Volatility, they say, is a friend of value investors. But the crisis of 2008 proved to be an exception to the rule. Take the case of Charles Brandes, the 70-year-old founder of Brandes Investment Partners, who saw assets under management wilt from an eye-popping $111 billion at the end of 2007 to around $21 billion in a span of five years. But the turn of events has not shaken the confidence of the dyed-in-the-wool value investor, who believes that so long as human nature doesn’t change, value investing will remain an effective long-term investment strategy. Incidentally, Brandes is among the privileged few to have legendary value investor, Benjamin Graham, as a mentor. Their relationship began in 1972 when Graham walked into a brokerage where Brandes worked, wanting to buy a stock. Those initial learnings from Graham have since become the foundation of Brandes’ investment philosophy for the past 39 years. Among the very first to have started investing in emerging markets way back in 1982, Brandes believes that while volatility can distort prices in the near term, the value of a business is eventually reflected in stock prices over the long term.Tell us about how you got to meet value investing doyen Benjamin Graham.
I was very interested in economics and had embarked on an investment career in 1968. The late 1960s was a go-go era with a lot of hot new initial public offers (IPOs). The onset of the bear market in 1970 wiped out all these new concepts and the market was down 40-45%. One couldn’t have had a more stomach churning initiation. I didn’t know what to do as I didn’t have any guidance or an investing philosophy. I was still looking around and one day Benjamin Graham walked into the brokerage office, where I was working, to buy National Presto Industries. And since I was the designated person to greet incoming people, I got to interact with him. Soon after, when I paid a visit to his office, he kept asking me a lot of questions for which he already had the answers. For me, as a rookie, it was unbelievable that I was being asked questions to guide Benjamin Graham! I did have a few opinions even at that time, though.
Had you read any of his books before you met Graham for the first time?