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股民的焦虑

14-03-03 07:38    作者:张化桥    相关股票: 太平洋
在股市里浸泡了20年,我知道自己在投资和生活方面的毛病非常多。
跟大家一样,我有时也很焦虑:我赚钱会不会落后于别人?手游公司的股票,电商公司的股票甚至环保公司的股票我该怎样估值?我的信息来源和社交圈子是否够大,够档次?

好几个朋友怂恿我安装微信,加入这个和那个圈子。但是我还在抵制。我需要那么忙忙碌碌吗?我需要知道那么多吗?

读巴菲特的文章(包括这篇)让我很安心和平静。我觉得:这样的文章可以治病。读完了,我只有一个念头:我已经很富足。而且还将更加富足。何必焦虑 ?

这篇文章翻译得不错。我推荐大家看看。

(好几个朋友来电邮,约我参加研讨会,或者做主讲嘉宾。我没有一一回复。抱歉。我已经决定,以后不再参加任何研讨会了。大家花那么多时间听主持人介绍客串,客串再用夸张的和冗长的语言介绍嘉宾。我受不了。最近一次,我被主持人介绍为"大师"。我的老脸通红, 长达20分钟之久。)

股票市场最好是“T+20”
国外市场,包括香港,交易方式越容易,投资者损失越快。吃“即日鲜”让很多投资者“缺胳膊少腿”。中国最好适行“T+20”的交易制度。每一次的买入卖出, 最好是20天后,最好是夫妻双人商量表决,最好还要居委会来批准。慎重对待每一次交易,“每一次的买入和卖出难极了,你就会赚钱了。”

还是读读巴菲特吧。
刺猬偷腥:2014年巴菲特致股东的信摘录

翻译 by 刺猬偷腥

“像做生意一样对待投资,是最聪明的。”-- 本·格雷厄姆,《聪明的投资者》

引用本·格雷厄姆的话作为这封信的开场白是合适的,因为我很感激能从他那了解到关于投资的想法。我在后面会谈到本,甚至很快会谈到普通股,但首先我想和你聊聊,在很久以前我曾做过的两个小小的非股票投资。尽管它们都没有明显地改变我的净值,但还是能带来些启发的。

这 故事始于1973至1981年的内布拉斯加州,当时美国中西部的农场价格暴涨,因为大家普遍认为恶性通货膨胀要来了,而且小乡镇银行的贷款政策还火上浇 油。然后泡沫爆了,导致价格下跌50%甚至更多,摧毁了那些举债经营的农民和他们的债主。在那场泡沫余波中倒闭的爱荷华州和内布拉斯加州的银行,数量比我 们最近这次大萧条中倒闭的还要多五倍。

在1986年,我从FDIC(联邦存款保险公司)那买下了一个400英亩的农场,坐落在奥马哈北部 50英里处。这花了我28万,此价格比前几年一家倒闭了的银行批给农场的贷款还要少得多。我根本不懂怎样去经营一个农场,好在有个热爱农活的儿子。我从他 那得知这农场能生产多少蒲式耳的玉米和大豆,经营费用会是多少。通过这些预估,我计算出这农场当时大概能有10%的正常回报。我还认为生产力会随时间而提 高,农作物价格也会越来越高。后来这些预期都得到了印证。

我不需要有与众不同的知识或智商来得出结论,这项投资不会有向下的趋势,而是有 潜在的,会实质向好的趋势。当然了,可能偶尔会歉收,或是价格有时让人失望。那又如何?总会有些非常好的年份嘛,我完全不会有任何压力去卖掉这块资产。现 在,28年过去了,这农场的收入翻了三倍,它的价值已是我支付价格的五倍甚至更多。我还是对农活一无所知,最近才第二次去实地看了看。

在 1993年,我做了另外一个小投资。那时我还是所罗门的CEO,所罗门的房东赖瑞·西弗史丹告诉我,有个清算信托公司打算要卖掉纽约大学邻近的一块商业地 产。泡沫再次爆破了,这次波及到商业地产,这个清算信托公司专门用于处置那些倒闭储蓄机构的资产,正是这些机构乐观的贷款政策助长了这场闹剧。

