On Common Sense on Mutual Funds

I recently finished reading Common Sense on Mutual Funds – New Imperatives for the Intelligent Investor – by John C. Bogle.

Below are key excerpts from this book that I found to be insightful:

Investing is an act of faith. We entrust our capital to corporate stewards in the faith—at least with the hope—that their efforts will generate high rates of return on our investments. When we purchase corporate America’s stocks and bonds, we are professing our faith that the long-term success of the U.S. economy and the nation’s financial markets will continue in the future.

To state the obvious, the long-term investor who pays least has the greatest opportunity to earn most of the real return provided by the stock market.

In my view, market timing and rapid turnover—both by and for mutual fund investors—betray both a lack of understanding of the economics of investing and an infatuation with the process of investing.

My guidelines also respect what I call the four dimensions of investing: (1) return, (2) risk, (3) cost, and (4) time. When you select your portfolio’s long-term allocation to stocks and bonds, you must make a decision about the real returns you can expect to earn and the risks to which your portfolio will be exposed. You must also consider the costs of investing that you will incur. Costs will tend to reduce your return and/or increase the risks you must take. Think of return, risk, and cost as the three spatial dimensions—the length, breadth, and width—of a cube. Then think of time as the temporal fourth dimension that interplays with each of the other three. For instance, if your time horizon is long, you can afford to take more risk than if your horizon is short, and vice versa.

Rule 1: Select Low-Cost Funds…Rule 2: Consider Carefully the Added Costs of Advice…Rule 3: Do Not Overrate Past Fund Performance…Rule 4: Use Past Performance to Determine Consistency and Risk…Rule 5: Beware of Stars…Rule 6: Beware of Asset Size…Rule 7: Don’t Own Too Many Funds…Rule 8: Buy Your Fund Portfolio—And Hold It.

No matter what fund style you seek, you should emphasize low-cost funds and eschew high-cost funds. And, for the best bet of all, you should consider indexing in whichever style category you want to include.

There are three major reasons why large size inhibits the achievement of superior returns: the universe of stocks available for a fund’s portfolio declines; transaction costs increase; and portfolio management becomes increasingly structured, group-oriented, and less reliant on savvy individuals.

Four principal problems are created by this overemphasis on marketing. First, it costs mutual fund shareholders a great deal of money— billions of dollars of extra fund expenses—which reduces the returns received by shareholders. Second, these large expenditures not only offer no countervailing benefit in terms of shareholder returns, but, to the extent they succeed in bringing additional assets into the funds, have a powerful tendency to further reduce fund returns. Third, mutual funds are too often hyped and hawked, and trusting investors may be imperiled by the risks assumed by, and deluded about the potential returns of, the funds. Lastly, and perhaps most significant of all, the distribution drive alters the relationship between investors and funds. Rather than being perceived as an owner oi the fund, the shareholder is perceived as a mere customer of the adviser.

On a closing note, on leadership:

To wrap up this litany, I put before you—both tentatively and humbly—a final attribute of leadership: courage. Sometimes, an enterprise has to dig down deep and have the courage of its convictions—to “press on,” regardless of adversity or scorn. Vanguard has been a truly contrarian firm in its mutual structure, in its drive for low costs and a fair shake for investors, in its conservative investment philosophy, in market index funds, and in shunning hot products, marketing gimmicks, and the carpet-bombing approach to advertising so abundantly evident elsewhere in this industry today. Sometimes, it takes a lot of courage to stay the course when fickle taste is in the saddle, but we have stood by our conviction: In the long run, when there is a gap between perception and reality, it is only a matter of time until reality carries the day.

A recommended read in the areas of investing and leadership.


On The Most Important Thing

I recently finished reading The Most Important Thing – Uncommon Sense for the Thoughtful Investor – by Howard Marks.

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

Few people have what it takes to be a great investors. Some can be taught, but not everyone… and those who can be taught can’t be taught everything. Valid approaches work some of the time but not all. And investing can’t be reduced to an algorithm and turned over to a computer. Even the best investors don’t get it right every time.

Because investing is at least as much art as it is science, it’s never my goal—in this book or elsewhere—to suggest it can be routinized. In fact. one of the things I most want to emphasize is how essential it is that one’s investment approach be intuitive and adaptive rather than be fixed and mechanistic.

Second-level thinking is deep, complex and convoluted. The second level thinker takes a great many things into account: What is the range of likely future outcomes? Which outcome do I think will occur? What’s the probability I’m right? What does the consensus think? How does my expectation differ from the consensus? How does the current price for the asset comport with the consensus view of the future, and with mine? Is the consensus psychology that’s incorporated in the price too bullish or bearish? What will happen to the asset’s price if the consensus turns out to be right, and what if I’m right?

Return alone—and especially return over short periods of time—says very little about the quality of investment decisions. Return has to be evaluated relative to the amount of risk taken to achieve it. And yet, risk cannot be measured. Certainly it cannot be gauged on the basis of what “everybody” says at a moment in time. Risk can be judged only by sophisticated, experienced second-level thinkers.

The road to long-term investment success runs through risk control more than through aggressiveness. Over a full career, most investors’ results will be determined more by how many losers they have, and how bad they are, than by the greatness of their winners. Skillful risk control is the mark of the superior investor.

The pendulum swing regarding attitudes toward risk is one of the most powerful of all. In fact, I’ve recently boiled down the main risks in investing to two: the risk of losing money and the risk of missing opportunity. It’s possible to largely eliminate either one, but not both. In an ideal world, investors would balance these two concerns. But from time to time, at the extremes of the pendulum’s swing, one or the other predominates.

What weapons might you marshal on your side to increase your odds? Here are the ones that work for Oaktree: a strongly held sense of intrinsic value. insistence on acting as you should when price diverges from value. • enough conversance with past cycles—gained at first from reading and talking to veteran investors, and later through experience—to know that market excesses are ultimately punished, not rewarded. a thorough understanding of the insidious effect of psychology on the investing process at market extremes. a promise to remember that when things seem “too good to be true,” they usually are. willingness to look wrong while the market goes from misvalued to more misvalued (as it invariably will), and • like-minded friends and colleagues from whom to gain support (and for you to support).

To boil it all down to just one sentence, I’d say the necessary condition for the existence of bargains is that perception has to be considerably worse than reality. That means the best opportunities are usually found among things most others won’t do. After all, if everyone feels good about something and is glad to join in, it won’t be bargain-priced.

What We Learn from a Crisis—or Ought To: Too much capital availability makes money flow to the wrong places…When capital goes where it shouldn’t, bad things happen…hen capital is in oversupply, investors compete for deals by accepting low returns and a slender margin for error…Widespread disregard for risk creates great risk…Inadequate due diligence leads to investment losses…In heady times, capital is devoted to innovative investments, many of which fail the test of time…Hidden fault lines running through portfolios can make the prices of seemingly unrelated assets move in tandem…Psychological and technical factors can swamp fundamentals…Markets change, invalidating models…Leverage magnifies outcomes but doesn’t add value…Excesses correct.

On a closing note:

Thus, it’s our goal to do as well as the market when it does well and better than the market when it does poorly. At first blush that may sound like a modest goal, but it’s really quite ambitious.

A must read in the area of investing.

