Casparus Treurnicht – Portfolio Manager
Megan Fraser – BD & Marketing
Demosthenes was a prominent Greek statesman who lived during the 4th century BCE and is regarded as one of the greatest orators in history. Despite facing personal challenges, such as a speech impediment and weak physical stature, Demosthenes dedicated himself to mastering the art of public speaking and became known for his passionate and persuasive oratory, addressing a wide range of topics, including politics, law, and philosophy.
He made several speeches expressing his opposition to the rising power of Philip II, the King of Macedon. One of the key ideas Demosthenes emphasized was the notion that individuals tend to believe what they wish to be true, rather than what might be objectively accurate or in their best interest. He recognized the power of wishful thinking and how it can cloud judgment and lead to an unwillingness to acknowledge uncomfortable truths. By highlighting this aspect of human nature, he sought to expose the potential dangers of succumbing to self-deception and embracing misleading beliefs.
“A man is his own easiest dupe, for what he wishes to be true he generally believes to be true.”
Charlie Munger, longtime business partner of Warren Buffett, could be considered a modern-day Demosthenes. While they each lived in different times, Charlie Munger embodies the following qualities that align with the spirit of Demosthenes:
- Embracing contrarianism: they both display a willingness to challenge prevailing beliefs and conventional wisdom. Munger famously emphasizes the importance of thinking independently and avoiding the herd mentality in investing. Similarly, Demosthenes challenged the consensus by speaking out against popular opinions, advocating for his own perspective, and urging the Athenians to confront uncomfortable truths.
- Seeking objective truth: Munger and Demosthenes shared a dedication to uncovering objective truth rather than being swayed by personal biases or wishful thinking. Munger stresses the importance of rigorous research and gathering information from diverse sources before making investment decisions. Demosthenes, likewise, aimed to expose his audience to the truth of political realities, appealing to reason and evidence rather than succumbing to self-deception.
- Long-term vision: Munger and Demosthenes both exhibit a long-term perspective in their respective domains. Munger famously advocates for a patient and disciplined approach to investing, emphasizing the importance of thinking in terms of decades rather than short-term gains. Similarly, Demosthenes sought to instil in his audience a sense of long-term thinking, warning against the immediate benefits of appeasement (more commonly recognised today as instant gratification) and urging them to consider the future consequences of their actions.
- Continuous learning: Munger and Demosthenes both placed great emphasis on continuous learning and personal development. Munger is a voracious reader and believes in acquiring knowledge from various disciplines, while Demosthenes devoted himself to mastering the art of oratory through practice and self-improvement. Both individuals recognized that growth and adaptation are essential for success in their respective fields.
Both men exemplify the importance of critical thinking, strategic decision-making, and a commitment to excellence, whether in the realm of investing or public speaking.
In an interview earlier this year Charlie Munger was asked what the most challenging bias for investors is and how to guard against it. He states that the one factor that dominates poor decisions is denial, saying that if the truth is unpleasant enough, the brain kicks into denial. Using index tracking as an example, he makes the point that not many active managers will beat the index but not many people will invest in trackers.
Research has proven that most investor funds will not beat market indices consistently over time. Jack Bogle launched the first indexation fund in the USA more than 50 years ago; about 50% of USA assets today are indexed. It is estimated that barely 10% of South African assets are currently invested in index funds. Gryphon, an outspoken advocate for indexation, has been managing an ALSI Tracker Fund since 2002 and a global tracker since 2014. The table below illustrates how these trackers have performed relative to their peers as at the end of June 2023.
We believe that our local and offshore tracker funds are the ideal building blocks for the equity core of any portfolio. Have you included index funds in your portfolio?
“I think that one should recognize reality even when one doesn’t like it; indeed, especially when one doesn’t like it.”