Save your guns for the big ones

Tim Mak

Thanks to author Benjamin Graham, the small minority of disciplined investors carry a name that separates them from the rest of the investment community: intelligent investor.

Intelligent investors, by definition, are long-term investors. They not only look for great businesses with outstanding economics run by superb managers to hold on to for the long haul, they also insist on getting those shares at a low price. Buying $4 with one buck is their preferred way of doing business in the investment world.

And thanks to Graham’s mentor, Warren Buffett, intelligent investors also prefer to wear a “hat” not everyone understands: elephant hunter.

Big, fat, fast-moving elephants represent the best there is for a hunter in the investment wilderness.

In terms of what we can get with the time and bullets we deploy, big, fat elephants provide us with the greatest value.

Though elephants — great investments selling at low prices — don’t move as fast as some other animals, like lions or tigers, elephants don’t exactly move like turtles either. So, when an elephant appears on the horizon, you better be ready with your guns fully loaded.

These “elephants” will eventually run out of the woods. Some speculators think that they can afford to wait until the elephants appear and then scramble for bullets by selling off their invested assets. But elephant hunting doesn’t work that way.

When elephants first appear, it may be the case where most other investments are cheaper to buy. So, if you are not holding cash — the “bullets” — at the time, but are fully invested in assets, the chances are the prices of those assets are similarly depressed, thereby causing huge losses when you liquidate them.

Second, and much more likely, is the fact that these fast-moving elephants will be gone by the time you have sold your assets, obtained the ammunition and loaded up your guns.

Elephant hunting takes a lot of patience, which only true intelligent investors possess. Big, fat elephants do not appear on the scene regularly. In fact, they are conspicuous by their general absence in the investment wilderness. It may even take 12 years.

When asked how long he is willing to wait for truly great investment opportunities to arrive on the investment horizon, philanthropist Charlie Munger always says he is willing to wait forever.

While waiting for the elephants, impatient hunters exhaust their ammunition and amuse themselves by shooting the ubiquitous squirrels and rabbits. They rationalize this by saying there aren’t any more elephants. But when the elephants arrive, the out-of-ammunition hunters try to persuade their patient hunting buddies to wait longer for bigger elephants.

It is up to you to be yourself, stick to your guns and do the right thing.

Tim Mak is a teaching fellow at the College of Business Administration and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].