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The three most dangerous words in investing

The Value Investing Congress just concluded in Las Vegas where approximately 20 speakers gave their pitches for their favourite stocks. I always find this conference a useful source of ideas to take a further look at. Some of the speakers have incredible track records and their analysis is very robust. The one aspect, however, that really caught my eye was not a stock pick. It was on the very first slide of Whitney Tilson’s slide deck. Although Mr Tilson went on to analyse five separate companies it was the first simple slide that really hit home. It was his discussion of three most dangerous words in investing: “I missed it”.

This is simply a very common and pervasive emotional mistake in investing. We often do not even realise our subconscious mind speaking to us. It happens when we look at a stock or market that has risen significantly and we say to ourselves “Darn it! I missed that one” without looking any further and doing some analysis. In investing it is not where a stocks has been that counts. What really matters is where it is going.

Do a little experiment with yourself. Take a stock chart that has climbed relentlessly for some time and roll it back. You’ll notice that all along the trajectory there was numerous times that it may have looked extended. As you roll it forward, of course, its stock price keeps rising. The key here is to realise that you are simply looking at a price chart and not really taking the time to understand what is behind that price. This is what investors refer to as checking the fundamentals. Now think of all those times you’ve heard the following types of phrases: I can’t buy Google at $120 it’s already doubled (it’s now $875). The market has had a great run so I’ll wait for a pullback. Both phrases simply refer to prices and levels, not values. This is a very important distinction. As Warren Buffet has often quipped: “Price is what you pay. Value is what you get”.

To overcome this emotional inertia it’s best to stop focusing on the pictorial price graph and do some fundamental work. As Mr Tilson states,” Focus on the only question that matters: is the stock, at today’s price, an exceptionally attractive investment? If so, Buy It!” To determine if the stock is an “exceptionally attractive” investment is the true challenge in investing. It’s never too late to start doing some work.

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Published May 13, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated May 12, 2013 at 1:18 pm)

The three most dangerous words in investing

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