Yesterday, I delivered a talk titled “Seven Intelligent Fanatics from India” at Value Investing Seminar, Trani, Italy.
None of the stocks of companies run by any of these seven entrepreneurs were recommended for purchase. Nor am I recommending them now.
I know that some of you may disagree with me about the conclusions about some (or even all) of the individuals profiled by me in my talk. However, I do not wish to get into a public debate on the subject. Think of what I said as my own personal views please.
Why did I choose these seven or only seven? Well, I had only 20 minutes to deliver this talk (I actually took 21). And I chose the ones I was more familiar with. To be sure, there are many more intelligent fanatics out there.
The reason I am publishing this is to help investors understand that: (1) an intelligent fanatic has the ability to turn what looks like a poor business into a very good one; and (2) the force (I call it “fire in the belly”)” of an intelligent fanatic, when combined with a good business, has a tendency to produce what Charlie Munger calls a “lollapalooza” outcome.
You can get the transcript of the talk from here.
I became a twitter follower of Ian last year and have enjoyed interacting with him on that platform, and through email over the last few months.
Ian runs MicroCapClub in the U.S — a forum meant for microcap value investors. Over the months, I have enjoyed reading up the materials posted on that site. But even more interesting has been receiving Ian’s wisdom through his wonderful tweets. Here are some of them:
These are just some of Ian’s tweets that I loved. There are dozens of others. Follow him on twitter and learn from his wisdom and experience.
I am overwhelmingly in sync with Ian’s thoughts on investing, some of which are expressed in his tweets above.
A few weeks ago, Ian persuaded me to answer a few questions for an interview which you can read from here.
A few days ago I asked a question on twitter: What is Pricing Power?
Yesterday, I asked another one: What is Staying Power?
I wanted to illustrate the power of focused thinking by “letting your mind wander.” What happens when you think about an idea and that idea only from multiple points of view?
Well, you get insights you wouldn’t get if you were distracted by other ideas.
Staying power is a very powerful idea. But where does it come from? The common answer I get from people is that it comes from a strong balance sheet. But that’s only part of the answer.
You have to keep asking where else does it come from. And one way to find out is by asking where does a strong balance sheet come from?
The insights gained through focused thinking on a question and that question alone produced some answers which I think will be useful for you. These are listed below. Remember that this is not an exhaustive list but is a pretty good first attempt to answer the question.
From the vantage point of a business model, staying power comes from:
From the vantage point of corporate culture, staying power comes from:
From the vantage point of ownership structure, staying power comes from:
From the vantage point of balance sheet, staying power comes from:
From the vantage point of P&L, staying power comes from:
From the vantage point of cash flow statement, staying power comes from:
From the vantage point of the investor, staying power comes from:
Creative thinking can be taught. It can be learnt. It requires deliberate practice. One of my favourite tools for creative thinking is Creative Whack Pack — a pack of cards that make my creative juices flow. Buy these cards. The author also sells them as an app for your smartphone. Buy the app. Here are a few cards I used for this particular exercise.
This post is the outcome of the efforts of many twitter followers. Thank you.
Shailesh Menon of The Economic Times called me at home a few days ago and persuaded me to speak to him for a profile he was doing on finance academics in India who also practice value investing.
Clarification: Quoting unnamed sources, the profile refers to a number of businesses I own. As of now, that’s not an accurate reflection of reality.
I wrote this mail to myself after reading several articles on the coming capex in coal and thought of sharing it with you.
Begin forwarded message:
From: Sanjay Bakshi <sanjay.bakshi>
Subject: Very balanced article on India’s dependence on Coal
Date: 27 May 2015 17:47:06 IST
To: Sanjay Bakshi <sanjay.bakshi>
Apart from huge investments in solar power, India is going to see huge expansion of coal mining capacity.
Abundant and cheap energy could make many businesses vulnerable to disruption (e.g. genset, inverter, and battery manufacturers). Overall, I am very cagey about investing in businesses that generate or store energy. But there will be other businesses which will benefit from this huge capex – businesses which facilitate the capex or benefit from that capex.
The idea is analogous to what Ralph Wanger calls “downstream effect.” Here is an extract from one of his interviews which I quoted in an article I wrote for ET in 1997.
“The airline example was a good case of a transforming technology. The jet engine was a terrific invention, and General Electric and Pratt & Whitney and Rolls Royce, I suppose, made reasonable money making jet engines. But for every dollar the jet engine manufacturer made, probably the airline made more. And the airline customers turned out to be the big beneficiary.
