether you can attend, read relentlessly about financial, economic, and common history.   Note what Jim Grant of Grant’s Interest Rate Observer says:

But our main goal is to tell you the next important event in the markets. And sometimes we succeed.

– As with the tech bubble in 1999
– The 2008 mortgage crash
– The 2009 recovery in financials
– And the 2012-13 rise in house prices

How have we been so prescient over the years?
We don’t have fancy, financial computer models or a team of MBAs and Ph.D.’s to help us make these predictions. And we don’t have access to any kind of special information.

But we have been immersed in the markets for over 30 years. And we’ve studied the financial history of the past 200 years. None of which guarantees clairvoyance—nothing does. What we do claim is the capacity to see the present in the context of the helpful lessons of the past.

Like when we warned about the mortgage debt bubble in September 2006.

From the Sept. 8, 2006 Grant’s:
“Overvalued,” we, in fact, judge trillions of dollars of asset-backed securities and collateralized debt obligations to be, and we are bearish on them. Housing-related stocks may or may not be prospectively cheap; they at least look historically cheap. But housing-related debt is cheap by no standard of value. For institutional investors equipped to deal in credit default swaps, there’s an opportunity to lay down a low-cost bearish bet.

Bubble Studies

368353935-GMOMeltUp   J. Grantham says that the current market does not YET show the characteristics of a bubble despite being highly valued.

Referenced study in the article: Bubbles for Fama 2017 and gmo-quarterly-letter

and more of interest: faang-schmaang-don-t-blame-the-over-valuation-of-the-s-p-solely-on-information-technology

the-s-p-500-just-say-no

Update (1/10/2018) Runaway Train – Dec 2018

Advanced Seminar in Human Action

12/06/2017  Mises Institute
Arguably one of the greatest thinkers of the twentieth century, Ludwig von Mises created a framework for all of economic science beginning with the simple axiom that individuals act. In his magnum opus, Human Action, he described economics as a branch of the theory of human action and stressed how broadly it spans, far beyond a discussion of mere money and prices. Mises said, “Economics must not be relegated to classrooms and statistical offices and must not be left to esoteric circles. It is the philosophy of human life and action and concerns everybody and everything. It is the pith of civilization and of man’s human existence.” For Mises, it was imperative that everyone learns economics, calling it “the main and proper study of every citizen.”

Human Action is a challenging read. With over 800 pages of dense material, study tools are very helpful. The course, Advanced Seminar in Human Action, is a useful addition to other materials like the Human Action Study Guide.
In this course, leading Austrian economists walk the student through Human Action a chapter at a time.

If you’ve ever wanted a push to help you get through the book or if you’ve wondered about your own reading of the material, here is your opportunity to study Human Action with David Gordon, Joe Salerno, Jeffery Herbener, Peter Klein, Guido Hülsmann, and Mark Thornton.

Human Action by Ludwig von Mises is available for free on Mises.org and for purchase as a paperback and hardcover in the Mises Bookstore.

Register: https://mises.org/library/advanced-seminar-human-action

The teachers are excellent and Human Action is the Magnum Opus of Ludwig von Mises.  The book is a DIFFICULT read but there is a study guide, lecture videos, and lecture slides for all the chapters of the book.  You will have a strong grounding in economics and improve your reading and critical thinking skills, but if you are a beginner, I would opt for  https://www.mises.org/library/economics-one-lesson

Kiril Sokoloff; Bitcoin Investing

An agnostic interpreter of what the markets are telling us.
CSInvesting: Note how he understands the cycles in commodity prices (oil)

Explore extensively here: http://13d.com/news.html#kiril-interview

I recommend listening to the interviews several times over the next few days. Note how you can apply what he says.  His understanding of European history (many centuries of horrific wars) will probably mean that many European states will want to remain in the European Union–thus, a weaker dollar than expected.

Note the date Dec 2016

Funny!

Munger rips bitcoin

The Experts Are Wrong Again


Bloomberg December 2015: But Societe Generale predicts gold will be a casualty of the rate hike, falling below $US1000 an ounce, to $US955 by the end of next year.

Head of global asset allocation Alain Bokobza says looking at the 2016 panorama, in which US interest rates tighten and the economy fares reasonably well, “that does not argue for a higher gold price.”

“Gold will be a casualty.”

CSInvesting: The purpose of this post is to remind you of ignoring expert advice and to do your own analysis.  The above comment by Bokobza is meaningless blather.   He is simply spouting the consensus view that rising rates mean a declining gold price since gold has no yield.    Beware of simple narratives.

