WSJ: Fireside Chat with Carlie Munger

  • Peter Lynch

I had to share this fantastic Q&A with Charlie Munger from The Wall Street Journal. I included a few of my favorite answers below, but I would suggest just following this LINK for the full article.

On Benjamin Graham, the great investor who was Warren Buffett’s revered mentor:

I don’t love Ben Graham and his ideas the way Warren does. You have to understand, to Warren — who discovered him at such a young age and then went to work for him — Ben Graham’s insights changed his whole life, and he spent much of his early years worshiping the master at close range.  But I have to say, Ben Graham had a lot to learn as an investor.  His ideas of how to value companies were all shaped by how the Great Crash and the Depression almost destroyed him, and he was always a little afraid of what the market can do. It left him with an aftermath of fear for the rest of his life, and all his methods were designed to keep that at bay.

I think Ben Graham wasn’t nearly as good an investor as Warren Buffett is or even as good as I am.  Buying those cheap, cigar-butt stocks [companies with limited potential growth selling at a fraction of what they would be worth in a takeover or liquidation] was a snare and a delusion, and it would never work with the kinds of sums of money we have. You can’t do it with billions of dollars or even many millions of dollars.  But he was a very good writer and a very good teacher and a brilliant man, one of the only intellectuals – probably the only intellectual — in the investing business at the time.

On how he sank tens of millions of dollars into bank stocks in March 2009:

We just put the money in. It didn’t take any novel thought. It was a once-in-40-year opportunity. You have to strike the right balance between competency or knowledge on the one hand and gumption on the other. Too much competency and no gumption is no good. And if you don’t know your circle of competence, then too much gumption will get you killed. But the more you know the limits to your knowledge, the more valuable gumption is. For most professional money managers, if you’ve got four children to put through college and you’re earning $400,000 or $1 million or whatever, the last thing in the world you would want to be worried about is having gumption. You care about survival, and the way you survive is just not doing anything that might make you stand out.

On the absurdity of much of the money-management industry:

Back in 2000, venture-capital funds raised $100 billion and put it into Internet startups — $100 billion! They would have been better off taking at least $50 billion of it, putting it into bushel baskets and lighting it on fire with an acetylene torch. That’s the kind of madness you get with fee-driven investment management. Everyone wants to be an investment manager, raise the maximum amount of money, trade like mad with one another, and then just scrape the fees off the top. I know one guy, he’s extremely smart and a very capable investor. I asked him, ‘What returns do you tell your institutional clients you will earn for them?’ He said, ‘20%.’ I couldn’t believe it, because he knows that’s impossible. But he said, ‘Charlie, if I gave them a lower number, they wouldn’t give me any money to invest!’ The investment-management business is insane.