Investing Superheroes: John Bogle

John Bogle has been a financial industry pioneer and respected spokesman for over fifty years. As the founder of The Vanguard Group, which specializes in low-cost index funds, he’s had tremendous impact in driving down the costs and complexities of market participation for millions of investors. Many of the standard components of sound investment advice weren’t standard before John Bogle.

Bogle’s Key Strategic Concepts:

  • Bogle starts with the importance of long-term thinking to investment success. “The historical data support one conclusion with unusual force: To invest with success, you must be a long-term investor”. This advice is so commonly heard, that it is easy to overlook the meaning. He continues this thought saying that “In the long run, investing is not about markets at all. Investing is about enjoying the returns earned by businesses.” The long-term investor should be chiefly concerned being invested and earning the cash flow and growth generated by the businesses that he or she owns. The price of this growth and cash flow (to Bogle, “the markets”) will fluctuate and these fluctuations become meaningless over a longer time-frame.
  • “Time is your friend; impulse is your enemy” Bogle urges investors to be patient and to avoid hasty decisions. His advice is similar to the old saw “measure twice, cut once”. In other words, once we’ve started on a solid long-term investment strategy, the best thing we can do as investors is to let time and compounding work for us. Getting impulsive and changing strategies (“the enemy”) can do huge damage to our returns. 
  • John Bogle began thinking about index investing back in 1951 hinting at the idea in his Princeton thesis. The basic concept of index investing is to ignore trying to sort out “good stocks” from “bad stocks” and simply buy a diversified group of stocks as inexpensively as possible. In other words, “Don’t look for the needle in the haystack. Just buy the haystack!” It often sounds promising to try to find the best stocks, and many investors do exactly that. However, this means that the best companies often have the highest stock prices, making them not necessarily the best investments. 
  • Our favorite Bogle quote gets straight to the heart of our investing philosophy at Svane Capital. “Your success in investing will depend in part on your character and guts, and in part on your ability to realize at the height of ebullience and the depth of despair alike that this too shall pass”. Of course we must understand and focus on the long term characteristics of markets and use appropriate investing strategy. But we must also understand the normal short term behavior of markets, and use this to our advantage when possible. Day to day, and even month to month price action in markets, can be thought of as mostly random with inevitable swings from extreme optimism to extreme pessimism. It is at these extremes where the greatest opportunities are found. At these points the right decisions can feel scary or even wrong. Using these times to our advantage depends mainly on our courage, discipline, and understanding that they don’t last forever.

John Bogle had been thinking about the concept of index investing since writing his thesis in 1951. But he credits support received from Nobel prize winner Paul Samuelson, Charles D. Ellis, and Princeton Professor Burton G. Malkiel in creating a business to capitalize on the idea. 

Bogle founded The Vanguard Group in 1975 launching its first index fund in 1976. In 1996 he retired as CEO, but the company he started continued to grow into one of the largest mutual fund companies in the world today.  Two of his most popular books are “Common Sense on Mutual Funds”, and “The Clash of the Cultures: Investment vs. Speculation”.

Sources: www.johncbogle.com, www.vanguard.com, www.investopedia.com

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