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So, I listed EVERYTHING we know about the game

And here it is (again! We're no longer [deleted]). Sources linked at the end. If a point doesn't reference a source it's because it's a commonly-enough known information. Some of the sources mention things officialy confirmed in a different source that I couldn't find. I would appreciate any help in finding those if there are any inconsistencies. I'm gonna skip obvious or commonly known things such as the release date. The points aren't organized in any importance order, just by the theme of them. From is short of FromSoftware.

THINGS OFFICIALLY CONFIRMED

OVERALL AND DEVELOPMENT INFORMATION
  • The game was announced on June 9th, on E3 2019' Xbox presentation. The announcement was done through a CGI trailer.[53]
  • Developed by FromSoftware (duh)
  • Published by BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment Inc.
  • The in-game world's history and mythos were crafted by the one and only Hidetaka Miyazaki, in collaboration with George R.R. Martin
  • Main story by Miyazaki and lore/mythology from Martin[5]
  • Miyazaki compares the mythology that Martin wrote for Elden Ring to that of the dungeon master’s handbook in a tabletop RPG[5]
  • George Martin's part in the game is already finished[1,5]
  • As of June 9th 2019 the game still had a load of work ahead of it[3]
  • FromSoftware's largest game to-date
  • The game is expected to launch for PS4, Xbox One and PC
  • Development started just after development for the Dark Souls 3 DLC had ended[3]
  • At the time^ planned as a more classic fantasy title compared to other currently in early-development or still being considered games[3]
  • From wanted to implement things that they weren’t able to do in the Dark Souls series[3]
  • Process of development same as Sekiro. While assigning co-directors to each project, Miyazaki took direction over the various game design, art and musical aspects of the titles[3]
  • As of April 14th 2020, FromSoftware were developing the game from home[42]
  • From didn't want to create a more linear or storydriven experience.[5]
  • Yuka Kitamura, who worked on all previous soulsborne titles' soundtracks, is working on Elden Ring's soundtrack as well[32]
  • There IS more info coming[3]
  • Elden Ring's original trailer was supposed to be shown at the Taipei Game Show in february ,though it'd be china-localized. The event got postponed to June thanks to coronavirus[43,44]
  • A short video with a song, presumably a shortened version of a piece from the OST and maybe the opening cinematic, was posted on the official twitter acc.[45]
  • Phil Spencer Has Played "Quite A Bit" Of Elden Ring, Calls It Miyazaki's "Most Ambitious Game".[47]
  • The game is, officialy, still in development as of 31st October 2020, and FromSoftware appreciates our enthusiasm for it (yay).[54]
  • 4K Ultra HD not available on Xbox One or Xbox One S consoles.[2]
  • HDR functionality available with supported games and TVs.[2]
  • Enhanced features for Xbox One X subject to release of a content update.[2]
GAMEPLAY
  • It's a third-person action-RPG, epic- and dark-fantasy medieval title, though it is more than just that[3,22]
  • Although it puts more focus on RPG aspects, responsive melee-based combat will be present[3]
  • Gameplay-wise, it’s heavily based on Dark Souls, and ER could be titled as it's natural evolution. That doesn’t mean that the gameplay will be identical, but you could say that Elden Ring belongs to the same genre[5,6]
  • The more extensive world will form the base of Elden Ring’s gameplay, and its mechanics are designed with that type of environment in mind. With a more open and vast environment, the way combat plays out becomes fundamentally different[5,6]
  • The main character will be able to traverse the world on a horse, with the ability to fight enemies while mounted[5]
  • Will include a wide variety of weapons, magic, and ways to engage enemies[3]
  • More variety in the ways for players to overcome challenges and tweak their tactics when facing enemies compared to the Dark Souls series[3]
  • It will contain character customization elements[3]
  • The game is open world, or rather it has a large, open field to play in[3]
  • With a larger world it became necessary to implement new systems and action mechanics[5]
  • In this danger-filled field you will find many areas ripe for exploration, as well as intricately designed, multi-layered castles and such[3]
  • Will contain boss fights[3]
  • Villages will be the dark dungeon-like ruins that you have come to expect from From[5]
LORE
  • While studying various open-world games, Miyazaki refrained from being too heavily inspired by them, and rather chose to focus on making an experience only FromSoftware could deliver[5]
  • Elden Ring isn’t about a ring you wear on your finger, but that “ring” is used in the context of “circle"[7]
  • In-game, Elden Ring is the name given to a mysterious concept that defines the world itself. It's a mysterious, key element in the foundation of the game's world. It forms the rules and rhythm of it[3,6]
  • This^ Elden Ring has been shattered. The significance of this will be one of the important themes of the game[3]
  • Instead of creating Elden Ring’s main story, Martin wrote about a time long before the era the player actually explores[5]
  • The period the player actually explores is still connected to the old times, so as you slowly discover why the world has become the way it is, you will learn more about Martin’s mythology[5]
  • We'll uncover the game's lore through exploration and fragments of environmental storytelling[5]
  • Regarding the concept art[4], the character on it portrays the darkness that the world and story possess and the will, or ambition of mankind[3]
  • Elden Ring’s NPC characters are more compelling than in Miyazaki's previous works[5]
  • For Elden Ring Miyazaki is going back to his Western fantasy roots[5]
  • The game’s themes are very different from From's previous works[5]
  • It's a very painful fantasy drama. There's pain there and from a human perspective there are themes of racism, politics, citizenship and so on.[46]
  • It's a work that's psychologically quite painful in a lot of ways[46]
  • The actions of the characters really make you think "yeah, humans are like that".[46]

