Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Book review - The Age of Anomaly

The short version: This book provides a perfect case study for why a good editor is worth his or her salary.

The Age of Anomaly is filled with valuable information and analysis, but the writing style comes across more like a YouTube monologue than a book. That is either an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on your preference. But at a certain point, I've had enough comments like "I'm sorry, but..." or "I just want to make very clear that..."

A good editor would suggest punchier alternatives, reduce repetition, and make these worthwhile ideas far more readable.

The long version: Above, I criticized the writing style. It probably comes across harsher than I intend, because:
  1. The author alludes to growing up in Eastern Europe. Writing an entire book in a language that isn't your native tongue is a pretty impressive feat! 
  2. The writing style isn't really the main selling point of the book. He's giving you information, not writing a novel.
  3. I'm extremely well-read. So I'm used to reading books that were written by professional writers and edited by experienced editors. The informal, conversational writing style of this book therefore got under my skin more than it would bother most other people.
  4. I can see some of myself in this writing style. I have worked on [presently unfinished] books myself, only to cringe when I read over it later. Intellectually-inclined writers seem to be too wordy. That's why a good editor is worth more than even a hot stock tip!
The fact of the matter is that Polgar provides plenty of valuable information. If you can get past the writing style (or if you enjoy it), you'll find tons of useful information that you didn't already know.

Aspects of the book that impressed me:
  1. A description of past financial bubbles, along with an analysis of their commonalities and differences.
         -Laying this information out in the span of about 100 pages is extremely helpful, in my view.
          A+ for this section! This segment alone justifies buying the book.
  2. Polgar encourages readers to embrace uncertainty. A wise approach, even if it's not a popular one. 
  3. He provides very specific advice whenever possible.
  4. An evaluation of a wide variety of assets, from precious metals and real estate to cryptocurrency, web domains, and antiques.
  5. A levelheaded analysis of assets like cryptocurrency and web domains. While I'm more reserved about cryptocurrency than Polgar, I recognize that it does have some advantages. His point about its exceptional portability is well-taken!
  6. He donates a chapter to mental resilience. A good thought! I'm not sure how good the execution was, but at least he draws the reader's attention to the importance of being flexible and strong--important qualities for a wise investor!
  7. On a couple different occasions, he warns against "prepping."
So, overall, the good information and thorough analysis make this book a worthwhile read, even if the writing style may leave something to be desired.

As an extended example of Polgar's writing at its best, he opens with this catchy introduction:
"You’ve probably heard the reasonably famous story about how if you place a frog in cold water and gradually increase the water’s temperature, the frog
won’t notice it’s being boiled alive. Well, that is just a myth. Frogs are
apparently smarter than we give them credit for and as University of
Oklahoma’s Dr. Victor Hutchinson and others pointed out, they’d simply
escape in such a scenario. 
For humans, however, the metaphor fits like a glove. 
But what’s this metaphor all about anyway? Simply put, it tells us our reactions to gradually unfolding threats is slow or even non-existent. If you see a man carrying a gun running toward you, running away seems like the natural thing to do. But if the gunman goes about it in a less obvious manner, the likelihood of you running away decreases. If he’s really good, he might even manipulate and befriend you, thereby getting close to a victim who welcomes him with open arms. 
In his The Black Swan book, Nassim Taleb gives an eloquent example:
  “A turkey is fed for 1,000 days by a butcher, and every day confirms to the turkey and the turkey’s economics department and the turkey’s risk management department and the turkey’s analytical department that the butcher loves turkeys, and every day brings more confidence to the statement. But on day 1,001, there will be a surprise for the turkey…” 
… but what does all of this have to do with my book? 
The Age of Anomaly has one purpose and one purpose only: enabling readers to prepare for future financial calamities by helping them become better and better at spotting anomalies on the one hand and on the other hand, helping them be more resilient in general. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be brilliant to land on your feet after a financial crisis, you merely need to stop being outsmarted by frogs. The most frustrating aspect (to me, at least) about what I like to call economic anomalies is that they’re anything but subtle. In hindsight, they seem blatantly obvious but what exactly about them is it that makes otherwise rational individuals ignore clear warning signals? 
In my opinion, it all revolves around an extremely effective numbing
mechanism. We don’t notice blatantly obvious anomalies mostly because we don’t want to. And since we don’t want to notice them, we perhaps
subconsciously choose not to. I’ll kill two birds with one stone by making an
analogy to a “relative” of the turkey through yet another myth: that ostriches
bury their heads in the sand in a reality-defying attempt at hiding from
Hint: they don’t but we do."
If you're interested, you can find the book at Amazon, among other sources.  

