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Tim Melvin

Tim Melvin is a value investor, money manager and writer. He has spent the last 27 years as in the financial services and investment industry as a broker, advisor and portfolio manager. He has also...

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Investing Like a Pro: It's Not That Complicated

In markets, as in life, humans have a natural tendency to complicate thing needlessly.

Today, more than ever it seems that everyone is looking for some magic key or program that will allow them to painlessly and quickly make a fortune in the stock market. There is not one but that does not stop us from looking for one and wasting enormous amounts of time and money on systems and tips that just do not work. There is one approach to the markets that works and always has and always will.

It does not make money overnight, but it does always make money. "Buy Low and Sell High" is the most over used phrase in the history of trade. In the financial markets, everyone says it and almost no one actually does it.

Serbian Poet and author Dejan Stojanovic once penned pone of the best lines in the history of literature and can easily be applied to markets when he wrote the line, “The most complicated skill is to be simple." Compare all that complexity to Walter Schloss, who once summed up his 50 year track record of success with a simple phrase. "We buy cheap stocks.”

If you consider the track record of the pig farmer Mr. Womack, first mentioned in John Train's excellent 1978 Fortune Magazine article titled Mr. Womack Makes a Killing, it becomes quite clear that a simple buy low, sell high approach to the markets makes a lot more sense than the continuous search for a Holy Grail trading program.

Mr. Womack would drive into town when markets were collapsing and the newspapers were full of dire predictions about the economic future of the world and predictions of further stock market collapses to come. He would buy a package of financially sound. When the papers were full of good news he would drive back into town, stop by the brokerage office and sell them all. He never lost money in the market with this simple yet elegant approach to buying stocks.

Related: How to Ignore the Noise When Investing

Walter Schloss and his son Edwin are the best example for profiting for a simple approach to the stock market. During an almost 50 year career managing their fund they compiled a track record that is pretty much unmatched.

Using no leverage or complicate formulas they earned about 20 percent annually and after fees clients earned about twice the rate of the market over the same time In a talk at the Harvard Behavioral Economics Forum in 1996 he elaborated on his approach to managing money. “We are bargain hunters in the stock market instead of the retail trades. As Ben Graham said, we buy stocks like groceries and not perfume, or as they say a stock well bought is half sold. If they go lower, which is quite possible, we will want to buy more.”

They didn't work all night searching for mysterious chart patterns based on Asian rice traders or running countless calculations. They didn't obsess over jobs reports or economic releases. They came into the office around nine and left before five most days. They didn't try to predict earnings numbers every quarter or obsess over moving averages. The bought viable companies for less than asset value and sold them when they went up in price. In other words they bought low and sold high.

There are a million adages and quotes about buying into bad markets and selling good ones. Baron Rothschild famously advising waiting to buy until there is blood in the streets. Sir John Templeton always advised buying at the point of maximum pessimism. Seth Klarman has talked often about being the buyer of last resort when markets are so bad there are no buyers left and he can name his own price.

Warren Buffett warned us that you usually pay a high price for a cheery consensus on Wall Street. It seems so simple to buy low and sell high but it is apparently not complicated enough for most investors.

Related: Adaptive Value Investing for the Long-Term Investor

The constant need for action and quick profits works against us as investors most of the time. There are some rocket scientist out there who can trade the market but they are usually real rocket scientists or the mathematical equivalent with massive computing power, almost unlimited capital and the dedication to work 12 hours a day at their craft. They use a very complex approach to the markets and they make money. The skills and computing power they have are way beyond most of us mere mortals.

Most of them do not do much better, or even as well as, buying low and selling high.

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Tags: John Templeton Mr. Womack Walter Schloss Warren Buffett

Posted in: Education Personal Finance General