In Security Analysis, Benjamin Graham emphasizes the importance of not only focusing on a firm’s potential and accounting statements, but to also pay great attention to the business cycle. Individual investors should research and create their own one year outlook for the market.
Almost any security may be a sound purchase at some real or prospective price and an indicated sale at another price.
- Benjamin Graham, Security Analysis
However, Graham also stresses that day-to-day and month-to-month fluctuations of the market should be ignored. Instead, investors should focus on the major shifts in market sentiment and estimating what stage of the business cylce we are in. Clearly today we are in a brutal bear market that has brought down the S&P 500 over 40% year to date. But we have to ask ourselves, what inning of this bear market are we in? Where do we see the strongest values in the market?
Benjamin Graham on Investing in Bear Markets
In a typical case of bear-market hysteria or pessimism the investor would be better off if he were not able to sell out so readily; in fact, he is often better off if he does not even know what changes are taking place in the market price of his securities.
- Benjamin Graham, Security Analysis
Graham’s sentiment on holding onto securities in a bear market could have taken a huge chunk out of someone’s portfolio this year, I know holding onto crashing stocks has severly hurt my portfolio. However at this state of the bear market I believe the above quote is appropriate.
It is ill-advised at this moment in time to liquidate investments into weakness. Your portfolio may depreciate in the coming months, but sometimes you have to take a 3 month deep breath and try your best to not follow your stock prices on a daily basis and just enjoy your dividend yields! To do this you have to be sure that your portfolio is filled with strong, value stocks with years of consistent earnings growth. Ignoring equity prices does not mean you should ignore the latest news from stocks you own. Shares should be sold if there is a fundamental shift in the companies’ long-term outlook.
Even though Warren Buffet’s 2 month-old investment in Goldman Sachs (GS) at $115 a share has fallen almost in half to $65 a share, I’m willing to bet he is sleeping well at night knowing he is invested in a first-in class company (although the investment banking class may be gone forever) and enjoying a 10% dividend yield from his preferred stock.
Don’t Purchase a Stock at Any Price
Finding the strongest values is no easy task, and Benjamin Graham gives some bull market advice that is worth remembering once this cycle changes gears. “Don’t purchase stocks at any price.” He writes that great companies don’t necessarily indicate a great investment if their stock price is comparatively high. Be a patient investor and wait until the company drops to an attractive level. For instance during a bull market in 2006 you could have bought Microsoft (MSFT) at a high of $30.19 or a low of $21.92 (or today at $19.15!) - a 27% variation. If a stock price of a company you have been watching continues to soar far above the intristic value (you can use my post on the Dividend Growth Model to estimate intrinsic value) you give the company, don’t feel like you missed the boat, in the long-term the price very well will come down to levels you like or their earnings will improve to increase your valutation.
When to Invest In Small Cap Stocks
Graham also notes that small cap stocks are more sensitive to swings in the overall market. Your position in small caps should be minimized in your portfolio if you have a weak outlook for the coming year and your small cap positions should be increased in bull markets. This sentiment is supported decades after Graham’s writing, consider comparing SPDR DJ Wilshire Small Cap Growth (DSG) which retreated 49% YTD vs. SPDR DJ Wilshire Large Cap Growth (ELG) which declined only (only!?) 43% YTD.
Beware of Bull Markets
Beware of “bargains” when most stock prices are high. An undervalued, neglected stock may continue to be neglected through the end of the bull market and may potential be one of the hardest hit stocks in the following bear market.