Monday, October 15, 2018

A Pin for a 9-year Bubble?

Government and Your Money

I'm no fan of big government, but people often wonder: can the federal government's actions can really affect my money?

Yes, it can. But probably not the way you think it does.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Priceless quotes from the master of investing

Invest Like the Master

One of my personal favorites!

I recently read The Warren Buffett Philosophy of Investment,by Elena Chirkova (2015), to find out how the world's greatest investor plies his trade (and maybe to pick up some hints along the way!). You'd imagine that such a profitable investor would have some juicy, complicated secrets, right?

Well, according to my reading of this insightful book, Buffett’s strategy can be boiled down to a couple words: ‘extraordinary patience.’ Another couple: ‘tremendous discipline,’ which amounts to the same thing. 

Two other important words to remember include ‘integrity’ and ‘reputation.’ ‘Detailed knowledge of a company’s fundamentals’ is an additional major factor.

It is, of course, far easier to discuss these at a distance than to practice them consistently. This is certainly why successes of Buffett’s scale are so rare.

Furthermore, Chirkova notes that the structure of Berkshire Hathaway, as a Buffett-controlled conglomerate of strong companies that share access to funding but little else (and, except in rare cases, no interference in day-to-day operations), reduces short-term pressures. 

Unlike a publicly traded company, Berkshire Hathaway’s structure reduces the demand for immediate returns. Unlike a mutual fund, there is no possibility of capital shortfalls from skittish investors who withdraw their money. This structure allows Buffett to operate without compromising his long-term view.

He’s wary of debt, though he has demonstrated a willingness to use it judiciously. Leveraged buyouts are anathema. Operational synergy should not be sought, though financial and marketing synergy can be advantageous. Management should be sufficiently motivated with a carrot-and-stick model—not only rewards, not only punishments, but a combination of both.

Basically: find a good company at a reasonable price, pay for it with cash, and then don’t interfere—don’t replace management, don’t demand changes for change’s sake. Simply allow it to continue to be a good company. And always keep your word.

None of these principles are earth-shattering revelations; indeed, they’ve been known since time immemorial. But they are so rarely practiced that it almost seems like a revelation. Do you want to be like Warren Buffett? 

Then here’s your answer: fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals. Master the basics of business. And then, when you think you’ve mastered them, remind yourself of them every day, so you don’t abandon them for the trends of the moment.

Here are the best Buffett quotes. Page numbers indicate the page in Chirkova's book: 

