What’s on your bookshelf, inspired by Morgan Housel

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I was pleased to see that Morgan Housel of Collaborative Fund included a couple of investing books within his “23 Books That Changed My Life” (May 12, 2017) that I happened to have on my shelf. John Train’s Famous Financial Fiascos is one of them. I serendipitously found several Train books at the Friends of S.F. public library’s massive annual sale years ago as a recent grad going through the obligatory investment learning cycle (e.g. books by the Gardner brothers, founders of The Motley Fool — Housel was previously with MF —  progressing to Train and Benjamin Graham — I found Security Analysis and The Intelligent Investor waiting for me at the same book sale, and thankfully had the latter to lean on before taking the plunge on the former). I have written about Train a few times over the years.

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Notes, thoughts about Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise

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Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson

A brief summary of notes I jotted down and compiled on the quick for future reminders:

Really appreciative once again how in one book, one can learn an author’s findings (what and how they want to share it) from a lifetime (in this case) of their work.

Advocates “deliberate practice” – the gold standard to exploit the gift of adaptability (mind/body). Alternatives for “deliberate” include effective and purposeful. These all are a challenge to the usual approach of naive repetition (10,000 hours Gladwell lifted argument overly simplistic) / homeostasis or being comfortable (must push out of comfort zone to improve/grow), good enough, steady-state.

Encompassing deliberate practice is the importance of mental representation — synonyms & strats: mental maps/mapping; mental models; mental shortcuts; heuristic(s); chunking; patterns; tying to action not just thought (ultimately skills > knowledge); internalize to build mental xxxxx

Building blocks incl.: remove distractions; limit practice to 1-hour for 100% focus and take breaks/rest; sleep well; exercise; good time mgmt/planning; find teachers/mentors/experts/peers – copy them, foster challenging environ., get feedback, deliberate practice/repetition, fail, try again; kaizen

Beware self-fulfilling prophecy of praise to those with apparent innate talent who then get lion’s share of attention vs. damage done to those w/o initial apparent talent who then don’t get necessary attention to dev.

P.255 seems to hint at multi-disciplinary models (see last bullet below)

My thoughts:

  • overall an enjoyable book, missing from my notes above are the interesting stories accompanying/supporting the main points (enjoyed Paganini anecdote);
  • repetition in the book felt redundant on one hand but reinforced concepts on the other;
  • was wondering if Ichiro would make an appearance (a big proponent of self, mental “image training”) — he did not;
  • compelling and important building blocks to follow and remind oneself of;
  • it’s a much better time to be learning today than in the past, e.g. learning Japanese today vs. even 10-15 yrs ago amazing at variety and quality of materials available — rote learning and donkey labor vs. hack techs to expedite and make interesting the former;
  • thought-provoking when paired with ideas of Charlie Munger, Hagstrom and latticework, the liberal arts, Santa Fe Institute, Danaher DBS, etc.

Finally, having read a couple of books about Hemingway and A Moveable Feast this year (Goodreads is helpful for tracking), a further reminder of just how much “it” takes to reach peak performance — for those of you who have read about Hem’s background, you’ll make the connections.

Investing in Banks?

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Check out Oddball Stocks for details of a book about investing in banks in the works that Nate Tobik is co-authoring. A sample chapter (about whether bank stocks are risky) is available there for download. I enjoyed it and highlighted the following, which supports a couple of key points the authors make in the chapter about investment opportunities with banks:

In 2012, a rogue trader (nicknamed by the media as the “London Whale”) at JP Morgan caused a loss of $6.2b. JP Morgan was able to absorb this loss and move forward without an impact to their business. Consider that of the 6,279 banks in existence in the US at the end of Q3 2015 only 177 had more than $6b in total assets. The London Whale made three bad trades that in the aggregate lost more money than 97% of the banks in the US hold in assets on their balance sheets.

