Rethinking Investing – Part 3 – Spotting Mistakes in Jon Stewart vs. Jim Cramer

74 Comments


The Daily Show: Jim Cramer Interview – Hulu. Having trouble? Try installing AnchorFree, and if that fails, get a taste with this clip.

The unanimous conclusion after stockmarket pundit Jim Cramer appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart last week was: Jim got his ass kicked.

Be that as it may, were the facts straight? I will defer here to Mark Hanna, Trust Officer at Clayton Bank and Trust in Knoxville, TN. I first met Mark at the 2008 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholder’s Meeting, where he was wearing a manager badge and discussing complex financial instruments.

Clayton Homes
was sold to Berkshire Hathaway in 2003, and founder Jim Clayton hired Mark to start a Trust Department within his bank — Clayton Bank and Trust — to manage proceeds from the sale. Mark didn’t want me to share his personal annualized track record, but trust me: it’s phenomenal…

Here is his interpretation of the Daily Show interview, bolding mine:

The stock market tends to capture public attention primarily for two reasons: irrational exuberance or disappointment in misplaced faith.

Today the stock market is on the minds of many because the belief that the market goes up over time has again been called into question. Capitalizing on this attention, Jon Stewart has given Jim Cramer a public scourging in a now viral video from the Daily Show. Mr. Cramer may have deserved at least part of this flaying, but Mr. Stewart, representing the lay view of the current situation, falsely implies that investing in stocks is as safe as “betting it all on red”.

Mr. Cramer’s fault lies not in poor advice to buy or sell specific stocks, industries, or the market as a whole. His sin, and that of the media in general, is stirring the emotions of those who hold stocks as a long-term investment, turning them into short-term speculators. CEOs have lied, and people will always lie to further their own self-interest, as is the nature of man. We have been led astray, believing falsehoods that have caused loss of investment. Now in our panic we are guilty of believing the lie that stocks are, by nature, gambling.

Mr. Stewart asserts that as 401k investors, we are “financing the adventure” of hedge funds; that short-term traders HURT long-term buy and hold investors. This view is incorrect, and to paraphrase Buffett, here’s why: if you are a long-term investor in stocks, you want prices to decrease over your buying period so that you are able to buy more at better prices.

Still, Stewart’s thought that managers rewarded themselves for short-term performance at the expense of shareholders is right on. There are significant problems with corporate governance and a general lack of shareholder rights. Too many times management and rainmakers are incentivized to take great risk while not held accountable for losses. Some firms evolved over time into enterprises whose business was to employ speculators and “send them to the casino every day”. In addition, many banks were excessively leveraged, and this was obscured through Enronesque accounting. Off-balance-sheet arrangements that blew up at Enron were criminal, but a “mistake” at Citigroup.

However, there has always been sound business activity in the financial sector. Loans to support creditworthy businesses and individuals have always been profitable activities in the western system of finance. By now it is clear that most of the gamblers within the banks are leaving the table, either of their own accord or by demand, which may slightly reduce profit but will also dramatically reduce risk. While there are some financials today that remain speculative, it is certain there has been an overreaction: many babies thrown out with the bathwater.

Investing in stocks is provably not speculation. If one were to own all of the stock of a company with positive earnings, cash flow, and net worth, this ownership would have value. Thus, there is also value in a partial ownership stake in this same business. Purchasing any asset at a price less than its value is not speculation. Perceptive investors realize that they are not investing in “the market”; they are actually investing in the companies in which they hold ownership shares.

The bottom line is this: gambling is never investing, and investing is never gambling. The trick for the savvy investor is to recognize the difference.

-Mark Hanna
Trust Officer, Clayton Bank and Trust

Related and Suggested Posts:
Picking Warren Buffett’s Brain: Notes from a Novice
Rethinking Investing – Part 1: Common-Sense Rules for Uncommon Times
Rethinking Investing – Part 2: Information Advantage, Best Books, and More
Things I’ve Learned and Loved in 2008 – Recouping Losses, etc.

Posted on: January 16, 2009.

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Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration)

74 comments on “Rethinking Investing – Part 3 – Spotting Mistakes in Jon Stewart vs. Jim Cramer

  1. While I am sure Mr. Hannah is a brilliant investor, I believe his rebuttal is off Stewart’s point. Stewart’s primary argument was not that Jim Cramer made good or bad market calls. Nor, does he claim to be able to make better calls.

    Stewart’s problem laid with the financial news network not reporting “real” news. But instead parroting back what CEO’s “tell” them without further investigation.

    The biggest issue isn’t whether Cramer is a good or bad investor, but rather are networks (CNBC) reporting NEWS or spreading corporate propaganda.

    Like

  2. Those are words of wisdom.

    However, this is the first time that i read that speculators short-term traders is a separate ecosystem from long-term investors and i love that.

    I love the “investing in a company rather than investing in the stock market”. I think that’s an healthy way of thinking.

    Thank for sharing,

    Auf Wiedersehen
    Michael – Berlin

    Like

  3. The problem is lack of a level playing field between private individuals and those in the know. It may well not be speculation to invest in a successful company but, as Jim Cramer admitted, there are people like him manipulating the share price by spreading false rumors. People will only be convinced it isn’t gambling if the share price is truly driven my the company’s performance and not someone with a lot of money who is sending it up or down for his own purposes.

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  4. Neither video can be viewed in Australia “This video is not available in your country”. I looked it up on Youtube.

    I think that Tim makes some good points about company directors and management having too much power and the shareholders having too little. After seeing so many corporate collapses happen in Australia, something has to be done about this.

    Like

  5. Everyone should also watch this 6-minute clip of an insider interview with Jim Cramer that the Daily Show pulled a few bits from. It shows how Cramer used to manipulate the market in a dis-honest fashion to further his hedge fund:

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  6. Hey Tim!

    The really interesting video is the one referenced in the Interview… I watched it and it’s sickening… Steward got the best parts of it, but it’s ridiculous how Cramer tries to weasel out of it. He says something along the lines of: “I said other people do it…” Whereas in the video he CLEAR AS DAY says “I DO IT! It’s fun and profitable” or something like that.

