The Superinvestors of Graham-and-Doddsville

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"The Superinvestors of Graham-and-Doddsville" is an article by Warren Buffett promoting value investing, published in the Fall, 1984 issue of Hermes, Columbia Business School magazine. It was based on a speech given on May 17, 1984 at the Columbia University School of Business in honor of the 50th anniversary of the publication of Benjamin Graham and David Dodd's book Security Analysis. The speech and article challenged the idea that equity markets are efficient through a study of nine successful investment funds generating long-term returns above the market index. All these funds were managed by Benjamin Graham's alumni, pursuing different investment tactics but following the same "Graham-and-Doddsville" value investing strategy.

The article has been reprinted in books about Buffett (e.g. Miles, 2004).

The speech[edit]

Columbia Business School arranged celebration of Graham–Dodd's jubilee as a contest between Michael Jensen, a University of Rochester professor and a proponent of efficient market theory, and Buffett, who was known to oppose it. Jensen argued that a simple coin tossing experiment among a large number of investors would generate a few successive winners, and the same happens in real financial markets. Buffett grabbed Jensen's metaphor and started his own speech with the same coin tossing experiment. There was one difference, he noted: somehow, a statistically significant share of the winning minority belongs to the same league. They follow value investing rules set up by Graham and Dodd.[1]

The statement[edit]

Buffett starts the article with a rebuttal of a popular academic opinion that Graham and Dodd's approach ("look for values with a significant margin of safety relative to [stock] prices")[2] had been made obsolete by improvements in market analysis and information technology. If the markets are efficient, then no one can beat the market in the long run; and apparent long-term success can happen by pure chance only. However, argues Buffett, if a substantial share of these long-term winners belong to a group of value investing adherents, and they operate independently of each other then their success is more than a lottery win; it is a triumph of the right strategy.[3]

Buffett then proceeds to present nine successful investment funds. One is his own Buffett Partnership, liquidated in 1969. Two are pension funds with three and eight portfolio managers; Buffett asserts that he had influence in selecting value-minded managers and the overall strategy of the funds. The other six funds were managed by Buffett's business associates or people otherwise well-known to Buffett. Seven investment partnerships have demonstrated average long-term returns with a double-digit lead over market average. Pension funds, bound to more conservative portfolio mix, showed 5% and 8% lead.

Fund Manager Investment approach and constraints Fund Period Fund Return Market return
WJS Limited Partners Walter J. Schloss Diversified small portfolio (over 100 stocks, US$ 45M), second-tier stock 1956–1984 21.3% / 16.1%[4] 8.4% (S&P)
TBK Limited Partners Tom Knapp Mix of passive investments and strategic control in small public companies 1968–1983 20.0% / 16.0%[4] 7.0% (DJIA)
Buffett Partnership, Ltd. Warren Buffett 1957–1969 29.5% / 23.8%[4] 7.4% (DJIA)
Sequoia Fund, Inc. William J. Ruane Preference for blue chips stock 1970–1984 18.2% 10.0%
Charles Munger, Ltd. Charles Munger Concentration on a small number of undervalued stock 1962–1975 19.8% / 13.7%[4] 5.0% (DJIA)
Pacific Partners, Ltd. Rick Guerin 1965–1983 32.9% / 23.6%[4] 7.8% (S&P)
Perlmeter Investments, Ltd Stan Perlmeter 1965–1983 23.0% / 19.0%[4] 7.0% (DJIA)
Washington Post Master Trust 3 different managers Must keep 25% in fixed interest instruments 1978–1983 21.8% 7.0% (DJIA)
FMC Corporation Pension Fund 8 different managers 1975–1983 17.1% 12.6% (Becker Avg.)

Buffett takes special care to explain that the nine funds have little in common except the value strategy and personal connections to himself. Even when there are no striking differences in stock portfolio, individual mixes and timing of purchases are substantially different. The managers were indeed independent of each other.

Buffett made three side notes concerning value investment theory. First, he underscored Graham-Dodds postulate: the higher the margin between price of undervalued stock and its value, the lower is investors' risk. On the opposite, as margin gets thinner, risks increase. Second, potential returns diminish with increasing size of the fund, as the number of available undervalued stocks decreases.[5] Finally, analyzing the backgrounds of seven successful managers, he makes a conclusion that an individual either accepts value investing strategy at first sight, or never accepts it, regardless of training and other people's examples.[6] "There seems to be a perverse human characteristic that likes to make easy things difficult... it's likely to continue this way. Ships will sail around the world, but the Flat Earth Society will flourish... and those who read their Graham and Dodd will continue to prosper".[7]

Influence[edit]

Graham-and-Doddsville influenced Seth Klarman's 1991 Margin of Safety and was cited by Klarman as a principal source; "Buffett's argument has never, to my knowledge, been addressed by the efficient-market theorists; they evidently prefer to continue to prove in theory what was refuted in practice".[8] Klarman's book, never reprinted, has achieved a cult status, and sells for four-digit prices.[9]

Buffett's article was a "titular subject" of 2001 Value Investing: From Graham to Buffett and Beyond.[10]

In 2005 Louis Lowenstein compiled Graham-and-Doddsville Revisited – a review of the changes in mutual fund economics, comparing the Goldfarb Ten funds against Buffett's value investing standard. Lowenstein pointed out that "value investing requires not just patient managers but also patient investors", since value investing managers have also demonstrated regular drops in portfolio values (offset by subsequent profits).[11]

The Indian Value Investor, Amit Ayare, is one of Warren Buffett’s many ardent followers, and is known to quote often from Buffett’s many Wisdom Quotes.

Rebuttal[edit]

Buffett, despite his untarnished reputation in mainstream business press, remains rarely cited within traditional academia. A 2004 search of 23,000 papers on economics revealed only 20 references to any publication by Buffett.[1] A significant share of references simply rebutt Buffett's statements or reduce his own success to pure luck and probability theory. William Sharpe (1995) called him "a three-sigma event" (1 in 370), Michael Lewis (1989) a "big winner produced by a random game".[1]

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Kelly, Price
  2. ^ Buffett, p. 4
  3. ^ Buffett, p. 6-7
  4. ^ a b c d e f Limited partners / Partners
  5. ^ Buffett, p. 14
  6. ^ Buffett, p. 11
  7. ^ Buffett, p. 15
  8. ^ Klarman, p. 99
  9. ^ The $700 Used Book
  10. ^ Greenwald et al.
  11. ^ Lowenstein, 2006:14