Graham And Doddsville

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The Value Gene – Buffett, Klarman and Evolution

December 11, 2012 By: webmaster Category: Behavioral Finance, Benjamin Graham, Security Analysis, Seth Klarman, SuperInvestors, Understanding Value, Warren Buffett

On November 1, 2011, Charlie Rose interviewed Superinvestor Seth Klarman for the Facing History and Ourselves New York Benefit Dinner.  If you have not seen this interview, it is fantastic.

One of my favorite nuggets is the following (see 25:30):

Warren evolved through 3 stages:  He went from buying cigar butts and getting the last few puffs for free, to buying great businesses at really cheap prices, to buying and holding great businesses at so-so prices.  And maybe even this new area of buying weird securities from crappy businesses at better than market prices – like B of A preferred or whatever… I’m still in phase one.  We’re still buying cigar butts, there’s a good business there in buying them and it’s a lot of fun.
Another quote, which really struck a chord (see 22:20):
I think Warren captured the idea himself in his 1964 (sic) article The Superinvestors of Graham and Doddsville and in it he talks about – value investing is like an innoculation – you either get it right away, or you never get it.  And I think it’s just true.  I actually think there’s just a gene for this stuff.  Whether it’s a value investing gene or a contrarian gene.
It seems that researchers are beginning to confirm Klarman’s statement.  This morning, MarketWatch published an article titled The missing link of investing: Science may explain why we trade.

When asked why we trade, many of us would answer with traditional, rational responses. We see an undervalued company. We like a business, a brand or a strategy. Or, it’s the flip side: We’re selling because we may think the fundamentals point to trouble. We see an investment that looks overvalued.

As we know, most people follow the herd.  But what about contrarian investors – the ones featured on this blog – who consistently move against the herd?

It’s what the academics describe as a relatively new intersection of financial economics, psychology, and evolutionary biology including new interpretations of mutation. And the upshot, to me at least, is that we may not be as deliberative as we might think when it comes to trading decisions. In other words, we’re wired to trade a certain way.

According to Andrew Lo of MIT and Thomas J. Brennan of Northwestern claim that science evolution may explain both the herd mentality and also a contrarian one.

In other words, many of us are bound to the pack. A minority of us break away from it.

Both behaviors are necessary from an evolutionary standpoint because they’re necessary for the species to survive.  Every species needs its normal populations and its mutants.

I think I was just called a “mutant.”  I guess if that puts anywhere near the same group as Warren Buffett and Seth Klarman, then I am proud to be a mutant.

Click here to read the entire article The missing link of investing: Science may explain why we trade at MarketWatch.com.

Click here to see An Interview with Seth Klarman and Charlie Rose.

Click here to learn more about Seth Klarman.

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