Search Results for: munger

Charlie Munger on Teaching Character Values in Childhood

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I just started reading a biography of Charles Munger, Damn Right! Behind the Scenes with Berkshire Hathaway Billionaire Charlie Munger by Janet Lowe, originally published in 2000.

Charles Munger is best known as Warren Buffett’s long-time friend, business partner, and vice-Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway. I find him fascinating on many levels – as a thinker, investor, philanthropist, and even philosopher. One of my favorite tips from him is to Work For Yourself An Hour Each Day, something I found in Warren Buffett’s biography The Snowball.

Here’s a memorable quote from the book dealing with his childhood:

Like Warren Buffett, Munger inherited no wealth. […]

“While no real money came down, my family gave me a good education and a marvelous example of how people should behave, and in the end that was more valuable than money,” explained Munger. “Being surrounded by the right values from the beginning is an immense treasure. Warren had that. It even has a financial advantage.”

Right now, there is a lot of focus on teaching “financial literacy” – which is good – but if you’re a parent of young children I feel that you have to think differently. It’s not critical to give your kid some fancy allowance iPhone app or online savings account to teach them how to manage money. What you should really be conscious of is how you act around them. Positive character traits like self-discipline, being dependable (keeping your promises), and frugality (not being wasteful) are often best taught by example. Watching you and learning such traits will help them to avoid credit card debt more than showing them how APR works. If only I could just buy them a book or something. 😉

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Poor Charlie’s Almanack: Wisdom of Charlie Munger – Book Review, Part 1

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Charlie Munger is best known as the long-time friend and business partner of Warren Buffett, and officially as the Vice-Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway. Even though he is Buffett’s partner in investing, Munger is different in that he does not enjoy the spotlight as much and is rather more blunt and cranky. For some reason that just makes me like him more. 🙂

Ever since I read more about him in the Buffett biography The Snowball, I have wanted to learn more about him via the book Poor Charlie’s Almanack: The Wit and Wisdom of Charles T. Munger, which is mostly a collection of his speeches but also includes some of his own personal notes and reflections from his peers and family. From the website:

For the first time ever, the wit and wisdom of Charlie Munger is available in a single volume: all his talks, lectures and public commentary. And, it has been written and compiled with both Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett’s encouragement and cooperation. So pull up your favorite reading chair and enjoy the unique humor, wit and insight that Charlie Munger brings to the world of business, investing and life itself.

The first thing you should know about this book is that it is not meant to be an investing How-To book. Yes, there is a lot of investing advice in it, but the book is more about how to live a successful and fulfilling life more than the accumulation of money. Munger puts more emphasis on integrity and how to think correctly than how to calculate a company’s return on capital.

Financial Independence
One of the reasons that Buffett and Munger appeal to me is that their primary motivation for doing what they do is not simply to be rich, it is to to be independent. Here’s a quote from Buffett on why he wanted to make money: [Read more…]

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Buffett on Charlie Munger: Work For Yourself An Hour Each Day

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I’ve gotten to the part in The Snowball that involves Charlie Munger. A very interesting person, although perhaps not someone I’d like to have a beer with (I’d feel stupid), he is probably best known as Buffett’s long-time friend, business partner, and vice-Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway.

Even before meeting Warren Buffett, Munger was wealthy according to most standards from real estate investing. Here is a quote from a Buffett interview in the book:

Charlie, as a very young lawyer, was probably getting $20 an hour. He thought to himself, ‘Who’s my most valuable client?’ And he decided it was himself. So he decided to sell himself an hour each day. He did it early in the morning, working on these construction projects and real estate deals. Everybody should do this, be the client, and then work for other people, too, and sell yourself an hour a day.

Now, I’m sure just being a successful lawyer would be plenty for many people. But if you aren’t satisfied with your current situation, why not work for yourself an hour each day? Instead of just idle dreaming, set aside specific time for action. Perhaps the key is small chunks of time, but at regular intervals.

