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Oh, My Impatient Generation!

I met a guy yesterday who spent the past ten years of his life – and he’s just 32 years of age – destroying his body with alcohol, excessive food, and a sedentary lifestyle.

“I have resolved to be fit, lean and healthy in the next six months,” he told me with great confidence.

Well, not surprisingly, he got irritated when I told him that it might take a little longer than six months to achieve what he wanted.

His reaction wasn’t much different from a cousin of mine, who recently told me how she wanted to become a life coach and was ready to do whatever it took to get there in one year.

When I asked her, “What if it takes you ten years to get there, instead of one?” she had no answer.

Clearly, she hadn’t considered the possibility that years of learning, experience and skill development could be one of the necessary success ingredients in becoming a good life guru. But she wanted the results without all this work…or by investing the necessary time.

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Beware the Boredom of Bull Market

At my Hyderabad Value Investing workshop that I conducted last Sunday, I had a participant who asked – “What you’ve said about long term investing in the stock market is all good. But doesn’t it get boring after a time? I mean, first the process of reading annual reports to find good businesses, and then if you find some, holding on to them for the long run doing nothing. How does one maintain interest in this thing? How does one make this process and journey exciting?”

I thought these were good questions. In fact, questions like these used to bother me when I started out on my journey of reading annual reports, analyzing financial statements, and practicing long term investing more than a decade back.

In fact, I met an accomplished investor friend at a conference recently, who confessed of boredom because he was not able to find stocks worth buying in this rising market. “Even if you are a long-term investor, what do you do but feel bored when you don’t find anything worth buying because everything seems to be so inflated?” he questioned.

“I agree,” I said.

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Notes from Howard Marks’ Lecture: 48 Most Important Things I Learned on Investing

“If you were to read just five books in your life to become a sensible investor,” I often suggest people seeking my view, “…they have to be Warren Buffett’s letters, Poor Charlie’s Almanack, Peter Lynch’s One Up on Wall Street, Ben Graham’s The Intelligent Investor, and Howard Marks’ memos.”

Well, if you don’t know who Howard Marks is, let me tell you he is the CEO of Oaktree Capital and is one of the most famous investors who manages to keep a low profile, despite managing almost US$ 100 billion. Marks is also the author of an amazing book – The Most Important Thing: Uncommon Sense for the Thoughtful Investor. In its ultimate praise, Warren Buffett writes, “This is that rarity, a useful book”.

Howard Marks - Oaktree Capital

I have been reading and re-reading Marks’ memos for a few years now, so was very fortunate to attend a lecture he gave in Mumbai yesterday titled – The Truth About Investing.

It was an enlightening session, just to be in the presence of this legend and hear him out live.

I made some notes from Marks’ lecture, which I present below (most of these are direct quotes from Marks). He calls these lessons as the “brutal truths” of investing. As you would realize while reading the notes, these indeed are brutal truths – stuff that is easier said than done.

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Investing is Simple, but Not Easy

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” ~ Confucius

“Simplicity is a great virtue but it requires hard work to achieve it and education to appreciate it. And to make matters worse: complexity sells better.” ~ Edsger W. Dijkstra

It’s a sad fact of life that great people rarely divulge deep insights into how they achieved their greatness. And the sadder fact of life is that when a few of the greats do divulge the secrets of their greatness, we ignore them because the secrets often are too simple, too pedestrian, for us to appreciate.

“Huh! That’s it? It can’t be so simple!” we would say when we hear a great shelling out simple advice to achieve greatness.

Like, if you are learning martial arts and you hear Bruce Lee speak out the secret to his greatness – “Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, add what is uniquely your own” – you say, “Great thought, but is that it? It cannot be so simple!”

Consider investing. When we read Warren Buffett revealing that the only two rules of successful investing are – Rule No. 1: Never Lose Money. Rule No. 2: Never Forget Rule No. 1 – our brain protests, “Great thought, but is that it? It cannot be so simple!”

Investing is simple, like Buffett also says, but not easy. Take a simple idea, Charlie Munger suggests, but take it seriously.

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Long Term Investing in An Age of Small Attention Spans

My 5-year-old son Chaitanya, like most kids his age, paid little attention as I showed him how to make a paper boat for what seemed like the hundredth time. I said, “Fold the paper into half, then fold here, and then here.”

