Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Interview insights

May 27, 2019

Interview insights from Graham & Doddsville quarterly issue 

Yen Liow discusses compounding and durable businesses. 
Compounding is the most important framework in investing. Your business model, portfolio and structure should be built around it. You must find durable compounders which are businesses with a substantial and repeatable advantage that allows them to grow more briskly than the broader market.

How do you find these durable compounders? Many believe that they need the largest possible investment universe to find opportunities when in fact the opposite is true. You need to find a rich vein of repeatable inefficiency in a finite universe that you can focus on, so when price dislocation occurs you can exploit it.

Most of the market will revert to the mean over time as excess profit gets eroded away by competition. Focusing on the small percentage of stocks that resist the mean-reversion forces is where you should spend all our time and resources. These are called durable growth businesses. Durable growth businesses are often more predictable businesses because history often holds when faced with new dynamics. Businesses or industries where there is a loose link between history and the future are often defined as lower quality, as your ability to find repeatable situations is low. 

Our job is to find situations where history does hold and to constantly ensure that new dynamics and threats do not jeopardize the durability of that moat. When the moat breaks down, our ability to predict breaks down.

When your ability to predict breaks down, it is hard to know what to do with volatility. Is it an opportunity or is it risk? When your portfolio is highly durable and volatility hits, at worst you know to hold through, and at best you know to exploit it.

Q&A with Howard Marks

What are qualitative measures you use to take the temperature of the market? 
You want to assess the emotion that is prevalent in the market. When investor optimism is high, assets tend to sell above their intrinsic value.

When people are more concerned about FOMO then the fear of losing money then you must assume that prices will be high relative to intrinsic value.

When bullish prognosticators are in high demand on TV, when bullish books are written, when financial articles tout the last great time to buy before things go to the moon or when first-time fund managers easily raise funds. All these things are strong qualitative indicators of a hot market and that investor emotion is running high.

Timing the market is impossible, so to what extent can you predict market cycles if the timing is unknown?

The pattern of a cycle can be understood. We can have a sense of when we are high in a cycle or low in a cycle. We can have a sense that something will happen, but we will never know when.

If we believe a security is overvalued, we will either underweight it or eliminate it entirely from the portfolio. When a security is overvalued in our estimation it is more likely to go down then up, but we will never know when it will go down.

If overpriced meant that a stock will go down tomorrow, then nothing would ever become overpriced. In the real world, we see things go from overpriced to more overpriced to maximally overpriced. That’s how we get bubbles which proves that prices are not self-correcting.

We sometimes understand what’s going on in the market and understand its implications for the future, but we never know when these implications will take effect.