Learn about investor Bill Ackman’s 8 Step Investing Checklist that his hedge fund Pershing Square Capital uses to invest in companies like Chipotle. I break down Bill Ackman’s 8 investing principles step by step and provide examples for each step!
Bill Ackman’s 8 Step Investing Checklist of Business Musts:
- Simple and predictable
- Free cash flow generative
- Dominant market position
- Large barriers to entry (MOAT)
- High return on capital
- Limited exposure to extrinsic risks we can’t control
- Strong balance sheet and the business doesn’t need access to outside capital to survive
- Excellent management and good governance
Bill Ackman expanded on his investing criteria by saying, “We look for very high quality businesses. What we describe as simple, predictable, free cash flow generative, dominant businesses. A business that Warren Buffett would describe as having a moat around it. If you believe that the value of anything financial is the present value of the cash you can take out of it over its life, you need to know how much cash it’s going to generate over its life. So business quality to us is the single most important criterion for determining what’s interesting. Because if we can’t predict the cash flows, we don’t know what it’s worth. We don’t know what it’s worth, we can’t invest. We figure out what it’s worth — figure out how good the business is, how predictable will these cash flows be from a railroad or spirits company or real estate company, shopping mall business.”
“And then we say OK well, where’s it trading? And if there’s a wide gap between price and value, you can buy it for 50 cents it’s worth $1.20, well then we’re going to take a hard look and try to understand why it trades at a deep discount. Once we understand the reasons, we decide well these things we can solve. In light of the situation, circumstances, can we be influential in changing these levers that can cause this valuation discrepancy to narrow? And is this a business that while we’re causing the valuation discrepancy to narrow, we can also perhaps contribute to the valuation growing. If those things are true we found something that looks quite interesting for us.”
Among Pershing Square’s 7 positions as of Q4 2021 13F filing, 3 of them are food-related positions in Chipotle, Domino’s, and Restaurant Brands International. Businesses like Chipotle were able to maintain positive free cash flows in spite of the massive economic downturn we experienced in 2020-2021. Companies like Chipotle, Amazon, and Lowe’s thrived during the last couple of years. Bill used to be invested in Starbucks, which he considers to be a technology company and has many competitive advantages over many coffee shops.
Bill recently invested $1.1 billion into Netflix in Q1 2022, and he’s bullish on this company for many reasons (as I discussed in this video) and one of the reasons is that it has an improving free cash flow situation to help invest in its growth and eventually return cash to shareholders. Excellent management in Reed Hastings is likely another reason why Bill invested in Netflix.
Railroads are a great example of having large barriers to entry or having a moat because most people can’t just easily start a new railroad business tomorrow. So Bill has had success with railroad companies like Canadian Pacific, which he recently invested in again. And he also talked about the moats of Mastercard and Visa, which he regretted not investing in Mastercard when he said “If you could own royalty on people spending money, like Visa or Mastercard, that’s the greatest business in the world. If that ever became a public company you want to buy that company.”
We want to stick to our circle of competence so we don’t invest in things we don’t fully understand, and this will help us to reduce our risk of permanently losing money. In addition, we should be concerned about balance sheets with too much debt if companies run into liquidity and then solvency problems during an economic crisis.
Bill Ackman’s investing strategy is very concentrated, much like Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger. The Pershing Square portfolio reflects this investment philosophy where Bill said, “why not own the best 10 or 11 investments as opposed to ideas 12-25, or 12-100, which is more typical. I think there are very few great investments at any one time, so the ability to concentrate is an enormously valuable asset of a strategy. The problem with it is it leads to bumpier returns. But if you want to make high rates of return over a long period of time, it’s hard to do being very diversified.”
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