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价值投资所面对的问题——SETH A. KLARMAN (三)

(2009-09-14 23:09:13)





分类: 投资杂谈



Today’s investors still wrestle, as Graham and Dodd did in their day, with a number of important investment questions. One is whether to focus on relative or absolute value. Relative value involves the assessment that one security is cheaper than another, that Microsoft is a better bargain than IBM. Relative value is easier to determine than absolute value, the two-dimensional assessment of whether a security is cheaper than other securities and cheap enough to be worth purchasing. The most intrepid investors in relative value manage hedge funds where they purchase the relatively less expensive securities and sell short the relatively more expensive ones. This enables them potentially to profit on both sides of the ledger, long and short. Of course, it also exposes them to double-barreled losses if they are wrong.
It is harder to think about absolute value than relative value. When is a stock cheap enough to buy and hold without a short sale as a hedge? One standard is to buy when a security trades at an appreciable—say, 30%, 40%, or greater—discount from its underlying value, calculated either as its liquidation value, going-concern value, or private-market value (the value a knowledgeable third party would reasonably pay for the business). Another standard is to invest when a security offers an acceptably attractive return to a long-term holder, such as a low-risk bond priced to yield 10% or more, or a stock with an 8% to 10% or higher free cash flow yield at a time when “risk-free” U.S. government bonds deliver 4% to 5% nominal and 2% to 3% real returns. Such demanding standards virtually ensure that absolute value will be quite scarce.
Another area where investors struggle is trying to define what consti¬tutes a good business. Someone once defined the best possible business as a post office box to which people send money. That idea has certainly been eclipsed by the creation of subscription Web sites that accept credit cards. Today’s most profitable businesses are those in which you sell a fixed amount of work product—say, a piece of software or a hit recording—millions and millions of times at very low marginal cost. Good businesses are generally considered those with strong barriers to entry, limited capital requirements, reliable customers, low risk of tech¬nological obsolescence, abundant growth possibilities, and thus signifi¬cant and growing free cash flow.
Businesses are also subject to changes in the technological and competitive landscape. Because of the Internet, the competitive moat surrounding the newspaper business—which was considered a very good business only a decade ago—has eroded faster than almost anyone anticipated. In an era of rapid technological change, investors must be ever vigilant, even with regard to companies that are not involved in technology but are simply affected by it. In short, today’s good busi-nesses may not be tomorrow’s.
Investors also expend considerable effort attempting to assess the quality of a company’s management. Some managers are more capable or scrupulous than others, and some may be able to manage certain businesses and environments better than others. Yet, as Graham and Dodd noted, “Objective tests of managerial ability are few and far from scientific.” (p. 84) Make no mistake about it: a management’s acumen, foresight, integrity, and motivation all make a huge difference in share¬holder returns. In the present era of aggressive corporate financial engi¬neering, managers have many levers at their disposal to positively impact returns, including share repurchases, prudent use of leverage, and a valuation-based approach to acquisitions. Managers who are unwilling to make shareholder-friendly decisions risk their companies becoming perceived as “value traps”: Inexpensively valued, but ulti¬mately poor investments, because the assets are underutilized. Such companies often attract activist investors seeking to unlock this trapped value. Even more difficult, investors must decide whether to take the risk of investing—at any price—with management teams that have not always done right by shareholders. Shares of such companies may sell at steeply discounted levels, but perhaps the discount is warranted; value that today belongs to the equity holders may tomorrow have been spir¬ited away or squandered.




An age-old difficulty for investors is ascertaining the value of future growth. In the preface to the first edition of Security Analysis, the authors said as much: “Some matters of vital significance, e.g., the determination of the future prospects of an enterprise, have received little space, because little of definite value can be said on the subject.” (p. xliii)


Clearly, a company that will earn (or have free cash flow of) $1 per share today and $2 per share in five years is worth considerably more than a company with identical current per share earnings and no growth. This is especially true if the growth of the first company is likely to continue and is not subject to great variability. Another complication is that companies can grow in many different ways—for example, selling the same number of units at higher prices; selling more units at the same (or even lower) prices; changing the product mix (selling propor¬tionately more of the higher-profit-margin products); or developing an entirely new product line. Obviously, some forms of growth are worth more than others.


There is a significant downside to paying up for growth or, worse, to obsessing over it. Graham and Dodd astutely observed that “analysis is concerned primarily with values which are supported by the facts and not with those which depend largely upon expectations.” (p. 86) Strongly preferring the actual to the possible, they regarded the “future as a haz¬ard which his [the analyst’s] conclusions must encounter rather than as the source of his vindication.” (p. 86) Investors should be especially vigilant against focusing on growth to the exclusion of all else, including the risk of overpaying. Again, Graham and Dodd were spot on, warning that “carried to its logical extreme, . . . [there is no price] too high for a good stock, and that such an issue was equally ‘safe’ after it had advanced to 200 as it had been at 25.” (p. 105) Precisely this mistake was made when stock prices surged skyward during the Nifty Fifty era of the early 1970s and the dot-com bubble of 1999 to 2000.


