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How did Benjamin Graham and Phil Fisher influence Warren Buffett investment style

Well, good things would have happened with following either party. Graham obviously had more influence on me than Phil. I worked for Ben, I went to school under him, and his three basic ideas: look at stocks as businesses; have a proper attitude toward the market; and operate with a margin of safety–they all come straight from Graham. Phil Fisher opened my eyes a little more toward trying to find a wonderful business. Charlie did more of that than Phil did, but Phil was espousing that entirely, and I read his books in the early 60s. Phil’s still alive, and I owe Phil a lot, but Ben was one of a kind.

Charles Munger: Ben Graham was a truly formidable mind, and he also had a clarity in writing, and we talk over and over again about the power of a few simple ideas thoroughly assimilated, and that happened with Graham’s ideas which came to me indirectly through Warren, but some also directly from Graham. The interesting thing for me is that Buffett the former protégé–by the way Buffett was the best student Graham had in 30 years of teaching at Columbia–became better than Graham. That’s the natural outcome–as Milton said, “If I’ve seen a little farther than other men, it’s by standing on the shoulders of giants.” So, Warren stood on Ben’s shoulders, but he ended up seeing more than Ben. No doubt somebody will come along and do a lot better than we have.

I enjoyed making money more than Ben. With Ben it really was incidental, at least by the time I knew him. The process, the whole game, didn’t interest him more than a dozen other things may have interested him. With me, I just find it interesting, and therefore I’ve spent a much higher percentage of my timing thinking about investing, and thinking about businesses. I probably know way more about businesses than Ben ever did. He had other things that interested him. I pursued the game quite a bit differently than he did, and therefore comparing the record is not proper.

You don’t need another Ben Graham. You don’t need another Moses. There were only Ten Commandments; we’re still waiting for the eleventh. His investing philosophy is still alive and well. There are disciples of him around, but all we are doing is parroting. I did read Phil Fisher later on, which showed the more qualitative aspects of businesses. Common stocks are part of a business. Markets are there to serve you, not to instruct you. You can often find a couple of companies that are out of line. Find one; get rich. Most people think that what the stock does from day to day contains information, but it doesn’t. It isn’t just something that wiggles around.

The stock market is the best game in the world. You can take advantage of people who have no morals. High prices inside of a year will typically be 100% of the low price. Businesses don’t change in value that much. That is simply crazy. There are extreme degrees of fluctuation, and Mr. Market will call out the prices. Wait until he is nutty in one direction or the other. Put in a margin of safety. Don’t find a bridge that says no more than 10,000 pounds when you have a 9800 pound vehicle. It isn’t a function of IQ, but receptivity of the mind.

When investing you don’t have to invest in all 10,000 companies available, you just have to find the one that is out of line. Mr. Market is your servant. Mr. Market is your partner and wants to sell the business to you everyday. Some days he is very optimistic and wants a high price, others he is pessimistic and will sell at a low price. You have to use this to your advantage. The market is the greatest game in the world.

There is nothing else that can, at times, get this far out of line with reality. For example, land usually only fluctuates within a 15% band. Negotiated transactions are less volatile. Some get this; others don’t. Just keep your wits about you and you can make a lot of money in the market.

Source: Student Visit
Time: May 6, 2005

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