#6: The Six Commandments of Value Investing

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6. In the long run, stocks revert to their fair value

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Although it has been some time since speaking live with busy colleague Vitaliy Katsenelson CFA, I review his internet material frequently and appreciate this ME-P series contribution. I encourage all ME-P readers to do the same and consider his value investing insights carefully.

By Vitaliy Katsenelson, CFA

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6. In the long run, stocks revert to their fair value

Reversion to fair value is not a pie-in-the-sky concept. If a stock is significantly undervalued for a long time, then this undervaluation gets cured, eventually. That can happen through share buybacks – the company can basically buy all of its shares and take itself private.

Or it can happen by the company’s paying out its earnings in dividends, thus creating yields that the market will not be able to ignore. Or the company’s competitors will realize that it is cheaper for them to buy the company than to replicate its assets on their own. Either way, undervaluation gets cured.

This faith that undervaluation will not last forever is paramount to value investing. But this is not your regular faith, which requires belief without proof. This is evidence-supported faith with hundreds of years of data to back it. Just look at the US stock market: it has gone through cycles when it was incredibly cheap and others when it was incredibly expensive. At some points in its journey from one extreme to the other, it touched its fair value, even if it was transitory.

Historically, value investing (owning undervalued companies) has done significantly better than other strategies. Paradoxically, the reason it has done well in the long run is because it did not work consistently in the short run. If something works consistently (keyword), everybody piles into it and it stops working.

These aforementioned cycles of temporary brilliance and dumbness are not just common to us mere mortals. Even Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway goes through them. As just one example, in 1999, when the stock market went up 21%, Berkshire Hathaway stock declined 19%. In 1999, the financial press was writing obituaries for Buffett’s investment prowess.

Suddenly, in 1999, Buffett’s IQ was lagging the market by 40%. At the time, investors were infatuated with internet stocks that were not making money but that were supposed to have a bright future. Investors were selling unsexy “old economy” stocks that Buffett owned in order to buy the “new economy” ones.

If at the end of 1999, you were to sell Berkshire Hathaway and buy the S&P 500 instead, you would have done the easy thing, but it would have been a large (though very common) mistake. Over the next three years Berkshire Hathaway gained over 30% while the S&P declined over 40%. During the year 1999, Buffett’s IQ did not change much; in fact, the (book) value of businesses Berkshire Hathaway owned went up by 0.5% that year. But in 1999, the market’s attention was somewhere else and it chose to price Berkshire Hathaway 19% lower. 

As a value investor, if you do a reasonable job estimating what the business is worth, then at some point the stock market will price it accordingly. You need to have faith. I am acutely aware how wishful this statement sounds. But this faith, the belief in mean reversion, has to be deeply ingrained in our psyche. It will allow us to remain rational when people around us are not. 

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CITE: https://www.r2library.com/Resource/Title/0826102549

COMMENTS APPRECIATED

Editor’s Final Note; Many thanks to VK for this timely series on value investing. Our ME-P readers appreciate you.

Thank You

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