On Barbarians At The Gate

I recently finished reading Barbarians at the Gate – The Fall of RJR Nabisco by Bryan Burrough and John Helyar. This book has been on my reading list for quite some time, and I finally (and very gladly) was able to read it.

First on the merger of Standard Brands and Nabisco:

Nevertheless, Johnson was intrigued. He got together with Schaeberle and liked the man. In a matter of weeks the two executives agreed to merge their companies. Nabisco Brands, as the new company would be called, was formed in a $1.9 billion stock swap in 1981, at the time one of the larger mergers of consumer-product companies. Technically, it was a marriage of equals. But that was considered so much chin music. Everyone knew Nabisco, with dominant brands such as Ritz and Oreo, was the more powerful company. Everyone knew who would be in charge.

And the ascent of Ross Johnson to the top position of the combined entity:

As the smoke cleared, Johnson emerged triumphant, both inside and outside Nabisco. As far as Schaeberle and the board were concerned, he could do no wrong. That year Schaeberle rewarded Johnson by ceding him the title of chief executive. Nabisco’s huge new research center was about to be unveiled, and Johnson, in a spasm of flattery, repaid the favor by naming it the Robert M. Schaeberle Technology Center. Schaeberle was moved. The Merry Men thought it was a brilliant way to put Schaeberle out to pasture. A man who lad his name on a building, they reasoned, might as well be dead.

Despite the increased scope of responsibilities and breadth of company activities Johnson was already thinking beyond Nabisco brands:

If Johnson grew indifferent toward Nabisco, it was because he could no longer see much of a future in it. The cookie wars has changed his thinking; he regarded the battle with Frito-Lay and P&G not as a final victory, but as the successful deflection of a shot fired across his bow. There would be another giant like Procter & Gamble—maybe even P&G itself—that would come after him again. Nabisco, after all, had fatal weaknesses. No amount of work was going to revitalize its aging bakeries anytime soon. Johnson, in fact, never bothered to formulate any kind of master plan for reshaping Nabisco. Years of scrambling had soured him on long-range planning. Instead he spent his time enjoying the high life, putting out corporate fires as they flared, and waiting. Someone had once codified the Standard Brands culture into twenty Johnsonisms. Number thirteen was “Recognize that ultimate success comes from opportunistic, bold moves which, by definition, cannot be planned.” On a spring day in 1985, less than a year after being tapped Nabisco’s chief, Johnson took a call from J. Tylee Wilson, chairman and chief executive officer of RJ Reynolds Industries, the North Carolina-based tobacco giant. Would Johnson be interested in getting together for lunch? Maybe, Wilson said, they could do some business.

On a parallel, Reynolds was thriving and generating more cash than it knew what to do with:

Life was good then. Reynolds’s Winston, Salem, and Camel were three of the top four bestselling cigarette brands. Prince Albert remained the top-selling pipe tobacco, and a brand called Days Work was the top chewing tobacco. Americans were smoking like chimneys. In 1960, 58 percent of all men and 36 percent of all women smoked. It was often said that Reynolds’s only problem was how to turn out cigarettes fast enough and how to ship all that money back to Wachovia Bank. In one respect, it was true. From a corporate executive’s point of view, Reynolds had too much cash on its hands. In 1956 the company amended its charter to allow it for the first time to buy nontobacco businesses.

Thus came the idea of merging the two businesses:

The talks, in fact, rekindled within weeks. A small army of Wall Street lawyers and investment bankers were brought in, and, the directors having been convinced, Reynolds agreed in principle to acquire Nabisco for cash. The lone sticking point was the price. Then, during the negotiations, Nabisco stock began rising, a sure sign that word of the talks had leaked. Johnson took it as an opportunity to wheedle more money out of Wilson. At $80 a share, Wilson said he could go no further. “Well,” Johnson said, “you’re not gonna get a deal at eighty bucks.” The logjam broke when Wilson agreed to throw in preferred stock, which brought the price to $85 a share, or $4.9 billion, at the time the largest merger ever to take place outside the oil industry.

Despite the fact that the anti-tobacco lawsuits were being settled for lower than expected amounts, RJR Nabisco’s stock was not moving up as expected, thus further persuading Johnson of the idea that a leveraged LBO is the way to unlock the true value that exists within the company:

The case mounted by Anthony Cipollone was considered among the strongest ever brought against the tobacco industry; the plaintiff’s lawyers had unearthed a raft of damaging documents. A tobacco victory, Johnson reasoned, would give his stock a real pop. When the jury finally delivered a verdict, it broke tobacco’s unbeaten streak—but just barely, clearing the industry of conspiracy and awarding only $400,000 in damages. “A tip for Tony Cipollone,” Johnson chortled, and waited for RJR Nabisco’s stock to spike up. It didn’t. Johnson’s office became a wailing wall where everybody came to cry about the injustice of it all. Horrigan was particularly bitter; he had predicted the stock would climb at least six points. “The market never going to give us its due,” Henderson complained. “The equity markets just aren’t a suitable capital structure for some companies.” Arguing to take stock from public hands was in fact the intellectual basis for an LBO, although no one openly advocated it at the time. Horrigan thought Johnson would never go private. “The problem with the company going private,” he said to himself, “is that nobody would pay any attention to him.”

The time was ripe for LBO’s, and the reasons:

In the five years before Ross Johnson decided to pursue his buyout, LBO activity totaled $181.9 billion, compared to $11 billion in the six years before that. A number of factors combined to fan the frenzy. The Internal Revenue Code, by making interest but not dividends deductible from taxable income, in effect subsidized the trend. That got LBOs off the ground. What made them soar was junk bonds. Of the money raised for any LBO, about 60 percent, the secured debt, comes in the form of loans from commercial banks. Only about 10 percent comes from the buyer itself For years the remaining 30 percent—the meat in the sandwich—came from a handful of major insurance companies whose commitments sometimes took months to obtain. Then, in the mid-eighties, Drexel Burnham began using high-risk “junk” bonds to replace the insurance company funds. The firm’s bond czar, Michael Milken, had proven his ability to raise enormous amounts of these securities on a moment’s notice for hostile takeovers. Pumped into buyouts, Milken’s junk bonds became a high-octane fuel that transformed the LBO industry from a Volkswagen Beetle into a monstrous drag racer belching smoke and fire.

As the bankers got involved in the process, Johnson could feel that he was losing control of the company, and that everyone was in it to grab a share of profits for themselves:

Johnson remained in his office, shocked at the turn in events. He couldn’t talk to Gutfreund or Cohen; they seemed too pleased at laving shown Kravis the price of messing with them. He couldn’t talk to Kravis, who, in Johnson’s words, was “pissing fire.” Just seventeen hours earlier, he had managed to get a peace treaty. He hadn’t wanted to invite Strauss or Cohen or any of the Wall Streeters. The whole thing had fallen apart over greed—pure and simple greed. And now, the piece de resistance, his own partners were launching a $20 billion bid without even bothering to tell him. He felt like the man who entered the casino in a tuxedo one night and emerged the next morning in rags. Far worse, Johnson realized, he had lost all control of his fate…Everyone, he reflected, was out to get something for themselves. The directors, with their petty concerns about pensions and auto insurance. Kravis and his investment bankers and their fees. Salomon and its bonds. And now Frank Benevento wanted $24 million. There was no bloody way Benevento was getting anywhere near $24 million, Johnson thought. He told him to bill the company for whatever he wished. The matter would be dealt with when things returned to normal.