We can afford to lose money—even a lot of money. We cannot afford to lose reputation—even a shred of it” (p. 287)
The business schools reward complex behavior more than simple behavior, but simple behavior is more effective” (p. 18)
When we invest in stocks, we invest in businesses” (p. 23)
It’s far better to buy a wonderful company at a fair price than a fair company at a wonderful price” (p. 33)
There aren’t that many wonderful businesses in the world” (p. 46)
The real test of a business is how much damage a competitor can do, even if he is stupid about returns” (p. 59)
Investment must be rational; if you can’t understand it, don’t do it” (p. 79)
There is a lot of difference between making money and spotting a wonderful industry” (p. 82)
...try more to profit from always remembering the obvious than from grasping the esoteric” (p. 83)
Compound interest is a little bit like rolling a snowball down a hill. You can start with a small snowball and if it rolls down a hill long enough...and the snow is mildly sticky, you’ll have a real snowball at the end” (p. 83)
Areas do not make opportunities. Brains make opportunities” (p. 85)
The most important thing in terms of your circle of competence is not how large the area of it is, but how well you’ve defined the perimeter” (p. 89)
If you aren’t willing to own a stock for ten years, don’t even think about owning it for ten minutes” (p. 98)
You could have bought a share of Coca-Cola in 1919 for $40 a share. A year later it was $19.50...Today that $40, if you had reinvested all dividends, is worth $1.8 million and that’s with depressions and wars. How much more fruitful it is to invest in a wonderful business” (p. 99)
It always amazes me how high-IQ people mindlessly imitate.” (p. 102)
A pin lies in wait for every bubble. And when the two eventually meet, a new wave of investors learns some very old lessons: First, many in Wall Street...will sell investors anything they will buy. Second, speculation is most dangerous when it looks easiest” (p. 103)
I will tell you how to become rich...Be fearful when others are greedy. Be greedy when others are fearful.” (p. 103)
It’s optimism that is the enemy of the rational buyer.” (p. 103)
Fear is the foe of the faddist, but the friend of the fundamentalist” (p. 103)
[Berkshire Hathaway seeks to buy companies that] we can understand, with favorable long-term prospects, operated by honest and competent people, and available at a very attractive price” (p. 104)
All intelligent investing is value investing” (p. 104)

One English statesman attributed his country’s greatness in the nineteenth century to a policy of ‘masterly inactivity.’ This is a strategy that is far easier for historians to commend than for participants to follow” (p. 105)
It is better to be approximately right than precisely wrong” (p. 107)
To many people conventionality is undistinguishable from conservatism” (p. 133)
In the short run, the market is a voting machine. In the long run, it’s a weighing machine” (p. 137)
We’re risk averse, not volatility averse” (p. 139) —This is used to make the point that “risk is a possibility of loss” [Chirkova p. 139], rather than the random ups and downs of the market.
[Risk] comes from not knowing what you are doing” (p. 139)
[I’ve] done better by avoiding dragons rather than by slaying them” (p. 140)
I would rather be certain of a good result than hopeful of a great one” (p. 141)

When companies with outstanding businesses and comfortable financial positions find their shares selling by far below intrinsic value in the marketplace, no alternative action can benefit shareholders as surely as [stock] repurchases” (p. 149)
In the production of rosy scenarios, Wall Street can hold its own against Washington” (p. 151)
The smarter side to take in a bidding war is the losing side” (p. 152)

[quoting Peter Drucker] Deal-making beats working. Deal-making is exciting and fun, and working is grubby...Deal-making is romantic, sexy. That’s why you have deals that make no sense” (p. 153)
Regarding EBITDA [earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization] Why not report earnings before wages? Why not report earnings before rent? Why not report earnings before all expenses? That is called sales” (p. 171)
Some guys chase girls. I chase companies” (p. 205)
We like to do business with someone who loves his company, not just the money that a sale will bring him (though we certainly understand why he likes that as well)” (p. 209)
It’s difficult to teach a new dog old tricks” (p. 211)
We centralize money. Everything else is decentralized” (p. 215)
The best results come from letting high-grade people work unencumbered” (p. 215)

[Trying to implement a lot of changes does not work] any better in investments than it does in marriages” (p. 215)
“‘Turnarounds’ seldom turn.” (p. 253)