    Considering what a piece of s**t the dude is, I felt he came off way better than he deserved…

    I will never understand why Cramer EVER aggreed to the interview. What the hell did he think was the best that could happen? ;-D

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  7. If you are located outside the U.S. you can still watch Jon stewart vs Jim Cramer on youtube (episode 12th of March 09):

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  8. As Warren Buffet would recommend to the average investor, buying individual stocks and trying to time the market is the dumbest thing you could do.

    Purchasing index funds — which track an index, like the S&P 500 or the entire stock market — is the smartest, cheapest, least time consuming, and profitable route for the long-term investor.

    See the recent article from the NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/22/your-money/stocks-and-bonds/22stra.html

    “[Just] to break even with the index fund, net of all expenses, the actively managed fund would have to outperform it by an average of 4.3 percentage points a year on a pre-expense basis. For the hedge fund, that margin would have to be 10 points a year.”

    Consumers need to stop relying on brokers and talking heads to determine where to invest their money. The only way to win is to understand exactly what your money is doing.

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  9. Some good points to the interview but Kramer shouldn’t be the fall-guy. I think people put way too much trust in corporate America sometimes…. which is ridiculous. The stock market is risky, period! If you don’t have the money to lose, don’t invest.

    Real estate (in the long run) has proven to be a much safer investment. Even in a bad market, you can still get renters to pay-down your mortgage.

    @MatthewLoop

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  10. Stewart stated pretty clearly that he knows Wall Street workers personally, and that he knows *most* of them work very hard at what they do. He was very specific about the difference between the long-term market that is presented in the financial “news”, and the short-term “real” market that some insiders work with.

    In short, there *are* people moving billions of dollars a day, driving stock prices up or down in ways that have nothing to do with the fundamentals of the company. There are enough people moving enough money that they can damage the system. As a hedge fund manager, Cramer was guilty of playing these games. As a “reporter” he is guilty of pretending it wasn’t happening.

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  11. Someone mentioned this briefly, but I feel it is worth repeating in greater detail. Stewart was not being critical of stocks as much as he was being critical of the way the financial markets are covered by “news” organizations. Glenn Greenwald made a great comparison last week between Cramer’s defense of CNBC and the late Tim Russert’s defense of the mainstream media’s stenographical approach to reporting leading up to the invasion of Iraq. Whether the subject is investing or war, the news media has become a set of talking heads for popular opinion instead of investigating the claims and reporting the facts. That was at the heart of Stewart’s criticism’s of CNBC and a very good point indeed.

    By the way, I have embedded the video on my site as well, for anyone interested, although you should be able to view it on The Daily Show’s website, as another commenter noted, no matter where you are located. Just watch the video clips, instead of the entire show and you won’t have any issues. Or you could always use an IP masking program…

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  12. Hi Mark,

    I won’t dispute your investing record, I’m certain its excellent.
    But I don’t believe you’ve really answered Jon Stewarts ‘financing your adventure’ point (a great line by the way).

    Investors entrusting their money to a fund manager via a 401K or similar vehicle come face to face with the Principal-Agent dilemma (Google this term for a full definition). A manager of money really has only one primary incentive – ensure she maintains control of these funds, so she can continue to collect (usually generous) fees and enjoy various other fringe benefits. An example of these ‘fringe benefits’; I have a friend who is a fund manager, companies who want him to invest in them regularly fly him around the world, put him up in the best hotels and so forth.

    If a money manager (the ‘Agent’) experiences poor performance, convincing the investor (the ‘Principal’) not to withdraw their funds is now their top priority i.e. the manager will maintain control of the funds with all the rewards that entails. One way to do this is to repeat the lie that ‘stocks always go up in the long run.’

    I believe Stewart’s point is that recent events have proven that the investment industry clearly operates within the confines of the Principal-Agent dilemma. The untrustworthy ‘Agents’ like Bernie Madoff have enriched themselves at the expensive of the naive and trusting ‘Principals’ like Stewart’s mother. I am aware this is not true of all money managers, but unfortunately I think the ones with real integrity are the exception rather than the rule.

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  13. This is from the Austrian economist Hayek who won the Nobel Prize in 1974:

    WORTH READING, I KNOW IT’S A BIT LONG FOR A POST.

    Our leaders are appallingly ignorant in their adherence to discredited Keynesian doctrines. Why is this the case? My oldest brother has asked me an excellent question: “How in the world did the education system, educating individuals who would become economists, bankers, financiers, etc., fail so miserably?”

    I do not know. I can only speculate and make a few observations that may be pertinent. I think one reason is that economists emulated physicists and the fame and premier role of physics in the natural sciences. They imported an excessive amount of mathematics and modeling into economics. Mathematical models provide the illusions of understanding and sophistication. They make it seem that anything non-mathematical is vague, possibly mistaken, and inferior. Economists tend to ignore the fact that mathematical models in economics are based upon unreal assumptions, sometimes contradictory assumptions, and often unstated assumptions that are both unreal and contradictory. Formalized hand-waving displaces the informal, even when the informal is correct. Economists tend to believe the results of their mathematical models. The formalism itself seems to dispel proper doubt. They love or are bewitched by the beauty of the symbols, even if they are disconnected from economic reality.

    The mathematical economists succeeded in pushing everyone else aside and becoming first in the pecking order. They owned the prestigious journals, publications, and the promotion process. It is easier to demonstrate mathematical skills and secure promotion than it is to demonstrate skills in economics that do not use math.

    Modeling took over. History was accorded a low status. Econometrics came in, which is another mathematical tool. The testing of theories, due to the influence of positive economics, became important. Econometrics is beset with a huge number of problems that have always been buried and ignored. Business history and finance have no place in the usual economics curriculum.

    The imitation of physics and math is symbolized by the success of Paul Samuelson. His text became standard, despite numerous fallacies and poor ideas. It sold in the millions and was used everywhere for decades. Keynesianism absolutely took over, in part because it was mathematized in the hands of his followers. No matter that the models made no sense.

    The government provided ample job markets for economists trained in these ways.

    As true as all of that may be, it still does not get at the deep roots of such a thing. There is something more when whole generations go into a certain mode of thought and perpetuate it, something philosophical, psychological, sociological, and ideological. We have to remember that the 1930s saw the rise of fascism and that its offshoots occurred in the US and England too. Somehow university intellectuals in many, many fields got swept along into ideologies, right across the board, in schools of religion, journalism, law, economics, and sociology. The universities to this day reflect the ideological shifts.