The media quickly paid attention to this, and this also affected the employees productivity during that time:

In an editorial headlined, “Why the RJR circus is so dangerous,” Business Week reflected the business establishment’s distress. “This spectacle is not just unseemly—it is dangerous,” it held. “It is precisely this sort of behavior that plays into the hands of those who want to shackle the free market with unnecessary regulation. LBOs, including a potential RJR deal, should stand or fall on their financial and economic merits, not on the childish behavior of the principals.” For all the high-level handwringing, few felt the effects of the escalating fight as keenly as RJR Nabisco’s employees. In Atlanta, office workers sat during lunch periods glumly reading the daily news summaries the company issued. Isolated, irritated, and uncertain of their futures, the staff spent its days consumed with following the events on Wall Street, its spare time channeled into producing anti-Johnson propaganda.

A three pronged bidding war for RJR Nabisco was on:

The public the bidding for RJR Nabisco seemed frenzied, the emergence of a third bidding group transforming it into a wide-open race. But in the subdued hallways and offices of Lazard Freres and Dillon Read, there was no such enthusiasm. To the board’s advisers, the First Boston bid was hardly good news. Few among them had any confidence that Maher’s troops would come back in eight days with a concrete proposal.

KKR was the winner at the end:

Five minutes later discussion inside the boardroom ebbed. “Time is running out,” Hugel said. “Call for a motion.” Marty Davis spoke first. “I move we award to KKR.” “Second,” said John Macomber. “All in favor,” Hugel said. Hands filled the air. “All opposed?” So hands. “The vote,” Hugel said, “is unanimous.

Johnson semi-retired a rich man:

Johnson officially resigned that day, pulling the chord on his $53 million golden parachute.* His fanciest Gulfstream jet yet, ordered before the LBO battle, flew him to Jupiter on its maiden voyage. Johnson released a final statement before leaving: “The process we commenced last October has benefited the company’s shareholders and has proven the financial strength of our varied businesses.”

The shareholders’ were also enriched through the process, although not all of them happy about the proceeding:

Yet in the world’s greatest concentration of RJR shareholders— Winston-Salem, North Carolina—they weren’t thanking Johnson even as the money gushed into town. No sooner had Kravis won than signs began popping up: “Good-bye Ross, Hello KKR.” Nearly $2 billion of checks arrived there in the late-February mail. Now, more than ever, Winston-Salem was “the city of reluctant millionaires.” The river of money had washed away the last of RJR’s stock. Local brokers and bankers who managed people’s money got calls from distraught clients. “I won’t sell my stock,” more than one sobbed. “Daddy said don’t ever sell the RJR stock.” They were patiently told they had to. They were told the world had changed. No sooner had the checks arrived than out-of-town “financial consultants” descended on Winston-Salem to advise its residents on how best to spend their new riches. In leaflets tucked under windshields in the Reynolds parking lot, in pesky phone calls, in seminars at the Holiday Inn, stockbrokers offered to help people reinvest their windfall in the market. The frequent, incredulous response: “You want me to buy stock?”

KKR may have won the battle for RJR Nabisco, but it had lost the war in its investment going sour:

To its credit, Kohlberg Kravis wriggled out of its fix. In July 1990, it announced a $6.9 billion refinancing package, enabling it to buy back the junk bonds and substitute less onerous forms of debt. The costly maneuver probably assured that, as a buyout, RJR would neither be a free-fall disaster nor a windfall profit for Kohlberg Kravis. Whatever the case, it assured big paydays for the bankers and lawyers who reconfigured the original deal: another $250 million in fees. For Kravis ultimate success, it was clear, was years away. To make matters worse, Philip Morris, sensing RJR’s vulnerability, moved in for the kill, pummeling the company in a number of key markets. It expanded its sales force, undercut Reynolds on pricing, and attacked its strong discount brand, Doral, with two new off-price brands of its own. Analysts predicted RJR’s cigarette volume could fall 7 percent to 8 percent in 1989, while Philip Morris gained volume. “Philip Morris is eating our lunch,” Cliff Robbins of Kohlberg Kravis acknowledged in October 1989. “Marlboro is an unstoppable machine. We have a lot to do.”

There are many lessons within this story that extend beyond RJR Nabisco, namely:

  1. In a sense it had. Johnson was a product of his times, as surely as R. J. Reynolds was of his. The Roaring Eighties were a new gilded age, where winning was celebrated at all costs. “The casino society” Felix Rohatyn once dubbed it. The investment bankers were part croupiers, part alchemists. They conjured up wild schemes, pounded out new and more outlandish computer runs to justify them, then twirled their temptations before executives in a “devil dance.” That, at any rate, is what Johnson took to calling it. Depending on one’s viewpoint, the “dance” Johnson initiated at RJR will go down as either the high point or the low point of an era. It wasn’t an accident that RJR Nabisco should provide that moment. In its final decade Reynolds had become less a great company than a great dream machine. Its torrent of tobacco money allowed egos to run wild and fantasies to become true. Paul Sticht could walk with kings. Ed Horrigan could live like kings. Directors could be treated like kings…The founders of both RJR and Nabisco would have utterly failed to understand what was going on here. It is not so hard, in the mind’s eye, to see R. J. Reynolds and Adolphus Green wandering through the carnage of the LBO war. They would turn to one another, occasionally so much about what came out of their computers and so little about what came out of their factories? Why were they so intent on breaking up instead of building up? And last: What did this all have to do with doing business?

  2. To some, this saga wasn’t just about the fall of RJR Nabisco but the rise of an “I’ve got mine” ethos that would permeate every corner of corporate America. Even partners at once-staid accounting firms came to see themselves more as croupiers than auditors. Paul Volcker, who was chairman of Arthur Andersen in its dying days, believes its accountants became accomplices to Enron because they were so envious of such clients’ riches. As Volcker explained it, “The accountants felt like, ‘We’re as good as they are and we’re doing all the work.’ The general atmosphere was, ‘Money is out there for the taking.'” Reverbrations from the RJR buyout would also long be felt all up and down Wall Street. The deal went so badly for KKR and was attacked so vehemently by politicians that LBO firms pulled in their horns and eschewed mega-deals for years thereafter.

  3. The ensuing period is eerily reminiscent of the early 1990s-post RJR hangover, which raises a question: does anyone on Wall Street ever really learn anything? Colin Blaydon isn’t so sure. “When there’s a situation like this and everyone comes piling into a market they don’t fully understand, the financial markets always overshoot,” he says. “There are a lot of parallels to the world of the bubble that gave us RJR Nabisco.” Be assured, however, that the Barbarians are out there just beyond the gate, licking their wounds, biding their time, waiting for their next chance to storm the gates.

One of the best business books I have read to date, both in terms of content and delivery. A must read.

