To buy or not to buy: This step is the most crucial part of the process.
The decision process seems simple enough: If the market price is below the discounted cash flow calculation of fair value, then the security is a candidate for purchase.
The available securities that offer the greatest discounts to fair value estimates are the ones to buy.
However, what seems simple in theory is difficult in practice.
- A company's stock price typically drops when investors shun it because of bad news. So a buyer of cheap securities is constantly swimming against the tide of popular sentiment.
- Even investments that generate excellent long-term returns can perform poorly for years. [In fact, Buffett wrote an article in 1979 explaining that stocks were undervalued, yet the undervaluation only worsened for another three years.]
- Most investors find it difficult to buy when it seems that everyone is selling and difficult to remain steadfast when returns are poor for several consecutive years.
The appropriate attitude toward market price
Buffett credits his late friend and mentor, Benjamin Graham, with teaching him the appropriate attitude toward market prices.
Graham's parable: "Imagine the daily quotations as coming from Mr. Market, your very temperamental partner in a private business. Each day he offers you a price for which he will buy your share of the business or for which you can buy his share of the business. On some days he is euphoric and offers you a very high price for your share. On other days he is despondent and offers a very low price. Mr. Market doesn't mind if you abuse or ignore him - he will be back with another price tomorrow."
The most important thing to remember about Mr. Market.
He offers you the potential to make a profit, but he does not offer useful guidance.
If an investor cannot evaluate his business better than Mr. Market, then the investor doesn't belong in that business.
Thus, Buffett invests only in predictable businesses that he understands, and he ignores the judgement of Mr. market (the daily market price) except to take advantage of Mr. Market.