    The result of all this is that we get people who are educated fools. Their education is narrow and biased. Its products place far too much weight on some things that seem definite to them while rejecting others that seem indefinite to them by not being expressed in the language of math. Ben Bernanke has been a publishing economist with a high reputation. But it does not stop him from being a dyed-in-the-wool Keynesian. It would appear that our leaders, both in government and central banking, are ignorant of economic history or else draw the wrong lessons from it after they get done relying on econometrics applied to unrealistic models using imperfect data. This does not mean that the country will necessarily collapse, but it does mean that they are delaying the adjustments that would restore the things that are now out of balance or out of equilibrium.

    http://www.lewrockwell.com/rozeff/rozeff274.html

    http://hayekcenter.org/?p=38

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  14. Tim and Mark,

    While I agree with most of your comments, I must point out that part of Cramer’s sins do lie in his horrible advice to the uninformed public. He told people to buy at 14,000, said the sub prime mess would have no effect on our economy, and flip-flop on several occasions.

    For most, investing is a very sad form of gambling. Many have the buy-and-hope syndrome. These are the people who fall prey to Cramer’s antics. They ride his emotional roller coaster all the way to their financial peril.

    Cheers,

    Chris Dunn

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  15. I agree with Tevin, MediaSlackers, 8020 Financial (more?) above. I wish Jim Cramer was better prepared to debate with Jon Stewart because I would like to hear the other side, but Mark Hanna’s response in this post doesn’t seem to address Stewart’s main point which is that CNBC is remiss in its reporting.

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  16. @k

    Thanks very much for the quote.
    I had to use the Samuelson book for first year economics. A truly awful experience.
    Would you be able to let me know which of Hayek’s works the quote is from? Very scary/ironic that Hayek was aware of Ben Bernanke many years prior to his promotion.

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  17. I agree with Tevin. I think Jon’s point was that there was and is widespread manipulation of the market, and the folks at CNBC knew it and kept their eyes closed and mouths shut. Turns out Cramer not only KNEW, but PARTICIPATED in this manipulation. Check out the full clip from which Jon pulled his whizbangs: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZWVmlxhk-tU

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  18. The real mistake here is believing that a company is worth any more than the dividends it will pay out minus the risk that those dividends will stop.

    Participating in the market on a short term basis is a huge mistake for anyone without the resources to manipulate that market. There will always be someone else with those resources. It is very easy to force a stock down in price, and still relatively easy to pump it up. These moves up and down do not necessarily have anything to do with the value of the company or more particularly it’s future revenue. This is why all those big financial institutions were making their 30% year after year.

    I watched one of my stocks this year drop to below cash value (the company had more cash than in the bank than all of their stock was worth). This all happened while their sales where increasing. How did it happen? Simply shorting the stock systematically to drive the price down. Then after it sits at the bottom for a while, someone will take it over, to make a killing. Joe investor can’t expect to hold this stock for a little while and not get smashed.

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  19. @Matthew-

    I’m a long term realestate investor, and I feel I should warn you on some things. The “benefit” of realestate investing is really leverage. The housing market will track the rate of inflation over long periods of time while the “stock market” will perform at 7-8% over time. People “make more money” in realestate because they leverage. Unfortunately, as many in realestate are finding, leverage works in two directions. Warren Buffet, arguably the greatest investor of our times, doesn’t make realestate purchases (other than as part of business aquisitions) due to this reality. Its simply an investment that will perform at about 3-4% a year growth over long periods of time. Commercial is similar with bigger numbers.

    I, like you, like the idea that others will “pay off” my investment. This, however, is not the whole story as you must actively manage that investment whether or not you hire a company to help you. If you get yourself to a position where the numbers are large enouph, it may become a muse that allows you to separate from regular operations but this is typically after an extended period of regular work and management. The reason for this is that most realestate “investments” are value-added propositions where you’ve somehow found a “diamond in the rough”.

    Buffet’s genius is in his rationality and resolve. He says, “I’m going to make purchases in investments where I have enouph money, a huge margin of safety, where I can reasonably expect an outsized return over time. If I can’t find these, I just wont play.” He then sits on his butt and reads alot until something hits him in the face… (Most people are not built this way psychologically.) He’s never leveraged more than 25% of his net worth.

    In short, realestate is more often a “job” than people give it credit for. Some will post their successes that involve little time investment (and i’ve been there, too), but this is often more a function of serendipity than skill.

    I love realestate and am not one of the millions who’ve gone bust, but I have a sober view of it based on experience. The “get rich in realestate” books are getting the successful authors rich more often than the fledgling so-called “investors”.

    Best of Luck,

    PPC4

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  20. Tevin: You are correct that Stewart uses Cramer as a proxy for the financial news media, and then tears him to shreds. This is called a straw man. He does make the point you mention, but he also goes on to talk about “financing the adventure” which is where I have an issue.

    Michael Berlin: Thanks

    Julian: Buffett (and Graham) says that “In the short run it’s a voting machine, but in the long run it’s a weighing machine” — it’s always been true that markets in the short run don’t reflect reality, and this is due to fear and greed, as well as the manipulation thereof. Those who run to any ‘investment” b/c it is doing well, or run away b/c it is doing poorly are guaranteed to lose money.

    Jason Unger: Buffett does recommend index funds to “know nothing investors” (see Tim’s question of Buffett last year). We should know he doesn’t see an index as a speculation – because he sees real value in the underlying companies in which one invests. An index fund is just a diversified collection of companies’ stocks picked on a very simple formula.

    8020 Financial: There is no Principal-Agent dilemma for those who either buy and hold individual stocks or buy and hold Index Funds. This problem only exists with funds [actively managed mutual or hedge] managed by brokers.

    Chris Dunn: Investing has always been an emotional rollercoaster b/c of fear and greed. Cramer has been shown to not provide good advice by countless studies (I like Barron’s). The biggest problem with Cramer (and financial news media in general) is that they throw gasoline on the fear and greed fire.

    Brennan: You all have a point that I didn’t address Stewart’s “main point” – however neither did he. He set up a straw man (Cramer) and then burnt it in effigy.

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  21. Mark’s piece highlights exactly how people like Mark make lots of money. No gambler ever claims to be a gambler — they all claim to have a system. In their mind, only *they* are the true investors, everyone else is just betting on red.

