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“The Intelligence Investor” by Benjamin Graham - An Insider's Review

"The Intelligent Investor" by Benjamin Graham is a classic book on value investing, and it offers timeless principles that can benefit both novice and experienced investors.

Cover of The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham

Benjamin Graham’s “The Intelligent Investor” is a must-read book for anyone who wants to have a career in investing or just wants to grow their nest egg. Graham is the godfather of value investing and teaches investors how to intelligently allocate capital to risk-assets like stocks and bonds while limiting the risk of losing principal.


Margin of Safety

The concept of "margin of safety" is a fundamental principle in value investing, and the key takeaway from Graham’s book. It is a crucial concept for investors seeking to minimize risk and protect their capital. The margin of safety is defined as the difference between the intrinsic value of an investment and its market price. In other words, it represents how much a stock is undervalued compared to its true worth.

Intrinsic value is an estimate of what a stock is actually worth based on fundamental analysis. It takes into account factors such as a company's earnings, assets, cash flow, and growth prospects. It is the price that a rational, long-term investor would be willing to pay for the stock. Market price is simple, just the current trading price of an asset on a public (or private) exchange. Market price can fluctuate widely and is often influenced by emotions, market sentiment, and short-term trends.

Margin of safety is a crucial concept because it provides a safety net for investors. By buying a stock with a significant margin of safety, investors can protect themselves against the inherent uncertainty and volatility of the stock market. Investing always carries some level of risk. Market prices can be highly emotional and irrational, leading to price fluctuations that may not reflect a company's true worth. A margin of safety helps investors remain calm during market turbulence, as they have a solid basis for their investment.

Apart from market risk, even the most diligent investors can make errors in judgment. A margin of safety provides a cushion that allows for small mistakes in estimating intrinsic value without resulting in significant losses.

Margin of safety is the fundamental concept behind Warren Buffett’s famous quote:“The first rule of an investment is don’t lose [money]. And the second rule of an investment is don’t forget the first rule. And that’s all the rules there are.”

Graham’s Take on Key Investing Metrics

Graham includes several calculations and financial concepts that value investors can apply even in today’s dynamic markets. The fundamental concept is to come to a reasonable estimation of intrinsic value to compare to the current market value to help come up with a margin of safety. Some of the key calculations and concepts discussed in the book include:

  • Earnings Per Share (EPS): EPS is a fundamental measure of a company's profitability. Graham discusses how to analyze a company's historical EPS growth and its implications for future performance.

  • Price-to-Earnings (P/E) Ratio: Calculated by dividing the current market price of a stock by its earnings per share (EPS). He advises investors to compare a stock's P/E ratio to historical averages and industry benchmarks to assess whether it is overvalued or undervalued on a relative basis

  • Price-to-Book (P/B) Ratio: Calculated by dividing a company's stock price by its book value per share. Graham suggests using the P/B ratio as a tool for identifying undervalued stocks, particularly in cases where a company's assets are substantial.

  • Dividend Yield: Calculated as annual dividend payment per share divided by the stock's current market price. Dividend yield can be compared to bond yields as a measure of income from an investment.

Being the Intelligent Investor vs. Being the Speculator

Even well before the days of crypto, tech stocks, and SPACs, Graham called out the dangers of market speculators and speculative investing. Graham distinguishes between investors and speculators. Investors focus on the long-term and aim for safety of principal and a reasonable return. Speculators, on the other hand, seek quick profits and often ignore the fundamental value of assets. In order to ground your analysis, Graham urges investors to focus on the key valuation metrics discussed in the Key Metrics section.

Graham’s Take on the Market & Diversification

Throughout the book, Graham uses the analogy of Mr. Market, a manic-depressive character who offers to buy or sell stocks every day. As an intelligent investor, Graham urges readers should not let Mr. Market's mood swings affect investment decisions. Instead, investors should take advantage of this irrationality to buy or sell assets. Investors can know when to buy or sell based on the margin safety embedded in the current stock price.

Graham also advocates investors to diversify their portfolio to spread risk. Stocks and other risk assets are inherently volatile and uncertain. Diversification allows for investors to choose a pool of assets to invest in and not be overweight to a single known or unknown risk. However, he also warns against excessive diversification, which can dilute excessive returns and make it challenging to track investments effectively.

In summary, The Intelligent Investor does a great job laying out the foundation of value investing. It is a cornerstone of an investor's reading list and should be read by any candidate looking to break into the buyside.


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