An Ode to Sound Investing Advice from the Intelligent Investor – Part 3

So we are now into the final set of quotes from The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham. I have taken great care to choose the quotes that would make sense to a larger audience and not just equity investors. The book, in my opinion, is quite dry. But then, what can you expect from an investing book? Nevertheless, the advice imparted by Benjamin Graham is worth considering. Being not much of a speculator myself, his thoughts resonated with me.

Without further ado, let’s start Part 3.

It is easy for us to tell you not to speculate; the hard thing will be for you to follow this advice. Let us repeat what we said at the outset: If you want to speculate do so with your eyes open, knowing that you will probably lose money in the end; be sure to limit the amount at risk and to separate it completely from your investment program.

The investor can scarcely take seriously the innumerable predictions which appear almost daily and are his for the asking. Yet in many cases he pays attention to them and even acts upon them. Why? Because he has been persuaded that it is important for him to form some opinion of the future course of the stock market, and because he feels that the brokerage or service forecast is at least more dependable than his own.

Those formulas that gain adherents and importance do so because they have worked well over a period, or sometimes merely because they have been plausibly adapted to the statistical record of the past. But as their acceptance increases, their reliability tends to diminish. This happens for two reasons: First, the passage of time brings new conditions which the old formula no longer fits. Second, in stock-market affairs the popularity of a trading theory has itself an influence on the market’s behavior which detracts in the long run from its profit-making possibilities.

The most realistic distinction between the investor and the speculator is found in their attitude toward stock-market movements. The speculator’s primary interest lies in anticipating and profiting from market fluctuations. The investor’s primary interest lies in acquiring and holding suitable securities at suitable prices.

The happiness of those who want to be popular depends on others; the happiness of those who seek pleasure fluctuates with moods outside their control; but the happiness of the wise grows out of their own free acts.

Marcus Aurelius

If you listen to financial TV, or read most market columnists, you’d think that investing is some kind of sport, or a war, or a struggle for survival in a hostile wilderness. But investing isn’t about beating others at their game. It’s about controlling yourself at your own game.

The whole point of investing is not to earn more money than average, but to earn enough money to meet your own needs.

Putting up to a third of your stock money in mutual funds that hold foreign stocks (including those in emerging markets) helps insure against the risk that our own backyard may not always be the best place in the world to invest.

The most basic possible definition of a good business is this: It generates more cash than it consumes. Good managers keep finding ways of putting that cash to productive use. In the long run, companies that meet this definition are virtually certain to grow in value, no matter what the stock market does.

When you research a company’s financial reports, start reading on the last page and slowly work your way toward the front. Anything that the company doesn’t want you to find is buried in the back—which is precisely why you should look there first.

Graham’s criterion of financial strength still works: If you build a diversified basket of stocks whose current assets are at least double their current liabilities, and whose long-term debt does not exceed working capital, you should end up with a group of conservatively financed companies with plenty of staying power.

A small percentage of investors can excel at picking their own stocks. Everyone else would be better off getting help, ideally through an index fund.

At some point in its life, almost every stock is a bargain; at another time, it will be expensive. Although there are good and bad companies, there is no such thing as a good stock; there are only good stock prices, which come and go.

As Graham liked to say, in the short run the market is a voting machine, but in the long run it is a weighing machine. Yahoo! won the short-term popularity contest. But in the end, it’s earnings that matter—and Yahoo! barely had any.

If you buy a stock purely because its price has been going up—instead of asking whether the underlying company’s value is increasing—then sooner or later you will be extremely sorry. That’s not a likelihood. It is a certainty.

Losing some money is an inevitable part of investing, and there’s nothing you can do to prevent it. But, to be an intelligent investor, you must take responsibility for ensuring that you never lose most or all of your money.

For the intelligent investor, Graham’s “margin of safety” performs the same function: By refusing to pay too much for an investment, you minimize the chances that your wealth will ever disappear or suddenly be destroyed.