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  22. Tim,

    Mark Hanna’s conclusion and general idea presented here is misleading and does not rise to the call of answering the question you pose. It also fails to responsibly explain the complexities of the market and investing.

    To say investing is never gambling is pushing sanity. He might have said, “If you do your homework and know the real balance sheet, market, management, industry positions, and financial climate you can make plausible investments that lower your risk for loss.” That would make investing “investing” and not as much of a gamble. But there will always be risks in the public markets and so there is always a bit of a “gamble” when investing in a publicly traded (or private) company. Additionally, the statement that “other companies have been unfairly punished” concludes that even good companies get creamed in bad markets.

    There are other contradictions in Mark Hanna’s statement and it is a stretch to assert that his views represent what was wrong with Jon Stewart’s lashing of Cramer. Nitpicking what was a rare and much needed outing of the real insanity of the financial news networks should be applauded. I was thrilled to see someone with Jon’s platform do his own real reporting and outing of the irresponsible news being guised as real news. The story might be, “fake comedy news is calling out real news on how fake they are!” :-)

    We would all do well to concentrate more on Jon Stewart’s over arching point than to look for one or two insignificant comments that may have been off the mark.

    Enjoy your informative posts. Thank you.

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  23. If you look at a graph of the DJIA over time, plotting just one day a year (say, Dec 31), you see the most amazing scattershot pattern. Over time, there’s a strong upward trend, but the correlation between two adjacent years is almost non-existent.

    If annual statistics are of little value to the long-term investor, what does this say about daily statistics? They’re just noise. You’ve zoomed in too far by 1000x.

    The focus is messed up in other ways. People want the housing bubble to have a villain, but I’ll bet bubbles happen on their own — a “madness of crowds” thing. I think they start out only at the usual background level of criminality. As the bubble gets closer to the Cactus of Reality, there’s a frenzy of denial and criminality, but that’s an effect, not a cause.

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  24. Mr. Hanna says: “Mr. Cramer’s fault lies not in poor advice to buy or sell specific stocks, industries, or the market as a whole. His sin, and that of the media in general, is stirring the emotions of those who hold stocks as a long-term investment, turning them into short-term speculators” – -is he kidding me? Most of us have our savings in 401Ks and our emotions are “stirred” because we have lost so much – this is not theory – the sin is the inability of experts and our government to prevent, regulate or guide the rest of us.

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  25. No, the bottom line is this: Stewart was right.

    This guy misses the point of Stewart’s “financing the adventure” comment. He’s saying that specifically by causing *this* crisis, they reduced the value of, e.g., *his mom’s* 401K, which she needs *now* cause she’s retired, or mine or yours. Dollar-cost averaging doesn’t cure all ills. And they did it by reinvesting and over-leveraging the huge amounts of cash that we, individual investors, have poured into the stock market via mutual funds in following the long-termers’ advice (of the “fake market”).

    Every other one of this guy’s points is a restatement of something Stewart said. Except the thing about investing not being gambling, which is so blatantly naïve that I think he doesn’t know the meaning of the word.

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  26. Buffett has a great saying about the “3 i’s”- innovators, imitators, and idiots..day-trading may be fun (like a long, hard weekend in Vegas) but a quick buck never lasts. Long term investors (the healthier approach-not as exciting) should be sizing up the great deals currently available by doing in-depth analysis on companies that provide the most value. I look at the BH portfolio http://tiny.cc/IbMrR as a guide as well as dollar cost average in index funds available in sectors I am familiar with. It’s more fulfilling to be part of a company you truly believe in that makes products you are inspired by than to take a chance based on one “expert’s” advice. Indeed there were more millionaires created during the Great Depression than any time prior. I predict there will be more billionaires than ever in 15 yrs or less.

    What have we become when a TV personality has such a powerful impact on our lives? Are we making an effort to understand our (financial) world better by inquiry based learning through critical thinking? Or have we let our emotions be manipulated enough to completely govern our thought process?

    “Greed is good”. Maybe for Gordon Gekko…but in our case maybe not. Although one thing we can learn from GG is that we shareholders need to reclaim ourselves from the over-paid beaurocrats. In the vain of GG/Carl Icahn we need to hold them accountable and if necessary take a corporate raider approach to bring power back to the real foundation of any business: the people. We need to organize, educate and analyze what is happening with our money, not because of a Jim Kramer blurb but because of independent critical thought based upon a variety of perspectives.

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  27. Jon Stewart is right that Jim Cramer’s show is BS, but it’s a little annoying to see him get on a soapbox.

    Jon Stewart’s is really no different, and he certainly isn’t labeling it “snake oil” as he says. Lot’s of people take his “humorous” opinions seriously and clearly his show has the power to sway opinion on real issues, so it’s not “just comedy”. They both need viewers and design their show to get them!

    We are never going to have CNBC or anyone else act as a true investigative reporting agency. Every major news show has moved closer and closer to being entertainment…they are desperate to keep people watching because their business model is built around that (ads).

    You can’t fault them for it. A “real” news network that did serious insightful pieces would probably go out of business because it isn’t as exciting. The masses don’t watch the news for serious education.

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  28. Mr. Hanna seems to have inferred something from Jon Stewart’s commentary I do not think was there. Stewart in no way suggested that investing in stocks or the stock market in general was akin to gambling. I think his commentary was pointed at his view that CNBC acted as cheerleader to corporate interests and missed to opportunity to protect investor interest. Stewart also took exception to the depiction of the non-financial person (i.e. your average homeowner) who might find himself in financial trouble as a “loser” as they were referred to by Rick Santelli (sp). CNBC could, in Stewart’s view, do more investigative reporting. In fact he pointed out David Faber’s special reports as an example.

    I don’t think Stewart implied that investing is gambling, so much as he implied, listening to “financial experts on CNBC” is gambling.

    I do agree with Mr. Hanna in that corporate management’s interests are not always aligned with shareholders thus it pays to have a healthy distrust of them and by default the talking heads on CNBC.

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  29. Spot on!
    First and foremost I’m very glad that Tim is using is pseudo-celebrity status to spread knowledge about the TRUE nature of the market.