Separately, the Heard of the Street section of the WSJ is often a good source of interesting statistics and commentary. For example, in the Thursday 3/10 edition, Aaron Back describes how banks have been preparing for higher rates by classifying more and more (debt) securities to “held to maturity” instead of “available for sale.” The so-called big four U.S. banks’ held-to-maturity holdings have increased from under 5% in 2011 to approaching 20% by year end 2015. Interest rates, however, at least presently, have not reciprocated. It sounds like a little FIFO, LIFO shifting. Very interesting to think about the various implications and juxtapositions of capital cushions / distressed debt levels / whether oil and gas companies will further tap credit lines / potential broader slowdown in CRE / health of auto loan and lease payments / student loan repayments and loan securitization/syndication and etc.

There is excess capacity in too many areas (and not just commodities). Reinsurance, for example. Retail real estate spinoff dreams, for another (the Sears and Macy’s locations I’ve seen are fairly typical in their feeling quite dated and needing serious renovations while leaving me scratching my head about who would actually want to lease or own stores other than Amazon). Not to mention consumer electronics, which is one area where it’s easy to understand how Japan (a longtime investment focus of mine) has struggled to remain relevant on a global scale: far too much domestic capacity where intense competition and me-tooism hurts profit margins, not to mention the overall glut when including global capacity from companies in China, South Korea and Taiwan, making meaningful differentiation near impossible and commodifying nearly everything. Perhaps almost the same can be said about investing in Banks in Japan. And even the global investment banks leading up to 2008 and for many the ongoing struggles today.

There’s a sort of natural Batesian mimicry in business and investing with one too many geniuses (and unfocused/undisciplined companies) masquerading as value-creators while in fact serving as a drag, ultimately, on pricing power and profit margins for the industry (and securities markets) at large. In some ways, consumers may benefit (and especially some patient and disciplined value investors) as prices come down, although there is often plenty of collateral damage or negative externalities by association.

Let me end by saying I like Nate’s approach with the smaller banks and oddball companies among which we are more likely to find simplicity (e.g. balance sheets), focus (one core or a limited number of profit drivers) and less competition (e.g. more attractive market valuation at time of purchase or accumulation). I haven’t commented about my newsletter in awhile — suffice it to say the rather obscure Japanese smaller caps are necessitating the aforementioned patience and discipline, which I believe is now essentially a matter of arbitraging time to realize value. I hasten to add however, as a I said recently to a friend, that opportunity cost may prove to be a bitch in some cases!

John Muir: Food for Thought for Value Investors

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In my last post I talked about how I enjoy reading and like to read as much non-finance material as possible. I have since finished the critique of John Muir’s writing that was published by I assume the now late Univ. of Wisconsin professor Herbert Smith (published in 1965). The following passage by Muir (from John of the Mountains; shared by Smith late in his review) may be applicable today as much as it must have been in his time ~100 years ago. Perhaps this is especially important to keep in mind during bull markets:

No sane man in the hands of nature can doubt the doubleness of his life. Soul and body receive separate nourishment and separate exercise, and speedily reach a stage of development wherein each is easily known apart from the other. Living artificially, we seldom see much of our real selves. Our torpid souls are hopelessly entangled with our torpid bodies, and not only is there a confused mingling of our own souls with our own bodies, but we hardly possess a separate existence from our neighbors. 

Emphasis added. Muir ends this thought by describing his favored means of independence.

The life of a mountaineer seems to be particularly favorable to the development of soul-life, as well as limb-life, each receiving abundance of exercise and abundance of food.

Previously: John Muir: Speaking of the Herd

 

John Muir: Speaking of the Herd

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Outside of work and preparing for the quarterly Uguisu Value newsletter (among plenty of other things going on!) I spend a fair amount of personal time reading. A number of wonderful books for value investors have been published in recent years — most notably I’m thinking of The Manual of Ideas and The Education of a Value Investor. In addition to reading investing books and annual reports, I like to mix in as much non-investing material as I can.