Ultimately, financial risk resides not in what kinds of investments you have, but in what kind of investor you are. If you want to know what risk really is, go to the nearest bathroom and step up to the mirror. That’s risk, gazing back at you from the glass.

Part 1

Part 2

An Ode to Sound Investing Advice from the Intelligent Investor – Part 2

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I feel a great part of your investing journey lies in being indifferent. Indifferent to how the market reacts, indifferent to external influences such as your family and friends. I am slowly learning not to check the market trends too often, not to get swayed by euphoria or unwarranted skepticism. Of course, this works for me because I am not in direct equity. Those who are invested in stocks might have to be more vigilant?

Anyway, in continuation with my previous post, here’s the second part of some of the best investing quotes from the Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham. I feel a lot of people missed out on Graham’s advice on being safe in investing. We often hear from investment gurus how we should invest more in equity when we are younger. But this book actually tells you to keep your own liabilities and responsibilities in mind before you invest more than you can chew. His whole book is about putting your safety, lifestyle, and goals first. A young investor can be conservative too if in debt or caught up with responsibilities. Life happens and there is no one-size-fits-all kind of investment. Keeping your risk profile in mind before investing is key and Graham actually digs deep into that.

Since the profits that companies can earn are finite, the price that investors should be willing to pay for stocks must also be finite. Think of it this way: Michael Jordan may well have been the greatest basketball player of all time, and he pulled fans into Chicago Stadium like a giant electromagnet. The Chicago Bulls got a bargain by paying Jordan up to $34 million a year to bounce a big leather ball around a wooden floor. But that does not mean the Bulls would have been justified paying him $340 million, or $3.4 billion, or $34 billion, per season.

The only indisputable truth that the past teaches us is that the future will always surprise us—always! And the corollary to that law of financial history is that the markets will most brutally surprise the very people who are most certain that their views about the future are right. Staying humble about your forecasting powers, as Graham did, will keep you from risking too much on a view of the future that may well turn out to be wrong.

A cynic once told G. K. Chesterton, the British novelist and essayist, “Blessed is he who expecteth nothing, for he shall not be disappointed.” Chesterton’s rejoinder? “Blessed is he who expecteth nothing, for he shall enjoy everything.”

The punches you miss are the ones that wear you out.

—Boxing trainer Angelo Dundee

For the aggressive as well as the defensive investor, what you don’t do is as important to your success as what you do.

Buying a bond only for its yield is like getting married only for lust. If the thing that attracted you in the first place dries up, you’ll find yourself asking, “What else is there?” When the answer is “Nothing,” spouses and bondholders alike end up with broken hearts.

The lesson is clear: Don’t just do something, stand there. It’s time for everyone to acknowledge that the term “long-term investor” is redundant. A long-term investor is the only kind of investor there is. Someone who can’t hold on to stocks for more than a few months at a time is doomed to end up not as a victor but as a victim.

Unfortunately, for every IPO like Microsoft that turns out to be a big winner, there are thousands of losers. The psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky have shown when humans estimate the likelihood or frequency of an event, we make that judgment based not on how often the event has actually occurred, but on how vivid the past examples are. We all want to buy “the next Microsoft”—precisely because we know we missed buying the first Microsoft. But we conveniently overlook the fact that most other IPOs were terrible investments.

The large companies thus have a double advantage over the others. First, they have the resources in capital and brain power to carry them through adversity and back to a satisfactory earnings base. Second, the market is likely to respond with reasonable speed to any improvement shown.

Actually, the typical middle-sized listed company is a large one when compared with the average privately owned business. There is no sound reason why such companies should not continue indefinitely in operation, undergoing the vicissitudes characteristic of our economy but earning on the whole a fair return on their invested capital.

It requires a great deal of boldness and a great deal of caution to make a great fortune; and when you have got it, it requires ten times as much wit to keep it.