The flaw in such a growth-at-any-price approach becomes obvious when the anticipated growth fails to materialize. When the future disap¬points, what should investors do? Hope growth resumes? Or give up and sell? Indeed, failed growth stocks are often so aggressively dumped by disappointed holders that their price falls to levels at which value investors, who stubbornly pay little or nothing for growth characteristics, become major holders. This was the case with many technology stocks that suffered huge declines after the dot-com bubble burst in the spring of 2000. By 2002, hundreds of fallen tech stocks traded for less than the cash on their balance sheets, a value investor’s dream. One such com¬pany was Radvision, an Israeli provider of voice, video, and data products whose stock subsequently rose from under $5 to the mid-$20s after the urgent selling abated and investors refocused on fundamentals.


Another conundrum for value investors is knowing when to sell. Buy¬ing bargains is the sweet spot of value investors, although how small a discount one might accept can be subject to debate. Selling is more dif¬ficult because it involves securities that are closer to fully priced. As with buying, investors need a discipline for selling. First, sell targets, once set, should be regularly adjusted to reflect all currently available information. Second, individual investors must consider tax consequences. Third, whether or not an investor is fully invested may influence the urgency of raising cash from a stockholding as it approaches full valuation. The availability of better bargains might also make one a more eager seller. Finally, value investors should completely exit a security by the time it reaches full value; owning overvalued securities is the realm of specula¬tors. Value investors typically begin selling at a 10% to 20% discount to their assessment of underlying value—based on the liquidity of the security, the possible presence of a catalyst for value realization, the quality of management, the riskiness and leverage of the underlying business, and the investors’ confidence level regarding the assumptions underlying the investment.


Finally, investors need to deal with the complex subject of risk. As mentioned earlier, academics and many professional investors have come to define risk in terms of the Greek letter beta, which they use as a measure of past share price volatility: a historically more volatile stock is seen as riskier. But value investors, who are inclined to think about risk as the probability and amount of potential loss, find such reasoning absurd. In fact, a volatile stock may become deeply undervalued, rendering it a very low risk investment.


One of the most difficult questions for value investors is how much risk to incur. One facet of this question involves position size and its impact on portfolio diversification. How much can you comfortably own of even the most attractive opportunities? Naturally, investors desire to profit fully from their good ideas. Yet this tendency is tempered by the fear of being unlucky or wrong. Nonetheless, value investors should concentrate their holdings in their best ideas; if you can tell a good investment from a bad one, you can also distinguish a great one from a good one.


Investors must also ponder the risks of investing in politically unsta¬ble countries, as well as the uncertainties involving currency, interest rate, and economic fluctuations. How much of your capital do you want tied up in Argentina or Thailand, or even France or Australia, no matter how undervalued the stocks may be in those markets?


Another risk consideration for value investors, as with all investors, is whether or not to use leverage. While some value-oriented hedge funds and even endowments use leverage to enhance their returns, I side with those who are unwilling to incur the added risks that come with margin debt. Just as leverage enhances the return of successful investments, it magnifies the losses from unsuccessful ones. More importantly, nonre¬course (margin) debt raises risk to unacceptable levels because it places one’s staying power in jeopardy. One risk-related consideration should be paramount above all others: the ability to sleep well at night, confi¬dent that your financial position is secure whatever the future may bring.


Final Thoughts

In a rising market, everyone makes money and a value philosophy is unnecessary. But because there is no certain way to predict what the market will do, one must follow a value philosophy at all times. By con¬trolling risk and limiting loss through extensive fundamental analysis, strict discipline, and endless patience, value investors can expect good results with limited downside. You may not get rich quick, but you will keep what you have, and if the future of value investing resembles its past, you are likely to get rich slowly. As investment strategies go, this is the most that any reasonable investor can hope for.


The real secret to investing is that there is no secret to investing. Every important aspect of value investing has been made available to the public many times over, beginning in 1934 with the first edition of Security Analysis. That so many people fail to follow this timeless and almost foolproof approach enables those who adopt it to remain suc¬cessful. The foibles of human nature that result in the mass pursuit of instant wealth and effortless gain seem certain to be with us forever. So long as people succumb to this aspect of their natures, value investing will remain, as it has been for 75 years, a sound and low-risk approach to successful long-term investing.



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