The Characteristics of A Successful Investor

I am one of the many students of Warren Buffett and quite successful in applying his investment methodology and philosophy,although he never knows me. Mr. Buffett once mentioned that investment is not rocket science and you don’t need a very high IQ to do it. That said, with 18 years of experiences in practicing value investment, I think that it’s not a job an average person can do it, and takes certain level of high IQ, wisdom, and certain characteristics to do it constantly well in a life time.

Self-Discipline

As a Buffett style value investor, you must have the self-discipline to follow the rules set based on your understanding of Buffett’s methodology all the time. This is easier said than done. Fear and greedy often affect your decision making and taking action decisively. There were many times I missed the best prices to buy or to sell and then waited for the best prices to back again for fearing of losing money or just being greedy, and missed the whole opportunity forever.

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The Didi Phenomenon

What happened to Didi could happen to any company in China. The fundamental reason behind is not what Didi did, but the political and economical system in China. It’s not a market economy in China. There is no rule of law, but rule by official power, or by the ruling party in China. In fact, the party can cut the throat of any company at will.

What happened to Didi is not the first case, as the case for Alibaba is still fresh in our memory, and will not be the last case. This is another wake up call to the everyone living in the free world and taking freedom and rule of law as granted. Without systematic change in China, the drop in share prices of Didi or Alibaba is NOT temporary, and therefore not an opportunity for investors to pick up the shares.

The US regulators and administration should ban the public listing of Chinese companies or any company which generate its revenue mainly from a country where there is no rule of law to protect investors.

Privacy on Facebook

I have heard all the fuss about privacy on Facebook in recent years and am still wondering what kind of privacy these people have been so seriously complaining about. In the internet and telecommunication era, you expose your location once you turn on your device connecting to the Internet or mobile networks. You also expose your interests every time when you click on a link or type a word on your device. The search engines or the APPs, including Facebook, you often used would eventually know your interests and preferences.

However, these kinds of information are nothing related to your social security numbers, your bank account details or your assets, and of course not the shape of your private part, if you are always careful enough not to expose them on the Internet.

But why are there so many people care so much about it? It’s really beyond my keen. I don’t care if someone knows that I like black chocolate, or beautiful girls either naked or not. It would be nice, if Google or Facebook could provide such information proactively. The trade off between my personal preferences and a free service like Facebook is well worth it!

BTW, Facebook has been the my best idea for investment among big tech companies since 2017.

What to do now

It’s a most turbulent and unique period for every investor. Even Warren Buffett never has such experience over his very long and successful career as the most respected investor in the world. He has not made any drastic move and is sitting on $137 billion dollar cash pile, except selling all the airline shares. There are a lot of people thinking he is too old to make any smart move quickly, and they can outsmart him. The wild fluctuation of certain shares, such as Hertz and airlines, which were impacted severely by the pandemic, are the evidence of active trading by these people.

The reality is that nobody is able to predict the near further precisely. Will the pandemic be over next month, quarter, or even next year? Will there be 2nd wave of sudden increase of hundreds and thousands infected people? How sever the impact of shutdown of most of economic activities caused? How fast will the economy pick up? Nothing is for sure. A pandemic like this has never happened in modern era. The only thing Warren Buffett being sure was that the airline would not be able to recover for next 2 to 3 years and the whole industry will not be the same again.

So, what to do now?

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Don’t Panic

A friend called me yesterday, asking what happened to my holdings in US shares. This is a normal reaction of ordinary people after a stock market crash anywhere.

My answer was, “Well, the shares indeed dropped a lot. But I never doubt the US will still be the most prosperous country in the world in next few decades.”

I always buy shares of public companies like an entrepreneur buying a business. The most important criteria I have been using to screening companies is always their competitive advantage and how wide the moat of the business is. The 2nd criteria is the health of the companies’ balance sheets. I never buy shares of a company carrying debt far more than its equity no matter how good its business looks like. Of course, even with such stringent screening criteria, there are still risks to loss my money. There is no such things as ZERO risk in the investment world.

However, unless human civilization were totally destroyed by a catastrophe, such companies would certainly not only survive, but rise from the dust and become even stronger. I have never doubted about that. COVID-19 pandemic is not that kind of catastrophe for sure. With the advanced medical technology at genetic level, it will be all over within 2 years time. In addition, its death rate is actually lower than 3% if all every infected person has been included in the data analysis.

My 2nd Tenbagger – The Tencent Story

Note: a “Tenbagger” is a stock having increased ten times of the initial value for an investor. The term was created by Peter Lynch, the most successful fund manager in the world.

