06 May 2023

On today’s show, Stig Brodersen talks with legend investor Mohnish Pabrai. In the interview, Mohnish Pabrai generously shares his investment framework and touches on various stocks, including Alibaba, Constellation Software, Reysas Logistics, and Shinoken. Disclaimer: Stig Brodersen is invested in Pabrai Funds.

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  • How to stay objective when you get advice from someone you admire and like.
  • Why the Turkey stock market is attractive.
  • Mohnish Pabrai’s four steps to read annual reports.
  • What happened to Shinoken, one of Mohnish Pabrai’s previous holdings.
  • Mohnish Pabrai’s thoughts on Constellation Software and Mark Leonard.
  • Mohnish Pabrai’s thoughts on Alibaba.
  • How to live a truthful life.


Disclaimer: The transcript that follows has been generated using artificial intelligence. We strive to be as accurate as possible, but minor errors and slightly off timestamps may be present due to platform differences.

[00:00:02] Stig Brodersen: Since its inception in 2000, today’s guest, Mohnish Pabrai has returned 989% to its investors net a fee in his flagship fund. This is compared to only 401% for the S and P 500. In today’s conversation, Mohnish Pabrai generously shares his thoughts on various stocks including Alibaba, Constellation Software, Reysas Logistics, and Shinoken.

[00:00:25] Stig Brodersen: However, more important than the stocks we discuss. I hope you appreciate how thoughtful Mohnish Pabrai is and how important it is to understand the process and separate the signal from the noise. I hope you enjoy the conversation with legend investor, Mohnish Pabrai, as much as I did. Here we go.

[00:00:46] Intro: You are listening to The Investor’s Podcast, where we study the financial markets and read the books that influence self-made billionaires the most. We keep you informed and prepared for the unexpected.

[00:01:06] Stig Brodersen: Welcome to the Investor’s Podcast. I’m your host Stig Brodersen and its Berkshire Weekend! At least it’s Berkshire weekend whenever you’re listening to this and I’m thrilled to have invited no other than Mohnish Pabrai to join us today. Mohnish, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today.

[00:01:21] Mohnish Pabrai: Stig, it’s always a pleasure at this time of the year just before the Woodstock for Capitalists gets hung, gets underway. So, it’s like our tradition, right? This is the kind of the pre-game tailgate party.

[00:01:35] Stig Brodersen: Well said, I don’t think I can beat that Mohnish so I’m going to go right into to the first question here. So, I’ve been, which is also a tradition, I guess I’ve been reading Munger’s, I guess it’s just wonderful book, Poor Charlie’s Almanac but especially the Psychology of Human Misjudgment is just amazing and I’ve heard you say that you always learn something new whenever you read the book. And I feel I do the same thing, but specifically for that speech, it really makes me humble because I feel I’m susceptible to so many biases and I thought of you as I was reading it.

[00:02:09] Stig Brodersen: Full disclosure, I’m an investor in Pabrai Funds and I can say that since I joined it, I’ve been very happy about it. I hope I don’t make you sad by saying so much, but it’s been a wonderful experience and I’ve started to wonder and worry if I like you a bit too much Mohnish and I am a bit worried in its own way because I have all these associations with you in terms of compounding my net worth and like all these warm, fuzzy feelings, right? So I kind of feel whenever I read something from you, whenever I watch a video with you or whatnot, I kind of feel, I fight myself filtering the information differently and that worries me.

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[00:02:49] Stig Brodersen: And I guess I could say the same thing about, Charlie and Warren in the sense that if they do something wonderful, they’re like oh my, you think you’re so smart and if they talk about a mistake, you’re like, oh, they’re all so smart look how much they learn from their mistake. So my first question to you is sort of like with that as a backdrop is how do you make sure to stay objective whenever you process information from people that you really like, perhaps you even admire them and you have this lollapalooza cascade of different biases that can make you susceptible to not seeing the world the way it really is.

[00:03:21] Mohnish Pabrai: Yeah, that’s a great question, Stig and it’s really difficult to do and I think. Most of us definitely myself, we fail at it. So yeah, I mean our brains, they’ve evolved over the millennia and they’re not optimized for being great investors. They were really a brain was optimized to help us survive and surviving on the African Savannah needed a certain type of wiring, and we need a different kind of wiring to be great investors.

[00:03:49] Mohnish Pabrai: So our brains have a lot of quirks and a lot of biases. And I would say reading Munger’s essay and reading Cialdini’s book is going to be helpful in at least being aware of the pitfalls but we are susceptible to it, the commitment and consistency biases, a number of the biases that come in and that are very much part and parcel of who we are is just part of who we are the best.

[00:04:18] Mohnish Pabrai: The best that we can do is try to be aware of it and try to sidestep as many of the pitfalls as you can. But I don’t think anyone has succeeded in sidestepping all the pitfalls and so yeah, I think that’s a great essay and it is helpful. It’s helpful to reread it and it’s helpful to be aware that we are quirky living creatures with quirky brains, which don’t necessarily follow a rational path all the time.

[00:04:56] Stig Brodersen: One of the things that I do in preparation is I always go into the YouTube channel, which is just wonderful and all these videos, so I do it once a year. I think probably like, I don’t know, 30 hours of content whatnot, a year that goes up. It’s always interesting, to have that kind of compact experience.

[00:05:12] Stig Brodersen: I always like after each video, I type up my notes and what you, I don’t know, three to five points that’s most important from that video. And what’s also interesting to hear about how you put up grids. I know you talked about that for a long time but also it seems like you speak with there was more content than used to.

[00:05:26] Stig Brodersen: And you talk about how, speaking with students also helps you to perhaps be a less active in the market. I kind of felt that was kind of an interesting take but anyways, whenever I listen to you, there seems to be some themes and I don’t know if you are aware of this or I don’t know, I might be all analyzing this, but you know, it’s sort of like whenever you see your nephew, you haven’t seen for, two months, like he’s grown.

[00:05:48] Stig Brodersen: But whenever it’s your own kid, you don’t really see it because you see him every day. And so whenever I compared my notes from the previous year and you talked a lot about the spawner framework. One of the things that came after Covid. You talk a lot about Nick Sleep and then you also made this reference to the Walton family quite a few times. Now, over the past 12 months and I could, again with all my biases, I could be completely wrong.