THINGS STATED BY A CERTAIN ResetERA USER AND VARIOUS LEAKS AND RUMORS

Omn*******/Deleted Member 2229 was a user verified by the ResetEra forum's admins to be a FromSoftware/Bamco insider, though I don't know to what extent, because it'd be dangerous for him to reveal it to the public. He has previously accurately leaked things about Sekiro (for example it's subtitle Shadows Die Twice) and has hinted about the Demon's Souls Remake. It's your choice if you want to believe him or not, this is still officially-unverified information that might ruin/spoil things for you or might not turn out to be true. Objectively those points are worth listing. I might not have gotten everything because ResetEra is a pain to navigate without an account so I might not have found all of Omni's posts and I don't have access to their discord server. I noted as much as I could find (except the IGN JPN interview because I can't read Japanese) and again I would greatly appreciate letting me know about any information contained in the sources that I missed.

OPEN WORLD & WORLD IN-GENERAL INFORMATION
  • The biggest single change in terms of design moving from Dark Souls to Elden Ring is the open world[9]
  • This is easily From’s most immersive world yet filled to the brim with secrets and stuff From has never done before in multiple areas[8]
  • Interconnected design is larger and deeper than ever[8]
  • You'll be able to see an area long before you reach it (sometimes you can go straight to it), as well as look back across the land to places you have already been, seeing how places connect and what not[9,11]
  • The game's world is quite large[9]
  • One of the pillars of design in Elden Ring is to create a meaningful and fully realized world[9]
  • The world will feel real and alive, on a much greater scale than in previous titles[9]
  • The world will contain interesting landmarks to draw your attention and help you familiarize with your surroundings. They'll also act as points of interest along your journey from one goal to another[9]
  • Areas will connect to one another like in Dark Souls 1[9]
  • The landmass will be similar to the works of Fumito Ueda (Shadow of The Collosus) - specifically the vastness, the openness, the freedom and the clever funneling of player pathing, but less so the emptiness and the lack of player freedom or player choice[9,11]
  • It^ will contain degrees of verticality as well as natural transitions between the more open sections and the less open sections[9]
  • The landscapes of Scotland served as an inspiration for Elden Ring’s landscapes[9,49]
  • The player will be able to affect and change things in the world, but the world will also change on its own[9]
  • There will be plenty of meticulously crafted areas too[9]
  • More open level layout[10]
  • No BOTW style exploration[11, 37]
  • Dynamic day/night & weather, lighting, wildlife, dynamic enemy placement, roaming enemies and large roaming creatures to be present[10,11]
  • Different races of folk will inhabit the world, some of which already explored in past games but done differently this time. Some races are present in the trailer[13]
  • The scope of the world, lore and narrative is more grandiose than past games[13]
  • The game won't take place in just a single land like past titles, but multiple - with their own distinct qualities, characteristics, visuals and recognizable inhabitants[13]
  • There are wolves and dragons[11,14]
OVERALL AND DEVELOPMENT INFORMATION
  • (regarding news) This journey doesn’t end with E3, this is only the beginning[8,34]
  • Elden Ring is sort of a new start for the Souls games[10]
  • It's not Norse-based[12,49]
  • The jump from Dark Souls to Elden Ring is not as big of a jump as from Kings Field to Demon's Souls but as a whole, a bigger jump than Demon's Souls to Dark Souls[17]
  • When writting his posts, Omn******* toned stuff down rather than playing it up so that things didn't sound hyperbolic[21]
  • Elden Ring is expected to contain esoteric wierd shit[23]
  • From is prioritizing interesting and engaging game design over raw graphical prowess. Just like in their previous games[25]
  • Elden Ring is the culmination of a decade of iteration that started with Demon's Souls[25]
  • From is unlikely to switch to using Unreal Engine 4/5 any time soon[27]
  • The game is targeting and being developed for current gen consoles[29]
  • The game has been in development for years for current hardware[30]
  • With backwards compatibility on both consoles the game will undoubtedly benefit from things like fasteinstantaneous loading and higher frame rates[31]
