I recently had the privilege of meeting one of the highly regarded professors in the field of value investing and behavioral finance, Prof. Sanjay Bakshi in New Delhi.
Prof. Bakshi teaches MBA students (at MDI Gurgaon) two popular courses: “Behavioral Finance & Business Valuation” and “Financial Shenanigans & Governance”.
He is also the CEO of Tactica Capital Management, a boutique firm engaged in deep value investing.
It was like a dream come true for me, having met a guru who has been a great teacher in my investing pursuits over the past few years. So it was obvious for me to wait for Prof. Bakshi’s arrival with butterflies in my stomach.
Anyways, the moment he came in and spoke a few words, I knew that I had to get comfortable given that I was meeting a person not only with great intelligence, but also amazing humility.
Prof. Bakshi took it on himself to read all questions and answer them one by one, making it a very informal session of sharing his experience and learning in value investing.
Anyways, what follows below is Prof. Bakshi’s answer to just my first question. This is what he spoke in the first 20 minutes of the interview that went on for almost 120 minutes. So you can know the amount of amazing ideas he shared with me through these two hours I was with him.
Anyways, I will publish the rest of the interview on Friday, 3rd August. Till that time, the following ideas would be enough for you (and me) to soak in the brilliance that goes by the name of Prof. Sanjay Bakshi.
Here we start.
Safal Niveshak: Value investing requires a great deal of research, discipline, and patience. What do you suggest an investor just starting out could do to practice these habits to ingrain them in his/her investing mindset? How easy or difficult were these and other relevant habits for you to form in your early years as a value investor?
Prof. Bakshi: One of my role models is Charlie Munger who often talks about the idea of “inversion” like the man who wanted to know where he was going to die so he never went there. So, I’m going to use the same trick by inverting your question. Let me focus on not what an investor who’s just starting out should do, but on what he must avoid doing.
Don’t ask the barber, you need a haircut
So, my first advice to investors who are just starting out is that they must avoid listening to intermediaries, whose interests are not aligned to their own interests.
You’re really on your own out there. Warren Buffett’s office table has a framed quotation: “A fool and his money are soon invited everywhere.” People who invested in the Reliance Power IPO or the Facebook IPO would know what that means.
You see, there are these people out there who look like experts and talk like experts, and they will produce a very impressive document that will convince most untrained people that you should buy whatever is it that they are pitching to you.
You just have to understand the power of perverse incentives and what they are capable of producing. They want you to buy this stock, and they get paid when you buy it, and they don’t get paid if you don’t. And you’re not paying them. The issuers of the new securities are paying them.
Well, with incentives so misaligned like that, even garbage can be turned into “diamonds.” When sense prevails, however, those “diamonds” turn into dust.
So you just have to avoid listening to people who get paid by selling you products, by the creators of these products.
Don’t ignore “Vicarious Learning”
The second thing you have to do is to learn from the mistakes of others.
There are two types of experiences – and I talk about this in my class a lot. You can get direct experiences – things you learn by doing it yourself which includes learning from your own mistakes. Or, you can get vicarious experiences – things you learn by observing others including the blunders of others. And most people, tend to overweigh their own direct experiences, and underweigh vicariously acquired experiences.
Think about it for a moment. Of all the experiences you have in your life, your own experience is going to be very tiny fraction of the sum total of all human experience. By not learning from the mistakes of others, then, is a big mistake in itself.
So what you really want to do is to figure out a way to learn from other people’s experiences and one way to do that is to read the best books on the subject you’re trying to master. And there are a few very good books on this subject. The ones which I like a lot are the classics. Any professor of value investing would tell you to read them.
Top on the list is a book called “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds” by Charles Mackay, written in 1841. Why is this book still around? Why did Andrew Tobias, a respected American author say that “if you read no more of this book than the first hundred pages – on money mania – it will be worth many times its purchase?”
Why did the famous value investor, John Templeton, say that this book “opened my eyes”?
Well, the reason I think this book is still around is because it’s a very important book. Why is it such an important book? Because it tells you a lot about human nature. It describes how people can go mad during certain periods.
It talks about the Tulipomania, which took place in 17th century Holland, when people sold off their homes to buy a single bulb of tulip because other people had become rich by speculating in tulips. They thought the tulip’s price will continue to soar and soon they will sell it to buy many homes. Needless to say, they were ruined.
Mackay also talks about the South Sea Bubble, which was an IPO bubble in 18th Century England. At its extreme, the bubble became so ludicrous that a newly-formed company whose purpose was to “carry on an undertaking of great advantage, but nobody to know what it is” had no trouble in getting an over-subscription. Even Isaac Newton lost a fortune in this bubble.