[00:06:11] Stig Brodersen: You do mention Nick Sleep’s framework from time to time, perhaps even more with the Walton family. Perhaps it’s just because it’s not so much the smaller framework. Perhaps it’s just because you completely adapt to that. You don’t really talk about it anymore. Who knows? And it also seems like you’ve been perhaps a bit more open about some of your investments especially in Turkey.

[00:06:31] Stig Brodersen: You talked about TIV airports and my question is not so much your specific holdings. I don’t want to make you susceptible to confirmation bias. That’s not the point of saying this but more about the Turkey stock market and I heard you reference that 80% of the stocks are held by insiders and foreigners that don’t generally trade a lot.

[00:06:50] Stig Brodersen: And then you have 20% that are traded by retail traders. And they have a quite significant turnover. And whenever I heard the first time, I had to rewind, like, did money just sit nine days? Did you really say average only period of nine days? And you also talked about how whenever you translate the Turkish word, it’s into you, you don’t invest.

[00:07:11] Stig Brodersen: It’s like play the stock market and that sort of makes me think about what that dynamic do to the efficiency of a market. Graham said decades ago, it took like 18 months to revert back to intrinsic value. Lyn had talked about two to three years, again with a wide variance but that’s sort of like whenever they were asked to put on the spot, that’s what they said.

[00:07:33] Stig Brodersen: Again, this was decades ago. How do you think about the whole inverting to intrinsic value? How is that different than say the data series we have about the states, if at all.

[00:07:44] Mohnish Pabrai: Well, I think Graham’s bedrock that we all believe in is that in the long run, the stock market is a weighing machine, and in the short run it’s a wording machine.

[00:07:55] Mohnish Pabrai: So I think that applies universally. I think in the end, all companies get correctly valued and if they’re undervalued, they’re going to go up. If they’re overvalued, they’re going to come down and so I think that’s that, that is part of the bedrock that applies globally. But I think that in a place like Turkey and actually when I mentioned to local Turks about the nine days, they’re actually surprised they expected it to be a lot shorter.

[00:08:25] Mohnish Pabrai: All the people they know basically, invest at 10 o’clock and want to wrap it up by two o’clock. And so they ex actually expected that the holding period will be like, two or three days on average. So they were actually surprised that it’s long, as long as nine days because they just said like, like I said, that they’re, the way they look at the stock market is they’re playing the market and not really investing.

[00:08:51] Mohnish Pabrai: And that’s really the only explanation one can come up with to, for the wide mispricing we’ve seen in businesses like racers for example, is that no one is weighing the companies. They’re just, dancing in and out of them. And, Buffett has a great quote. He says that the stock market is a mechanism to transfer wealth from the active to the inactive.

[00:09:16] Mohnish Pabrai: And it could not be more true than a place like Turkey. So yeah, actually I it’s I would say it’s almost a little bit of a time warp. It’s like going back to the sixties. And seventies in the US. I think that’s or it feels like, the early nineties in India where you had a lot of very high-quality businesses at single digit multiples.

[00:09:43] Mohnish Pabrai: And so that existed in in western markets existed in India and it doesn’t exist anymore, so these places have, we will always have fear and greed and we’ll always have mispricing, but the degree of mispricing that I can find in a place like the US is much, much less than many other places.

[00:10:05] Stig Brodersen: Back in September you had this wonderful Q and A and we’ll show a link to that in the show notes. And the gentleman interviewing asked you how you read annual reports. And you and I, please correct me if I’m wrong. I’m just referencing what sort of like, what I think I heard, but I just I just wanted to like mention cause it was really interesting and then perhaps at the end of it, there might be might be a question there, but you talked about how you’re looking for reasons to say no, it could be seconds, it could be minutes.

[00:10:33] Stig Brodersen: But then if it’s past that test, like the very, very quick test, you went through four steps. The first one looking at the Bell Investor’s Club for a writeup because it saved you so much time. You can overview the company. There was some quantitative and some qualitative.

[00:10:47] Stig Brodersen: So it saves you a bunch of time and it also gives you a bit of filter cause the quality in there is relatively high. Then if it passes that filter, you ask your assistant to print out the management letters, but only if it’s written by the management or the CEO and not be, if it’s like a PR company that like types it up.

[00:11:05] Stig Brodersen: And so you get to see whether or not they or promise or underdeliver or the other way around you, you get to see how they react before, during, and after the great financial crisis, the pandemic, and then it goes to, to step three. So you would look through the transcripts with the q and a about the business.

[00:11:21] Stig Brodersen: So not all the curated stuff, but like whether put on the spot to understand the business better. Of course, disregard, disregarding those analysts who just want the management to fill out their Excel sheet, whether they can start like estimate the next quarterly earnings. And then it goes to the final like step forward, which is you actually reading the reports and reports.

[00:11:42] Stig Brodersen: And so with all of that said, I also heard you say in another video that here in 2023 you wanted to study 50 businesses. If they pass those first few hours of tests. So I’m curious what you learned and again, not to put you on the spot of any kind of specific stocks, but whether you found, I don’t know, perhaps a new mentor model you want to share or a new perspective on things.

[00:12:07] Mohnish Pabrai: Yeah, I’ve made some good progress on the 50 businesses. I think I think it’s up to close to 20 so far, and I have to pull it up maybe like 17 or 18 or something like that, which is I’m on track because basically yeah, I’m behind if I’m not at least one per week, so I’m very pleased with that.

[00:12:28] Mohnish Pabrai: And of course, when I make a trip, like I made a trip to Turkey. I see all these new companies, so I get a lot done during a week like that. But yeah, I think that one of the things I am excited about is kind of a new way of me looking at things is what I call the circle, the wagons, circle the wagons approach to investing.

[00:12:53] Mohnish Pabrai: And this year for example Buffett in his letter mentioned that Berkshire has a few truly extraordinary businesses, many pretty good businesses, and a very large number of mediocre or below average businesses. And he also mentioned that in 58 years, it’s really been 12 decisions that have created most of the great outcome for Berkshire.

