The Investment Scientist

Posts Tagged ‘warren buffet

These are Warren Buffet’s own words. As usual, they are as humorous as insightful.

“In 2006, promises and fees hit new highs. A flood of money went from institutional investors to the 2-and-20 crowd. For those innocent of this arrangement, let me explain: it’s a lopsided system whereby 2% of your principal is paid each year to the manager even if he accomplishes nothing – or, for that matter, loses you a bundle – and, additionally, 20% of your profit is paid to him if he succeeds, even if his success is due simply to a rising tide.

“…The inexorable math of this grotesque arrangement is certain to make the Gotrocks family poorer over time than it would have been had it never heard of these hyper-helpers. Even so, the 2-and-20 action spreads. Its effects bring to mind the old adage: When someone with experience proposes a deal to someone with money, too often the fellow with money ends up with the experience, and the fellow with experience ends up with the money

Warren Buffet

Being a financial advisor, I get asked to forecast the market all the time. I notice most other financial advisors would regurgitate the morning financial news and look really smart and up-to-date. I felt like I am the only one in my profession who doesn’t know what the market is going to do in the near future. So what a relief Warren Buffet threw me a life line like this one:

We have long felt that the only value of stock forecasters is to make fortune-tellers look good. Even now, (Berkshire Hathaway vice chairman) Charlie (Munger) and I continue to believe that short-term market forecasts are poison and should be kept locked up in a safe place, away from children and also from grown-ups who behave in the market like children.

I am gonna print this quote on note cards and hand it to anyone who ask me to forecast the market again.

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On the after-effect of government bailoutwarren buffet

This debilitating spiral has spurred our government to take massive action. In poker terms, the Treasury and the Fed have gone “all in.” Economic medicine that was previously meted out by the cupful has recently been dispensed by the barrel. These once-unthinkable dosages will almost certainly bring on unwelcome aftereffects. Their precise nature is anyone’s guess, though one likely consequence is an onslaught of inflation. Moreover, major industries have become dependent on Federal assistance, and they will be followed by cities and states bearing mind-boggling requests. Weaning these entities from the public teat will be a political challenge. They won’t leave willingly.

On government bailout

Whatever the downsides may be, strong and immediate action by government was essential last year if the financial system was to avoid a total breakdown. Had that occurred, the consequences for every area of our economy would have been cataclysmic. Like it or not, the inhabitants of Wall Street, Main Street and the various Side Streets of America were all in the same boat.

On his own mistake

… But there’s another less pleasant reality: During 2008 I did some dumb things in investments. I made at least one major mistake of commission and several lesser ones that also hurt. I will tell you more about these later. Furthermore, I made some errors of omission, sucking my thumb when new facts came in that should have caused me to re-examine my thinking and promptly take action.

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David Swensen discusses the current state of the market and derivative trading >>>

Yale’s Swensen sees “Extraordinary” opportunity to snap up debts >>>

David Swensen discusses the ups and downs of Yale Endowment >>>

Jack Bogle, father of index funds, likes David Swensen and Warren Buffet >>>

Today, the VIX index reached all-time high of 56 and closed at 52. To give a measure of how fearful investors are, in 9/11/01 during the terrorist attach the index only reached a lowly 39.

In days like this, it helps to remember Warren Buffet’s mantra: “Be greedy when others are fearful!”

Warren Buffet said: “Price is what you pay and value is what you get.”

Wall Street uses the price-to-earning ratio, or the P/E ratio in short, to determine whether one gets what one pays for when buying a stock. Is this ratio just a myth? Or is it a useful valuation measure?

To answer this question, I examined the whole stock market data for the past 50 years from 1958 to 2007. For each year, I separated stocks into three portfolios: the top 30% P/E portfolio, the middle 40% P/E portfolio and the bottom 30% P/E portfolio. (Stocks with negative earnings are all in the top 30% P/E portfolio.)

If I had invested $1 in each of the three portfolios at the beginning of 1958, by the end of 2007, the top 30% P/E portfolio would have grown to $91; the middle 40% P/E portfolio would have grown to $322 and the bottom 30% P/E portfolio would have grown to $1698! (The chart below shows the growth of $1 in the three different portfolios in logarithmic scale.)

PE ratio and stock returns

In fact, in the past 5 decades, there was not a single decade in which the bottom 30% P/E portfolio did not outperformed the top 30% P/E portfolio. The decade spanning 1968 to 1977 was especially eventful: two global recessions, the Arab-Israeli war and the Arab oil embargo. The returns of the three portfolios in that decade are as follows:

Top 30% P/E portfolio: 31%

Middle 40% P/E portfolio: 61%

Bottom 30% P/E portfolio: 137%

It is safe to conclude that the P/E ratio is a very useful valuation measure for long-term stock investment. The lower the P/E ratio, the higher is the expected long-term return. That does not mean that low P/E stocks outperform every year though. In the last 50 years, there are 12 years in which the top 30% P/E portfolio outperformed the bottom 30% P/E portfolio. Take 2007 for example, the top 30% P/E portfolio outperformed the bottom 30% portfolio by more than 13%.

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Volatility does not measure risk. The problem is that the people who have written and taught about risk do not know how to measure risk. Beta is nice because it is mathematical, it is easy to calculate and it is wrong – past volatility does not determine the risk of investing. In early 1980s, farmland that had gone for 2,000 an acre, went for $600 an acre. Beta shot up. I was apparently buying a riskier asset at $600 than at $2,000. Real estate not frequently traded. Stocks give you the ability to measure this volatility nonsense.

Because people who teach finance use the mathematics that they have learned, they translate volatility into all types of measures of risks — it’s nonsense. Risk comes from the nature of certain types of business, and from not knowing what you’re doing. If you understand the economics of the business that you’re engaged in and you trust the people you are partnering with, you’re not running significant risk.

Volatility as risk has been very useful for those who teach, never useful for us.

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Michael Zhuang is principal of MZ Capital, a fee-only independent advisory firm based in Washington, DC.

Twitter: @mzhuang

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