We recently came across Philip Fisher’s checklist for investing in stocks in Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits and Other Writings and thought it was worth reproducing here. Fisher was one of the most famous investors in his story. As his son, Kenneth (renowned as an investor in his right) wrote in his obituary: “Among the pioneer, formative thinkers in the growth stock school of investing, [Philip] may have been the last professional witnessing the 1929 crash to go on to become a big name. His career spanned 74 years, but was more diverse than growth stock picking. For decades, big names in investing claimed Dad as a mentor, role model and inspiration.”
15 Points to Look for in a Common Stock
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Maybe you also followed this story. Or maybe not. But basically a really big hedge fund manager, one of those guys who people quote and probably talk about at Harvard Business School, placed a super big bet on this company called Valeant.
Valeant is a pharmaceutical company trying to cure problems with skin and infectious diseases. They actually also own Bausch Lomb so that means they have a giant eye care business.
This hedge fund manager made a bet that Valeant would keep growing their business, diversifying, and acquiring. He once even called them the next “Berkshire Hathaway.”
This thesis turned out to be wrong. Like really wrong. The company crashed. People started to call Valeant out for jacking up the prices of their drugs. They also were apparently doing some dicey bookkeeping things. Just Google “Philidor Valeant scandal” if you want to learn more about that.
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Emotions aren’t always your friend when it comes to investing. In fact, they can lead to trouble in some very specific ways…
Here’s today’s understatement of the year: emotion plays a major role in investing.
Whether it’s the gold rush leading to 2008’s crash, momentum trends that cause a stock to orbit its true value or the irrational exuberance of the 1990s, the stock market is filled with people who act like, well… human beings. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this has its strongest expression when it comes to individual investors.
That’s not always bad. Emotions come into any big decision, and it’s important to feel good about your portfolio. Emotions dictate risk tolerance, after all. The same goes for picking companies with a strong sense of mission. Those are the decisions that help you sleep at night.
The problems start when emotions become biases. That’s when you, as an investor, can make bad choices that don’t leave you personally or financially any better off. What do those biases look like? Here are the top ten to keep an eye out for the next time you open up the portfolio…
Bias: Focusing on an actual or perceived expertise on a narrow slice of the market
Overconfidence isn’t necessarily what it sounds like. Yes, sometimes this bias is caused by an investor who knows less than he thinks. That guy who caught 15 minutes of “Mad Money” and then gives lectures at a dinner party is a classic example.
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Markets are at the whim of shocks and surprises. No doubt that last year’s surprising Brexit referendum result and Trump’s impressive presidential election win remind us of that. When it comes to taking risks, humans are not (necessarily) equipped to deal with the rollercoaster world of risks and investing in a level-headed way.
Humans Can Be Their Own Worst Enemies
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That quote kickstarted my own reading habits and helps me regularly read over 100 books a year.
Charlie Munger is the billionaire business partner of Warren Buffett and the Vice Chairman at Berkshire Hathaway, one of the largest companies in the world. He’s also one of the smartest people on the planet — his lecture on the psychology of human misjudgment is the best 45 minutes you might spend this year.
Over the years Munger’s compiled a list of book recommendations that has served me well. A lot of these books will help you become more valuable by seeing the world for what it really is and gaining unique ideas and insights.
1. Faraday, Maxwell, and the Electromagnetic Field: How Two Men Revolutionized Physics
It’s a combination of scientific biography and explanation of the physics, particularly relating to electricity. It’s just the best book of its kind I have ever read, and I just hugely enjoyed it. Couldn’t put it down. It was a fabulous human achievement. And neither of the writers is a physicist.
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Hmm … When WAS the best time to invest you mean?
Well, the day your dad was born if you had money … this is circa 1959 .. or when your grandfather died …. or … but hey since we did not do any of those things, it has to be today.
It’s not surprising that first-time investors often worry about the timing of their initial share purchases. When you follow stories which keep saying “market is up” or ‘Market is Going down” this has to happen! It looks like you have started at the wrong point in the market’s ups and downs and it can leave you with losses even before you reach the batting crease!
But relax kiddos: Whenever you first invest, time is on your side. So the kid who started at 22 is smarter than the kid who waited till he / she turned 32. In the long run, the compound returns of a smart investment will all add up nicely. How the market was when you began will not matter if you do a sip.
That is what is important! Instead of wondering about when you should make that first share / mutual fund purchase, think instead about how long you will stay invested. If you are 22 years of age, you will stay invested for say 50/60 years! Different investments offer varying degrees of risk and return, and each is best suited for a different investing time perspective. In general, debt instruments like bond funds/ bank fixed deposits, etc. offer lower, more assured returns for investors with shorter time frames (say 24 months). Historically, short-term Treasury bills yielded roughly 5% per year. Savings bank gives you about 3% p.a. taxable. With inflation at 7% these rates may or may not attract you.
Longer-term government bonds like the 10-year gilt can provide higher returns – say 8% p.a. These returns could be stable only in the short run. In the long run even these bonds could be volatile.
Shares have also been very good to sensible and patient investors. Overall, the BSE’s Sensex has returned an average of 19.4% per year from 1979 to 2017 — way ahead of debt instruments. The range of the returns for stocks OBVIOUSLY much larger than the range for debt instruments over the same period. Stocks suffered a decline in 1993 – of 42%, but this was obviously the outcome of an amazing 1992 of about 241% !! It enjoyed several particularly strong years of course, and the period 2002 to 2007 took the cake when the market went up 7x in 4 years!
