…perceptive thinking … at what I call the second level.
You must think of something they haven’t thought of, see things they miss or bring insight they don’t possess. You have to react differently and behave differently. In short, being right may be a necessary condition for investment success, but it won’t be sufficient. You must be more right than others … which by definition means your thinking has to be different.
I conceptualize the situation as a simple 2-by-2 matrix:
The bottom line for me is that, although the more efficient markets often misvalue assets, it’s not easy for any one person—working with the same information as everyone else and subject to the same psychological influences—to consistently hold views that are different from the consensus and closer to being correct.
Inverting these conditions yields a test of market inefficiency. For instance, in the first case, if an asset is not widely known and broadly followed, it might be inefficiently priced; in the second case, if an asset is controversial, taboo, or socially unacceptable, it might be inefficiently priced; and so on for each of the other two cases.
To me, describing a market as inefficient is a high-flown way of saying the market is prone to mistakes that can be taken advantage of.
But it’s impossible to argue that market prices are always right. In fact, if you look at the four assumptions just listed, one stands out as particularly tenuous: objectivity. Human beings are not clinical computing machines. Rather, most people are driven by greed, fear, envy and other emotions that render objectivity impossible and open the door for significant mistakes.
In the end, I’ve come to an interesting resolution: Efficiency is not so universal that we should give up on superior performance. At the same time, efficiency is what lawyers call a “rebuttable presumption”—something that should be presumed to be true until someone proves otherwise. Therefore, we should assume that efficiency will impede our achievement unless we have good reason to believe it won’t in the present case.