Philip A. Fisher: Art of Investing

Is investing a science or an art? This is a question that Kenneth L. Fisher addresses in his introduction to the book Common Stocks And Uncommon Profits written by his father, famed investor Philip A. Fisher:

The craft I described in my first book, Super Stocks (Dow Jones-Irwin 1984), including how to do it and several real-world examples. But again, this is all craft. Whenever you ask, you get answers. The art is to get more questions—and the right questions—flowing from the answers you receive. I’ve seen people who rigidly run down a standard question list, regardless of the responses they get. That isn’t art. You ask. He or she answers. What question best flows from the answer? And so on. When you can do that well on a real-time basis, you are a composer; an artist; a creative, investigative investor. I went with my father about a jillion times to visit companies between 1972 and 1982. I worked for him only for a year, but we did lots of things together after that. In looking at companies, he always prepared questions in advance, typed on yellow pages with space in between so he could scribble notes. He always wanted to be prepared, and he wanted the company to know he was prepared so they would appreciate him. And he used the questions as a sort of outline of topics to be covered. It was also a great backup in case the conversation went bad, and cold, which occasionally it did. Then he could get things back on course instantly with one of his prepared questions. But his very best questions always popped out of his mind, unprepared, never having been written down in advance because they were the angle he picked up on the fly, as he heard an answer to a lesser question. Those creative questions were the art. It is what, in my mind, made his querying great.

Before presenting his investment philosophy Philip, looks to the past and compares it to the present in search for investment clues, concluding that the present offers us just as many if not more opportunities to invest in growth companies:

Before going further, it might be well to summarize briefly the various investment clues that can be gleaned from a study of the past and from a comparison of the major differences, from an investment standpoint between the past and the present. Such a study indicates that the greatest investment reward comes to those who by good luck or good sense find the occasional company that over the years can grow in sales and profits far more than industry as a whole. It further shows that when we believe we have found such a company we had better stick with it for a long period of time. It gives us a strong hint that such companies need not necessarily be young and small. Instead, regardless of size, what really counts is a management having both a determination to attain further important growth and an ability to bring its plans to completion. The past gives us a further clue that this growth is often associated with knowing how to organize research in the various fields of the natural sciences so as to bring to market economically worthwhile and usually interrelated product lines. It makes clear to us that a general characteristic of such companies is a management that does not let its preoccupation with long-range planning prevent it from exerting constant vigilance in performing the day-to-day tasks of ordinary business outstandingly well. Finally, it furnishes considerable assurance that in spite of the very many spectacular investment opportunities that existed twenty-five or fifty years ago, there are probably even more such opportunities available today. 

From a practical guidance standpoint, Philip outlines his methodology for the sources from which one can gather intelligence on the companies to be considered for investment opportunities through his infamous “scuttlebutt method”:

The business “grapevine” is a remarkable thing. It is amazing what an accurate picture of the relative points of strength and weakness of each company in an industry can be obtained from a representative cross-section of the opinions of those who in one way or another are concerned with any particular company…Go to five companies in an industry, ask each of them intelligent questions about the points of strength and weakness of the Other four, and nine times out of ten a surprisingly detailed and accurate picture of all five will emerge. However, competitors are only one and not necessarily the best source of informed opinion. It is equally astonishing how much can be learned from both vendors and customers about the real nature of the people with whom they deal. Research scientists in universities, in government, and in competitive companies are another fertile source of worthwhile data. So are executives of trade associations…There is still one further group which can be of immense help to the prospective investor in search of a bonanza company. This group, however, can be harmful rather than helpful if the investor does not use good judgment and does not do plenty of cross-checking: with others to verify his own judgment as to the reliability of what is told him. This group consists of former employees. Such people frequently have a real inside view in regard to their former employer’s strength and weakness…If enough different sources of information are sought about a company, there is no reason to believe that each bit of data obtained should agree with each other bit of data. Actually, there is not the slightest need for this to happen. In the case of really outstanding companies, the preponderant information is so crystal-clear that even a moderately experienced investor who knows what he is seeking will be able to tell which companies are likely to be of enough interest to him to warrant taking the next step in his investigation. This next step is to contact the officers of the company to try and fill out some of the gaps still existing in the investor’s picture of the situation being studied.

Having identified the sources, the Fifteen Points To Look For In A Common Stock are introduced, each to uncover a particular dimension of the organization being investigated as a potential investment opportunity:

POINT 1. Does the company have products or services with sufficient market potential to make possible a sizable increase in sales for at least several years?

POINT 2. Does the management have a determination to continue to develop products or processes that will still further increase total sales potentials when the growth potentials of currently attractive product lines have largely been exploited?

POINT 3. How effective are the company’s research and development efforts in relation to its size?

POINT 4. Does the company have an above-average sales organization?

POINT 5. Does the company have a worthwhile profit margin?

POINT 6. What is the company doing to maintain or improve profit margins?

POINT 7. Does the company have outstanding labor and personnel relations?

POINT 8. Does the company have outstanding executive relations?

POINT 9. Does the company have depth to its management?

POINT 10. How good are the company’s cost analysis and accounting controls?

POINT 11. Are there other aspects of the business, somewhat peculiar to the industry involved, which will give the investor important clues as to how outstanding the company may be in relation to its competition?

POINT 12. Does the company have a short-range or long-range outlook in regard to profits?

POINT 13. In the foreseeable future will the growth of the company require sufficient equity financing so that the larger number of shares then outstanding will largely cancel the existing stockholders’ benefit from this s anticipated growth?

POINT 14. Does the management talk freely to investors about its affairs when things are going well but “clam up” when troubles and disappointments occur?

POINT 15. Does the company have a management of unquestionable integrity?

Fisher stresses the importance of the last point, integrity, as being foundational:

Any investment may still be considered interesting if it falls down in regard to almost any other one of the fifteen points which have now been covered, but rates an unusually high score in regard to all the rest. Regardless of how high the rating may be in all other matters, however, if there is a serious question of the lack of a strong management sense of trusteeship for stockholders, the investor should never seriously consider participating in such an enterprise. 

On when to buy, the following guidance is provided:

I believe investors in this group should start buying the appropriate type of common stocks just as soon as they feel sure they have located one or more of them. However, having made a start in this type of purchasing, they should stagger the timing of further buying. They should plan to allow several years before the final part of their available funds will have become invested. By so doing, if the market has a severe decline somewhere in this period, they will still have purchasing power available to take advantage of such a decline. If no decline occurs and they have properly selected their earlier purchases, they should have at least a few substantial gains on such holdings. This would provide a cushion so that if a severe decline happened to occur at the worst possible time for them—which would be just after the final part of their funds had become fully invested—the gains on the earlier purchases should largely, if not entirely, offset the declines on the more recent ones. No severe loss of original capital would therefore be involved.

Fisher cautions us on trying to time the market, and miss out on buying opportunities:

So complex and diverse are these influences that the safest course to follow will be the one that at first glance appears to be the most risky. This is to take investment action when matters you know about a specific company appear to warrant such action. Be undeterred by fears or hopes based on conjectures, or conclusions based on surmises.