Nathan Mayer Rothschild

So how many of the Forbes 400 fortunes from 1982 remained on the list 20 years later? Only 64 of the original members—a measly 16%—were still on the list in 2002. By keeping all their eggs in the one basket that had gotten them onto the list in the first place—once booming industries like oil and gas, or computer hardware, or basic manufacturing—all the other original members fell away. When hard times hit, none of these people—despite all the huge advantages that great wealth can bring—were properly prepared. They could only stand by and wince at the sickening crunch as the constantly changing economy crushed their only basket and all their eggs.

An Ode to Sound Investing Advice from the Intelligent Investor – Part 1

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I recently started my investing journey and I have been trying to educate myself on the various nuts and bolts that go into building a solid investment. It has been an interesting educational experience so far. I am treating this blog as my note-taking app of sorts, to write down helpful and insightful points from the books I have read.

I recently finished The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham, the person considered Warren Buffett’s investment muse.

Here are some key investment takeaways from Benjamin’s book. This is the first of 3 parts. I hope you enjoy this series as much as I did, curating and compiling it.

No matter how careful you are, the one risk no investor can ever eliminate is the risk of being wrong. Only by insisting on what Graham called the “margin of safety”—never overpaying, no matter how exciting an investment seems to be—can you minimize your odds of error.

By developing your discipline and courage, you can refuse to let other people’s mood swings govern your financial destiny. In the end, how your investments behave is much less important than how you behave.

The famous warning of Santayana: “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

What exactly does Graham mean by an “intelligent” investor? Back in the first edition of this book, Graham defines the term—and he makes it clear that this kind of intelligence has nothing to do with IQ or SAT scores. It simply means being patient, disciplined, and eager to learn; you must also be able to harness your emotions and think for yourself. This kind of intelligence, explains Graham, “is a trait more of the character than of the brain.”

As Graham puts it, “while enthusiasm may be necessary for great accomplishments elsewhere, on Wall Street it almost invariably leads to disaster.”

Most painfully of all, by losing their self-control just when they needed it the most, these people proved Graham’s assertion that “the investor’s chief problem—and even his worst enemy—is likely to be himself.”

Obvious prospects for physical growth in a business do not translate into obvious profits for investors.

Why do you suppose the brokers on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange always cheer at the sound of the closing bell—no matter what the market did that day? Because whenever you trade, they make money—whether you did or not. By speculating instead of investing, you lower your own odds of building wealth and raise someone else’s.

Graham’s definition of investing could not be clearer: “An investment operation is one which, upon thorough analysis, promises safety of principal and an adequate return.”

Graham urges you to invest only if you would be comfortable owning a stock even if you had no way of knowing its daily share price.

People who invest make money for themselves; people who speculate make money for their brokers. And that, in turn, is why Wall Street perennially downplays the durable virtues of investing and hypes the gaudy appeal of speculation.

As Graham never stops reminding us, stocks do well or poorly in the future because the businesses behind them do well or poorly—nothing more, and nothing less.

On the other hand, if the formula actually did work in the past (like the January effect), then by publicizing it, market pundits always erode—and usually eliminate—its ability to do so in the future.

Americans are getting stronger. Twenty years ago, it took two people to carry ten dollars’ worth of groceries. Today, a five year-old can do it.

Henny Youngman

While mild inflation allows companies to pass the increased costs of their own raw materials on to customers, high inflation wreaks havoc—forcing customers to slash their purchases and depressing activity throughout the economy. There is a fine passage near the beginning of Aristotle’s Ethics that goes: “It is the mark of an educated mind to expect that amount of exactness which the nature of the particular subject admits. It is equally unreasonable to accept merely probable conclusions from a mathematician and to demand strict demonstration from an orator.” The work of a financial analyst falls somewhere in the middle between that of a mathematician and of an orator.

Part 2 of Intelligent Investor Quotes

21 Best Personal Finance Quotes from The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel

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The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel is filled with gems on personal finance. If you are new to investing, wondering how you should go about “thinking” about your money, this is a book worth buying. It prompts you to reanalyze your financial strategies and question your investments. It makes you sit back and introspect whether you are following your own dream or someone else’s.

