Monday, 3 December 2012

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

In continuation of reading the Buffet Partnership Letters, here is the 6th part in the series. You can read the previous posts here:
Part I
Part II

Part III  

I would request you to read Buffett's 1967 letters. Those two letters are by far the best I have read so far and shows some of the crystal-clear thinking that became his signature in the later years. I try to capture some of the best lines from the letters.

1966 July
If we start deciding, based on guesses or emotions, whether we will or won't participate in a business where we should have some long run edge, we're in trouble. We will not sell our interests in businesses (stocks) when they are attractively priced just because some astrologer thinks the quotations may go lower even though such forecasts are obviously going to be right some of the time. Similarly, we will not buy fully priced securities because "experts" think prices are going higher. Who would think of buying or selling a private business because of someone's guess on the stock market? The availability of a quotation for your business interest (stock) should always be an asset to be utilized if desired. If it gets silly enough in either direction, you take advantage of it. Its availability should never be turned into a liability whereby its periodic aberrations in turn formulate your judgments. A marvelous articulation of this idea is contained in chapter two (The Investor and Stock Market Fluctuations) of Benjamin Graham's "The Intelligent Investor". In my opinion, this chapter has more investment importance than anything else that has been written.
In the last few years this situation has changed dramatically. We now find very few securities that are understandable to me, available in decent size, and which offer the expectation of investment performance meeting our yardstick of ten percentage points per annum superior to the Dow. In the last three years we have come up with only two or three new ideas a year that have had such an expectancy of superior performance.

We will not go into businesses where technology which is away over my head is crucial to the investment decision. I know about as much about semi-conductors or integrated circuits as I do of the mating habits of the chrzaszcz. (That's a Polish May bug, students - if you have trouble pronouncing it, rhyme it with thrzaszcz.)
Furthermore, we will not follow the frequently prevalent approach of investing in securities where an attempt to anticipate market action overrides business valuations. Such so-called "fashion" investing has frequently produced very substantial and quick profits in recent years (and currently as I write this in January). It represents an investment technique whose soundness I can neither affirm nor deny. It does not completely satisfy my intellect (or perhaps my prejudices), and most definitely does not fit my temperament. I will not invest my own money based upon such an approach hence, I will most certainly not do so with your money.

The evaluation of securities and businesses for investment purposes has always involved a mixture of qualitative and quantitative factors. At the one extreme, the analyst exclusively oriented to qualitative factors would say. "Buy the right company (with the right prospects, inherent industry conditions, management, etc.) and the price will take care of itself.” On the other hand, the quantitative spokesman would say, “Buy at the right price and the company (and stock) will take care of itself.” As is so often the pleasant result in the securities world, money can be made with either approach. And, of course, any analyst combines the two to some extent - his classification in either school would depend on the relative weight he assigns to the various factors and not to his consideration of one group of factors to the exclusion of the other group.

Interestingly enough, although I consider myself to be primarily in the quantitative school (and as I write this no one has come back from recess - I may be the only one left in the class), the really sensational ideas I have had over the years have been heavily weighted toward the qualitative side where I have had a "high-probability insight". This is what causes the cash register to really sing. However, it is an infrequent occurrence, as insights usually are, and, of course, no insight is required on the quantitative side - the figures should hit you over the head with a baseball bat. So the really big money tends to be made by investors who are right on qualitative decisions but, at least in my opinion, the more sure money tends to be made on the obvious quantitative decisions.

When the game is no longer being played your way, it is only human to say the new approach is all wrong, bound to lead to trouble, etc. I have been scornful of such behavior by others in the past. I have also seen the penalties incurred by those who evaluate conditions as they were - not as they are. Essentially I am out of step with present conditions. 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.

1 comment:

  1. Superb!

    Very often we try to imbibe approaches with little understanding so that opportunities are not missed (urge to embrace apparently easy profits)and often ignore the downside risk (which possibly could lead to substantial (permanent) loss of capital).


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