[00:13:20] Mohnish Pabrai: And most of the other decisions have just been at best so-so. So if you look at something like Berkshire Hathaway, over 58 years, Warren has bought more than 80 companies. In that period, he’s probably made at least 10 key hires and probably bought at least 210 stocks over that period. So collectively well over 300 decisions.

[00:13:46] Mohnish Pabrai: And when he says that 12 stand out, it’s like one in 25. It’s like a 4% hit rate for someone as great as Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger said many times, if you to our top 15 decisions and took them out, our record would be useless. And we actually see this particular phenomenon of, this 4% play out over and over.

[00:14:11] Mohnish Pabrai: So for example, if you look at the nifty 50, in the early seventies, which is very popular by the 50 blue strip stocks, and don’t worry about the valuation, can set it and forget it. There’s some controversy whether Walmart was part of the nifty 50 or not. If you assume that Walmart is part of the nifty 50, we’ll take two cases here, but let’s say you assume Walmart is part of the nifty 50 and you assume that it has a 2% weight.

[00:14:39] Mohnish Pabrai: In the nifty 50 because they’re 50 stocks, each one has a 2% weight, and you assume that the other 49 stocks go to zero, they just get wiped out. And you assume that you bought Walmart at the I P O in 1970, and you held it till today. The nifty 50 with 49 out of 50, gone to zero, would’ve ended up with something like a 13.3% annualized return.

[00:15:08] Mohnish Pabrai: And the s and p is 10 end change, 10.3% of something. So with just 2% of the portfolio surviving and being there for the entire 52-year period, you still significantly outperform the s and p. And of course 49 of the other names didn’t go to zero. They were like McDonald’s and Coke and Procter Gamble.

[00:15:32] Mohnish Pabrai: There were a lot of good companies. There were some bad companies like. Polaroid and Xerox and Kodak and Burrows and a lot of these companies basically went to zero. But you can just see that the one decision whether Walmart is part of the group and whether you keep it or not, has such an outsize impact.

[00:15:49] Mohnish Pabrai: Now, if you take the other case, which is that, let’s assume that Walmart is not part of the nifty 50, and you assume that you invest in the nifty 50 at the all-time high in 1972, just before the big crash of 73, 74, and you run it till today. And what you find is that the annualized return is 10.2% annualized and the s and p is 10.3%.

[00:16:21] Mohnish Pabrai: So even with buying at ridiculous valuations and but just holding them, of course what happened in 73, 74 is a nifty 50 went down 50%. Nobody was in the nifty 50 by 1975, that everyone exited. But if they had held on and if they had held on to till today, they would pretty much be toe to toe. With the s and p, it’s not that much of a difference.

[00:16:48] Mohnish Pabrai: And this lesson again, plays out where we had this great investor in India who passed away last year, Rakesh Jhunjhunwala. And Rakesh Jhunjhunwala never managed money professionally. He was an individual investor and maybe close to the end of his life he was starting a business. So basically, he was all passive investing and he started with $400 when he was 25 years old.

[00:17:13] Mohnish Pabrai: And at 62, when he passed away, it was 5.8 billion and in 2003, Rakesh put 4% of his portfolio into a company in India called Titan Industries, and it was a 3.4 million bet on Titan. He had about 85 million in total assets at that time. So he invested 3.4 million. If you, again, like the nifty take everything to zero that he had in 2003 except for Titan, and he owned like, a little oh 5% of Titan, you run it till when he passed away.

[00:17:49] Mohnish Pabrai: Now his video has kept Titan, so it’s still compounding. It became 1.4 billion excluding dividends. If you reinvest the dividend, it’s even higher. So 3.4 million was a 400 x return. And so even if you took everything else to zero, you still have 1.4 billion. So again, we see this phenomenon and these are not venture investments, right?

[00:18:16] Mohnish Pabrai: When Buffett buys Coke or Sees candy, these aren’t like, we are not early stage like Sequoia making a bet on Amazon when it’s early stage business. These are mature, businesses with a lot of history and we see the same thing with Nick Sleep with Amazon. If you pull Amazon out of the equation, Nick Sleep’s record isn’t that great.

[00:18:37] Mohnish Pabrai: And when you put it in, it’s an exceptional record. So the important thing, and then of course the most extreme case of all of this is Naspers in South Africa. So, Naspers in 2001, it’s a, it’s almost a hundred year old newspaper company. That’s how it started, about a hundred years ago.

[00:18:58] Mohnish Pabrai: In 2001, they have a market cap of about 500 million. They put 32 million into 10 cents. And they get a 46% stake in Tencent. And the most surprising thing about the Naspers Tencent adventure is they basically never sell. They sold little bit of the IPO, but they still own 36% of the company in 2018.

[00:19:25] Mohnish Pabrai: And in 2018, their stake was worth hundred 70 billion. And in 2021, at the peak of Tencent, their stake was worth 270 billion. So here’s a, sleepy old, media company in South Africa. They start suddenly start seeing some Chinese company become 99%, or even more than 99% of their total assets.

[00:19:53] Mohnish Pabrai: And they don’t trim it and they don’t hedge it. They just keep it. And they end up with an astronomical analyze return over the last 20 years. And so in, if you look at the 10 cent bet, it was 6%, approximately 6% of the value of Naspers at that time. And it, and NASPAs made, hundreds of bets.

[00:20:18] Mohnish Pabrai: Everything else really didn’t matter. There were only two things that mattered buying Tencent, and more importantly, not selling Tencent. So the circle, the wagons concept comes from the 19th century on the American frontier. So when the pioneers and the settlers were moving west to, stake out and take over land and start farming it and so on, these wagons used to get attacked by the American Indians.

[00:20:49] Mohnish Pabrai: And the defensive posture they took. To defend against the Indians was to circle the wagons, which means, you put everything, your crown jewels in the center of the circle and then you fight and you try to protect the center. And it’s a similar concept in investing with the nifty 50 at Walmart, you really need to not touch it.

[00:21:12] Mohnish Pabrai: It only works if you don’t touch it. Similarly with Sees Candy and American Express and Coke for Berkshire, you know all of these hiring Ajit Jain and so on, you need the long runway and Naspers needs the very long runway with Tencent. And so the key in investing is to recognize two things.

