Particularly when markets are/have done well like recently, Stock picking (A situation in which an analyst or investor uses a systematic form of analysis to conclude that a particular stock will make a good investment and, therefore, should be added to his or her portfolio) is somewhat discredited these days, because low-cost passive fund managers argue that their tracker model delivers better value to savers by betting on an index, not individual companies.
And there is good argument to back it up
An article in The Wall Street Journal shows that between 1926 and 2015, just 30 different shares accounted for a remarkable one-third of the cumulative wealth generated by the whole market — from a total of 25,782 companies listed during that period. These statistics demonstrate that “superstocks” are what produce the true profits in the long run.
The research also calls into question the cult of equity, which has been followed by professional investors for more than 50 years. The experts argue that shares decisively outperform bonds and cash over time. But Bessembinder’s research shows that the returns from 96% of American shares would have been matched by fixed-interest instruments, which generally offer more security and liquidity, and suffer from lower volatility than stocks.
Spotting a business that can grow 10 or 20-fold over a period of years is a rare art
Of course, getting stock selection right is very difficult indeed when such a tiny proportion of shares contribute so much to total performance. It requires investors who are truly patient and at times extremely brave.
Amazon is one of the heavy hitters that delivered a quarter of all wealth creation in the stock market during the 90 years to 2015. Yet between 1999 and 2001, the online retailer’s shares fell by 95%. Many investors probably gave up then, and having been burnt once, shunned its 650-fold appreciation over the past 16 years.
While empirically that may appear to be correct, intuitively it feels questionable
Economies grow thanks to new technologies and entrepreneurs, who run a fairly small number of outstanding companies funded through private capital. Half the top 20 wealth creators referred to above are in sectors such as pharmaceuticals and computers. Identifying those sorts of promising industries is not too hard. But I do not believe there is a computer program — or robotic system — that can pinpoint the great achievers of the next 10 or 20 years.
Choosing the special businesses and executives that will create enormous value, and probably large numbers of jobs, is as much a creative undertaking as a scientific one.
Rigorous analysis must include a host of variables that artificial intelligence would struggle to understand — adaptability, trust, motivation, ruthlessness and so forth. I suspect all the best investors emphasise the importance of judging management when backing companies; I am not confident that computers can do that better than humans. In mature economies such as the UK, such sustained compound growth happens all too rarely.
To achieve it, a business should enjoy high returns on capital, strong cash generation, plentiful long-term expansion opportunities and a powerful franchise. And you need to buy the company at a sensible valuation. In a world awash with cash, such attractive businesses command very high prices. But if you believe the model can endure, they might be worth it.
Article written by Luke Johnson, who is chairman of Risk Capital Partners and the Institute of Cancer Research.
Sources: Bessembinder’s research and The Wall Street Journal
To read the article in full, click here:
Why a robot will never pick the superstocks of the tomorrow