One of the most common advice on investing is to be patient. I read this early on and always wondered what it meant? In my early days of investing, I thought I was missing something profound and did not get what the writer had to say. Overtime I have come to realize that a lot of people, who write that investors should be patient, are completely clueless about it themselves.  

What does being patient mean? Should I wait 1 day, 1month, 1 year or 10 years before I buy or sell the stock?

Does it mean I should be patient for the results? Is 1 year being patient enough?

There is no universal definition
I personally think that there is no universal definition of patience. This is something, one has to figure out for oneself. It depends on your investing philosophy, temperament and goals. 

A day trader is being patient when he waits for more than a couple of hours, whereas for an investor like me that is the blink of an eye. There is nothing wrong with what the day trader is doing as it works for him.

I would say that being patient has two components – time one should be able wait before buying a stock and the second piece is the time before selling the stock or getting the expected returns.

Patience in buying
Why should one wait before pulling the trigger ? If you are a long term investor and the company has a bright future, then should you not just buy the stock as a small difference in valuation will work itself out over the long term.

The above statement would be true if you knew the future of the company perfectly. As most of us don’t know the future precisely, it makes sense to have a margin of safety built into the purchase price. There are no hard and fast rules here, but I generally prefer to buy a stock at a 50% discount to fair value. If I have a high level of conviction, then I may drop the discount a bit , but I will never buy it close to fair value.

A lot of times, the company may be selling at or above its fair value. The future would be bright and everyone one and his milkman would be buying the stock. In such times, it makes sense to wait .

As it usually happens, something in the environment changes such as a slowdown in the industry and the market will abandon the stock. It is during such times that one has to have the courage of his or her convictions to buy the stock. The wait is sometimes short, but usually is long, often extending into years

Patience in selling
Let’s say you have been patient in buying the stock. Once you have purchased the stock, you want the stock to rise rapidly to validate your brilliance. I don’t know about you, but I get this urge all the time. However the world does not owe me anything ! If the industry is going through some short term pain, then it likely to take time for things to work out and the stock to realize its fair value.

I have found that 2-3 years is a good time for things to work out and if the market still does not see the light, then there is a strong possibility that you are wrong in your assessment.

So have you perfected it ?
The tone of the post would suggest that I am the perfect investor, who is supremely patient and is able to buy and sell with complete rationality. I wish I was!

I go through the same emotions as everyone else. If I find an attractive idea, I have to really hold myself back from rushing into it. To satisfy this urge, I create a small position and ensure that the itch is scratched.

I think I am far more patient on the sell side. This is usually a plus, but it has been curse too. I have been patient to the point of being stubborn in changing my view of the company. I have often persisted with a company for far too long and ignored the lack of performance. This flaw has usually resulted in an opportunity loss (where my capital was tied up in a low return idea).

How about now ?
So we come to point of the current market situation. In view of the high inflation, issues in Europe, US debt, corruption, my dog’s constipation (ok I don’t have a dog !) and all other issues, does it not make sense to be patient ?

As one of my friends was saying the other day – should you not wait till all this uncertainty clears up ? If you have been reading my blog for sometime, you know my answer  – The future is never clear !!! It is clear only in hindsight. I personally do not believe on waiting for a specific level of the market, before buying specific stocks.

I am being patient on the price of specific stocks. I am currently 30-35% in cash and tracking and analyzing companies everyday. If the price falls below my target price, I start buying the stock.

If the market crashes for some reason and I get a lot of bargains, then I will get aggressive. If nothing happens, I will keep waiting and hopefully be patient.

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