Premium Value Investing NewsletterDownload Free Issue

Investing Lesson from How Doctors (Don’t) Think

It was a summer afternoon. Sunnybrook Hospital in Canada received an accident case. A young woman driver had a head-on collision with another car. She had suffered broken bones everywhere.

The doctors found multiple fractures in her ankles, feet, hips, and face. Initially, they missed the fracture in her ribs that they later found out.

During her diagnosis, the doctors found something else that was not right with the woman. Her heart was beating unusually. The rhythm of her heartbeat had become wildly irregular. It was either skipping beats or adding extra beats.

The emergency room staff soon diagnosed the heart problem – or thought they had. The woman told them that she had a history of an overactive thyroid. An overactive thyroid can cause an irregular heartbeat. So the staff no longer needed any further investigations for the source of the irregular heartbeat but to treat it.

By this time, they had invited an intern named Don Redelmeier, whose job at the hospital was, in part, to check the understanding of the specialists for mental errors. In other words, Redelmeier’s job was to serve a check on other people’s, especially doctors’, thinking.

As the emergency room staff was about to administer the drugs for hyperthyroidism to the woman patient, Redelmeier asked them to slow down. To wait. Just a moment. Just to check their thinking – and to make sure they were not trying to force the facts into an easy, coherent, but ultimately false story.

[Read more…]

How to Survive the Next Stock Market Crisis

Note: I am not predicting a stock market crisis in the near term. But what follows below is a discussion on how an investor can survive a crisis that will certainly happen at some time in the future. That’s the nature of financial markets, you see.



“Hey Vishal, how are you doing today?” asked my friend Ravi as we met for lunch last weekend.

“I’m good, Ravi. How have you been?”

“Super, and more excited than ever!” he replied.

“Glad to know that,” I said. “You got a promotion at the job?”

“No, I’m excited for another reason.”

“Bull market?” I asked, almost knowing what was coming next.

“Yeah, yeah, you guessed it right this time!” Ravi exclaimed. His joy seemed to know no bounds.

“I just sold a five-bagger from my portfolio,” he said with great pride, “And three more stocks are almost hitting that level.”

“Great to know that Ravi. The last time I saw you this happy was in 2007.”

“Oh, don’t be a sadist Vishal,” Ravi said. “Don’t remind me of what happened then.”

[Read more…]

Reasonable Expectations

“You’ve got to be careful if you don’t know where you’re going, ’cause you might not get there.” ~ Yogi Berra

At the heart of Ben Graham’s teachings lies his advice that the intelligent investor must never forecast the future exclusively by extrapolating the past.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly the mistake that stock market experts and investors have made innumerable times in the past. Some go even further. Since stocks had “always” beaten bonds over any period of at least 30 years, stocks must be less risky than bonds or even cash in the bank. And if you can eliminate all the risk of owning stocks simply by hanging on to them long enough, then why quibble over how much you pay for them in the first place?

In India, it’s easy to find a forecaster who argues that stocks have returned an annual average of around 18% over the past 30 years and thus that’s what investors can easily expect in the future. But what if I tell you that the average annual return for the BSE-Sensex has been just around 10% over the past 25 years (since the peak of Harshad Mehta bull run)?

Of course, this is just one number and you may accuse me of being selective in my choice to prove a point. But that’s what I am up to – prove a point, that when you do not pay heed to the price you are paying for stocks because you have unreasonable expectations for the future, you are bound to get disappointed.

[Read more…]

The Curse of a Bull Market

“Vishal, since the market is up so much over the past 3-4 years, and especially after the surge over the last few months, I’m looking for cheap stocks and sectors that have been left behind, even if they are average businesses,” a value investor friend Ravi told me this as we met for lunch last weekend.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because it’s almost impossible to find value among good quality companies…your so-called moat businesses. And I am a true blue ‘value’ investor you see.”

“Oh no,” I told Ravi. “That is a dangerous thing to do.”

I understood what Ravi was hoping to do. It also sounded logical i.e., to identify and buy stocks that remain cheap in a market where most businesses are quoting at high valuations.

But sensible investing doesn’t work that way.

“There is a big difference between ‘cheapness’ and ‘value’, Ravi.”

“Why do you say that, Vishal?”

[Read more…]

Why Not to Speculate During Bull Markets: Lessons from Newton and Druckenmiller

It was sometime during late 1999 through early 2000, near the peak of the dot-com bubble, the legendary George Soros and his hedge-fund team were working on how to prepare for the inevitable sell-off in technology stocks.

The man in charge of Soros’ high profile technology funds was Stanley Druckenmiller – one of the best-performing hedge fund managers of all time, till date – and he was busy warning his team that the sell-off could be near and could be brutal.

As the markets soared further in March 2000, Druckenmiller was quoted as saying, “I don’t like this market. I think we should probably lighten up.” Soros himself would regularly warn his team that tech stocks were a bubble set to burst.

Despite this, when the sell-off finally did begin in mid-March 2000, Soros Fund Management wasn’t ready for it. His funds were still loaded with high-tech and biotech stocks. Just in five days, starting 15th March, Soros’s flagship Quantum Fund saw what had been a 2% year-to-date gain turn into an 11% loss. By the end of April, the Quantum Fund was down 22% since the start of the year, and the smaller Quota Fund was down 32%.

Post that, in April 2000, Soros said at a conference, “Maybe I don’t understand the market. Maybe the music has stopped, but people are still dancing.”

[Read more…]

How to Analyze a Business, the Sherlock Holmes Way

Peter Bevelin has written a few amazing books, like Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin to Munger, A Few Lessons for Investors and Managers, and the latest All I Want To Know Is Where I’m Going To Die So I’ll Never Go There.

But one of his lesser-known books that I have on my all time favourites lists is A Few Lessons from Sherlock Holmes. Through this book, Bevelin has distilled Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes into bite-sized principles and key quotes. In fact, this book is much more than a collection of quotes. It is a way to learn the powers of observation, understand the limits of our mind, and counter the narrative fallacy.

Bevelin writes in the book…

What distinguishes Holmes from most mortals is that he knows where to look and what questions to ask. He pays attention to the important things and he knows where to find them.

[Read more…]

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.

[Read more…]

Why I Don’t Invest in Banking Stocks

In October 2016, I had written a post about how I let an opportunity to buy HDFC Bank in the middle of 2006 pass by, and why I have never come to regret that decision (the stock has turned into a 10-bagger since then!).

My reasons to miss that stock was my inability to understand the complexities of the banking and finance business, and more importantly that I have never trusted banks to uphold high levels of honesty and integrity in their business operations.

I received a lot of brickbats for that post for castigating an entire sector (and the bank) that has created so much wealth for shareholders in the past, and that constitutes such a big part of India’s stock market capitalization.

Well, I stand by my thoughts which, by the way, are my personal thoughts and are not binding on you to also avoid stocks from the banking and financial services space.

Investing is a personal affair, and what makes me uncomfortable can be comfortable for you, and vice versa.

Anyways, now the question is – Why am I writing a second post on my unwillingness to invest in banking stocks?

[Read more…]