Warren Buffett on Tax Reforms, Markets & Investments

Well, valuations make sense with interest rates where they are. I mean, in the end you measure laying out money for an asset in relation to what you are going to get back, and the number one yard stick is U.S. governments. When you get 2.30 on the ten-year, I think stocks will do considerably better than that. If I have a choice of the two, I’m going to take stocks at that point. On the other hand, if interest rates were on the ten-year were five or six, you know, a whole different valuation standard for stocks. And we’ve talked about that for some time now.

tax reforms

Interest rates are gravity. If we knew interest rates were going to be zero from now until judgment day, you could pay a lot of money for any other asset. You would not want to put your money out at zero. I would have thought back in 19 — I mean, 2009 that rates would not be this low eight years later. It’s been a powerful factor, and the longer it persists, the more people start thinking in terms of something close to the rates they’ve seen for a long time. The one thing I’m sure of is that over time stocks from this level will beat bonds from this level. If I can be short the 30-year bond at 3 percent or something and long the S&P 500 and just have it put away for 30 years, stocks are going to far outperform bonds. The question is which variable is going to change. Everybody expects interest rates to change. But they’ve been expecting that for quite a while.

I don’t try to guess the stock market: I find businesses I like. But if I were to guess: if interest rates — if the ten-year moved up to 5 percent, stocks would be somewhat cheaper.

It’s been so wide I’ve written about it in annual reports. Stocks have been so much more attractive than bonds for a long time now and that’s partly intentional on the part of the fed. I mean, they want assets to increase in value and the way to do it was to reduce that gravity force of higher interest rates.

I think they expect it to increase, but the question is how much. If three years from now interest rates are 100 basis points higher than this, stocks will still be cheap at these prices. If it’s 300 or 400 basis points, they won’t look cheap. Janet Yellen doesn’t know what she would do three years from now. She’s got more of a job than –that’s a simple factor of the stock market. It’s interesting because the fed has said that they would like to see 2% inflation. That’s fairly recent. Paul Volcker would not have slept if he’d ever heard that in the 80s.

If the U.S. government is borrowing at ten years from you at 2.3%, and their own instrument, the fed, is saying ‘we would really like money to become more 2% a year or less,’ they’re not promising you very much in terms of real terms for saving.

Read the full interview here


Did Warren Buffett Kill Value Investing?

From 1957-1969, Warren Buffett’s partnership returned 2800%, or 29.5% a year*. Over the same time, the S&P 500 rose 153%, or 7.4% a year. Warren Buffett has been crushing the market for seven decades, but his early success went largely unnoticed. His name didn’t appear anywhere noteworthy until Adam Smith’s Supermoney, which wasn’t written until 1972. While his name gained traction in the investment community, it took many years before it became what it is today. Buffett is synonymous with investing, and If you type his name in the Amazon search bar, the machine spits back 1822 book results. His rise to ubiquity can be traced back to 1984, when he destroyed an efficient market hypothesizer.

value investing

On the 50th anniversary of Security Analysis, Buffett wrote an article in the Columbia Business School Magazine called The Superinvestors of Graham-and-Doddsville . A few weeks prior, Buffett faced off against Michael Jensen, a professor from the University of Rochester and the school of efficient markets. In the speech, which was translated into the article, Buffett told a story that would remove any doubt that value investors outperformance should be attributed to skill rather than luck. Imagine that 225 million Americans all flipped a coin. If you landed on heads, you lived to flip another coin. If this was repeated twenty times, 215 people would be expected to remain.

But then some business school professor would probably be rude enough to bring up the fact that if 225 million orangutans had engaged in a similar exercise, the results would be much the same…I would argue, however, that there are some important differences in the examples I am going to present. For one thing, if (a) you had taken 225 million orangutans distributed roughly as the U.S. population is; if (b) 215 winners were left after 20 days; and if (c) you found that 40 came from a particular zoo in Omaha, you would be pretty sure you were onto something. So You would probably go out and ask the zoo keeper about what he’s feeding them….A disproportionate number of successful coin-flippers in the investment world came from a very small intellectual village that could be called Graham-and-Doddsville.

