Above The Fray

Boot Camp for Value Investors

Last week I attended the Ben Graham Centre’s 2013 Value Investing Conference in Toronto the day before the Fairfax Financial Annual Meeting. The Centre is part of the Richard Ivey Business School at the University of Western Ontario in London. Dr. George Athanassakos, who is the Ben Graham Chair in Value Investing at the Ivey School, both organized the Conference and runs the Centre. Fairfax Financial and Prem Watsa have been generous with both their time and resources in establishing the Centre and in building one of the premier academic settings in the world dedicated to the study of the craft of value investing.

The Conference was excellent! It was useful for both experienced investment professionals (and there were dozens in attendance) as well as novices who are just discovering value investing for the first time. Full disclosure here…….I was privileged to be a guest speaker at last year’s conference and I have been involved with the Centre in trying to attract some of the excellent value investors that I know to come and guest lecture to the students taking George’s class at Ivey. I also have the pleasure of being an Advisory Board Member to the Ivey Value Fund which is a student managed investment fund that provides a real world investment management experience for those students selected to be analysts and  portfolio managers.

This year’s conference featured a morning panel of four value investors who each discussed their approach to value investing complete with examples of investments they currently own. That alone was worth the price of the conference and I came away with a couple of solid ideas to research. In the afternoon, there was a panel of four corporate executives who shared presentations about the companies they run and discussed how they go about creating long term shareholder value. Interspersed throughout the day were three keynote speakers. Dr. A. Gary Shilling, a well regarded economist, gave a presentation entitled “Investment Strategies for a Changing World” where he highlighted his views that the world has only just begun to deleverage and that GDP growth will continue to be sluggish for a long time. Jeremy Grantham, the founder of Grantham, Mayo and Van Otterloo (known as GMO), discussed bubbles throughout history and how to  identify them. Jeremy also distributed a report to all conference attendees entitled “Friends and Romans, I come to tease Graham and Dodd and not to praise them. (On the potential disadvantages of Graham and Dodd-type investing.)” While the title of his report may be painfully long, Jeremy performed a valuable service at the Conference by discussing the negatives associated with value investing. It is always useful to question any faith, investment or otherwise. Finally, of particular interest to me given that we are shareholders, Thorsten Heins, the CEO of BlackBerry, provided an update on the company and his vision for the future of mobile computing. Clearly it was a full and power packed agenda!

George has done an amazing job executing the mission of the Centre which “is to research, teach, apply and promote the style of investing developed by Benjamin Graham in the early 1930’s, referred to as Value Investing”. While operating within an academic setting, he has been able to strike an appropriate balance between scholarly research and real world experience. The reputation of the Centre and of Canada generally as a hotbed for value investing is rising rapidly.  Columbia University in New York has generally been considered the intellectual home of value investing given that Benjamin Graham was a professor there and because the school has done a good job maintaining its value tradition through The Heilbrunn Center for Graham & Dodd Investing. But due to George’s efforts, The Ben Graham Centre for Value Investing has now established itself as another exemplar in researching and promoting the craft of value investing. The Centre has done a particularly good job globally with attendees at various events coming from around the world. I have personally met participants from Brazil, Spain, Singapore and Hong Kong either at the Conference last week or at earlier events sponsored by the Centre. While Canadians don’t like to brag about themselves, when it comes to the teaching, application and promotion of the craft of value investing, we are world class!

I would strongly encourage anyone interested in value investing or in improving their investment skill to attend this conference next year or any of the other events organized by The Ben Graham Centre for Value Investing. There are also extensive resources available on the Centre’s website that can be accessed for free at www.bengrahaminvesting.ca. The  material available includes the presentations and some videos from past conferences as well as videos of past guest lecturers to George’s class. If you see some videos of a guy bearing an uncanny resemblance to George Clooney, on closer examination I think that you will be able to tell that it’s not Clooney but rather a guy named Stacey. Okay, now I remember……. it was in a dream I had that I looked like George Clooney!


“Above the Fray” is a regular blog written by Jeffrey Stacey, Chairman and CEO of Stacey Muirhead Capital Management Ltd., which discusses items of interest related to investing, finance and business. This is not a solicitation.

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