The assumption “Fed rate hikes equal a falling gold price” is not supported by a shred of empirical evidence. On the contrary, all that is revealed by the empirical record in this context is that there seems to be absolutely no discernible correlation between gold and FF rate. If anything, gold and the FF rate exhibit a positive correlation rather more frequently than a negative one!    Source: www.acting-man.com

And today:

More here: Gold and the Federal Funds Rate and Gold and gold stocks Dec 26 2017

UPDATE: Interesting Read

  1. Update: David Collum’s 2017-Year-In-Review-PeakProsperity-final
  2. david_collum-30_years_investing
  3. 2016-Year-In-Review-PeakProsperity

Interview of David Collum: https://youtu.be/Vlr7_vDwg_M

 

HAVE A HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Einhorn on Critical Thinking

Excellent Investing Video (Templeton, Buffett & Wilson)

HAPPY THANKSGIVING HOLIDAY for American readers.

Yes, I will still post on Sandstrom Gold (SAND) but another day.

The interviewer, “Adam Smith,” says the similarities among the investors are:

  • They have independence of mind
  • They trust their perceptions
  • They stick to what they know
  • They are intelligent
  • They have fun

After viewing the video, whip out a piece of paper and quickly jot down what EXACTLY can YOU use in your own investing approach?  Be specific! STOP! Take a walk for 20 minutes, then write down some more thoughts.   See the video again.  What can YOU implement?

I will post my thoughts next week.

Poking Holes in the Market Bubble Hypothesis

Nygren Commentary September 30, 2017

CSInvesting: We can’t increase our IQ but we can try to improve our critical thinking skills by seeking out opposing views to the now current din of pundits screaming that this “over-valued market is set to crash.”  1987 here we come.  What do you think of his arguments?  I certainly agree about how GAAP accounting punishes growth investments.  

At Oakmark, we are long-term investors. We attempt to identify growing businesses that are managed to benefit their shareholders. We will purchase stock in those businesses only when priced substantially below our estimate of intrinsic value. After purchase, we patiently wait for the gap between stock price and intrinsic value to close.

“All the company would have to do is raise prices 50% and the P/E ratio would fall to the low-teens.”   -Analyst recommending a new stock purchase

We are nine years into an economic and stock market recovery and P/E ratios are elevated somewhat beyond historic averages. So when an experienced portfolio manager hears a young analyst make the above comment, he hears alarm bells. But instead of seeing this as a sign that the market has peaked, we purchased the stock for the Oakmark Fund. But, more on that later.

For several years, the financial media has been dominated by pronouncements that the bull market is over. Throughout my career, I can’t remember a more hated bull market. Many state that a recession is “overdue” since past economic booms have almost never lasted as long as this one. But do nine years of sub-normal economic growth even constitute a recovery, much less a boom? If recessions occur to correct excesses in the economy, has this recovery even been strong enough to create any? Maybe recessions are less about duration of the recoveries they follow and more about the magnitude. If so, earnings might not even be above trend levels.

Bears will also point to the very high CAPE ratio—or the cyclically adjusted P/E. That metric averages corporate earnings over the past decade in an attempt to smooth out peaks and valleys. But remember that the past decade includes 2008 and 2009, frequently referred to as the “Great Recession” because of how unusually bad corporate earnings were. I’ll be the first to say that if you think an economic decline of that magnitude is a once-in-a-decade event, you should not own stocks today. But if it is more like a once-in-a-generation event, then that event is weighted much too heavily in the CAPE ratio. If the stock market and corporate profits maintained their current levels for the next two years—an outcome we would find disappointing—simply rolling off the Great Recession would result in a large decline in the CAPE ratio.

Higher P/E ratios are also caused by near-zero short-term interest rates because corporate cash now barely adds to the “E” in the P/E ratio. When I started in this business in the early 1980s, cash earned 8-9% after tax. Consider a simple example of a company whose only asset is $100 of cash and the market price is also $100. In the early 1980s, the $8 or $9 of interest income would generate a P/E ratio of about 12 times. Today, $100 would produce less than $1 of after-tax income, driving the P/E ratio north of 100 times. There is, of course, uncertainty as to whether that cash will eventually be returned to shareholders or invested in plants or acquisitions, but it seems that making a reasoned guess about the value of cash is more appropriate than valuing it at almost nothing.

A less obvious factor that is producing higher P/E ratios today is how accounting practices penalize certain growth investments. When a company builds a new plant, GAAP accounting spreads that cost over its useful life—often 40 years—so the cost gets expensed through 40 years of depreciation as opposed to just flowing through the current income statement.

But when Amazon hires engineers and programmers to help it prepare for sales that could double over the next four years, those costs get immediately charged to the income statement. When Facebook decides to limit the ad load on WhatsApp to allow it to quickly gain market share, the forgone revenue immediately penalizes the income statement. And when Alphabet invests venture capital in autonomous vehicles for rewards that are years and years away, the costs are expensed now and current earnings are reduced.

