THE SOUTH AFRICAN INDEX INVESTOR
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The Three Most Timeless Investment Principles Download full version...
Warren Buffett is widely considered to be one of the greatest investors of all time, but if you were to ask him who he thinks is the greatest investor he would probably mention one man: his teacher, Benjamin Graham. Graham was an investor and investing mentor who is generally considered to be the father of security analysis and value investing.
His ideas and methods on investing are well documented in his books, "Security Analysis" (1934), and "The Intelligent Investor" (1949), which are two of the most famous investing texts. These texts are often considered to be requisite reading material for any investor, but they aren't easy reads. Here, we'll condense Graham's main investing principles and give you a head start on understanding his winning philosophy.
1) Always Invest with a Margin of Safety
Margin of safety is the principle of buying a security at a significant discount to its intrinsic value, which is thought to not only provide high-return opportunities, but also to minimize the downside risk of an investment. In simple terms, Graham's goal was to buy assets worth $1 for $0.50.
To Graham, these business assets may have been valuable because of their stable earning power or simply because of their liquid cash value. It wasn't uncommon, for example, for Graham to invest in stocks where the liquid assets on the balance sheet (net of all debt) were worth more than the total market cap of the company. This means that Graham was effectively buying businesses for nothing. While he had a number of other strategies, this was the typical investment strategy for Graham. Value investing can provide substantial profits once the market inevitably re-evaluates the stock and ups its price to fair value. It also provides protection on the downside if things don't work out as planned and the business falters. The safety net of buying an underlying business for much less than it is worth was the central theme of Graham's success. When chosen carefully, Graham found that a further decline in these undervalued stocks occurred infrequently.
2) Expect Volatility and Profit from It
Investing in stocks means dealing with volatility. Instead of running for the exits during times of market stress, the smart investor greets downturns as chances to find great investments. Graham illustrated this with the analogy of "Mr. Market", the imaginary business partner of each and every investor. Mr. Market offers investors a daily price quote at which he would either buy an investor out or sell his share of the business. Sometimes, he will be excited about the prospects for the business and quote a high price. At other times, he is depressed about the business's prospects and will quote a low price.
Graham suggested two strategies to help mitigate the negative effects of market volatility:
1) Dollar-cost averaging is achieved by buying equal dollar amounts of investments at regular intervals. It takes advantage of dips in the price and means that an investor doesn't have to be concerned about buying his or her entire position at the top of the market. Dollar-cost averaging is ideal for passive investors and alleviates them of the responsibility of choosing when and at what price to buy their positions.
2) Investing in Stocks and Bonds
Graham recommended distributing one's portfolio evenly between stocks and bonds as a way to preserve capital in market downturns while still achieving growth of capital through bond income. Remember, Graham's philosophy was, first and foremost, to preserve capital, and then to try to make it grow. He suggested having 25-75% of your investments in bonds, and varying this based on market conditions. This strategy had the added advantage of keeping investors from boredom, which leads to the temptation to participate in unprofitable trading (i.e. speculating).
3) Know What Kind of Investor You Are
Speculator vs. Investor
Not all people in the stock market are investors. Graham believed that it was critical for people to determine whether they were investors or speculators. The difference is simple: an investor looks at a stock as part of a business and the stockholder as the owner of the business, while the speculator views himself as playing with expensive pieces of paper, with no intrinsic value. For the speculator, value is only determined by what someone will pay for the asset. To paraphrase Graham, there is intelligent speculating as well as intelligent investing - just be sure you understand which you are good at.
Graham's basic ideas are timeless and essential for long-term success. He bought into the notion of buying stocks based on the underlying value of a business and turned it into a science at a time when almost all investors viewed stocks as speculative. Graham served as the first great teacher of the investment discipline, as evidenced by those in his intellectual bloodline who developed their own. If you want to improve your investing skills, it doesn't hurt to learn from the best; Graham continues to prove his worth in his disciples, such as Warren Buffett, who have made a habit of beating the market.
Written by: Daniel Myers, CFA, 5th October 2007