on March 8, 2007
Having been associated with Wall Street for 35 years, I was lucky enough to have been in the same room with Philip Fisher on more than one occasion. He was a completely self-contained man, extremely comfortable in his own skin. He knew who he was, what he was, and what he could be. He possessed zero airs about him. These traits seem to run freely in many MASTER investors, including Warren Buffett.
Many have mentioned that Buffett considers himself to be 85% Benjamin Graham, and 15% Philip Fisher. This needs to be updated. If you spoke with Buffett today, he would tell you that those ratios are distorted, and the reason is Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett's investing partner at Berkshire Hathaway.
Charlie Munger is cut from the same cloth as Philip Fisher. They are growth players, and willing to pay up for a stock. For decades Buffett could NEVER PAY UP for a stock. He wanted them dirt cheap, so cheap in fact that some big plays got away from him forever. I don't know how many years ago, Buffett mentioned in a meeting I attended that he once owned a considerable amount of Disney. It would be a controlling amount in today's market; it got away from him, and tens of billions of dollars in that play alone.
In the old days when Buffett was strictly Graham and Dodd, he could not buy a GROWTH stock. He still cringes at the thought. Munger however taught Buffett to pay up. An example was Flight Safety International for which Buffett paid a previously unheard price-earning ratio. There are people around Buffett who know him well who will tell you that Munger is the superior investor. What you need to know is that sometimes stocks are DIRT CHEAP because they are DIRT, to use a Munger line.
Philip Fisher like Munger is a MASTER INVESTOR worthy of spending whatever time you can spare studying. If you want to walk in the footsteps of a MASTER, you must study the MASTER, and Fisher has a tremendous amount to offer.
I have managed billions of dollars in my lifetime. I am telling you this because you need to know that the SKUTTLEBUTT method that Fisher is famous for is something that anyone can used, starting today. Most of Wall Street research or any research that I have seen over the decades is not worth the paper it is printed on. On more than one occasion I have asked if the paper is soft enough to use for toilet paper.
With the scuttlebutt method, you talk to everyone but the company you are studying. Please allow me to illustrate. If you are thinking of investing in a car company, you start visiting car dealers. You learn the lingo, you read trade periodicals, maybe even a few car magazines, but be careful. Magazines and newspapers are completely jaded in their reporting by how much advertising dollars they receive from certain companies. You didn't know that because no one will ever dare print it.
If a newspaper wants to bury an important story on a company that gives them tremendous advertising dollars, they will run the unfavorable story, but it will be in the Saturday morning edition, which is the least read edition of the week. You need to know these things. I used Scuttlebutt back in the 80's, to accumulate a massive position in Chrysler when it was near bankruptcy. The stock went from $6 to $200 after splits. It isn't hard. You don't need to be a big market player, anybody really can do it.
You do need an inquisitive mind, and I believe an innovative one as well. Fisher was a guy who thought outside the box, and that's why he was immensely rich, as is his son Ken. Philip Fisher is a guy that made a fortune in FMC Corporation, owned it for 30 or more years. He was a ground floor player in Texas Instruments, owned it and made thousands of percent on the stock. He was every bit Buffett's equal, and to Fisher's credit, he gave us the greatest gift of all. He wrote a book, and was open with his readers about how to attain great wealth in the market.
He takes the "Efficient Market Hypothesis" (EMT), and blows it out of the water. His returns and Buffett's are so many standard deviations away from the mean, that EMT can't survive an investigation based on their results.
He gives you a 15-point criteria list to identify the types of companies that meet his screening. He also gives you five don'ts, and then five more to protect you as an investor. What Fisher is really doing is giving you a TEMPLATE to used as an investor. This is what you need. This is no different than going into the Marine Corps, and spending 12 weeks in basic training. Once you're done, you have certain smart behaviors drilled into your psyche so deep that in combat, and investing is combat, you can fall back on these techniques to survive. They become automatic. No matter what investment turns up, you can put it through the filters that have stood the test of time.
