Friday File: MORE Insurance Blather, Valuation thoughts, and some buys and sells

Including notes on Berkshire Hathaway, Markel, Fairfax, Axis, Yatra Online and Walt Disney

By Travis Johnson, Stock Gumshoe, September 8, 2017

Weekly escalations in nuclear threats, record-breaking hurricanes… what is it going to take to shake investor sentiment for more than 24 hours? The S&P 500 is ending the week only down about a third of one percent, gold is up less than 2%, this is a market that is reacting to headlines pretty quickly… but recovering almost instantly afterward. What’s an investor to do?

If you trade stocks and think about more than just the blips on the chart, there are a couple things you should read, particularly at times when you’re feeling a little disjointed or nervous — the first is Warren Buffett’s annual letter to Berkshire investors, to give you some long-term perspective and insight into the mind of one of the steadiest and most successful investors in the world (start with the most recent ones, but do go back and read them all… yes, really); the second is the series of memos by Howard Marks, the majordomo of Oaktree who has been publishing widely-followed market memos for almost 30 years. Marks is willing to be opinionated without claiming any certainty that he’s correct, but his long-term success in navigating market cycles with equanimity (and profit) is extraordinary.

Here’s a little snippet from Marks’ latest memo, which is largely a follow-up to one he released a few months ago about the bubble-like characteristics of much of the market (and particularly of bitcoin and the cryptocurrencies):

“When widespread euphoria and optimism cause asset prices to meaningfully exceed intrinsic values and normal valuation metrics, at some point we must take note and increase caution. And yet, invariably, the market will continue to march upward for a while to even greater excesses, making us look wrong. This is an inescapable consequence of trying to know where we stand and take appropriate action. But it’s still worthwhile. Even though no one can ascertain when we’re at the exact top or bottom, a key to successful investing lies in selling — or lightening up — when we’re closer to the top, and buying — or, hopefully, loading up — when we’re closer to the bottom.”

That’s a more thoughtful version of Warren Buffett’s “buy when everyone else is selling” maxim, and it is contrary to most of the “just put all your money in the market because there’s no way you can time it” advice that most investment advisors will reflexively give. That’s ...

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