Walter Schloss: Superinvestor

I came across this interview with Walter Schloss and it was packed with interesting quotes and insights.

Walter Schloss started his career on Wall Street in 1934 as a runner at the age of 18. He read Graham and Dodd’s Security Analysis and later went to work for Graham in his partnership. When Graham closed his partnership, Schloss went on to manage money himself. He managed money from 1956 through 2003 and delivered a 15.3% rate of return.

Here is what “Adam Smith” had to say about him in the 1972 book Supermoney:

“He has no connections or access to useful information. Practically no one in Wall Street knows him and he is not fed any ideas. He looks up the numbers in the manuals and sends for the annual reports, and that’s about it.”

Buffett had this to say about him:

“He knows how to identify securities that sell at considerably less than their value to a private owner: And that’s all he does… He owns many more stocks than I do and is far less interested in the underlying nature of the business; I don’t seem to have very much influence on Walter. That is one of his strengths; no one has much influence on him.”

While others deviated from the Grahamian value approach, Schloss stuck to it for the rest of his career. He started off buying net-nets. When net-net opportunities dried up and his capital expanded, he focused his attention on low price-to-book names.

Here are some great quotes from the interview:

  1. Ben Graham: “In the ’20s he had a deal where he took 50 percent of the profits but he took 50 percent of the losses. And that worked great until 1929 when the market went down and obviously, his stocks were affected, too, and he was not only affected by that, but many of these people then pulled out because they needed money for their own purposes or they had lost a lot of money other places. So, he figured out how he could possibly never have this happen to him again. he was very upset about losing money. A lot of us are. So he worked on a number of ways of doing this and one of them was buying companies below working capital and in the ’30s there were a lot of companies that developed that way.”
  2. Work at Graham-Newman: “Anyhow, at that time my job was to find stocks which were under valued. And we looked at stocks selling below working capital, which was not very many.”
  3. Increasing positions in beaten up stocks: “Well, a lot of people don’t like it if you buy a stock at $30 for a customer and then they see it at $25. You want to buy more of it at $25. The guy doesn’t like that and you don’t like to remind him of it. So, one of the reasons I think that you have to educate your customers or yourself, really that you have a strong stomach and be willing to take an unrealized loss. Don’t sell it, but be willing to buy more when it goes down, which is contrary, really, to what people do in this business.”
  4. More on undervaluation: “Basically we like to buy stocks which we feel are undervalued and then we have the guts to buy more when they go down.”
  5. Why the “superinvestors” who worked for Graham succeeded: “I think number one none of us smoked. We were all rational. I don’t think that we got emotional when things went against us and of course Warren is the extreme example of that.
  6. On buying foreign stocks: “Well, my problem with foreign companies is I do not trust the politics. I don’t know enough about the background of the companies. I must tell you, I think the SEC does a very good job and I feel more comfortable holding an American company.”
  7. Selling: “Sell is tough. It’s the worst, it’s the most difficult thing of all and you have an idea of what you want to sell it at and then you sometimes are influenced by the changes that take place. We owned Southdown. It’s a cement company. We bought a lot of it at 12 1/2. Oh, this was great. And we doubled our money and we sold it at something like $28, $30 a share and that was pretty good in two years. When next I looked it was $70 a share. So, you get very humbled by some of your mistakes. But we just felt that at that level it was, you know, it was not cheap.”
  8. Shifting from net-nets to low price-to-book: “Yes, it’s changed because the market’s changed. I can’t buy any working capital stocks anymore so instead of saying well I can’t buy em’, I’m not going to play the game, you have to decide what you want to do. And so we decided that we want to buy stocks if we can that are depressed and have some book value and are not too, selling near their lows instead of their highs and nobody likes them.”
  9. Q: Tweedy Browne is very quantitative, and Buffett’s more qualitative. Where are you in that spectrum? A: “I’m more in the Tweedy Browne side. Warren is brilliant, there’s nobody ever been like him and there never will be anybody like him. But we cannot be like him. You’ve got to satisfy yourself on what you want to do. Now, there are people that are clones of Warren Buffett. They’ll buy whatever Warren Buffett has. Fine. I don’t know, I don’t feel too comfortable doing that and the other thing is this. We happen to run a partnership and each year we buy stocks and they go up, we sell them and then we try to buy something cheaper.”
  10. Why he didn’t pursue Buffet-Munger style concentration: “Psychologically I can’t, and Warren as I say, is brilliant, he’s not only a good analyst, but he’s a very good judge of businesses and he knows, I mean my gosh, he buys a company the guy’s killing himself working for Warren. I would have thought he’d retire. But Warren is a very good judge of people and he’s a very good judge of businesses. And what Warren does is fine. It’s just that it’s not our — we just really can’t do it that way and find five businesses he understands, and most of them are financial businesses, and he’s very good at it. But you’ve got to know your limitations.”
  11. Selling short: “We did it a couple times and we’re always very upset after we do it. So I’d say not anymore.”

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