这 里的分析依旧简单。就像那农场的例子中,该资产的无杠杆当期收益率大约为10%。但资产正被清算信托公司低效率经营着,如果把一些空置的商店出租,它的收 入将会增加。更重要的是,占地产项目约20%面积的最大租户支付的租金大约为5美元一英尺,而其他租户平均为70美元。9年后,这份廉价租约的到期肯定会 带来收入的显著增长。这资产的位置也是极好的,毕竟纽约大学跑不了。

我加入了一个小团体来收购这栋楼,赖瑞和佛瑞德·罗斯也在其中。佛瑞 德是个有经验的高级房地产投资者,他和他的家族将管理这项资产。这些年也确实由他们经营着。随着旧租约的到期,收入翻了三倍,现在的年分红已超过我们初始 投资额的35%。此外,原始抵押分别在1996年和1999年被再融资,这种手段允许进行了几次特别分红,加起来超过了我们投资额度的150%。我到今天 为止还没去看过这项资产。

从那农场和纽约大学房地产获得的收入,很可能未来几十年内还会增长。尽管收益并不具有戏剧性,但这两项投资却是可靠且令人满意的,我会一辈子持有,然后传给我的孩子和孙子。

我说这些故事是为了阐明一些投资的基础原则:

·        获得令人满意的投资回报并不需要你成为一名专家。但如果你不是,你必须认清自己的局限性并遵循一套可行的方法。保持简单,不要孤注一掷。当别人向你承诺短期的暴利,你要学会赶紧说“不”。

·        聚焦于拟投资资产的未来生产力。如果你对某资产的未来收入进行了粗略估算,却又感到不安,那就忘了它继续前进吧。没人能估算出每一项投资的可能性。但没必要当个全能者;你只要能理解自己的所作所为就可以了。

·        如果你是聚焦于拟投资资产的未来价格变动,那你就是在投机。这本身没什么错。但我知道我无法成功投机,并对那些宣传自己能持续成功的投机者表示 怀疑。有一半人第一次扔铜板时能压对宝;但这些胜利者如果继续玩下去,没人能拥有赢利为正的期望值。事实上,一项既定资产最近的价格上涨,永远都不会是买 入的理由。

·        通过我的两个小投资可以看出,我只会考虑一项资产能产出什么,而完全不关心它们的每日定价。聚焦于赛场的人才能赢得比赛,胜者不会是那些紧盯记分板的人。如果你能好好享受周六周日而不看股价,那工作日也试试吧。

·        形成自己的宏观观点,或是听别人对宏观或市场进行预测,都是在浪费时间。事实上这是危险的,因为这可能会模糊你的视野,让你看不清真正重要的事 实。(当我听到电视评论员油嘴滑舌地对市场未来走势进行臆想,我就回想起了米奇·曼托的尖酸评论:“你都不知道这游戏有多简单,直到你走进那个演播 厅。”)

我的两项购买分别是在1986年和1993年完成。决定进行这些投资的时候,当时的经济状况、利率或是下一年(1987和 1994年)的证券市场走势,对我来说都不重要。我已经记不起当时的头条新闻,或是权威人士说了些什么,不管别人怎么说,内布拉斯加州的玉米一直在生长, 学生也会聚集在纽约大学。

在我的两个小投资和股票投资之间,有个重要的区别。那就是股票会让你知道所持股份的实时定价,而我却从没见过对我农场或纽约房地产的报价。

证 券市场的投资者有个极大的优势,那就是他们的持股有宽幅波动的估值。对于一些投资者来说,确实如此。毕竟,如果一个穆迪的朋友,每天围着我的财产对我喊出 报价,愿意以此报价来买我的农场,或将他的农场卖给我,并且这些报价会根据他的精神状态,在短期内剧烈变化,我到底该怎样利用他这种不规律的行为来获利? 如果他的日报价令人可笑地低,并且我有闲钱,我就会买下他的农场。如果他喊出的报价荒谬地高,我要么就卖给他,或是继续耕种。

