“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.