From 1926 until the time that Buffett wrote this article, the Fama French U.S. Large Value Index, which did not exist until the early 90s, crushed the S&P 500. But you can see that until 1970, the red and black line were neck and neck. So all of the outperformance over this 58 year period came in the 14 years leading up to Buffett’s coin-flipping speech.

Read rest of the article here


Planning for a Non Retirement

Much of financial planning focuses on retirement. But what if your client isn’t planning to retire?

Trish Wheaton, former global managing partner of one of the world’s largest communications groups, is grateful that she could work 30 years in advertising — an industry notorious for employing youthful “mad men.” She wasn’t surprised when she was told that her time was up at age 65, but she also wasn’t ready for a traditional retirement.

Wheaton mused:

“Sixty-five is the new 45. I had to ask myself ‘what’s next?’ I realized I didn’t have a clue. When I talked to my female peers in the same situation it turned out that they were feeling the same way. We were all used to being successful. People still want to invest in their passion . . . it’s just a question of where do they invest it now.”


She decided to form a Leaning Out™ salon: a gathering of high-achieving women who discuss finding post-career success and purpose. “With the same energy, goal orientation, and drive that propelled them to lofty career heights,” Wheaton explained, “these female professionals are radically redefining ‘post-career’ and turning it into a time of abundant purpose, goal redefinition, and personal well-being while over-turning some well-entrenched approaches to ‘retirement’ in the process.”

I participated in one Leaning Out session, where we discussed a host of topics, including what motivates women to non-retire. Most successful women truly enjoy working. That message came through during our salon with comments like:

“I hate saying I’m retired.”

“After my job ended, I would go to my computer in the morning and when I looked at my email, I would feel like I don’t exist.”

“I miss the intellectual stimulation from work.”

“I want to do something different now . . . something that will matter to me.”

Opting out of retirement might even be good for longevity. Shigeaki Hinohara, a Japanese physician, worked 18 hours a day, seven days a week until his death at the age of 105. He spoke to Judith Kawaguchi of The Japan Times about the secret to living a long life:

“There is no need to ever retire, but if one must, it should be a lot later than 65. The current retirement age was set at 65 half a century ago when the average life-expectancy in Japan was 68 years. Today, people live longer so they can work longer.”

Five Non-Retirement Scenarios

1. Boards of Directors

Many professional women assume that after they move on from their roles as senior executives, they will immediately be asked to sit on corporate boards. They have heard that women directors are in demand, and they expect to be invited to serve based solely on their experience and gender.

“Be careful. Don’t make the grand assumption that you will be in demand the day after you move out of the executive suite!” says Joanne De Laurentiis, a corporate board member and former president and CEO of The Investment Funds Institute of Canada (IFIC).

“Often people think that the simple fact that they have been an executive qualifies them to sit on a board. But the skill set required can be quite different from their work background. Board members must have a strong combination of skills such as strategic thinking, problem solving, and leadership, but perhaps most importantly . . . they need to have specific expertise related to the business dealings of the organization.”

If you are planning on sitting on a corporate board, you need to have developed the full spectrum of skills required and should be known for your expertise.

The best way to plan for life on boards?

As De Laurentiis explains:

“Start developing your board skill set in the early years of your career. I started volunteering on boards right out of university and I have been on boards throughout my entire working life. When the time came for me to leave my traditional job, I didn’t need to seek out any board positions, I was already well-known as an expert in my field.”

  • Read the full article here


How To Reduce Risk in Stock Markets

Leverage – Debt increases risk. The easiest way to reduce your risk is to not have leverage, especially margin leverage, in your portfolio. Margin leverage is one of the few ways that you can be correct in your investment analysis, and ultimately in the result, but still lose money. It’s not worth it.

