Posts tagged ‘Ron Baron’

The Art & Science of Successful Investing

As I described in my book, How I Managed $20,000,000,000.00 by Age 32, I believe successful investing is achieved by integrating aspects of both art and science. The science aspect of investing is fairly straightforward – most of the accounting and valuation math involved could be solved by a 7th grader. The more challenging aspect to successful investing is controlling the vacillating emotions of fear and greed when searching for attractive investments.

When people ask me about my investment philosophy, I do not like to be pigeon-holed into one style box because normally my portfolios hold investments that outsiders would deem both value and growth oriented. Since I am an absolute return investor, I am more concerned about how I can maximize upside returns while minimizing downside risk for my investors.

Because valuation is such an important factor in my process (price always matters), the most accurate description of my style would likely be “high octane GARP” (Growth At a Reasonable Price). While many GARP investors limit themselves to current or historical valuation metrics, my process has allowed me to take a more long-term, forward looking analysis of valuations, which has directed me to participate in some large winners, like Amazon (AMZN), Apple (AAPL), and Google/Alphabet (GOOGL), to name a few. To many observers, positions like these have traditionally been falsely considered “expensive” growth stocks.

Case in point is Google/Alphabet, which went public at $85 per share in 2004. At the time, the broad Wall Street consensus was the IPO (Initial Public Offering) price was way overheated. As it turned out, the stock has reached $1,000 per share and the Price-Earnings ratio (P/E) was a steal at less than 3x had you bought Google at the IPO price. ($85 2004 price/$33.98 2017 EPS estimate). Google is a perfect example of a dominant market leader that has been able to grow earnings dramatically for many years. In short order after going public, Google’s earnings ended up more than quintupling in less than three years and the stock price quintupled as well, proving that ill-advised focus on stale, traditional valuation metrics can lead you to wrong conclusions. Certainly, finding stocks that can increase in value by more than 11x fold is easier said than done, however, applying longer-term valuation metrics to dominant growth leading franchises will allow you to occasionally find monster winners like Google.

The greatest long-term winners don’t start off as the largest weightings, but due to the compounding of returns, position sizes can explode over time. As Peter Lynch states,

“You don’t need a lot of good hits every day. All you need is two to three good stocks a decade.”

 

Google/Alphabet proves what can appear expensive in the short-run is, in many cases, wildly cheap based on future earnings growth. Earnings tomorrow may be significantly larger than earnings today. Lynch emphasizes the importance of earnings over current prices,

“People concentrate too much on the ‘P’ (Price), but the ‘E’ (Earnings) really makes the difference.”
 “Just because a stock is cheaper than before is no reason to buy it, and just because it’s more expensive is no reason to sell.”

 

The Google/Alphabet chart below shows the incredible price appreciation that can be realized from compounding earnings growth.

The Google example also underscores the importance of patience. Although the stock has been a massive home-run since its IPO, the stock barely budged from late 2006 through 2011. Accurately picking the perfect timing to make an investment is nearly impossible. I concur with Bill Miller when he stated,

“We expect the stocks we buy today to contribute to our performance several years hence. While it’s nice if they contribute to this year’s performance, this year’s performance should be driven by decisions we made in previous years. If we keep doing this, we hope that we will provide adequate returns in the future.”

 

Regarding timing, Miller adds,

“Nobody buys at lows and sells at highs except liars.”

 

The Sidoxia Philosophy

Over time, as I have fine-tuned my investment philosophy, I have not been bashful in borrowing winning ideas from growth gurus like Peter Lynch, Phil Fisher, William O’Neil,  and Ron Baron, to name a few. By the same token, I am not shy about stealing ideas from value veterans like Warren Buffett, Seth Klarman, and Bill Miller as well.

While I don’t agree with Warren Buffett’s “forever” time horizon, I do believe in the power of compounding he espouses, which requires a longer-term investment horizon. The power of compounding is accelerated not only by committing to a long-term horizon, but also by the benefits accrued from lower trading costs and taxes. What’s more, taking a long view lowers your blood pressure and creates fewer ulcers. Legendary growth manager, T. Rowe Price, captures the essence of this idea here:

“The growth stock theory of investing requires patience, but is less stressful than trading, generally has less risk, and reduces brokerage commissions and income taxes.”

 

The Science of Investing

As discussed earlier, successful investing is an endeavor that involves the practices of both art and science – too much of either approach can be detrimental to your financial health. Quantitative screening can be an excellent tool for identifying new securities for research along with streamlining the fundamental analysis process. However, many investment funds rely too heavily on the quantitative science. The adage that “correlation does not equal causation” is an important credo to follow when reviewing various quantitative models (see Butter in Bangladesh).

