on May 5, 1997
When you have read Benjamin Graham analysing current ratios and balance sheets until you have decided that stock picking can be done by computer then (and only then) is it time to read Phillip Fisher.
Phillip Fisher searches for "growth stocks", companies with superlative management (superior sales force, superior research and development, clear focus on the business) and he holds their stocks FOREVER.
You can read this book and find not a single substantive mention of balance sheets, solvency, current ratios or any of the other things that most seasoned stock pickers rely on. Instead you find tips for analysing the scuttlebutt that you hear about a company and for testing whether management cuts the mustard. Thirteen or so of the "Fifteen Points" in the second chapter are worth the purchase price of the book and more.
These points summarise as:
* The management are technical geniuses.
* The management know how to milk the existing business, and
* The management resist the institutional imperative.
Unlike Phillip Fisher however, I am not sure the management need to be technical geniuses. Indeed Phillip Fisher's notion of what constitutes a growth stock is quite narrow. He is almost obsessive about research and development. New products are to him the major determinant of growth. He would never have picked Coca-Cola or McDonalds as growth stocks because their product is not technically innovative. Yet a reader of Phillip Fisher may have picked these stocks. They pass the bulk of Fisher's fifteen points with flying colours. Just making hamburgers is not making Silicon chips.
If you could combine Fisher's analysis with Graham and purchase these stocks at reasonable prices you might have even done well. (Incidently I am a Dow disbeliever from Australia and I still think McDonalds is reasonably priced.)
Certainly Fisher would not allow you to hold McDonalds and Coke above a well run techno company. Fisher regards techno stocks with a sort of awe. And regards anybody that holds more than twenty stocks as financially incompetent. [I agree with him on the latter point, and hence hold a small number of non-techno companies, which kind of suits a technophope like me.]
Fisher would have you purchasing Intel at $150, something which I am finding it increasingly difficult to justify (though I have been wrong on that stock before). Intel passes ALL of Fisher's fifteen points. Value does not play a part in Fisher's Analysis. He pays lip service once or twice, but there is precious little discussion on how to pick value. And that is where I think the book falls down.
This is actually quite a limited failing. There are two ways to proceed with Fisher. One: Look for businesses that pass Phillip Fisher's tests. perhaps thirteen of the fifteen points is adequate. Then put through the second filter of "are they crazy on a Benjamin Graham analysis". This will make sure that you do not pay too much for a good business.
Alternatively Benjamin Graham filter stocks. Get the listing down to say 200 or so that are not too expensive (particularly vis earnings rather than assets). Then put them through the Phillip Fisher filter. Buy the ones that pass best. This way you will not be tempted to buy a bad business just because its cheap.
I tend to operate using the latter method. However I would never have found McDonalds that way. So maybe I should do a bit of both.
Cheers and good hunting.
on June 26, 1999
I've not heard of the name "Philip Fisher" in my entire school years (4 yrs Undergrad. b-school & 2 yrs MBA) even I've been majoring in Finance. The "fundamental" approach in investing, as opposed to looking at a "beta", has been so ignored by the academica as it's "not objective enough" or that it has no math involved. Indeed, the book is 95% art & 5% science, and there're no certain ways to pick up the technique. However, the book makes so much sense to me that I had to read it twice. The principles are sound and stand through the test of time. Most investing books disappear after a few years, and this one is still as good. Some of the techniques are hard to put into practice such as "getting to know the management" and "investigate the competitors", but this book lets you know that selecting an outstanding long term investment involves more homeworks than most people are willing to do nowaday. The tradeoff btw. "easy money" and risk always exists even in today's stockmarket most people don't know what kind of risk they're undertaking.
on May 1, 2000
Fisher's book should be 1/2 your investment library; the otherhalf should be Ben Graham's ``The Intelligent Investor''. WarrenBuffet, the world's most successful investor, describes himself as ``85% Graham, 15% Fisher.''
Fisher explains the qualitative side to value investing, just as Graham explains the quantitative side. You really need both. If you follow Graham's advice insensitively, then you will find stocks which are selling cheap--because the company is truly in trouble. That's where Fisher comes in: you should examine low-priced companies from Fisher's perspective to find the ones which truly are bargains.
... Online discussions are no substitute for firsthand discussion with employees, competitors, etc. You simply can't meet enough people online; some companies' employees aren't even on the Internet. ... you will end up investing only in tech stocks--which I would consider extremely short-sighted.
On the other hand, online discussion is considerably better than nothing. Don't neglect the information you can find online! This source of information will become increasingly important over time.
on August 5, 2003
There are only two books you will ever need to read to become a good investor. One of them is Graham's "The Intelligent Investor" (or better, Graham and Dodd's "Security Analysis"). The other is Philip Fisher's "Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits".
It is telling that the man who combines the investment philosophies of both Graham and Fisher is widely acclaimed as the most brilliant investor alive today, Warren Buffet.
This is a book that you shouldn't just read once. It's a book you should read again and again. This is a book that you should read in cycles. Once you finish, you should read it again. It's short enough that you can read a chapter each night. This is a book that you should read until you can recite it word for word.
If you understand the principles in this book, and adhere stringently to Fisher's 15-point checklist for buying stocks, avoid his 10 don'ts, and purchase stocks at the right time, as he suggested how to do, you will almost certainly be investing in good companies.
If you then apply Graham's tests of value, you can avoid paying too much for those good companies. It is possible to have a good company but a bad stock (IBM is a great company today, and passes all of Fisher's criteria, but could you really justify buying it say $1,000 per share?).
