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.