  • Elden Ring isn't the last ARPG From will ever make[31]
edit: included the "delay" / silence information
  • Things were meant to happen, but they didn't. Sometimes you need to keep your plans fluid and change things along the way because it's ultimately better for your product[15]
  • It's not because of Phil Spencer or Microsoft[15]
  • It has nothing to do with GRRM or development issues. The game is fine[16]
  • From/Bandai decided to not show it for valid and "mundane" reasons, meaning there's no secrets or conspiracies worth speculating about[16,41]
  • It's not the only Bandai game in this situation. There are reasons outside of From's or Bandai's control for that that involve the realities of doing business[16]
  • COVID-19 has also affected many things[16]
  • The infamous trademark issue regarding EldenTec is not relevant[18]
  • Stuff was planned and it fell through, and coronavirus just made that situation worse[19]
  • As of May 23rd 2020 FromSoftware was in work-from-home mode due to covid. Supposedly they were to remain so until the end of said May[20]
  • The game isn't in any kind of development hell[24,40]
  • The silence is not a way to make sure Demon's Souls spotlight isn't stolen[26]
  • Development has still been progressing at a reasonable pace all things considered. There was no reason to worry about the game[28,41]
  • As for marketing, "they're working on it, they've been working on it, shit happens"[28]
  • Back in June the belief was that we wouldn't need to wait a particularly long time to see more news[35]
  • Jason Schreier has stated that originally, Elden Ring was supposed to release in the 1st half of 2020[33]
  • If IGN Middle East is to be believed, ER was supposed to appear at TGA 2019 with an early 2020 release date.[48]
  • 0mni also confirmed ER at TGA 2019 was supposed to happen. It didn't because From wanted to present their game in it's best light. ER was then supposed to appear at another event, but covid happened[50]
  • Back in December we could find Elden Ring featured on Benjamin Roach's artstation profile as a 2020 product. More info on Benjamin's legitimacy in the source.[52]
  • Back in June 2020, Imran Khan has stated that Elden Ring's gameplay might not be dropping in 2020 at all.[55,56]
  • In August 2020, Jeffrey Grubb stated that "he doesn't think we'll get Elden Ring news this year with the possible exception of The Game Awards".[57]
GAMEPLAY INFORMATION
  • Changes and improvements to AI and design with new ways to trick the player into a false sense of security before being murdered[9]
  • Effort is being put into improving both magic and melee combat and movement, some QoL things coming for those systems[10]
  • Stat allocation, the biggest gear variety yet,Fashion Souls, build variety present[10,12]
  • Dedicated jump button, no mario-esque hopping on heads though[10]
  • No Sekiro combat depth, too complicated with build variety (as in different weapons and magic)[11]
  • PvP and Coop confirmed [12,38,39]
LORE AND STORY INFORMATION
  • The player character will just be a human or a not-human[13]
  • Important magic wielders will be more fleshed out than usual, both in terms of their sub-narrative as well as organizations of their own[13]
  • Schools of Magic aren’t just about what sort of element you wield but which school matches the ideals you most closely adhere to and which organization you might feel more connected to[13]
  • In-game, the Elden Ring was like the state of the world, comparable to Earth's Moon or atmosphere[13]
  • After it^ shattered, all the worst and unimaginable things it was keeping out start to make their way in, someone you once knew becomes something and existence itself and everything within and around it just stops working as intended. And you get to witness the results of that[13]
  • Governing bodies, nations, gods and demigods to be relevant[13]
  • It will contain a lot more characters with stories that will span further across the game in terms of location and story progression with their own motives and personal ambitions. Like the larger and more involved NPC quests of DS3 but on a more consistent scale[13]
  • The player will have a more interesting and involved personal narrative[13]
  • A powerful narrative with more dramatic weight than preceding titles[13]
  • What GRRM wrote for the game is essentialy a short story[36]
And that would be it. I'll update the post once something new / something I may have missed comes up. Now, let's wait for the Xbox July event gamescom Game Awards to confirm all of that. Right?


