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My Interview with Jason Zweig

Note: This interview was originally published in the December 2016 issue of our premium newsletter – Value Investing Almanack (VIA). To read more such interviews and other deep thoughts on value investing, business analysis and behavioral finance, click here to subscribe to VIA.



“I wish I could talk to this guy,” I told my wife when I read Ben Graham’s The Intelligent Investor first time sometime in 2005.

“But he is dead, right?” she said.

“Oh, not Graham,” I exclaimed, “But Jason Zweig who has edited this version of Graham’s book.”

“I am sure you would one day,” she said with an air of confidence. But I junked her thoughts saying, “Why would he even want to talk to me?”

Well, I had this discussion in mind when I wrote to Mr. Zweig in mid-October last year to request him for an interview for our Value Investing Almanack newsletter. I knew it was a shot in the dark, something I had not done for a long-long time after missing a few such shots in the dark on stocks I lost money owning.

But this shot worked, and worked well for me. Not only did Mr. Zweig agree immediately for the interview, he also made me comfortable by asking me to address him as, well, Jason. 🙂

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2 Bitter Truths of Stock Valuation…and How You Can Avoid Them

We conducted our Value Investing Workshop in Bangalore yesterday, and here are some moments from the session…

Safal Niveshak's Value Investing Workshop in Bangalore

Out upcoming workshops are in Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi, and Hyderabad. If you wish to attend any of these, please click here to register.

Anyways, one of the key topics that I cover during these workshops is valuations i.e., importance of valuations and the process of valuing stocks. But before I start this specific section, I warn members about two bitter truths of valuations and how they can avoid them.

I first learned these truths during my reading of Aswath Damodaran, Professor of Finance at the Stern School of Business at New York University, where he teaches corporate finance and equity valuation. He is widely quoted on the subject of valuation, with “a great reputation as a teacher and authority”. In other words, Damodaran is to business valuations what Peter Drucker was to business strategy.

Couple of years back, I read his The Little Book of Valuation, wherein the first chapter reiterates an important fact about “value” – that it’s more than a number, and that understanding it well is a way to stay ahead of the pack.

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Safal Niveshak Stream – February 4, 2017

Note to Readers: In Stream, we suggest worthwhile reading material on a variety of topics, not all of which are directly related to investing. Some of the articles require you to be paid subscriber of those sites. However, it is often possible to read such articles by going to Google News and searching for the article’s title.



Some nice stuff we are reading, watching, and observing at the start of this weekend…

Life/Learning

  • HBO documentary “Becoming Warren Buffett”…is a documentary about the world’s most famous investor. It was made with the cooperation of Buffett and his family, deals with Buffett the businessman and investor, but it’s Buffett the man and his complicated, and often difficult, relationships with the people he loved most that are the film’s real subject.

    …what makes “Becoming Warren Buffett” far more interesting than a simple hagiography is the exploration of Buffett’s personal life, and, in particular, his relationship with his first wife, Susan, who died in 2004. Personal relationships were not something that Buffett navigated naturally. At one point in the movie, he says, “I don’t have a mind that relates to the physical universe very well,” and the same seems to have been true of the emotional universe. Buffett, by his own description, was socially awkward as a kid (he attributes much of his later success to taking a Dale Carnegie public-speaking course as a young man), and the film is a portrait of a person for whom financial questions “are easy,” as Buffett says. “It’s the human problems that are the tough ones.”

  • Life is rife with risks. Misperceiving and underestimating these risks can lead to vital mistakes. Therefore, to make well-informed decisions, we need to become comfortable with uncertainty.

    The world is complex, and uncertainty is guaranteed. However, multiple factors can make things seem more certain than they actually are. We need to identify and fight against these false markers, even when it makes us uncomfortable.

    …Our experience teaches us how to live with the uncertainties of frequently occurring events such as daily variations in the weather or the stock market. But we get anxious about uncertainties when the events are rare and the stakes are high: That’s why most of us panic in the face of a medical mystery, environmental disaster, financial crisis, or a presidential election. It’s also why we prefer leaders and authority figures who pretend to know exactly what to do all the time instead of acknowledging ambiguity.

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The Big Budget Challenge: Are You Up for It?

In Fooled by Randomness, Nassim Taleb wrote that “news makes idiots of us because it gives us confidence, not insight.” Like a PhD in macroeconomic theory. Today is one such day in India, when after the Union Budget is announced, a lot of us will feel like PhDs in macroeconomic theory.

After all, media (television, newspapers, radio) and social media are all already filled with updates and “expert” comments on the Budget.

My wife has already prepared her questions to be asked after the Budget is announced – “What got expensive and what got cheaper? What can I shop more for?”

But I am not answering anything of it this time. Why? Because I am taking up this challenge of avoiding everything related to Budget for the next three days i.e., till the noise dies down.

Though I don’t watch and analyze much of Budget every year, and I don’t read much of news, as a ‘test’ of my ability to avoid all kinds of noise and especially such a loud noise like Budget’s that will surely hit me from all sides, I am going on a three-day diet of consciously seeking news related to what the FM would be announcing today (and the Budget won’t matter after three days anyways).

Are you up for it too?

You see, a Budget anyways won’t make any difference to your life. If you are already a spendthrift, you will continue to spend a lot even if things got cheaper or taxes are lowered. And if you are already frugal, you will continue to spend within your limits even if things get expensive or they don’t touch the taxes a bit. So how would this Budget really impact your life? Why give it such a big shelf space in your brain’s attic? Why waste precious time amidst noise?

By the way, if you are worried that by avoiding all news for the next three days, you may miss an opportunity if one of the stocks you own or are looking to own falls or rises due to Budget’s impact, don’t be. A 5-10% rise or fall in stock prices won’t make a difference to your decisions anyways. And if prices rise or fall even more, I am sure you will somehow come to know about it. 🙂

So are you up for the challenge? Let me know in the Comments section of this post if you are, and also let me know if you aren’t and why.

I’m asking you to take up this challenge as a test, but you have a choice to dump it.

Want to Become a Full-Time Investor? Here’s Your Checklist

One of the questions I got asked by a few members in my last workshop in Mumbai was – “I have a passion in investing and would love to do it full-time. So how do I prepare to become a full-time investor?”

This, by the way, isn’t a new question for me but one that is often asked. With the last few years of reasonably good performance from the overall stock market, and with more and more people flouting their multi-baggers on social media, it isn’t surprising to see many people wanting to quit their jobs to become full-time investors because they think they have a “knack for finding potential multi-baggers.”

I believe such thoughts are often masked by Recency Bias, because most of such questions about quitting a job to become a full-time investor usually follow good (recent) periods in the stock market.

Envy is also at work here, because a lot of people are witnessing some full-time investors (who shout a lot on social media) get rich quick.

And then don’t forget the role of Survivorship Bias, which is a logical error of concentrating only on people or things that “survived” some process and inadvertently overlooking those that did not. So, taking inspiration from other full-time investors who have made good money from “emerging moats” or “100-to-1 stocks” or “value trading” and ignoring others who followed similar processes but ended up with disasters can lead you to false conclusions about your own potential as a full-time investor.

What is more, like them, you don’t need to consider investing as a way to make you rich…but a way to keep you rich i.e., help you grow your purchasing power. Look at your work – job / profession / business – to make you rich and thus focus more energy there than on the stock market. That is another reason most of us should consider owning only high-quality businesses where we don’t have to spend a lot of time answering a lot of questions.

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