Category: Benjamin Graham’s Advice

Benjamin Graham's AdviceValue Investing Ideas

Value Investing vs. Speculative Investing

Benjamin Graham, Value Investing vs. SpeculationWhile you contemplate a major investment decision, you need to ask yourself if you will be making a value investment or a speculative investment. You can use Benjamin Graham’s extensive writing about the difference between value and speculative investments to categorize potential investments you are considering.

Speculative investors bet on the Yankees in a Vegas casino. When the Yankees are on a hot win winning streak, the speculator can double his investments after each victory, but when the Yankees’ bats turn cold, the speculative investor will be walking the streets hat in hand.

Value investors buy bonds for Yankee stadium’s construction.

Speculative investors buy a stock with a hunch that the price will go up or down quickly. Value investors buy a stock after determining the long-term value of the business.

Although value investors outperform speculative investors in the long-run, value investors do not expect to outperform the market. Value investors accept the reality that no one can predict market behavior; instead, value investors work to control their own investment behavior.

Benjamin Graham’s 3 Types of Value Investments

1) Well established investment funds – examples are 5-star Morningstar mutual funds, corporate bond funds, & municipal bond funds.

2) Common trust funds (separate accounts) – High net worth investors can hand their portfolio over to a commercial bank or investment firm that will responsibly manage their money on a one-to-one basis.

3) Dollar cost averaging – Deposit a consistent amount of money at specific intervals (monthly or quarterly) into your portfolio. The easiest way to dollar cost average is to buy a mutual or bond fund (from Vanguard for example) where you can setup automated deposits – this way you don’t have to pay trading fees for buying new stocks or bonds every investment cycle. Suze Orman offers a dollar cost averaging calculator on her website.

Benjamin Graham wasn’t alive to see the days of Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) but I would add ETFs as a fourth value investing option:

4) ETFs – ETFs allow you to buy a stock index (i.e. SPDR S&P 500 ETF – SPY) or a weighted stock sector (i.e. Ultra Basic Materials – UYM). The advantage of ETFs, is that you can buy a diversified investment without having to pay the associate trading fees if you bought a number of stocks, and the ETF management fees are considerably lower than their mutual fund counterparts, about .1% vs. 1.5% respectively.

Benjamin Graham’s 3 Types of Speculative Investments

1) Trading in the market – Shorting stocks that have had a short-term run-up in price.

2) Short-term selectivity – Buying stocks with upcoming earning releases that the speculator believes will beat Wall Street estimates.

3) Long-term selectivity – Picking stocks with high returns in the past, or stocks with promising product releases like tech and drug companies. A risk of “long-term selectivity” is that the speculator may buy a company with an upcoming product that eventually undersells or never makes it to market. Or the speculator’s estimates were correct, and the firm’s upcoming product is a hit, but the previous market price already consider the product’s success. Or even though the speculator’s assessment was correct, he could suffer from the John Maynard Keynes’ proverb, “The market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent.”

Special Situations

In between value and speculative investing are “special situations.” A prime example is investing in merger & arbitrage opportunities. Companies announce mergers for shareholder approval far in advance of any formal agreements. The announcement includes a suggested buyout price, and there is usually a spread between the market price of the company being purchased and the suggested buyout price. Immediately in response to the announcement the spread between the market price and buyout price begins to close. However, up until the day that the deal is finalized (or canceled), the spread fluctuates based on investors’ assessment about the likelihood that the deal will be completed. A recent example of a successful M&A closing is 2008 purchase of Anheuser-Busch by inBev. As close as two months before the deal closed, the merger spread widened on credit concerns, causing Anheuser-Busch to sell at $64.86 a share, while the buyout offer stood at $70 a share.

Conclusion

Do you find that you are more of a value investor or a speculative investor?

I find that my natural inclination is to be a speculative investor. So before I make a trade I ask myself how easily I will be able to sleep at night, or as Benjamin Graham puts it, I ask myself if the trade promises “safety of principle and a satisfactory return.”

Benjamin Graham's AdviceMacroeconomySecurity Analysis

Benjamin Graham on Market Behavior

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

Think Long-Term

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.

Market Environment, Potential Value, and Intristic Value Produce Market Price