Sources: note: Omn******* has since deleted his account and his name was changed to Deleted Member 2229.
[1]https://en.bandainamcoent.eu/elden-ring/elden-ring
[2]https://www.xbox.com/en-US/games/elden-ring/
[3]https://news.xbox.com/en-us/2019/06/09/hidetaka-miyazaki-and-george-rr-martin-present-elden-ring/
[4]https://www.instagram.com/p/ByiW7PUAgMX/
[5]https://www.ign.com/articles/2019/06/21/elden-ring-is-an-evolution-of-dark-souls-says-creator-a-e3-2019?sf104471595=1
[6]https://www.ign.com/articles/2019/06/11/dark-souls-and-bloodborne-creator-says-elden-ring-is-a-vast-open-world-souls-like-game-a-e3-2019
[7]https://www.ign.com/articles/2019/06/12/elden-ring-fromsoftware-explains-the-meaning-behind-the-name-a-e3-2019
[8]https://www.resetera.com/threads/what-are-you-expecting-to-see-from-fromsoftware-this-year.115159/page-34#post-21284690
[9]https://www.resetera.com/threads/from-software-development-speculation-everything-we-know-about-their-current-projects.163312/page-8#post-28112018
[10]https://www.resetera.com/threads/from-software-development-speculation-everything-we-know-about-their-current-projects.163312/page-32#post-29488928
[11]https://www.resetera.com/threads/from-software-development-speculation-everything-we-know-about-their-current-projects.163312/page-36#post-29562338
[12]https://www.resetera.com/threads/what-are-you-expecting-to-see-from-fromsoftware-this-year.115159/page-44#post-21288291
[13]https://www.resetera.com/threads/from-software-development-speculation-everything-we-know-about-their-current-projects.163312/page-56#post-30310951
[14]https://www.resetera.com/threads/from-software-development-speculation-everything-we-know-about-their-current-projects.163312/post-33894606
[15]https://www.resetera.com/threads/from-software-development-speculation-everything-we-know-about-their-current-projects.163312/post-33427959
[16]https://www.resetera.com/threads/from-software-development-speculation-everything-we-know-about-their-current-projects.163312/post-33450690
[17]https://www.resetera.com/threads/from-software-development-speculation-everything-we-know-about-their-current-projects.163312/post-33900462
[18]https://www.resetera.com/threads/from-software-development-speculation-everything-we-know-about-their-current-projects.163312/page-99#post-34430904
[19]https://www.resetera.com/threads/from-software-development-speculation-everything-we-know-about-their-current-projects.163312/page-99#post-34432434
[20]https://www.resetera.com/threads/from-software-development-speculation-everything-we-know-about-their-current-projects.163312/page-104#post-34822983
[21]https://www.resetera.com/threads/from-software-development-speculation-everything-we-know-about-their-current-projects.163312/post-35029170
[22]https://www.resetera.com/threads/from-software-development-speculation-everything-we-know-about-their-current-projects.163312/page-108#post-35058933
[23]https://www.resetera.com/threads/from-software-development-speculation-everything-we-know-about-their-current-projects.163312/post-35371134
[24]https://www.resetera.com/threads/from-software-development-speculation-everything-we-know-about-their-current-projects.163312/page-113#post-35484381
[25]https://www.resetera.com/threads/from-software-development-speculation-everything-we-know-about-their-current-projects.163312/page-113#post-35503164
[26]https://www.resetera.com/threads/from-software-development-speculation-everything-we-know-about-their-current-projects.163312/post-35523333
[27]https://www.resetera.com/threads/from-software-development-speculation-everything-we-know-about-their-current-projects.163312/page-114#post-35535927
