Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Tom Murcko: Interview with Value Investor Mohnish Pabrai

InvestorGuide: You have compared Pabrai Funds to the original Buffett parternships, and there are obvious similarities: investing only in companies within your circle of competence that have solid management and a competitive moat; knowing the intrinsic value now and having a confident estimate of it over the next few years, and being confident that both of these numbers are at least double the current price; and placing a very small number of very large bets where there is minimal downside risk. Are there any ways in which your approach differs from that of the early Buffett partnerships (or Benjamin Graham's approach), either because you have found ways to improve upon that strategy or because the investing world has changed since then?

Mohnish Pabrai: The similarity between Pabrai Funds and the Buffett Partnerships that I refer to is related to the structure of the partnerships. I copied Mr. Buffett's structure as much as I could since it made so much sense. The fact that it created a very enduring and deep moat wasn't bad either. These structural similarities are the fees (no management fees and 1/4 of the returns over 6% annually with high water marks), the investor base (initially mostly close friends and virtually no institutional participation), minimal discussion of portfolio holdings, annual redemptions and the promotion of looking at long term results etc. Of course, there is similarity in investment style, but as Charlie Munger says, "All intelligent investing is value investing."

InvestorGuide: Another possible difference between your style and Buffett's relates to the importance of moats. Your book does emphasize investing in companies that have strategic advantages which will enable them to achieve long-term profitability in the face of competition. But are moats less important if you're only expecting to hold a position for a couple years? Can you see the future clearly enough that you can identify a company whose moat may be under attack in 5 or 10 years, but be confident that that "Mr. Market" will not perceive that threat within the next few years? And how much do moats matter when you're investing in special situations? Would you pass on a special situation if it met all the other criteria on your checklist but didn't have a moat?

Pabrai: Moats are critically important. They are usually critical to the ability to generate future cash flows. Even if one invests with a time horizon of 2-3 years, the moat is quite important. The value of the business after 2-3 years is a function of the future cash it is expected to generate beyond that point. All I'm trying to do is buy a business for 1/2 (or less) than its intrinsic value 2-3 years out. In some cases intrinsic value grows dramatically over time. That's ideal. But even if intrinsic value does not change much over time, if you buy at 50 cents and sell at 90 cents in 2-3 years, the return on invested capital is very acceptable.

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Source: Tom Murcko. Thank you for sharing.

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