As I was talking, he kept looking at everything except at what I was doing. He fidgeted and played with his pencil. I kept pulling his attention back to what we were doing and my constant refrain was, “Pay attention!”

Ultimately, I lost my patience, and moved on to reading a book on my Kindle.

It’s not that Chaitanya is uninterested all the time. He is completely focused when I read his favorite books, or when he is playing with his Lego blocks. But at other times, asking him to focus is an exercise in frustration.

Now if you think kids with their terribly short attention spans are tough to deal with, consider this. In 2000, the average human attention span was 12 seconds i.e., we could focus on any one particular thing just for 12 second before being distracted or allowing our minds to wander. If you think that was terribly low, please note that this number has now fallen to just eight.

When I look back to that time when I lost my patience on Chaitanya and moved onto reading a book on my Kindle, I realize that I was onto a second book in the next five minutes, and to a third book in no time.

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One Idea That Could Change Your Life (and How You Invest)

“Good morning, Sir,” I called out to a man walking just ahead of me during my morning walk yesterday. Like me, he was a regular at the walking track and we often crossed each other exchanging smiles and wishes. I had heard good things about him from others, and so I thought of engaging him in an interaction.

“How are you doing today?” I asked him.

“Great, as always!” he replied with a smile of a ten-year old. He, by the way, looked ninety years of age but healthy enough to be walking at quick pace.

“I have been observing you for the past many days,” I said, “And you always wear a nice smile on your face and look so healthy. It seems you are living a great life.”

“Yeah, it’s always been wonderful,” he replied, “No regrets at all.”

“That’s wonderful!” I said, “But you’ve been lucky,” I murmured, which he could hear, “Else life is so full of adversities and regrets.”

“Yeah, that’s true,” he replied. “It’s adversity all the way, but that’s what life is supposed to be, isn’t it?”

“Maybe, but then that’s not a life you seem to have lived, right?” I asked. “I can see that you are happy and healthy at ninety years of age, and I know that you are financially free. In other words, you seem to have everything that is missing for most of us going through mid-life.”

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My Notes on a Brilliant Investment Letter I Just Read

John HuberOne contemporary value investor I’ve learned a lot from, and look forward to read, is John Huber. John is the portfolio manager of Saber Capital Management, LLC, an investment firm that employs value investing strategy with the primary goal of patiently compounding capital for the long-term. He also writes about investing at Base Hit Investing.

I had interviewed John for the May 2016 issue of our Value Investing Almanack newsletter, and he was very generous in sharing his insights from his long experience as a value investor. Last week, I came across his 2016 letter to clients of Saber Capital, and was hooked instantly.

In this letter, John has shared some of the simplest yet profound thoughts on the practice of successful value investing. Despite their profundity, these thoughts have been forgotten and often ignored by investors who have seen their attention spans and investment horizons getting shorter and shorter.

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10 Qualities of Great Investors

Value Investing Workshops in Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai – Registrations are now open for our upcoming workshops in Mumbai (22nd Jan), Bangalore (5th Feb), and Chennai (12th Feb). If you wish to attend, please click here to register.


One of the first lessons I learned from my Yoga teacher was what she told me during my first class – “Yoga isn’t about rapid movements but long pauses. Slow down, calm down, don’t hurry, and trust the process.”

The thing about yoga — or any exercise — is that there isn’t a comfort zone. But if you have a sound process, and practice it diligently, over time it starts to work for you.

The act of investing your money, as I realize, isn’t much different from practicing Yoga. A superior process and greatness often go hand in hand in yoga, and also in investing. For serious investors, thus, it’s wise to learn to trust the process that generates winning investment results.

I came across one such time-tested process framework recently while reading Michael Mauboussin’s “Reflections on the Ten Attributes of Great Investors.” Mauboussin is a Managing Director and Head of Global Financial Strategies at Credit Suisse, and author of some amazing books like The Success Equation and More Than You Know. He is one successful value investor, and thus the process he has laid out in his note is a great help for any serious investor seeking a winning investment process.

Here are my reviews of the ten attributes Mauboussin has laid out in his note.

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