[28]https://www.resetera.com/threads/from-software-development-speculation-everything-we-know-about-their-current-projects.163312/page-118#post-35932548
[29]https://www.resetera.com/threads/from-software-development-speculation-everything-we-know-about-their-current-projects.163312/page-130#post-36741988
[30]https://www.resetera.com/threads/from-software-development-speculation-everything-we-know-about-their-current-projects.163312/page-138#post-38340013
[31]https://www.resetera.com/threads/from-software-development-speculation-everything-we-know-about-their-current-projects.163312/page-138#post-38340013
[32]https://twitter.com/Yuka_Kitamura/status/1242788115908972547?s=20
[33]https://twitter.com/jasonschreiestatus/1134581330921041921?s=20
[34]https://www.resetera.com/threads/elden-ring-announced-fromsoftwares-largest-game-to-date-hidetaka-miyazaki-x-george-r-r-martin-ps4-xbo-pc.122004/page-8#post-21638054
[35]https://www.resetera.com/threads/elden-ring-announced-fromsoftwares-largest-game-to-date-hidetaka-miyazaki-x-george-r-r-martin-ps4-xbo-pc.122004/page-18#post-21720015
[36]https://www.resetera.com/threads/elden-ring-announced-fromsoftwares-largest-game-to-date-hidetaka-miyazaki-x-george-r-r-martin-ps4-xbo-pc.122004/page-32#post-22102635
[37]https://www.resetera.com/threads/elden-ring-announced-fromsoftwares-largest-game-to-date-hidetaka-miyazaki-x-george-r-r-martin-ps4-xbo-pc.122004/page-38#post-23087806
[38]https://www.resetera.com/threads/elden-ring-announced-fromsoftwares-largest-game-to-date-hidetaka-miyazaki-x-george-r-r-martin-ps4-xbo-pc.122004/page-80#post-27204536
[39]https://www.resetera.com/threads/elden-ring-announced-fromsoftwares-largest-game-to-date-hidetaka-miyazaki-x-george-r-r-martin-ps4-xbo-pc.122004/page-89#post-27329563
[40]https://www.resetera.com/threads/elden-ring-announced-fromsoftwares-largest-game-to-date-hidetaka-miyazaki-x-george-r-r-martin-ps4-xbo-pc.122004/post-27352247
[41]https://www.resetera.com/threads/elden-ring-announced-fromsoftwares-largest-game-to-date-hidetaka-miyazaki-x-george-r-r-martin-ps4-xbo-pc.122004/page-93#post-27354789
[42]https://twitter.com/YasuhiroKitao/status/1250089156669145088
[43]https://www.dualshockers.com/elden-ring-taipei-game-show-2020-possible-traile
[44]https://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2020-01-31-taipei-game-show-postponed-in-response-to-coronavirus-outbreak
[45]https://twitter.com/ELDENRING/status/1144681872779202560
[46]https://reddit.com/Eldenring/comments/ixh5j5/there_is_an_official_discussion_about_elden_ring/g66taea
[47]https://www.gamespot.com/articles/phil-spencer-has-played-quite-a-bit-of-elden-ring-calls-it-miyazakis-most-ambitious-game/1100-6484314/
[48]https://www.instagram.com/p/B5Qdw_bouA6/
[49]https://www.resetera.com/threads/what-are-you-expecting-to-see-from-fromsoftware-this-year.115159/post-21302783
[50]https://www.resetera.com/threads/from-software-development-speculation-everything-we-know-about-their-current-projects.163312/post-49963210
[51](https://old.reddit.com/Eldenring/comments/eikh7v/a_complete_recap_of_all_the_infos_leaks_fake/
[52]https://old.reddit.com/Eldenring/comments/eikh7v/a_complete_recap_of_all_the_infos_leaks_fake/
[53]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4euIi1JfMqs
[54]https://twitter.com/fromsoftware_pstatus/1322361159945658368
[55]https://twitter.com/imranzomg/status/1268679638433185793
[56]https://twitter.com/imranzomg/status/1269752637894750210
[57]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0MU0tqYH0rA, second comment on the vid
edit: Thanks a lot for all the kind words and awards by the way! I hope it helped with hollowing a bit.
submitted by OrkiPe to Eldenring

