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Shakespeare for the Investing Crowd,
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This review is from: The Intelligent Investor: The Definitive Book on Value Investing. A Book of Practical Counsel (Revised Edition) (Collins Business Essentials) (Paperback)
This book is light reading compared to Ben Graham's seminal tome, Security Analysis. It's easier to read, and shorter. It's also more up to date. Highly recommended for investors of any stripe, value or growth. The appendix, from Warren Buffett's speech at Columbia University is particularly entertaining, as he debunks academia's love affair with efficient market theory. Jason Zweig, an obvious Graham disciple, does a fantastic job bringing the book's principles to life through modern examples. The only grating thing is his constant derision of brokers or anyone that actually gets paid to manage money. (full disclosure: I'm an analyst now and was a broker for 10 years).
Ben Graham clearly invested in the stock market during a period of hustlers, crooks, crashes, and frauds. Brokers, investment bankers and analysts back then were not much more than fast-talking salesmen. Wait a minute, that sounds just like the way things are today on Wall Street! Things may not have changed as much as we would like to think. Due to his travails as an investor in difficult markets, Ben Graham's investment style evolved into a systematic, logical approach which became the basis for value investing. In "The Intelligent Investor", Graham lays out the foundation of value investing by three introducing key principles: the idea of "Mr. Market", a value-oriented disciplined approach to investing, and the "margin of safety" concept.
The stock market on a daily basis resembles a casino, only without the comfort of free cocktails. Watching the stock ticker is like having a business partner that is totally schizophrenic; Graham calls him "Mr. Market." One day he loves the business and wants to pay a ridiculous price to buy out your half. The next day, all hope is lost, and he wants to sell you his portion for pennies on the dollar. Graham argues that this daily liquidity is an advantage that most investors turn against themselves: (p. 203) "But note this important fact: The true investor scarcely ever is forced to sell his shares, and at all other times he is free to disregard the current price quotation. He need pay attention to it and act upon it only to the extent that it suits his book, and no more. Thus the investor who permits himself to be stampeded or unduly worried by unjustified market declines in his holdings is perversely transforming his basic advantage into a basic disadvantage. That man would be better off if his stocks had no market quotation at all; for he would then be spared the mental anguish caused him by other persons' mistakes of judgment." This is profound. It's not a question of whether our stocks will drop; they will: the trick is how we respond to that eventuality.
Ben Graham's Stock selection for the defensive investor.
Graham lays out some important characteristics of "value" stocks. (p. 348). Some of the metrics are dated, but the principles are still valid. Even deep value investing today would seem like GARP investing to Ben Graham. Investors are now more focused on future earnings than they were in his day, and valuations reflect that. Graham recommends:
a. Adequate size of the enterprise (>$100M revenue, old figure)
b. Sufficiently strong financial condition (2:1 current ratio)
c. Earnings stability (some earnings every year last 10 years)
d. Dividend record (uninterrupted payments for at least 20 years)
e. Earnings growth (1/3 increase in per share EPS past 10 years)
f. Moderate price/earnings ratio (P/E < 15x average last 3 years EPS)
g. Moderate ratio of price to assets (price/book < 1 1/2 times)
h. Overall stock portfolio, when acquired, should have an overall earnings /price ratio- the reverse of the P/E ratio - at least as high as the current high-grade bond rate. A P/E no higher than 13.3 against an AA bond yield of 7.5%
Margin of Safety as the central concept of value investing.
This is an investment rule that was written by a man who had been deeply bruised by bear markets. I believe he came up with this by learning from his losses. When the market turns into a storm of feces, like it inevitably will, if the stock has no earnings to rely on, you have nothing to grab onto. You can't make yourself stay in the stock when the price is down. Graham says: (p. 515) "The margin of safety is the difference between the percentage rate of the earnings on the stock at the price you pay for it and the rate of interest on bonds, and that is to absorb unsatisfactory developments". Furthermore he writes: (p. 518) "The buyer of bargain issues places particular emphasis on the ability of the investment to withstand adverse developments. " You can and will still lose money in the market with value-oriented investing, but according to Graham: (p. 518) "The margin guarantees only that he has a better chance of profit than for loss-not that loss is impossible."
So that's it, those are the three basic points of the book, but you should still buy it and read it, it's a very enjoyable experience, Shakespeare for the investing crowd. Despite being a realist, Ben Graham wasn't a total pessimist. Late in the book Graham makes a point that is one of my favorites: (p. 524) "A fourth business rule is more positive: "Have the courage of your knowledge and experience. If you have formed a conclusion from the facts and if you know your judgment is sound, act on it- even though others may hesitate or differ. You are neither right nor wrong because the crowd disagrees with you. You are right because your data and reasoning are right. Similarly, in the world of securities, courage becomes the supreme virtue after adequate knowledge and a tested judgment are at hand. "
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Showing 1-10 of 15 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 18, 2008 6:36:57 PM PST
Delta II says:
Excellent review. I just read the book and could not have summarized the key points any better.
Posted on Jul 27, 2009 10:25:38 AM PDT
epileptic lunacy says:
Posted on Aug 25, 2010 11:23:28 AM PDT
Posted on Dec 10, 2010 11:55:38 AM PST
Great review. Well done !
Posted on Jul 7, 2011 10:30:43 AM PDT
History Buff says:
Excellent summary! Thank you.
Posted on Aug 17, 2011 5:53:09 PM PDT
Marshall Alsup says:
This is one of the best reviews I've read on Amazon. Thanks for taking the time to write it.
Posted on Nov 12, 2011 12:57:43 AM PST
M. Irfan says:
Please add me to list of those who really admire this awesome review.
Posted on Jan 24, 2013 12:27:18 AM PST
Good review. Do you know any good books on valuation of banks and insurance companies?
In reply to an earlier post on Jan 24, 2013 3:11:00 AM PST
Paige Turner says:
No. Most value investors shun these companies because they are notoriously difficult to value due to opaque financial statements and massive leverage.
Posted on Feb 16, 2014 1:39:25 AM PST
I actually copied and pasted your review into a WORD document and saved it as Awesome review of THE INTELLIGENT INVESTOR. It's really that great. This book was recommended at a website that was touting the merit of "Margin of Safety as the central concept of value investing" and you supplied bullets of all of the main points in a way that few others could have done so eloquently. Thank you.