[00:21:33] Mohnish Pabrai: One, we are going to make a lot of mistakes. Two, this is a very forgiving business. You can be wrong, even 98% of the time still come out smelling really nice. And three, that is only going to happen if you. Are able to buy businesses with great economics at reasonable valuations and then hang on to them forever.

[00:22:00] Mohnish Pabrai: So when they get fully priced, they don’t get sold. When they get overpriced, they don’t get sold. It’s only possibly when they get completely ridiculously egregiously overpriced that you can consider selling. And so this framework of circle the wagons is very fundamental. I think it’s very hard to beat the market if you don’t have this framework, because you’re going to be cutting the flowers and watering the weeds.

[00:22:31] Mohnish Pabrai: And what we need to do is make sure we don’t cut the flowers. And it really doesn’t matter whether you water the weeds or not, but the important thing is you just don’t cut the flowers. It’s okay if you want to water the weeds.

[00:22:43] Stig Brodersen: It’s so well said, Mohnish and I think you brought up this stat of the index. It’s like 5% that generates all their turns because the index is too dumb to sell Amazon and alphabet. So they’re not cutting the flowers. And then you had this joke where you’re like, yeah, and you don’t want to pay up for it. Good luck. Good luck finding them. And of course, there are exceptions where we can get a wonderful company for small multiple, but it is-

[00:23:08] Mohnish Pabrai: That’s why Stig, that’s why we hang out in Istanbul, so you have to see how the jigsaw puzzle fits. So we have to find the great businesses and we have to go fishing where the fish are.

[00:23:22] Stig Brodersen: Thank you. Thank you for that handoff, Mohnish. I’m going to talk a bit about Turkey and then see if I can zoom in and zoom out to Turkey here. So, it’s about repurchased of shares and I heard a lot of fantastic questions asked you over the videos I just mentioned before, and there was this really brilliant student who said, why is it that hard for CEOs to buy back CS below the intrinsic value?

[00:23:48] Stig Brodersen: And you made the really good point that you know, CEOs, they generally, they didn’t rise to the top because they were great capital allocators. Perhaps they were good salespeople. You also talked about how they’re optimist. You need to be an optimist to lead a company. And so you’re like, yeah that’s why it’s difficult for CEOs to buy back shares below interest, value, not destroy shareholder value unless you are the single tons of the world.

[00:24:09] Stig Brodersen: But there are very few of those. So all of that made a lot of sense. And then I also heard you talk about, The father son team at races. And again I’m not trying to give you any kind of confirmation bias. I’m used to it more in an example. Then perhaps we can talk more general about it. So whenever you’re talk about the father and son team, I’m like, they’re just such smart people.

[00:24:27] Stig Brodersen: You talk about the hurdle rates and the payback period, of a quarter of three years. You come up with this example about their solar panels whenever they got installed, where the payback period perhaps was a bit longer, but then they talked about how, the assets, how long, the longevity of that and the price is going up.

[00:24:43] Stig Brodersen: And I don’t know, say they say that the 50 million is worth 200 million to whatever, it’s not so much that, but it what tying those two stories together. I would say I understand why your conventional c e o would not understand capital allocation well, but if you were, if you founded, or perhaps you, we could talk about one of your previous holdings, Shinoken. Without, I know there are also some cultural differences in, in terms of Japan and how they, they do kept allocation, but could you paint some color around.

[00:25:12] Stig Brodersen: Why are founders who are clearly very good at capital allocation, not necessarily good at buying back their own stock whenever it’s clearly below their liquidation value, which, they would know better than anyone but their liquidation value is of their assets. So why is that the case?

[00:25:28] Mohnish Pabrai: Yeah, so just to give you an update on Shinoken, there was a take under and they did a tender offer offering a small premium and they took the company private. And so the founder with some investors basically in effect, did what you are suggesting they should do and it took them some time to understand.

[00:25:51] Mohnish Pabrai: We had a number of conversations, I had a number of conversations with Shinoken, including I actually sent them a PowerPoint in Japanese on the benefits of buybacks explaining because I, I realized that. A builder may not understand that, maybe an entrepreneur, a builder and what ended up happening is actually they took my advice in very large doses.

[00:26:15] Mohnish Pabrai: So instead of nibbling at a buyback like I was suggesting, we had already sold the stock because we were a little bit frustrated that they were not really acting the way they should because they had significant amounts of cash flow and they could retire significant number of shares.

[00:26:35] Mohnish Pabrai: But they were nibbling. It was a very small amount that they were buying back. And then we exited, adding a year or two later, they basically took one big gulp and bought it all at a, actually a spectacular discount to what the business was worth. Shinoken is, was an exceptional business.

[00:26:54] Mohnish Pabrai: Because it has very strong recurring revenues from all the properties they’re managing. It’s, the visibility into cash flows go out, many years. It’s actually an exceptional business. And one of the things that had attracted me to Shinoken in the first place was that it was founder run and that he did not fit the template of most Japanese managements.

[00:27:21] Mohnish Pabrai: Most Japanese managements and boards run the business for the benefits of the employees. They do not run the business for the benefit of the shareholders. So their number one concern is to make sure that the business is very stable and can survive downturns without layoffs, and the shareholders pay a very big price.

[00:27:45] Mohnish Pabrai: For a business that takes that approach. And so I generally find Japan difficult to invest in for two reasons. That’s one reason. And the second is the demographics of the declining population. So last year, 1.6 million Japanese citizens died and 800,000 new ones were born. So we’re looking at almost a net 1 million reduction in the population in a single year.

[00:28:12] Mohnish Pabrai: And South Korea is even more extreme than that. So we did see the founder act very rationally eventually for his own self-interest in the case of Reysas, I think that again, they were very focused on building and they have very much woken up to the fact that they blew it. I think that if they look back, they would, they wish they had, given a 50% premium and bought the whole company, taking the whole company private.

[00:28:40] Mohnish Pabrai: For example. And they’ve been trying to fix that mistake by increasing their holdings. They’ve been buying back shares in the last couple of years or so. So they did wake up to the fact that oh, we should have kind of approached this differently, but it’s not easy for CEOs, even founder led CEOs to look at things like buybacks.