Bonus: “Buffett opines that between two ‘wonderful’ businesses, one should choose the least capital-intensive.” (p. 50)
Bonus: “They [Benjamin Graham and David Dodd] explain that the intrinsic value [of a stock] may be different from the ‘price,’ which, in their view, is influenced by ‘artificial manipulations’ and ‘psychological excesses.’” (p. 25)
Bonus: Buffett’s operating partner Charlie Munger, on how to invest correctly: “Ask, ‘What do you own and why do you own it?’ And if you can’t answer that, you aren’t an investor.” (p. 88)
Bonus: “Nothing important on Wall Street can be counted on to occur exactly in the same way as it happened before” (p. 118, quote from Benjamin Graham)
Bonus: “In a lousy industry, one that’s growing slowly if at all, the weak drop out and the survivors get a bigger share of the market. A company that can capture an ever-increasing share of a stagnant market is a lot better off than one that has to struggle to protect a dwindling share of an exciting market...a survivor in a lousy industry can reverse its fortunes very quickly once the competitors have disappeared” (p. 125, Peter Lynch and John Rothchild)
Bonus: “People calculate too much and think too little” (p. 139, Charlie Munger)
Bonus: “The economics are irrelevant if you don’t have trust” (p. 210, Charlie Munger)

Buffett’s annual salary amounts to $100,000 per year. He receives “other compensation” in the amount of roughly an additional $400,000 per year, for a grand total of about $500,000 per year (p. 165). Of this half-million, he returns a significant sum (around half) to repay the company for personal phone calls, postage, etc. Of course, the vast majority of Buffett’s wealth comes from his shares in Berkshire Hathaway, but it’s telling that he does not give himself a generous salary, even though few would object to such an arrangement. Buffett is clearly underpaid, in light of his considerable accomplishments—or, perhaps, the rest of the world’s executives are vastly overpaid.

This is another illustration of Buffett’s integrity. He doesn’t just ‘talk the talk’ about executive compensation, he walks the walk when it comes to his own salary as well. Buffett quotes the Bible, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

Find out Buffett's secrets for yourself with Chirkova's well-researched book!

Friday, June 22, 2018

Is $3 million enough to retire?

How much do you really need in order to retire comfortably?

I was inspired by this article at www.theretirementspt.com, so I left my reaction in the form of a comment, which I've quoted below: 

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

When is Debt "Good?"

When is Debt "Good?"

Debt can be used as a moneymaking tool in certain situations; this is called leverage. It can be highly risky, but the reward can be great as well.

Consider this example: you learn of a foreclosed house that's available for sale for only $35,000. It's fairly well-kept, and it's in a nice neighborhood, and you think it's worth $110,000.

Since you don't have $35k right now, you borrow that money from the bank, pay 8% interest (that is, an additional $2800), and then mow the lawn and spruce up the appearance a little bit. Then, you list the house for sale for $120,000. You get a buyer who agrees to pay $100,000 for the house.

So in this example, your cost is $35,000 + 2800 = $37,800. Your revenue is $100,000. Your profit is therefore over $60,000. A $60,000 profit that, were it not for the short-term debt required to raise the initial $35,000, you could not have realized.

That's how leverage works, and that's how debt can be "good." Student loans can be considered the same way, IF you can be confident that a profitable job in your field will be available when you graduate.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Does Greatness Require Failure?

The Importance of Failure

Q: What do Henry Ford, Emily Dickinson, Thomas Edison, Winston Churchill, J.K. Rowling, Abraham Lincoln, Michael Jordan, and Ludwig van Beethoven have in common?

A: Failure.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Want to Be Rich? Don't Buy a House

How Renting—Not Buying a House—Can Make You Rich

People always say that buying a house is an 'investment,' rather than 'throwing your money away on rent.' After all, a house goes up in value over time. But if you rent, you end up with nothing, because your landlord has all the money!

Good investment? Or black hole of time, money, and worry?
Good investment? Or black hole of time, money, and worry?

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Chasing Money Ghosts

Dumb luck or smart strategizing?

Update Apr. 17, 2018: This post has been

I'm a fan of Jim Collins, also known as jlcollinsnh after the URL of his blog.

Apparently, Google is also a fan! They hosted him for a Talk at Google in Chicago, which you can view in its entirety on YouTube, right here:

Monday, March 26, 2018

The 11 Best Articles for Your Financial Health (Mar. 2018)

The 11 Best Articles for Your Financial Health (Mar. 2018)

"If instant success is the only option, we will be disappointed 99% of the time."