On when to sell, Fisher provides three drivers (besides personal emergency needs):

I believe there are three reasons, and three reasons only, for the sale of any common stock which has been originally selected according to the investment principles already discussed. The first of these reasons should be obvious to anyone. This is when a mistake has been made in the original purchase and it becomes increasingly clear that the factual background of the particular company is, by a significant margin, less favorable than originally believed. The proper handling of this type of situation is largely a matter of emotional self-control. To some degree it also depends upon the investor’s ability to be honest with himself…We come now to the second reason why sale should be made of a common stock purchased under the investment principles already outlined in Chapters Two and Three. Sales should always be made of the Stock of a company which, because of changes resulting from the passage of time, no longer qualifies in regard to the fifteen points outlined in Chapter Three to about the same degree it qualified at the time of purchase. This is why investors should be constantly on their guard. It explains why it is of such importance to keep at all times in close contact with the affairs of companies whose shares are held. , When companies deteriorate in this way they usually do so for one of two reasons. Either there has been a deterioration of management, or the company no longer has the prospect of increasing the markets for its product in the way it formerly did…For those who follow the right principles in making their original purchases, the third reason why a stock might be sold seldom arises, and should be acted upon only if an investor is very sure of his ground. It arises from the fact that opportunities for attractive investment are extremely hard to find. From a timing standpoint, they are seldom found just when investment funds happen to be available. If an investor has had funds for investment for quite a period of time and found few attractive situations into which to place these funds, he may well place some or all of them in a well-run company which he believes has definite growth prospects. However, these growth prospects may be at a slower average annual rate than may appear to be the case for some other seemingly more attractive situation that is found later. The already-owned company may in some other important aspects appear to be less attractive as well.

He also reminds us, in concluding the chapter on when to sell, and when not to sell, that some of our holdings are worth keeping indefinitely:

Perhaps the thoughts behind this chapter might be put into a single sentence: If the job has been correctly done when a common stock is purchased, the time to sell it is—almost never.

Fisher is not a major proponent of dividends:

Actually dividend considerations should be given the least, not the most, weight by those desiring to select outstanding stocks. Perhaps the most peculiar aspect of this much-discussed subject of dividends is that those giving them the least consideration usually end up getting the best dividend return. Worthy of repetition here is that over a span of five to ten years, the best dividend results will come not from the high-yield stocks but from those with the relatively low yield. So profitable are the results of the ventures opened up by exceptional managements that while they still continue the policy of paying out a low proportion of current earnings, the actual number of dollars paid out progressively exceed what could have been obtained from high-yield shares. Why shouldn’t this logical and natural trend continue in the future?

Finally, he shares with us two lists of five don’ts for investing:

1- Don’t buy into promotional companies.

2- Don’t ignore a good stock just because it is traded “over the counter.”

3- Don’t buy a stock just because you like the “tone” of its annual report.

4- Don’t assume that the high price at which a stock may be selling in relation to earnings is necessarily an indication that further growth in those earnings has largely been already discounted in the price.

5- Don’t quibble over eighths and quarters.

6- Don’t over-stress diversification.

7- Don’t be afraid of buying on a war scare.

8- Don’t forget your Gilbert and Sullivan (There are certain superficial financial statistics which are frequently given an undeserved degree of attention by many investors).

9- Don’t fail to consider time as well as price in buying a true growth stock.

10- Don’t follow the crowd.

Besides being a very practical and applicable book on investing, particularly for those who subscribe to the value investing school of thought. Also, and although this is a book primarily targeted for investors it is just as applicable as a management book, outlining the foundations of a well run organization. Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits is a must read.

On Secrets for Profiting in Bull and Bear Markets

I recently finished reading Secrets for Profiting in Bull and Bear Markets by Stan Weinstein.

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

1- “After having mad plenty of mistakes, I’ve learned how to decipher the very obvious clues that the market gives us and then tactically respond to a given situation. I’m going to teach you a new set of stock market rules that will make the market much less stressful and far more profitable for you. These rules won’t have you pouring over balance sheets or listening to some company spokesman drone on about his firm’s progress toward higher returns on shareholders’ equity. These rules will require that you do two things: control your own greed and fear, and find and decipher the obvious clues that the market tosses your way.”

2- “Therefore, your philosophy should be simple: 1. Never buy or sell a stock without checking the chart. 2. Never buy a stock when good news comes out, especially y if the chart shows a significant advance prior to the news release. Never buy a stock because it appears cheap after getting smashed. When it sells off further, you’ll find out that cheap can become far cheaper! 3. Never buy a stock because it appears cheap after getting smashed. When it sells off further, you’ll find out that cheap can become far cheaper! 4. Never buy a stock in a downtrend on the chart (I’ll soon show you specifically how to define a downtrend). 5. Never hold a stock that is in a downtrend no matter how low the price/earnings ratio. Many weeks later and several points lower, you’ll find out why the stock was going down. 6. Always be consistent. If you find that you’re sometimes buying. sometimes selling in practically identical situations, then there is something terribly wrong with your discipline.”

3- “Any stock has to be in one of four market stages, and the trick to be able to identify each one. The four stages of a major cycle. as illustrated in Chart 2-1 are: (1) The basing area, (2) the advancing stage, (3) the top area, and (4) the declining stage.”

4- “There is never an investment—whether it be stocks gold, real estate, gems, or Naugahyde futures—that is a “buy it and forget it” situation. All investments go through cycles, and When you hold through the down part of the cycle (Stage 4) you suffer both financially and emotionally.”

5- “After years of observing and studying market cycles, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that sector analysis is just as important as overall market timing. In fact, in certain markets it is even more important.”

6- “There definitely is! While no system will ever be a perfect forecaster of the future, we can learn some simple rules that will put the probabilities of success strongly in a our favor…THE LESS RESISTANCE THE BETTER…THE IMPORTANCE OF VOLUME..never trust a breakout that isn’t accompanied by a significant increase in volume…IT’S ALL RELATIVE The next important factor to check out when narrowing down our list of potential buys is the relative strength (RS). This is a measure of how a stock is acting in relation to the overall market…If the relative strength is n good shape and improving and all other criteria are positive, then go for it. But absolutely never buy a stock, no matter how good the other factors, if the relative strength is in negative territory and it remains in poor shape.”

7- “QUICK REFERENCE GUIDE ON BUYING…Check the major trend of the overall market. • Uncover the few groups that look best technically. Make a list of those stocks in the favorable groups that have bullish patterns but are now in trading ranges. Write down the price that each would need to break out. • iNarrow down the list. Discard those that have overhead resistance nearby. Narrow the list further by checking relative strength. Put in your buy-stop orders for half of your position for those few stocks that meet our buying criteria. Use buy-stop orders on a good-’til-canceled (GTC) basis. If volume is favorable on the breakout and contracts on the decline, buy your other half position on a pullback toward the initial breakout. If the volume pattern is negative (not high enough on breakout), sell the stock on the first rally. If it fails to rally and falls back below the breakout point, immediately dump it.”

8- “STAN’S DON’T COMMANDMENTS…Don’t buy when the overall market trend is bearish. * Don’t buy a stock in a negative group. Don’t buy a stock below its 30-week MA. Don’t buy a stock that has a declining 30-week MA (even if the stock is above the MA). • No matter how bullish a stock is, don’t buy it too late in an advance, when it is far above the ideal entry point. • Don’t buy a stock that has poor volume characteristics on the breakout. If you bought it because you had a buy-stop order in, sell it quickly. Don’t buy a stock showing poor relative strength. •Don’t buy a stock that has heavy nearby overhead resistance. • Don’t guess a bottom. What looks like a bargain can turn out to be a very expensive Stage 4 disaster. Instead, buy on breakouts above resistance.”

9- “DON’TS FOR SELLING 1. Don’t base your selling decision on tax considerations…2. Don’t base your selling decision on how much the stock is yielding…3. Don’t hold onto a stock because the price/earnings (PIE) ratio is low…4. Don’t sell a stock simply because the PIE is too high…5. Don’t average down in a negative situation…6. Don’t refuse to sell because the overall market trend is bullish…7. Don’t wait for the next rally to sell…8. Don’t hold onto a stock simply because it is of high quality.”