[00:29:03] Mohnish Pabrai: Basically what ends up happening is you see cash leave your treasury and you don’t immediately see a pop in the stock price. So you see something go away and you don’t see anything on the other side. So it’s really, you have to have a kind of faith the way Henry Singleton had faith that when you retire away large number of shares and you are of course you’re going to see the stock react to that.

[00:29:32] Stig Brodersen: And thank you for paintings and color running because I did notice that you’re saying they are actually buying back shares themselves, but not for the company. I was like, huh. How one without the other. But it makes a lot of sense now that you outlined that like that. So, so thank you Manis for that.

[00:29:48] Stig Brodersen: And one of our previous conversations you talked about your best investment and I don’t refer, and I just want to say in all modesty to you, you don’t refer to one of your 200 baggers that you made in the past, but the owner’s manual that you got from Jack Skeen and the business partner of him decades ago, I want to say 1999 or so.

[00:30:06] Stig Brodersen: And they told you that you like to play games where you felt you had an edge and you liked the single play games, which also led into the whole thing about selling TransTech started Pabrai Funds, which was the perfect game for you. So if you look at the stock market or if you look at the game of investing well as a game, has that changed since you started in 1999? And if it has, how have you adapted to the new rules of the game?

[00:30:36] Mohnish Pabrai: Well, I very much enjoy the game and one of the things with this particular game it’s actually very similar to Bridge, is that Bridge is a game that would take you 15 minutes to learn and you cannot master it in a lifetime.

[00:30:52] Mohnish Pabrai: So you can keep learning forever. There’s really no plateau that shows up in bridge. Even if you are playing 30, 40 hours a week for your whole life, you would still be learning and I think investing is very similar in the sense that this is a game with a lot of twists and turns and anytime you look at a business.

[00:31:14] Mohnish Pabrai: My rate of factors that affect where it might be in the long run are so diverse, and some of them you may be able to understand, some of them may be within your circle of competence. A lot of them may not be. So, lifelong learning is going to serve you very well. So I think I am as excited about the investing game as I was nearly 30 years ago when I was just getting started with this.

[00:31:40] Mohnish Pabrai: But I think what has happened in the previous, almost three decades, is that more competencies been built up, more mental models have been refined and incorporated. And so the pattern recognition is probably faster now than it used to be. And it’s broader now than it used to be.

[00:32:06] Stig Brodersen: So I wanted to talk a bit about shares and dilution and buying back shares. It’s just such a fascinating thing. And you I heard you talk about N V R over the past few years and how they have been done, been doing a wonderful job buying back shares. They’ve also been diluting some of the shares, giving to shares, to management and whatnot.

[00:32:27] Stig Brodersen: And I spoke with Chris Bloomstran here last week and he said that he ran some numbers on the S and P 500, and he said it was 2% that they’ve been issuing shares to the management. So we’re not talking about like raising capital shares, we’re talking about giving away in, in stock-based compensation. Do you have a threshold for how much shareholder dilution you will tolerate in companies you invest in?

[00:32:49] Mohnish Pabrai: Well, we would ideally like compensation, I think you can set compensation and incentives quite well without giving out equity. And you could encourage management to buy equity.

[00:33:05] Mohnish Pabrai: And I think, for example, Constellation Software does that and they do an excellent job. Berkshire does that in the sense that there’s a lot of the Berkshire managers have significant ownership of Berkshire but they’ve basically taken after tax earnings and bought it with those earnings and so, and that’s worked out well for them and everyone.

[00:33:30] Mohnish Pabrai: So I think Silicon Valley and the tech world is overdosed on a certain model, which is that, you give away equity to everyone and their brother and boards don’t understand the value of this equity, and many times CEOs don’t understand it and because it is non-cash, it becomes attractive because you’re not really using the company’s cash.

[00:34:01] Mohnish Pabrai: So one good thing that happened in accounting is that the gap accounting route changed a while back to force them to treat talk-based compensation as an expense and to show it as an expense on the income statement. And so the companies have gone to, metrics like adjusted EBITDA or adjusted net income and adjusted whatever, and yeah, so it’s an unfortunate state of affairs. It is suboptimal. We can still do well in bus in some businesses, even with that drag. Can still work out okay, but it’s far from ideal.

[00:34:41] Stig Brodersen: I’m happy you say that because it sounds like such a plausible thing that you give out options. Everyone’s now an owner, so now everyone’s going to work a lot harder and what you basically mainly see is just that existing shareholders are being diluted.

[00:34:58] Mohnish Pabrai: Well, it’s heads they win and tails they don’t lose, and so there, there’s no real skin in the game there. And I really like the plan that Mark Leonard put in place a Constellation. I think that if you are, if you don’t believe that, just cash comp alone is going to do it for you. You could go with a plan like that and the results at Constellation speak for themselves.

[00:35:24] Stig Brodersen: I’m happy that you mentioned Constellation. We have talked about it a bit here on the show and about how they set up this kind of unique structure. I want to say it’s between 25 and 75% of the compensation, or bonuses I should say that have to be brought back in the open market and Mark Leonard is just amazing.

[00:35:41] Stig Brodersen: Now he’s traveling a bit more comfortable than he used to, but he’s also paying it out of pocket which is an example to follow.

[00:35:48] Mohnish Pabrai: Yeah, and he takes no salary.

[00:35:50] Stig Brodersen: Yeah.

[00:35:51] Mohnish Pabrai: He has no salary and no bonus.

[00:35:53] Stig Brodersen: Because he’s an owner and he’s thinking like an owner.

[00:35:56] Mohnish Pabrai: Yeah, but you can contrast that, for example, with someone like Larry Ellison at Oracle.

[00:36:04] Mohnish Pabrai: So one can argue Larry is a founder, he has a significant ownership stake. Why would he need a stock-based compensation plan to be aligned with other shareholders? But if you study Oracle and you look at the historical amount of. Compensation that’s gone to Ellison. It’s been quite spectacular. Now he, I would argue that he’s worth it, and I would say probably absolutely he’s probably worth it.

