Walter Schloss was one of the most successful investors of all time, but outside a small portion of the value investing community, no one knows the name. Mr. Schloss studied under Benjamin Graham at Columbia University and eventually went to work for Graham at the Graham Newman Partnership.
In 1955, Schloss struck out on his own and compiled one of the best track records in the history of investing. Over a 50-year span, he earned gross returns averaging 20% annually. His method emphasized buying cheap stocks with solid financials and holding them until they were considered overvalued. Mr. Schloss emphasized price-to-book value as the best measure of a corporation's value and preferred buying stocks that traded below book value.
In 1994, Walter Schloss sat down and outlined his thoughts on making money in markets to serve as a guide to newer investors or those without in-depth knowledge of the value investing process. The result was one typed page listing the 16 factors needed to make money in the stock market. (For related insight, read more about how to get a job on Wall Street.)
The 16 Factors for Investing Success
The 16 factors for investing success as stated by Walter Schloss:
- Price is the most important factor to use in relation to value.
- Try to establish the value of the company. Remember that a share of stock represents a part of a business and is not just a piece of paper.
- Use book value as a starting point to try and establish the value of the enterprise. Be sure that debt does not equal 100% of the equity.
- Have patience. Stocks don't go up immediately.
- Don't buy on tips or for a quick move. Let the professionals do that if they can. Don't sell on bad news.
- Don't be afraid to be a loner but be sure that you are correct in your judgment. You can't be 100% certain but try to look for weaknesses in your thinking. Buy on a scale and sell on a scale up.
- Have the courage of your convictions once you have made a decision.
- Have a philosophy of investment and try to follow it.
- Don't be in too much of a hurry to sell. If the stock reaches a price that you think is a fair one, then you can sell but often because a stock goes up, say 50%, people say sell it and button up your profit. Before selling try to reevaluate the company again and see where the stock sells in relation to its book value. Be aware of the level of the stock market. Are yields low and P/E ratios high?
- When buying a stock, I find it helpful to buy near the low of the past few years. A stock may go as high as 125 and then decline to 60 and you think it's attractive. Three years before the stock sold at 20 which shows that there is some vulnerability in it.
- Try to buy assets at a discount rather than buying earnings. Earnings can change dramatically in a short time. Usually, assets change slowly. One has to know much more about a company if one buys earnings.
- Listen to suggestions from people you respect. This doesn't mean you have to accept them. Remember, it's your money and generally, it is harder to keep money than to make it. Once you lose a lot of money it is hard to make it back.
- Try not to let your emotions affect your judgment. Fear and greed are probably the worst emotions to have in connection with the purchase and sale of stocks.
- Remember the word compounding. For example, if you can make 12% a year and reinvest the money back, you will double your money in six years, taxes excluded. Remember the rule of 72. Your rate of return into 72 will tell you the number of years to double your money.
- Prefer stocks over bonds. Bonds will limit your gains and inflation will reduce your purchasing power.
- Be careful of leverage. It can go against you. (For related insight, read more about the value in value investing.)
Simple Rules for Outstanding Success
These rules may be simplistic, but they helped build one of the greatest track records in the history of the stock market. Walter Schloss had a one-room office that was actually located inside the offices of Tweedy Brown, a much larger value investing firm. He never used a computer relying instead on the Standard and Poor's Stocks guide and Value Line to find his stock ideas. He didn’t rely on complicated algorithms or formulas. He didn’t talk to corporate management as he trusted the numbers far more than people when evaluating a company for purchase. (You can also learn more about value investing by reading about famous value investors.)
The Bottom Line
The Walter Schloss approach to value investing was developed while first studying under and then working for Benjamin Graham. It worked for more than 50 years and the careful application of his principles should enable investors to earn stock markets profits even in today's more complicated financial markets.