Saturday, 14 December 2013

How to find “conservative” investments? The ones with the greatest probability of preserving your purchasing power and with the least amount of risk.

Buffett resisted buying large and popular companies because he thought this category was valued irrationally by investors. But then, he was not in favour of buying small, unproven companies as well. As he wrote in his 2010 letter…
At Berkshire, we make no attempt to pick the few winners that will emerge from an ocean of unproven enterprises. We’re not smart enough to do that, and we know it.
Instead, we try to apply Aesop’s 2,600-year-old equation to opportunities in which we have reasonable confidence as to how many birds are in the bush and when they will emerge (a formulation that my grandsons would probably update to “A girl in a convertible is worth five in the phonebook.”).
Obviously, we can never precisely predict the timing of cash flows in and out of a business or their exact amount. We try, therefore, to keep our estimates conservative and to focus on industries where business surprises are unlikely to wreak havoc on owners.
Even so, we make many mistakes: I’m the fellow, remember, who thought he understood the future economics of trading stamps, textiles, shoes and second-tier department stores.
This reiterates Buffett’s key definition of conservatism over these years – conservatism depends on how you choose and not what you choose.
In other words, investing conservatively is not about simply identifying large well-known businesses, but going through a process that identifies why a particular company qualifies as a conservative investment.
As Buffett would want you to understand, there is one simple way to look at a conservative investment.
Conservative investment = Preservation of capital
A conservative investment is one that has the greatest probability of preserving your purchasing power and with the least amount of risk.
This probability can in turn arise from the process that you follow to identify such opportunities that will preserve your purchasing power in the future.
So, where most investors fail in attempting to invest “conservatively” is blindly assuming that by purchasing any security that qualifies as a conservative investment, they are in fact, conservative investors.
In other words, such investors are thinking conservatively, but not acting conservatively.
If you indulge in such things, it could prove to be a costly affair.

Here is what Buffett wrote in 1965…
Truly conservative actions arise from intelligent hypotheses, correct facts and sound reasoning. These qualities may lead to conventional acts, but there have been many times when they have led to unorthodoxy. In some corner of the world they are probably still holding regular meetings of the Flat Earth Society.
We derive no comfort because important people, vocal people, or great numbers of people agree with us. Nor do we derive comfort if they don’t. A public opinion poll is no substitute for thought. When we really sit back with a smile on our face is when we run into a situation we can understand, where the facts are ascertainable and clear, and the course of action obvious. In that case – whether other conventional or unconventional – whether others agree or disagree – we feel – we are progressing in a conservative manner.
The above may seem highly subjective. It is. You should prefer an objective approach to the question. I do. My suggestion as to one rational way to evaluate the conservativeness of past policies is to study performance in declining markets.

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