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Element 0: Introduction
Element 1: Principles
Element 2: The Right Stuff
Element 3: Variables
Table of Contents
Charlie Munger is one of the world's most successful investors. He is Warren Buffett's long-term partner and exactly one-half of the Berkshire Hathaway senior management team.
Like Warren Buffett, Munger was born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska where he still lives. Charlie Munger studied mathematics at the University of Michigan and then served as a meteorologist in the US Army during World War II. After the war, he studied law at Harvard Law School and upon graduation formed a law firm with a few partners which would ultimately become one of the nation's most prestigious legal practices. Despite that success, Munger left the legal profession to become a full-time investor at the urging of Warren Buffett who he met in California. From 1962 to 1975, Charlie Munger ran an investment partnership which generated 20-percent annual returns compared to 5-percent growth in the Dow Jones over the same time period.
So what is the secret of Charlie Munger's success as an investor? He and Warren Buffett both uses a reasonably simple framework for thinking which has three elements:
■Principles – Munger and Buffett are well-known advocates of the Graham value investing system.
■The Right Stuff – Munger and Buffett always try and take the emotion out of their investment decisions and act rationally and dispassionately.
■Variables – Munger and Buffett always add in their unique take on events as an integral part of their investment strategy.
"The Graham value investing system is a very simple set of ideas and the reason our ideas have not spread faster is they're too simple. The professional classes can't justify their existence if that's all they have to say." — Charlie Munger
Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett are probably the world's best-known and likely the world's most successful users of the value investing approach first advocated by Ben Graham. They adhere religiously to the four value investing principles and this is the central pillar of everything they do. You can't understand why they do what they do without understanding the Graham value investing fundamentals.
"The best thing a human being can do is help another human being know more." — Charlie Munger
To appreciate and decode how Charlie Munger invests, you first have to understand the four principles of value investing as coined by business professor Ben Graham:
"Ben Graham was trying to invent a system anybody could use. Understanding how to be a good investor makes you a better business manager and vice versa." — Charlie Munger
Principle 1 Treat a share of stock like proportional ownership of the overall business
Another way of stating this principle is to say if you don't understand what the business does, then you cannot genuinely value the business and you should not invest in it. Rather than treating stock like a separate entity, approach any valuation exercise like you're planning to buy the business outright in a private transaction. Figure out the intrinsic value of the enterprise and know how you got that number.
In a way, Graham investors are more like detectives than speculators. They use a bottom-up valuation technique. They look for clues about what happened in the past and what's going on right now. They stay away from trying to predict how cash flows will vary in the future and instead look at the fundamentals of the business for valuation clues.