When a lot of people first start to read & learn about investing they invariably end up reading about Warren Buffett in their first few weeks of reading. From there onwards begins this fairy tale dream ride into the idea that someday they can also invest like Warren Buffett. The next automatic step that people tend to take is to read what any other fund manager worth their salt has to say about Warren Buffett. To remind you, at this point there is not a single rupee invested by this person, ever in his life (apart from may be the automated Fixed Deposit certificates & PPF investments).
After having read & being enamoured with Warren B’s performance & his dazzlingly simple explanations of how he analyses businesses, people start with the notion that investing is an easy affair. By this time, the activity of really sitting through an entire market cycle not being able to find great investment opportunities or even spending huge amounts of time & effort in researching industries & their managers has never happened to them.
The problem with a beginner learning to invest is that we tend to immediately get sucked into the investing blog world. In this world, a lot of people are strikingly original in researching their own ideas while a lot are “me too” people who are constantly following what other smart fund managers are doing. Not enough effort is spent to understand why investing is important & what are their unique needs to invest. People rarely do any cash flow analysis of their own life & are massively unaware of their own patterns of spending & making money. People automatically assume (especially salaried people) that they will somehow have enough money by the end of the year to put into wet dry bounce house some tax saving mutual fund & not to forget the mammoth 8% “tax-free” compounder of public savings – The Public Provident Fund.
Any person who wishes to take charge of their investments & wants to compound their savings at a rate of at least 5% more than the fixed deposit rate has no other legal option but to invest in Stocks.
Investing in stocks, especially from this background is going to be a tremendous uphill task. By this time each new fund manager we read about, we start to feel like we must mimic his/her style of investing. It makes sense when these fund managers lay out their ideas & explain their thought process. Using these fund manager’s ideas as a blind entry point can prove to be disastrous. It is not different from following trading tips from public investment forums or your local broker.
Blindly following fund manager’s ideas & investing styles seems easy & straightforward to do. On the contrary it is the most difficult thing to do. Most of the time, these professional investors discuss ideas with a time lag. A lot might have changed from the time they have invested in that idea & by the time we get to read about it. Instead the best way to learn from someone else’s idea is to use it as a first filter. This way we can get an investment idea from some professional investor & then start doing our own research in order to learn about the business & industry better. Sadly, this rarely happens, unless the investor is genuinely dedicated to learn.
Blind reliance on professional investor’s style has two other drawbacks.
First, we never get to learn what our own style of investing is. We never get to learn how much risk we can tolerate with our own money on the table. We always assume that someone else’s measure of risk is also applicable to us. But we have our own unique cash flow needs which the professional investors may not have. So it makes sense to learn about how we need & use cash in order to plan our investments accordingly.
Second, blindly following someone else degrades our own ability to learn. Cloning other investor’s styles has been popularly discussed by Mr. Mohnish Pabrai. He does it himself. But what we generally fail to consider is the amount of research that goes into reverse engineering the idea & finding out details on our own to validate it. With our diminished will to learn about the business, especially after the investment case is wide open in front of us, we can never hope to be good at critically analysing businesses.
Finally learning to invest on our own has tremendous advantages. Apart from getting to know our own investing style, we also get to know a lot about our own psychology. We start observing ourselves & realise what situations make us feel afraid or what events make us feel greedy. With a logical & rational understanding of investing we can practice the virtues of restraint & patience to hone our investing skills. Researching ideas on our own forces us to read about a lot of businesses & generally what’s happening across the world. How industries work? How do we get to use the stuff we use everyday? Who makes them? What does it take to successfully sell the product or make us buy it? All these details help us paint a vivid picture of this live & dynamic world which exists beyond the prime time reality TV shows & daily TV serials.
In his easy to understand & brilliant book F-Wall Street by Joel Ponzio, he advocates this very basic list of Ten intelligent investing commandments:
- Never Invest in anything you do not understand
- Price follows value over the long term
- Price volatility does not imply any additional or reduced risk; the risk is in the price you pay & your evaluation of the opportunity
- The stock market is a place to buy & sell businesses, regardless of the myriad of other (or faster) ways to make or lose money in stocks
- There is no tomorrow, only “five years from now”
- Earnings are for the Income tax department & accountants; business owners & silent partners rely on Cash
- A great business is one that will survive the bad times, wait for the bad times to invest in great businesses
- Unless it affects the business of your company or it is filed with the exchanges, it’s just noise. Analyst opinions and general market trends do not affect the business of your company & are not filed with the exchanges
- He who turns over the most rocks, wins
- If you don’t have a margin of safety, you don’t have a good opportunity
Remember, investing is simple, but not easy. If it were easy, we would all be billionaires & I’d most certainly be on my private yacht instead of writing this blog post.