然而,股票的持有者往往容易被其他持股者的反复无常和不理性所影响,搞到自己也不理性。因为市场上的噪音太多了,包括经济状况、利率、股票的价格等等。一些投资者认为听权威人士的意见很重要,更糟糕的是,还认为参考他们的评论来投资很重要。

那些拥有农场或房子的人,能够默默持有资产几十年,但当他们接触到大量的股票报价,加上评论员总在暗示“别一直坐着,来买卖吧!”,他们往往就会变得狂热起来。对于这些投资者来说,流动性本来是可以拥有的绝对优势,现在却变成了一种诅咒。

一 个闪电崩盘或是其他极端的市场震荡,对投资者所造成的伤害,并不会比一个古怪且爱说话的邻居对我农场投资的伤害来得大。事实上,下跌的市场对真正的投资者 来说,是有帮助的,如果当价格远低于价值的时候,他手里还有钱可用的话。在投资的时候,恐惧的氛围是你的朋友;一个欢快的世界却是你的敌人。

在 2008年底发生的,严重的金融恐慌期间,即使一个严峻衰退正在明显地形成,我也从未想过要卖出我的农场或是纽约房地产。如果我100%拥有一项具良好长 期前景的稳固生意,对我来说,哪怕是稍微考虑要抛售它,都会是非常愚蠢的。我持有的股票就是好生意的一小部分,那为什么要卖出呢?准确的说,每一小部分或 许最后会让人失望,但作为一个整体,他们一定能做好。难道有人真的相信,地球会吞没美国惊人的生产性资产和无限的人类创造性?

当查理·芒 格和我买股票时,我们会把它当成是生意的一部分,我们的分析与买下整个生意时所思考的内容非常相似。我们一开始会判断自己能否容易地估计出,资产未来五年 或更久的收入范围。如果答案是肯定的,并且处于与我们估算底线相对应的合理价格内,我们就会购买这股票(或生意)。但是,如果我们没有能力估算出未来的收 入(经常会遇到这种情况),我们就会简单地继续前行,继续寻找下一个潜在标的。在我们一起合作的54年里,我们从未因宏观或政治环境,或其他人的看法,而 放弃具有吸引力的收购。事实上,当我们做决定时,这类因素想都没想过。

但至关重要的是,我们认清了自身的能力圈边界,并乖乖地呆在里面。即使这样,我们还是在股票上和生意上都犯了些错误。但它们发生时都不是灾难型的,例如在一个长期上升的市场中,基于预期价格行为和欲望导致了购买。

当然,大多数投资者并没有把商业前景研究当作是生活中的首要任务。如果够明智的话,他们会知道自己对具体生意的了解不足,并不能预测出他们未来的获利能力。

我 给这些非专业人士带来了好消息:典型的投资者并不需要这些技巧。总的来说,美国的商业一直做得很好,以后也会继续好下去(然而可以肯定的是,会有不可预测 的忽冷忽热出现)。在20世纪,道琼斯工业指数从66上涨到11497,不断上升的股利支付推动了市场的发展。21世纪,将可以看到更多的盈利,几乎必然 会有大量的收获。非专业人士的目标不应是挑选出大牛股,他或他的外援都是办不到的,但应该持有各种生意的一部分,总的合起来就会有很好的表现。一个低成本 的S&P500指数基金就能满足这个目标。

这是对非专业人士说的“投资是什么”。“什么时候投资”也是很重要的。最危险的是胆小 的或新手的投资者在市场极度繁荣的时候入场,然后看到账面亏损了才醒悟。(想起巴顿·比格斯最近的观察:“牛市就像性爱,在结束前的感觉最好。”)投资者 解决这类错时交易的方法是,在一段长时间内积攒股份,并永远不要在出现坏消息和股价远低于高点时卖出。遵循这些原则,“什么都不懂”的投资者不仅做到了多 样化投资,还能保持成本最小化,这几乎就能确信,可以获得令人满意的结果。实际上,相对于那些知识渊博,但连自身弱点都看不清的专业投资者,一个能实事求 是面对自己短处的纯朴投资者可能会获得更好的长期回报。

