Thursday, July 18, 2019

David Abrams on the “Great Illusion of the Stock Market"

From his introduction to Part VII of Security Analysis: Sixth Edition (published in 2008):
I am optimistic about the future of value investing. To be sure, there are many bright and savvy people in the financial markets employing Graham and Dodd’s techniques, but the markets themselves have grown exponentially. The chunk of capital being invested by the value-investing crowd is a small percentage of the overall capitalization of global financial markets. Having observed the markets for more than two decades, my sense is that, rather than a glut of Graham and Dodd acolytes picking through scarce opportunities to find a place for their cash, money is ever more prone to sloshing around in giant waves, flowing from one fad to the next. If anything, it seems that the people controlling these megasums have become less intelligent and less sophisticated over time. The last decade alone has brought incredible extremes in valuation, starting in 1999 and 2000 with the high-altitude Internet bubble that was followed in short order by the utter collapse of the tech market. In the summer of 2002, we witnessed a tremendous corporate debt meltdown. But soon, these excessively low valuations were pushed off the front pages by the most generous and lax lending standards of all time. Now, as I write this introduction, the mortgage market is imploding, creating perhaps yet another new set of opportunities. That we’ve seen the last of these extreme swings seems doubtful. 
What is driving this manic phenomenon? The explanation is something I call the “Great Illusion of the Stock Market.” Investing looks easy, particularly in a world of inexpensive software and online trading. Buying a stock is no more difficult than buying a book on And because a great many people have gotten wealthy in the stock market, lots of others have come to believe that anyone can get rich with very little effort. They are wrong. All the people I know who’ve built wealth in the stock market have worked very hard at it. Graham and Dodd understood the effort it took to be successful in the market. They wrote: 
Since we have emphasized that analysis will lead to a positive conclusion only in the exceptional case, it follows that many securities must be examined before one is found that has real possibilities for the analyst. By what practical means does he proceed to make his discoveries? Mainly by hard and systematic work. (p. 669) 
So, yes, you can get rich buying and selling stocks, but, as the authors well knew, it takes hard work and patience. Nevertheless, the Great Illusion persists, maybe because, like Woody Allen’s film character Zelig, the market is a chameleon that changes its appearance to suit the times. Sometimes, it shows up as a tech stock bubble. Other times, it manifests itself as a ludicrously overvalued stock market as seen in the late 1980s in Japan. In a current incarnation, a raft of financial institutions across America are trying to emulate the success of David Swensen and his colleagues who manage Yale University’s endowment by allocating large percentages of the capital to “alternative investment managers.” 
But the Great Illusion is just that—an illusion. If you want to get wealthy in the financial markets, you’ll need to engage in “hard and systematic work.”