We spend essentially no time thinking about macroeconomics factors. In other words, if somebody handed us a prediction by the most revered intellectual on the subject, with figures for unemployment or interest rates or whatever it might be for the next two years, we would not pay any attention to it. ~ Warren Buffett
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If you spend 13 minutes a year on economics, you’ve wasted 10 minutes. ~ Peter Lynch
I am a lifelong admirer of Buffett and to a lesser extent of Lynch. But in this particular aspect, I think both of them are completely wrong.
Before you start trolling me and asking who is this guy who dares to contradict two of the greatest investors in the world, hear me out 😊
Major market crashes happen on macro factors
Swimming with the tide
Investors make money when they are on the right side of a business and economic trend. Buffett and Lynch and other US based investors in the last fifty years have done so well primarily because they had huge economic tailwinds behind them. Look at the counter factual, you will not hear too many great Japanese investors in the last 30 years. Why? Because Japan has not been growing or has been in a recessionary environment during this period. Same for Europe. Can you name one great European investor who invests in Europe only? You will likely struggle a lot. The most European names that you may think of will be global investors and have majority of their investments in US or global companies.
The fact is it is very difficult to swim against the tide. As a business and consequently as an investor. Good investors intuitively understand this. Arguably, one of the main reasons that there are so many great investors from the US in the last fifty years is because US has been the biggest economic growth engines in the world. Similarly, if you go back two centuries, you will find the world’s richest people originating from UK, Germany and France.
Macro is too difficult to predict
The most common argument against macro is that it is too difficult to predict reliably. I completely agree. But so is bottom-up investing. There are far too many factors that influence a business than can be analysed reliably. And that is the sole reason no investor has a 100 percent track record. Everyone makes mistakes. And it happens because they base their decisions about the future on their understanding of the past.
Understanding the macro context
Understanding and accepting that macro plays a supremely important role in investing is critically important. Saying that it is meaningless is downplays the understanding that you are but a small part of a much larger cycle of things.
Understanding macro does not mean using it to forecast future events. Understanding means you are aware of the lay of the land. It is like a cricket captain looking at the pitch and ground conditions and then deciding the team that will be optimal for the conditions. Different pitch, weather and ground conditions can necessitate different team selections. That is exactly how macros should be used. To understand the underlying context of what is happening around us. Once you understand the context, you are free to position your investments accordingly and can decide to act on or ignore certain events.
In summary, when you ignore the larger picture and focus only on bottom-up stock picking, you over-emphasise the importance of the business and ignore their operating environment, which more often than not, actually has a larger influence than individual business characteristics.
(Edited by : Ajay Vaishnav)