Thursday, 23 February 2012

Stock Picking Philosophy from Charles Munger - Part 4

The following came from a 1994 article by Charles Munger, best known as one of the lead Berkshire Hathaway investors with Warren Buffett.

As a warning, its very long and talks about a lot of topics from role of math and psychology, business management, stock picking, etc but its very informative.

I've picked out a few more juicy paragraphs from it but if you have time, make sure to read it.  I've broken it up into several smaller chunks that I found interesting and will post them out over a few days.

Source: (Courtesy: The Big Picture)
Charles Munger, USC Business School, 1994
A Lesson on Elementary, Worldly Wisdom As It Relates To Investment Management & Business

See Part 1 - Value Investing
See Part 2 - Fewer But Bigger Bets
See Part 3 - Efficient Market Hypothesis & Race Tracking Betting Model
See Part 4 - Advantages & Disadvantages of Scale
See Part 5 - Bureaucracy & Yes Men
See Part 6 - Efficiencies & Profitability Differences from Competition
See Part 7 - Negative Effects of Technology on Business Profits
See Part 8 - Focusing on Your Competitive Edge & Follies of Investment Management
See Part 9 - Sector Rotation & Yearly tax avoidance
  • Advantages of Scale:
Just as in an ecosystem, people who narrowly specialize can get terribly good at occupying some little niche. Just as animals flourish in niches, similarly, people who specialize in the business world—and get very good because they specialize—frequently find good economics that they wouldn’t get any other way.

And once we get into microeconomics, we get into the concept of advantages of scale. Now we’re getting closer to investment analysis—because in terms of which businesses succeed and which businesses fail, advantages of scale are ungodly important.

For example, one great advantage of scale taught in all of the business schools of the world is cost reductions along the so-called experience curve. Just doing something complicated in more and more volume enables human beings, who are trying to improve and are motivated by the incentives of capitalism, to do it more and more efficiently

Well, if you were Procter & Gamble, you could afford to use this new method of advertising. You could afford the very expensive cost of network television because you were selling so many cans and bottles. Some little guy couldn’t. And there was no way of buying it in part. Therefore, he couldn’t use it. In effect, if you didn’t have a big volume, you couldn’t use network TV advertising which was the most effective technique.  

So when TV came in, the branded companies that were already big got a huge tail wind. Indeed, they prospered and prospered and prospered until some of them got fat and foolish, which happens with prosperity—at least to some people….

And your advantage of scale can be an informational advantage. If I go to some remote place, I may see Wrigley chewing gum alongside Glotz’s chewing gum. Well, I know that Wrigley is a satisfactory product, whereas I don’t know anything about Glotz’s.

So if one is 40 cents and the other is 30 cents, am I going to take something I don’t know and put it in my mouth—which is a pretty personal place, after all—for a lousy dime?

So, in effect, Wrigley , simply by being so well known, has advantages of scale—what you might call an informational advantage.

Similarly, all these huge dvantages of scale allow greater specialization within the firm. Therefore, each person can be better at what he does.

And these advantages of scale are so great, for example, that when Jack Welch came into General Electric, he just said, “To hell with it. We’re either going to be # 1 or #2 in every field we’re in or we’re going to be out. I don’t care how many people I have to fire and what I have to sell. We’re going to be #1 or #2 or out.”

That was a very tough-minded thing to do, but I think it was a very correct decision if you’re thinking about maximizing shareholder wealth. And I don’t think it’s a bad thing to do for a civilization either, because I think that General Electric is stronger for having Jack Welch there.

  • Disadvantages of Scale
And there are also disadvantages of scale. For example, we—by which I mean Berkshire Hathaway—are the largest shareholder in Capital Cities/ABC. And we had trade publications there that got murdered where our competitors beat us. And the way they beat us was by going to a narrower specialization.
We’d have a travel magazine for business travel. So somebody would create one which was addressed solely at corporate travel departments. Like an ecosystem, you’re getting a narrower and narrower specialization.

Well, they got much more efficient. They could tell more to the guys who ran corporate travel departments. Plus, they didn’t have to waste the ink and paper mailing out stuff that corporate travel departments weren’t interested in reading. It was a more efficient system. And they beat our brains out as we relied on our broader magazine.

That’s what happened to The Saturday Evening Post and all those things. They’re gone. What we have now is Motocross—which is read by a bunch of nuts who like to participate in tournaments where they turn somersaults on their motorcycles. But they care about it. For them, it’s the principal purpose of life. A magazine called Motocross is a total necessity to those people. And its profit margins would make you  salivate.

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