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Steve's note: I know many investors are extremely worried about all of the risks facing their stock portfolios right now. That's why when I read this interview, I knew we had to let you know about it in DailyWealth. It's from our sister site, The Daily Crux. Below, you'll find several easy steps to dramatically reduce the risks you face as an investor in stocks.

How to Dramatically Reduce the Risk in Your Stock Portfolio

By a Daily Crux interview with Dan Ferris
Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Daily Crux: Dan, in your latest issue of Extreme Value, you wrote about the three biggest risks all investors face. Can you tell us what these risks are?
Dan Ferris: The three big risks are pretty simple to understand, but they're probably the biggest reasons people lose big money in stocks.
The first one is business or earnings risk. This is the risk people generally think of most often.
This is the risk that a company suffers a loss in its earning power through any number of causes – like economic problems, industry changes, management missteps, or even fraud.
Now, what has become the classic way to avoid this risk is to find a business with an enormous competitive advantage. In the simplest terms, what you want to do is find a business whose earnings are extremely likely to recur again and again.
A great example is a company like Wal-Mart. There's little doubt it's going to keep making money because it has a huge competitive advantage. It can undercut everyone on price.
It's easy when you buy the world's best companies, like the World Dominator stocks in the Extreme Value portfolio. It can be trickier when you're dealing with other stocks. You need to make judgments about the business, its competition, and what the future may look like... but it's important to consider this risk before buying any stock.
The Daily Crux: OK. What's next on the list?
Dan Ferris: The next big risk is balance sheet or financial risk.
By far the biggest mistake most investors make here is they buy companies that use a lot of leverage. Leverage is dangerous... It goes both ways, as we saw with financial companies over the past several years.
Sure, it can allow you to earn more and get higher returns on equity when things are good, but it can also cause you to go bankrupt surprisingly quick if things get bad.
This one's probably the easiest to avoid. Just stay away from highly leveraged companies, especially highly leveraged financial companies. You need to take a look at a company's balance sheet. Avoid companies with lots of debt... Try to find companies that have little or no debt and plenty of cash on the balance sheet.
A great example here – that we own in the Extreme Value portfolio – is Forest Labs. Its management has made it clear it likes to have a really strong balance sheet. It uses zero leverage. It started the year with around $4 billion in cash and zero debt. And it's otherwise a great business: pharmaceuticals.
The Daily Crux: Got it. What's the last risk investors face?
Dan Ferris: The last risk is valuation risk. This is the one risk investors have complete control over, but it's probably the one people most often overlook. It's simply the risk that you pay too much for a stock.
The price you pay plays a huge role in whether you're going to make or lose money in a stock. It could be a really great business with low earnings risk. It can have a really great balance sheet and little to no financial risk. But if you pay 50 times earnings for it, you're basically guaranteed to lose money. It's an extremely rare business that's worth that much.
So even if you avoid the first two risks, you still have to understand what the business is worth.
And it's much more difficult to value companies that have financial or earnings risks. An example here might be an oil and gas drilling company... a company that's highly cyclical. It's much harder to avoid valuation risk with a driller to the extent you would with a business that has low earnings risk and low financial risk.
If you're looking at a great business, like a World Dominator, that's got a great balance sheet and low earnings risk, it's much easier to figure out how much it's worth.
Take Intel, for example. It's a great business that owns 80% of the microprocessor market. I might not pay 50 times earnings for it. But when I see it selling for less than 10 times cash flow, like it is right now, I don't need to worry about losing money.
The idea behind these strategies is – if you do them right – you'll know exactly what you're buying, exactly what to pay, and what kind of risk you're taking. If you do these three things, your chances of losing money go way, way down.
Most people don't think in those terms. They want to see a lot of upside, and they want a sexy story. But investing is kind of like a seesaw... When you can dramatically lower your chances of losing money, you've dramatically raised your chances of making it.
The Daily Crux: That's a great point... When you look at the most successful investors in history, they've tended to approach investing from that viewpoint.
Dan Ferris: Right. Jim Rogers always said that he looks down first. He looks down before he looks up. Warren Buffett said rule number one was "Don't lose money." And his second rule was "See rule number one."
That's what all the successful investors do. They figure out their risk. They're obsessed with figuring out how much risk they're taking. Only then do they think about the return.

Further Reading:

Each week, our sister site, The Daily Crux features a quick, insightful interview with a market expert, business insider, trading guru, or someone else who can provide readers with useful, actionable advice. Here are a few of our recent favorites – which are all free to access:
The world's best places to buy and store physical gold
Must-read advice from one of the world's most knowledgeable gold investors.
An exclusive Crux interview with Marc "Dr. Doom" Faber
You won't hear about these stocks in any mainstream financial publication.
Dr. David Eifrig's 12 steps to improve your health in the new year
Previously only available to members of The S&A Alliance...
Porter Stansberry: Why the U.S. is on the road to financial disaster
Few Americans know the root cause of our crisis.

Market Notes


If you're a big gold or silver owner, today's chart is a reason to smile.
Last week, we noted how the price of gold has displayed major reluctance to decline in the past year. There is simply so much interest from Asia and huge institutional investors that budding declines are overpowered by waves of buyers. This brings us to a recent buying wave for gold's precious-metal cousin, silver...
Silver is a schizophrenic asset. It is viewed by some folks as a "real money" safe haven like gold. But it's also used in industrial production... so it tends to trade in line with economically sensitive commodities like copper and crude oil. Here's where it gets interesting...
The recent terrible job and manufacturing numbers have put new recessionary concerns on the table... which has clobbered stocks and crude oil. Silver however, has held like a rock. And just yesterday, it "broke out" to a new two-month high. This is incredible price strength. And if the U.S. government attempts to "goose" the economy, we will see much, much more.

Silver just broke out to a 2-month high

In The Daily Crux

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