Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Investment Mistakes

BeyondProxy asks fund managers about investment mistakes

Howard Marks, co-chairman of Oaktree Capital Management: “…people tend to get in trouble in investing when they have unrealistic expectations, especially when they have the expectation that higher returns can be earned without an increase of risk. That is a very dangerous expectation. Which is the thing which is most dangerous to omit? I think it is risk consciousness. I think that the great accomplishment in investing is not making a lot of money, but is making a lot of money with less-than-commensurate risk. So you have to understand risk and be very conscious of it and control it and know it when you see it. The people that I think are great investors are really characterized by exceptionally low levels of loss and infrequency of bad years. That is one of the reasons why we have to think of great investing in terms of a long time span. Short-term performance is an imposter. The investment business is full of people who got famous for being right once in a row. If you read Fooled by Randomness by [Nassim] Taleb, you understand that being right once proves nothing. You can be right once through nothing but luck. The law of large numbers says that if you have more results, you tend to drive out random error. The sample mean tends to converge with the universe mean. In other words, the apparent reality tends to converge with the real underlying reality. The great investors are the people who have made a lot of investments over a long period of time and made a lot of money, and their results show that it wasn’t a fluke — that they did it consistently. The way you do it consistently, in my opinion, is by being mindful of risk and limiting it.

Larry Sarbit, chief investment officer of Sarbit Advisory Services: “[Investors] allow emotion take over their investment decisions. That is undoubtedly the biggest problem. They don’t think very much at all. There’s not a lot of thought going on and so therefore don’t be surprised if things don’t work out well. They’re their own worst enemy. Investors do more damage to themselves than anybody else could do to them. If they would just think like they were going to the grocery store, again that’s Ben Graham, if you think about buying stocks, like he said, like groceries instead perfume, you’ll do a lot better. But people don’t and there’s not a heck of a lot you can do for them. The truth is that most people are not going to make money in the stock market. The vast majority of people don’t make money. It’s unfortunate but it’s almost a law that that’s the way it is. The money comes in at the wrong time and it goes out at the wrong time.

If the markets keep going down or if they go nowhere for the next three years, I can see exactly what investors are going to do. They’re going to get out, they’re going to stop investing, and they’re going to get out. They keep doing this over and over and over again, generation after generation, decade after decade, century after century. The behavior just repeats over and over and over again. Not much you can do about it. But that’s what creates the incredible opportunities to buy things. It creates it for us – it’s that people don’t think.

Richard Cook and Dowe Bynum, principals of Cook & Bynum Capital Management: “While we would typically list a few (e.g., having a short-term perspective, overestimating the strength and longevity of competitive entrenchment/advantages, investing with inadequate information), the single biggest mistake has to be investing without a margin of safety (i.e. not buying a company at a large discount to a conservative appraisal of its intrinsic value). By the way, full credit for this idea goes to Ben Graham, who once wrote: ‘Confronted with a challenge to distill the secret of sound investment into three words, we venture the motto, ‘Margin of Safety.’’

Ori Eyal, founder of Emerging Value Capital Management: “The key to long-term wealth creation is not earning high returns. Rather, it is earning good returns while avoiding (or minimizing) the blow-ups. The biggest mistake that investors make is not investing in a conservative enough manner. The world is a dangerous place for capital. Inflation, expropriation, revolution, currency devaluation, industry declines, wars, natural disasters, depressions, market meltdowns, black swans, theft, fraud, and taxes all pose a constant and lurking threat to growing (or even just maintaining) wealth over time. In any given year, the probability of disaster is small. But over many years and decades anything that can go wrong eventually will.

Guy Spier, chief executive officer of Aquamarine Capital Management: “The biggest mistake is when we as investors stop thinking like principals. I think that when we think as principals, when we apply Ben Graham’s maxim that we should treat every equity security as part ownership in a business and think like business owners, we have the right perspective.

Pat Dorsey, chief investment officer of Dorsey Asset Management, on the mistake of confusing growth for competitive advantage: “…people mistake growth for having a moat. Anyone can grow. Anyone can grow by building new stores, by underpricing a product. That doesn’t mean it’s sustainable and as investors, we’re buying a future and so that’s sustainability that really matters.

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