The second easiest way to reduce your risk is to not invest in companies that have excessive leverage. Having excessive debt on a company’s balance sheet can lead to problems. Having excessive debt also limits opportunities. One of the key components to the “Balance sheet to income statement investing” that I advocate is the ability for a company to take on debt when they see an unusually attractive opportunity. Better to buy a company with little debt and a strong balance sheet that can use that strength to safely take advantage of those opportunities by adding a reasonable amount of debt. They can’t do it if they are already overleveraged.

risk in stock markets

Margin of safety – Let’s go to Michael Mauboussin quoting Warren Buffett, “We believe the best and most practical way to restate the margin of safety
concept is to think about discounts to expected value. The combination of probabilities and potential outcomes determine expected value.”

Says Buffett, “Take the probability of loss times the amount of possible loss from the probability of gain times the amount of possible gain. That is what we’re trying to do. It’s imperfect, but that’s what it’s all about.”
A large margin of safety is helpful for many reasons. One, it gives you the opportunity for outsized gains. Two, it mitigates the effects of mistakes in analysis. And three, it helps protect against unknowable and unforeseen market and company-specific stresses.

Know your investment well – In order to know if you have a margin of safety, you must know your investment well enough to roughly determine its intrinsic value. Or, if you want to take the Mauboussin approach, determine the expected value. Clearly you must have the skillset to analyze a company. You also have to have the humility to recognize that the intrinsic value cannot be determined for some, perhaps most, companies. Other times the intrinsic value can be determined, just not by you. There is no shame in having a “too hard” pile. Mine is high.

I am attracted to companies where there are a low number of variables that are at least somewhat measurable. This is easier to do if you are relying on a company’s balance sheet rather than their income statement. It is also far easier for a company to manipulate their income statement, so this approach has the added benefit of higher predictability. Some investors believe that just because a company is small, it is more risky. This isn’t true. Those investors think that because a stock price moves more rapidly, a stock is more risky. They’re mistaken. Intelligently investing in smaller companies can dramatically reduce your risk. Most of the least risky companies I have invested in have been small. They were not risky specifically because of their low price relative to their actual value. They also were much easier to analyze.

Temperament – Here is where the self-awareness and Intellectual honesty fit in. This is a never-ending process and it is not easy. Nearly every investor, including the best, have succumbed to the market’s excitement and depression at one point. I don’t think it makes me a hippy to say that it is vital to protect your psychological wellbeing. Effective analysis consists of thousands of small judgments while researching a company. It’s a big risk if you can’t make those judgments with a clear head. This is also where ideology can blind you, and being blind as an investor is a dangerous thing. An investor always has to be mentally prepared to the idea that he is wrong, and if so, be willing to change his opinion.

Read the full insightful report from Arquitos Capital Management here


There They Go Again…Again – Howard Marks Memo

Some of the memos I’m happiest about having written came at times when bullish trends went too far, risk aversion disappeared and bubbles inflated. The first and best example is probably “bubble.com,” which raised questions about Internet and e-commerce stocks on the first business day of 2000. As I tell it, after ten years without a single response, that one made my memo writing an overnight success.

Another was “The Race to the Bottom” (February 2007), which talked about the mindless shouldering of risk that takes place when investors are eager to put money to work. Both of those memos raised doubts about investment trends that soon turned out to have been big mistakes.

howard marks

Those are only two of the many cautionary memos I’ve written over the years. In the last cycle, they started coming two years before “The Race to the Bottom” and included “There They Go Again” (the inspiration for this memo’s title), “Hindsight First, Please,” “Everyone Knows” and “It’s All Good.” When I wrote them, they appeared to be wrong for a while. It took time before they were shown to have been right, and just too early.

