Evidently stockholders have forgotten more than to look at balance sheets. They have forgotten also that they are owners of a business and not merely owners of a quotation on the stock ticker. It is time, and high time, that the millions of American shareholders turned their eyes from the daily market reports long enough to give some attention to the enterprises themselves of which they are the proprietors, and which exist for their benefit and at their pleasure.
Though business conditions may change, corporations and securities may change, and financial institutions and regulations may change, human nature remains the same. Thus the important and difficult part of sound investment, which hinges upon the investor's own temperament and attitude, is not much affected by the passing years.
The individual investor should act consistently as an investor and not as a speculator. This means ... that he should be able to justify every purchase he makes and each price he pays by impersonal, objective reasoning that satisfies him that he is getting more than his money's worth for his purchase.
Mathematics is ordinarily considered as producing precise and dependable results; but in the stock market the more elaborate and abstruse the mathematics the more uncertain and speculative are the conclusions we draw there from. Whenever calculus is brought in, or higher algebra, you could take it as a warning that the operator was trying to substitute theory for experience, and usually also to give to speculation the deceptive guise of investment.
The art of investment has one characteristic that is not generally appreciated. A creditable, if unspectacular, result can be achieved by the lay investor with a minimum of effort and capability; but to improve this easily attainable standard requires much application and more than a trace of wisdom. If you merely try to bring just a little extra knowledge and cleverness to bear upon your investment program, instead of realizing a little better than normal results, you may well find that you have done worse.
All the real money in investment will have to be made as most of it has been in the past not out of buying and selling but out of owning and holding securities, receiving interests and dividends therein, and benefiting from their long-term increases in value. Hence stockholder's major energies and wisdom as investors should be directed toward assuring themselves of the best operating results from their corporations. This in turn means assuring themselves of fully honest and competent managements.
Even with a margin of safety in the investor's favor, an individual security may work out badly. For the margin guarantees only that he has a better chance for profit than for loss - not that loss is impossible. But as the number of such commitments is increased the more certain does it become that the aggregate of the profits will exceed the aggregate of the losses.
In most cases the favorable price performance will be accompanied by a well-defined improvement in the average earnings, in the dividend, and in the balance-sheet position. Thus in the long run the market test and the ordinary business test of a successful equity commitment tend to be largely identical.
The investor has the benefit of the stock market's daily and changing appraisal of his holdings, for whatever that appraisal may be worth , and, second, that the investor is able to increase or decrease his investment at the market's daily figure if he chooses . Thus the existence of a quoted market gives the investor certain options which he does not have if his security is unquoted. But it does not impose the current quotation on an investor who prefers to take his idea of value from some other source.
Individual security bargains may be located by the process of security analysis practically at any time. They can be bought with good overall results at all periods except when the general market itself is clearly in a selling range for investors. They show up to best advantage during the years in which the market remains in a relatively narrow and neutral area.
Since we have emphasized that analysis will lead to a positive conclusion only in the exceptional case, it follows that many securities must be examined before one is found that has real possibilities for the analyst. By what practical means does he proceed to make his discoveries? Mainly by hard and systematic work.
It always seemed, and still seems, ridiculously simple to say that if one can acquire a diversified group of common stocks at a price less than the applicable net current assets alone - after deducting all prior claims, and counting as zero the fixed and other assets - the results should be quite satisfactory.
Mr. Market does not always price stocks the way an appraiser or a private buyer would value a business. Instead, when stocks are going up, he happily pays more than their objective value; and, when they are going down, he is desperate to dump them for less than their true worth.
The history of the past fifty years, and longer, indicates that a diversified holding of representative common stocks will prove more profitable over a stretch of years than a bond portfolio, with one important provisio that the shares must be purchased at reasonable market levels, that is, levels that are reasonable in the light of fairly well-defined standards derived from past experience.