Portfolio Policy for the Enterprising Investor: The Positive Side
Graham says that there are four clear areas of activity that an enterprising investor (read: not an ultra-conservative investor) should focus on:
1. Buying in low markets and selling in high markets.
Graham says, in essence, that this is a good strategy in theory, but that it’s essentially impossible to accurately predict (on a mathematical basis) when the market is truly “low” and when it’s truly “high.” Why? Graham says that there’s inadequate data available to be able to accurately predict such situations – he basically believes fifty years of data is needed to make such claims, and as of the book’s writing, he did not believe adequate data was available in the post-1949 modern era.
2. Buying carefully chosen “growth stocks.”
What about growth stocks – ones that are clearly showing rampant growth? Graham isn’t opposed to buying these, but says that one should look for growth stocks that have a reasonable P/E ratio. He wouldn’t buy a “growth stock” if it had a price-to-earnings ratio higher than 20 over the last year and would avoid stocks that have a price-to-earnings ratio over 25 on average over the last several years. In short, this is a way to filter out “bubble” stocks (one where irrational exuberance is going on) when looking at growth stocks.
3. Buying bargain issues of various types.
Here, Graham finally gets around to the idea of buying so-called “value stocks.” For the most part, Graham focuses on market conditions as they existed in 1959, pointing towards what would constitute value stocks then. A brief bit on page 169, Graham discusses “filtering” the stocks listed by Standard and Poor’s (essentially a 1950s precursor to the S&P 500) and identifying 85 stocks that meet basic value criteria, then buying them and finding that, over the next two years, most of them beat the overall market.
That’s an index fund. Graham had basically conceived of the idea in the 1950s – it worked then, and it works now.
4. Buying into “special situations.”
Graham largely suggests avoiding “topical” news as a reason to buy or sell, mostly because it’s hard for investors to gauge how exactly such news will truly affect the stock’s price. Instead, one should simply file away interesting long-term news for later use if you’re going to evaluate the stock. For example, recalling that a company is still paying off an incurred debt from ten years ago and that debt is about to be paid off might be an indication of an upcoming jump in profit for the company – and a possible sign of a good value.