Excerpt From Howard Marks' Book: The Most Important Thing Illuminated ~ market folly

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Excerpt From Howard Marks' Book: The Most Important Thing Illuminated

Today we have a special treat for readers as we've been granted permission to publish an excerpt from the book written by Oaktree Capital's Chairman, Howard Marks.

Marks' book, The Most Important Thing Illuminated (or Kindle e-book version here) features a section on combating negative influences, which we've excerpted below:

"People who might be perfectly happy with their lot in isolation become miserable when they see others do better.  In the world of investing, most people find it terribly hard to sit by and watch while others make more money than they do.

Howard Marks: Emotion and ego: A lot of the drive in investing is competitive.  High returns can be unsatisfying if others do better, while low returns are often enough if others do worse.  The tendency to compare results is one of the most invidious.  The emphasis on relative returns over absolute returns shows how psychology can distort the process.

I know of a nonprofit institution whose endowment earned 16 percent a year from June 1994 to June 1999, but since its peers averaged 23 percent, the people involved with the endowment were dejected.

Seth Klarman: Even the best investors judge themselves on the basis of return.  It would be hard to evaluate yourself on risk, since risk cannot be measured.  Apparently, the risk-averse managers of this endowment were disappointed with their relative returns even though their risk-adjusted performance was likely excellent, as borne out by their performance over the following three years.  This highlights just how hard it is to maintain conviction over the long run when short-term performance is considered poor.

Without growth stocks, technology stocks, buyouts and venture capital, the endowment was entirely out of step for half a decade.  But then the tech stocks collapsed, and from June 2000 to June 2003 the institution earned 3 percent a year while most endowments suffered losses.  The stakeholders were thrilled.

There's something wrong with this picture.  How can people be unhappy making 16 percent a year and happy making 3 percent?  The answer lies in the tendency to compare ourselves to others and the deleterious impact this can have on what should be a constructive, analytical process.

Joel Greenblatt: This is incredibly important.  Most institutional and individual investors benchmark their returns, and therefore most end up chasing the crowd: accent on the wrong sylLABle."

Excerpted from, The Most Important Thing Illuminated by Howard Marks.  Copyright (c) 2012 Howard Marks.  Used by arrangement with Columbia University Press.  You can also get the Kindle e-book version here.

His book is definitely a must-read so check it out.  And if you missed it, we also posted up Marks' recent commentary on contrarian signals.

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