It is important to remember that value investing is not a perfect science. It is an, with an ongoing need for judgment, refinement, patience, and reflection. It requires endless curiosity, the relentless pursuit of additional information, the raising of questions, and the search for answers. It necessitates dealing with imperfect information - knowing you will never know everything and that that must not prevent you from acting. It requires a precarious balance between conviction, steadfastness in the face of adversity, and doubt - keeping in mind the possibility that you could be wrong.
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Successful investors like stocks better when they're going down. When you go to a department store or a supermarket, you like to buy merchandise on sale, but it doesn't work that way in the stock market. In the stock market, people panic when stocks are going down, so they like them less when they should like them more. When prices go down, you shouldn't panic, but it's hard to control your emotions when you're overextended, when you see your net worth drop in half and you worry that you won't have enough money to pay for your kids' college.
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Successful investors tend to be unemotional, allowing the greed and fear of others to play into their hands. By having confidence in their own analysis and judgement, they respond to market forces not with blind emotion but with calculated reason. Successful investors, for example, demonstrate caution in frothy markets and steadfast conviction in panicky ones. Indeed, the very way an investor views the market and it's price fluctuations is a key factor in his or her ultimate investment success or failure.
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Short-term performance envy causes many of the shortcomings that lock most investors into a perpetual cycle of underachievement. Watch your competitors not out of jealousy but out of respect and focus your efforts not on replicating others' portfolios but on looking for opportunities where they are not. The only way for investors to significantly outperform is to periodically stand far apart from the crowd, something few are willing, or able, to do.
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Investors frequently benefit from making decisions with less than perfect knowledge and are well rewarded for bearing the risk of uncertainty. The time other investors spend delving into the last unanswered detail may cost them the chance to buy into situations at prices so low they offer a margin of safety despite the incomplete information
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Investors should pay attention not only to whether but also to why current holdings are undervalued. It is critical to know why you have made an investment and to sell when the reason for owning it no longer applies. Look for investments with catalysts that may assist directly in the realization of underlying value. Give reference to companies having good managements with a personal financial stake in the business. Finally, diversify your holdings and hedge when it is financially attractive to do so.
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Frequent comparative ranking can only reinforce a short-term investment perspective. It is understandably difficult to maintain a long-term view when, faced with the penalties for poor short-term performance, the long-term view may well be from the unemployment line ... Relative-performance-oriented investors really act as speculators. Rather than making sensible judgments about the attractiveness of specific stocks and bonds, they try to guess what others are going to do and then do it first.
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Wall Street can be a dangerous place for investors. You have no choice but to do business there, but you must always be on your guard. The standard behavior of Wall Streeters is to pursue maximization of self-interest; the orientation is usually short term. This must be acknowledged, accepted, and dealt with. If you transact business with Wall Street with these caveats in mind, you can prosper. If you depend on Wall Street to help you, investment success may remain elusive.
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When excesses such as lax lending standards become widespread and persist for some time, people are lulled into a false sense of security, creating an even more dangerous situation. In some cases, excesses migrate beyond regional or national borders, raising the ante for investors and governments. These excesses will eventually end, triggering a crisis at least in proportion to the degree of the excesses. Correlations between asset classes may be surprisingly high when leverage rapidly unwinds.
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Beware leverage in all its forms. Borrowers - individual, corporate, or government - should always match fund their liabilities against the duration of their assets. Borrowers must always remember that capital markets can be extremely fickle, and that it is never safe to assume a maturing loan can be rolled over. Even if you are unleveraged, the leverage employed by others can drive dramatic price and valuation swings; sudden unavailability of leverage in the economy may trigger an economic downturn.
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Here's how to know if you have the makeup to be an investor. How would you handle the following situation? Let's say you own a Procter & Gamble in your portfolio and the stock price goes down by half. Do you like it better? If it falls in half, do you reinvest dividends? Do you take cash out of savings to buy more? If you have the confidence to do that, then you're an investor. If you don't, you're not an investor, you're a speculator, and you shouldn't be in the stock market in the first place.
As value investors, our business is to buy bargains that financial market theory says do not exist. We've delivered great returns to our clients for a quarter century-a dollar invested at inception in our largest fund is now worth over 94 dollars, a 20% net compound return. We have achieved this not by incurring high risk as financial theory would suggest, but by deliberately avoiding or hedging the risks that we identified.