In closing, I would like to say one more thing about the Scuttlebutt technique. Recently, I had to make a decision to invest a considerable amount of money in the auto sector. One of the people I consulted with, is a legend in his 90's, who is the greatest mutual fund investor of the 20th century, probably worth over a billion dollars. He says to me in passing, do you know whom Toyota, the greatest car company in the world fears? The answer is the South Korean car companies. That my friends is worth a fortune, and is a 20 year stock play that Philip Fisher would have envied.
I have scanned the reviews listed here, and I am well aware that Warren Buffet is 85% Ben Graham and 15% Philip Fisher. Nonetheless, I must say that Fisher's book, while valuable insofar as it has some positive applications, has a few drawbacks, particularly as concerns the individual investor.
First and foremost, Fisher emphasizes prospective growth in earnings. As Ben Graham (and any number of other authors) has noted, "earnings" is strictly an accounting term that must be adjusted to accord to the investor's needs and market reality, as compared to GAAP requirements (Marty Whitman's book entitled "The Aggressive Conservative Investor" does an excellent job discussing the shortcomings of GAAP with respect to the individual investor).
Secondly, Fisher emphasizes quality in management (example: he advises "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?"). Again, this is something that institutional investors might be able to focus upon, but for an individual investor to come to a conclusion based upon publicly-available information might be somewhat difficult (as an aside, Porter's book on Competitive Advantage might be more useful for readers trying to determine a company's competitive environment).
I could lob comparable criticisms at a few of the other points (another example: "How effective are the company's research and development efforts relative to its size?"). From personal experience, any biotech company will likely trumpet the skills of its staff in uncovering new drugs, but the drugs must still be safe and effective per the FDA in order to be sold in the US. How can most individual investors reach any reasonable conclusion with respect to that point?
The fundamental shortcoming in this book is that most people seeking to apply his principles will be guided by word of mouth or the "irrational exhuberance" of the market. There is little analytical guidence to ensure that the investor's conclusions are grounded.
This leads me to my ultimate conclusion: although I've spent a fair amount of time lobbing rocks at this book, the book itself may be useful, but only if combined with the sort of in-depth financial statement analysis that Ben Graham proposes in "Security Analysis," which contains a detailed discussion of analytical means to review management performance, or perhaps an analysis of competive position as propounded in "Expecations Investing" by Rappaport and Mouboussin. To say things slightly differently, the book provides a good overview of a type of investment philosophy, but unlike the others referenced before, it does not provide tools to analyze a particular company.
Warren Buffett is in a different position than the average investor. To fail to realize that is folly. As a whole, the book reads easily, and Warren Buffett has said he likes Fisher - maybe that's why so many people like it - but without grounding on how to value a particular stock at a point in time, I cannot say that this book should a primary source of information for someone without grounding in finance and securities analysis.
on February 19, 2005
Fisher is a growth stock adherent, and some have said that he is the Father of Growth Investing. Many contrast him to Benjamin Graham, whom more than a few have dubbed the Father of Value Investing. Fisher's book, Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits, provides an uneasy cornerstone for growth stock and technology stock investing. However, at some point, growth stock investing became synonymous with technology stock investing. As such, on one extreme, we have Fisher and growth (tech) stocks, and on the other we have Graham(and Dodd) and boring but predictable concerns with a margin of safety, and adherents to either extreme bicker back and forth as to which method for selecting common stocks for investment is better.
'Growth', I believe, is all fine and good, so long as you can find outfits that can hold their value, and continue to build value. Moreover, like its sister 'Growth', 'Opportunity' too is a wonderful thing, so long as 'Growth' and 'Opportunity' can be turned into profits and (dividend) checks in the mail.
