An investor must prepare both financially and psychologically for the fluctuations certain to occur in the market.
There are two ways an investor tries to profit from fluctuations:
1. Timing: Buy when you think the price will go up, and then sell once it goes up.
2. Pricing: Buy when the price is below fair value and sell once it reaches or exceeds fair value.
Consistent market timing is exceptionally difficult, as is evident by the countless market predictions and forecasts by industry professionals that differ from actual events by a wide margin. The variety of these predictions is great enough that an investor can make any move he chooses and find a prediction that supports this move.
Graham goes so far as to say it is absurd to think that the general public can ever make money out of market forecasting. There is no basis in logic or history to believe otherwise.
With regard to the pricing approach, Graham says that this is also extremely difficult to properly execute. Cycles often last for 5 years or more which causes people to lose their nerve and act irrationally. For example, in a prolonged bull market, people may fear being left behind, so they buy at the slightest indication of a bear market, feel vindicated as the prices escalate further, and then lose when the real bear market returns.
Also, any signals identified by experts to help determine whether this is a bear or bull market have been shown to be inconsistent in successfully identifying the position in the market cycle.
Conclusion: If you are banking on market fluctuations, you will not consistently perform well. Market fluctuations are not sound portfolio policy!
The intelligent investor uses a formulaic approach to determine whether stock prices have risen too high and he should sell, or prices have dropped significantly, and he should buy. Or, in other words, if he should alter the allocation of stocks to bonds in his portfolio (as per the tactical asset allocation policy that Graham discusses in previous chapters). The ideal approach is the rebalancing approach discussed in previous chapters (varying from 50-50 allocation to up to 75-25, and reviewing at set intervals throughout the year).
Business Valuation and Stock-Market Valuation
The stock market is paradoxical in that the highest grade stocks are often the most speculative because they gain great premiums over book value and are based more on the changing moods of the market and its confidence in the premium valuation it had put on the company in the first place. Thus, for conservative investors, they would be best to focus on companies with relatively low premiums placed upon them - a market rate no more than 1/3 above the net tangible-asset value.
However, a stock does not become sound because it can be bought close to asset value. The intelligent investor must also demand a satisfactory price-earnings ratio, sufficiently strong financial position, and the prospect of earnings being maintained over the years.
Intelligent Investors with portfolios close to the net tangible asset valuation of the underlying companies need worry less about stock market fluctuations than those who paid high multiples of earnings and assets. The intelligent investor should disregard the market price and not allow the mistakes that the market will make in its valuation to affect his feelings about the business. Do not let the market’s madness fool you into selling your shares at a loss - such a move requires reasoned judgment independent of the market price.
It is in this chapter that Graham creates the oft-cited Parable of Mr. Market. Essentially, you are a private business owner. You own a share that you purchased for $1,000. Your partner is Mr. Market. Every day, Mr. Market quotes you a price for your interest and also offers to sell you his interest for the same price. Sometimes the quote is rationally connected with the business. On other days, it is clear that Mr. Market’s enthusiasm or fear has gotten to him, and the value he has placed is irrational. Graham says the Intelligent Investor would only let Mr. Market’s daily quote affect him if the Intelligent Investor agrees with the price (due to his own analysis of the value of the company), or he wants to buy from or sell to Mr. Market. Unless you want to transact with Mr. Market, you would be wiser to make your own analysis of the value of the company. If you want to transact, then you must compare Mr. Market’s value to the value you reached independently. This parable reflects the way a stock market investor should treat his relationship with the stock market.