Example. If you’re an administrative assistant making $10 an hour and you don’t want to be, don’t just sign up to work another hour for $10. Working longer is not necessarily the best idea. Instead, give up the $10 (or $8 after taxes), and improve yourself in some way or create something so you’ll be making a lot more. There is no one solution, look into yourself. Nursing school? Investment books? Finding a mentor?

Finally, another quote from Charlie Munger about the desire for independence:

I had a considerable passion to get rich. Not because I wanted Ferraris – I wanted the independence. I desperately wanted it. I thought it was undignified to have to send invoices to other people. I don’t where I got that notion from, but I had it.

I think I’ll be buying a copy of Poor Charlie’s Almanack the next time I run low on things to read, even though it costs fifty bucks.

Update: I bought a copy of Poor Charlie’s Almanack and will be reviewing it shortly. I still think this idea of working for yourself for an hour each day is great advice and timeless.

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Buffett and Munger On Index Funds

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Here’s a nice Reuturs article interviewing Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger shortly after the recent Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting.

On index funds and beating the market:

Warren Buffett said on Sunday most investors are better off putting their money in low-cost index funds, though he believes he can still outperform major market indexes.

“A very low-cost index is going to beat a majority of the amateur-managed money or professionally-managed money,” Buffett said at a press conference, a day after the annual shareholder meeting for his Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

As for Berkshire, which ended March with nearly $90 billion of stock and fixed-income investments, Buffett said “we think we can do better than the S&P. I would be disappointed if our portfolio didn’t do a couple of percentage points better. I would be amazed if it did (much) better.”

I’m not sure if this is Buffett being humble, or he is admitting that beating the S&P by a large margin is getting harder and harder.

On performance chasing:

Charlie Munger, Berkshire’s vice chairman, said at the press conference that many investors actually fare worse in actively managed funds. He said many funds perform well when they’re small, but struggle to keep up when investors chase that early performance, and pour in cash.

“Successful funds attract a massive amount of money, and the later performance typically gets mediocre,” he said. “Then they keep publishing returns for the whole period for someone who started 20 years ago…. The reporting has falsehood and folly in it.”

If I believed in the “Buffett way”, which on some days I do, I would simply buy BRK directly rather than try to replicate or beat his results by trading on my own as a mere mortal.

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How To Lose Your Money Investing

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Sometimes the best solution to a problem comes by approaching it backwards. Charlie Munger often spoke about the principle of inversion. Instead of looking for things that you should do to achieve a goal, make a list of things you would do to make sure you never reach that goal. Then do whatever you can to avoid those things.

Safal Niveshak offers us this related graphic in his post 5 Ways to Destroy Your Wealth. I’m always a sucker for a clever Venn diagram…

Definitely a good list. However, I would say this graphic is more focused on “How To Destroy Wealth Investing“, as I can think of plenty of other ways to destroy wealth…

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Official Warren Buffett / Berkshire Hathaway Book Reading List 2019

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At every annual shareholder meeting, Berkshire Hathaway publishes an official reading list and sells discounted copies through a local Omaha bookstore called The Bookworm. Both Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger have consistently attributed a significant part of their success to their constant reading:

“I insist on a lot of time being spent, almost every day, to just sit and think. That is very uncommon in American business. I read and think. So I do more reading and thinking, and make less impulse decisions than most people in business. I do it because I like this kind of life.” – Warren Buffett

“In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time—none. Zero. You’d be amazed at how much Warren reads—and how much I read. My children laugh at me. They think I’m a book with a couple of legs sticking out.” – Charlie Munger

Here is the 2019 annual meeting handout. Since they don’t archive these handouts and books are removed each year, I decided to track the changes here. I just bought a used copy of the Lowenstein biography of Warren Buffett and a copy of the Secret Millionaire’s Club (For Kids) from Amazon and the 50th anniversary book direct from Berkshire.

