[The 6 Commandments Of Value Investing #3] – The Market Is There To Serve You, Not The Other Way Around


The Six Commandments of Value Investing series, discussing, “the market is there to serve you, not the other way around.” See part 1 here.

IQ and EQ

Now, how do we increase our Total IQ?

First, we increase it by subtraction, by shrinking our universe to stocks that lie within both our IQ and EQ comfort zones.

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We are very careful about stocks or industries where either our IQ or EQ is questionable. For instance, we have recognized that our IQ is low when it comes to non-revenue-generating, single-future-product biotech companies. We have zero analytical insights into this business. None.

We find that our EQ is fairly low when it comes to complex financial businesses. We don’t invest in any.

The beauty of investing is that we only need 20-30 stocks, and we get to choose which problems we want to tackle. We usually like easy problems.

In other professions, that is a luxury you don’t have. If you are an orthopedic surgeon, you are not going to tell your patient that you only operate on right knees because the last time out you had a bad experience with a left knee.

Second, we look for areas where our EQ is highest.

Over the years, we’ve discovered that our EQ is much higher with higher-quality companies. Therefore, for every company in our portfolio or on our watch list, we quantify quality. And with very rare exceptions, we own only very-high-quality companies.

We quantify quality for another reason, too. As value investors, we are innately focused on a margin of safety. We found that if you don’t quantify quality, it is very easy to lower your standards when you reach for value, especially in a very expensive market.

We went a step further: Quality, for us, is a filter. If a company doesn’t pass its quality test, it is dead to us. It may have high growth prospects, pay high dividends, and it may sell at a mouthwatering valuation. But if it failed our quality test, it is still dead to us.

By quantifying quality, we can keep the overall quality of our portfolio very high. Just as importantly, we can keep our EQ high, too.

By maximizing both our IQ and EQ for individual stocks, we maximize the Total IQ of the portfolio. Thus, when we get punched in the mouth, we are able to rationally reanalyze a stock and may decide to buy more, do nothing, or sell.

We cautiously guard our EQ and long-term horizon. We don’t let the outside world come unchecked into our daily life. For instance, we spend little time watching business TV during the day, as we find it to be toxic to our time horizon and to our investor (as opposed to trader) mentality. For the same reason, we also don’t look at our portfolio more than twice a day.

Finally, and this applies to professional investors only, you need to have clients who will allow you to maintain your EQ. Following the Six Commandments is practically impossible if your clients don’t believe in them.

Here’s a real example:

On January 25th, 2013 at 3:55 pm I got this email from a client, David:

IQ and EQ

David and I talked on the phone, and I tried to explain our logic. I’m not going to bore you with that, but it was along the lines of “incredible brand, high recurrence of revenues, great management, a quarter of market capitalization in cash; we tried to kill it (we lowered its margins, cut sales) and we simply couldn’t.”

I told David that the price of the stock is an opinion of value, not a final verdict – he didn’t care. He’d talked to his neighbor who was a famous technician, who said, “Apple is going down.” To which my response was, “If it declines that will be a blessing – the company is buying back stock, and we are going to buy more.”

The “technician” was right: Apple declined from $455 ($65 split-adjusted), our initial purchase price, to $395 ($56 split-adjusted). We bought more Apple as it fell. This encounter also made me realize how this negative psychology around Apple was creating an opportunity in Apple, and I wrote a two-part article describing the aforementioned incident as evidence of that.

What I did not say in that article is that we had to amicably part ways with David. I tried very hard to communicate the Six Commandments to him, but he was not willing to (re)learn. Keeping him as a client would erode my overall EQ and would have impacted other clients.

Your mental state is as important as your ability to analyze a company’s balance sheet or your ability to value the business. You may spend days sharpening your investment process, your analytical skills; but in the end, if your EQ is low nothing else will matter.

Vitaliy N. Katsenelson, CFA, is Chief Investment Officer at Investment Management Associates in Denver, Colo. He is the author of Active Value Investing (Wiley) and The Little Book of Sideways Markets (Wiley).

His books were translated into eight languages. Forbes Magazine called him “The new Benjamin Graham”. To receive Vitaliy’s future articles by email or read his articles click here.

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