Course 505: Great Investors: Philip Fisher
Fisher's Investment Philosophy
In this course
1 Introduction
2 Fisher's Investment Philosophy
3 Fisher's 15 Points
4 Important Don'ts for Investors
5 The Bottom Line

Fisher's investment philosophy can be summarized in a single sentence: Purchase and hold for the long term a concentrated portfolio of outstanding companies with compelling growth prospects that you understand very well. This sentence is clear on its face, but let us parse it carefully to understand the advantages of Fisher's approach. The question that every investor faces is, of course, what to buy? Fisher's answer is to purchase the shares of superbly managed growth companies, and he devoted an entire chapter in Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits to this topic. The chapter begins with a comparison of "statistical bargains," or stocks that appear cheap based solely on accounting figures, and growth stocks, or stocks with excellent growth prospects based on an intelligent appraisal of the underlying business's characteristics.

The problem with statistical bargains, Fisher noted, is that while there may be some genuine bargains to be found, in many cases the businesses face daunting headwinds that cannot be discerned from accounting figures, such that in a few years the current "bargain" prices will have proved to be very high. Furthermore, Fisher stated that over a period of many years, a well-selected growth stock will substantially outperform a statistical bargain. The reason for this disparity, Fisher wrote, is that a growth stock, whose intrinsic value grows steadily over time, will tend to appreciate "hundreds of per cent each decade," while it is unusual for a statistical bargain to be "as much as 50 per cent undervalued."

Fisher divided the universe of growth stocks into large and small companies. On one end of the spectrum are large financially strong companies with solid growth prospects. At the time, these included IBM IBM, Dow Chemical DOW, and DuPont DD, all of which increased fivefold in the 10-year period from 1946 to 1956.

Although such returns are quite satisfactory, the real home runs are to be found in "small and frequently young companies… [with] products that might bring a sensational future." Of these companies, Fisher wrote, "the young growth stock offers by far the greatest possibility of gain. Sometimes this can mount up to several thousand per cent in a decade." Fisher's answer to the question of what to buy is clear: All else equal, investors with the time and inclination should concentrate their efforts on uncovering young companies with outstanding growth prospects.

Next: Fisher's 15 Points >>

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