When you do find companies that are good companies, but have bad stocks, keep an eye on them. What I mean by "bad stock" is that the stock -- in your opinion -- is priced too highly, even considering the company's excellent growth prospects (in other words, there is euphoria about it on Wallstreet that goes beyond reason). Eventually, the market will realize that, even for that great company, it was paying too much. The stock price will drop, and then, whenever everyone else is running from the company in fear of doom, you can scoop it up (assuming that it i still a good company).
Just as it is possible to have a good company but a bad stock, it is also possible to have a bad company but a good stock. You should not buy a stock just because it is cheap in PE, PEG, PS, or Price:book ratio. It is possible that the management may be so terrible that the company, in a few years time, may very well justify such current undervaluation. Even if the management is competent, it is still possible that the company' performance may justify that low price in a few year's time. When a stock is greatly undervalued by these measures, and has passed most of Fisher's criteria, then it is a great buy, because the market will eventually realize that management is brilliant and the stock should be priced higher.
Now, many have objected that Fisher's methods take a lot of time. Clearly, they do. So do Graham's. Certainly, using both methods in combination with one another will take a lot of time (you can use Graham's criteria first, or Fisher's, then apply the other set of criteria). If you don't have the interest or time to pursue this, then you should not be investing in invidiaul stocks yourself. Rather, you should find an advisor who does utilize these rules, or a mutual fund manager who does, and have him manage your money, if you want those kind of exceptional returns. In this case, you will still have to investigate the person managing your money, to make sure they're up to you're criteria, and stay on top of it, to make sure they continue to be. If you don't want to do that -- if you don't want to put in that effort -- then you should settle for ordinary returns, as Graham says. Invest in an index fund.
However, you should consider that there are not many stocks that will meet both Graham's stringent criteria, and Fisher's extremely stringent criteria. Of the tens of thousands of stocks, maybe 1,000 of them meet Graham's criteria. Of Those 1,000, maybe 50-100 meet Fisher's criteria. But, consider that you should only have to do this once, and thereafter only have to keep tabs on the companies (because you should have done it right the first time). Isn't several hours worth of work each night -- even for months -- worth finding a stock that will experience many hundreds of percent increase over 10 years?
To save yourself time, apply Graham's criteria first to eliminate fad stocks (dot-com), and other stocks that are priced too high. This will greatly cut down on your candidates. Then look at what's left and categorize it. Discard stocks from industries which you -- based on sound analysis -- believe aren't promising. Also discard those from industries which you don't understand. Of the remaining stocks, apply Fisher's criteria. To operate efficiently, apply his 15th criteria first: If there is any serious questions as to the management's trustworthiness to investors, don't even consider buying stock of the company, and don't waste any more time on it.
After reading these two books, you should know what criteria a company is to meet if it is a good investment, both Fisher's qualitative, and Graham's quantitative, criteria. You should apply the criteria that are easiest and quickest to filter through first. Then go through the criteria, progressively from more to less stringent. There's no point in wasting your time finding out about how great a company fairs on Fisher's first 14 criteria, only to find that it flatlines on the criteria of absolute importance (the integrity of management).
on August 22, 2003
This is one of the most overrated business books of all times! The first time I read it, it was a torture. Then I picked it up for a second read because I figured that maybe I didn't quite get it the first time. How can so many people, including Warren Buffet, like it if it wasn't a good book? The second time I read it only confirmed my initial impressions. It is not too bad but it is clearly overrated.
Fisher's investment philosophy, the way I understood it, boils down to the following: Common stocks of good companies are worth buying at any price. Just find a good business with excellent growth prospects and buy the stock. The price will take care of itself.
This is the kind of approach that inflated the stocks of the so called nifty fifty in the early 1970s. Since Fisher's book was already a best seller by that time, I suspect that he was partially responsible for what has happened to the stocks of the nifty fifty.
Now, maybe I didn't quite get it. Maybe Fisher didn't really mean that a good business can justify any stock price, no matter how high. Then again, I read the book twice and if I couldn't get it then he didn't make it obvious enough. Only in the last part of the book (Conservative Investors Sleep Well) he suggests that value does matter. Unfortunately for many early readers, that part of the book was not written and added until long after the nifty fifty burst.
His approach toward finding future stars is not likely to work unless you do it during a bull market. Then again, almost any other investment strategy will make money in a bull market, even technical analysis. New technology developments and the state of future competition are too difficult to predict by any method. One of the few stars he ever found out was Motorola. It was a lucky shot because when he first found out the company, it was manufacturing TVs, not cell phones and pagers. Ironically, the company was soon kicked out of the television sets business for which Fisher chose them.
I don't know why Warren Buffet ever said that he liked Fisher's investment philosophy. I don't thing he is scuttlebutting for the future Intels and Microsofts.
Last but not least, the book is very poorly written. Fisher has absolutely no talent for a writer. His writing style is tortures for the reader. His editor probably gave up editing after the first few pages, crossed his fingers and sent the book to the printing press. Editing the book would have been equal to rewriting it. I don't think any editor would've had the patience and the time to do it.
To be fair, I like some aspects of Fisher's investment philosophy. He advocates long term commitment to strong businesses with good potentials. And, he wouldn't commit unless he had done a thorough investigation of the company. There are some other gems in the book such as his discussion of stock purchase timing but the reader has to dig them out from a pile of trivia. Three stars are well deserved.