Thursday, July 17, 2014

Graham and Dodd on private owner valuation

The other application of the principle of investing in undervalued common stocks is directed at individual issues, which upon analysis appear to be worth substantially more than they are selling for. It is rare that a common stock will appear satisfactory from every qualitative angle and at the same time will be found to be selling at a low price by such quantitative standards as earnings, dividends, and assets. Issues of this type would undoubtedly be eligible for a group purchase that would fulfill our supplementary criterion of “investment” given in Chap. 4. (“An investment operation is one that can be justified on both qualitative and quantitative grounds.”) 
Of more practical importance is the question whether or not investment can be successfully carried on in common stocks that appear cheap from the quantitative angle and that—upon study—seem to have average prospects for the future. Securities of this type can be found in reasonable abundance, as a result of the stock market’s obsession with companies considered to have unusually good prospects of growth. Because of this emphasis on the growth factor, quite a number of enterprises that are long established, well financed, important in their industries and presumably destined to stay in business and make profits indefinitely in the future, but that have no speculative or growth appeal, tend to be discriminated against by the stock market—especially in years of subnormal profits—and to sell for considerably less than the business would be worth to a private owner
We incline strongly to the belief that this last criterion—a price far less than value to a private owner—will constitute a sound touchstone for the discovery of true investment opportunities in common stocks. This view runs counter to the convictions and practice of most people seeking to invest in equities, including practically all the investment trusts. Their emphasis is mainly on long-term growth, prospects for the next year, or the indicated trend of the stock market itself. Undoubtedly any of these three viewpoints may be followed successfully by those especially well equipped by experience and native ability to exploit them. But we are not so sure that any of these approaches can be developed into a system or technique that can be confidently followed by everyone of sound intelligence who has studied it with care. Hence we must raise our solitary voice against the use of the term investment to characterize these methods of operating in common stocks, however profitable they may be to the truly skillful. Trading in the market, forecasting next year’s results for various businesses, selecting the best media for long-term expansion—all these have a useful place in Wall Street. But we think that the interests of investors and of Wall Street as an institution would be better served if operations based primarily on these factors were called by some other name than investment.