The style of investing that speaks most to me is value investing, as practiced by Warren Buffett and Benjamin Graham. I’m often asked: “What is value investing exactly?”
Here is my understanding of the core principles:
Have more purchasing power in the future
The goal of all investing is laying out money today, so that you can enjoy more purchasing power in the future. The principle is: Instead of eating the seeds, plant them, so one day, you will have plenty more to enjoy.
Investing vs. Speculation
The goal is to be an “investor” and not a “speculator”. Here is the definition by Benjamin Graham: “An investment operation is one which, upon thorough analysis promises safety of principle and an adequate return. Operations not meeting these requirements are speculative.” (The Intelligent Investor)
A stock is a partial ownership of a business
A stock is not just an abstract ticker symbol with a constantly moving price. It is a partial ownership of a business. So no matter whether you are buying 0.000001%, 10% or 100% of a business, the decision process should be quite similar. You have to know what the whole business is worth, so that you can determine what each share of the business is worth.
Mr. Market is here to serve you, not to guide you
Treat the market as your manic-depressive business partner called “Mr. Market“. He is emotional, euphoric, moody, and often irrational. Every day, he quotes you a new price for his shares. You can reject him every day, and the next day he always comes back with a new price. You can never know what price he will offer next and you don’t know why he offers you the price that he does. Your job is to simply listen to him every day, and only buy if when he offers you a low price. As opposed to “market timing”, this is “market pricing”. You simply recognize a good deal when you hear one, but can never know when it happens.
Margin of safety
Always have a margin of safety, as a buffer for errors and unforeseen situations. The principle is simple: If you are building a bridge that is supposed to support 20 tons of weight, you don’t build it for 21 tons. You build it for 40 tons, to have plenty of margin. The same is true for value investors: they try to be very conservative in their calculations. They don’t buy a stock because they think it’s 6% undervalued. They demand 50%.
Buy one dollar for 50 cents
To summarize, and to quote Warren Buffett: “All investing is value investing.” In fact, Warren Buffett or Charlie Munger don’t even call themselves value investors. They simply master these principles. The goal is to find something worth one dollar and buy it for 50 cents. And even if your assessment was wrong and it turns out to be worth only 50 cents, you at least didn’t lose any money, thanks to your wide margin of safety.
By applying these principles, Warren Buffett has grown his net worth from $10,000 when he was 19 years old to more than $80 billion today, compounding at an average rate of more than 20 percent per year for more than 60 years straight.
If you’ve invested $1,000 into Warren Buffett’s publicly traded holding company Berkshire Hathaway in 1965, you would currently have $4.3 million.
So these principles are not just theory, they are achieving wonderful results.