"...the Western mindset sees a “crisis” as something negative, the Chinese word includes both – the danger and the opportunity."

"...monetary policy is reaching the end of its efficacy...central banks have needed to take more desperate and more frequent actions as those actions become less effective."

"Investments with these five characteristics have been profitable over time, but typically are not very exciting...We are in the business of helping to maximize the wealth of our clients, not the financial services industry."

"The Nightmare on Wall Street is only a spooky story told to drive media ratings."

"As you can see, compounding doesn't really do much during the first few years...The longer your money remains invested, however, the more powerful compounding becomes."

"...there was a hot new company everyone was talking about called the South Sea Company...Sir Isaac Newton noticed, and wanted in on the action. So he bought in...Newton, being no dummy, figured things were getting out of hand and quietly started eyeing the exit even as more idiots were jumping in. He got out...netting a cool 207% gain...He knew this was a bubble. And he knew a crash was coming. But then something strange happened. A crash...didn't come.

"...he bought back into the bubble, KNOWING it was a bubble...when the dust had settle[d], Newton had lost over £20,000. It was Sir Isaac Newton's entire life savings."

"By developing creativity, resilience, adaptability, and perseverance, I was able to...retire decades before everyone else--even people who grew up rich...Privilege makes people soft."

"Innovation is good; financial innovation is bad...the robo[-advisor] industry, looking for extra sources of revenue, is therefore beginning to move away from the passive-investing ideals that excited so many of its early adopters."

"Caplan calculates that at least half of the 67 percent premium earned by the average college graduate can be explained simply by the talent, knowledge, and discipline that they already had when they arrived for freshman orientation. Much of the rest, he argues, is merely a signal to employers..."

Everybody makes mistakes; what's important is that you learn from them:
"A credit card is not an 'income stretcher'...The interest rates will cripple you."

If you're interested in discovering a variety of great blogs, check out this list of great bloggers (including me!): https://websitepromoter.co.uk/finance-blogs/

If you're interested in getting help with SEO, here's an option: https://websitepromoter.co.uk/seo-services/

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Are We Headed for Another Big Market Crash?

Are we headed for another big market crash?

Betteridge's Law of Headlines says no. But history—and the perceptive blogger Wealthy Accountant—says yes.

Over the past few months, I've been getting a bad feeling about the market. When everybody marvels at how well the stock market is doing, that's not usually a good sign. When dealing with something like the stock market, which is partially driven by irrational speculation and knee-jerk reaction to unpredictable events, the best play is to zig where others zag.

But hey, don't take it from me. Take it from the most successful investor alive:

Wise counsel, Warren Buffett...

Here's a link to the Wealthy Accountant's perspective. He does a good job of telling people not to time the market, but his caution against picking this moment to jump in with both feet is wise.

I left a comment on this article, to the effect that I suspect that a severe correction will occur in 2018. I hope I'm wrong, but the behavioral indicators (combined with the ever-increasing surge in the stock market) are veritably screaming that a downturn is coming.

Ten-year history of the Dow Jones Industrial Average as of January 29, 2018. 
Check out that recent uptick! Looks like the makings of a bubble to me...

And here's a link to one summary of Joe Kennedy's famous (and possibly apocryphal) story. "When the shoeshine boys have tips, the market is too popular for its own good."

I haven't seen any shoeshine boys lately, but I have seen a proliferation of blogs and other Internet "experts." I wonder how long they'll all last if the Dow Jones' 177-point drop of January 29th, 2018 precedes a continuous, month-long drop...

Long-term, my advice has been—and remains—to stay the course. But short-term...well, I'd recommend caution.

It's foolish to put all your eggs in one basket. Doubly so now that the stock market is almost certainly approaching the end of an impressive run!

In a time of exuberance about the market, you should not follow the herd. The greater stability of bonds are probably the better move at the moment.

But after people have lost lots of money and the general attitude about the market is somber...that's when it's especially important to remember that in the long-term, the market always goes up.

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