10- “This increased volatility in the stock market is a two-edged sword. On the positive side, it gives us a chance to make money even faster. The downside is that when a reversal occurs, your stock can move from Stage 2 into Stage 3 far more quickly. This is especially true if it’s one of the overly loved institutional favorites. These issues can really change direction in a hurry when bad news comes out and the institutional herd starts to panic. The way to protect yourself is by using a sell-stop order.”

11- “Don’t waste your time trying to determine if trading or investing is the best way to make money. There is no one best way; either approach can lead to success if skillfully applied. Instead, give some thought to understanding the kind of person you are and which approach you’d be comfortable with. Use a little introspection to find out what cloth you’re cut from, and then become the best damned investor or trader that you can be! It leads to disaster if you decide to invest, but then get so angry because your stock dropped six or seven points that you end up dumping it just before the next upleg. So have an honest talk with yourself. If you obviously belong in one area or the other, then get there. Interestingly, there really are a number of market players who are in the middle ind can adopt either approach. If you fall into this category, I suggest a mixed approach.”

12- “SUMMARY OF SHORT-SELLING DON’TS Don’t sell short because the P/E is too high. Don’t sell short because the stock has run up too much. • Don’t sell short a sucker stock that everyone else agrees must crash. • Don’t sell short a stock that trades thinly. Don’t sell short a Stage 2 stock. Don’t sell short a stock in a strong group. Don’t sell short without protecting yourself with a buy-stop order.”

13- “When a truly one-sided opinion really grabs the Street, it becomes so heavy you can almost cut it with a knife. One other word caution: I disagree with those who believe that contrary opinion alone is enough. Not true. I view CO as a psychological potential. just as the price/dividend ratio represents a value potential. Neither one should ever make you buy or sell stocks if all the timing gauges disagree. When CO gets the agreement of the other technical tools, then get set, because a big market move is getting ready to unfold.”

14- “Here are the proper ways to increase your probability of success (Options)…Buy a call option only on a stock that is in Stage 2 or is moving into Stage 2…2. Buy only an option that has big potential…3. Give yourself a reasonable amount of time before expiration…4. Buy an option that is close to the striking price and, if possible, in the money…5. Use a very tight protective stop on your option positions.”


Omar Halabieh

Secrets for Profiting in Bull and Bear Markets

On Reminiscences of a Stock Operator

I recently finished reading Reminiscences of a Stock Operator by Edwin Lefevre.

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

1- “Another lesson I learned early is that there is nothing new in Wall Street. There can’t be because speculation is as old as the hills. Whatever happens in the stock market to-day has happened before and will happen again. I’ve never forgotten that. I suppose I really manage to remember when and how it happened. The fact that I remember that way is my way of capitalizing experience.”

2- “It takes a man a long time to learn all the lessons of all his mistakes. They say there are two sides to everything. But there is only one side to the stock market; and it is not the bull side or the bear side, but the right side. It took me longer to get that general principle fixed firmly in my mind than it did most of the more technical phases of the game of Stock speculation.”

3- “If the unusual never happened there would be no difference in people and then there wouldn’t be any fun in life. The game would become merely a matter of addition and subtraction. It would make of us a race of bookkeepers with with plodding minds. It’s the guessing that develops a man’s brain power. Just consider what you have to do to guess right.”

4- “There is nothing like losing all you have in the world for teaching you what not to do. And when you know what not to do in order not to lose money, you begin to learn what to do in order to win. Did you get that ? You begin to learn!”

5- “After spending many years m Wall Street and after making and losing millions of dollars I want to tell you this: It never was my thinking that made the big money for me. It always was my sitting. Got that? My sitting tight! It is no trick at all to be right on the market. You always find lots of early bulls in bull markets and early bears in bear markets. I’ve known many men who were right at exactly the right time, and began buying or selling stocks when prices were at the very level which should show the greatest profit. And their experience invariably matched mine—that is, they made no real money out of it. Men who can both be right and sit tight are uncommon. I . I found it one of the hardest things to learn. But it is only after a stock operator has firmly grasped this that he can make big money. It is literally true that millions come easier to a trader after he knows how to trade than hundreds did in the days of his ignorance.”

6- “The reason is that a man may see straight and clearly and yet become impatient or doubtful when the market takes its time about doing as he figured it must do. That is why so many men in Wall Street, who are not at all in the sucker class, not even in the third grade, nevertheless lose money. The market does not beat them. They beat themselves, because though they have brains they cannot sit tight.”

7- “Even as a lad I always got my own meanings out of such facts as I observed. It is the only way in which the meaning reaches me. I cannot get out of facts what somebody tells me to get. They are my facts, don’t you see? If I believe something you can be sure it is because I simply must.”

8- “A stock speculator sometimes makes mistakes and knows that he is making them. And after he makes them he will ask himself why he made them; and after thinking over it cold-bloodedly a long time after the pain of punishment is over he may learn how he came to make them, and when, and at what particular point of his trade; but not why. And then he simply calls himself names and lets it go at that. Of course, if a man is both wise and lucky, he will not make the same mistake twice. But he will make any one of the ten thousand brothers or cousins of the original. The Mistake family is so large that there is always one of them around when you want to see what you can do in the fool-play line.”

9- “The weaknesses that all men are prone to are fatal to success in speculation—usually those very weaknesses that make him likable to his fellows or that he himself particularly guards against in those other ventures of his where they are not nearly so dangerous as when he is trading in stocks or commodities. The speculator’s chief enemies are always boring from within. It is inseparable from human nature to hope and to fear. In speculation when the market goes against you you hope that every day will be the last day—and you lose more than you should had you not listened to hope—to the same ally that is so potent a success-bringer to empire builders and pioneers, big and little. And when the market goes your way you become fearful that the next day will take away your profit, and you get out—too soon. Fear keeps you from making as much^money as you ought to. The successful trader has to fight these two deep-seated instincts. He has to reverse what you might call his natural impulses. Instead of hoping he must fear; instead of fearing he must hope. He must fear that his loss may develop into a much bigger loss, and hope that his profit may become a big profit. It is absolutely wrong to gamble in stocks the way the average man does.”

10- “The professional concerns himself with doing the right thing rather than with making money, knowing that the profit takes care of itself if the other things are attended to. A trader gets to play the game as the professional billiard player does—that is, he looks far ahead instead of considering the particular shot before him. It gets to be an instinct to play for position.”

11- “A trader, in addition to studying basic conditions, remembering market precedents and keeping in mind the psychology of the outside public as well as the limitations of his brokers, must also know himself and provide against his own weaknesses. There is no need to feel anger over being human.”

12- “A bear tip is distinct, positive advice to sell short. But the inverted tip that is, the explanation that does not explain—serves merely to keep you from wisely selling short. The natural tendency when a stock breaks badly is to sell it. There is a reason—an unknown reason but a good reason; therefore get out. But it is not wise to get out when the break is the result of a raid by an operator, because the moment he stops the price must rebound. Inverted tips!”

13- “The belief in miracles that all men cherish is born of immoderate indulgence in hope. There are people who go on hope sprees periodically and we all know the chronic hope drunkard that is held up before us as an exemplary optimist. Tip-takers are all they really are.”

