Tag Archives: Brandes Institute

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 dailyspeculations.com, 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.


and http://www.bearcave.com/bookrev/practical_speculation.html