Zweig: What Would Benjamin Graham Tell You to Do?

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, columnist Jason Zweig discusses how guidelines from the late, legendary investment analyst Benjamin Graham can help guide today’s investors as they navigate through this period of market turbulence.

Graham—who served as a mentor to Warren Buffett–highlighted the importance of discerning between investing and speculating, writes Zweig. He described investors as those focused on buying and holding “suitable securities at suitable prices,” while speculators would be more interested in “anticipating and profiting from market fluctuations.”

Zweig highlights several of Graham’s teachings as follows:

  • Graham characterized the stock market—which he names “Mr. Market” –as an entity that was always willing to trade, whether or not prices were “sensible.” Paradoxically, Zweig writes, many people are more eager to trade when prices become more chaotic. 
  • A speculator is “happy to buy more shares when prices rise,” Zweig explains, “betting that Mr. Market will buy them back later at even crazier prices. When Mr. Market’s enthusiasm turns to fear and prices fall, the speculator sells into that panic.”
  • In 1972, Graham said that the main reason individuals fail as long-term investors is that “they pay too much attention to what the stock market is doing currently.”
  • Graham argued that intelligent investors don’t need superior intellect, training or expertise, but rather patience, independence and self-control.
  • If you consider yourself an investor rather than a speculator, it’s important to determine whether you are “defensive” or “enterprising,” Zweig writes: “If you are defensive, you seek to avoid severe mistakes and losses, but also don’t want to spend extensive time, effort and emotion on investing. If you are enterprising, you are willing to ‘devote time and care’ in an attempt to outperform.”
  • Graham considered market timing—the attempt to guess what the market is going to do next—as an impossible task that inevitably ends in speculation. He urged investors to respecting the difference between timing and pricing—the observation that as the market goes down, stocks get cheaper.

Zweig concludes that today, stocks are still not a bargain, but that Graham’s teachings tell us that the recent decline should make investors more enthusiastic about buying, not less. Graham wrote that “the right kind of investor,” should take comfort in knowing that your actions are “exactly opposite from those of the crowd.”