Buying great companies at a fair price

Yesterday I watched an interview with Warren Buffett. It was actually from February this year, but I hadn’t that much time to focus on such a long single video then. The interview went on for over 2 hours. Now, with working from home and my hotel closed, this was an opportunity to seize.

Warren Buffett is a fascinating individual. Humble, simple, outspoken but more than often speaking in riddles. I watched several of his interviews and speeches in the past and what strikes me every single time is that he constantly keeps repeating the same 2 core messages.

His first recommendation for the average investor is to simply purchase an index fund. Not spending too much time with picking individual stocks. Not pretending to be smarter than the market by spending hours and hours analyzing shares with some sophisticated metrics. Especially when this time can be better spent doing something else.

For those who prefer to purchase individual shares, however, he does have a second piece of advice. And he keeps repeating this one over and over for many years.

Buy a great company at a fair price

As people who don’t understand the stock market like to refer to it as just another form of gambling, the fact of the matter is that when we purchase shares, we are actually becoming co-owners of that particular business. We are taking a stake in that particular venture, for the good and for the bad side of it. Warren Buffett puts, therefore, the investment thesis down to a simple formula: Do you believe that the business you want to buy will exist and do better in 10, 20, or 50 years from now?

If the answer is yes, then you should invest in it. Of course, you should still do your due diligence, research some more details about the management, structure, and check on the valuation, but these are not the key factors. The first thing to clarify is whether the company has a solid business model, whether it offers solutions to problems people have and will remain to have, and if it’s smart enough to do it in a sustainable and profitable way.

Obviously, this is not the “get rich fast” approach. And as he once famously stated, his advice is being constantly disregarded or misinterpreted because “nobody wants to get rich slowly“. Nevertheless, this approach is what real investing is all about and how he became one of the richest people on the planet.

There are always great companies at a fair price – but especially so during a recession

Every crisis offers opportunities for smart investors. With markets in panic mode, stock prices of even the best companies are often being dragged down together with the rest of the market. The now expected recession and downturn will be no different. It might be therefore a good idea to put some cash aside, and to closely observe companies that you believe have a bright future ahead. It might be your opportunity, to purchase a great company at a fair price.

About emergency funds

This post is probably 12 months late. As we are in the middle of a global pandemic, people are losing jobs, lives. But even more are coming to realize that they miss something truly important: An emergency fund.

I got to admit, I am also not a great role-model here. Over the last 5 years, every penny I got was being invested right away. Therefore I have not built up a proper emergency fund. This is changing now.

How much is enough?

I read several surveys from Germany and the US last year. While I don’t remember exactly the numbers, they were overall pretty similar in their final assessment. A majority of citizens (of each of the countries) are not prepared to handle even smaller unexpected (emergency) expenses out of the pocket. How small? We are talking about 300 Euros or 350 USD.

I was honestly shocked by reading about it, because 300 Euros is very little, especially when we are talking about the US or Germany. For most people, it wouldn’t be enough to cover monthly rent, groceries, let alone a potential hospital bill or car repairs.

So obviously 300 Euros is not enough and wouldn’t qualify as an emergency fund. An emergency fund is meant to offer us protection in times of real need. When something happens that threatens our 3 basic needs (shelter, food, health), possibly over a prolonged period of time.

It needs to be therefore large enough to cover our regular monthly expenses for a specific timeframe. Most financial advisors recommend 3 to 6 months.

Therefore, to determine the size of your emergency fund all you need to know is about your monthly expenses and multiply this amount with a minimum of 3 months. If you are a cautious type or consider yourself for whatever reason to be more at risk, you might want to multiply it with 6 or even 12 months.

How to get there

Of course, you are not supposed to put this money aside right away. If your monthly expenses are around 1.500 Euros, it would mean that your emergency fund should be at a minimum of 4.500 Euros to cover expenses for 3 months. If people can’t get 300 Euros out of the pocket, how can they save up 4.500 Euros?

The solution to this is of course time, consistency, cautious choices, and the occasional sacrifice.

If you are saving monthly for a certain financial goal, a part of that monthly savings needs to be redirected towards your emergency fund. When you get a salary raise or a bonus payment, you might want to skip the celebrations and put the money into your emergency fund. If you are a coffee addict, how about skipping two cups of those soft lattes each week and putting 10 dollars each week in your emergency fund instead.

This step by step approach might take time, but unless you have an emergency every few months, you should be able to get to your goal within a reasonable timeframe.

The last option is to take on a side-gig. Sacrificing a little more time for a few months or a year might prove the right choice down the road. Having an emergency fund in place will protect you not only by covering any expenses that might unexpectedly pop-up. It will also protect your investments and other financial assets. Because you won’t get under pressure to sell them when money becomes an issue.

Keeping it liquid

An emergency fund needs to be liquid, which means that it must be easily accessible and not tied up to anything. Usually, you will, therefore, keep it in cash, on a simple savings account, or as a fixed deposit which can be easily withdrawn.

I have decided to split it. I keep one month of expenses in cash, and over the next 6 months I will set up a fixed deposit account with enough money in it to cover another 3 months of expenses.

No matter which way you chose, but having some money on the side for the next pandemic, the next wave of cost cuts in your industry (meaning when you get furloughed), or the next car accident, is surely worth the effort.

Who gets all the money?

