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Sunday, March 30th, 2014

The Law of Scale (the benefits are “Ungodly Important”)

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In his epic commencement speech to the USC law school grads in 1994, Charlie Munger mentions “scale” 24 times.

The advantages of scale are “ungodly important”, he points out.

Benefits of Scale = Lower Costs, Higher Prices & Bets on New Markets

Benefits of scale include  reducing costs, raising prices and testing new markets.

In a beer business, for example, Anheuser-Busch operates at such a higher volume than Anchor Steam beer (based in San Francisco), that

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Friday, April 1st, 2011

Are Cubbie Fans The Reason The Cubs Have Sucked For 100+ Years?

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The Chicago Cubs have not won a championship since 1908 – that’s the longest drought in North American sports…not just baseball…any major sport.

So, why have the Cubs sucked for so long?

This article is an excerpt from a terrific new book called Scorecasting that dug into a theory of the Cubs Curse.

The theory is that the Cubs don’t have as much incentive to win…and it’s due in large part to their fans.

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Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

What You Ought To Know About Buffett & Munger’s Four Filters Invention

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You guys know I love Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett… I consider them American hereos.

I read an interesting book called The Four Filters Invention of Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger (by Bud Labitan) the other day — if you like business, investing or Buffett or Munger, you should buy this book.

I thought I’d briefly summarize their “Four Filters” below — I paraphrase Bud Labitan’s book at times and add in a dose of quotes I’ve collected (see my past postings on Charlie Munger Quotes or Warren Buffett Quotes) as well as some quotes and insights from other folks.

The Four Filters Invention

1) Understandable First-Class Businesses

  • Use The “Scuttlebutt Approach” — Go out and talk to a company’s customers, suppliers and competitors to find out how the industry really works (Philip Fisher wrote about this in Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits (thanks for correcting me, Santosh!)
  • Treat Any Investment As If You Owned Only That The Rest of Your Life
  • “To understand a business, figure out what results it is achieving, why it is getting those results, and what could happen to change what is causing those results.” — Charlie Munger
  • Keep it Simple — Charlie Munger is fond of saying: “We just throw some decisions into the ‘too hard’ file and go onto the others.”
  • Read as much as you can about businesses — Buffett and Munger recommend reading annual reports and The New York Times Century of Business by Floyd Norris and Christine Bockelmann)
  • “In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time — none, zero.” — Charlie Munger

Circle of Competence

Buffet advises investors to focus on their “circle of competence” (that which they know the most about).

“Draw a circle around the businesses you understand and then eliminate those that fail to qualify on the basis of value, good management and limited exposure to hard times.” — Warren Buffett

2) Enduring Competitive Advantages (Favorable long-term economics) (aka “A Protective Moat Around Their Economic Castles”)

Michael Porter suggests that there are two major types of competitive advantages:

1. A Cost Advantage

2. A Differentiation Advantage

“Something Special in People’s Minds”

Buffett and Munger have simplified this to “something special in people’s minds.”

“American Express has financial integrity; there’s worldwide acceptance of its name. It holds two-thirds of the market while charging more for its product…you have something special in people’s minds.” — Buffett at Berkshire’s 2000 Annual Meeting

“A Moat Around Their Economic Castles.”

“We look for moats around the castle. We think in terms of moats and the impossibility of crossing it — we want it widened every year. If it’s too narrow, we leave it alone.” Buffett at Berkshire’s 2000 Annual Meeting

The strong consumer brands of CocaCola and Gilette (later bought by Proctor and Gamble) were examples that Buffett gave in his 1993 Letter to Shareholders: “The might of their brand names, the attributes of their products and the strength of their distribution systems give them an enormous competitive advantage…”

Here’s another classic Buffett quote on the topic: “I look for businesses in which I think I can predict what they’re going to look like in ten to fifteen years time. Take Wrigley’s chewing gum. I don’t the think the Internet is going to change how people chew gum.”

3) First-Class Management

  • Only Work With Good People — “You can’t make a good deal with a bad person” — The Tao of Warren Buffett
  • They Should Be Able & Trustworthy — “Ability will get you to the top, but takes character to keep you there.” — Abraham Lincoln
  • Good Question To Answer: Does Management Have “Skin in the Game — A CEO should have at least one year’s salary worth of his own money in stock in the company they are running, according to Pick Stocks Like Warren Buffett by J.K.Lasser.
  • Management Should Have Their Own “Checklist” — “No wise pilot, no matter how great his talent and experience, fails to use his checklist.” — Munger

4) A Bargain Price

“We look for a horse with a one in two chance of winning and which pays you three to one. You’re looking for a mispriced gamble. That’s what investing is. And you have to know enough to know whether the gamble is mispriced. That’s value investing. Charlie Munger from Poor Charlie’s Almanack.

Margin of Safety — Benjamin Graham called this “margin of safety” — that is, the difference between the intrinsic value of a business versus what the asking price is.

How do you calculate intrinsic value?

Well, I recommend digging into Ben Graham’s Intelligent Investor book for the real details…but if you want a neat little formula than check out this Warren Buffett Intrinsic Value Calculator.

Patience For A Sensible Price Tag — Munger & Buffett refer to waiting for the “fat pitch.” Be very patient, but be very aggressive when it’s time.

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