The memos that have raised yellow flags in the current up-cycle, starting with “How Quickly They Forget” in 2011 and including “On Uncertain Ground,” “Ditto,” and “The Race Is On,” also clearly were early, but so far they’re not right (and in fact, when you’re early by six or more years, it’s not clear you can ever be described as having been right). Since I’ve written so many cautionary memos, you might conclude that I’m just a born worrier who eventually is made to be right by the operation of the cycle, as is inevitable given enough time. I absolutely cannot disprove that interpretation. But my response would be that it’s essential to take note when sentiment (and thus market behavior) crosses into too-bullish territory, even though we know rising trends may well roll on for some time, and thus that such warnings are often premature. I think it’s better to turn cautious too soon (and thus perhaps underperform for a while) rather than too late, after the downslide has begun, making it hard to trim risk, achieve exits and cut losses.

Since I’m convinced “they” are at it again – engaging in willing risk-taking, funding risky deals and creating risky market conditions – it’s time for yet another cautionary memo. Too soon? I hope so; we’d rather make money for our clients in the next year or two than see the kind of bust that gives rise to bargains. (We all want there to be bargains, but no one’s eager to endure the price declines that create them.) Since we never know when risky behavior will bring on a market correction, I’m going to issue a warning today rather than wait until one is upon us.

I’m in the process of writing another book, going into great depth regarding one of the most important things discussed in my book The Most Important Thing: cycles, their causes, and what to do about them. It will be out next year, but this memo will give you a preview regarding one of the most important cyclical phenomena.

Before starting in, I want to apologize for the length of this memo, almost double the norm. First, the topic is wide-ranging – so much so that when I sat down to write, I found the task daunting. Second, my recent vacation gave me the luxury of time for writing. Believe it or not, I’ve cut what I could. I think what remains is essential.

Read the complete article here


The Dangers of Quantitative Value Investing

In recent years, quantitative stock analysis has taken the investment world by storm while qualitative analysis has been given a back seat. Value investing however — as Benjamin Graham would remind us — is both an art and a science. A new study in the CFA’s Financial Journal showed the underperformance / diminishing alpha of stocks chosen purely based on their quantitative value, and explains why value factors taken alone aren’t great indicators. But first, a quick trip into the value investing time machine.

quantitative value investing

Quantitative Value Investing History

Benjamin Graham’s and David Dodd’s 1934 Security Analysis is the seminal book on value investing. Security Analysis offers investors a comprehensive guide to analyzing companies to find value stocks which are priced below their intrinsic value. Graham & Dodd advise a number of strategies to find value stocks, ranging from qualitative factors like identifying industry trends and a company’s management team to quantitative factors like book value, P/E ratio, and sales-to-price. As Graham’s value investing ideas gained popularity in the investing community with disciples like Warren Buffet and Mario Gabelli, a ton of portfolio managers and private investors began mining his work to develop their own investment strategies.

With the advent of powerful computers, databases, and stock screeners it has become increasingly easy for investors to implement Graham’s quantitative strategies, while the qualitative study of companies remains nearly as time consuming and research intensive as it was in 1934. This imbalance of effort has generated a dangerous proliferation of quantitative investing without qualitatively studying stock fundamentals.

Read the rest of the interesting article here


How To Short A Stock & Make Money

To a novice investor, short selling sounds like one of those sophisticated, mysterious techniques that professional traders use to rob others blind. In reality, anyone can short a stock and make a profit if the stock drops in price.Short selling can be a powerful tool in your investment toolbox, but you need to understand the operator’s manual before you use this tool. Try to short a stock the wrong way and you could drill a hole in your own hand.

short a stock

What is short selling?

Every investor understands the conventional way to make money in the stock market (if they don’t, they shouldn’t be in the market!). You buy a stock today, wait for its price to go higher than you paid, and then sell it for a profit. This is known as being “long” the stock. Pretty straightforward.

Short selling is the same process in reverse. You sell a stock today, wait for the price to fall below what you paid, and then buy it at a lower price. This is known as being “short” a stock, or short selling. Sounds a little weird and complex at first, but it’s actually rather simple to do as I explain next.