Nothing is better learning experience than a real story. I bought Tencent shares at around HKD150 per share in 2009 to 2010. After the 1 to 5 share split, my initial buying prices on average became HKD30.59 per share based on the records from my brokerage firm. I sold all Tencent shares at HKD343.04 in Oct 2017, making 11 times of my initial investment from 8 years ago. So it’s actually a Elevenbagger! It was my biggest holding and most successful investment.

Why did I buy it?

When I initially noticed Tencent, it had not created Wechat. At the time, most of people in China, not to mention worldwide, never had heard of Tencent, including myself, but knew QQ well. My guess was that at least half of the population using a PC in China used QQ on daily bases. They used QQ to chat on PCs. Why only half of the population used it? The other half was using MSN messenger and most of them were white collar workers, working in multinational companies in tier one Chinese cities. They even looked down on people using QQ, who worked for local Chinese companies, or worked as blue collar workers, owning less income, living in smaller cities.

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The Good News is the Bad News

The most recent news in financial world is “Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway had $111 billion of cash on its balance sheet at the end of last quarter, the most in the company’s history.” This also implies that almost all investors using Warren Buffett’s way of investment have made lots of money in the past few years.

This is surely good news. However, holding so much cash is definitely an opportunity lost and Mr. Buffett knows it very well. That’s BAD news. Obviously, Mr. Buffett and his team have been thinking that everything in the finance market is too expensive. They have been holding on their cash for quite a while. Mr. Buffett said in his annual letter back in February, saying the lack of attractive pricing “proved a barrier to virtually all deals we reviewed in 2017.”

In a way, this is good news for Valuebay. We are not alone at least.

Is iRobot A Good Investment?

I bought iRobot at $30s and sold about half of the shares hold at over $100. I regret that I failed to sell them all. Even after iRobot’s dropping about 40% from the top, I am still hesitating whether to go back into the game with more investment because I am not sure whether the company can defend their leading position in the long term. It seems that many companies can make a robotic vacuum cleaner now.

Here is an excerpt from a brilliant article that Warren Buffett penned in Fortune in November 1999, “Mr. Buffett on the Stock Market:

All told, there appear to have been at least 2,000 car makes [operating at one time or another in the U.S.], in an industry that had an incredible impact on people’s lives. If you had foreseen in the early days of cars how this industry would develop, you would have said, “Here is the road to riches.” So what did we progress to by the 1990s? After corporate carnage that never let up, we came down to three U.S. car companies–themselves no lollapaloozas for investors. So here is an industry that had an enormous impact on America–and also an enormous impact, though not the anticipated one, on investors.

I won’t dwell on other glamorous businesses that dramatically changed our lives but concurrently failed to deliver rewards to U.S. investors: the manufacture of radios and televisions, for example. But I will draw a lesson from these businesses: The key to investing is not assessing how much an industry is going to affect society, or how much it will grow, but rather determining the competitive advantage of any given company and, above all, the durability of that advantage. The products or services that have wide, sustainable moats around them are the ones that deliver rewards to investors.

With iRobot’s shares’ PE over 30, the risk is high even in the short term.

Human Weakness in Investment – Herd behaver

We almost cannot live without the Internet now. If you are not too young, you must remember the dot-com bubble in 1995–2001. Over the period, investors were crazy about companies in the Internet business and were ready to buy these companies at any prices. On the other hand, companies could cause their stock prices to increase by simply adding an “e-” prefix to their name or a “.com” suffix, which one author called “prefix investing”. By the end of the 1990s, the NASDAQ hit a price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of 200. Many companies disappeared afterwards and many crazy investors, or rather speculators, in this dot-com rush lose their money.

How could this kind of crazy thing happen repeatedly in history? It’s herd behaver at work.

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Human weakness in investment –incapable of self-reflection

There is a saying that “love is blind”. This means a person in love would not be able to see any imperfection in the lover. This is maybe an extreme case. However, people do have the tendency of refusing to change their position when the relevant situation having been changed, or have bias on anything against whatever they initially believed in.

For example, a boy was brought to the same church by his parents frequently, he would not only mostly likely believe in the same religion when he grows up, but also strongly reject any other religion or atheism.

The same thing happens in stock market. When people, no difference being individual investors or institutional investors, already have a long position in the market, they tend to collect any relevant information, analyst it and present it in a way to justify that the market will go up further. The same kind of people also likely has a love affair with the company, of which they hold shares, and also with the relevant industry. They reject any information they don’t like, just like a person in love.

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