From Seth Klarman via Margin of Safety:
Waiting for the Right Pitch
Warren Buffett uses a baseball analogy to articulate the discipline of value investors. A long-term-oriented value investor is a batter in a game where no balls or strikes are called, allowing dozens, even hundreds, of pitches to go by, including many at which other batters would swing. Value investors are students of the game; they learn from every pitch, those at which they swing and those they let pass by. They are not influenced by the way others are performing; they are motivated only by their own results. They have infinite patience and are willing to wait until they are thrown a pitch they can handle – an undervalued investment opportunity.
Value investors will not invest in businesses that they cannot readily understand or ones they find excessively risky. Hence few value investors will own the shares of technology companies. Many also shun commercial banks, which they consider to have unanalyzable assets, as well as property and casualty insurance companies, which have both unanalyzable assets and liabilities.
Most institutional investors, unlike value investors, feel compelled to be fully invested at all times. They act as if an umpire were calling balls and strikes – mostly strikes – thereby forcing them to swing at almost every pitch and forego batting selectivity for frequency. Many individual investors, like amateur ballplayers, simply can’t distinguish a good pitch from a wild one. Both undiscriminating individuals and constrained institutional investors can take solace from knowing that most market participants feel compelled to swing just as frequently as they do.
For a value investor a pitch must not only be in the strike zone, it must be in his “sweet spot”. Results will be best when the investor is not pressured to invest prematurely. There may be times when the investor does not lift the bat from his shoulder; the cheapest security in an overvalued market may still be overvalued. You wouldn’t want to settle for an investment offering a safe 10% return if you thought it very likely that another offering an equally safe 15% return would soon materialize.
An investment must be purchased at a discount from underlying worth. This makes it a good absolute value. Being a good absolute value alone, however, is not sufficient for investors must choose only the best absolute values among those that are currently available. A stock trading at one-half of its underlying value may be attractive, but another trading at one-fourth of its worth is the better bargain. This dual discipline compounds the difficulty of the investment task for value investors compared with most others.
Value investors continually compare potential new investments with their current holdings in order to ensure that they own only the most undervalued opportunities available. Investors should never be afraid to reexamine current holdings as new opportunities appear, even if that means realizing losses on the sale of current holdings. In other words, no investment should be considered sacred when a better one comes along.
Sometimes dozens of good pitches are thrown consecutively to a value investor. In panicky markets, for example, the number of undervalued securities increases and the degree of undervaluation also grows. In buoyant markets, by contrast, both the number of undervalued securities and their degree of undervaluation declines. When attractive opportunities are plentiful. value investors are able to sift carefully through all the bargains for the ones they find most attractive. When attractive opportunities are scarce, however, investors must exhibit great self-discipline in order to maintain the integrity of the valuation process and limit the price paid. Above all. investors must always avoid swinging at bad pitches.