Galbraith wrote two classics: “The Great Crash 1929,” and “A Short History of Financial Euphoria.”
These are amazing books because once you start reading them books, you notice similarities between what happened in the 17th century Holland, in 18th Century England, also happened in 1929 in the US. Manias and crashes keep reoccurring. The last big one was the dotcom bubble of 1990s.
You notice similarities because human nature has not really changed all these centuries. The same emotions of greed and fear keep on returning, over and over again. It’s as if the same drama is being replayed over and over again. The script is unchanged, but the players keep on changing.
Reading these books is extremely instructive because investing is as much about understanding human nature, as it is about understating business economics. History of financial folly is contained in these books and it makes a great teacher. Reminds me of what Mark Twain once said, “The man who does not read great books has no particular advantage over the man who cannot read them.”
The other thing that you can do vicariously is to observe the folly of other investors and businesses. So instead of only focusing on things that go right, you must also focus on things that go wrong – and learn to avoid doing things that produced that folly.
Again, this happens over and over again. It’s the same pattern you will see over and over again. You will see the economic expansion resulting in overconfidence amongst investors and businesses which feeds upon further expansion often fed by borrowed money.
Overconfidence and leverage go together. People will become rich and richer for a while, and then the bubble will burst. The most leveraged players will be the ones that will get slaughtered in that collapse.
So whether it is individual investors who borrow on the margin to buy stocks, or it is banks who are blowing up because they are over-leveraged or are gambling in derivatives, or giving loans to people who could not afford to pay them back, or it was any operating business that was expanding recklessly with borrowed money – whatever the case may be, you will find overconfidence and leverage as a very lethal combination.
It’s very fascinating and instructive to learn from all this and how you can avoid this. This is like the place where you are going to die so you can decide not to go there.
I think, it’s terribly important to see how companies like Unitech, DLF, Suzlon (and many others) lost more than 90% of their value over the course of just a few years. These were darlings yesterday. Today, they lie in the stock market’s gutter.
One of the things I tell my students is that all learning comes from the extremes. So if you think of the world as a bell curve, then at one extreme lie the great successes – and most people and teaching institutions will tell you to learn from the great successes. At the other extreme, are the great failures, which can also be your great teachers. What can you learn from them? Well, you can learn how not to end up like them!
Charlie Munger once said, “You don’t have to pee on an electric fence to learn not to do it.” I think that’s pretty fundamental isn’t it?
Don’t Ignore “Base Rates”
One of the great lessons from studying history, is to do with “base rates”.
“Base rate” is a technical term of describing odds in terms of prior probabilities. The base rate of having a druken-driving accident are higher than those of having accidents in a sober state.
So, what’s the base rate of investing in IPOs? When you buy a stock in an IPO, and if you flip it, you make money if it’s a hot IPO. If it’s not a hot IPO, you lose money. But what’s the base rate – the averaged out experience – the prior probability of the activity of subscribing for IPOs – in the long run?
If you do that calculation, you’ll find that the base rate of IPO investing (in fact, it’s not even investing…it’s speculating) sucks! It’s that’s the case, not just in India, but in every market, in different time periods.
In the same way, what is the base rate of investing in penny stocks?
When you buy those 1 or 2 rupees stocks, some of them will go up to 4, or 5, or 10 bucks…there’s no question about it. But the averaged-out experience of putting money in penny stocks is bad, because most of those companies are junk companies.
When you evaluate whether smoking is good for you or not, if you look at the average experience of 1,000 smokers and compare them with a 1,000 non-smokers, you’ll see what happens.
People don’t do that. They get influenced by individual stories like a smoker who lived till he was 95. Such a smoker will force many people to ignore base rates, and to focus on his story, to fool themselves into believing that smoking can’t be all that bad for them.
What is the base rate of investing in leveraged companies in bull markets?
It’s not difficult to know that you’re in a bull market. You pick up the P/E multiple of an economy and compare with the average past P/E multiple and generally look at the prosperity around. It’s not difficult for an investor to figure out that she is in a prosperous environment. Well, the averaged out experience of people buying stocks of highly-leveraged companies in such an environment is bad!
This is what you learn by studying history. You know that the base rate of investing in an airline business sucks. There’s this famous joke about how to become a millionaire. You start with a billion, and then you buy an airline. That applies very well in this business. It applies in so many other businesses.
Take the paper industry as an example. Averaged out returns on capital for paper industry are bad for pretty good reasons. You are selling a commodity. It’s an extremely capital intensive business. There’s a lot of over-capacity. And if you understand micro-economics, you really are a price taker. There’s no pricing power for you. Extreme competition in such an environment is going to cause your returns on capital to be below what you would want to have.