    Buying shares for less than its value is definitly not speculation it’s simply a bargain.. but the stock market is not a bargain its 99% luck and 1% skill. Close enough to gambling… that’s why I took all my money out of the market. ALL.

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  30. I do think that Stewart had it right when he said that the essential woe was treating this advice as entertainment.

    But the other problem is this – Cramer says, over and over again, to do your own research. He says this. He tells regular viewers to wait a few days after he makes a recommendation before buying or selling because there are too many sheep that hear a stock name and take action.

    You cannot legislate intelligence.

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  31. It looks like we’re getting close to that moment of maximum pessimism – when people are slating the very paradigm of investing in shares – when there is nothing better you could do with your money than to start buying (selectively, and with an eye to genuine added value).

    This idea that nobody spotted the problems with the banks’ activities, and everyone is as guilty as everyone else, is way, way off. As an example, it’s not too long since the British building societies (analagous to American Savings & Loan institutions) had a craze of de-mutualising and converting to quoted companies – the idea being that they would then have access to global credit markets and be able to play with the big boys. My pension provider company did the same. There were many commentators who said that this seemed like a bad idea, since it represented high risk with limited upside, and just plain wasn’t where their strengths lay. But that was of course, fuddy-duddy old-fashioned thinking, and it was tempting to the individual policyholders/mortgage customers to sell their rights away cheaply (typically a few hundred pounds’ worth of shares – hey, you can buy a TV for that!)

    The narrow mainstream political alternatives may have been equally guilty of having had their heads turned by the shiny men in shiny suits with all the shiny money (Labour & Conservative in the UK, Democrat and Republican in the USA, etc.), but plenty of less well-reported voices called it as it was (Greens, Lib Dems…)

    And, funnily enough, not a single one of those demutualised building societies has managed to survive independently. Neither has my pension company. The building societies who remained mutual, like the Co-Operative and the Britannia, are weathering the storm pretty well, though.

    This is NOT hindsight, by the way – it’s the ability to realise bloody stupid behaviour when you see it, and to steer clear!

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  32. A couple of things…
    1) there is no such thing as ‘news’ anymore. it’s all entertainment. it’s all revenues. it’s all conflicts of interest. that’s why only people like stewart can report the real news: because they make it entertaining.
    2) yes, markets go up and down all the time. stewart wasn’t complaining about that. the problem is that the economy’s shot largely because of these shenanigans. that’s the cause of anger. many 401k investors have seen their retirement evaporate, not just temporarily due to emotional market fluctuation, but because the economy’s in shambles. even the smart investor just saw his prospects badly hurt. as for the ‘good’ deals out there, maybe, depending on how quickly the economy recovers. that’s not a done deal.
    3) ‘news’ media bear part of the responsibility because they lied. they present themselves as news, journalism, trustworthy sources, but do little of that.

    Like

  33. “Investing in stocks is provably not speculation”

    Wow. This is the crux of his argument. I don’t care who Mr. Hanna is, this is wrong if words have any meaning. Mr. Hanna may have a problem with the word “speculation” in that, as of March 2009, financial people don’t want to be associated with it.

    We’re talking about degrees of risk – at what point in Mr. Hanna’s mind does investing cross over into speculation? When it’s someone else doing it?

    The mere desire to invest in a company that produces value is meaningless – if the value is fully factored into the stock price, buying it is irrational. And what’s worse: naked speculation, or buying into a stodgy old stock that’s clearly (irrationally) overvalued?

    No, you can’t avoid taking bets. When you invest you’re saying “I disagree”. And if you seriously disagree, you buy more, and you magnify your bet. Warren Buffett does EXACTLY this, but it’s Warren Buffett doing it, so Mark Hanna is cool with it.

    If you want to call something “usury” or hide from a word like “speculation”, that’s up to you, but you’re not saying anything, you’re just playing with language.

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  34. With respect Tim and I am not agreeing or disagreeing, but being a finance guy myself, I do not come to this site for CNBC/Jim Cramer opinions or investment advice on securities.

    This blog is one of a kind…this post however is not. There are posts like this flooding the net right now and I like this blog to be my little get away from the news.

    Like

  35. I have personally come to the conclusion that investing is a losers game…Unless investing in the very complicated commodities markets (which are difficult for other reasons), you are essentially investing in business. All business is only as profitable as theire competive edge.

    However, even for the most profitable businesses, their stock prices are already priced at a point where all known information (usually more than the average investor even has) is accounted for in the price. This means that there is no reasonable expectation (favorable odds) of profit beyond which is realized through luck alone. In fact, unlike in the casino, an investor cannot even quantify the odds of the stock price moving in a profitable direction. The odds of it losing money could be 99%, and the investor wouldnt know. The point is, the market moves very quickly to take up any ‘slack’ in the odds that provide for an expectation of profit, and the ‘odds against’ and risk cannot be quantified. This makes the market an even worse game than the average casino game, where you can at least quantify and know your exact odds. For an insight into how important the quantification of your odds are in the market, read “Fortunes Formula” by Poundstone.

    It is my conclusion that running a private business, and real estate for the skilled, are the only investments that provide enough control and inside information that allow a person to be long term profitable. That is, unless you are trading on inside market information…

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  36. Having been a stock broker for 7 years and having a financial background in business as well as college long term horizons are not as stable as most think. I have a lot in my retirement funds and I can tell you they have been in safe strong companies and mutual funds for over 20 years.

    The idea that you can retire this way is a myth. There are so many hands in the pie and then the markets correct on the down side aboout every 5-7 years and you lose big.

    Take the current market. most savvy investors just lost 45-55% and if they listened to Bernie they lost 100%.

    Better to invest in dirt like my old daddy told me years ago. He was right.

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  37. Thank you, Tim, for the AnchorFree.com recommendation!! I have been living in Japan for one year and very frustrated at not being able to stream from hulu.com and pandora.com. This is wonderful!

    I enjoyed the objectivity of this post very much.

    Like

  38. The best of this is, appropriately enough, in BOLD.

    Virtually nobody in the media is pointing out that: In the case of a 401k, for instance, if you’re working now and retiring 10 or more years out, this down market is a great thing. Why? The market WILL recover, it always does, and in the meantime you’re buying in at depressed prices–stock on sale.

    If you’re already retired, and needing this money, that’s different story of course. Just like anything else, what benefits one may hurt the other. That’s business.

