Thursday, April 7, 2011

What I Learned from Phillip Fisher's Common Stocks

I would not recommend the book Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits and Other Writings (Wiley Investment Classics) for anyone. However, my displeasure with it didn't deter me from finishing it once I picked it up. I don't quit on things. My philosophy is: power through. These are my general feelings on the book, written as part of a review on the Amazon reading list app of LinkedIn:
"My expectations for this book were high. I was severely disappointed. The best part of this book is that it's over. The worst part of this book is that Phillip's son Kenneth owns the rights to the book. He took that privilege, ran with it, and abused the hell out of it. Kenneth, a billionaire investor, droned on for a dozen pages of prologue before writing another 27 for the introduction. If you happen to pick up this copy, and I suggest that you don't, skip all of Kenneth's writing. It's horriblely egotistical, monotonous, and empty of any informational value whatsoever.
Phillip writes like I hope that I don't: overly verbose with too complicated a sentence structure. His writing also has too many references to previous statements so quoting him is very difficult. In my view, the best investment writers drop little nuggets of wisdom that are highly quotable. Because of the way Fisher writes, you won't get much of that from this book. The other problem with the writing is that there are too many examples so the book doesn't stand up historically. I don't want to read about Dow Chemical in the '50s or Motorola in the '70s. Both of these stocks are also written about because Fisher owned them which I also found annoying.
I did find bits and pieces that I believe was adopted by other investment managers, e.g. three year rule, buying something when it is priced well and not haggling over 1/8ths.
However, I recommend that you skip this book."
Not enjoying the book also didn't prevent me from learning. I keep a journal of ideas that I want to keep when I read. I want to share with you those ideas that I came away with from this book. [I cleaned up his gratuitously elongated speech for my own records.]
  • In the case of really outstanding companies, the information is so crystal clear that even a moderately experienced in vestor who knows what he is seeking will be able to tell which companies are likely to be of enough interest to him to warrant taking the next step.
  • You need to have patience if you want to make big profits from an investment. Put another way, it is often easier to tell what will happen to the price of a stock than how much time will elapse before it happens.
  • Doing what everybody else is doing at the moment, and therefore what you have an almost irresistable urge to do yourself, is often the wrong thing to do at all.
  • Just as even the best professional baseball players cannot expect to get a hit more than one out of every three times he comes to bat, so a sizable number of stocks are bound to produce nothing profitable at all.
  • If you want to gauge a management's orientation towards profits (short- vs. long-term) then look to the treatment of customers and vendors. It provides a very good indicator.
  • Stocks should not be bought where the dividend payout is so emphasized that it restricts realizable growth.
  • Practical investors usually learn their problem is finding enough outstanding investments, rather than choosing among too many.
  • Usually a very long list of securities is not a sign of a brilliant investor, but of one who is unsure of himself.
  • To make big money on investments it is unnecessary to get some answer to every investment that might be considered. What is necessary is to get the right answer a large proportion of the very small number of times actual purchases are made.
  • His three principle, two I's and an H: integrity, ingenuity, and hard work.
  • A good place to start with a conservative investment is with an industry's lowest cost producer, because:
    • the higher margin allows the company to weather poor business conditions better
    • the margin also allows the company to earn enough that they won't need to seek additional financing
  • The largest profits in the investment field go to those who are capable of correctly zigging when the financial community is zagging.
  • Contrary opinion is not enough, however. When you do go contrary to the general trend of investment thinking, you must be very, very sure that you are right.
  • Three year rule: each investment should be given three years in order to draw a conclusion from the investment thesis.
  • "If you can't do a thing better than others are doing it, don't do it at all."

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