There’s no substitute for hard work

When it comes to improving at anything, there is just no substitute for good, old fashioned hard work.

I’ve been reminded of this lately as I build out my circles of competence through intensive research.

When I started out investing in 1996, I was still working full-time as a pilot in the Air Force and getting my MBA in night school. My research then was heavily focused on quantitative analysis, and my understanding of the qualitative side of investing was slim to none.

As I gained more experience, I also did a lot more research into the qualitative side of research starting in 1998. At that point, my investing results were about as good as the market’s, which isn’t outstanding, but is quite an accomplishment as a value investor at the end of one of the biggest bull markets in history.

As the dot-com bubble peaked and then exploded from 1999 to 2000, I found myself holding several very under-valued, small brick and mortar companies. Those companies’ out-performance was just incredible over the following years.

That was around the time I got out of the Air Force in late 2001 and started as an investing professional.  At that point, I had a lot more time to do qualitative research, but my quantitative method was still working so well that I wasn’t quite doing the best research I could. Because the quantitative method looked so easy at the time, I didn’t see any good reason to dramatically change.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

I found myself beating the market by over 8% annualized from 1995-2002 (71% more, cumulatively, than market returns) and 1995-2003 (85% more, cumulatively, than market returns). It was like shooting fish in a barrel. Because I was having a harder time finding my quantitative darlings in 2004, I was sitting in a lot of cash, but my returns were still beating the market by over 6.5% annualized over 9 years (76% more, cumulatively, than market returns).

What I didn’t realize at the time was that value investing was having it’s best run ever from 2000-2005. The quantitative method that had served me so well was about to sunset.

That was when I started my own value investing shop. Bad timing.

I knew the quantitative side wasn’t working like it had, but I didn’t fully grasp why. As time went by, I worked harder and harder to master the qualitative side of investing, but I wasn’t quite getting there because I was trying to do it without really working with as much focus as I needed to.

After beating the market by a small margin from 2005 to 2008, I started to realize I needed a more fundamental make-over of my investment research. Instead of quantitative screens, I needed to figure out which companies I wanted to own, qualitatively, and then figure out what they were worth.

I have been on that path ever since, and I’ve been working longer and longer hours at it. Getting to know one company, and all its competitors, all the other companies in the industry, and the company’s suppliers and buyers, the substitute products that may kill the business, and so on takes many hours of reading, re-reading, learning, researching, analyzing, etc.

When it comes time to improve, nothing really beats hard work. Hard work isn’t fun, per se, but it does produce great value. I’m ashamed to say that it took me so long to find and pursue this path, but now that I’m on it, I’m not sure why I thought any other method would work.  

Nothing in this blog should be considered investment, financial, tax, or legal advice. The opinions, estimates and projections contained herein are subject to change without notice. Information throughout this blog has been obtained from sources believed to be accurate and reliable, but such accuracy cannot be guaranteed.

There’s no substitute for hard work