如果“投资者”疯狂买卖彼此的农地,产量和农作物的价格都不会增长。这些行为的唯一结果就是,由于农场拥有者寻求建议和转换资产属性而导致的大量的成本,会使总的收入下降。

然而,那些能从提供建议或产生交易中获利的人,一直在催促个人和机构投资者要变得积极。这导致的摩擦成本变得很高,对于投资者来说,总体是全无好处的。所以,忽视这些噪音吧,保持你的成本最小化,投资那些股票就像投资你愿意投资的农场一样。

我 该补充一下,我的财富就在我嘴里:我在这里提出的建议,本质上与我在遗嘱里列出的一些指令是相同的。通过一个遗嘱,去实现把现金交给守护我老婆利益的托管 人。我对托管人的建议再简单不过了:把10%的现金用来买短期政府债券,把90%用于购买非常低成本的S&P500指数基金(我建议是先锋基金 VFINX)。我相信遵循这些方针的信托,能比聘用昂贵投资经理的大多数投资者,获得更优的长期回报,无论是养老基金、机构还是个人。

现在说回本·格雷厄姆。我在1949年买了本所著的《聪明的投资者》,并通过书中的投资探讨,学到了他大部分的想法。我的金融生涯随着买到的这本书而改变了。

在 读本的书之前,我仍在投资的环境外徘徊,鲸吞着所有关于投资的书面资料。我阅读的大多数内容都使我着迷:我尝试过亲手画图,用市场标记来预测股票走势。我 坐在经纪公司的办公室,看着股票报价带卷动,我还听评论员的讲解。这些都是有趣的,但我并不为之颤抖,因为我还什么都不懂。

相反地,本的想法能用简练易懂的平凡文字,有逻辑地去阐明(没有希腊字母或复杂的公式)。对我来说,关键点就是最新版第八章和第二十章的内容,这些观点引导着我今日的投资决策。

关 于这本书的几个有趣花絮:最新版包括了一个附录,里面描述了一个未被提及的投资,是关于本的幸运投资的。本在1948年,当他写第一版书的时候进行了收 购,注意了,这个神秘的公司就是政府雇员保险公司Geico。如果本当时没有看出还处于初创期的Geico的特质,我的未来和伯克希尔都将会大大的不同。

这 本书1949年的版本还推荐了一个铁路股,当时卖17美元,每股盈利为10美元。(我佩服本的一个原因就是他有胆量使用当前的例子,如果说错了就会让自己 成为被嘲讽的对象。)某种程度上,低估值是由于当时的会计准则造成的,那时候并不要求铁路公司在账面盈余中体现出子公司的大量盈余。

被推荐的股票就是北太平洋公司,它最重要的子公司是芝加哥,伯灵顿和昆西。这些铁路现在是北伯林顿铁路公司的重要组成部分,而伯克希尔现今完全拥有北伯林顿铁路公司。当我读这本书的时候,北太平洋公司的市值约为4000万美元,现在它的继承者每四天就能赚这么多了。

我已记不起当时花了多少钱来买《聪明的投资者》的第一版。无论花了多少钱,都可以强调出本的格言:价格是你支付出去的,价值是你所获得的。我做过的所有投资当中,买本的书就是最好的投资(我买的那两本结婚证除外)。
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原文如下:
Buffett’s annual letter: What you can learn from my real estate investments

“Investment is most intelligent when it is most businesslike.” –Benjamin Graham, The Intelligent Investor

It is fitting to have a Ben Graham quote open this essay because I owe so much of what I know about investing to him. I will talk more about Ben a bit later, and I will even sooner talk about common stocks. But let me first tell you about two small nonstock investments that I made long ago. Though neither changed my net worth by much, they are instructive.