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Warren Buffett is right when he says you should invest as if the market is going to be closed for the next five years. The fundamental principles of value investing, if they make sense to you, can allow you to survive and prosper when everyone else is rudderless. We have a proven map with which to navigate. It sounds kind of crazy, but in times of turmoil in the market. I've felt a sort of serenity in knowing that if I've checked and rechecked my work, one plus one still equals two regardless of where a stock trades right after I buy it.
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Warren Buffett likes to say that the first rule of investing is "Don't lose money," and the second rule is, "Never forget the first rule." I too believe that avoiding loss should be the primary goal of every investor. This does not mean that investors should never incur the risk of any loss at all. Rather "don't lose money" means that over several years an investment portfolio should not be exposed to appreciable loss of principal.
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In a crisis, stocks of financial companies are great investments, because the tide is bound to turn. Massive losses on bad loans and soured investments are irrelevant to value; improving trends and future prospects are what matter, regardless of whether profits will have to be used to cover loan losses and equity shortfalls for years to come.
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Speculators are obsessed with predicting: guessing the direction of stock prices. Every morning on cable television, every afternoon on the stock market report, every weekend in Barron's, every week in dozens of market newsletters, and whenever business people get together. In reality, no one knows what the market will do; trying to predict it is a waste of time, and investing based upon that prediction is a purely speculative undertaking.
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Value in relation to price, not price alone, must determine your investment decisions. If you look to Mr Market as a creator of investment opportunities (where price departs from underlying value), you have the makings of a value investor. If you insist on looking to Mr Market for investment guidance however, you are probably best advised to hire someone else to manage your money.
The government - the ultimate short-term-oriented player - cannot withstand much pain in the economy or the financial markets. Bailouts and rescues are likely to occur, though not with sufficient predictability for investors to comfortably take advantage. The government will take enormous risks in such interventions, especially if the expenses can be conveniently deferred to the future. Some of the price-tag is in the form of back- stops and guarantees, whose cost is almost impossible to determine.
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You need to balance arrogance and humilitywhen you buy anything, it's an arrogant act. You are saying the markets are gyrating and somebody wants to sell this to me and I know more than everybody else so I am going to stand here and buy it. I am going to pay an 1/8th more than the next guy wants to pay and buy it. That's arrogant. And you need the humility to say 'but I might be wrong.' And you have to do that on everything
Unlike return, however, risk is no more quantifiable at the end of an investment that it was at its beginning. Risk simply cannot be described by a single number. Intuitively we understand that risk varies from investment to investment: a government bond is not as risky as the stock of a high-technology company. But investments do not provide information about their risks the way food packages provide nutritional data.
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Value investors will not invest in businesses that they cannot readily understand or ones they find excessively risky. Hence few value investors will own the shares of technology companies. Many also shun commercial banks, which they consider to have unanalyzable assets, as well as property and casualty insurance companies, which have both unanalyzable assets and liabilities.
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While no one wishes to incur losses, you couldn't prove it from an examination of the behavior of most investors and speculators. The speculative urge that lies within most of us is strong; the prospect of a free lunch can be compelling, especially when others have already seemingly partaken. It can be hard to concentrate on potential losses while others are greedily reaching for gains and your broker is on the phone offering shares in the latest "hot" initial public offering. Yet the avoidance of loss is the surest way to ensure a profitable outcome.
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It's awful to have a depression, but it's a great thing to have a depression mentality because it means that we are not speculating, we are not living beyond our means, we don't quit our job to take a big risk because we know we might not get another job. There is something stable about a country, a society built on those values.
Gold is unique because it has the age-old aspect of being viewed as a store of value. Nevertheless, it's still a commodity and has no tangible value, and so I would say that gold is a speculation. But because of my fear about the potential debasing of paper money and about paper money not being a store of value, I want some exposure to gold.
Nowhere does it say that investors should strive to make every last dollar of potential profit; consideration of risk must never take a backseat to return. Conservative positioning entering a crisis is crucial: it enables one to maintain long-term oriented, clear thinking, and to focus on new opportunities while others are distracted or even forced to sell. Portfolio hedges must be in place before a crisis hits. One cannot reliably or affordably increase or replace hedges that are rolling off during a financial crisis.
