Below are quotes from Howard Marks' new book: The Most Important Thing.
A very good read. Highly recommended.
The Most Important Thing: Uncommon Sense for the Thoughtful Investor
by Howard Marks
“Experience is what you got when you didn’t get what you wanted.” Good times teach only bad lessons: that investing is easy, that you know its secrets, and that you needn’t worry about risk. The most valuable lessons are learned in tough times.
Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. ALBERT EINSTEIN
It’s not supposed to be easy. Anyone who finds it easy is stupid. CHARLIE MUNGER
In my view, that’s the definition of successful investing: doing better than the market and other investors. To accomplish that, you need either good luck or superior insight.
Since other investors may be smart, well-informed and highly computerized, you must find an edge they don’t have. You must think of something they haven’t thought of, see things they miss or bring insight they don’t possess. You have to react differently and behave differently. In short, being right may be a necessary condition for investment success, but it won’t be sufficient. You must be more right than others . . . which by definition means your thinking has to be different.
The problem is that extraordinary performance comes only from correct nonconsensus forecasts, but nonconsensus forecasts are hard to make, hard to make correctly and hard to act on.
Second-level thinkers know that, to achieve superior results, they have to have an edge in either information or analysis, or both. They are on the alert for instances of misperception.
The key turning point in my investment management career came when I concluded that because the notion of market efficiency has relevance, I should limit my efforts to relatively inefficient markets where hard work and skill would pay off best.
“Being too far ahead of your time is indistinguishable from being wrong.”
Risk shows up lumpily. If we say “2 percent of mortgages default” each year, and even if that’s true when we look at a multiyear average, an unusual spate of defaults can occur at a point in time, sinking a structured finance vehicle.
“VOLATILITY + LEVERAGE = DYNAMITE,”
Rule number one: most things will prove to be cyclical. • Rule number two: some of the greatest opportunities for gain and loss come when other people forget rule number one.
• The first, when a few forward-looking people begin to believe things will get better • The second, when most investors realize improvement is actually taking place • The third, when everyone concludes things will get better forever
One way to get to be right sometimes is to always be bullish or always be bearish; if you hold a fixed view long enough, you may be right sooner or later.
If you know the future, it’s silly to play defense. You should behave aggressively and target the greatest winners; there can be no loss to fear. Diversification is unnecessary, and maximum leverage can be employed. In fact, being unduly modest about what you know can result in opportunity costs (forgone profits). On the other hand, if you don’t know what the future holds, it’s foolhardy to act as if you do.
We may never know where we’re going, but we’d better have a good idea where we are. That is, even if we can’t predict the timing and extent of cyclical fluctuations, it’s essential that we strive to ascertain where we stand in cyclical terms and act accordingly.
It would be wonderful to be able to successfully predict the swings of the pendulum and always move in the appropriate direction, but this is certainly an unrealistic expectation. I consider it far more reasonable to try to (a) stay alert for occasions when a market has reached an extreme, (b) adjust our behavior in response and, (c) most important, refuse to fall into line with the herd behavior that renders so many investors dead wrong at tops and bottoms.
When others are recklessly confident and buying aggressively, we should be highly cautious; when others are frightened into inaction or panic selling, we should become aggressive. So look around, and ask yourself: Are investors optimistic or pessimistic ? Do the media talking heads say the markets should be piled into or avoided? Are novel investment schemes readily accepted or dismissed out of hand? Are securities offerings and fund openings being treated as opportunities to get rich or possible pitfalls? Has the credit cycle rendered capital readily available or impossible to obtain? Are price/earnings ratios high or low in the context of history, and are yield spreads tight or generous? All of these things are important, and yet none of them entails forecasting. We can make excellent investment decisions on the basis of present observations, with no need to make guesses about the future. The key is to take note of things like these and let them tell you what to do. While the markets don’t cry out for action along these lines every day, they do at the extremes, when their pronouncements are highly important.
To achieve superior investment results, your insight into value has to be superior. Thus you must learn things others don’t, see things differently or do a better job of analyzing them—ideally, all three.