[00:36:32] Mohnish Pabrai: But he would’ve worked just as hard because he had the incentive with the ownership. And so it was an add-on that was a tax to the shareholders. That never happened with Bill Gates at Microsoft. So Gates basically always had a very modest salary and never granted himself any options or anything like that.

[00:36:56] Stig Brodersen: Constellation Software, it is so interesting for so many reasons. It’s not to derail the conversation too much whenever you have a return on equity on, oh, sorry, a return on invest capital for I don’t know, 30% for decades, and you’re like with so many things, you’re like, it’s almost like whenever you look at the asset manager, you’re like, you want the long runway, but you also want the long track record.

[00:37:17] Stig Brodersen: So it’s sort of like you want to have your cake, you eat it too, right? So you’re like, yeah, Constellation Software that makes a lot of sense to have track record, but now they’re like 50 billion plus what market cap. So it’s probably going to be hard to do for the next two decades.

[00:37:30] Mohnish Pabrai: Well, but I would also, but I would also not bet against Mark.

[00:37:34] Mohnish Pabrai: Mark has an uncanny ability to pull rabbits out of the hat. So I don’t have an investment in Constellation. And many times I think it’s a mistake even at the size and the multiple that they’re at because the quality of the manager is so exceptional and the business model is so exceptional in many ways.

[00:37:55] Mohnish Pabrai: Constellation is embryonic. So I would not be surprised at all if Constellation continues to do very well in the years ahead. I would also not be surprised at all if Leonard takes the company in some different direction where he might allocate, he’s not really a software guy, he’s a capital allocator, and he found a mouse trap that worked really well and he could, he, that mousetrap had a deep vein and they continued to mine that vein of great opportunities. But I know that they’re looking at other sectors and areas that could hold promise to deploy capital.

[00:38:42] Stig Brodersen: If you look at a serial acquirer what is there to look out for other than the track record? Assuming that the management do not change, would you have anything where you’re like, this is interesting?

[00:38:51] Mohnish Pabrai: Well, usually I don’t, I’m not a big fan of Rollups and I’m not a big fan of serial acquirers. I think that companies like Constellation and Berkshire are cut from a different cloth. So if you look at Constellation, they have an internal list of about 40,000 vertical market software companies’ small companies, 40,000 of them.

[00:39:20] Mohnish Pabrai: And they nudge them probably two or three times a year. And basically, and they have a whole webdev team, ma team. So basically, they’ll kind of like what Buffett would do with his letters to different companies like Ikea. He’d say, hey, if you ever decide to do something, please think of us.

[00:39:39] Mohnish Pabrai: That sort of thing and amongst these 40,000 companies, there are founders who are getting old who may want to retire. They could be divorces, there could be other reasons why somebody wants to sell and move on. And for most of them, constitution might be the only buyer. These are usually not rapidly growing companies.

[00:40:03] Mohnish Pabrai: They may have stable revenues and cash flows, or might have just very small, very slow growth. And so private equity is not interested. Venture capital is not interested and even to venture capitalists, actually Constellation’s a great exit. So they make, 20 bets in a portfolio and one outlier’s going to generate most of the returns they hope.

[00:40:27] Mohnish Pabrai: And 15 or 17 end up being either they’re going to disappear or just be on, flatlined, just kind of limping along. And the partners of these venture funds don’t, not, don’t want to sit on those boards. Anymore and waste their time. So they want those companies off their ownership.

[00:40:48] Mohnish Pabrai: And so a place like Constellation is perfect for them. They can stop doing the babysitting. They get rid of these things that they thought might have a great moonshot. Now they know there’s no moonshot and they can focus on their one or two outliers and take it from there. So the in-effect constellation is in the funeral business.

[00:41:07] Mohnish Pabrai: And the funeral business, like I wrote about in my first book, mosaic is a really good business. So somebody has to take care of these businesses at some point, and Constellation’s the caretaker, and they’re really good at it. So when they acquire a business, they have a lot of ways in which they can help the business, not by being overbearing, but by telling them, listen, we’ve got seven others like this and these are what we’ve learned could be helpful, and so on.

[00:41:37] Mohnish Pabrai: So, Yeah, I think that mousetrap is exceptional and they’re the only ones with that mousetrap.

[00:41:44] Stig Brodersen: So Mohnish, I wanted to talk to you a bit about investing mistakes and sort of like how to bridge that with wonderful companies such as Constellation Software and show me an investor who tells you that he hasn’t made a investing mistake and I’ll show you a liar.

[00:41:58] Stig Brodersen: Or at least someone who hasn’t started investing and so personal anecdote it’s about Alibaba, but it’s not about Alibaba. I’m just using it as a point of reference. So it’s not so much that but I made an investment in Alibaba which I know a lot of investors in our circles did together with Charlie and Kai and you and so many others.

[00:42:16] Stig Brodersen: And whenever I look at it now and a lot of things has happened, again, this is about Alibaba, but not about Alibaba. So I’ll see if I can get to a question there at the end. But I think that I made a mistake in my assessment of the intrinsic value and also that the company wasn’t, the, was perhaps still a compound, but not the type of compound I thought it was.

[00:42:35] Stig Brodersen: And so I think that the time of recording I think it just looked up here before we started recording, is like $84 or whatnot. It was a bit painful to look at, but it’s still undervalued with this new price. And so I guess assume that this is a mistake. And again, it could be any other start, like you have this kind of interesting paradox where you realize it’s a mistake, but whenever you realize it’s a mistake, the market more often than not also realize it’s a mistake.

[00:43:00] Stig Brodersen: Perhaps you realized because the market told you that it was a mistake and so you might think you borrowed a 50 cents on the dollar or whatever kind of number, but it still trades a 50 cents on the dollar, just like from a very low level. And so, And I’m like what do you do? Because, you have this weird situation were, there might be some tax loss harvesting.

[00:43:19] Stig Brodersen: You can think about if opportunity, cost lot loose, whatever our biases with loss aversion, anchoring, you name it like a lot of stuff. Or like there was like fireworks in the brain whenever you see that happening. And so do we as investors whenever we make a mistake, wait for the stock to revert back to the intrinsic value again, knowing that it can take a long time before that happens.

