Building Castles of Sand

Building Castles of Sand in The Great Valley

Something To Believe In (REPRINTED FROM BETTER INVESTING, OCTOBER 2002)

by Mark Robertson, Senior Contributing Editor

Few things are more contagious than emotions. One of our biggest challenges is to prevent emotions from clouding long-term perspectives. I believe that core fundamental growth and profitability is intact and that the assumptions and judgments that we make during our stock studies do not require massive adjustment. Long-term growth expectations may be slightly subdued but the impact probably isn’t all that material. If you believe as I do, then it follows naturally that some excellent companies are available at reasonable prices.

The events of a certain bright September morning brought us to our knees. Those memories will never leave us.

Our awareness of the passage of time was, at least temporarily, altered. Where days were once blurs and years and decades somewhat-defined horizons, instead the long term became blurred. In sharp contrast, the daily images burst forth in crystal clarity. Fear took on a precise nature.

The damage became even more pervasive as an already weakened economy mightily struggled to regain its balance. The effort proved futile. First one, then another supposed paragon was exposed. Confidence was breached. Fiduciary faith is one of the more fragile varieties. Only the passage of time combined with an uninterrupted demonstration of credibility and reason will restore consumer confidence to necessary levels.

Trust is still the biggest component of any P/E ratio.

Our National [Convention] and Bricks

Better Investing for Better Living.

Our theme is timeless and in many ways, immune to the challenges of this past year — so long as the long-term perspective is maintained.

NAIC co-founder and Chairman Emeritus Thomas O’Hara reminds us: “Times like these are when it is most challenging to capture the attention of would-be investors.” The distraction of a bear market is unfortunate. These times are also the best time to start (or augment) a lifetime program of strategic long-term investing.

A friend once commented that during market breaks, it seemed like his best clients would throw bricks through his office window. He didn’t mind the shattered glass so much. (After all, we build castles from sand.) But what he really wishes is that they would tie a few dollars to the brick before launching it. Then he would be enabled to invest on their behalf — in excellent companies, at good prices — when it was easier to do so.

Faith and Castles of Sand

Can faith be restored? In the Disney movie, “Land Before Time,” the main character is an adolescent dinosaur named Little Foot. During a pilgrimage to a so-called Great Valley, a land of plentiful green plants and fresh bodies of water, Little Foot’s mother is injured while protecting the herd from predators. With her last breath, she points Little Foot in the right direction and urges him to lean on faith. When Little Foot asks his mother exactly what faith is, she provides one of the best definitions of faith I’ve ever heard: “Some things you see with your eyes. Faith is when you see things with your heart.”

The preservation of faith and corporate credibility is an overwhelming responsibility. The actions of a few have grievously undermined confidence. Cardiac vision has been blinded and the moral melee has become a maelstrom. Seeing every single corporate [data point] has never been what [our investing method] is all about and I hope it never will be. This circus will be over when an executive can talk to us without inhibition. That day will come.

We will indeed return to building castles by the sea with the knowledge that tides, erosive winds and castle-smashing vandals are a fact of life. Sand castles are naturally swept away. Sand-castle virtues are precious and deserve better respect.

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