This tale begins in Nebraska. From 1973 to 1981, the Midwest experienced an explosion in farm prices, caused by a widespread belief that runaway inflation was coming and fueled by the lending policies of small rural banks. Then the bubble burst, bringing price declines of 50% or more that devastated both leveraged farmers and their lenders. Five times as many Iowa and Nebraska banks failed in that bubble’s aftermath as in our recent Great Recession.

In 1986, I purchased a 400-acre farm, located 50 miles north of Omaha, from the FDIC. It cost me $280,000, considerably less than what a failed bank had lent against the farm a few years earlier. I knew nothing about operating a farm. But I have a son who loves farming, and I learned from him both how many bushels of corn and soybeans the farm would produce and what the operating expenses would be. From these estimates, I calculated the normalized return from the farm to then be about 10%. I also thought it was likely that productivity would improve over time and that crop prices would move higher as well. Both expectations proved out.

I needed no unusual knowledge or intelligence to conclude that the investment had no downside and potentially had substantial upside. There would, of course, be the occasional bad crop, and prices would sometimes disappoint. But so what? There would be some unusually good years as well, and I would never be under any pressure to sell the property. Now, 28 years later, the farm has tripled its earnings and is worth five times or more what I paid. I still know nothing about farming and recently made just my second visit to the farm.

In 1993, I made another small investment. Larry Silverstein, Salomon’s landlord when I was the company’s CEO, told me about a New York retail property adjacent to New York University that the Resolution Trust Corp. was selling. Again, a bubble had popped — this one involving commercial real estate — and the RTC had been created to dispose of the assets of failed savings institutions whose optimistic lending practices had fueled the folly.

Here, too, the analysis was simple. As had been the case with the farm, the unleveraged current yield from the property was about 10%. But the property had been undermanaged by the RTC, and its income would increase when several vacant stores were leased. Even more important, the largest tenant — who occupied around 20% of the project’s space — was paying rent of about $5 per foot, whereas other tenants averaged $70. The expiration of this bargain lease in nine years was certain to provide a major boost to earnings. The property’s location was also superb: NYU wasn’t going anywhere.

I joined a small group — including Larry and my friend Fred Rose — in purchasing the building. Fred was an experienced, high-grade real estate investor who, with his family, would manage the property. And manage it they did. As old leases expired, earnings tripled. Annual distributions now exceed 35% of our initial equity investment. Moreover, our original mortgage was refinanced in 1996 and again in 1999, moves that allowed several special distributions totaling more than 150% of what we had invested. I’ve yet to view the property.

Income from both the farm and the NYU real estate will probably increase in decades to come. Though the gains won’t be dramatic, the two investments will be solid and satisfactory holdings for my lifetime and, subsequently, for my children and grandchildren.

I tell these tales to illustrate certain fundamentals of investing:

You don’t need to be an expert in order to achieve satisfactory investment returns. But if you aren’t, you must recognize your limitations and follow a course certain to work reasonably well. Keep things simple and don’t swing for the fences. When promised quick profits, respond with a quick “no.”

Focus on the future productivity of the asset you are considering. If you don’t feel comfortable making a rough estimate of the asset’s future earnings, just forget it and move on. No one has the ability to evaluate every investment possibility. But omniscience isn’t necessary; you only need to understand the actions you undertake.

If you instead focus on the prospective price change of a contemplated purchase, you are speculating. There is nothing improper about that. I know, however, that I am unable to speculate successfully, and I am skeptical of those who claim sustained success at doing so. Half of all coin-flippers will win their first toss; none of those winners has an expectation of profit if he continues to play the game. And the fact that a given asset has appreciated in the recent past is never a reason to buy it.

With my two small investments, I thought only of what the properties would produce and cared not at all about their daily valuations. Games are won by players who focus on the playing field — not by those whose eyes are glued to the scoreboard. If you can enjoy Saturdays and Sundays without looking at stock prices, give it a try on weekdays.

