"Successful Investing takes time, discipline and patience. No matter how great the talent or effort, some things just take time: You can't produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant."
-- Warren Buffett
"I make a guarantee the first day of class every year that if you're good at valuing companies, the market will agree with you. I just don't guarantee when."
-- Joel Greenblatt
Let's be completely honest right off the bat: Few people have the same level of financial success as Warren Buffett. His innate ability to absorb and retain encyclopedic amounts of information is unearthly. However, there are investors using Buffett's wisdom to create their own path to success, and it's something you can do, too.
These "Buffett disciples" have found immense success not through trying to be a carbon-copy of the Oracle of Omaha, but rather through adapting his principles to their own unique backgrounds, personalities, and strengths.
Easy to find, hard to do
Buffett's investing secrets are usually hidden in plain sight. One of the most important principles of his is patience. Patience is easy to conceptualize, but incredibly tough to practice. Joel Greenblatt has adhered to it with huge success. Using this principle as a key tenet of his investment philosophy, Greenblatt founded Gotham Capital in 1985 and proceeded to absolutely trounce the S&P over the next nine years, generating cumulative gross returns of 5,197% compared to the S&P's paltry 154%. If you invested $10,000 in the fund during 1985, you would have seen your money grow to over $380,000 in less than a decade!
How did he do it? It's both extremely simple and incredibly difficult at the same time. The simple part is using a two-step method to find excellent businesses at cheap prices: Does the company earn a lot on its assets, and is it trading at a big discount?
Now comes the hard part: The reason these businesses are trading so cheap usually centers on the market's extremely negative, short-term attitude about the company. Greenblatt did so well in his investments precisely because he took advantage of this irrational mood to buy at a steep discount. Then, he patiently waited until the fickle market changed its mind about the company, realizing that the sky might not, in fact, be falling. Greenblatt says:
Stock prices move wildly over very short periods of time. This does not mean that the values of the underlying companies have changed very much during that period.
How does this help me?
Not surprisingly, the wisdom of Buffett can help the professionals like Joel achieve great success. But can it work for individual investors like you and me? This answer is absolutely, positively, undoubtedly, yes!
Our ability to be patient with our portfolio is by far the single biggest advantage we have as individual investors.
This cannot be stressed enough. We don't answer to outside investors. We don't need to gauge our performance on a monthly, quarterly, or even yearly basis. If we are investing with funds that we don't need to take out of our accounts for three, five, or 10 years, we can ignore the panic and euphoria that causes prices to swing wildly over the course of the year.
If we are patiently investing in cheap, well-run companies, we can be certain that, eventually, the market will agree with us -- even though our portfolio may look like it's on a roller coaster ride every week.
Ultimately, even though patience seems like a simple thing, it's probably one of the hardest habits to adopt as an investor. But there are some key things you can do to help yourself.
Avoid checking your portfolio every day, week -- or even month! Avoid the sensational business shows on TV that try to tell you you're doing something wrong by not buying or selling shares every single day. Instead, spend that time learning more about the companies you like, or the companies you currently own.
By doing absolutely nothing with your portfolio today and remaining patient with your investments, you are already miles ahead of 99% of the market. Remember, you are simultaneously your own fund manager and sole investor, meaning you're accountable to no one but yourself. So why wouldn't you want to follow Warren and Joel in exploiting your biggest advantage?