Five of the most valuable pieces of investment advice Warren Buffett has given over the years. These quotes don’t really need much of an explanation, they speak for themselves. They almost entirely sum up Buffett’s investment strategy in less than 1,000 words.
I believe that it’s always worth going back to investment advice like this from Buffett, Munger or Graham on a regular basis to refresh my memory and make sure I’m not drifting off track.
Stock prices are random, but fair value is not:
“It is difficult at the time of purchase to know any specific reason why they should appreciate in price. However, because of this lack of glamour or anything pending which might create immediate favorable market action, they are available at very cheap prices. A lot of value can be obtained for the price paid. This substantial excess of value creates a comfortable margin of safety in each transaction. This individual margin of safety, coupled with a diversity of commitments, creates a most attractive package of safety and appreciation potential. Over the years our timing of quotes from Buffett’s letter between 1960 and 1965 purchases has been considerably better than our timing of sales. We do not go into these generals with the idea of getting the last nickel but are usually quite content selling out at some intermediate level between our purchase price and what we regard as fair value to a private owner.”
You do not need to be a genius to be a successful investor, master the basics and the rest will fall into place:
“To invest successfully, you need not understand beta, efficient markets, modern portfolio theory, option pricing or emerging markets. You may, in fact, be better off knowing nothing of these. That, of course, is not the prevailing view at most business schools, whose finance curriculum tends to be dominated by such subjects. In our view, though, investment students need only two well-taught courses – How to Value a Business, and How to Think About Market Prices.”
On the fine line between investment vs. speculation:
“The line separating investment and speculation, which is never bright and clear, becomes blurred still further when most market participants have recently enjoyed triumphs. Nothing sedates rationality like large doses of effortless money. After a heady experience of that kind, normally sensible people drift into behavior akin to that of Cinderella at the ball. They know that overstaying the festivities — that is, continuing to speculate in companies that have gigantic valuations relative to the cash they are likely to generate in the future — will eventually bring on pumpkins and mice. But they nevertheless hate to miss a single minute of what is one helluva party. Therefore, the giddy participants all plan to leave just seconds before midnight. There’s a problem, though: They are dancing in a room in which the clocks have no hands.”
The joys of compounding and the difference just 50 basis points will make over the long term:
“One story stands out. This, of course, is the saga of trading acumen etched into history by the Manhattan Indians when they unloaded their island to that notorious spendthrift, Peter Minuit, in 1626. My understanding is that they received $24 net. For this, Minuit received 22.3 square miles, which works out to about 621,688,320 square feet. While on the basis of comparable sales, it is difficult to arrive at a precise appraisal, a $20 per square foot estimate seems reasonable giving a current land value for the island of $12,433,766,400 ($12.5 billion). To the novice, perhaps this sounds like a decent deal. However, the Indians have only had to achieve a 6.5% return (The tribal mutual fund representative would have promised them this.) to obtain the last laugh on Minuit. At 6.5%, $24 becomes $42,105,772,800 ($42 billion) in 338 years, and if they just managed to squeeze out an extra half point to get to 7%, the present value becomes $205 billion.”
The difference between risk and volatility:
“The measurement of volatility: it’s nice, it’s mathematical and wrong. Volatility is not risk. Those who have written about risk don’t know how to measure risk. Past volatility does not measure risk. When farm prices crashed, [farm price] volatility went up, but a farm priced at $600 per acre that was formerly $2,000 per acre isn’t riskier because it’s more volatile. [Measures like] beta let people who teach finance use the math they’ve learned. That’s nonsense. Risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing. Dexter Shoes was a terrible mistake-I was wrong about the business, but not because shoe prices were volatile. If you understand the business you own, you’re not taking risk. Volatility is useful for people who want a career in teaching. I cannot recall a case where we lost a lot of money due to volatility. The whole concept of volatility as a measure of risk has developed in my lifetime and isn’t any use to us.”