When you are long a stock, your goal is to buy low and sell high.

When you are short a stock, you want to sell high and buy low.

How do you sell a stock you don’t own?

The quick answer is you borrow the stock.

How do you do this? Your broker will locate shares for you to borrow. In fact, many brokers require you to borrow shares before they will accept your short sell order. When your broker fills a short sell order for you, another investor agrees to buy the shares from you. It’s your responsibility to deliver the shares to the broker by settlement date—normally three business days later. The graphic below makes it easy to grasp the procedure.

Read the rest of the interesting article here


When Valuations Dont Seem to Work – John Hussman

“Historically, when trend uniformity has been positive, stocks have generally ignored overvaluation, no matter how extreme. When the market loses that uniformity, valuations often matter suddenly and with a vengeance. This is a lesson best learned before a crash rather than after one.”

John P. Hussman, Ph.D., October 3, 2000

“One of the best indications of the speculative willingness of investors is the ‘uniformity’ of positive market action across a broad range of internals. Probably the most important aspect of last week’s decline was the decisive negative shift in these measures. Since early October of last year, I have at least generally been able to say in these weekly comments that “market action is favorable on the basis of price trends and other market internals.” Now, it also happens that once the market reaches overvalued, overbought and overbullish conditions, stocks have historically lagged Treasury bills, on average, even when those internals have been positive (a fact which kept us hedged). Still, the favorable market internals did tell us that investors were still willing to speculate, however abruptly that willingness might end. Evidently, it just ended, and the reversal is broad-based.”

– John P. Hussman, Ph.D., July 30, 2007

john hussman

When one examines market cycles across history, including the most extreme speculative bubbles, one typically finds segments where valuations were clearly elevated relative to historical norms, and yet the stock market continued to advance. Still, one also finds that the market dropped like a rock over the completion of the market cycle. Likewise, one finds that virtually every point of significant overvaluation was systematically followed by below-average total market returns over a 10-12 year horizon.

It’s precisely the failure of valuations to matter over shorter segments of the market cycle that regularly convinces investors that valuations don’t matter at all. This delusion is strikingly ingrained into investor behavior, and is almost inescapably revived during every speculative episode. As Graham and Dodd wrote in Security Analysis (1934), referring to the final advance that led to the 1929 market peak, the reason investors shifted their attention away from historically-reliable measures of valuation was “first, that the records of the past were proving an undependable guide to investment; and, second, that the rewards offered by the future had become irresistibly alluring.” The consequence of the delusion that “old valuation measures no longer apply” was predictably wicked, as it was after the 1969, 1972, 2000 and 2007 extremes. What’s distressing is that this delusion is actively encouraged by investment professionals who ought to know better.

Valuations seem unreliable during speculative episodes because investors neglect a critical distinction. While long-term and full-cycle market outcomes are tightly determined by market valuations, the effect of valuations on outcomes over shorter segments of the market cycle depends on the psychological preference of investors toward speculation or risk aversion. When investors are inclined to speculate, they tend to be indiscriminate about it, and for that reason, we’ve found that the most reliable measure of investor psychology is the uniformity or divergence of market action across a wide range of individual stocks, industries, sectors, and security types, including debt securities of varying creditworthiness.

Our own measures of market action extract a signal from the behavior of thousands of securities, and are not captured by simple indicators like 200-day moving averages or advance-decline lines. Still, as a rule-of-thumb, divergence in the behavior of a broad range of individual stocks from the behavior of the major indices tends to be a warning sign, as do widening credit spreads, or lack of uniformity in the behavior of various market sectors.

Put simply, when valuation measures are steeply elevated but investors remain inclined to speculate, as evidenced by very broad uniformity of market action and the absence of internal divergences, rich valuations often have little effect on market outcomes. However, in an environment of extreme valuations, even fairly subtle deterioration in the uniformity of market internals should be taken as a signal of increasing risk-aversion among investors, and the market becomes vulnerable to steep and abrupt losses.