The media is obsessed with supposedly bubble-like valuations of the FANG stocks—Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google (Alphabet). The FANG companies account for over 7% of the S&P 500 and sell at a weighted average P/E of 39 times consensus 2017 earnings. In our opinion, the P/E ratio is a very poor indicator of the value of these companies. Alphabet is one of our largest holdings, and our valuation estimate is certainly not based on its search division being worth 40 times earnings. If one removed the FANG stocks from the S&P multiple calculation—not because their multiples are high, but because they misrepresent value—the market P/E would fall by nearly a full point. And, clearly, more companies than these four are affected by income statement growth spending.

In addition, no discussion of stock valuations would be complete without some consideration of opportunities available in fixed income. Many experts argue that investors should sell their stocks because the current S&P 500 P/E of 19 times is higher than the 17 times average of the past 30 years. By comparison, if we think of a long U.S. Treasury bond—say, 30 years—in P/E terms, the current yield of 2.9% results in a P/E of 34 times. The average yield on long Treasuries over the past 30 years has been 5.5%, which translates to a P/E of 18 times. Relative to the past 30 years, the long bond P/E is now 90% higher than average. We don’t think the bond market at current yields is any less risky than equities.

The point of this is not to advance a bullish case for stocks, but rather to poke holes in the argument that stocks are clearly overvalued.

We think our investors would also fare best by limiting their in-and-out trading. We suggest establishing a personal asset allocation target based on your financial position and risk tolerance. Then limit your trading to occasionally rebalancing your portfolio to your target. If the strong market has pushed your current equity weighting above your target, by all means take advantage of this strength to reduce your exposure to stocks.

Now, back to the P/E ratio distortions caused by investing for growth. This highlights a costly decision we made six years ago. In 2011, when Netflix traded at less than $10 per share, one of our analysts recommended purchase because the price-per-subscriber for Netflix was a fraction of the price-per-subscriber for HBO. Given the similarity of the product offerings and Netflix’s rapid growth, it seemed wrong to value the company’s subscribers at less than HBO’s. But, at the time, streaming was a relatively new technology, HBO subscribers had access to a much higher programming spend than Netflix subscribers and Netflix was primarily an online Blockbuster store, providing access to a library of very old movies. Netflix had only one original show that subscribers cared about, House of Cards, and churn was huge as they would cancel the service after a month of binging on the show. Despite the attractive price-per-sub, we concluded that the future of Netflix was too uncertain to make an investment.

Today, Netflix trades at $180 per share and has more global subscribers than the entire U.S. pay-TV industry. Netflix provides its subscribers access to more than two times the content spending that HBO offers, making it very hard for HBO to ever match the Netflix value proposition. Finally, Netflix is no longer just a reseller of old movies. The company has doubled its Emmy awards for original programming in each of the past two years and now ranks as the second most awarded “network.” On valuation, Netflix is still priced similarly to the price-per-subscriber implied by AT&T’s acquisition of HBO’s parent company Time Warner, despite Netflix subscribers more than quadrupling over the past four years while HBO subscribers have grown by less than one third.

Last quarter, when our analyst began his presentation recommending Netflix, selling at more than 100 times estimated 2017 earnings, I was more skeptical than usual. His opening comment was that Netflix charges about $10 per month while HBO Now, Spotify and Sirius XM each charge about $15. “All the company would have to do is raise prices 50% and the P/E ratio would fall to the low teens,” he argued. Anecdotally, those who subscribe to several of these services tend to value their Netflix subscription much higher despite its lower cost. Quantitatively, revenue-per-hour-watched suggests Netflix is about half the cost (subscription fees plus ad revenue) of other forms of video. Netflix probably could raise its price to at least $15 without losing many of its subscribers. For those reasons, Netflix is now in the Oakmark portfolio.

So, is Netflix hurting its shareholders by underpricing its product? We don’t think so. Like many network-effect businesses, scale is a large competitive advantage for content providers. Scale creates a nearly impenetrable moat for new entrants to cross. With more subscribers than any other video service, Netflix can pay more for programming and still achieve the lowest cost-per-subscriber. As shareholders of the company, we are perfectly amenable to Netflix’s decision to forfeit current income to rapidly increase scale.

Because we are value investors, when companies like Alphabet or Netflix show up in our portfolio, it raises eyebrows. Investors and advisors alike are full of questions when investors like us buy rapidly growing companies, or when growth investors buy companies with low P/Es. Portfolio managers generally don’t like to be questioned about their investment style purity, so they often avoid owning those stocks. We believe our portfolios benefit from owning stocks in the overlapping area between growth and value. Therefore, we welcome your questions about our purchases and are happy to discuss the shortcomings of using P/E ratio alone to define value.