Unlike Graham's sage advice, with which I agree 100 percent, I don't necessarily agree with Fisher's stance on many investment issues, but I do concede that the reasoning behind them does have merit. Take his position on dividends, for example. A company with excess cash and no reasonable opportunities for investment well within its circle of competence should send that cash to its shareholders, so long as it maintains a satisfactory reserve fund, can meet its financing needs, and has all of its investment needs met. Long experience has shown that companies that sit on top of a large (and growing) cash pile inevitably succumb to the temptation to squander it somehow or another (usually on vanity purchases), always to the detriment of its core business. Thus, companies that are generating cash in excess of their immediate and foreseeable needs (beyond a built-in cushion) should pay a dividend, and increase that dividend as earnings increase. Firms that don't do this, I believe, simply do not make for wise investments.
Furthermore, many have legitimately questioned the applicability of one technique underlying Fisher's investment method- the use of scuttlebutt. Most concerns have centered around how to go about doing it, which to me raises certain warning flags, and not on more important facets such as its usefulness (with regard to the kind of information gleaned) in practice and its potential (negative) consequences. One must exercise extreme caution when using scuttlebutt, for the following reasons. First, people, from individual investors to managers at publicly listed companies, especially the smaller tech outfits, know about this book, and so they also know how to use the book's information in order to present themselves so as to attract your investment dollars. Second, reliance on scuttlebutt depends to a great extent on how it comes your way (and Fisher partially acknowledges this, but limits his discussion to 'disgruntled' former employees of a company under consideration), and you have to exercise caution here, for you may find yourself in big trouble with the Federal Boys, or worse- with legal vultures circling over your head, should you act on it. Third, companies have a distinct disliking to scuttlebutt, as it may serve as one source of leaks of trade secrets or other sensitive information. Fourth, related to the third point, companies may intentionally use 'scuttlebutt' to 'plant' dis-information or even mis-information before small-time investors, specifically, and institutional investors, always. Finally, for those intrepid souls wondering how to put scuttlebutt to work, as an aside, for anyone who has attended college or some trade school, getting the inside story may be as easy as contacting the alumni office of your alma mater, or even as simple as hitting up a former frat, sorority or other college club member. More simply, one can directly contact folks involved in industry trade organizations as well.
In my mind, Mr. Fisher's method works best when one applies it to large and established concerns. When I ponder the investment problem, I come to the conclusion that your most reasonable assessment of a company must rest on an analysis of the company's past behavior, coupled with a current snapshot of the company in the context of its industry, and not on scuttlebutt. But then, Ben Graham said pretty much the same thing over and over again in his book Security Analysis.
Overall, I liked Fisher's Fifteen Points, but I liked the little mini-book, "Conservative Investors Sleep Well", which forms Part Two of the book, even better. You could obtain the same information by reading a denser book like Competitive Strategy, by Michael Porter, but getting the same information, in condensed form, from a seasoned and successful practitioner like Mr. Fisher imparts a level credibility, reliability and trust that all other sources lack. I also like Fisher's emphasis on understanding the business (and visiting the company if necessary to get detailed information, wherever possible, necessary and appropriate), a point that Graham, although he did not overlook it, did not specifically emphasize.
One must understand Fisher in order to know what to expect if all goes well with investment operations. In contrast, one must understand Graham in order to know what to expect if everything goes to hell in a handbasket. One can not successfully invest with only one or the other, as doing so will lead to mediocre results at best, and poor results more typically. One needs to know both.
Although I will not put the concept of scuttlebutt to practice, as it strikes me as being both dangerous and speculative, I will put the rest of the information to work. In sum, I will definitely keep the book, and it will sit next to my copies of Benjamin Graham's The Intelligent Investor and Security Analysis, where it will remain as one of my must-have and must-consult investment references.
