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This book is one of the hardest finance books to track down today. Published in 1991, it is now out of print, and sells on Amazon and Ebay for over $1000. It is even one of the most-stolen library books, making it very difficult to find a copy to read.
Seth Klarman, the portfolio manager of The Baupost Group, is a very successful practitioner of the value investing strategy. In this book, he sets out to educate the reader on this concept, stressing the advantages of a risk-averse approach. In his introduction, Klarman states that even if this book, as a side effect of educating more people to invest in a more sophisticated manner, causes diminished returns to himself - he considers it well worth it for the public good. While I highly applaud this mentality, it begs the question: why was the book not published again? Considering what I mentioned in the first paragraph, clearly there is significant demand to read it. Anyway, on to the book itself...
"Margin of Safety" is divided into three portions. The first part discusses where most investors make mistakes and stumble - it covers investing vs. speculation, the nature of Wall Street, and how institutional investing results in a short-term performance derby (of which the client is ultimately the loser). It also encapsulates the presented information in a thoughful case study of junk bonds in the 1980s. The second portion of the book introduces the details of the value-investment philosophy, primarily focusing on risk and how it is crucial to invest with a margin of safety. The last part provides useful applicable advice on actually following the value-investment process: where to find investment opportunities, how to invest in these opportunities, and various aspects of overall portfolio management.Read more ›
When I first heard about this book, being a novice yet avid investor, I was very enthusiastic to get my hands on it. My friends and I went on a scavenger hunt to every public and university library that might have had it. When we finally found it, we were definitely excited because we thought, "Why would this book be valued so highly, if it didn't have very good insights on how to beat the market and gain above average returns?" Needless to say it was an average book on value investing. And I stress average. If you're going to spend anything over $100 for this book, don't. If you still need to read it, get it from a library, but you'll still see that it probably wasn't worth it. All the clout that this book gets from being so pricey doesn't merit either trying to find it, or paying the price. That being said, the author didn't have enough real life examples. He talked about a few companies that he realized significant gains on, but the intricacy of how he did it is not really discussed at length like Peter Lynch does in his books. All in all, don't waste your money, and read one of the more popular Lynch or Graham books on value investing which are better written and more detailed.
If you want to invest like Seth but can't afford his book, just look up Baupost's 13F on Edgar.gov website. It's free and lists all of his latest holdings from the previous qtr. You can do this with other famous investors too such as Bruce Berkowitz's Fairholme Fund or Mohnish Pabrai's Pabrai Investment Fund. The 13F filing form is a very important tool for investing. I still would not just invest in any of their stocks without further researching them but it is a great start.
Whalewisdom is another website where you can get a more user friendly 13F forms to review.
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First, let me say that I've only actually seen a physical copy of this book once. I did have an opportunity to read it when a stained, paper-clipped pile of 15th or 20th generation photocopied pages comprising the entire book made the rounds at my office. Since that time, a PDF has circulated online and now, the content is freely available, effectively quashing any 'utilitarian' arguments for buying it.
The content is impressive, somewhat unique and very incisive, however, I think that in the year 2008, with copies of this book selling for $1500+, Margin Of Safety is now only 50% "book" with the remaining 50% being folklore and mythology. Owning a physical copy of MOS has become like a $25,000 wristwatch for value investors. It isn't about telling time... It's about how much you spent and showing the world what you have... and yes, you will find that the "value investors" who spent four figures for a copy of this book will defend their prize purchase to their dying breaths.
That Klarman has never ordered a reprint of this book tells us that he probably regrets having published it in the first place, not because it's a bad book but quite to the contrary, because it's a very good book that outlines much of his game plan; the profitability of which is greater the fewer competitors he has practicing it along with him.
Having finally "proven" everything he wrote in MOS with the Buffett'esque performance of his Baupost Group, I would wager that if he could go back in time and 'unpublish' this book, he probably would.
Still, would I ever pay this kind of money for a copy? Heck no. Of course, I won't buy a $10,000 wristwatch, either.
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