How long will you stay invested?
The more the time that you have to create wealth, the greater risk you can accept. This comes from having a good income, and ability to save money. And since you’ll have more time to wait out periods of bad returns you SHOULD stay cool.
If you need the money within the next five years, you should put say 70% of your money in bonds and only about 30% in shares. If you need the money within the next three years, you should also avoid long bond mutual funds – you are better off investing in bond funds with duration of 3/4 years. The lesser time you plan to be invested, the less you can afford to lose. On the other hand, shares are an attractive option for long-term goals like children’s education, long term and retirement. The higher returns are simply too good to ignore because you do not understand. Take time to learn it!
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The original post appears on www.subramoney.com and is available here.
Owing to its irrational nature, people often assume that investing in the stock market is a rather difficult affair. Many even compare it to gambling and consider it impossible. With the amount of negative opinions regarding the stock market, it seems like a place where everybody loses. We have to set the record straight, once and for all.
Investing is not rocket science and investing in the stock market is relatively easy to manage if you do it the right way. Your mindset is the one stopping you from investing and it will be the one that will help you invest. Everyone has their own opinions about the market and a lot of people make it difficult for themselves, more than necessary.
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Investors are often cautioned about investment risk, market risk, etc. by their advisors and brokers. Investing in a particular asset or any equity share in particular, can give back good returns or, on the contrary, even wipe out the basic value of money that you have put in. But did anyone tell you that the broker himself can also cheat you? He can go bankrupt or be a fraud?
Not only have the small ones, but big investment firms have also given their clients a nightmare. If viewed from the brokerage company’s perspective, it is doing a business purely. Profits are their primary motto. And your money, except from the brokerage charges, is a secondary element for them.
So, how can a stock broker deceive you?
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Our brains were built to save us from ourselves. We misremember the past and pretend we can predict the future. We’re able to make sense of things when there is no sense to be made. Here’s an example- I was staying at a hotel a few weeks ago in San Diego and I walked into the shop to get some sunscreen. I was going to speak onstage the next day and I burn faster than most people.
I went to the counter and when the bar code was scanned it said $20. My first thought was holy shit this is insane, let me just go to another store. But it all happened so fast and I get uncomfortable in situations like this, so I took out my wallet and paid the man. As I walked away I could not believe I just paid twenty bucks for sunscreen that I would use for two days. Why didn’t I just put it back like a normal person and go somewhere else?This went on in my head for about five minutes. But then my brain came to the rescue. Here is what my internal dialogue sounded like:
Yea I spent twenty bucks, but how much would it cost somewhere else, $7 or $8? So what did I really waste, $12 or something? Not so terrible. Also, how much would I pay to not have a burnt head? At least $100. Wait a minute. They undercharged me by like eighty bucks, I robbed those suckers blind!
This is only a slight exaggeration; but the point is I was able to rationalize my absurd purchase in well under ten minutes.
Here’s another example of something that logic can’t defend but our brains easily do anyway.
You’re at a bar with five of your buddies and somebody steps up and picks up the bill, it’s $70. Your friend pulls out a credit card and nobody thinks anything of it. But what if he or she pulled out $70 in cash? Might you have the inclination to reach for your wallet? $70 is $70 whether it’s paid with paper or credit, but I imagine those two scenarios would leave your five friends feeling quite different.
We’ve all read the behavioral finance books. We all know that our brain plays tricks on us and that our heart sabotages our brain.
So what can we do about it? How do we avoid the same mistakes that investors have been making since the beginning of time? If I had the answer I would, well, I don’t have the answer, but here are a few ideas.
If you’re making a decision about the future, which is by definition unknown, go with regret minimization. You have a stock that’s gained 100%, but it’s hard to sell because what if it gains another 100%? But at the same time, what if you get greedy and and give back all your gains? Tough situation. Here’s how I would think about it: What would feel worse? If you sell it now and it doubles, or if you hold onto it and give back all your gains? You’re not going to sell it at the top, so make a decision with the information you have and then live with it. But it’s never that easy, because whatever you decide this time will affect your decisions next time. For example, you sell now and it doubles again, what do you think you’re doing next time? You’re going to hold on because you remember that painful experience. Try as hard as you can to not allow the past to poison your future.
Here’s another idea- If you’re about to buy a stock, have a plan before you buy it. For example, you buy at 70, you’re out of a quarter at 80, another quarter at 90, etc. Same thing if it goes in reverse. A trailing stop, or predetermined exits might not be optimal, but who runs an optimal portfolio? It’s about getting better, not getting it best.
If you’re not trading stocks and instead hold a diversified portfolio, know ahead of time when you’re going to rebalance. Put it on the calendar! Also, decide how far you’re willing to let your target allocations drift before you bring it back into balance. I’ve never met an investor who consistently makes the right choice in the heat of the moment so having these things written down can save you a lot of trouble and money
Just knowing that we have biases is not enough to stop them, you have to actually take proactive steps before you pay twenty dollars for a tube of sunscreen.
The original article is authored by Michael Batnick, CFA and is available here.