    And it’s human nature to complain, and it’s the nature of the media to climb a tree to find bad news when a positive angle is on the ground.

    -jef

    http://www.deceptionsecrets.com

    Like

  39. This was a pretty “ballsy” post. You have a strong following here and I would imagine most of us disagree with Mark Hanna…

    “Investing in stocks is provably not speculation” hhmmm…

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  40. As Neil Strauss points out in his new book (thanks Tim for the heads up), The united states has the 53rd freest press on earth. By my estimation, thats pretty un-free.

    The question seems to be weather or not news networks are giving us factual news or just hyped up propaganda.

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  41. Does Stewart have thousands of stocks in his head? If you met Cramer in a bar and he decided to actually talk stocks with you, he’d know many of the symbols and ideals of the companies you asked him about.

    Cramer aint perfect but is certainly better giving advice than many fund managers. He understands fundamentals of markets and wants people to make money. Cramer admits when he is wrong.

    Stewart has tons of writers. Cramer has a staff, but this guy does his research on his own. His opinion is his, and he owns it whether he is right or wrong.

    Cramer is taking a beating due to his criticism of the Obama team. It does not matter that Jim has long been a self confessed democrat. He is now lumped in to the group of people who dare critique the “messiah”. He is entitled to his opinion and I am glad that he is critical of the earmarks and spending that the Obama team said never would happen!

    When Buffett who endorsed Obama 100% and who has advised Obama is critical then we know there is a problem.

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  42. More exposure to the markets – more risk taken. Long term investing – the riskiest enterprise on the market. That’s a fact.

    Tim – I am very surprised that you’ve made that post. You out of everybody else gotta realize that CNBC is just a cheer leading bunch of idiots. Cramer has been exposed to so many trend reversals that his “predictions” and “advices” hold no ground and in fact he fundamentally is incapable of any kind of long term analysis. Like any other analyst out there.

    Nassim Taleb’s Black Swan is something to read on that topic.

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  43. Tim

    So you ask a portfolio manager whether his whole raison d’etre is fundamentally unsound, and then POST IT?!

    1) Jon Stewart focused most on allegations of market manipulation, which are valid. The opaque structured credit derivatives and poor risk management created a market failure. Banks, credit rating agencies, and regulators all ignored the potential macro-downside of these innovations.

    2) I first heard about you (and am a big fan) from an interview with Nassim Taleb, author of Fooled by Randomness, and the Black Swan. You would enjoy Fooled by Randomness, which talks extensively about how so much financial information is ‘noise’. But it would blow apart your surprisingly naive faith in the logic of equity values.

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    • Hi Rafael and All,

      Nassim Taleb is very, very smart. I’ve had dinner with him and agree with most of his approaches. Betting on anomalies is far more effective than most people realize. The problem, of course, is that most people don’t have the emotional detachment to lose money 364 days out of the year betting on the black swan, which inevitably comes.

      All the best,

      Tim

      Like

  44. Investing in stocks is provably not speculation”

    Wow. This is the crux of his argument. I don’t care who Mr. Hanna is, this is wrong if words have any meaning. Mr. Hanna may have a problem with the word “speculation” in that, as of March 2009, financial people don’t want to be associated with it.

    We’re talking about degrees of risk – at what point in Mr. Hanna’s mind does investing cross over into speculation? When it’s someone else doing it?

    The mere desire to invest in a company that produces value is meaningless – if the value is fully factored into the stock price, buying it is irrational. And what’s worse: naked speculation, or buying into a stodgy old stock that’s clearly (irrationally) overvalued?

    No, you can’t avoid taking bets. When you invest you’re saying “I disagree”. And if you seriously disagree, you buy more, and you magnify your bet. Warren Buffett does EXACTLY this, but it’s Warren Buffett doing it, so Mark Hanna is cool with it.

    If you want to call something “usury” or hide from a word like “speculation”, that’s up to you, but you’re not saying anything, you’re just playing with language.

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  45. @Many

    It sounds as if I chose murky wording for the paragraph:

    Investing in stocks is provably not speculation. If one were to own all of the stock of a company with positive earnings, cash flow, and net worth, this ownership would have value. Thus, there is also value in a partial ownership stake in this same business. Purchasing any asset at a price less than its value is not speculation. Perceptive investors realize that they are not investing in “the market”; they are actually investing in the companies in which they hold ownership shares.

    Clearly the first sentence reads with a different meaning when divorced from the rest of the paragraph. Instead, please read as intended [improved clarity]:

    There is a difference between investing and speculation; anyone engaged in either should understand the difference. It is provable that there is such a thing as investing in stocks (rather than stocks being solely speculative): If one were to own all of the stock of a company with positive earnings, cash flow, and net worth, this ownership would have some value. Thus, there is also value in a partial ownership stake in this same business. Purchasing any asset at a price less than its value is not speculation.

    Thanks all for the discussion.

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  46. *warning: its long…seriously, don’t even go on if you’re not in the mood for a novel…Ok, I warned ya.

    @All with special emphasis on Naseem Taleb and Warren Buffet-

    In investing, people inevitably have their own “aha” moment where they read something that makes sense to them and decide that it must be the holy grail of outsized returns. It could be “Intrinsic Value”, P/E, growth, other people’s money, infrequent/untoward events, sector weighting, ETF’s, low cost index, dirt, the “Magic Formula”, gold, commodities, asset allocation, etc. Hell, they can even be so frustrated that they just lost 45% of their assets to a market downturn that they believe a mattress is the best way to get a great return on investment. Sometimes, even for long periods of time, they’ll be correct. The problem with this is psychology and the fact that they have the right answer but the wrong question.

    Every idea works some of the time. Some ideas seem to work more of the time, but participants in the game are too close to be objective in their assessments. Proofs and counter proofs exist for all forms. Arguments on any of them can become so convoluted and circular as to become like religious arguments. Their is no clear answer, and it seems to come down to what you believe and “have faith” in. Here are two excellent examples:

    Warren Buffet: The value of a business is seperate from the market’s current assessment of that value, and is truly the amount of money that can be extracted from that business over its lifetime. We should, therefore, purchase businesses with a durable competitive advantage, that offer us a margin of safety for unknowns, in a business category that we understand. If none exist, we don’t play. Their will be enouph opportunities over a long period of time that we can expect an outsized return on our investments.

