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Finding Faith In Value After All These Years

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“I want you to remember this: Whenever you see something with the phrase ‘new valuation paradigm,’ run.”

Finding Consistency In Erratic Equity Markets

That was some of the earliest investment advice from my dad that I can remember. It was easy to adhere to back then: I was managing a portfolio of Pokemon cards.

Later, in 2007, my boss at Oppenheimer & Company turned me on to the writings of Jeremy Grantham. After reading how Grantham’s investors abandoned him in 2000 and again in 2007 I promised myself the next time Grantham, Mayo, Van Otterloo & Co. (GMO) experienced comparable outflows I would reevaluate my strategy.

The outflows hit GMO earlier this year, but Grantham complicated my timing signal by suggesting what sounds like a new paradigm. Mean reversion isn’t over, but he said, “It’ll take longer.” Specifically, Grantham said it will take 20 years instead of the seven he and his colleagues had been predicting. That’s a while. As he put it: “longer than any value manager would like.”

He is not alone. Linette Lopez and Josh Brown have written about the persistent sense of despair in the investment business over the flow of funds to passive and quantitative strategies. It may well be that, as Grantham wrote, the comfortable margins of safety experienced in the “Ben Graham training period of 1935–1965? could never return.

Curious how value investors are coping, I returned to the Manhattan campus of my alma mater, Fordham University, last month for CFA Society New York’s Annual Ben Graham Value Investing Conference IV.

The algorithm training period

Aswath Damodaran set the ground rules of valuation pretty clearly in his presentation: “You can’t stop me in valuation,” he said. “I make up my own rules.”

Damodaran’s talks always encourage blending numbers and narratives and his valuation journey is important to understand. One critical takeaway is that accurate valuation is about more than staying out of the DCF Hall of Shame; It is a way to avoid falling victim to unstudied beliefs.

This is particularly important for investment professionals of my vintage because the distinction between the Ben Graham training period and today is about more than just price.

Graham’s legend emerged in the period 1935 to 1965 and was succeeded by the legend of Warren Buffett. Buffett has spawned a warren of imitators, but whoever succeeds him may not follow in the same tradition as Graham. Jeffrey Tarrant now argues that the next wave of successful investors will be “hackers and computer gamers with a healthy disrespect for convention.”

We’re all learning

Algorithmically aided decision making may seem like a departure from the past, but traditions are meant to be examined and challenged. The Gartner Group placed machine learning at the absolute apex of its 2016 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies.

The idea of applying algorithms to investment decision making may evoke fears of something like “death by GPS” in which automobile drivers become slaves to their navigation systems and lose their critical thinking abilities. But it’s not like the present is perfect, either.

Panelist Murray Stahl of Horizon Kinetics invoked M.C. Escher in his characterization of the modern market: “Lots of professionals stare at the same information and wonder what other people like them are doing.”

By Will Ortel, read the full article here.


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