New additions for 2019

The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World by Melinda Gates. From the Amazon page: For the last twenty years, Melinda Gates has been on a mission to find solutions for people with the most urgent needs, wherever they live. Throughout this journey, one thing has become increasingly clear to her: If you want to lift a society up, you need to stop keeping women down. In this moving and compelling book, Melinda shares lessons she’s learned from the inspiring people she’s met during her work and travels around the world. As she writes in the introduction, “That is why I had to write this book?to share the stories of people who have given focus and urgency to my life. I want all of us to see ways we can lift women up where we live.”

Letters to Doris – One Woman’s Quest to Help Those with Nowhere Else to Turn. From the Amazon page: The Letters Foundation is a foundation of last resort that provides humanitarian grants to people experiencing a crisis when no other options exist. These one-time grants provide a hand-up to individuals as they work to stabilize their lives. Established by siblings Warren and Doris Buffett, the Letters Foundation reads and replies to letters from individuals living within the United States.

The Future Is Asian: Commerce, Conflict, and Culture in the 21st Century by Parag Khanna. (Charlie’s Pick) From the Amazon page: There is no more important region of the world for us to better understand than Asia – and thus we cannot afford to keep getting Asia so wrong. Asia’s complexity has led to common misdiagnoses: Western thinking on Asia conflates the entire region with China, predicts imminent World War III around every corner, and regularly forecasts debt-driven collapse for the region’s major economies. But in reality, the region is experiencing a confident new wave of growth led by younger societies from India to the Philippines, nationalist leaders have put aside territorial disputes in favor of integration, and today’s infrastructure investments are the platform for the next generation of digital innovation.

Saudi America: The Truth about Fracking and How It’s Changing the World by Bethany McLean. (Charlie’s Pick) From the Amazon page: Investigative journalist Bethany McLean digs deep into the cycles of boom and bust that have plagued the American oil industry for the past decade, from the financial wizardry and mysterious death of fracking pioneer Aubrey McClendon, to the investors who are questioning the very economics of shale itself. McLean finds that fracking is a business built on attracting ever-more gigantic amounts of capital investment, while promises of huge returns have yet to bear out. Saudi America tells a remarkable story that will persuade you to think about the power of oil in a new way.

Berkshire 50th Anniversary

About Warren Buffett

About Charlie Munger

On Investing

General Interest

Books from past lists, likely removed due to space constraints.

Here are my own posts related to the books listed above:

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Berkshire Hathaway Shareholder Meeting Full Videos, Transcripts, and Podcasts

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Updated for 2019 Meeting. Berkshire Hathaway’s Annual Shareholder Meetings are held in Omaha, Nebraska every May. Although most of my portfolio is in a diversified mix of index funds, I also own individual shares of Berkshire Hathaway and respect the rational and practical advice given out by Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger.

I also like getting the information directly! I missed the live event again in 2019, but I plan catch up by first reading the WSJ liveblog, and then listening to the entire Q&A session via Yahoo Finance podcast at my own pace. Here are the many ways that you can catch up on past shareholder meetings.

Full Videos

  • Yahoo Finance Livestream. Yahoo Finance is the exclusive online host of the Berkshire Hathaway 2019 Annual Shareholders Meeting that occurred May 4th, 2019. View the entire Q&A session in its entirety on demand.
  • CNBC Warren Buffett Archive. Footage of shareholder meetings from 1994-2018 In 2018, Berkshire gave CNBC a box of old VHS tapes (!) which were converted to digital videos so that everyone can view them for free. Additional material from CNBC including interviews, highlights, and short-form videos is also available.

Transcripts

Liveblogs

Podcasts

  • Yahoo Finance also makes the BRK meeting available as a podcast, so you can listen in parts during your commute or chores. I listened to the entire 2018 meeting in the car while driving, and I liked it much better than sitting in front a computer. 2019 is already uploaded. iTunes. Player.fm.

Books

Reminder: This post is about the live shareholder meeting, and is separate from the annual shareholder letters (which are also great).

