... but the important thing is that when you do find one where you really do know what you are doing, you must buy in quantity.... Charlie and I have made a dozen or so very big decisions relative to net worth, although not as big as they should have been. And in each of those, we've known that we were almost certain to be right going in.
There are three important principles to Graham's approach. [The first is to look at stocks as fractional shares of a business, which] gives you an entirely different view than most people who are in the market. [The second principle is the margin-of-safety concept, which] gives you the competitive advantage. [The third is having a true investor's attitude toward the stock market, which] if you have that attitude, you start out ahead of 99 percent of all the people who are operating in the stock market - it's an enormous advantage.
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The strategy we've adopted precludes our following standard diversification dogma. Many pundits would therefore say the strategy must be riskier than that employed by more conventional investors. We disagree. We believe that a policy of portfolio concentration may well decrease risk if it raises, as it should, both the intensity with which an investor thinks about a business and the comfort-level he must feel with its economic characteristics before buying into it.
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A pin lies in wait for every bubble. And when the two eventually meet, a new wave of investors learns some very old lessons: First, many in Wall Street (a community in which quality control is not prized) will sell investors anything they will buy. Second, speculation is most dangerous when it looks easiest
To invest successfully over a lifetime does not require a stratospheric IQ, unusual business insights, or inside information. What's needed is a sound intellectual framework for making decisions and the ability to keep emotions from corroding that framework. You must supply the emotional discipline.
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The value of market esoterica to the consumer of investment advice is a different story. In my opinion, investment success will not be produced by arcane formulae, computer programs or signals flashed by the price behavior of stocks and markets. Rather an investor will succeed by coupling good business judgment with an ability to insulate his thoughts and behavior from the super-contagious emotions that swirl about the marketplace.
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You ought to be able to explain why you're taking the job you're taking, why you're making the investment you're making, or whatever it may be. And if it can't stand applying pencil to paper, you'd better think it through some more. And if you can't write an intelligent answer to those questions, don't do it.
I never buy anything unless I can fill out on a piece of paper my reasons. I may be wrong, but I would know the answer to that ...I'm paying $32 billion today for the Coca Cola Company because... If you can't answer that question, you shouldn't buy it. If you can answer that question, and you do it a few times, you'll make a lot of money.
The speed at which a business success is recognized, furthermore, is not that important as long as the company's intrinsic value is increasing at a satisfactory rate. In fact, delayed recognition can be an advantage: It may give us the chance to buy more of a good thing at a bargain price.
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Time is the friend of the wonderful business. It's the enemy of the lousy business. If you're in a lousy business for a long time, you're going to get a lousy result, even if you buy it cheap. If you're in a wonderful business for a long time, even if you pay a little too much going in, you're going to get a wonderful result if you stay in a long time.
Yeah, we don't consider many stupid things. I mean, we get rid of 'em fast...Just getting rid of the nonsense -- just figuring out that if people call you and say, 'I've got this great, wonderful idea', you don't spend 10 minutes once you know in the first sentence that it isn't a great, wonderful idea...Don't be polite and go through the whole process.
If you know how to value businesses, it's crazy to own 50 stocks or 40 stocks or 30 stocks, probably because there aren't that many wonderful businesses understandable to a single human being in all likelihood. To forego buying more of some super-wonderful business and instead put your money into #30 or #35 on your list of attractiveness just strikes Charlie and me as madness.
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If you own a wonderful business...the best thing to do is keep it. All you're going to do is trade your wonderful business for a whole bunch of cash, which isn't as good as the business, and you got the problem of investing in other businesses, and you probably paid a tax in between. So my advice to anybody who owns a wonderful business is keep it.
In the end, alchemy, whether it is metallurgical or financial, fails. A base business can not be transformed into a golden business by tricks of accounting or capital structure. The man claiming to be a financial alchemist may become rich. But gullible investors rather than business achievements will usually be the source of his wealth.
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You have to turn over a lot of rocks to find those little anomalies. You have to find the companies that are off the map - way off the map. You may find local companies that have nothing wrong with them at all. A company that I found, Western Insurance Securities, was trading for $3/share when it was earning $20/share! I tried to buy up as much of it as possible. No one will tell you about these businesses. You have to find them.
I am out of step with present conditions. When the game is no longer played your way, it is only human to say the new approach is all wrong, bound to lead to trouble, and so on. On one point, however, I am clear. I will not abandon a previous approach whose logic I understand ( although I find it difficult to apply ) even though it may mean foregoing large, and apparently easy, profits to embrace an approach which I don't fully understand, have not practiced successfully, and which possibly could lead to substantial permanent loss of capital.
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In that, we agreed with Andrew Carnegie, who said that huge fortunes that flow in large part from society should in large part be returned to society. In my case, the ability to allocate capital would have had little utility unless I lived in a rich, populous country in which enormous quantities of marketable securities were traded and were sometimes ridiculously mispriced. And fortunately for me, that describes the U.S. in the second half of the last century.
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In the 20th century, the United States endured two world wars and other traumatic and expensive military conflicts; the Depression; a dozen or so recessions and financial panics; oil shocks; a flu epidemic; and the resignation of a disgraced president. Yet the Dow rose from 66 to 11,497.
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We will continue to ignore political and economic forecasts, which are an expensive distraction for many investors and businessmen. Thirty years ago, no one could have foreseen the huge expansion of the Vietnam War, wage and price controls, two oil shocks, the resignation of a president, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, a one-day drop in the Dow of 508 points, or treasury bill yields fluctuating between 2.8% and 17.4%.
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To invest successfully, you need not understand beta, efficient markets, modern portfolio theory, option pricing or emerging markets. You may, in fact, be better off knowing nothing of these. That, of course, is not the prevailing view at most business schools, whose finance curriculum tends to be dominated by such subjects. In our view, though, investment students need only two well-taught courses - How to Value a Business, and How to Think About Market Prices.
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What an investor needs is the ability to correctly evaluate selected businesses. Note that word "selected": You don't have to be an expert on every company, or even many. You only have to be able to evaluate companies within your circle of competence. The size of that circle is not very important; knowing its boundaries, however, is vital.
Somebody once said that in looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if you don't have the first, the other two will kill you. You think about it; it's true. If you hire somebody without [integrity], you really want them to be dumb and lazy.