    Naseem Taleb: Noone really knows what’s going to happen, but they see nonexistent patterns in the goings on of the world due to the way they’re wired. This leads to vast exposure to infrequent, high risk events for which society is highly undercompensated. This means that we should invest in bonds for the most part since if the whole country fails, investments will all be worthless anyways. We should, however, make frequent small bets on events outside of the “likely” realm so that when they do inevitably occur, we can profit mightily from them. We may seem like losers most of the time, but eventually we’ll be the big winner while hedging for our imperfect biology/psychology.

    So, who is correct? WB is worth a helluva lot more money than NT, but both sleep really well at night. Both are considered geniuses. Both have rabid fans. Both have more money than they really “need”. So, “correct” is ultimately the wrong question. Maybe the question is what do they have in common that leads them to their definition of “success” in their own worlds. I don’t know either man personally, but I can say comfortably that they share one psychological trait that is extremely pertinent: compulsion. Each has a compulsion so strong that it dominates his existence. He eats, sleeps, drinks, and constantly obsesses over it quite possibly to the detriment of other aspects of his life. In fact, he loves it so much that he is able to stand against an entire population’s “conventional wisdom” and suffer the slings and arrows of his inflexibility to do it his way.

    So, friends, what are you that passionate or obsessed over? Are you willing to give up vast portions of your “normal” life to be these two talented geniuses? Are you somehow different than the rest? Do you need it so bad that you can just sit on your butt like WB when there’s nothing to be purchased? That you can deal with every financial talking head saying you’re an idiot 364 days a year because you’re guaranteed to lose money most of the time? I doubt it in general…

    Outsized obsession=outsized return over long periods of time for the most part. Occasionally, humans benefit from a wind at their backs or a raising of the pond, but mostly its just attention to details, hard work, and some attention to the concept of secondary effects. Most people don’t have this obsession for investing, and as a result, get taken by the people that do. 401k’s, IRA’s, annuities, gold, realestate, etc…None of them are likely to give you an “outsized” return over time as most people (greater than 99%) don’t have any advantage. Most people, however, think they do and look to investing to provide them with things that they may actually really be obsessed over (more time, more money, more freedom, more stuff, whatever). This is what leads to heated discussions, booms and busts, and ultimately, finger pointing. Even people that are smarter than most of us will ever be, screw it up (IE the guy who thought up derivatives, an impressive list of quant traders, LTCM founders, Soros, Sheldon Adelson, the list goes on…).

    The question is what really matters to you? Is it most important for you to escape the 9-5 and live like the new rich? Is it to be the greatest investor of your style ever, or to prove yours is the best? I can’t guarantee that you’re going to be successful at any endeavor, but I can say that you’ll be much more likely to get the “outsized return” if you focus on what moves you.

    So, where does investment fit into your life? If its a means to an end, (as it is for most people) then you must get comfortable with the amount of effort/risk you must take to make that end most likely to occur. Don’t waste any more time than absolutely necessary to understand which style or method allows you to sleep the best at night so that you have enouph energy and resources to pursue your true passions.

    Style or method is material only to your personal psychological make up, proclivities and abilities. You will suffer alot less stress if you always first ask yourself: “Is this risk worth it?” in terms of your true motivations…AND THEN ANSWER THE QUESTION DEFINITIVELY.

    After many years, success and many tears, I can give you only one universal piece of investment advice:

    Lower your expectations.

    In the rest of your life figure out what really moves you, maybe lower your expectations, but let it rip anyways and live the life you dream of as much as possible.

    PPC4

    Like

  47. Actually, from one economic theory, about the most injust thing you can do with money is lend it and charge for the service. This goes along with the speculative markets in general. I like your blog very much, just found it through a friend two days ago and have read it all, and the book. Since you seem dedicated to reexamining things from first principles, I highly encourage a look at Margrit Kennedy’s work. She is a friend, and I met her as she was traveling and lecturing. The woman has an amazing life story, but aside from that, my point is that earning money from money is “usury”, something outlawed by several major religions, and though common economic practice now, I can make a strong argument for it being the main reason for the current economic downfall. Basically, if you increase the number of symbols in the economy, but don’t increase the amount of energy and commodity present ( i.e. have a bunch of traders making money through speculation) then you are essentially printing up counterfeit money that devalues everyone else’s greenbacks. In a sense, working for 4 hours a day, and outsourcing your life is based on the idea of smarter not harder, but someone is still working harder….if I wanted to make the most cash in the present economy, I would do the morally reprehensible thing, presuming I am free from the angels of my better nature, and print up the cash. If I can make my money make money, then all the poor shmucks that are trying to eat, spending the majority of their income on bills will forever fall behind if I can get a chunk of change outside the vicious cycle and let it exponentially increase….until the system is broken (i.e. people decide the game isn’t worth buying into anymore). This has been a long time coming. Anyway, here is Margrit’s work, much more elegant and complex than my rant as I run out the door to catch a film. ? the blog

    http://issuu.com/margritkennedy/docs/pre_moneypres/3?mode=embed&documentId=090123213659-3bb324d67b754f779d1b5e2d62ae3813

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  48. It would be nifty if one of Mr, Stewart’s critics would address his actual point, which is that CNBC should be mocked for claiming homeowners should have seen the coming trouble while CNBC did not.

    Also, CNBC’s Santelli should be ridiculed for his hypocrisy in not railing against the greater than hundred billion dollars in FDIC assistance GE has received.

    Unfortunately, most casual commenters do not understand the situation and most people who do understand the situation have too much bias to be honest.

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  49. There’s a horrible logic jump here:

    “If one were to own all of the stock of a company with positive earnings, cash flow, and net worth, this ownership would have value. Thus, there is also value in a partial ownership stake in this same business.”

    The first sort of value could be fairly called “objective value”. The investment is actually returning money regardless of what other people think. The second sort of value is entirely contingent on either a) someone else thinking the stock is worth money, or b) the majority of shareholders agreeing that buying back stocks and paying dividends are good things.

    Scenario B is relatively rare. Scenario A is a crapshoot where the media holds the most important hand. Either one is a gamble.