Without further ado, here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:

Go out of your way to find humility when things are going right and forgiveness/compassion when they go wrong. Because it’s never as good or as bad as it looks. The world is big and complex. Luck and risk are both real and hard to identify. Do so when judging both yourself and others.

We all think we know how the world works. But we’ve all only experienced a tiny sliver of it. An investor Michael Batnick says, “some lessons have to be experienced before they can be understood.” We are all victims, in different ways, to that truth.

Every financial decision a person makes, makes sense to them in that moment and checks the boxes they need to check. We all do crazy stuff with money, because we’re all relatively new to the game and what looks crazy to you might make sense to me. But no one is crazy—we all make decisions based on our own unique experiences that seem to make sense to us in a given moment.

If you want to do better as an investor, the single most powerful thing you can do is increase your time horizon. Time is the most powerful force in investing. It makes little things grow big and big mistakes fade away.

Years ago I asked economist Robert Shiller, who won the Nobel Prize in economics, “What do you want to know about investing that we can’t know?”

“The exact role of luck in successful outcomes,” he answered.

I love that response, because no one actually thinks luck doesn’t play a role in financial success. But since it’s hard to quantify luck and rude to suggest people’s success is owed to it, the default stance is often to implicitly ignore luck as a factor of success.

Save. Just save. You don’t need a specific reason to save. It’s great to save for a car, or a downpayment, or a medical emergency. But saving for things that are impossible to predict or define is one of the best reasons to save.

Bill Gates once said, “Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.”

Failure can also be a lousy teacher, because it seduces smart people into thinking their decisions were terrible when sometimes they just reflect the unforgiving realities of risk.

Define the cost of success and be ready to pay it. Because nothing worthwhile is free.

At a party given by a billionaire on Shelter Island, Kurt Vonnegut informs his pal, Joseph Heller, that their host, a hedge fund manager, had made more money in a single day than Heller had earned from his wildly popular novel Catch-22 over its whole history. Heller responds, “Yes, but I have something he will never have… enough.”

Avoid the extreme ends of financial decisions. Everyone’s goals and desires will change over time, and the more extreme your past decisions were the more you may regret them as you evolve.

There are a million ways to get wealthy, and plenty of books on how to do so. But there’s only one way to stay wealthy: some combination of frugality and paranoia.

Define the game you’re playing, and make sure your actions are not being influenced by people playing a different game.

Gettng money requires taking risks, being optimistic, and putting yourself out there. But keeping money requires the opposite of taking risk. It requires humility, and fear that what you’ve made can be taken away from you just as fast.

Smart, informed, and reasonable people can disagree in finance, because people have vastly different goals and desires. There is no single right answer; just the answer that works for you.

Planning is important, but the most important part of every plan is to plan on the plan not going according to plan.

A good definition of an investing genius is the man or woman who can do the average thing when all those around them are going crazy.

“It’s not whether you’re right or wrong that’s important,” George Soros once said, “but how much money you make when you’re right and how much you lose when you’re wrong.” You can be wrong half the time and still make a fortune.

The highest form of wealth is the ability to wake up every morning and say, “I can do whatever I want today.”

When you see someone driving a nice car, you rarely think, “Wow, the guy driving that car is cool.” Instead you think, “Wow, if I had that car people would think I’m cool.” Subconscious or not, this is how people think.

There is a pardox here: people tend to want wealth to signal to others that they should be liked and admired. But in reality those other people often bypass admiring you, not because they don’t think wealth is admirable, but because they use your wealth as a benchmark for their own desire to be liked and admired.

Spending money to show people how much money you have is the fastest way to have less money.

Academic finance is devoted to finding the mathematically optimal investment strategies. My own theory is that, in the real world, people do not want the mathematically optimal strategy. They want the strategy that maximizes for how well they sleep at night.