April 13, 2015

Investing inspiration and ideas from Kass

The investment mosaic is a complicated one, and no one rule always works. How-to books may sell copies and make money for the authors, but they don't usually make the readers much money. There is no substitute for hard work in delivering superior investment returns. There are 86,400 seconds in a day, it's up to you to decide what to do with them. As I have repeatedly written, there is no secret sauce, magical elixir or special stock chart that provides clarity to our investment decisions -- rather it is a byproduct of hard-hitting research.

"Be a dreamer. If you don't know how to dream, you're dead." -- Jim Valvano

A variant view and second-level thinking are necessary reagents to good investment returns. In The Most Important Thing: Uncommon Sense for the Thoughtful Investor, author Howard Marks addresses these two subjects.

In investing you must find an edge (or, as Michael Steinhardt calls it, a variant or differentiated view) by often thinking of factors/ideas that others haven't thought. Importantly, you must also avoid being too early -- especially if your investor base has a different time frame than yours.

Second-level thinking trumps first-level thinking in delivering returns. As Howard puts it, First-level thinking says, "It's a good company: let's buy the stock." Second-level thinking says, "It's a good company, but everyone thinks it's a great company and it's not. So the stock's overrated and overpriced: let's sell." First-level thinking says, "The outlook calls for low growth and rising inflation. Let's dump our stocks." Second-level thinking says, "The outlook stinks, but everyone else is selling in panic. Buy!"

I am often asked by investors (and others) why I don't usually listen to company executives or the guidance of their investors relations departments. To me, it is preferable to speak to people in the supply chain or to company competitors, for (to paraphrase Warren Buffett) managements often lie like Ministers of Finance on the eve of devaluation.

You gotta know yourself, too. Wall Street is not a great place to "find yourself." (There is a reason why there is a cemetery on one side and a church on the other side of the New York Stock Exchange building.) Psychology can be important; it often trumps cause-and-effect relationships that have been in place historically. Above all, have confidence in your own analysis (as long as it is thorough), even if your view is at variance with the consensus.

"Don't give up, don't ever give up." -- Jim Valvano

Learn to survive under adverse market conditions by avoiding large losses, and learn how to prosper during good times. Generally speaking, by maintaining discipline and stopping out your losses, you can live another day in your investing life. It is not batting averages or on-base percentages that count in this game; it is how you control the risk in your portfolio. As an example, short positions can be hedged by owning cheap out-of-the-money calls, and long positions can be hedged by owning cheap out-of-the-money puts -- especially in a low-volatility setting. 

ShareThis