The Economist: "Value investing is struggling to remain relevant"

https://www.economist.com/briefing/2020/11/12/value-investing-is-struggling-to-remain-relevant

Found this to be an excellent read and would love to hear what /investing has to say. Full article below:

It is now more than 20 years since the Nasdaq, an index of technology shares, crashed after a spectacular rise during the late 1990s. The peak in March 2000 marked the end of the internet bubble. The bust that followed was a vindication of the stringent valuation methods pioneered in the 1930s by Benjamin Graham, the father of “value” investing, and popularised by Warren Buffett. For this school, value means a low price relative to recent profits or the accounting (“book”) value of assets. Sober method and rigour were not features of the dotcom era. Analysts used vaguer measures, such as “eyeballs” or “engagement”. If that was too much effort, they simply talked up “the opportunity”.
Plenty of people sense a replay of the dotcom madness today. For much of the past decade a boom in America’s stockmarket has been powered by an elite of technology (or technology-enabled) shares, including Apple, Alphabet, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon. The value stocks favoured by disciples of Graham have generally languished. But change may be afoot. In the past week or so, fortunes have reversed. Technology stocks have sold off. Value stocks have rallied, as prospects for a coronavirus vaccine raise hopes of a quick return to a normal economy. This might be the start of a long-heralded rotation from overpriced tech to far cheaper cyclicals—stocks that do well in a strong economy. Perhaps value is back.
This would be comforting. It would validate a particular approach to valuing companies that has been relied upon for the best part of a century by some of the most successful investors. But the uncomfortable truth is that some features of value investing are ill-suited to today’s economy. As the industrial age gives way to the digital age, the intrinsic worth of businesses is not well captured by old-style valuation methods, according to a recent essay by Michael Mauboussin and Dan Callahan of Morgan Stanley Investment Management.
The job of stockpicking remains to take advantage of the gap between expectations and fundamentals, between a stock’s price and its true worth. But the job has been complicated by a shift from tangible to intangible capital—from an economy where factories, office buildings and machinery were key to one where software, ideas, brands and general know-how matter most. The way intangible capital is accounted for (or rather, not accounted for) distorts measures of earnings and book value, which makes them less reliable metrics on which to base a company’s worth. A different approach is required—not the flaky practice of the dotcom era but a serious method, grounded in logic and financial theory. However, the vaunted heritage of old-school value investing has made it hard for a fresher approach to gain traction.

