Much of what we do as investors involves studying businesses and critically evaluating the returns that are likely based on management’s competitive strategy. The elusive search for true “moats” is often frustrated by quick technological change which can make yesterday’s incumbent firm today’s dinosaur. Investors who pay a rich valuation for a business with a moat must be confident that the advantages leading to high returns today are not destroyed by new types of competition in the near term. Smart phones may soon threaten to drive retailers without a coherent competitive strategy to extinction.
No one enjoys dwelling on past errors whether we are talking about investments, career choices, or poor decisions in personal relationships. It is far more pleasant to think about what has worked well in the past and to relegate unpleasant memories to what George Orwell referred to in 1984 as the “memory hole”. Read this article for a case study in faulty investment decision making.
Companies that attempt to expand from their home base into foreign countries must adapt their operations to suit the preferences and peculiarities of each local market. In the “Tea with the Economist” interview shown below, Wal-Mart’s head of China operations provides some insight into how Wal-Mart has adapted the familiar model we are used to in the United States to suit local preferences in China. Read this article for more details and a video.