Howard Marks: Munger Wisdom – “It’s Not Supposed To Be Easy. Anyone Who Finds It Easy Is Stupid.”

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Howard Marks recently released his latest memo titled – Time For Thinking – in which he discussed:

  • The Current Health Crisis
  • Failure To Fix It
  • Not A Cycle
  • What Shape Are We In
  • The Markets And The Fed
  • The Bull Case

He also provided investors with some closing thoughts on how to think about today’s extreme valuations and the current market darlings:

  • On one hand, we have the surprisingly rapid recovery of the stock and credit markets to roughly their all-time highs, despite the fact that the spread of Covid-19 hasn’t been halted, and that it will take a good number of months for the economy to merely return to its 2019 level (and even longer for it to give rise to the earnings that were anticipated at the time those market highs were first reached). Thus p/e ratios are unusually high today and debt yields are at unprecedented lows. Extreme valuations like these are usually justified with protests that “this time it’s different,” four words that tend to get investors into trouble.
  • On the other hand, John Templeton allowed that when people say things are different, 20% of the time they’re right. And in a memo on this subject in June of last year, I wrote, “in areas like technology and digital business models, I’d bet things will be different more than the 20% of the time Templeton cited.” It certainly can be argued that the tech champions of today are smarter and stronger and enjoy bigger leads than the big companies of the past, and that they have created virtuous circles for themselves that will bring rapid growth for decades, justifying valuations well above past norms. Today’s ultra-low interest rates further justify unusually high valuations, and they’re unlikely to rise anytime soon.
  • But on the third hand, even the best companies’ stocks can become overpriced, and in fact they’re often the stocks most likely to do so. When I first entered the business in 1968, the companies of the Nifty Fifty – deploying modern wonders like computing (IBM) and dry copying (Xerox) – were likewise expected to outgrow the rest and prove impervious to competition and economic cycles, and thus were awarded unprecedented multiples. In the next five years, their stockholders lost almost all their

For these reasons and more, I find today’s stock and credit markets opaque . . . as usual.

We reach our conclusions, limited by the inadequacy of our foresight and influenced by our optimistic or pessimistic biases. And we learn from experience how hard it is to get the answer right. That leads me to end with a great bit of wisdom from Charlie Munger concerning the process of unlocking the mysteries of the markets: “It’s not supposed to be easy. Anyone who finds it easy is stupid.”

You can find a copy of the memo here:

Howard Marks Memo: Time For Thinking

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