Risk is not the same as volatility
"The idea that the risk of an investment, or indeed, a portfolio of investments can be reduced to a single number is utter madness. In essence, the problem with risk management is that is assumes that volatility equals risk. Nothing could be further from the truth. Volatility creates opportunity."
Reverse-engineer DCF to check implied growth rates
"This effectively takes the market price, and backs out the growth that would be required to justify the current price. I can then compare that implied growth against a historical distribution of all company growth rates over time and see whether there is any chance of that growth actually being achieved... I tend to use a three stage model, I use the analyst inputs for the first three years, and a trend GDP related growth rate for the terminal years, and then imply what the market implies for the middle period of growth.
For instance, at the moment the mining sector implies 12% growth p.a. each and every year for the next two decades! That is a cyclical sector with an implied growth rate double a generous estimate of nominal GDP growth. Cyclicals masquerading as growth stocks rarely end well for investors."
Think of risk as a trinity
"I don’t think of risk as a number, but rather as a permanent impairment of capital (as Ben Graham put it). Now that permanent impairment can be generated by three potential sources (which aren’t mutually exclusive). Firstly, there is valuation risk – you can simply overpay for an asset. Secondly, there is fundamental or business risk – something goes wrong with the underlying economics of the asset. Thirdly, financing risk or leverage (which no matter how hard you try can’t make a bad investment good, but can make a good investment bad)."
Process is important
"Process is the one aspect of investing that we can control. Yet all too often we focus on outcomes rather than process. Yet ironically, the best way of getting good outcomes is to follow a sound process. The research shows that holding people accountable for outcomes tends to lead to suboptimal performance, generally because they spend all their time worrying about the things they can’t control. I’d advise a far better approach to assess people on the criteria of adherence to process."
Here's his stock screen
"The stock must be cheap (with an earnings yield at least twice the AAA boind yield), it must be returning cash to shareholders (with a dividend yield of at least 2/3rds of the AAA bond yield), and it must have limited leverage (with total debt less than 2/3rds of tangible book value). I added one extra criterion, a Graham and Dodd PE (current price over a 10 year moving average of earnings) of less than 16x times. I added this is to prevent us from buying cyclicals which had enjoyed a short sharp run up in earnings, but didn’t have sustainable earnings power."
Short-sellers act as our conscience
"Short sellers are amongst the most fundamental investors you’ll come across. They understand the ins and outs of a business better than just about everyone else. They are highly skilled at figuring out poor economics when they see if. They act as acting police, helping to uncover fraud – something that the regulators used to do (a very long time ago). My own work on short selling has focused on a number of areas. In general, shorts tend to come into a couple of categories: bad businesses (i.e. poor economics), bad accounting (obvious), bad management (the guys at the top haven’t got a clue). In addition I often look for several traits, such as expensive, unrealistic growth expectations, too much debt, and poor capital discipline (i.e. needless and tangential M&A).
I also created a measure called the C-score (C is for cheating or cooking the books). It aims to look for the quantitative red flags which often accompany bad accounting:
1. A growing difference between net income and cash flow from operations.
2. Day sales outstanding is increasing.
3. Growing days sales of inventory
4. Increasing other current assets to revenues.
5. Declines in depreciation relative to gross property plant and equipment.
6. High total asset growth."
Managers can be sociopaths
"There is some intriguing work arguing that many managers share a lot of traits with psychopaths (minus the violent tendencies). The checklist I use is...essentially a screen for narcissism, I’m trying to weed out those who are so caught up in their own self importance that they wouldn’t see a problem coming even if [it bit] them on the ass."