Benjamin Graham used an imaginary investor called Mr Market to demonstrate his point that a wise investor chooses investments on their fundamental value rather than on the opinions of others or the direction of the markets.
Graham’s parable goes something like this. Think of yourself as owning a share in a business in partners with others. One of your partners, say Mr Market, is somewhat of a neurotic who on any given day will offer to buy your share or sell you his at a specific price. His moods can fluctuate anywhere between incredible optimism and overwhelming depression. One day he will nominate a higher price to buy or sell, the next day he might increase it, lower it, or even appear uninterested in whether he buys or sells.
The point that Graham makes is that Mr Market’s judgment is formed more by mood swings that by rational thought and that this gives the wise investor buying and selling opportunities. If Mr Market’s price is unreasonably high, then wise investors have the opportunity to sell. On the other hand, if it is unreasonably low, then they have the opportunity to buy.
The important thing is that a successful and careful investor makes her or his own decision, based on their own ideas of the worth of the investment.
Significance of Mr Market
Graham does not conclude from Mr Market’s wild behaviour that market fluctuations should be ignored. They can be valuable as an indicator that something is going wrong, or right, with the investment. However, their true significance, in Graham’s words is that “they provide … an opportunity to buy wisely when prices fall sharply and to sell wisely when they advance a great deal”.
Warren Buffett considers that Graham’s views on market fluctuations warrant “special attention” from the investor.