[00:43:40] Stig Brodersen: And perhaps we are even wrong in our new assessment of the intrinsic value as, as much as we cut it or do we cut our losses and say, well, Mohnish have told us invest in wonderful business and pay up and be patient. Let’s go to the constellation softwares of the world. I don’t know if there’s a question there but like, do you challenge the premises of the question? Please do, if you want and how do you think about this, realizing you made a mistake and the opportunity cost? I guess that’s my long way of asking the question.

[00:44:05] Mohnish Pabrai: Yeah, so, we have to separate the signal from the noise and as we saw with these examples of the nifty 50 and Naspers and Buffett and so on, is this is a business with a high error rate.

[00:44:19] Mohnish Pabrai: Even the best investors will be wrong at least half the time. And so one of the backdrops we have to keep in mind is that if you have a portfolio of 10 stocks, more than likely half are mistakes. Now, you may not lose money on them. They may not just compound at a high rate. They may be 4% compounding instead of 15 percentage you’re expecting, for example.

[00:44:41] Mohnish Pabrai: So you don’t lose money, but you don’t keep, make the money you were thinking you’ll make. So knowing that there’s a high error rate and separating the signal from the noise when you have a good amount of data telling you that the signal is saying that you were probably wrong. Then then yeah you cut your losses and you move on.

[00:45:04] Mohnish Pabrai: And I think in the case of Alibaba, we saw actions by the Chinese government that quite frankly become very hard to handicap in the future. So we’ve seen a bunch of actions in the past, which we didn’t see when the investment was made, and those actions destroyed value for the investor. And we don’t know what the end game is.

[00:45:27] Mohnish Pabrai: We don’t, so I would say that what the Chinese government does and the impact it has on Alibaba goes into the two hard piles. We just don’t know. And the second is, which is, one of the things that I’ve always, I’ve tried to avoid the mega caps and I made an exception for Alibaba, which didn’t help me.

[00:45:51] Mohnish Pabrai: And I moved that investment to process, which I think with Tencent is a better bet. But I think the fact remains that if you’re buying a business with a hundred or 200 or 300 billion market value, what is the runway? That remains a question. Now you could buy Apple at 200 billion and it could go to 2 trillion or two and a half trillion, and that’s fine.

[00:46:17] Mohnish Pabrai: But those are few and far between. So my bias has been to try to look for businesses that were much smaller, where the runway was not in question that there was room for them to grow. Doesn’t mean that, they’re always going to work out, but that’s the goal, is that they have, they’re not sitting at these massive mega cap numbers where you’re saying, okay. Even a double from here may not be that easy.

[00:46:48] Stig Brodersen: Well, hey, that’s why we go to Turkey. So I wanted to shift gears here a bit and talk a bit about life, for lack of better words and, my, my wife is generally not too interested in but she asked me before we jumped on this call with you, what are you most excited about speaking with Mohnish about?

[00:47:04] Stig Brodersen: And I said, I have two questions here at the end and it’s about living a life according to Mohnish. I’m pretty excited about that. So that’s going to be my, my, my buildup. Just know this has been filtered by my wife. And so I wanted to talk to you about Power Versus Force which is this book by David Hawkins.

[00:47:19] Stig Brodersen: And one of the lessons you took away from the book is that we subconsciously can know if a person is lying, pattern recognition, whatnot. There’s just something there. We don’t really like to be around that person. We can’t tell you why they’re lying because it is subconscious but there’s just some something there.

[00:47:36] Stig Brodersen: And one of the things I really admire about the way that you live your life is about how transparent and truthful you live your life and have caught out the big lies and the small lies. And I heard you mention this story where you’re supposed to take out your wife now your ex-wife to the movies and she asked you how she looked in a dress and you were very honest about what you said.

[00:47:57] Stig Brodersen: And you didn’t go to that movie but you also said that, it was for the same reason why you could split nine figures in less than 30 minutes without lawyers and why your wife is your biggest investor in your funds because there’s this trust, like she you can be trusted.

[00:48:11] Stig Brodersen: You are a trustworthy person because you sort of like you live life fully, and I guess I was just so fascinated about that. Yeah, and I spoke to my wife about this exact situation this morning and not because I want a divorce her or to say something bad about how she dresses but my wife and I had talked along about how to practice a life more similar to that.

[00:48:32] Stig Brodersen: And we have also put into practice I heard you talk about this years ago and I think it’s very fascinating but it also gives you a lot of bruises at least it does for us. So perhaps if you could share your journey and how you started cutting out the small and the big lies and what that has meant for you and the way you live your life today.

[00:48:51] Mohnish Pabrai: Yeah. Well, I think that’s a great question. It is going to feel uncomfortable. I think that it is the small white lies are just very comfortable. You don’t hurt anyone. And why would anyone care? And just move on, like, oh your dress looks great. How is anyone ever going to know that you really thought it didn’t look great?

[00:49:12] Mohnish Pabrai: And so you move on but it’s not authentic and I think that many times when we meet people, we don’t know why but we sometimes just don’t want to be around certain people. We can’t put our finger on it. And it may be that there’s too much implicit and explicit lies. Around what that person is saying or doing.

[00:49:36] Mohnish Pabrai: And so I think that the inversion of that is that if you want to build trust, you have to make a commitment to the truth. And the truth is going to not be easy many times. But I think that once your kind of cross that Rubicon and are on the other side, what you’re going to find is that trust goes up a lot.

[00:50:04] Mohnish Pabrai: And basically this world functions on trust. It doesn’t function on contracts. People do business with people because they trust them. And the best contracts are ones that you never look at after you sign them. And so I think that if you want to have a lot of success in business, you have to have a very high standard for candor and integrity.

[00:50:28] Mohnish Pabrai: And if you want to have, great deep relationships great friendships, then again, that, that same thing is really important. I think your friends need to know that you’ve got their back, and that when they come to you, they’re not, they’re going to get very authentic answers, even if those answers are not what they want to hear.

[00:50:54] Mohnish Pabrai: And so those are, I think these are these are very powerful principles where once you going to get comfortable with it and start to apply it in your life, the paybacks are so enormous that it just becomes a no-brainer. I think any other way of living is kind of dumb, and it’s going to make your life a lot more pleasant.

