The Intelligent Investor: The Classic Text on Value Investing by Benjamin Graham

It may not be the BIBLE of Investing – But it certainly is the NEW TESTAMENT, March 9, 2007

What are you waiting for, buy the book and rock your world. I am reminded of the old joke we use to tell in Wall Street when I was with Lehman Brothers back in the 1970’s. It’s the story about the guy who is given permission to remove as much gold as he can from Fort Knox but he only has a morning, and must work alone. He’s given a truck and a wagon to haul the gold with. He gets in the truck and heads the wrong way. “Where are you going, you are going the wrong way, you only have a morning to work with, and the clock has started.” His answer is classic, “I am going to get breakfast first.”

The point is very simple. People are reading Wall Street Journals, getting MBA’s, and watching the talking heads on television. I’ve got portfolio managers who would kill for an edge, and every one of them, all of them are missing the point. It’s all there, all the knowledge, all the wisdom you need to become a MASTER in the financial markets. You simply have to know what to read, and you begin by reading THE INTELLIGENT INVESTOR.

At Harvard we use to say they divided the building up into two lecture halls tonight. The door at the first hall has a sign that says LECTURE ON GOD, on it. The door of the second lecture hall has a sign that says GOD on it. Everybody wanted to go to the lecture. Listen up folks, this book THE INTELLIGENT INVESTOR, it’s the real thing. This is not Madison Avenue sitting down with a author that they pulled out of Hollywood, and said let’s put some interesting witticisms into a book on investing, dress it up, market it smart, and make a couple of bucks.

This is a book by a man with an Einstein type IQ, whose natural abilities were in the financial arena, who has the uncanny skill sets to explain himself in beautiful prose that just about all the rest of us can understand. If you want to be in the stock market, and you haven’t read Benjamin Graham, it’s like being in a gunfight in the old west, and not having a gun. You got to do the basics, and very few people do.

Wasn’t it Woody Allen who said, “80% of making it is just showing up?” If you want to be in the market, and outperform everybody else wanting the same thing, than you can’t do the same things they do, or you will get the same results, and that means mediocrity. You are in the race for Alpha, the extraordinary return. To win the race, you need an EDGE. Now how many people do you think are doing the basics? The answer is about as close to zero as you can get.

Investors, just like people want instant gratification with a minimum of effort, energy, and pain, and that’s not how smart, astute investing works. You need to read books like this one not once, but over and over again, until it becomes part of you, until emotionally its wisdom becomes imprinted in your brain. You then need to start implementing it. See what kinds of results you are getting, and then make the adjustments necessary to make its wisdom YOUR OWN.

In other words, you need to OWN THE KNOWLEDGTE THAT’S IN THIS BOOK. Can it be done? Yes, but not easily. Benjamin Graham spent a lifetime figuring this stuff out. He didn’t hit the ski slopes at Sun Valley. He wasn’t sitting by the pool at Bungalow 5, at the Beverly Hills Hotel. He was grinding out the “Margin of Safety” concept, and testing it against the real world, did it work, and did it falter? Was it a 100 percent reliable.

I have heard Warren Buffett his most famous, but not only successful disciple tell the story of how the students in Graham’s class room at Columbia would challenge the old man. Graham would used those challenges to make his thinking better, sharper, more real, and in so doing he became a better investor.

You want to know about Mr. Market, and why just about every investor ignores this theory, which is the equivalent of the Quantum Theory in Physics. You need to read the book. In Chapter 11, he teaches you how to value a business, his way. The teachers at Harvard, Wharton, Ross School, and others have nothing on Ben Graham. We are all students at his feet.

In my lifetime, I have worked with some of the smartest people on the planet. My direct mentor is the richest man on Wall Street, and I have known just about every major national and international investor worth his salt in the world in my generation. Every one of them could quote Benjamin Graham, meanwhile the want-to-bees, were out getting fitted for suits, after having lunch at the 21 Club.

Absorb some wisdom from someone who has been there. Read this book; learn about the “Circle of Competence”, and the overwhelming importance of investor psychology. It is amazing that in this book several generations old, Ben is dealing with the same issues confronting us today, director independence, broker conflicts, frequent trading and the lack of performance it creates, management teams out of control, and dealing in a self-serving manner.

Each edition of this book is unique in its own way, with different world-class players commenting along side the text. I happen to like this edition because John Bogle (read his books also) is a man who I respect enormously who has impacted the investing world. The revised edition with Warren Buffett commenting is wonderful also. You simply can not go wrong touching anything that has been written by Benjamin Graham. Good luck.