Quotes of 2014
In the quote below, Buffett explains why liquidity sometimes is converted into a curse when it should be a clear advantage:
Buffett on Farms, Real Estate, and Stocks - Part II
"Stocks provide you minute-to-minute valuations for your holdings whereas I have yet to see a quotation for either my farm or the New York real estate.
It should be an enormous advantage for investors in stocks to have those wildly fluctuating valuations placed on their holdings – and for some investors, it is. After all, if a moody fellow with a farm bordering my property yelled out a price every day to me at which he would either buy my farm or sell me his – and those prices varied widely over short periods of time depending on his mental state – how in the world could I be other than benefited by his erratic behavior? If his daily shout-out was ridiculously low, and I had some spare cash, I would buy his farm. If the number he yelled was absurdly high, I could either sell to him or just go on farming.
Owners of stocks, however, too often let the capricious and often irrational behavior of their fellow owners cause them to behave irrationally as well. Because there is so much chatter about markets, the economy, interest rates, price behavior of stocks, etc., some investors believe it is important to listen to pundits – and, worse yet, important to consider acting upon their comments.
Those people who can sit quietly for decades when they own a farm or apartment house too often become frenetic when they are exposed to a stream of stock quotations and accompanying commentators delivering an implied message of 'Don't just sit there, do something.' For these investors, liquidity is transformed from the unqualified benefit it should be to a curse." - Warren Buffett
He then explains how both he and Charlie Munger like to think about stocks:
"When Charlie and I buy stocks – which we think of as small portions of businesses – our analysis is very similar to that which we use in buying entire businesses. We first have to decide whether we can sensibly estimate an earnings range for five years out, or more. If the answer is yes, we will buy the stock (or business) if it sells at a reasonable price in relation to the bottom boundary of our estimate. If, however, we lack the ability to estimate future earnings – which is usually the case – we simply move on to other prospects. In the 54 years we have worked together, we have never foregone an attractive purchase because of the macro or political environment, or the views of other people. In fact, these subjects never come up when we make decisions.
It's vital, however, that we recognize the perimeter of our 'circle of competence' and stay well inside of it. Even then, we will make some mistakes, both with stocks and businesses." - Warren Buffett
Here's Charlie Munger's take on some of the boardroom dynamics that can cause compensation to end up being less than optimal for shareholders:
Buffett & Munger on Compensation - Part II
"You start paying directors of corporations two or three hundred thousand dollars a year, it creates a daisy chain of reciprocity where they keep raising the CEO and he keeps recommending more pay for the directors..." - Charlie Munger
He also explained why lots of disclosure regarding executive compensation is not necessarily the best thing for shareholders:
"I think envy is one of the major problems of the human condition... And so I think this race to have high compensation because other people do, has been fomented by all this publicity about higher earnings. I think it's quite counterproductive for the nation. There's a natural reaction to all this disclosure because everybody wants to match the highest." - Charlie Munger
In a memo written by Howard Marks back in September of 2014, he offered some thoughts about the various forms of risk. It is, to say the least, rather comprehensive. In my view, the memo is well worth reading -- not at all surprising since it is written by Marks -- in its entirety.
Some thoughts from Marks on risk:
Howard Marks on Risk
"We hear it all the time: 'Riskier investments produce higher returns' and 'If you want to make more money, take more risk.'
Both of these formulations are terrible. In brief, if riskier investments could be counted on to produce higher returns, they wouldn't be riskier." - Howard Marks
"...the riskiest thing is overpaying for an asset (regardless of its quality), and the best way to reduce risk is by paying a price that's irrationally low (ditto). A low price provides a 'margin of safety', and that's what risk-controlled investing is all about. Valuation risk should be easily combatted, since it's largely within the investor's control. All you have to do is refuse to buy if the price is too high given fundamentals.'Who wouldn't do that?' you might ask. Just think about the people who bought into the tech bubble." - Howard Marks
Here's how Buffett and Munger view macro factors in the context of investing:
Buffett: We Ignore the Macro Factors
"We look at opportunities, as they come along, we try to figure whether we can understand the long term economic prospects of the business. A lot of times the answer is no, then we forget it. We are not making any judgment about where the market is going or we are not looking at any macro factors.
My partner Charlie Munger and I have been working together now 55 years. We've talked about every business you can imagine and stocks. We have never had one decision that involved a macro factor. It just doesn't come up." - Warren Buffett
Buffett then added:
"We don't get into macro. It just doesn't make any difference. We do decide whether we think we know where that business will be in 10 years or 20 years, and we know what we'll pay in terms of valuation." - Warren Buffett
More from Buffett on why liquidity can become a curse when it really should not be:
"...if you are buying a business to own...the idea of what the market does on any given day, it's just meaningless. What you really have to look at is where you expect the business to be 5 or 10 or 20 years from now." - Warren Buffett
That's how most will think about businesses that aren't traded daily but, because stocks are quoted so frequently, behavior is changed for the worse.
"...you can look at stock prices minute by minute. And that should be an advantage but many people turn it into a disadvantage." - Warren Buffett
Happy New Year,
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