Billionaire investors like George Soros made their money by proving that they can turn a profit in the markets in both good and bad times, so investors can't be blamed for wanting to buy or sell the stocks that investing gurus are buying and selling. However, there can be a big problem with that approach: Many of these billionaires employ strategies that lead to rapid turnover in their portfolios, which can mean that the quarterly filings detailing their holdings don't really reflect what they own by the time you see them.
In this clip from The Motley Fool's Industry Focus: Healthcare podcast, Kristine Harjes and Todd Campbell discuss the risks of attempting to follow in the footsteps of billionaire investors.
A transcript follows the video.
This podcast was recorded on Jun. 1, 2016.
Kristine Harjes: You mentioned 13Fs. I wanted to touch back on that, because there's a really interesting timing question related to them. They come out four times a year, and they talk about the past quarter. If you're trying to follow in the footsteps of these billionaire investors -- and we can talk after this about whether or not that's a good idea to begin with -- you can't exactly time it with them. You have to wait until you get this filing. And even then, it doesn't say, "He got in in January, or in March, or in and out and back in again." It's kind of just a loose, general look at what they're invested in.
Todd Campbell: Right, and you really have to know what the style of that billionaire investor is. They run the gamut. You have everything from Warren Buffett, whose holding period is ... we'll call it infinite. Then, you have George Soros, who embraces something that he calls "the theory of reflexivity," which gets him in and out of stocks relatively quickly. Things he owns one quarter could very well not be owned in the next quarter. So yeah, you always have to look at these reports with a grain of salt and recognize that what's in them now may not be what they actually own today, the day you're looking at it.
Harjes: Yeah, and you won't find out until the next 13F comes out.
Campbell: Right. And that could be, depending on when they sold it, what? Three, four ... because there's a lag in when they file, it could be four months from when they actually exited the position.
Harjes: Exactly. So, a guy like Soros would be particularly difficult to follow, because he's not doing the Buffett, or, dare I say, The Motley Fool style of buying and holding. He is trying to time the market a little bit, and put his finger on the pulse and figure out what's trending, what's not. This is really, really hard to do, and impossible to mimic just from looking at 13Fs.
Campbell: Very few people have had the success that Soros has had in embracing that kind of a rapid-fire approach. I think, you and I have talked in the past about these kind of things. The Fool's mission here is to educate. Education is so important. Education means researching and understanding your ideas before you click the buy or the sell button. If you're following in the footsteps of billionaire investors, that doesn't change. You still need to make sure that you understand. You need to understand what their style is, what their rationale could be. You need to understand the company. In healthcare, you have to know the product, the pipeline, the profitability. All those things are still so critical. Don't just follow blindly in the footsteps.