A good reason the western United States grew rapidly in the last 40 years was the jet plane. It made travel very practical… So the concept of transforming technology is that the big money is downstream…
…The railroads transformed the United States in very dramatic ways. The guys who made steam locomotives and railroad cars made some money, but you may not be able to name the major makers of locomotives, because they barely exist today…
…As you go downstream the dollars spread out. Now you probably can name the railroads that made a lot of money buying the steam locomotives and using them to build the railroad industry. The railroads made some good money. But the people who made even bigger money were the people along the right of way who could use the railroad to develop mines and factories and cities. So the guys who owned the silver mine here in Aspen saw the value of their mine at practically nothing before the railroad showed up, because they couldn’t ship the ore out on a practical basis without the railroad. But as soon as the railroad showed up the mines became economically profitable, the city grew, and the people who owned the land and built stores made a lot of money…
…Another example – one that is the most obvious and the most lasting trend is the whole idea of electronics, computers, communications, and information processing of all sorts. Here your transforming technology is really the semiconductor. It made computers practical, it made telephones much cheaper. All of the things you didn’t have in your house you can’t get along without today. Things like your cellular phone, your fax machine, your PC, your e-mail and your phone mail.
…Well until a few years ago I would guess the amount of money made by the American semiconductor industry was zero. There are many companies that made some money, but there were many companies that went out of business and made no money at all. Now everyone remembers how well Intel and Motorola have done, but they’ve forgotten about the Fairchilds and dozens of others who started barely and failed. Some of them took a lot of money down with them.
Intel was the exception. But when you think about the amount of money that Intel has made, I think you would easily find that Intel’s customers made more. The people
who are making real money on it are people like you. The reason you are in business is because of cable TV. That is a new technology and has enabled people to sell blue jeans and pantyhose to millions that they couldn’t have reached otherwise. And it needed electronics to make it possible. And we’ve made a whole lot of money owning cable TV stocks than we ever would have owning semiconductor stocks.”
One should think both upstream (businesses that benefit from supplying goods and services to facilitate the capex that is coming) and downstream (businesses that benefit from cheap energy – a cost benefit they will be able to retain because they have a moat).
- Which businesses will benefit from being facilitators of this capex?
- Which businesses will benefit from being beneficiaries of this capex?
Here are some of broad patterns of inefficiency that I have encountered over the last few years of practicing value investing in better quality businesses:
There are several other patterns that play out in classic Graham-and-Dodd style cigar butts but the above list pertains only to patterns that I could identify with in better quality businesses misunderstood by markets.
I am not citing examples because I don’t want to talk my book. Nevertheless, some of you may find this framework useful in two ways: (1) It may help you relate what you already own to one or more of these patterns; and/or (2) It may help you find new opportunities which conform to one or more of these patterns.
Note: Among other things, this post was inspired by a wonderful excerpt I recently saw from “Margin of Safety” by Seth Klarman in which he writes:
“At the root of value investing is the belief, first espoused by Benjamin Graham, that the market is a voting machine and not a weighing machine. Thus an investor must have more confidence in his or her own opinion than in the combined weight of all other opinions. This borders on arrogance, the necessary arrogance that is required to make investment decisions. This arrogance must be tempered with extreme caution, giving due respect to the opinions of others, many of whom are very intelligent and hard working. Their sale of shares to you at a seeming bargain price may be the result of ignorance, emotion or various institutional constraints, or it may be that the apparent bargain is in fact flawed, that it is actually fairly priced or even overvalued and that sellers know more than you do. This is a serious risk, but one that can be mitigated first by extensive fundamental analysis and second by knowing not only that something is bargain-priced but, as best you can, also why it is so. You never know for certain why sellers are getting out but you may be able to reasonably surmise a rationale.” [Emphasis mine]
By the time you read this, you may have seen many obituaries of my friend Parag Parikh — who recently died in a tragic road accident in Omaha.
Parag, some of those obits say, was a contrarian value investor and money manager who took the high road in serving his clients, first at his firm’s PMS and then at his mutual fund. I want to focus instead on Parag, the remarkable human being who transformed many lives.
“Parag” in hindi means nectar which is appropriate because I know of many people who drank the nectar of Parag’s generosity and kindness. Let me tell you about just three of them.
Back in 1998, I was struggling to become a successful value investor. Having returned from England in 1994, and being bitten by the value investing bug, I had started my investment boutique with a very small corpus contributed by friends and family members. It would take many years before I achieved any real success, but in the meantime to make ends meet, I used to write columns in The Economic Times and a few other publications.
One day I had the opportunity to meet Parag who, it turned out, had read a few of my articles. He was running a PMS scheme at the time — something I thought I might want to do one day and so I was excited to get an opportunity to meet him.