The collapse of the infamous, multi-billion Long Term Capital Management hedge fund should also be a lesson to everyone (see When Genius Failed ). If world renowned Nobel Prize winners, Robert Merton and Myron Scholes, can single-handedly bring the global market to its knees as a result of using inconsistent and unreliable quantitative models, then I feel validated for my fundamentally-based investment approach.

While there are some artistic facets to valuation techniques, in large part, the valuation science is a fairly straightforward mathematical exercise. Unfortunately, the market consists of emotional and unpredictable individuals who continually change their opinions. Eventually the financial markets prod prices in the right direction, but over shorter time intervals, proper investment analysis requires some imperfect estimation.

Emotions regularly result in individuals overpaying for stocks, and this tendency is a risky strategy for any investment. In many cases investors chase darling stocks highlighted in news headlines, but regrettably these pricy investments often end up performing poorly. When it comes to hot stocks, I’m on the same page as famed value investor Bill Miller,

“If it’s in the papers, it’s in the price. One needs to anticipate, not react.”

 

Usually a news event that makes headlines is already factored into the stock price. The financial markets are generally forward looking mechanisms, not backward looking.

The Art of Investing

“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

-Yogi Berra

Investing is undoubtedly a challenging undertaking, but like almost any profession, the more experience one has, the better results generally achieved. Experience alone does not guarantee extraordinary performance, in large part due to emotional pressures. Investing would be much easier for everyone, if you didn’t have to worry about controlling those pesky emotions of fear and greed. The best investment decisions, and frankly any decision, are rarely made under these heightened emotions.

The most successful set of investors I have studied and modeled my investment process after are professionals who have married the quantitative science with the fundamental art of investing. At Sidoxia, we use a disciplined cash flow based valuation approach, along with thorough fundamental analysis to identify attractively valued, market leading franchises that can sustain above average growth. It sounds like a mouthful, but over time, it has worked well for the benefit of my clients and me.

The market leading franchises we invest in tend to have a competitive advantage, whether in the form of superior research and development, low-cost manufacturing, leading marketing, and/or other exceptional functions in the company that allow the entity to consistently garner more growth and more market share from its competitors. Quality franchises tend to also employ first-class management teams that have a proven track record, along with thoughtful, systematic processes in place to maintain their competitive edge. These competitive advantages are what allow companies to produce exceptional earnings growth for extended periods of time, thereby producing outstanding long-term performance for shareholders.

Finding sustainable growth in competitive niche markets is nearly impossible, and that is why I center my attention on large or emerging sectors of the economy that can support long runways of growth. When analyzing companies with durable, long runways of earnings growth, I concentrate on those developing, share-taking companies and dominant market leaders. In other words, disruptive companies that are entering new markets with vast potential and established companies that are gaining significant share in large markets. Well-known growth authority, Phil Fisher summarized the objective,

“The greatest investment rewards come to those who by good luck or good sense find the occasional company that over the years can grow in sales and profits far more than industry as a whole.”

 

I am privileged and honored to manage the hard earned investments of my clients. If this was a simple profession, everyone would do it, and I would not be employed as an investment manager. I have developed what I believe is a superior way of managing money, but I realize my investment process is not the only way to make money. If you were to assemble 10 different investment managers in the same room, and ask them, “What is the best way to invest money?,” you are likely to get 10 different answers. Having been in the investment industry and managed money for over 25 years, my experience has shown me that the vast majority of professional managers have underperformed the passive benchmarks. However, there are investment managers who have survived the test of time. For those veterans incorporating a disciplined, systematic approach that integrates the artistic and scientific aspects of investing, exceptional long-term returns can be achieved and have been achieved.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, AMZN, GOOG/GOOGL, and AAPL, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

June 18, 2017 at 7:25 pm Leave a comment

A Rare Breed: Father of Growth Investing

The man, the myth, the legend.

Successful long-term growth managers are part of a rare breed, but Thomas Rowe Price, Jr.  – also known as the “Father of Growth Investing” – certainly qualifies. Too often, value legends like Warren Buffett and Benjamin Graham are highlighted in media circles. Using a baseball analogy, growth heroes like Mr. Price are more akin to atypical knuckleball pitchers, like Hall of Famer Phil Neikro. Writing about Mr. Price is consistent with my belief that investors striving to improve performance will be served well by studying great investors (for other growth superstars, see also Phil Fisher, Ron Baron, and John Calamos, Sr.).

History

T. Rowe Price was born in Linwood, Maryland, in 1898 and died in 1983. Price graduated from Swathmore College in 1919 with a degree in Chemistry, and then went onto work at Baltimore-based Mackubin Goodrich, which eventually became Legg Mason  Inc. (LM). In 1937 he founded T. Rowe Price Associates (TROW) and successfully ramped up the company before the launch of the T. Rowe Price Growth Stock Fund in 1950. Expansion ensued until he made a timely sale of his company in the late 1960s (fortuitously before the 1973-1974 crash).

