Leveraging the value effect

The Defensive Value InvestorAn accessible and engaging guide for any stock-picking private investor, says Matthew Partridge.

The Defensive Value Investor

by John KinghamPublished by Harriman House, £25Buy at Amazon

Many studies have proved that value investing (buying companies at bargain basement prices) produces the best long-term returns (indeed, The Fleet Street Letter's Charlie Morris wrote all about it in MoneyWeek last week). The efficient market hypothesis suggests that this shouldn't be the case as soon as everyone realises that value stocks beat the market, they should pile in and "arbitrage" the benefits away.

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Yet no one wants to buy companies that everyone else hates. They'd rather buy popular, fast-growing companies, even if they are more expensive. As a result, the value effect persists and The Defensive Value Investorby John Kingham, shows how a private investor can take advantage of it to build a low-risk portfolio, providing a reliable income.

Value investing is very focused on specific ratios, such as price/earnings and price/book, and these are the sorts of financial metrics that take up the first third of the book. Kingham wants investors to focus on reliable but unglamorous firms rather than riskier "special situations" (companies in trouble that may or may not be turned around), and so emphasises finding firms with secure balance sheets and stable businesses. This involves some homework, but Kingham gives a straightforward, step-by-step guide to the necessary calculations.

Of course, plenty of aspects of good businesses simply can't be captured in financial statements alone. The middle three chapters focus on key questions to ask about a company and its operations. Kingham stresses the importance of avoiding "value traps" stocks that look cheap, but only because they have serious problems. He also stresses the importance of a competitive advantage, to ensure a steady stream of profits.

The final section outlines Kingham's rules for combining individual picks into a portfolio. These include diversification how much you need, and how to do it and advice on when to sell. Kingham backs it all up with his own experiences as a newsletter writer and private investor, devoting a whole chapter to what he has learned from his mistakes.

Purists might argue that Kingham's insistence on sales growth and rising dividends makes him more of an income than a pure value investor, and those who want to take more risk may feel constrained by his "rules of thumb". However, overall this is an accessible, well-written and engaging guide, and it is also refreshing to hear a perspective from someone who isn't a typical City professional. Definitely worth a look for any stock-picking private investor.

The Defensive Value Investor by John Kingham (Harriman House, £25).

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

Follow Matthew on Twitter: @DrMatthewPartri