Pabrai is a classic value investor in the tradition of Warren Buffett, Charlie Munger, Seth Klarman and Joel Greenblat.
Like Buffett, Pabrai looks at a stock not as a piece of paper but as the ownership of a business. He has no interest in a company that looks ten percent undervalued. He is angling to make five times his money in a few years. If he doesn’t think the opportunity is blindingly obvious, he passes. This requires him to apply his X-Ray vision to the fundamentals, and weigh the downside risk (the margin of safety) vs. the upside potential (the moat) at a given price. His mantra: Heads I win, tails I don’t lose much.
Next, Pabrai practices patience. He takes Charlie Munger’s admonition to heart that money is made not in the buying or selling but in the waiting. As far as I am aware, he has not made a single new investment in 2013. He says that if he can find a couple of investment ideas a year, that’s plenty. His current preference is to keep a cash store of between 10%-20%. This seems like a tremendous drag for a fund posting numbers like his, but he is really biding his time for a distressed situation to come along when he can deploy this trove at the valuation he wants. During the next crisis, when everyone is jamming the exits, he will go all in.
Once you start purchasing stocks, Pabrai says the next step is to closely examine every trade that doesn’t work, and figure out what went wrong. Let me pause right here, because this is key to his whole method.
There is nothing more tempting that to sweep mistakes under the rug. Denial is one of our top defense mechanisms. If you are lucky, these trades come to haunt your sleep like Marley’s ghost. If you are unlucky, you repress them forever.
Due to his background in engineering, Pabrai does not gloss over mistakes. Investing is a field where you can have a high error rate (buying something you shouldn’t have, selling something you shouldn’t have, not buying something you should have, not selling something you should have) and still be successful. He takes as a given that mistakes are inevitable. The point is to learn from them so they are not repeated. A major portion of his annual meeting is devoted to publicly analyzing investments where he lost money for his partners. Lately these errors are becoming harder to find, so he has been reduced to talking about investments that didn’t fare as well as expected.
[Looking at dataroma, Pabrai has 8 stocks in his portfolio with over 99% in 4 stocks: ZINC, BAC, C, PKX. Hmm. Maybe I should buy more C?]
[11/28/14] "Forbes: So summing up in terms of what do you think do you bring to value investing that others perhaps don’t, that give you a unique edge?
Pabrai: I think the biggest edge would be attitude. So you know, Charlie Munger likes to say that you don’t make money when you buy stocks. And you don’t make money when you sell stocks. You make money by waiting. And so the biggest, the single biggest advantage a value investor has is not IQ; it’s patience and waiting. Waiting for the right pitch and waiting for many years for the right pitch.
FROM: Forbes Transcript: Mohnish Pabrai (Trades, Portfolio) 04/12/2010