Without my telling him anything, Parag saw my “situation,” understood it, and invited me to write for his firm. I accepted his offer and wrote thirteen columns for him on topics such as a (hypothetical) leveraged buyout of Bajaj Auto, the rigged market in PSU stocks, special situations investing and why value investors should stay away from IPOs. Those articles got me a lot of recognition in the investment community which was very helpful to me at the time. So, even in my early days as a value investor, Parag had propelled me forward.
He never stopped.
Over the years, we had stayed in touch and Parag had kept himself abreast of my progress as a value investor and also as a teacher.
Then, in 2011, he reached out to me with an idea. He was going to hold a symposium comprising of value investors. Titled “OctoberQuest,” the event would seek to be an “intellectual hotspot for exchange of thoughts and sharing of experiences among like-minded peers.”
Parag wanted me to address my peers in the value investing community many of whom were much older than me! When I read his mail, the nervous and introverted part of me took over. Speaking in front of students who know little is nothing as compared to addressing peers who know much more. That thought made me supply Parag with one excuse after another to somehow escape from all this.
It didn’t work.
After reading a series of email exchanges, Parag called me and said: “Sanjay, you can do it.” He talked me into it and on 28 September, just a few days before the conference I wrote to him: “Your persistence got me! If it’s ok with you, I will move my timetable a bit and come to attend your wonderful conference.”
“Dear Sanjay, thank you so much. Your presence means a lot to me and also to the value investing community. We will schedule your speech first thing in the morning after the keynote address by Mr.Chandrakant Sampat.”
Shit! I was going to speak immediately after the legendary Chandrakant Sampat! Images of tomatoes and eggs being thrown at me immediately came to mind. It was too late though to back out now as a commitment to a friend had been made. So, I gathered all the courage I had and went on the stage and spoke something unremarkable to my peers. Afterwards, Parag came up and announced that from now on I will be the keynote speaker at his conference.
Parag was doing it again. He was propelling me forward.
Of the next three OctoberQuest keynote talks I delivered, two went viral on the net. (The third one remains unpublished.) I still get mails from people from around the world about them and have made many friends and earned a lot of respect because of those talks — something that wouldn’t have happened but for Parag.
Arpit Ranka is one of my brightest students. He dropped out of college to study from me and ended up topping my class. When the course finished, he came to me for career advise. I told him to go get a college degree. Thankfully, Arpit didn’t listen. Instead, he went to Parag, who immediately hired him. Over the course of next few months, Parag mentored Arpit and invited him to collaborate with him on his second book. That book, on behavioural finance, contains Parag’s accumulated wisdom of more than three decades.
Arpit recalls the experience:
“Sometimes a gesture remains with you for your entire life. One such gesture on his part, which greatly exaggerated my contribution was him sharing 25% of the royalty of his book with me. I consider myself blessed to have worked under somebody like Parag bhai, who not only inspired you immensely but then went out of his way to recognise your contribution, which was effectively fruit of his trust more than anything else!”
Years later, Arpit went on to become a very successful value investor and I was delighted to learn recently that one of the world’s largest University endowments reached out to him to explore a working relationship with him. Unfortunately, Parag didn’t get to know this. Had he known, he too would have been so proud of Arpit.
Like Arpit, Megha More is also a bright ex-student. She went to work for Goldman Sachs and after a while when she found herself drowning in that ocean she sought my help. She had an interest in behavioral finance so I sent her to Parag who immediately hired her. She recalls:
“I would sit with him in his office for about 30 mins to an hour daily and just rake in all the wisdom that he so freely and happily imparted.”
Megha’s story is inspirational because it shows how one thing can lead to another. She recalls how Parag encouraged her to stay fit:
“When I informed him that I have joined a gym, he was elated. He knew I had almost an hour long commute to work. He immediately said, “I will allow you to leave one hour early daily if you promise you won’t skip the gym.””
Megha went to Chicago to be with her husband and ended up running the Chicago marathon. A few years ago, she returned to India and started a fitness company which was recently funded by a venture firm at a multi-million dollar valuation. She recalls:
“I had tears in my eyes when I informed him about my personal decision to move to US, but he spoke to me like my father would and said “This is the first of many sacrifices that you’ll make in your marriage. Don’t start this beautiful journey with a regret. You were meant to be here with us for this limited time only.”
There is no other way I can justify losing Parag than by quoting his own words to Megha: He was meant to be here with us for this limited time only.
Note: And edited version of this post will be published in the forthcoming issue of Outlook Business.
Update: Outlook Business Link.