Human Diffuculties in Value Investing

Charlie Munger, the partner of Warren Buffet and Vice Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, noted “all sensible investing is value investing”. There are volumes of research on the fact that despite richest investors like Buffett and Munger attributing their success and riches to value investing, majority donot follow value philosophy.

Theoretically, value investing involves buying below and selling above intrinsic value. This sounds simple and sensible. However as Yogi Berra quipped “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice, in practice there is”. Value investing, like many disciplines, is easy in theory but difficult in practice.

It is difficult in practice because it is contrary to normal human nature and accepted social norms at each of its four broad steps:

  1. Assessing Intrinsic Value : Assessment of intrinsic value involves future. The uncertain terrain of future needs large doses of skepticism, objectivity and humility over optimism, group-think and overconfidence.
  2. Buying below intrinsic value: Bargains are found amidst fear and disinterest. Owing to biological adaptation over ages, brain is conditioned to prefer flight over rational thought when induced to fright. Similarly homo sapiens have preferred staying in the comfort of popularity over the risky pursuit of contrary solitude.
  3. Waiting: Most money in investing is made by waiting, not frequent trading. In a world where activity is looked as synonymous to progress, the notion of buying and doing nothing for days stimulates guilt glands and consequently needless actions.
  4. Selling above intrinsic value: Price rise intoxicates human mind. It forces it to keep on dancing long after the music has stopped. Greed, hubris and envy are all at play here. It requires an objective, non-greedy mind to stop dancing before the music is going to stop.

Overconfidence, fear, safety in crowd, needless activity, greed and envy are powerful tendencies that have served some utility in human evolution since hunter gatherer days. They are hard to resist and they operate automatically.

Value Investing calls for curbing these tendencies. This is hard to do. This makes value investing anathema to us homo sapiens. Fortunately, being aware and alert to the nature, cause and stimulant of these tendencies has proved to be a working antidote for successful value investors including Charlie Munger.

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