Philosophy

How did Price feel about growth investing?

“The growth stock theory of investing requires patience, but is less stressful than trading, generally has less risk, and reduces brokerage commissions and income taxes.”

This philosophy makes perfect sense to me; however it runs contrary to the strategies implemented by many managers whom are categorized in the “growth” style box today. In the hyper-sensitive, short-term focused performance world, many “momentum” managers play in this same “growth” sandbox. Typically this means managers buy stocks that are going up and sell stocks that are going down (see “momentum” article) over relatively short time frames, on average.

Price also firmly believed in fundamental research. As part of the investment process, Price believed in the “Life Cycle Theory of Companies,” meaning companies followed the phases of a human (birth, maturity, and decline). Price expands on this idea by stating the following: “An understanding of the life cycle of earnings growth and judgment in appraising future earnings trends are essential to investing.” He placed emphasis on investing in quality companies in good times and bad. In order to strip out economic cycle impacts, he compared company performance to peer performance  – regardless of macroeconomic conditions.

John Train, the writer of “The Money Masters,” maintained the following factors were key underpinnings of Price’s investments:

  • Superior research to develop products and markets.
  • A lack of cutthroat competition.
  • A comparative immunity from government regulation.
  • Low total labor costs, but well-paid employees.
  • At least a 10%  return on invested capital, sustained high profit margins, and a superior growth of earnings per share.

Buy and Hold

The proof was in the pudding when it came to the “patience” referenced in Price’s quote above. For example, in the early 1970s, Price had accumulated gains of +6,184% in Xerox (XRX), which he held for 12 years, and gains of +23,666% in Merck (MRK), which he held for 31 years (Lessons from the Legends of Wall Street, Nikki Ross). Timing was not the most important factor in pulling the decision trigger:

“It is better to be early than too late in recognizing the passing of one era, the waning of old investment favorites and the advent of a new era affording new opportunities for the investor.”

In the polluted world of mass information that we sift through every day, I recommend reviewing the strategies of greats, including the “Father of Growth Investing” (T. Rowe Price). That’s my fatherly advice for you.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and its clients owns certain exchange traded funds, but currently have no direct position in LM, TROW, XRX or MRK. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

November 20, 2009 at 2:00 am 3 comments

Ron Baron Swinging for Long Term Home Runs

Growth Guru Ron Baron

Growth Guru Ron Baron

Click Here to Watch Ron Baron CNBC Interview

The CNBC interview is a tad long with the first eight minutes better than the last eight. I can’t say I agree with a lot of his political rants, but his long-term success (BPTRX) is difficult to argue with despite his challenging track record over the last few years.

Ron Baron is considered one of the greatest growth investors of all-time, but unlike many of his modern growth peers he chooses not to play the quick trigger, momentum-based, “buy high, sell higher” strategy that merely purchases what’s working and sells what’s not. Rather he is investing in growth businesses that create long-term value, and focusing on those securitities trading at attractive prices. Seems like a very reasonable strategy to me, and an approach other historic investors like Peter Lynch followed. Like Lynch, Baron appreciates the impact of long-term home run stocks (Lynch called them “multi-baggers”). For example, in the interview Baron talks about the 30x return he earned on his Devry (DV) investment from the early 1990s; his 50x return on Charles Schwab (SCHW) from 1990; or Manor Care, up 100x from 1969 to its acquisition. Lynch enjoyed similar successes, but had an itchier trading trigger finger – his multi “bucket” strategy was quite unique (another day, another blog post). 

When it comes to passive investing, Ron Baron like other active fund managers discredits the powers of index investing:

“With index funds, you are going to be investing in the most successful businesses at that point in time, and at the top of the market you will be massively over-weighted in those companies.”

 

Like the scarce number of .300 hitters in baseball, I believe there are a select few investment managers who can consistently outperform the market (a study in 2007 showed only 12 active career .300 hitters in Major League Baseball). I believe Baron is one of those .300 hitters in the investment world. The problems with analyzing manager performance are luck and “law of large numbers.” These phenomena wreak  havoc on the examinations of short-run performance. The wheat ultimately gets separated from the chaff over the long-haul, but with the “Great Recession” of 2008-2009, many long-term investors are still hiding or shaking in their boots.

Ultimately, I believe the horse trading game of actively managed funds is a tough game to win. Most investors end up chasing performance and rotating in and out of positions at the wrong times. Nonetheless, Ron Baron has proved his ability to generate above average returns over the long haul.  Taking a swing with Ron Baron might not be a bad idea.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

July 22, 2009 at 4:00 am 3 comments


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