14- “I have found that experience is apt to be steady dividend payer in this game and that observation gives you the best tips of all. The behaviour of a certain stock is all you need at times. You observe it. Then experience shows you how to profit by variations from the usual, that is, from the probable.”

15- “The manipulator to-day has no more need to consider what they did and how they did it than a cadet at West Point need study archery as practiced by the ancients in order to increase his working knowledge of ballistics. On the other hand there is profit in studying the human factors—the ease with which human beings believe what it pleases them to believe; and how they allow themselves— or by the dollar-cost of the average man’s carelessness. Fear and hope remain the same; therefore the study of the psychology of speculators is as valuable as it ever was. Weapons change, but strategy remains strategy, on the New York Stock Exchange as on the battlefield.”

16- “Speculation in stocks will never disappear. It isn’t desirable that it should. It cannot be checked by warnings as to its dangers. You cannot prevent people from guessing wrong no matter how able or how experienced they may be. Carefully laid plans will miscarry because the unexpected and even the unexpectable will happen. Disaster may come from a convulsion of nature or from the weather, from your own greed or from some man’s vanity; from fear or from uncontrolled hope. But apart from what one might call his natural foes, a speculator in stocks has to contend with certain practices or abuses that are indefensible morally as well as commercially.”

17- “But today, a ‘”an is trading in everything; almost every industry in the world is represented. It requires more time and more work to keep posted and to that extent stock speculation has become much more difficult for those who operate intelligently.”


Omar Halabieh

Reminiscences of a Stock Operator

On The Four Pillar of Investing

I recently finished reading The Four Pillars of Investing – Lessons for Building a Winning Portfolio –  by William Bernstein.

As the title suggests, the author presents within this book four essential pillars of successful investing. Each section of the book is then dedicated to investigating and detailing each of these pillars and they are: 1) Theory 2) History 3) Psychology and 4) Business. The first section on theory, is one which the author calls “the most important part of the book”. In his words it “surveys the awesome body of theory and data relevant to everyday investing”. This section centers itself around the “fundamental characteristic of any investment is that its return and risk go hand in hand.” The second section on History postulates that “an understanding of financial history provides an additional dimension of expertise.” The third section, Psychology,  is one in which the author surveys the area of “behavioral finance”. Where one “learns how to avoid the most common behavioral  mistakes and to confront your own dysfunctional investment behavior.” Last but not least the last section – Business – exposes how “the modern financial services industry is designed solely to serve itself.”

What sets this book apart from other investing books is the breadth of areas covered, and also the writing style which is both “understandable and entertaining”. A highly recommended read for any investor regardless of level.

Below are key excerpts from the book, that I found particularly insightful:

1) “The highest returns are obtained by shouldering prudent risk when things look the bleakest.”

2) “Most small investors naturally assume that good companies are good stocks, when the opposite is usually true.”

3) “Sine you cannot successfully time the market or select individual stocks, asset allocation should be the major focus of your investment strategy. because it is the only factor affecting your investment risk and return that you can control.”

4) “Bubbles occur whenever investors begin buying stocks simply because they have been going up.”

5) “Buying assets that everyone else has been running from takes more fortitude than most investors can manage. But if you are equal to the task, you will be rewarded.”

6) “There are really two behavioral errors operating in the overconfidence playground. The first is the “compartmentalization” of success and failure. We tend to remember those activities, or areas of our portfolios, in which we succeeded an forget about those areas where we didn’t…The second is that its far more agreeable to ascribe success to skill than to luck.”

7) “By indexing, you are tapping into the most powerful intelligence in the world of finance – the collective wisdom of the market itself.”

8) “Rebalancing forces you to be a contrarian – someone who does the opposite of what everyone else is doing. Financial contrarians tend to be wealthier than folks who like to simply follow the crowd.”

9) “Risk and return are inextricably enmeshed. Do not expect high returns without frightening risks, and if you desire safety, you must accept low returns.”

10) “This book should be seen as a framework to which you’ll be continuously adding knowledge.”

11) “The overarching message of this book is at once powerful and simple: With relatively little effort, you can design and assemble an investment portfolio that, because of its wide diversification and minimal expense, will prove superior to most professionally managed accounts.”


Omar Halabieh

The Four Pillars of Investing

Wall Street Demystified

I recently read the book Wall Street – How it works and for whom – by Doug Henwood. This book can be downloaded (for free) from its website.

As the title indicates, this book is an introduction to Wall Street – how it works and for whom. The book is composed of seven chapters as follows:

1- Instruments: This chapter covers the range of instruments traded on Wall Street, such as stocks, bonds, derivatives, currencies etc.

2- Players: This chapter covers the main stakeholders including households, nonfinancial business, financial institutions, the government etc.

3- Ensemble: This chapter discusses how the markets are intertwined, with a focus on credit, finance and the economy, allocation etc. It also includes a sample trading week to put these concepts into action.

4- Market Models: This chapter presents the numerous financial models that have been devised to simulate the market. It also discusses features of these markets, namely efficiency, disinformation, noise, fads, and bubbles.

5- Renegades: This chapter discusses in detail the Keynesian view of the markets, as well as those of Marx.

6- Governance: This chapter is about Corporate Governance, with a section on the relation of Wall Street and the government.

7- What is (not) to be done?: This last chapter includes the author’s thoughts on a number of economic issues such as social security, the Fed, investing socially, taxation, corporate transformation.

The breadth of topics discussed within this book is commendable, backed by a plethora of references for further reading in areas of interest. Chapters 1 and 2, serve as a great introduction and primer on the financial markets. The insight, stories and practical example presented make this book accessible. A final, and important comment to keep in mind, is that the author presents the content of the book (particularly the later chapters) from a leftist perspective.


Omar Halabieh

Wall Street

Wall Street

On The Money Game

I recently finished reading The Money Game by George Goodman (pseudonym Adam Smith).

This is a classic about the stock market and investing. George covers a breadth of topics in that area based on his insider experience. This includes the psychology of the investor (“you”), IT systems and their impact on the investing field, the professional money managers and their role in the Game etc. The concepts are introduced in an accessible, and often humorous style. While the author does not offer direct investing advice, he does expose what he calls “the biases” that exist in the market – that are essential to take into account to be successful together with good judgment.

George is very successful at immersing the reader into the culture, the psychology and way of thinking that dominates the financial markets and its participants. While this book is dated, most of the concepts discussed still apply to the financial industry today. A recommended read for anyone looking to gain more insight into the Stock Market.

Below are excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

1) “If you are a successful Game player, it can be a fascinating, consuming, totally absorbing experience, in fact it has to be. It it is not totally absorbing, you are not likely to be among the most successful, because you are competing with those who do find it absorbing.”

2) “The irony is that this is a money game and money is the way we keep score. But the real object of the Game is not money, it is the playing of the Game itself. For the true players, you could take all the trophies away and substitute plastic beads or whale’s teeth; as long as there is a way to keep score, they will play.”

3) “In short, if you really know what’s going on, you don’t even have to know what’s going on to know what’s going on.”

4) “You must use your emotions in a useful way…Your emotions must support the goal you’re after…You must operate without anxiety.”

5) “The strongest emotions in the marketplace are greed and fear. In rising markets, you can almost feel the greed tide begin…the greed itch begins when you see stocks move that you don’t own.”

