Lynch & Munger – Becoming A Better Investor Requires Thinking Outside Of Investing

A lot of investors believe that the more you can learn about investing and investing techniques the better you will be as an investor. A typical value investor might spend time studying the fundamental assumptions and approaches to value investing, techniques for assessing fundamental value – balance sheet and earnings power approaches, or structuring value-based portfolios to control risk and designing strategies for searching efficiently for value investing opportunities.

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The reality is however is that while it’s important to have a basic understanding of your investment process sometimes the answers we seek in investing are greatly benefited by thinking outside of the investment discipline. This sentiment has been echoed by two of the greatest investors, Charles Munger and Peter Lynch.

Here’s an excerpt from Munger’s 2017 Daily Journal Annual Meeting:

Frequently, the problem in front of you is solvable if you reach outside the discipline you’re in and the idea is just over the fence. But if you’re trained to stay within the fence you just won’t find it. I’ve done that so much in my life it’s almost embarrassing. And it makes me seem arrogant because I will frequently reach into the other fellows discipline and come up with an idea he misses. And when I was young it caused me terrible problems. People hated me. And I probably shouldn’t have been as brash as I was. And I probably wouldn’t be as brash as I am now.

I haven’t completed my self-improvement process. But, it’s so much fun to get the right idea a little outside your own profession. So if you’re capable of doing it, by all means learn to do it. Even if you just want to learn it defensively. I do not observe professional boundaries.

And here’s an excerpt from Peter Lynch’s book, One Up On Wall Street:

I continued to caddy throughout high school and into Boston College, where the Francis Ouimet Caddy Scholarship helped pay the bills. In college, except for the obligatory courses, I avoided science, math, and accounting—all the normal preparations for business. I was on the arts side of school, and along with the usual history, psychology, and political science, I also studied metaphysics, epistemology, logic, religion, and the philosophy of the ancient Greeks.

As I look back on it now, it’s obvious that studying history and philosophy was much better preparation for the stock market than, say, studying statistics. Investing in stocks is an art, not a science, and people who’ve been trained to rigidly quantify everything have a big disadvantage. If stockpicking could be quantified, you could rent time on the nearest Cray computer and make a fortune. But it doesn’t work that way. All the math you need in the stock market (Chrysler’s got $1 billion in cash, $500 million in long-term debt, etc.) you get in the fourth grade.

Logic is the subject that’s helped me the most in picking stocks, if only because it taught me to identify the peculiar illogic of Wall Street. Actually Wall Street thinks just as the Greeks did. The early Greeks used to sit around for days and debate how many teeth a horse has.

They thought they could figure it out by just sitting there, instead of checking the horse. A lot of investors sit around and debate whether a stock is going up, as if the financial muse will give them the answer, instead of checking the company.

In centuries past, people hearing the rooster crow as the sun came up decided that the crowing caused the sunrise. It sounds silly now, but every day the experts confuse cause and effect on Wall Street in offering some new explanation for why the market goes up: hemlines are up, a certain conference wins the Super Bowl, the Japanese are unhappy, a trendline has been broken, Republicans will win the election, stocks are “oversold,” etc. When I hear theories like these, I always remember the rooster.

Article by Johnny Hopkins, The Acquirer's Multiple




About the Author

The Acquirer's Multiple
The Acquirer’s Multiple® is the valuation ratio used to find attractive takeover candidates. It examines several financial statement items that other multiples like the price-to-earnings ratio do not, including debt, preferred stock, and minority interests; and interest, tax, depreciation, amortization. The Acquirer’s Multiple® is calculated as follows: Enterprise Value / Operating Earnings* It is based on the investment strategy described in the book Deep Value: Why Activist Investors and Other Contrarians Battle for Control of Losing Corporations, written by Tobias Carlisle, founder of acquirersmultiple.com. The Acquirer’s Multiple® differs from The Magic Formula® Earnings Yield because The Acquirer’s Multiple® uses operating earnings in place of EBIT. Operating earnings is constructed from the top of the income statement down, where EBIT is constructed from the bottom up. Calculating operating earnings from the top down standardizes the metric, making a comparison across companies, industries and sectors possible, and, by excluding special items–earnings that a company does not expect to recur in future years–ensures that these earnings are related only to operations. Similarly, The Acquirer’s Multiple® differs from the ordinary enterprise multiple because it uses operating earnings in place of EBITDA, which is also constructed from the bottom up. Tobias Carlisle is also the Chief Investment Officer of Carbon Beach Asset Management LLC. He's best known as the author of the well regarded Deep Value website Greenbackd, the book Deep Value: Why Activists Investors and Other Contrarians Battle for Control of Losing Corporations (2014, Wiley Finance), and Quantitative Value: A Practitioner’s Guide to Automating Intelligent Investment and Eliminating Behavioral Errors (2012, Wiley Finance). He has extensive experience in investment management, business valuation, public company corporate governance, and corporate law. Articles written for Seeking Alpha are provided by the team of analysts at acquirersmultiple.com, home of The Acquirer's Multiple Deep Value Stock Screener. All metrics use trailing twelve month or most recent quarter data. * The screener uses the CRSP/Compustat merged database “OIADP” line item defined as “Operating Income After Depreciation.”