No two recoveries are alike. When I came to Wall Street in 1928, I thought the market was crazy. It hit the brakes in ’29. You have to be careful to distinguish between one recovery and the other. You stick to value, to Benjamin Graham, the man who wrote the bible for the market. It’s a mistake to believe you can do more, I warn you. John Maynard Keynes was one of the most famous economists in history. He was a genius, but he failed as a macro investor. It was hard to believe at the time. But when he became a bottom-up value guy, well, he became very successful. With value investing, you don’t have to bend the truth to accommodate periods with derivatives and manias. Value investing will almost always be right.
I’ve seen a lot of recoveries. I saw crash, recovery, World War II. A lot of economic decline and recovery. What’s different about this time is the huge amount of quote-unquote information. So many people watch financial TV—at bars, in the barber shop. This superfluity of information, all this static in the air.
There’s a huge number of people trading for themselves. You couldn’t do this before 1975, when commissions were fixed by law. It’s a hyperactivity that I never saw in the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s. A commission used to cost you a hell of a lot; you couldn’t buy and sell the same thing 16 times a day.
You say you feel a recovery? Your feelings don’t count. The economy, the market: They don’t care about your feelings. Leave your feelings out of it. Buy the out-of-favor, the unpopular. Nobody can predict the market. Take that premise to heart and look to invest in dollar bills selling for 50¢. If you’re going to do your own research and investing, think value. Think downside risk. Think total return, with dividends tiding you over. We’re in a period of extraordinarily low rates—be careful with fixed income. Stay away from options. Look for securities to hold for three to five years with downside protection. You hope you’re in a recovery, but you don’t know for certain. The recovery could stall. Protect yourself. — As told to Roben Farzad