Philip Fisher's thoughts and experience are invaluable and timeless. Not as boring (to read) as the intelligent investors (though both are equally important reading). I particularly like the chapters about "Fifteen points to look in a common stocks","when to buy", "when to sell", "Five don't", and "Developing your investment philosophies". One particular topic that I like best is about "Don't follow the crowd". Also on "How I go about finding a growth stock"
Some of the area that the a company/stock (to buy) should have a lot of these criteria:
1. Product and service with potential increase in sales for seveal years
2. Management who commited to develop products to continue growth
3. Size of company's research versus its size (enough research needed)
4. Good sales organization
5. Worthwhile profit margin
6. Activity to improve profit margin
7. Good labor and personal relation
8. Outstanding executove relations
9. Depth in management
10. Good accounting controls and cost analysis
11. favorable (degree of skills) compare to the competition
12. Long range outlook on profit
13. Equity financing in the next couple years should ot cancel the existing shareholder benefit from the anticipated growth
14. Management talk freely to investor about tings that goes well and also when things doesn't go well
15. Management needs to have unquestionable integrity
Five don'ts for investor:
1. Don't buy into promotional companies (development companies)
2. Don't ignore stocks just becuase it is traded over the counter
3. Don't buy stocks because you like the tone of annual report
4. Don't assume the high price is an indication of future growth
5. Dont quibble over small fraction (when you buy a stock)
Five additional don'ts for Investor
1. Don't overstress diversification
2. Don't be afraid buying in a war scare
3. Don't forget your Gilbert and Sullivan
4. Don't fail to consider time as well as price in buying a true growth stock
5. Don't follow the crowd
This book also covers what a good business should have (it recaps of what they teach you in business school). I have 10 years of investing experience before I read this book (I know I should have read this book earlier), and in my opinion this book should work as a guideline to develop our own investing philosophies (and not our philosophy itself). There are no one size fits all strategy in the investing world. This book will also help to open your eyes (especially for beginner) that investing (the right way) is not easy and is a complex process, however the result from a patient and diligent investor could be great.
There are 3 important aspects of a business (apart from the stock price) which this book will cover most of them:
1. The Business (and the Industry)
2. The Financials
3. The People (Management, Personnel)
I also recommend you all to read Ben Graham's "The Intelligent Investors" (with commentary by Jason Zweig who will give more recent and relevant example), and Peter Lynch's "One up on Wall Street". Once you read them all (coupled with some real experience), then you are ready to be an investing pro...
on June 11, 2005
Fisher's message is simple, yet important. Only great, growing companies create long term value for shareholders. Fisher's explanation of what makes a great company is a must for any investor.
He is the other half of Warren Buffett, while I like Graham better than Fisher, the wisdom in this book in undeniable.
on February 29, 2008
As a Warren Buffett fan, I finally got to reading this book which is highly recommended by him. Buffett, it is said, is 85% Ben Graham and 15% Philip Fisher - whatever that means. I think that is a nice slogan but Buffett is really 100% Buffett. Unlike Graham and Fisher, Buffett is more than a money manager. Buffett has an incredible ability to buy entire companies with their management included.
I wanted to like Fisher's book, but I found it so boring that I quit after about 100 pages. Normally I don't write reviews for books that I quit (after all it is possible that I did not give the book a fair chance), but I figured if I read more than a third of a book I should be allowed to critique it and hopefully help future readers. I hope this review helps you.
Fisher guides us through 15 points to study before buying stock in a company. His points are certainly valid but they are too academic. Furthermore he does not guide the reader as to how to go about really acquiring the necessary knowledge. He dedicates three pages to "scuttlebutt" which is supposed to help us learn how to go about acquiring the necessary information. His writing style is very dull. I can read a dull book if it teaches me stuff but I did not find this book educational. The book is a better fit for management consultants who have to make fancy presentations to their clients than to investors. Fisher advocates buying growth stocks with certain characteristics, but there is no discussion on the price the investor has to pay for the growth. You can buy an outstanding company but if you overpay for it then it is a lousy investment. If you invested in Microsoft, a well managed company that is almost a monopoly in 1999, your returns would not be that impressive today. In the past 9 years nothing particularly went wrong with Microsoft - it is just that the price was too high in 1999.