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Do not accept principal risk while investing short-term cash: the greedy effort to earn a few extra basis points of yield inevitably leads to the incurrence of greater risk, which increases the likelihood of losses and severe illiquidity at precisely the moment when cash is needed to cover expenses, to meet commitments, or to make compelling long-term investments.
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The latest trade of a security creates a dangerous illusion that its market price approximates its true value. This mirage is especially dangerous during periods of market exuberance. The concept of "private market value" as an anchor to the proper valuation of a business can also be greatly skewed during ebullient times and should always be considered with a healthy degree of skepticism.
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Occasionally we are asked whether it would make sense to modify our investment strategy to perform better in today's financial climate. Our answer, as you might guess, is: No! It would be easyfor us to capitulate to the runaway bull market in growth and technology stocks. And foolhardy. And irresponsible. And unconscionable. It is always easiest to run with the herd; at times, it can take a deep reservoir of courage and conviction to stand apart from it. Yet distancing yourself from the crowd is an essential component of long-term investment success.
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The average person can't really trust anybody. They can't trust a broker, because the broker is interested in churning commissions. They can't trust a mutual fund, because the mutual fund is interested in gathering a lot of assets and keeping them. And now it's even worse because even the most sophisticated people have no idea what's going on.
In the financial markets, however, the connection between a marketable security and the underlying business is not as clear-cut. For investors in a marketable security the gain or loss associated with the various outcomes is not totally inherent in the underlying business; it also depends on the price paid, which is established by the marketplace. The view that risk is dependent on both the nature of investments and on their market price is very different from that described by beta.
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To value investors the concept of indexing is at best silly and at worst quite hazardous. Warren Buffett has observed that "in any sort of a contest - financial, mental or physical - it's an enormous advantage to have opponents who have been taught that it's useless to even try." I believe that over time value investors will outperform the market and that choosing to match it is both lazy and shortsighted.
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Financial innovation can be highly dangerous, though almost no one will tell you this. New financial products are typically created for sunny days and are almost never stress-tested for stormy weather. Securitization is an area that almost perfectly fits this description; markets for securitized assets such as subprime mortgages completely collapsed in 2008 and have not fully recovered. Ironically, the government is eager to restore the securitization markets back to their pre-collapse stature.
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Below, we itemize some of the quite different lessons investors seem to have learned as of late 2009 - false lessons, we believe. To not only learn but also effectively implement investment lessons requires a disciplined, often contrary, and long-term-oriented investment approach. It requires a resolute focus on risk aversion rather than maximizing immediate returns, as well as an understanding of history, a sense of financial market cycles, and, at times, extraordinary patience.
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The government can always rescue the markets or interfere with contract law whenever it deems convenient with little or no apparent cost. (Investors believe this now and, worse still, the government believes it as well. We are probably doomed to a lasting legacy of government tampering with financial markets and the economy, which is likely to create the mother of all moral hazards. The government is blissfully unaware of the wisdom of Friedrich Hayek: "The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.")
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To achieve long-term success over many financial market and economic cycles, observing a few rules is not enough. Too many things change too quickly in the investment world for that approach to succeed. It is necessary instead to understand the rationale behind the rules in order to appreciate why they work when they do and don't when they don't.
Investing is the intersection of economics and psychology. The analysis is actually the easy part. The economics, the valuation of the business isn't that hard. The psychology - how much do you buy, do you buy it at this price, do you wait for a lower price, what do you do when it looks like the world might end - those things are harder. Knowing whether you stand there, buy more, or whether something has legitimately gone wrong and you need to sell, those are harder things. That you learn with experience, by having the right psychological makeup.
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If you are predisposed to be patient, disciplined and psychologically appreciate the idea of buying bargains, then you're likely to be good at it. If you have a need for action, if you want to be involved in the new and exciting technological breakthroughs of our time, that's great, but you're not a value investor, and you shouldn't be one.
It is crucial to have a strategy in place before problems hit, precisely because no one can accurately predict the future direction of the stock market or economy. Value investing, the strategy of buying stocks at an appreciable discount from the value of the underlying businesses, is one strategy that provides a road map to successfully navigate not only through good times but also through turmoil.
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