Friday, 30 November 2012

Guru Speak: Buffett Partnership Letters (1957 to1970) - Key Takeaways and Learnings - Part V

In continuation of reading the Buffet Partnership Letters, here is the 5th part in the series. You can read the previous posts here:
Part I
Part II

Part III  

Last year in commenting on the inability of the overwhelming majority of investment managers to achieve performance superior to that of pure chance, I ascribed it primarily to the product of: "(1) group decisions - my perhaps jaundiced view is that it is close to impossible for outstanding investment management to come from a group of any size with all parties really participating in decisions; (2) a desire to conform to the policies and (to an extent) the portfolios of other large well-regarded organizations; (3) an institutional framework whereby average is "safe" and the personal rewards for independent action are in no way commensurate with the general risk attached to such action; (4) an adherence to certain diversification practices which are irrational; and finally and importantly, (5) inertia.”

We diversify substantially less than most investment operations. We might invest up to 40% of our net worth in a single security under conditions coupling an extremely high probability that our facts and reasoning are correct with a very low probability that anything could drastically change the underlying value of the investment."

We have to work extremely hard to find just a very few attractive investment situations. Among the few we do find, the expectations vary substantially. The question always is, “How much do I put in number one (ranked by expectation of relative performance) and how much do I put in number eight?" This depends to a great degree on the wideness of the spread between the mathematical expectation of number one versus number eight.” It also depends upon the probability that number one could turn in a really poor relative performance.

If good performance of the fund is even a minor objective, any portfolio encompassing one hundred stocks (whether the manager is handling one thousand dollars or one billion dollars) is not being operated logically. The addition of the one hundredth stock simply can't reduce the potential variance in portfolio performance sufficiently to compensate for the negative effect its inclusion has on the overall portfolio expectation. Anyone owning such numbers of securities after presumably studying their investment merit (and I don't care how prestigious their labels) is following what I call the Noah School of Investing - two of everything. Such investors should be piloting arks.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Guru Speak: Micheal Mauboussin on Skill Vs Luck in Investing

Michael Mauboussin is one of my most favourite thinkers and writers. I try to read everything he has written. His writings at times can be a bit complex and may require a number of iterations before I can really make some sense of it, but is always extremely insightful and thought-provoking.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Guru Speak: Buffett Partnership Letters (1957 to1970) - Key Takeaways and Learnings - Part IV

In continuation of reading the Buffet Partnership Letters, here is the 4th part in the series. You can read the previous posts here:
Part I

Part II

Part III

There are from his posts for 1965. He focuses on how to make intelligent choices on post-tax returns.
Truly conservative actions arise from intelligent hypotheses, correct facts and sound reasoning. These qualities may lead to conventional acts, but there have been many times when they have led to unorthodoxy. In some corner of the world they are probably still holding regular meetings of the Flat Earth Society. 
We derive no comfort because important people, vocal people, or great numbers of people agree with us. Nor do we derive comfort if they don't. A public opinion poll is no substitute for thought. When we really sit back with a smile on our face is when we run into a situation we can understand, where the facts are ascertainable and clear, and the course of action obvious. In that case - whether other conventional or unconventional - whether others agree or disagree - we feel - we are progressing in a conservative manner.
More investment sins are probably committed by otherwise quite intelligent people because of "tax considerations" than from any other cause. One of my friends - a noted West Coast philosopher maintains that a majority of life's errors are caused by forgetting what one is really trying to do. This is certainly the case when an emotionally supercharged element like taxes enters the picture.  What is one really trying to do in the investment world? Not pay the least taxes, although that may be a factor to be considered in achieving the end. Means and end should not be confused, however, and the end is to come away with the largest after-tax rate of compound. Quite obviously if two courses of action promise equal rates of pre-tax compound and one involves incurring taxes and the other doesn't the latter course is superior. However, we find this is rarely the case.
It is extremely improbable that 20 stocks selected from, say, 3000 choices are going to prove to be the optimum portfolio both now and a year from now at the entirely different prices (both for the selections and the alternatives) prevailing at that later date. If our objective is to produce the maximum after-tax compound rate, we simply have to own the most attractive securities obtainable at current prices. And, with 3,000 rather rapidly shifting variables, this must mean change (hopefully “tax-generating” change). 
It is obvious that the performance of a stock last year or last month is no reason, per se, to either own it or to not own it now. It is obvious that an inability to "get even" in a security that has declined is of no importance. It is obvious that the inner warm glow that results from having held a winner last year is of no importance in making a decision as to whether it belongs in an optimum portfolio this year.
If gains are involved, changing portfolios involves paying taxes. Except in very unusual cases (I will readily admit there are some cases), the amount of the tax is of minor importance if the difference in expectable performance is significant. I have never been able to understand why the tax comes as such a body blow to many people since the rate on long-term capital gain is lower than on most lines of endeavor (tax policy indicates digging ditches is regarded as socially less desirable than shuffling stock certificates).