Forming macro opinions or listening to the macro or market predictions of others is a waste of time. Indeed, it is dangerous because it may blur your vision of the facts that are truly important. (When I hear TV commentators glibly opine on what the market will do next, I am reminded of Mickey Mantle’s scathing comment: “You don’t know how easy this game is until you get into that broadcasting booth.”)

My two purchases were made in 1986 and 1993. What the economy, interest rates, or the stock market might do in the years immediately following — 1987 and 1994 — was of no importance to me in determining the success of those investments. I can’t remember what the headlines or pundits were saying at the time. Whatever the chatter, corn would keep growing in Nebraska and students would flock to NYU.

There is one major difference between my two small investments and an investment in stocks. Stocks provide you minute-to-minute valuations for your holdings, whereas I have yet to see a quotation for either my farm or the New York real estate.

It should be an enormous advantage for investors in stocks to have those wildly fluctuating valuations placed on their holdings — and for some investors, it is. After all, if a moody fellow with a farm bordering my property yelled out a price every day to me at which he would either buy my farm or sell me his — and those prices varied widely over short periods of time depending on his mental state — how in the world could I be other than benefited by his erratic behavior? If his daily shout-out was ridiculously low, and I had some spare cash, I would buy his farm. If the number he yelled was absurdly high, I could either sell to him or just go on farming.

Owners of stocks, however, too often let the capricious and irrational behavior of their fellow owners cause them to behave irrationally as well. Because there is so much chatter about markets, the economy, interest rates, price behavior of stocks, etc., some investors believe it is important to listen to pundits — and, worse yet, important to consider acting upon their comments.

Those people who can sit quietly for decades when they own a farm or apartment house too often become frenetic when they are exposed to a stream of stock quotations and accompanying commentators delivering an implied message of “Don’t just sit there — do something.” For these investors, liquidity is transformed from the unqualified benefit it should be to a curse.

A “flash crash” or some other extreme market fluctuation can’t hurt an investor any more than an erratic and mouthy neighbor can hurt my farm investment. Indeed, tumbling markets can be helpful to the true investor if he has cash available when prices get far out of line with values. A climate of fear is your friend when investing; a euphoric world is your enemy.

During the extraordinary financial panic that occurred late in 2008, I never gave a thought to selling my farm or New York real estate, even though a severe recession was clearly brewing. And if I had owned 100% of a solid business with good long-term prospects, it would have been foolish for me to even consider dumping it. So why would I have sold my stocks that were small participations in wonderful businesses? True, any one of them might eventually disappoint, but as a group they were certain to do well. Could anyone really believe the earth was going to swallow up the incredible productive assets and unlimited human ingenuity existing in America?

When Charlie Munger and I buy stocks — which we think of as small portions of businesses — our analysis is very similar to that which we use in buying entire businesses. We first have to decide whether we can sensibly estimate an earnings range for five years out or more. If the answer is yes, we will buy the stock (or business) if it sells at a reasonable price in relation to the bottom boundary of our estimate. If, however, we lack the ability to estimate future earnings — which is usually the case — we simply move on to other prospects. In the 54 years we have worked together, we have never forgone an attractive purchase because of the macro or political environment, or the views of other people. In fact, these subjects never come up when we make decisions.

It’s vital, however, that we recognize the perimeter of our “circle of competence” and stay well inside of it. Even then, we will make some mistakes, both with stocks and businesses. But they will not be the disasters that occur, for example, when a long-rising market induces purchases that are based on anticipated price behavior and a desire to be where the action is.

Most investors, of course, have not made the study of business prospects a priority in their lives. If wise, they will conclude that they do not know enough about specific businesses to predict their future earning power.

I have good news for these nonprofessionals: The typical investor doesn’t need this skill. In aggregate, American business has done wonderfully over time and will continue to do so (though, most assuredly, in unpredictable fits and starts). In the 20th century, the Dow Jones industrial index advanced from 66 to 11,497, paying a rising stream of dividends to boot. The 21st century will witness further gains, almost certain to be substantial. The goal of the nonprofessional should not be to pick winners — neither he nor his “helpers” can do that — but should rather be to own a cross section of businesses that in aggregate are bound to do well. A low-cost S&P 500 index fund will achieve this goal.

