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Value investing

Value investing is the practice of buying shares of companies for less than their intrinsic value.

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Expanded Definition

Value investing looks for mis-priced securities -- those stocks that are selling at a discount to their intrinsic value. Value investors assume that, over the long-term, a stock price will more or less reflect the intrinsic value of the company. A well worn analogy on this outlook, provided by "the father of value investing," Benjamin Graham, is that of the stock market acting as a voting machine over the short-run, but a weighing machine over the long-run. Buying at a discount, therefore, provides the investor with a situation in which the stock price should go up.

Value investing is frequently contrasted with growth investing, the practice of buying securities whose stock price will rise on the basis of the company's growth. But these distinctions are largely academic -- growth investors don't buy stocks thinking they're overvalued, and value investors don't buy stocks thinking the companies they represent won't grow.

However, value investors insist on buying companies whose price represents a significant margin of safety relative to the intrinsic value -- even if that means waiting to buy a great company until the price falls into the acceptable range. Value investors seldom find themselves investing alongside the crowd. If anything, value investors tend to invest against the headlines.

Some value investors ("deep value" investors) try to buy with margins of safety of 50% or more relative to intrinsic value. When the stock approaches its intrinsic value, they sell and repeat the process. Other value investors, most notably Warren Buffett, look for a significant margin of safety but are also willing to pay more for established companies with durable competitive advantages, aka economic moats. Their rationale is that, over the long term, those wide moats translate into compound market-beating returns.

In all of these cases, however, the value investor is 1) estimating the intrinsic value or a range of potential values of the company; 2) judging the stock price against the intrinsic value, not against recent price movements; 3) insisting with a margin of safety.

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