– Read the full investing gems here


Sometimes Smart Money is Dumb Too – Jason Zweig

Do all financial advisers turn their clients into better investors, or do some make their clients’ behavior even worse? My latest column looks at this question. There isn’t any doubt that many financial advisers keep their clients from getting too greedy as markets go up, while also inspiring them with hope during dark times — helping investors stay the course through good times and bad. But ultimately this question boils down to whether you believe that there is such a thing as “smart money” and “dumb money.”

smart money

For decades (centuries?), Wall Street has mocked individual investors for buying and selling the wrong things at the wrong times. And there is plenty of truth to that criticism. Individual investors do chase performance, buying more and more of whatever is hot until they get burned, then selling once it gets cold (or as soon as it gets them back to “breakeven”). That’s what they did with bond funds and emerging-market funds in the early 1990s, Internet stocks in 1999 and 2000, and so on. But the great investing writer “Adam Smith” (George J.W. Goodman), who died in 2014, turned the mockery around, showing how absurd the idea of dumb money becomes when you take it to its logical extreme:

“In more polite circles, John Jerk and his brother are called ‘the little fellows’ or ‘the odd-lotters’ or ‘the small investors.’ I wish I knew Mr. Jerk and his brother. They live in some place called the Hinterlands, and everything they do is wrong. They buy when the smart people sell, they sell when the smart people buy, and they panic at exactly the wrong time. There are services that make a very good living out of charting the activity of Mr. J. and his poor brother. If I knew them I would give them room and board and consult them…. I would push the pheasant and champagne through the little hatch of his cell and ask Mr. J. what he was going to do that morning, and if he said, ‘buy,’ I would know to sell, and so on.”

The behavior gap — the difference between the performance of an investment and the returns of the investors who own it — has historically been cited by stockbrokers as evidence that investors do poorly without financial advice. Brokers are fond of citing reports from Dalbar, a Boston financial-services firm, contending that investors in U.S. stock funds have underperformed the funds they own by an astounding margin of nearly seven percentage points annually for the past three decades.

Read the rest of the interesting article here


How To Anticipate And Avoid Pitfalls – Howard Marks

With the stock market reaching all time highs, maybe it’s a good time to revisit Howard Marks’ memo of 2005 in which he discusses market trends being taken to excess – and the painful consequences that become clear in hindsight.

Here’s an except from that memo:

The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you can see.” – – Winston Churchill

I often cite John Kenneth Galbraith’s observation that one of the outstanding hallmarks of the financial world is “the extreme brevity of the financial memory.” Investors lose money over and over because they simply forget that cycles are inevitable and there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Now I’ve found a great quotation from Churchill, also reminding us that foresight comes largely from awareness of history.

howard marks

Along similar lines, I’m struck by the extent to which a related factor, inadequate skepticism, also contributes to investment losses. Getting the most out of a book, play or movie usually requires “willing suspension of disbelief.” We’re glad to overlook the occasional plot glitch, historical inaccuracy or physical impossibility because it increases our enjoyment. When we watch Peter Pan, we don’t want to hear the person sitting next to us say, “I can see the wires” (even though we know they’re there). While we know boys can’t fly, we don’t care; we’re just there for fun.

But our purpose in investing is serious, not fun, and we must constantly be on the lookout for things that can’t work in real life. In short, the process of investing requires a strong dose of disbelief. Time and time again, the post mortems of financial debacles include two classic phrases: “It was too good to be true” and “What were they thinking?” I’m writing to explore why these observations are so often invoked in the past tense.

The combination of greed and optimism repeatedly leads people to pursue strategies they hope will produce high returns without high risk; pay elevated prices for securities that are in vogue; and hold things after they have become highly priced in the hope there’s still some appreciation left. Afterwards, hindsight shows everyone what went wrong: that expectations were unrealistic and risks were ignored.

Read the full article here