The 1922 investing classic offers an introduction to new investors and sits as a reminder that the basic investment principles have remained the same over the past century.
Wise Words from Charlie Munger
Charlie Munger is the lessor known half of the partnership team that built Berkshire Hathaway. Prior to that, he was a lawyer, before giving up law to run his own investment partnership.
He started Wheeler, Munger & Company in 1962. The partnership was wound up in 1975. Back-to-back 31% losses in 1973 and 1974 made investors squeamish and in need of capital. Yet, despite the losses, Munger outperformed the market, earning a 19.8% annual return over the 14-year period (compared to 5% for the Dow).
Munger teamed up with Warren Buffett three years later (1978) as vice chairman of Berkshire. In his spare time, he chairs the Daily Journal, designs buildings, and plays the part of a walking, talking encyclopedia. He’s a learning machine who built his own system of mental models to reduce errors in this complex world. His unique view of uncommon sense, as he calls it, can be seen in how he invests.
Extreme concentration and inaction best describe Munger’s approach. He’s comfortable with only three or four wonder businesses in his portfolio. That’s far short of the popular broad diversification strategies recommended today.
Except, extreme concentration is not for everyone. First, finding a handful of wonderful companies worth owning is never as easy as it sounds. Someone not skilled in the art is likely to find awful companies more often than wonderful ones. Continue Reading…
Skill vs. Luck: Failing to Lose
Purposely losing money in the stock market seems like it should be an easy task. It turns out it takes some luck to lose money in the market. The same goes for making it.
Michael Mauboussin defines pure skill-based activities as those where you can lose on purpose. Chess is pure skill. It takes years of learning and practice to become just good at chess. However, a master chess player can lose on purpose to anyone.
Whereas the lottery is pure luck. It’s a random draw. You can pick a series of numbers and hope to lose but there’s always a chance you get lucky and win.
Investing falls somewhere in between pure skill and pure luck because the amount of noise in the system makes it hard to lose (or win) on purpose in the short run.
A good example of this is an interesting experiment run by John Rogers and his team several years ago: Continue Reading…
Edwin Lefevre: Investor, Speculator, or Gambler?
Ben Graham often explained the difference between investors and speculators.
An investor looks for investments that provide safety and a solid return. A speculator tries to profit off market moves.
Edwin Lefevre had a similar view. Though, he added a third option for good reason. He separated gamblers from speculators because he saw a pattern of gambling emerge during bull markets.
Here’s how he defined each following the 1929 crash: Continue Reading…
Learning the Wrong Lessons
There’s a risk that investors learn the wrong lessons from recent market cycles. One of the biggest wrong lessons is that the market always quickly recovers.
Of course, quick recoveries have defined the stock market since the 2008 financial crisis. The 2009 bottom led to the longest bull market ever and the buy the dip mantra (BTFD) grew from that period. The 2020 crash solidified it.
It would come as no surprise if investors expected recent history to repeat itself. Of course, investors often mistakenly rely on recent history or lived experience to make decisions, as if it’s the only history that matters.
In fact, Seth Klarman noted this specific false lesson in 2010:
Bad things happen, but really bad things do not. Do buy the dips, especially the lowest quality securities when they come under pressure, because declines will quickly be reversed.
Howard Marks shared a similar thought in his book Mastering the Market Cycle: Continue Reading…
Wise Words from Charley Ellis
Charley Ellis recognized that there were two different games being played in the stock market. The game the experts play differs from the game the amateurs play.
When the amateurs try to play the experts’ game they frequently make mistakes and lose money. That’s not to say the experts are fantastic at making money. A few are but experts, on average, fail to beat the market too. So the majority of experts fall short of the market and the amateurs, emulating experts, do worse.
Ellis’s solution is to play a different game entirely. The game amateurs should play, and many experts too, is built on a foundation of avoiding errors. Essentially, not losing. Fewer errors lead to better results.
Ellis wrote this in his 1975 classic The Loser’s Game. In it, he used an analogy between tennis and investing. It turns out there are two different games in tennis too. The game the professionals play is not the same game as the one the amateurs play.
The pros can be aggressive. They have the skill, precision, and experience to place shots just outside their opponent’s reach. They play a winner’s game. The match goes to the player who earns the most wins.
Amateurs, however, often lose by trying to play like the pros, because it leads to unforced errors. It’s a loser’s game. Amateurs win in tennis by volleying until their opponent hits it into the net or out of bounds. They win by not losing. Continue Reading…
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