Margin of Safety: The 3 Most Important Words in Investing

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  • 30 Jan 2023

Margin of Safety is an investing concept put forward by legendary investor Benjamin Graham. This concept has been the core of the value investing approach for a long time. Warren Buffet even stated that margin of safety is the three most important words in investing. Let's take a deeper dive into the concept and understand why it is so important.

The concept of margin of safety refers to the gap between a particular stock's current price and the actual intrinsic value of the same stock. According to Benjamin Graham, the margin of safety grows when a stock's ongoing price falls below its actual intrinsic value.

Simply put, the concept means if you successfully purchase a stock at a lower price than the amount you value them, you increase your margin of safety, i.e. you invest in that stock with significantly limited risk. As many of you already know, the price of stocks can drop for various reasons, but if you invest in them with an acceptable margin of safety, you will have pre-planned built-in security for those stocks in difficult times.

There are two aspects of margin of safety:

  • Valuation: The valuation of a stock may be highly subjective. Every investor calculates the actual intrinsic value of the same stock differently – through growth rate, earnings or cash flow. Investing in stocks with prices below their actual intrinsic value may also act as a stimulus. When the marketplace detects the mispricing error, the realisation of intrinsic value can be swift, expanding your current margin of error even more.

  • Quality: In theory, the margin of safety means buying securities below their actual intrinsic value. Many value investors follow this strategy. However, it is essential to purchase "high-quality" stocks at lower prices to increase the overall margin of safety. Whatever the reason is that is causing the stock's price to fall, a stock with a sustained competitive benefit, significant cash flows, and excellent management provides built-in security for investors.

Your Investment margin of safety depends on the amount of precision you believe your stock valuation is. Intrinsic valuation is never straightforward since every investor has their method of valuation. Slight inaccuracies can result in significant variances based on the firm type. This is precisely why generating a healthy margin of safety is necessary. Successful investors use a safety margin of at least 25%.

Note: When investing in a particular stock, the margin of safety gives coverage against mistakes in judgement or computation. However, it is essential to understand that having a healthy margin of safety doesn't mean a successful investment because valuing a stock's actual intrinsic value is highly subjective.

Different investors use diverse methods to calculate a stock's actual intrinsic value, and methods like analysing growth rate, earnings, or cash flow are rarely perfect and precise. Furthermore, predicting a stock's future is notoriously tricky. But, maintaining a margin of safety may be helpful in most scenarios if you successfully identify a stock's actual intrinsic value.

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