As I mentioned in my last post, investing makes a lot of sense for people who want to retire earlier, safer, and with a higher degree of protection than one would have with a regular job. This is applicable to basically everyone.

I explained this with the distribution of all the freshly printed cash that is being pushed into our economy. This is especially true in times of a crisis as we are currently experiencing. The difference in the amounts of cash that ends up in the hands of ordinary people, and in comparison with how much of that money goes to companies, is astounding.

But don’t rely on my word for it. The ones who know about this best are obviously the ones who get all the money, and I recently stumbled upon an article in my Flipboard account about that topic that explains it further very well.

You can find the entire article HERE, but let me take out and quote the most important paragraph of the read:

“All the signs are that coronavirus will increase inequality even further. The government is accumulating debt to subsidise the wages of the employed and self-employed unable to work because of the lockdown. Businesses are taking out loans to keep afloat. This debt is being used to pay bills and rent to those who own assets.

The money goes to those who own assets

Now, The Guardian is not my favorite paper but every now and then there is a good article. This article also has some weak points that might be debatable, but in the essence, this paragraph as highlighted above explains it really very neatly. I underscored the key points above.

Governments are printing money, issuing bonds. Interest rates are being pushed down to make loans cheaper thus more attractive. And all this money, trillions of dollars and euros, is ultimately being pushed to and ends up with those who own assets.

It’s your choice to make

I know, it’s easy to get offended by this system. It’s easy to blame it for all the problems in the world. But as I learned early on in my career, complaining solves nothing. You need solutions. Just complaining for the sake of it doesn’t help anyone. You need to have a solution, some viable alternative. And the fact of the matter is that currently there are no alternatives to the system we live in that would assure us to end up on a better path.

Politics aside, everyone has a choice here. You can be outraged, you can complain, and you can think about alternatives, go into politics, and plan for a better future. Or do nothing.

But in the meantime, it might be smart to own some assets.

About multiple income streams

People all around the globe face unprecedented challenges. Well, at least it’s unprecedented for my generation (Gen X), and certainly for Millenials and anyone younger than them. Millions are losing jobs, are forced into quarantine. Many are in dire need of some kind of assistance, whether it’s cash, food, or both.

Here in Thailand, we just passed through the first month of the lockdown. When I drive through the streets of Bangkok or Pattaya where I am currently working, I see people lining up (with social distancing) for food support from the government and from some private institutions.

The Thai government is issuing cash support of THB 5.000 per month to those who need it most. It’s not much, but it’s enough to survive on a very low bar. Together with the support from private institutions, NGOs, and hundreds of those who are more fortunate and who are volunteering to support, I have no doubt that the country will get through the event.

I am also always astonished by the amount of support among Thais in times of crisis. My wife is getting postal packages from friends and family with food, face masks, and snacks. We pass on the favor by sending things to others who need it more than us. I am fortunate enough to still have my job and my monthly salary intact, albeit slightly reduced.

About income and unexpected situations

But not everyone is lucky. Similar to other places around the globe, unemployment in Thailand is on the rise on a massive scale. This is dire in a country with very limited governmental social protection in place, and where most people live paycheck to paycheck.

Which brings me to the main point: Unemployment means for many people to lose their only source of income. And we can see right now more clear than ever, how many people’s lives really depend on their job. Being without work and without an opportunity to find new employment within a short time has now turned into an existential threat for millions of people.

Also, only very few of them could have even imagined such a situation two or three months ago. Yes, some might have an emergency fund and savings to ride out bad times. But would they have expected that they can lose their job, their income, and their benefits within such a short period of time? Hardly.

Building up multiple income streams

This is where the lessons of FIRE become such a powerful reminder, because having multiple, passive income streams is what FIRE is all about! The whole point of becoming financially independent means not being dependent on your job.

Building up passive income streams is best done by investments. Sure, the stock market is crashing and we are sliding into a recession. But out of the 33 companies in my income portfolio, so far only one of them has canceled the dividend, and only two announced to reduce it for this year.

Thanks to this, I am never worried about losing my job. Sure, my monthly dividends can’t compare with my salary, but that’s not the point. The important part for me is that I won’t need to rely on government support and on charities. I will be able to fulfill my main responsibility of providing shelter, medical protection, and food to me and my family on my own.

Personally, this is a very important factor to me, as this defines my perception of freedom and independence.

Who gets the money

And just to add another layer of understanding of why investing is a safer bet than your job, let me explain here one thing. While our savings and jobs are being destroyed, a crisis like this also generates unimaginable amounts of money. While stock valuations may be nosediving right now, governments all across the globe are printing cash like there is no tomorrow.

And where does this cash go to?

In the US, every US national is receiving a one time check of USD 1.200. There are 328,8 Million people in the US, so this sums up to roughly 395 Billion USD. Yes, it’s a lot of money.

But you know who gets more? Companies. Especially the big ones. They get bailed out when they get in trouble, they receive grants, and the FED is reducing interest rates so they can borrow money almost for free. This may sound very negative, but I don’t mean it that way. That’s just how it works for plenty and a variety of reasons.

The important thing is that you have a choice to make. Do you stick to your job and when you lose it, wait for your one-time check of USD 1.200? Or do you invest, and build up multiple and passive sources of income?

Having the knowledge that governments across the globe will put significantly more effort into protecting your investments and your sources of passive income (in comparison with taking care of you directly), this shouldn’t be a complicated choice to make.