Markets can be very violent on the downside. The old saying — Markets ride the escalator to the top and the elevator to the bottom — is still quite relevant.
The past week or so has been a rocky one to say the least. This is the time to review the lessons learned from the past. The alternative of listening to hysterical nonsense from forecasters will only lead you to heaps of trouble.
Where the Customers’ Yachts? is a timeless relic which should be read by anyone who professes the slightest interest in finance. Though written after the infamous 1929 crash, its contents are completely applicable in 2016. In the words of Mike Bloomberg in his review of this classic tale, “The more things change, the more they remain the same. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.”
Here are ten quotes that can serve as a force field to ward of investment charlatans. Ignore these quotes at your own peril:
- Wall Street Greed – “At the close of the day’s business, they take all the money and throw it up in the air. Everything that sticks to the ceiling belongs to the clients.” Merrill Lynch Structured Notes, anyone? Yes, the customers got to keep 5%.
- The Value of Market Predictions – “It seems that the immature mind has a regrettable tendency to believe, as actually true, that which it only hopes to be true.” 90% chance ‘Remain’ wins the referendum… OOPS!
- Financial Salesman Having an Answer to the Unanswerable – “Now if you do someone the single honor of asking him a difficult question, you may be assured that you will get a detailed answer. Rarely will it be the most difficult of all answers – ‘I Don’t Know.’” Market pundits who were completely wrong on Brexit, telling you what to do now.
- Data Mining and Confusing Causation with Correlation – “There have always been a considerable number of pathetic people who busy themselves examining the last thousand numbers which have appeared on a roulette wheel in search of some repeating pattern. Sadly enough, they have usually found it.” Long-term capital management had it all figured out, until they didn’t.
- Valuing Paper Trading, or Simulations, over Real Life Experience – “Art cannot convey to an inexperienced girl what it is truly like to be a wife and mother. There are certain things that cannot be adequately explained to a virgin either by words or pictures.” Trading Academies advertised in the media will make you rich like the Trump University graduates who are now real estate moguls.
- The Value of Individual Stock Picking – “They told me to buy this stock for my old age. It worked wonderfully. Within a week I was an old man.” Kittens and monkeys throwing darts routinely outperform stock pickers.
- The Aversion to Holding Cash in Clients’ Accounts – “To them having a sizable cash balance in an account for any length of time is unbearable. Suppose stocks should go way up? They would be left high and dry with nothing but some dirty money.” Money markets give you nothing. MLPs work as bond substitutes; they will provide a terrific yield with little risk.
- Churning Clients’ Accounts – “The man who chooses to take his money and churn it furiously either below or above Chambers Street, cannot in any way predict his fate, save for a single assurance. So long as any of the money still clings to the sides of the churn, he will not be bored.” Managed mutual funds have an average turnover rate of approximately 85% and underperform the markets basic indices.
- The Folly of Choosing Market Beating Funds – “The subject of choosing profitable financial investments does not lead itself to competence. There is almost no visible supply. If there were, it would have been discovered long ago.” The odds of an individual investor in 2016 picking a fund ahead of time, that will outperform the market over the next decade, are close to zero.”
- Chasing Hot Stocks – “The pathetic fallacy is that what are thought to be the best are, in truth, only the most popular – – the most active, the most talked of, the most boosted, and, consequently, the highest in price at that time. It is very much a matter of fashion, like Eugenio hats or waxed mustaches.” Ten stocks to buy right now!
Though Fred Schwed wrote this book almost a century ago, nothing has really changed. People are as gullible as ever. Financial sharks still prowl the markets looking for their latest prey with bogus products in hand. The song remains the same.
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