    FWIW

    Nate (late to the game)

    Like

  50. I have a few problems with this response and with some of the long held opinions on investing that are out there.

    1) Warren Buffet was/is a good investor who made one really good call – going heavy on Coca Cola. That’s really it. Now, because he’s “The Warren Buffet,” he can pick a stock and people will step on their own mother’s necks to get a few shares regardless of any quality that the company may or may not posses. Buffet’s philosophy, while logical, is old and really only works for him now because he is who he is. It does not account for…

    2) …market manipulation, which if you watch the interview, was part of Stewart’s argument. While he was more critical of CNBC and financial reporting in general, he still addressed (in the clips of Kramer that he played) the shenanigans that fund managers pull to influence stock prices. Tim, you witnessed this first hand, as you mentioned in your previous post:

    “100,000 shares of Genentech sold because a no-nothing guest had pulled the name out of thin air.

    That was my introduction to how truly rigged the stock market is…”

    3) So, if shady influence affecting the short term gains wasn’t bad enough for you (and your 401K), then let’s look at the long term. Hanna cites the Buffet-esque mantra:

    “Investing in stocks is provably not speculation. If one were to own all of the stock of a company with positive earnings, cash flow, and net worth, this ownership would have value. Thus, there is also value in a partial ownership stake in this same business. Purchasing any asset at a price less than its value is not speculation. Perceptive investors realize that they are not investing in “the market”; they are actually investing in the companies in which they hold ownership shares.”

    He describes these companies as having “positive earnings, cash flow, and net worth”

    Okay

    April 10, 2008:
    Lehman Brothers, AIG, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities and The Stanford Financial Group – companies with “positive earnings, cash flow, and net worth”

    April 10, 2009:
    Lehman Brothers, AIG, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities and The Stanford Financial Group – CRAP!

    Simply put – there is ALWAYS risk to investing. Risk + Money = Gambling. You can gamble smart and increase your chances or you can gamble like a fool and lose it all. You can have a lucky streak or a losing streak. You can cheat and you can get cheated. The above companies were sure things a year ago. They were fixtures of American finance with solid numbers and they were being run by the “smartest” people. They cheated, you lost.

    How can Mark Hanna justify what he advocates against what happened to these companies? The answer is that he can’t. When established companies create false impressions that are either backed by other established companies or are so complex in nature that they can not be detected, one can be lead to believe that these companies are sound investments with high returns when they aren’t.

    Hell, many of the credit default swaps had AAA ratings!

    So how exactly are we supposed to find these undervalued, well-run, positive… blah, blah, blah?


    That felt good.

    Anyway, it’s completely unrelated, but I don’t really comment here, so; Tim, will you ever reveal how you got into Princeton? I mean, you’ve already covered a lot of the things in the book, so I was just wondering if you were ever going to let us in on that one.

    Best, -P

    Like

  51. I totally disagree with Mark Hanna’s comment that investing is not gambling.

    Any situation where money is put at risk for an uncertain future return is a form of gambling.

    It is an amazing comment from Mark Hanna since his ultimate boss – Warren Buffett – is one of the greatest investors / gamblers historically.

    Recently, Warren Buffett put a large put option on the value of what the S&P500 will be in the long term future (15-20 years) – effectively a bet with no ownership of any company involved.

    Also, historically, he made some large bets with significant portions of his investors’ money – like when he took a huge punt on Amex in 1962 when it was at risk of going bust from the Salad Oil scandal (read about it in Roger Lowenstein’s book – An American Capitalist).

    And finally, one of the biggest parts of Berkshire Hathaway’s business is insurance and reinsurance – essentially bets on future accidents and catastrophes, some of which are large and which Warren Buffett admits could cause some serious losses down the line.

    Just because Buffett and his subordinates are good at betting (like Mark Hanna is at betting that Clayton’s customers will repay their loans) doesn’t mean that they’re not gambling!

    In fact, if people knew more about gambling they might be able to approach their investments with more sensibility.

    I’ve blogged myself about one of Warren Buffet’s large bad bets in 2008 – on ConocoPhillips, where he didn’t adjust his thinking after his original thesis didn’t work (like a good gambler would) – and he lost big.

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  52. If a person does not earn a lot of money, he can forget about having a comfortable retirement.

    The median household income is around $46,000 a year. Anyone making less than $150,000 a year cannot comfortably save for retirement and live a decent standard of life today. People are in too much debt to simply “contribute more”. They will not be able to simultaneously fund retirement, pay down credit card debt, student loan debt, mortgage debt, and raise a family. Many young people will chose to simply dedicate themselves to making more money and not being burdened with a family at all. The trend is already happening amongst upper-middle class people.

    People need to wake up to the reality that retiring will not be a luxury for 70% of Americans in the future. All retirement accounts will be heavily taxed. Even retirement accounts that are funded with after-tax dollars will be taxed. The laws will simply be changed and people will lose a great portion of their money to the government.

    This is not some “chicken little” scenario. It is a keen observation into the burdens of Social Security and Medicare. The government will soon run out of money to fund these programs. Those who have saved between $500,000 and $2,500,000 for retirement will bear the brunt of the new tax laws that will be passed. They will be considered “wealthy” and will be punished for their savings the same way the upper-middle class are burdened with the Alternative Minimum Tax. These new laws will make retirement in the U.S. simply unattainable for millions of middle class people that worked hard and have saved their money.

    The rich will have their money in investments that will generate great sums of money, but that will be taxed at a lower rate. They will also have enough money to consider retirement in foreign countries where their money will go further. The poor who have saved little to no money in retirement accounts will get by nicely. They will get generous government assistance that the middle class retirees will be paying for. Those who saved money under their mattresses will actually make out better than many of the people who have money in retirement accounts. They will have cash to buy things with and will still get government assistance because their “income” and retirement savings will be too low to be taxed.

    Wake up and watch out!

    Like

  53. You suggest using AnchorFree (Hotspot Shield) if having trouble viewing the hulu video at the top of your blog. I live in Germany and could not view the hulu video, so I tried AnchorFree (Hotspot Shield). It inserts a popup in the browser that is very annoying and it was a major annoyance deleting AnchorFree (Hotspot Shield). I believe that AnchorFree deliberately makes it difficult to delete their app. Please be more careful when recommending applications. Cheers!

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  54. The market jumped 76% since this was published (and over the past decade has closed at a higher price than that day 99.44% of the time).

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