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David Merkel: The Eight Rules of My Investing

Posted By Guest Author On February 19, 2012 @ 11:00 am In Apprenticed Investor,Investing,Rules | Comments Disabled

David J. Merkel [1] is a CFA, FSA. His forthcoming equity asset management shop is tentatively called Aleph Investments. From 2008-2010, he was the Chief Economist and Director of Research of Finacorp Securities [2].where he researched a wide variety of fixed income and equity securities, and trading strategies. Until 2007, he was a senior investment analyst at Hovde Capital, responsible for analysis and valuation of investment opportunities for the FIP funds, particularly of companies in the insurance industry. From 2003-2007, he was a leading commentator at the investment website RealMoney.com [3].

These are his Eight Rules of Investing:

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My objective in guiding investors is to teach them how to tilt the odds of success in their favor. As a value investor that rotates sectors, I have eight methods that each tilt the odds a little in my favor. Individually, each tilt is worth a little. As a group, they have been very powerful for my past results. Unaudited, these methods have allowed me to beat the market since the strategy started in September of 2000.

  1. Industries are under-analyzed, relative to the market on the whole, and relative to individual companies. Spend time trying to find good companies with strong balance sheets in industries with lousy pricing power, and cheap companies in good industries, where the trends are not fully discounted.
  2. Purchase equities that are cheap relative to other names in the industry. Depending on the industry, this can mean low P/E, low P/B, low P/S, low P/CFO, low P/FCF, or low EV/EBITDA.
  3. Stick with higher quality companies for a given industry.
  4. Purchase companies appropriately sized to serve their market niches.
  5. Analyze financial statements to avoid companies that misuse generally accepted accounting principles and overstate earnings.
  6. Analyze the use of cash flow by management, to avoid companies that invest or buy back their stock when it dilutes value, and purchase those that enhance value through intelligent buybacks and investment.
  7. Rebalance the portfolio whenever a stock gets more than 20% away from its target weight. Run a largely equal-weighted portfolio because it is genuinely difficult to tell what idea is the best. Keep about 30-40 names for diversification purposes.
  8. Make changes to the portfolio 3-4 times per year. Evaluate the replacement candidates as a group against the current portfolio. New additions must be better than the median idea currently in the portfolio. Companies leaving the portfolio must be below the median idea currently in the portfolio.

Each of these rules enforces a discipline on the overall portfolio that most professionals and individual investors do not possess. It takes the emotion out of investing, and forces us to think like risk-sensitive, profit-seeking businessmen. I agree with Buffett when he said, “I am a better businessman because I am an investor, and I am a better investor because I am a businessman.” The two disciplines mutually reinforce each other, leading to better results.

~~~

Part II is after the jump

The Portfolio Rules Work Together

Here are the eight rules with links to my recent pieces:

  1. Industries are under-analyzed, relative to the market on the whole, and relative to individual companies. Spend time trying to find good companies with strong balance sheets in industries with lousy pricing power, and cheap companies in good industries, where the trends are not fully discounted. [4]
  2. Purchase equities that are cheap relative to other names in the industry. Depending on the industry, this can mean low P/E, low P/B, low P/S, low P/CFO, low P/FCF, or low EV/EBITDA. [5]
  3. Stick with higher quality companies for a given industry. [6]
  4. Purchase companies appropriately sized to serve their market niches. [7]
  5. Analyze financial statements to avoid companies that misuse generally accepted accounting principles and overstate earnings. [8]
  6. Analyze the use of cash flow by management, to avoid companies that invest or buy back their stock when it dilutes value, and purchase those that enhance value through intelligent buybacks and investment. [9]
  7. Rebalance the portfolio whenever a stock gets more than 20% away from its target weight. Run a largely equal-weighted portfolio because it is genuinely difficult to tell what idea is the best. Keep about 30-40 names for diversification purposes. [10]
  8. Make changes to the portfolio 3-4 times per year. Evaluate the replacement candidates as a group against the current portfolio. New additions must be better than the median idea currently in the portfolio. Companies leaving the portfolio must be below the median idea currently in the portfolio. [11]

For the most part these are rules that would only serve a value investor. They focus on the first principle of value investing, which is “margin of safety (rule 3),” and after that on the less important principle of buying them cheap (rule 2).

I would add the concept “sell them relatively dear,” which rules 7 and 8 spell out. The sell discipline gets short shrift in much of value investing, and I think I have a very good sell discipline.

But value traps do in many value investors. Value traps are companies that are cheap, but cheap for a reason. How do you avoid value traps?

  • Try to have industry factors working for you (Rule 1)
  • Look for companies that still have some room to grow (Rule 4)
  • Avoid companies that are aggressive in their reporting of income (Rule 5)
  • Look for managements that use their free cash flow wisely (Rule 6)

I have my failures, but I don’t trip into many value traps, relative to the average value investor.

That is how my rules work together. They are meant to cover the basic areas of value investing, while attempting to avoid the traps that harm value investing.

=–==-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

This is the end of the “Portfolio Rules” series. From these articles, I hope you get a good idea of how I invest, whether you invest like me, or invest with me.


Article printed from The Big Picture: http://www.ritholtz.com/blog

URL to article: http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2012/02/david-merkel-the-eight-rules-of-my-investing/

URLs in this post:

[1] David J. Merkel: http://alephblog.com/about/

[2] Chief Economist and Director of Research of Finacorp Securities: http://www.prnewswire.com/cgi-bin/stories.pl?ACCT=109&STORY=/www/story/02-08-2008/0004752449&EDATE=

[3] RealMoney.com: http://alephblog.com/about/www.RealMoney.com

[4] Industries are under-analyzed, relative to the market on the whole, and relative to individual companies. Spend time trying to find good companies with strong balance sheets in industries with lousy pricing power, and cheap companies in good industries, where the trends are not fully discounted.: http://alephblog.com/2010/09/18/portfolio-rule-one/

[5] Purchase equities that are cheap relative to other names in the industry. Depending on the industry, this can mean low P/E, low P/B, low P/S, low P/CFO, low P/FCF, or low EV/EBITDA.: http://alephblog.com/2010/09/25/portfolio-rule-two/

[6] Stick with higher quality companies for a given industry.: http://alephblog.com/2010/10/02/portfolio-rule-three/

[7] Purchase companies appropriately sized to serve their market niches. : http://alephblog.com/2010/10/09/portfolio-rule-four/

[8] Analyze financial statements to avoid companies that misuse generally accepted accounting principles and overstate earnings. : http://alephblog.com/2010/10/16/portfolio-rule-five/http://alephblog.com/2010/10/16/portfolio-rule-five/

[9] Analyze the use of cash flow by management, to avoid companies that invest or buy back their stock when it dilutes value, and purchase those that enhance value through intelligent buybacks and investment. : http://alephblog.com/2010/10/23/portfolio-rule-six/

[10] Rebalance the portfolio whenever a stock gets more than 20% away from its target weight. Run a largely equal-weighted portfolio because it is genuinely difficult to tell what idea is the best. Keep about 30-40 names for diversification purposes.: http://alephblog.com/2010/10/28/portfolio-rule-seven/

[11] Make changes to the portfolio 3-4 times per year. Evaluate the replacement candidates as a group against the current portfolio. New additions must be better than the median idea currently in the portfolio. Companies leaving the portfolio must be below the median idea currently in the portfolio.: http://alephblog.com/2010/10/29/portfolio-rule-eight/

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