That’s the “what” of investing for the nonprofessional. The “when” is also important. The main danger is that the timid or beginning investor will enter the market at a time of extreme exuberance and then become disillusioned when paper losses occur. (Remember the late Barton Biggs’s observation: “A bull market is like sex. It feels best just before it ends.”) The antidote to that kind of mistiming is for an investor to accumulate shares over a long period and never sell when the news is bad and stocks are well off their highs. Following those rules, the “know-nothing” investor who both diversifies and keeps his costs minimal is virtually certain to get satisfactory results. Indeed, the unsophisticated investor who is realistic about his shortcomings is likely to obtain better long-term results than the knowledgeable professional who is blind to even a single weakness.

If “investors” frenetically bought and sold farmland to one another, neither the yields nor the prices of their crops would be increased. The only consequence of such behavior would be decreases in the overall earnings realized by the farm-owning population because of the substantial costs it would incur as it sought advice and switched properties.

Nevertheless, both individuals and institutions will constantly be urged to be active by those who profit from giving advice or effecting transactions. The resulting frictional costs can be huge and, for investors in aggregate, devoid of benefit. So ignore the chatter, keep your costs minimal, and invest in stocks as you would in a farm.

My money, I should add, is where my mouth is: What I advise here is essentially identical to certain instructions I’ve laid out in my will. One bequest provides that cash will be delivered to a trustee for my wife’s benefit. (I have to use cash for individual bequests, because all of my Berkshire Hathaway (BRKA) shares will be fully distributed to certain philanthropic organizations over the 10 years following the closing of my estate.) My advice to the trustee could not be more simple: Put 10% of the cash in short-term government bonds and 90% in a very low-cost S&P 500 index fund. (I suggest Vanguard’s. (VFINX)) I believe the trust’s long-term results from this policy will be superior to those attained by most investors — whether pension funds, institutions, or individuals — who employ high-fee managers.

And now back to Ben Graham. I learned most of the thoughts in this investment discussion from Ben’s book The Intelligent Investor, which I bought in 1949. My financial life changed with that purchase.

Before reading Ben’s book, I had wandered around the investing landscape, devouring everything written on the subject. Much of what I read fascinated me: I tried my hand at charting and at using market indicia to predict stock movements. I sat in brokerage offices watching the tape roll by, and I listened to commentators. All of this was fun, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t getting anywhere.

In contrast, Ben’s ideas were explained logically in elegant, easy-to-understand prose (without Greek letters or complicated formulas). For me, the key points were laid out in what later editions labeled Chapters 8 and 20. These points guide my investing decisions today.

A couple of interesting sidelights about the book: Later editions included a postscript describing an unnamed investment that was a bonanza for Ben. Ben made the purchase in 1948 when he was writing the first edition and — brace yourself — the mystery company was Geico. If Ben had not recognized the special qualities of Geico when it was still in its infancy, my future and Berkshire’s would have been far different.

The 1949 edition of the book also recommended a railroad stock that was then selling for $17 and earning about $10 per share. (One of the reasons I admired Ben was that he had the guts to use current examples, leaving himself open to sneers if he stumbled.) In part, that low valuation resulted from an accounting rule of the time that required the railroad to exclude from its reported earnings the substantial retained earnings of affiliates.

The recommended stock was Northern Pacific, and its most important affiliate was Chicago, Burlington & Quincy. These railroads are now important parts of BNSF (Burlington Northern Santa Fe), which is today fully owned by Berkshire. When I read the book, Northern Pacific had a market value of about $40 million. Now its successor (having added a great many properties, to be sure) earns that amount every four days.

I can’t remember what I paid for that first copy of The Intelligent Investor. Whatever the cost, it would underscore the truth of Ben’s adage: Price is what you pay; value is what you get. Of all the investments I ever made, buying Ben’s book was the best (except for my purchase of two marriage licenses).



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