It’s not hard to figure this out (although I took a while to figure it out myself). Look at the track record of paper companies around the world, and the airline companies around the world, or the IPOs around the world, or the textile companies around the world.
Sure, there’ll be exceptions. But we need to focus on the average experience and not the exceptional ones. The metaphor I like to use here is that of a pond. You are the fisherman. If you want to catch a lot of fish, then you must go to a pond where there’s a lot of fish. You don’t want to go to fish in a pond where there’s very little fish. You may be a great fisherman, but unless you go to a pond where there’s a lot of fish, you are not going to find a lot of fish.
The same idea applies to investing, You may be think you are super-skilled in penny stocks, or leveraged stocks in bull markets, or IPOs, or airline stocks, or paper stocks. But that doesn’t matter as much as the idea that fishing in such ponds won’t get you a lot of fish.
On the other hand, the base rate of investing in dominant FMCG companies bought at attractive prices over the long-term, is good. It’s very good in the US, in Europe, Australia, Japan, India – it’s good wherever you look. That’s a pond with a lot of fish, which fishermen mustn’t ignore.
So one of the great lessons from studying history is to see what has really worked well and what has turned out to be a disaster – and to learn from both.
Find role models
The other thing that I want to tell you is to find a few great role models.
I have a many role models, and every year I pick up a few more. The obvious ones are Warren Buffett, Philip Fisher, Charlie Munger, Ben Graham, partners of Tweedy Brown, Marty Whitman, Nassim Taleb, and some academic ones.
So to go back to your question on how do you inculcate all this – you have to read through the lives of these people and what have they done over the years and how did they learn, and then learn from their experiences vicariously.
Some time back I gave a talk on Confessions of a Value Investor, where I listed out 10-12 mistakes people made, including me. So you really have to do your own homework.
Value of patience
You asked about the value of patience. Reminds me of what Buffett once wrote: “You can’t produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant.”
In the same way, you cannot get good results by focusing on the short term.
Value investing is really not meant for people who don’t have patience. There are other kinds of investing – momentum investing is one, and high frequency trading is a variant of that. There are lot of ways in which people make money in the stock market. Value investing is just one of them but to become a successful value investor, you have to have patience. You may not need patience if you are a momentum investor, but you do need extreme amount of patience if you want to be a successful value investor.
You just have to see how people have got rich in stocks. If you look at genuinely successful people in the stock market, you will find that an over-whelming majority of them bought stocks of good companies at attractive prices and just sat on them for a long-long time.
I give this example in the classroom. I put up two situations and you are a super-smart stock picker in each of them. Imagine that you can double your money every year. So, in the first situation – let’s call it “market timing strategy” – you buy a stock at the beginning of a year, and pay a transaction cost of say 0.5% (which includes securities transaction tax or STT, and brokerage etc.), you hold it for a year, when it doubles, and at the end of year 1, you sell it. You pay a tax of 10%, and then reinvest the remaining cash in another stock, paying the transaction costs for the third time (earlier you paid it when you bought at the start of the first year and then when you sold it at the end of that year).
By the end of year 2, the stock doubles again. You sell it, and invest the post tax, post transaction costs proceeds in another stock, which again doubles by the end of year 3. This process continues for 30 long years. The excel model shows that you would have turned that one rupee into Rs 17 cr. Not bad at all.
Now compare that, with another strategy – let’s call it “buy and hold strategy” – in which you invest one rupee in a stock, which doubles every year for 30 years, and then you sell it, pay the transaction costs and taxes at the same rate. In this situation, you end up with Rs 95 cr.
The staggering difference between the results of the buy-and-hold investor and those of the market timer cannot be attributed to superior stock picking skills, because they were the same in both situations. So, what explains the difference? Well, the answer is transaction costs and deferred taxes- both derived from a single virtue: patience.
In fact,you can use the same example, and work backwards to figure out how much well the stock picked by the buy-and-hold investor needs to do to equate its return with that of the stocks bought and sold by the market timer, and students find out substantially poorer stock-picking skills in a buy-and-hold strategy equates superior stock-picking skills in a market timing strategy.
But many investors don’t get it. They don’t look at the numbers the way they should. And one big reason is because they think, “Oh, it’s just 0.5% transaction charge. It doesn’t mean much, it’s so very small.” But the truth is that tiny changes, over long periods, add up to a lot…
The next post will be on Friday, 3rd August…and it will be the complete interview of Prof. Bakshi.
Update on the Art of Investing Workshop in New Delhi
I conducted the Art of Investing Workshop in New Delhi last Saturday (28th July).
After meeting some really smart investors in Bangalore, Chennai, and Mumbai, I was elated to meet the Delhi batch of the Art of Investing Workshop.