Recently I began reading a critical review of the famous environmental preservationist John Muir’s (1838-1914) writing. Not long after arriving in California, around the age of 30, Muir worked for a short while as a shepherd. He made the following observation about sheep (quote below). I’m sure there are not a few individual investors that end up in this situation with the vicissitudes of “the market” (or as we value investors prefer, “Mr. Market”). Muir’s depiction also reminds me of some of the institutional and HNWI investors that I pitched regarding a small-cap Japan activist fund. Recapitulating the investment merits of profitable companies trading at substantial discounts to tangible assets, to so-called sophisticated investors … while being grilled about macroeconomic risks and the very company-specific characteristics (smaller capitalization, obscurity, etc.) that make value investing attractive. Go figure.

Paraphrasing Muir:

Even sheep that have strayed from the flock huddle timidly and silently, basely human in their actions. Afraid of their freedom, not knowing what to do with it, and seeming glad to get back into their old familiar bondage.

It is worth mentioning that in fact Muir was fond of wild sheep.

Nostalgic for California this past winter, it was fun to see Muir’s name appear in Hampton Sides’ In the Kingdom of Ice. Put that book on your reading list. A character in Sides’ story is a Melville. The joys of being a value investor and not stuck watching stock quotes.

Berkshire Beyond Buffett: Final Chapters

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This is the final post of my live-tweeting and highlighting of professor Larry Cunningham’s book, Berkshire Beyond Buffett. I’ve practically run out of superlatives…. ValueWalk (dot-com) reported Berkshire Beyond Buffett was among the top-10 books purchased in 2014 by its readers. I suspect the momentum will continue this year. If you’ve missed any of the tweets or posts, see them in order here: IIIIII, and IV (and follow on Twitter: @ActiveInvesting).

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Berkshire Beyond Buffett: Modesty and Simplicity

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This is my fourth installment of notes and summary tweets of Larry Cunningham’s perspicacious book, Berkshire Beyond Buffett: The Enduring Value of Values. If you’ve missed any of the tweets or posts, see them in order here: I, II, and III (and follow on Twitter: @ActiveInvesting). I’ve selectively shared nuggets from Larry’s book and I’m finding Twitter’s 140 character limit to be just-right for capturing some of the highlights to share with others that will also spark my memory of the greater detail in the book; this also preserves the bulk of Larry’s hard work.

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Berkshire Beyond Buffett: Values

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Here’s my latest installment of notes I’ve compiled while I continue to read Larry Cunningham’s wonderful book, Berkshire Beyond Buffett: The Enduring Value of Values. Chapter 6 (“Kinship”) is one of my favorites thus far. It seemed to come alive and really epitomize “the enduring value of values.” I will continue to shares notes in this way as it’s much more efficient (posting a summary of my live-tweets) than trying to go back and put my notes into prose. One-third finished reading, I can already say that Berkshire Beyond Buffett is a keeper for me and should be on your reading list if not already. See my earlier posts (I and II).

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Berkshire Beyond Buffett: Insurance Notes

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Berkshire Beyond Buffett - Larry Cunningham (Columbia Business School)Larry Cunningham is one of the most respected authors who has written about Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway. His Berkshire Beyond Buffett: The Enduring Value of Values is proving to be an informative read thus far — last week I posted some notes and takeaways from the first few chapters. This time I’m sharing more of the same from the remainder of chapter 3 as well as chapter 4, which is the first chapter of the second part of the book.

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Susan Decker on the Magic of Berkshire Hathaway’s Returns

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Susan Decker’s recent panel discussion comments pointed out some of the magic behind Berkshire Hathaway’s returns. There is nothing new for Berkshire followers and investors, except the tax-free comment that Decker made got me thinking. Buffett’s baby is simple conceptually (i.e. float-supported — Decker didn’t mention float, by the way — with cash flow rich capital allocation to, and flow back from, operating subsidiaries and portfolio securities) and has performed brilliantly in terms of the annual and cumulative profits/investment returns achieved. See’s Candies is one heck of an example (see the BBB link below).

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