Thursday, June 28, 2007

Visiting Greenwald

There are those who make the pilgrimage to Omaha once a year to soak in the wisdom of Warren and Charlie. Then there are those who make the yearly pilgrimage to Columbia University’s Business School for the Value Investing Seminar taught by Bruce Greenwald. I registered for the course a year ago and finally got to attend the seminar last week. It was well worth the wait.

There were 85 students from all over the world and Greenwald did not disappoint. I have written about Greenwald before when I reviewed his book. It turns out he is working on a revised edition due out some time next year. The new version will delve deeper into valuing growth as a value investor. It will no doubt be a must read.

Greenwald overloaded us with information over the course of two days and not all of it has sunk in yet. The valuation cases on Liz Claiborne (NYSE: LIZ), Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL), Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN), American Express (NYSE: AXP) and Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT) were outstanding. Plus, it was great to be in the company of other hard core individual and professional investors who are just as passionate about investing as you are.

Greenwald’s valuation methodology is powerful. It combines the search for unglamorous stocks with a valuation methodology based on asset values and current earnings while being patient and disciplined. The seminar underscored the fact that there is no easy way out of thorough analysis and a complete understanding of what you are investing in. Once you have calculated an intrinsic value and determined that a company has a moat, the heavy lifting begins. Are your valuation assumptions sound? Is that moat defensible? Does the company have a sustainable competitive advantage? How much should you pay for growth?

An important concept is that if nothing is popping up as an opportunity, you better have a default strategy. Cash is fine but probably not optimal. At least buy the index against which you are being measured until you find investments worth pursuing.

By the way, in case you are wondering, he doesn’t recommend Amazon at current prices. AmEx on the other hand is a buy.

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