[00:51:19] Mohnish Pabrai: It’s very easy when you don’t lie, because you don’t have to remember your lies. Just makes it really simple. Anytime you’re saying something or talking about something, eh, you don’t have to remember, oh, I said this and I said that, and I got to keep consistent with that, or any of that. Just say the truth and that’s the end.

[00:51:37] Stig Brodersen: It’s like they say, it’s simple but not easy.

[00:51:41] Mohnish Pabrai: But it’s a great journey to go on and it’s a journey which is going to lead to a lot of growth. So it’ll feel unnatural and uncomfortable at times, but you’ll yourself start noticing very quickly that you feel so much better.

[00:52:01] Stig Brodersen: That’s so true and just as a personal anecdote. In my early twenties, I told all my friends and families, I didn’t want to go to their birthdays or go to weddings or anything like that because I just, I felt uncomfortable and it’s hard whenever you say that and the trick is to say, but I’m going to, I’m going to bring a six pack or whatever you want and this is you next Tuesdays, not because I don’t like you, it’s because I don’t want to sit next to your uncle for six hours when I could be reading a book or doing something else.

[00:52:26] Stig Brodersen: I really won’t and I can say that’s been one of the best decisions that I’ve made. But it’s hard and especially in the beginning. Now I’m in the lucky situation that people don’t ask me anymore. But it’s hard to be that true to other people but you’re right, man. You don’t have to say, because I had to go to another event. You don’t have to remember what that event was. Whenever you speak to your-

[00:52:47] Mohnish Pabrai: Yeah, I think candor in that situation, you’ll be surprised and you’ve probably already seen that your friends and relatives really appreciate you for the candor and they’ll understand. The weddings, my take on weddings is, they’re painfully boring, and they just, the only, I would say the only redeeming grace of weddings is if you get to meet a bunch of long lost, friends and relatives that you’ve been longing to hang out with.

[00:53:11] Mohnish Pabrai: That can be a great upside. But you are also going to meet a lot of dysfunctional relatives and hang out with them as well, and that may not be so much fun. Yeah, so I think the candor will be welcomed by everyone.

[00:53:25] Stig Brodersen: So on that note, Mohnish, I wanted to ask the last question I have here for today and because another of the challenges related to this idea about living, truthfully living with candor.

[00:53:36] Stig Brodersen: My wife and I, have a hard time talking about money in some settings with other people. Because like what we talked about before, you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, right? You invite people who don’t want to see not to hurt their feelings and they come not to hurt your feelings.

[00:53:50] Stig Brodersen: It’s there’s this irony in it but anyways, my wife and I come from this middle-class background and we just don’t talk about money and I think most people don’t talk about money. It might be a little different from some of the circles that we run in money where it’s sort of like the center.

[00:54:03] Stig Brodersen: But in most social situations, we don’t talk too much about money, especially if you have significantly less or significantly more money than your peers. Now you’ve been very open about your background having a father that was a Syrian entrepreneur, many failed businesses behind him, and I think you, you referenced this as a lot of feasts to famine over the years.

[00:54:25] Stig Brodersen: How has your journey into becoming financial independent and the success you have today, how has that changed your relationships with the people you knew before and after you got financially independent?

[00:54:38] Mohnish Pabrai: Yeah, so actually what I have found is that your remarks about people don’t like to talk about money. I think that is universal across cultures. So it’s not just, I don’t have a bunch of friends who love to talk about money. Okay? There’s no such thing and Guy always gets a chuckle because many times he and I will be in a conversation with someone who’s having has some important issues, folk in the road trying to figure out what to do.

[00:55:14] Mohnish Pabrai: And I’ll be asking a bunch of questions to try to get the data to try to help the person. And one of the first questions will go to really understand in detail the financial situation. What’s the network, what’s the income, what’s the expense, and all that and Guy always kind of goes into a cubby hole and says, oh, there we go again.

[00:55:32] Mohnish Pabrai: Mohnish asking all these uncomfortable questions but he’s now learned that Mohnish is going to ask those questions. Okay? And what I find surprising is the people who hear those questions, who have never answered those questions to anyone openly, give the answer. And then they say, I want to let you know, I have never discussed this with anyone.

[00:55:58] Mohnish Pabrai: No one knows this. Please don’t. I said, it’s all confidential. I’m not going to be, never going to talk about it to anybody but people actually get relieved to be able to share the data. Recently I had a call with a friend who wanted advice, career advice, and he was, he’s at an age where he could retire or he could take job A or job B or whatever and one of the first things I asked him is I needed to know his financial situation before I could tell him what made sense for him and so he shared his information that he’s never shared with anyone. I think, other than his wife has never talked about it. I don’t think his kids are aware of it, but dad gave me the information to be able to be most helpful to him.

[00:56:44] Mohnish Pabrai: And also, I think he felt relieved that he was not having a conversation around eggshells, where I’m in a vacuum trying to say, well, if this is your situation, then do this. I actually knew exactly what his situation was and I could tell him what I would do in that situation. So, yeah, I think people don’t like to talk about money but many times when they’re confronting different issues, those conversations can be very… can lighten the load for them.

[00:57:12] Mohnish Pabrai: And I think it’s important that in a safe and confidential environment with the people near you when you’re trying to, help them with some things where that information may be relevant, that you go there, you go to the land you’re not supposed to go to. That’s okay.

[00:57:30] Stig Brodersen: Wonderful to set, Mohnish and perhaps you should end on that note, thank you so much for your time. It’s always a pleasure having this annual call here in April just before Berkshire. So I just want to say thank you on behalf of all our listeners.

[00:57:45] Mohnish Pabrai: Stig, I always enjoy hanging out with you and it was a wonderful pleasure for me to have you join as an investor, so that added another dimension to our relationship. That’s wonderful and though I still feel you have kept the objectivity, which is great. Yeah, so I do enjoy hanging out with you and I also want to say that you and Preston are doing God’s work. I enjoy your podcast a lot. I listen to many of your guests and I think you’ve done a tremendous service to the community with the podcast. So thank you for that.

[00:58:20] Stig Brodersen: Wow. I don’t think we can end on any better note. So, I just want to humbly say thank you, Mohnish. It means a lot.

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