Graham’s cracker

To understand how this investment philosophy became so dominant, go back a century or so to when equity markets were still immature. Prices were noisy. Ideas about value were nascent. The decision to buy shares in a particular company might by based on a tip, on inside information, on a prejudice, or gut feel. A new class of equity investors was emerging. It included far-sighted managers of the endowment funds of universities. They saw that equities had advantages over bonds—notably those backed by mortgages, railroads or public utilities—which had been the preferred asset of long-term investors, such as insurance firms.
This new church soon had two doctrinal texts. In 1934 Graham published “Security Analysis” (with co-author David Dodd), a dense exposition of number-crunching techniques for stockpickers. Another of Graham’s books is easier to read and perhaps more influential. “The Intelligent Investor”, first published in 1949, ran in revised editions right up until (and indeed beyond) Graham’s death in 1976. The first edition is packed with sage analysis, which is as relevant today as it was 70 years ago.
Underpinning it all is an important distinction—between the price and value of a stock. Price is a creature of fickle sentiment, of greed and fear. Intrinsic value, by contrast, depends on a firm’s earnings power. This in turn derives from the capital assets on its books: its factories, machines, office buildings and so on.
The approach leans heavily on company accounts. The valuation of a stock should be based on a conservative multiple of future profits, which are themselves based on a sober projection of recent trends. The book value of the firm’s assets provides a cross-check. The past might be a crude guide to the future. But as Graham argued, it is a “more reliable basis of valuation than some other future plucked out of the air of either optimism or pessimism”. As an extra precaution, investors should seek a margin of safety between the price paid for a stock and its intrinsic value, to allow for any errors in the reckoning. The tenets of value investing were thus established. Be conservative. Seek shares with a low price-earnings or price-to-book ratio.
The enduring status of his approach owes more to Graham as tutor than the reputation he enjoyed as an investor. Graham taught a class on stockpicking at Columbia University. His most famous student was Mr Buffett, who took Graham’s investment creed, added his own twists and became one of the world’s richest men. Yet the stories surrounding Mr Buffett’s success are as important as the numbers, argued Aswath Damodaran of New York University’s Stern School of Business in a recent series of YouTube lectures on value investing. The bold purchase of shares in troubled American Express in 1964; the decision to dissolve his partnership in 1969, because stocks were too dear; the way he stoically sat out the dotcom mania decades later. These stories are part of the Buffett legend. The philosophy of value investing has been burnished by association.
It helped also that academic finance gave a back-handed blessing to value investing. An empirical study in 1992 by Eugene Fama, a Nobel-prize-winning finance theorist, and Kenneth French found that volatility, a measure of risk, did not explain stock returns between 1963 and 1990, as academic theory suggested it should. Instead they found that low price-to-book shares earned much higher returns over the long run than high price-to-book shares. One school of finance, which includes these authors, concluded that price-to-book might be a proxy for risk. For another school, including value investors, the Fama-French result was evidence of market inefficiency—and a validation of the value approach.
All this has had a lasting impact. Most investors “almost reflexively describe themselves as value investors, because it sounds like the right thing to say”, says Mr Damodaran. Why would they not? Every investor is a value investor, even if they are not attached to book value or trailing earnings as the way to select stocks. No sane person wants to overpay for stocks. The problem is that “value” has become a label for a narrow kind of analysis that often confuses means with ends. The approach has not worked well for a while. For much of the past decade, value stocks have lagged behind the general market and a long way behind “growth” stocks, their antithesis (see chart 1). Old-style value investing looks increasingly at odds with how the economy operates.
In Graham’s day the backbone of the economy was tangible capital. But things have changed. What makes companies distinctive, and therefore valuable, is not primarily their ownership of physical assets. The spread of manufacturing technology beyond the rich world has taken care of that. Any new design for a gadget, or garment, can be assembled to order by contract manufacturers from components made by any number of third-party factories. The value in a smartphone or a pair of fancy athletic shoes is mostly in the design, not the production.
In service-led economies the value of a business is increasingly in intangibles—assets you cannot touch, see or count easily. It might be software; think of Google’s search algorithm or Microsoft’s Windows operating system. It might be a consumer brand like Coca-Cola. It might be a drug patent or a publishing copyright. A lot of intangible wealth is even more nebulous than that. Complex supply chains or a set of distribution channels, neither of which is easily replicable, are intangible assets. So are the skills of a company’s workforce. In some cases the most valuable asset of all is a company’s culture: a set of routines, priorities and commitments that have been internalised by the workforce. It can’t always be written down. You cannot easily enter a number for it into a spreadsheet. But it can be of huge value all the same.

