Terry Smith: In Investing You Can’t Have Your Cake And Eat It Too

Johnny HopkinsTerry SmithLeave a Comment

In his latest 2021 Annual Letter, Terry Smith explains why in investing you can’t have you cake and eat it too. Here’s an excerpt from the letter:

Whilst a period of underperformance against the MSCI World Index is never welcome it is nonetheless inevitable. No investment strategy will outperform in every reporting period and every type of market condition. So, as much as we may not like it, we can expect some periods of underperformance.

This is particularly so when we have a period like 2020–21 which was obviously heavily influenced by the pandemic. Our Fund outperformed the market by 6% in 2020 when the economic effects of the pandemic were at their height and most of the businesses we are invested in proved to be highly resilient. However, last year was more of a year of recovery and our companies had relatively little to recover from.

We find it difficult to outperform in particularly bullish periods where the market has a strong rise — 22.9% in 2021 — as a rising tide floats all ships, including some which might otherwise have remained stranded and that we would not wish to own.

In investment, as in life, you cannot have your cake and eat it, so it is difficult if not impossible to find companies which are resilient in a downturn but which also benefit fully from the subsequent recovery.

Of course, you could try to trade out of the former and into the latter at an appropriate time but it is not what we seek to do as the vast majority of the returns which our Fund generates come from the ability of the companies we own to invest their retained earnings at a high rate of return because they own businesses with good returns and growth opportunities. In our view it would be a mistake to sell some of these good businesses in order to invest temporarily in companies which are much worse but which have greater recovery potential.

You can find the entire letter here:

Fundsmith Annual Letter 2021

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