The workshop was filled with in-depth discussions around stock markets, money, and human behaviour.
Here’re the tribe members who participated in the Delhi Workshop (a couple are missing as they had to leave early)…
Here I am presenting Mr. Sanjeev Bhatia with a gift of gratitude for his constant support to the Safal Niveshak initiative by way of his comments, ideas and suggestions (the gift was Aswath Damodaran’s “Little Book of Valuation”)…
Here’s a proof that people were actually listening attentively to whatever I was saying… 🙂
Finally, here is what a few tribesmen who attended the Workshop in Delhi had to say about their experiences…
It was my pleasure to attend Vishal’s Art of Investing Workshop recently. His passion to teach Value Investing is contagious and his informal yet definitive style of teaching is par excellence…He has a great grasp of the subject and yet, makes it easy for others to understand. I am already looking forward to the next course and learn from the “Master”… Thanks for this wonderful initiative.
~ Gautamjit Singh
The Art of Investing workshop is a must-attend for every person who is into investing or consdiering to put his money into the stock market. Vishal has put together a superb material based on various concepts of asset allocation, fundamental analysis and most importantly human behaviour.
The workshop is an eye-opener even for someone who has been actively involved in market as the compelling presentation stresses upon having a wholesome investing philosphy that is so crucial for an investor. At the end of the day anyone who has attended the workshop takes back home a full fledged knowledge of important concepts like asset allocation, calculation of intrinsic value, important ratios to focus upon while doing fundamental analysis, usage of excel sheet, and above all how to put together a checklist to do smart and intelligent investing.
I am glad that I have attended a workshop because not only there was great discussion about value investing, but I also met some interesting guys and made some good friends. I am looking forward to the next workshop, already!
~ Manish Sharma
I attended Safal Niveshak’s program titled Art of Investing on 28th July 2012. I am into value investing for the last five years and was quite impressed to hear Vishal giving a comprehensive overview of the value investing process in just one workshop.
The workshop is relevant for all who want to be serious value investors and one must definitely try to attend it. Very few people take out the time and energy and go out of their way to share the knowledge they have gathered over the years, Vishal is one of them. Kudos to his initiative Safal Niveshak!
~ Ashish Kila, Value Investor & CIO-Perfect Research
The Art of Investing Workshop, which I attended on 28th July at New Delhi, literally takes us into the intricate but interesting world of Stock Market Investing. Not only was I able to brush up again on some age old wisdom, but some thoroughly fascinating ideas were imbibed which gave food for thought to munch on later.
I have always admired Vishal’s ability to explain complex things in simple ways even on his blog and this workshop was no exception. He explained all the things beautifully and patiently, even taking some offbeat questions in his stride – be it irrational behaviour, asset allocation, behavioural science and the distillate of wisdom of gurus like Munger, Buffet, Fisher, Klermann etc. Along the way, many popular myths were busted like you need to be a genius to be successful in stock market or that you have to impeccably time the market. He demonstrated how the key to success is simple, uncomplicated approach and discipline.
The participants were also great and it was amazing how twenty year olds interacted so well with fifty year olds, with some phenomenal ideas being shared. The atmosphere was not like a typical classroom but more like a group discussion and I can’t think of even a single participant who didnot participate in it. All the concepts of Value investing, Asset allocation, fundamental analysis, Ratios to look for, pre-screening process, common pitfalls to avoid and most important how to develop a holistic approach to Investing have been beautifully explained in a superb presentation. Down to the nitty gritty, the basic Balance Sheet Analysis was done hands on with some actual balance sheets which vastly improved my perception of the whole thing and removed some cobwebs from my mind. I am sure this will immensely help all the participants in their investing process.
I am already looking forward to the next workshop and have requested Vishal to put me on auto-register. Initially, the idea of travelling 350 kms to attend the workshop seemed daunting but I am really glad that I was able to make it. I met a lot of interesting people there and made some good friends. It is constant interaction with such likeminded individuals, who are on same wavelength as you, which develops you so much intellectually. I thank Vishal for scheduling this workshop and wish him the very best in this wonderful initiative in years to come.
~ Er. Sanjeev Bhatia, CFPCM
I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to everyone who made the Delhi Workshop successful, especially the participants, a couple of whom travelled for 350+ kilometres to listen to my ideas on investing.
Finally, as always, I would like to thank all Safal Niveshak tribe members to have instilled in me the confidence that, amidst all the madness out there in the stock market, there are people who are smart and believe in the idea of sensible, long-term investing.
The next Workshop is scheduled for Pune on 18th August (Saturday). If you are in Pune that day, and would like to attend the Workshop, click here to register.