DURING MY 30s, I worked for a defense contractor. The Berlin Wall fell in November 1989 and the Soviet Union imploded just over two years later. Many at work believed that the end of the Cold War would lead Congress to reduce defense spending. Sure enough, layoffs at my company commenced soon after.
I was fortunate to avoid being laid off. I do recall, though, overhearing one coworker in his 50s who, after receiving a pink slip,
AFTER ENRON’S COLLAPSE in 2001, there were numerous articles about employees who had most of their money in the company’s stock and how they’d lost it all. Taking that message to heart, I’ve endeavored to keep our holdings of my company’s stock below 10% of our net worth. I must confess, however, that in good times it’s crept up to 15%—and in bad times it’s fallen to zero.
I can’t claim any particular insights or novel thoughts on how to manage company stock.
IF YOU WANT ADVICE on investing, don’t ask me. My investment knowledge is, shall we say, limited.
I don’t pay much attention to expense ratios, individual stocks, international markets, the VIX, interest rates or much else. I know nothing about evaluating stocks or the overall market, though I have learned the hard way that rising interest rates aren’t friendly to utility stocks.
In other words, I’m more like your typical saver who’s playing at investing.
WE LIVE IN A WORLD rife with intolerance—and that intolerance, alas, has infected the once-civilized world of index-fund investors.
Back in the 1990s, we indexers were such a small minority that simply owning index funds was a common bond. But now that more than half the fund market is given over to index funds, internecine skirmishes regularly erupt, with folks debating what’s the right way to index and belittling those who take a different approach.
I’VE MADE A LOT OF investing mistakes in my time. In fact, if I ever wrote a book on investing, the title would probably be Don’t Go There, It Sucks.
I’m a Kentucky hillbilly and, yes, that’s hillbilly talk. Another local colloquialism is, “Careful, or you’ll end up like Scrambo Hill.” I don’t know who Scrambo was. But apparently, he resided around our parts at one time, and you don’t want to end up at the bottom of the barrow like him.
THOSE WHO LIVE VERY long lives sometimes face an unfair irony: The accomplishments of even towering figures can lose their luster over time—not because they’re proven wrong, but because the ideas they developed become so widely accepted that we forget they were once innovations. The investment world lost one such towering figure last week: the economist Harry Markowitz, who was age 95.
Markowitz first came to prominence in the early 1950s, when his PhD thesis,
IN 2014, AN INVESTOR asked Charlie Munger—Warren Buffett’s second-in-command—why he wasn’t investing in Apple. Munger responded that, “No matter what their financial statements showed,” he’d never have a high degree of confidence in the company. “It’s just too hard.”
Buffett agreed. But things changed. Today, Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway is Apple’s third-largest shareholder, with holdings valued at more than $150 billion.
What should we conclude from Buffett’s about-face? In recent weeks, I’ve referenced studies on market timing and trading.
MY PORTFOLIO HAS bounced back nicely from October 2022’s stock market low—and that’s a problem: I’ve learned over the decades that I’m not good at handling prosperity.
At issue is the question of when to rebalance my portfolio, in this case selling stocks and buying bonds to bring them back into line with my target percentages. Among experts, there’s no agreed-upon strategy, which is almost an invitation to bad behavior. We investors do better with hard-and-fast rules.
WHAT DO WALL STREET analysts, magazine editors, economists and academics have in common? They’ve all found it virtually impossible to make accurate market forecasts. That’s why Vanguard Group founder Jack Bogle gave this advice to investors: When markets go haywire, “Don’t do something. Just stand there.”
Warren Buffett has given the same advice. In 2008, here’s how he explained it: “In the 20th century, the United States endured two world wars and other traumatic and expensive military conflicts;
PEOPLE WHO INVEST in the stock market and people who bet on horses both hope to win. I expected the efficiency and behavioral finance factors that rule the stock market to have similar effects on horse betting. Instead, I found just the opposite.
The story begins 40 years ago. A few years after we were married, I suggested to my wife that we spend a day at the fabled Saratoga Race Course in Upstate New York and watch the thoroughbreds run.
A WHILE BACK, I WAS speaking with a mutual fund manager. In describing one of his fund’s stocks, he noted, “I owned it for a while, then I sold it, but then I bought it back.” It was a surprising comment since frequent trading is, in most cases, unproductive. Indeed, Warren Buffett has often said that his preferred holding period for an investment is “forever,” and many see that long-term mindset as crucial to his success.
THE DOUBLE-DIGIT recovery by the S&P 500-stock index this year has been driven almost entirely by seven mega-cap stocks: Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Meta, Tesla and Nvidia. In fact, these seven stocks now comprise more than 25% of the index.
Since our family is heavily invested in a mix of the S&P 500, U.S. technology and growth funds, plus some individual tech stocks, I began to worry about our portfolio’s investment concentration. I tallied our positions in these seven stocks across all our accounts.
NEW MORNINGSTAR research on bond funds echoes what the late Jack Bogle preached—and proved—for decades: Costs are the greatest predictor of fund performance, not stock or bond selection prowess. In investing, you get what you don’t pay for, said Bogle, Vanguard Group’s founder and creator of the first index mutual fund.
There’s a school of thought that claims it’s easier for active bond fund managers to beat their indexes than it is for their stock fund colleagues.
NASSIM NICHOLAS TALEB has written a trilogy on the topic of chance: Fooled by Randomness, The Black Swan and Antifragile. I didn’t find these three books to be easy reading, plus Taleb has strong opinions, which may turn off some readers. Still, there’s a host of investment lessons to be culled from his works.
Taleb argues that randomness plays a powerful role in financial markets and,
SERIES I SAVINGS bonds have garnered a lot of press over the past year. Thanks to higher inflation, these bonds have become a lot more attractive. Although savings bonds have historically been a go-to gift for birthdays, baptisms and bar mitzvahs, they’re more complicated than you might think. I bonds have a number of features that can confuse the average investor, me included.
Series I savings bonds, or I bonds, are designed to protect an investor from losing money to inflation.