Last year, I reported back from the "Woodstock for Capitalists," Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-A ) (NYSE: BRK-B ) conference in Omaha, Nebraska. And just last week I visited what could be considered the capitalist equivalent of Jerry Garcia's childhood home.
Columbia University in New York City is where Buffett went to study at the feet of his master, Ben Graham. So the annual Columbia Investment Management Association (CIMA) conference is a hotbed of value investing chatter. This year's conference attracted the likes of Marty Whitman of Third Avenue, David Dreman of Dreman Value, and Will Browne of Tweedy, Browne.
Listening to the speakers and attendees, I was struck by five lessons we should keep in mind if we aspire to be true value investors like Graham, David Dodd, and Buffett, rather than the mere fakers who think the "value investor" label sounds good.
Sign No. 1: Real-time wasting
Fellow Fool Eric Bleeker and I watched with great curiosity as one attendee spent an entire session staring intently as his portfolio in Yahoo! Finance continuously updated. It was a good reminder that watching your financial clothes spin in the dryer only serves to reinforce short-term thinking and procrastination from doing something value creating.
Sign No. 2: Not knowing what you're not knowing
The guy above was clearly not paying much attention to the speakers. Neither was the second guy who asked David Dreman how to value financials (a few minutes after the first guy). To both questioners, Dreman responded that there's no good way to get a reading on financials (think Bank of America (NYSE: BAC ) , Citigroup (NYSE: C ) , and JPMorgan (NYSE: JPM ) ), largely because of the complexities of the derivatives they employ.
Two takeaways: 1) Pay attention, and 2) Know what you don't know.
Sign No. 3: Ignoring expenses
If you're trying to spot the true value investors at a value conference break time, look for the folks in cheap, ill-fitting suits stuffing muffins in their pants. A Washington Post article on The Millionaire Next Door author Thomas J. Stanley notes that:
- 86% of all luxury vehicles are driven by people who are not millionaires.
- $16 is what most millionaires pay for a haircut (including tip)
Sign No. 4: Dabbling
When asked about currency impacts for U.S.-based investors, Marty Whitman noted that he doesn't spend much time thinking about relative currency movements, largely because he doesn't have as good an understanding of other cultures as he does the U.S. and Canada.
It's something to keep in mind as you debate whether to pick individual stocks or just index the foreign portion of your portfolio. If you don't understand the different operating dynamics of Petroleo Brasileiro (NYSE: PBR ) vs. PetroChina, why not just buy the Vanguard Emerging Markets Stock ETF (NYSE: VWO ) , which holds both? Leave the guesswork to the fakers.
Sign No. 5: Not shutting up
One audience made this lesson clear. We were all ostensibly there to learn from masters in the investing field. Yet, this guy's two questions were more about himself than the expert he was addressing. When you talk just to hear yourself talk, you're in a one-person classroom with a terrible teacher.
On that note, tell me your favorite value investing lessons and pet peeves in the comment section below.