6) “If you know that the stock doesn’t know you own it, you are ahead of the game. You are ahead because you can change your mind and your actions without regard to what you did or thought yesterday.”

7) “Who makes the really big money? The inside stockholders of a company do, when the market capitalizes the earnings of that company.”

8) “What you want is the company which is about to do that (compounding earnings) over the next couple of years. And to do that, you not only have to know that the company is doing something right, but what it is doing right, and why these earnings are compounding.”

9) “What I have told you is a set of biases so you can make your own judgement.”

10) “It is an informal thesis of charting that there are roughly four stages of stock movement. These four are: 1) Accumulation: To make a perfect case, let us say the stock has been asleep for a long time, inactively trade. Then the volume picks up and probably so does the price. 2) Mark-up…Now the supply may be a bit thinner, and the stock is more pursued by buyers, so it moves up more steeply. 3) Distribution. The Smart People who bought the stock early are busy selling it to the Dumb People who are buying it late, and the result is more or less a standoff, depending on whose enthusiasm is greater. 4) Panic Liquidation. Everybody gets the hell out, Smart People, Dumb People, “everybody.” Since there is “no one” left to buy, the stock goes down.”

11) “Does this mean that charts can be ignored? Perhaps charts can be a useful tool even without inherent predictive qualities. A chart can give you an instant portrait of the character of a stock, whether it follows a minuet, a waltz, a twist, or the latest rock gyration. The chart can also sometimes tell you whether the character of the dancer seems to have changed.”

12) “The computer is going to sanctify charting. The Chartists are on their way.”

13) “The characteristics of performance are concentration and turnover. By concentration, as I said before, I mean limiting the number of issues. Limiting the number of issues means that attention is focused sharply on them, and the ones that do not perform well virtually beg to be dropped off…Furthermore, you are going to be scouting for the best six ideas, because if you find a really good one it may bump one of your other ones off the list. Turnover means how long you hold the stocks…All that turover has doubled the volume in the last couple of years, and the brokers are getting very rich.”

14) “The further we come along, the more apparent becomes the wisdom of the Master in describing the market as a game of musical chairs. The most brilliant and perceptive analysis you can do may sit there until someone else believes it too, for the object of the game is not to own some stock, like a faithful dog, which you have chosen, but to get to the piece of paper ahead of the crowd. Value is not only inherent in the stock, it has to be value that is appreciated by others…It follows that some sort of sense timing is necessary, and you either develop it, or you don’t.”

15) “The aspiration of the people are a noble thing and no one is against jobs. But it does seem easy to produce them with currency rather than productivity. Central governments soon learn the utility of a deficit. It is convenient to take the views of the economists who followed Keynes and spend money during recessions. There are even problems on that side of the equation, because even with the breadth of statistical reporting and with computer, speed, this kind of economics is still inexact, and the central government can find itself pressing the wrong lever at the wrong time.”

16) “The love of money as a possession – as distinguished from love of money as a means to the enjoyments and realities of life – will be recognized for what it is, a somewhat disgusting morbidity, one of those semi-criminal, semi-pathological propensities which one hands over with a shudder to the specialists in mental disease.”


Omar Halabieh

The Money Game

The Money Game

On More Than You Know

I recently finished reading the book More Than You Know – Finding Financial Wisdom in Unconventional Places – by Michael J. Mauboussin.

The core premise of this book is best summarized by the author: “More Than You Know’s core premise is simple to explain but devilishly difficult to live: you will be better investor, executive, parent, friend – person – if you approach problems from a multidisciplinary perspectives”. He then details his approach: “While the essays cover a range of topics, I categorize them into four parts – investment philosophy, psychology of investing, innovation and competitive strategy, and science and complexity theory. Consider these compartments in a toolbox, each addressing a distinct facet of investing.”

Michael does an excellent job of explaining his multidisciplinary perspectives for investing in a very accessible and practical way – assuming very little prior knowledge. The separate essays are very focused and direct to the point, making this book very easy and relatively quick to ready. A refreshing and very interesting take on investing that can be extended to numerous other fields. A must read!

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

1- “Rubin – “It’s not that results don’t matter. They do. But judging solely on results is a serious deterrent to taking risks that may be necessary to making the right decision. Simply put, the way decisions are evaluated affects the way decisions are made.”

2- “I would argue that many of the performance challenges in the business stem from an unhealthy balance between the profession and the business. Many of the investment managers that do beat the market seem to have the profession at the core.”

3- “…The leading thinkers and practitioners from somewhat varied fields have converged on the same formula: focus not on the frequency of correctness but on the magnitude of correctness.”

4- “The lesson from the process of theory building is that sound theories reflect context. Too many investors cling to attribute-based approaches and wring their hands when the market doesn’t conform to what they think it should do.”

5- “Investors need to pay a great deal of attention to what influences their behavior. Three of Cialdini’s six tendencies are particularly relevant for investors: consistency and commitment, social validation, and scarcity.”

6- “A dominant idea in Western society is that we should separate emotion and rationality. Advances in science show that such a separation is not only impossible but also undesirable. Yet successful investing requires a clear sense of probabilities and payoffs. Investors who are aware of affect are likely to make better decisions over time.”

7- “In markets, a symbiotic relationship between positive and negative feedback generally prevails…But the evidence shows that positive feedback can dominate prices, if only for a short time.”

8- “So The issue is not whether individuals are irrational (they are) but whether they are irrational in the same way at the same time.”

9- “In effect, when the environment is uncertain, it helps to start with lots of alternatives (e.g., synaptic connections) and then select (via pruning) the ones that are best given the environment. The process is undoubtedly costly because lots of energy and resources necessarily go to waste, but it’s the best one going.”

10- “Chess master Bruce Pandolfini observes four behaviors that are consistent among chess champions and useful in thinking through the short-term/long-term debate. 1) Don’t look too far ahead…2) Develop options and continuously revise them based on the changing conditions…3) Know your competition…4) Seek small advantages.”

11- “Idea diversity allows you to find what Johnson calls “weak signals.” A weak signal may be the start of a trend away from the dominant path (such as new technology or development) or the right piece of information at the right time from an unexpected source.”

12- “In his 2001 letter to shareholders, Warren Buffett distinguishes between experience and exposure. Experience, of course, looks to the past and considers the probability of future outcomes based on occurrence of historical events. Exposure, on the other hand, considers the likelihood – and potential risk – of an event that history (especially recent history) may not reveal. Buffett argues that in 2001 the insurance industry assumed huge terrorism risk without commensurate premiums because it was focused on experience, not exposure.”

13- “If the stock market is a system that emerges from the interaction of many different investors, then reductionism – understanding individuals – does not give a good picture of how the market works. Investors and corporate executives who pay too much attention to individuals are trying to understand markets at the wrong level. An inappropriate perspective of the market can lead to poor judgments and value-destroying decisions.”

14- “The stock market has all of the characteristics of a complex adaptive system. Investors with different investment styles and time horizons (adaptive decision riles) trade with one another (aggregation), and we see fat-tail price distributions (nonlinearity) and imitation (feedback loops). An agent-based approach to understanding markets is gaining broader acceptance. But this better descriptive framework does not offer the neat solutions that the current economic models do.”


Omar Halabieh

More Than You Know

More Than You Know