A beancounter’s nightmare

There are three important aspects to consider with respect to intangibles, says Mr Mauboussin: their measurement, their characteristics, and their implications for the way companies are valued. Start with measurement. Accounting for intangibles is notoriously tricky. The national accounts in America and elsewhere have made a certain amount of progress in grappling with the challenge. Some kinds of expenditure that used to be treated as a cost of production, such as r&d and software development, are now treated as capital spending in gdp figures. The effect on measured investment rates is quite marked (see chart 2). But intangibles’ treatment in company accounts is a bit of a mess. By their nature, they have unclear boundaries. They make accountants queasy. The more leeway a company has to turn day-to-day costs into capital assets, the more scope there is to fiddle with reported earnings. And not every dollar of r&d or advertising spending can be ascribed to a patent or a brand. This is why, with a few exceptions, such spending is treated in company accounts as a running cost, like rent or electricity.
The treatment of intangibles in mergers makes a mockery of this. If, say, one firm pays $2bn for another that has $1bn of tangible assets, the residual $1bn is counted as an intangible asset—either as brand value, if that can be appraised, or as “goodwill”. That distorts comparisons. A firm that has acquired brands by merger will have those reflected in its book value. A firm that has developed its own brands will not.
The second important aspect of intangibles is their unique characteristics. A business whose assets are mostly intangible will behave differently from one whose assets are mostly tangible. Intangible assets are “non-rival” goods: they can be used by lots of people simultaneously. Think of the recipe for a generic drug or the design of a semiconductor. That makes them unlike physical assets, whose use by one person or for one kind of manufacture precludes their use by or for another.
In their book “Capitalism Without Capital” Jonathan Haskel and Stian Westlake provided a useful taxonomy, which they call the four Ss: scalability, sunkenness, spillovers and synergies. Of these, scalability is the most salient. Intangibles can be used again and again without decay or constraint. Scalability becomes turbo-charged with network effects. The more people use a firm’s services, the more useful they are to other customers. They enjoy increasing returns to scale; the bigger they get, the cheaper it is to serve another customer. The big business successes of the past decade—Google, Amazon and Facebook in America; and Alibaba and Tencent in China—have grown to a size that was not widely predicted. But there are plenty of older asset-light businesses that were built on such network effects—think of Visa and Mastercard. The result is that industries become dominated by one or a few big players. The same goes for capital spending. A small number of leading firms now account for a large share of overall investment (see chart 3).
Physical assets usually have some second-hand value. Intangibles are different. Some are tradable: you can sell a well-known brand or license a patent. But many are not. You cannot (or cannot easily) sell a set of relationships with suppliers. That means the costs incurred in creating the asset are not recoverable—hence sunkenness. Business and product ideas can easily be copied by others, unless there is some legal means, such as a patent or copyright, to prevent it. This characteristic gives rise to spillovers from one company to another. And ideas often multiply in value when they are combined with other ideas. So intangibles tend to generate bigger synergies than tangible assets.
The third aspect of intangibles to consider is their implications for investors. A big one is that earnings and accounting book value have become less useful in gauging the value of a company. Profits are revenues minus costs. If a chunk of those costs are not running expenses but are instead spending on intangible assets that will generate future cashflows, then earnings are understated. And so, of course, is book value. The more a firm spends on advertising, r&d, workforce training, software development and so on, the more distorted the picture is.
The distinction between a running expense and investment is crucial for securities analysis. An important part of the stock analyst’s job is to understand both the magnitude of investment and the returns on it. This is not a particularly novel argument, as Messrs Mauboussin and Callahan point out. It was made nearly 60 years ago in a seminal paper by Merton Miller and Francesco Modigliani, two Nobel-prize-winning economists. They divided the value of a company into two parts. The first—call it the “steady state”—assumes that that the company can sustain its current profits into the future. The second is the present value of future growth opportunities—essentially what the firm might become. The second part depends on the firm’s investment: how much it does, the returns on that investment and how long the opportunity lasts. To begin to estimate this you have to work out the true rate of investment and the true returns on that investment.
The nature of intangible assets makes this a tricky calculation. But worthwhile analysis is usually difficult. “You can’t abdicate your responsibility to understand the magnitude of investment and the returns to it,” says Mr Mauboussin. Old-style value investors emphasise the steady state but largely ignore the growth-opportunities part. But for a youngish company able to grow at an exponential rate by exploiting increasing returns to scale, the future opportunity will account for the bulk of valuation. For such a firm with a high return on investment, it makes sense to plough profits back into the firm—and indeed to borrow to finance further investment.
Picking winners in an intangible economy—and paying a price for stocks commensurate with their chances of success—is not for the faint-hearted. Some investments will be a washout; sunkenness means some costs cannot be recovered. Network effects give rise to winner-takes-all or winner-takes-most markets, in which the second-best firm is worth a fraction of the best. Value investing seems safer. But the trouble with screening for stocks with a low price-to-book or price-to-earnings ratio is that it is likelier to select businesses whose best times are behind them than it is to identify future success.

Up, up and away

Properly understood, the idea of fundamental value has not changed. Graham’s key insight was that price will sometimes fall below intrinsic value (in which case, buy) and sometimes will rise above it (in which case, sell). In an economy mostly made up of tangible assets you could perhaps rely on a growth stock that had got ahead of itself to be pulled back to earth, and a value stock that got left behind to eventually catch up. Reversion to the mean was the order of the day. But in a world of increasing returns to scale, a firm that rises quickly will often keep on rising.
The economy has changed. The way investors think about valuation has to change, too. This is a case that’s harder to make when the valuation differential between tech and value stocks is so stark. A correction at some stage would not be a great surprise. The appeal of old-style value investing is that it is tethered to something concrete. In contrast, forward-looking valuations are by their nature more speculative. Bubbles are perhaps unavoidable; some people will extrapolate too far. Nevertheless, were Ben Graham alive today he would probably be revising his thinking. No one, least of all the father of value investing, said stockpicking was easy.
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