Certain common threads run through the best investments I’ve witnessed. They’re usually contrarian, challenging and uncomfortable—although the experienced contrarian takes comfort from his or her position outside the herd. Whenever the debt market collapses, for example, most people say, “We’re not going to try to catch a falling knife; it’s too dangerous.”
They usually add, “We’re going to wait until the dust settles and the uncertainty is resolved.” What they mean, of course, is that they’re frightened and unsure of what to do.
The one thing I’m sure of is that by the time the knife has stopped falling, the dust has settled and the uncertainty has been resolved, there’ll be no great bargains left . When buying something has become comfortable again, its price will no longer be so low that it’s a great bargain. Thus, a hugely profitable investment that doesn’t begin with discomfort is usually an oxymoron.
It’s our job as contrarians to catch falling knives, hopefully with care and skill. That’s why the concept of intrinsic value is so important. If we hold a view of value that enables us to buy when everyone else is selling—and if our view turns out to be right—that’s the route to the greatest rewards earned with the least risk.