If you are still considering purchasing this book, I recommend scanning the chapter on the "15 points". If it clicks then maybe it is the right book for you.
on May 14, 2014
As this is the book that influenced Warren Buffett to adjust Ben Graham's classic value investing methodology, it's definitely worth a read.
The most useful chapters for an investor are Chapter 3 "What to Buy: the fifteen points to look for in a common stock", Chapter 8 "Five Don'ts for Investors, and Chapter 9 " Five More Don'ts for Investors." Fisher's Common Stocks and Graham's the Intelligent Investor are the two basic building blocks that every investor must master to be successful in the stock market.
However the essential message of Fisher is that it is better to pay a premium for a great business than a discount for a lousy business. To this end, Fisher goes about explaining how to uncover such great businesses in the securities market.
on January 26, 2009
To the reviewers giving this book one star, I ask you to consider other investment books on the market. Most are full of hype, bad advice, and soon to be outdated methodologies. This book, along with The Intelligent Investor can stand the test of time.
Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits takes effort to read. I took notes on each chapter as I read it as a way to keep myself focused on what Fisher is trying to say. I don't think this makes him a poor writer. Rather, some of the concepts are deep enough that they take a careful reading and then a going over for the gems within.
In this book Fisher outlines a general philosophy for investing. He does not provide you with the tools necessary to implement the philosophy. You will need to do that work on your own by learning to read financial statements, investigate management, and learn about a company's business and industry. What he does provide you is a framework that will help you avoid making as many costly mistakes in your learning process or even never realizing that there are fundamentally sound and unsound methods of investing.
To the reviewer stating that Fisher advocates growth stocks at any cost, this assertion is simply untrue. Fisher clearly says that growth stocks (stock in a company with excellent future prospects) at value prices are the gems to look for. Growth stocks at fair prices are a second best choice and growth stocks at high prices may be acceptable under certain conditions. Poorly run companies should almost never be purchased, because even though they may be "cheap", information is more likely to come to light that will make that "cheap" price very costly.
Philip Fisher was one of the chief proponents of value investing. He was extremely good at it and he did very well for those whom he advised. He provides much very sound advice to one seeking to purchase stocks based on their value, as opposed to the current market mania. His advice: invest only in companies that you know and that meet the criteria laid out in the book. Unfortunately, the average investor cannot do much of what he did. In trying to know a company, he spoke to customers, competitors, the management, and lower ranking employees. To be sure, this is great advice but completely impractical for the average investor. It is much more suited to a mutual fund manager and, by inference, you should invest in those funds that follow this approach.
The version of the book that I read contains a preface and introduction by his son, Kenneth L. Fisher, himself an investment advisor of note. He points out that his father held on to some of his stocks too long, an important factor for any investor to consider. Deciding what and when to buy is much easier than deciding when to sell because selling involves having to disentangle oneself from an emotional commitment to a stock, especially to one that you may have owned for a long time.
on February 5, 2009
You love to communicate and hate balance sheets: then this book is for you. The Theme of "Common Stocks" is: How to pick low risk, high potential growth stocks by thoroughly talking to people (scuttlebutt)? Typical conversational partners are customers, employees, suppliers, top management. He gives clear advice of the matters to be addressed. Actually doing it is work, a lot of work.
General advice is given also. Like the dangers of so called safe investments.
You get three different books written at different times:
(1) "Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits" (145 pages)
(2) "Conservative Investors Sleep Well" (50 pages)
(3) "Developing an Investment Philosophy" (57 pages)
Also the introduction of his son Kenneth Fisher is of considerable size (23+27 pages).
If you are interested in biographies or in financial history you also find a lot of interest.
In total a very useful and entertaining book and a totally different and complementary approach to value investing then the great Security Analysis: The Classic 1934 Edition.