October 25, 2009


This is a book that has been written by Philip Fischer, the author of the most famous book, "Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits". I did google at Landmark, where I bought the book, to check if it was worthwhile buying. The reviews were not that great compared to his other book. Took it anyways...and agree with the reviews.

His son, Ken Fischer, has written an awesome "foreword" to the book which summarises his views in a very unbiased manner.
Yet, I took a chance but I should say I am only half satisified with the decision.

The first section of the book is brilliant and the last was a complete disaster. Lets start with the positives. The book was written in the 60's, a time where depth of research was not that advanced as what it is today. Hence, some of his insights have still withstood the strengths of time. The frst half of the book is all about that while the second half discusses some traditional industries where he sees attractiveness and the reasons to invest in the same. This was probably more for a research report being read and I had to run through some of these sections. Finally, some chapters are probably less relevant and explains the nature of the investment industry at that time.

This section highlights some of the few important things that I found interesting. They are mostly known to all of us but one needs to appreciate the times at which these were written.

Inflation: " Because under the economic system we have established, the seeds of inflation sprout not in times of prosperity but in timesof depression. About 80% of our federal revenue is derived from corporate and indicidual income taxes. The basic source of federal funds is notoriously sensitive to the level of general business. It shrinks sharply on even moderal downturns in the general economy." Government supports through anti-cyclical measures at a time when reveneus are down sharply.

Inflation and interest rates: To curb expected inflation and the subsequent measures taken by various participants in market (businessmen, consumers and speculators) interest rates are hiked. This act prevents the act of overstocking, which inturn stokes inflation further. He explains this pretty well under two conditions : when capacity utilisation is nearing 100% and when below 100%. How it impacts inflation differently and how it postpones investment decision leading to further problems. His solutions are pretty weak (giving low interest loans to reduce strain) and probably, at best , a distant dream.

Stock price movement: What does cause stocks to rise in value are two things that are rather closely interrelated: 1) One is the increase in the a strock's earning power. 2) The other, and usually the more important, is the consensus of investment opinion as to the future course of that earnings power.

In other words "Why does a stock sell at a certain price at a certain time? It is not because of what it is doing, has done or will do. It is because what the mojority of those investors who are actually or potentially interesed in this stock think it will do".

Selling an overpriced longterm stock:
Any possibility that the really unusual stock may be temporarily overpriced should not be the least inducement towards causing an invesor to sell that type of security. There are just too many changes that 1) the expected price reaction will not occur 2) if it does, the investor will wait for still lower pricesand will not get back until the stock has again climved to even higher levels 3) by the time the reaction does come the stock will have continued to climb so much that at its coming bottom it willbe still be above current prices.

Psychology and economic forecasts: The author makes an interesting comment on investors who rely heavily on economic forecasts to fall in two buckets. Cautious and eternal optimists. Cautious rarely take advantage of opportunities while eternal optimists who can always find a favorable forecast to satisfy themselves always.

"The are of common-stock investment has changed radically over the past fifty years. However, human nature en masse in relation to its attempt to make profits through buying capital assets does not change at all."

Metgers and acquisitions
The author dwelves in depth on mergers highlighting the following important facts on the same.
  • Three main sources of dangers for management and shareholders: 1) Struggle for top management 2) Top management getting involved in new problems previously not encountered reducing their efficiency 3) Buyers is less aware of the problems than the seller
  • Backward integration rarely involves a sizeable risk (cost reduction and efficiency programs) compared to a forward integration as the latter will start competing with its own customers and the loss benefit ratio can be skewed.
  • Small acquisition may not be value destructive but can be extremely value accretive
  • Acquisition of similar lines of companies is more attractive and companies should selectively acquire and not be in the business of acquisition
Management: If a poor management has long been in control, the greatest attrition is usually in the junior executive ranks. Younger men of ability will drift away to places where opportunity for promotion is greater and where new ideas and suggestions for doing things better will be welcomed rather than frowned upon.

Overall, the book has its own strengths and weakness. It is lengthy discussing sectors, impact of government decisions, impact of institutional investors, choosing investment managers, most of which were attempts to address the issues of that time.

I would say it is an excellent book with a few disappointments.

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