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Warren Buffett CNBC Interview 2019 Full Video, Full Transcript, and Notes

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I’m one of the many folks who like to keep up with Warren Buffett content to see if there is any wisdom to be gained. After the release of the 2019 Berkshire Hathaway shareholder letter, Buffett did a 2-hour interview with Becky Quick of CNBC. While I don’t like when CNBC encourages average folks to treat investing like sports betting, I do appreciate that they offer up the entire interview online along with a full transcript.

Here are my personal notes after both watching (listening, actually) and then reading the text as well.

If you don’t DIY, the person who manages your money should invest it as they would their own family’s money. Most of Buffett’s and Munger’s family money is invested in BRK stock. Maybe not Buffett’s wife, but their children and grandchildren. That is why Berkshire Hathaway is run with such care and conservatism such that no disaster would make it permanently impaired. This is different from when a CEO has an agreement to make lots of money if the share price goes up in the short-term, and he/she simply jumps ship if things go horribly wrong. Check out this excerpt about the target audience for his shareholder letter:

I’ve always had the image that I am talking to my sisters. I have two sisters. They’re both– Berkshire’s pretty much their whole investment. They’re smart. They’re not active in business. So– they’re not reading about it every day. But I pretend they’ve been away for a year and I’m reporting to them on their investment. And then this year because we may be repurchasing shares, I tried to have the vision that they were talking to me about whether they should sell their shares and I was explaining to them exactly how I would look at it if I were in their shoes. So– it’s, “Dear Doris and Bertie,” at the start and then I take that off at the end. But I’m talking to them. And I’m trying to talk to ’em in a manner where if– you know, they’re practically entirely in Berkshire and if they were thinking of selling some, here’s what I’d want ’em to know before they made a decision.

That is how I try to write this blog. I am telling you my asset allocation, the names of the mutual fund and ETFs that I own, the brokerage accounts that I hold them in, the banks that I keep my cash in, the credit cards that I have applied for and use everyday. These are the same things I would recommend to my parents and siblings (and children eventually). Hopefully, if something happens to me, then my writing here can serve as a resource about what my (their) portfolio is and why I bought them and how they should spend from it. I want my spouse to hopefully keep the faith and allow it to provide for them even if I’m not around.

Even if markets aren’t perfectly efficient, it’s still really hard to beat the S&P 500. In response to a viewer question, Buffett discloses the two men picked to replace him in the stock-picking arena, Ted Weschler and Todd Combs, have lagged the S&P 500 slightly since they started 8 years ago. Yes, this was during a bull market, but they still lagged over a pretty long period. These guys sit around all day reading 10-Ks and were handpicked by Warren Buffett himself! You must ask yourself, do you really think you have an edge on them?

BECKY QUICK: That worked the last 77 years, but there’s a question that came in, T29. This is from Scott Baker. “With so many people in the S&P index funds is it still market neutral and the best investment vehicle for most people?”

WARREN BUFFETT: Yeah, I think it’s the best investment– because most people don’t know how to pick stocks. And– most of the time I don’t know how to pick stocks. I mean, it’s– it is not an easy game. And by definition people are going to do average. I mean, if you take everybody in aggregate, and if half of ’em are paying big fees and jumping around and paying brokerage commissions, the other half have to do better. And– no, it is– as I’ve told people in– and my widow will I’ve instructed– the trustee to put 90% in an S&P 500 index fund and 10% in governments, just so that– just for a feeling of security. But– there’s been no better bet than America. There’s been nothing like it.

Be patient. Be prepared. Buffett is still waiting for an opportunity, probably in the next recession or down part of the economic cycle. One of the things that makes Buffett special is his rationality and patience. Berkshire still has a ton of cash, and he won’t spend it just because talking heads says he should. With the size of their cash hoard, they want to buy an entire business at a good price. However, private equity has too much money to deploy, and is bidding up all the private businesses because they are willing to use leverage. This will eventually change. One day, probably within the next decade, the short-term outlook for businesses will be quite gloomy.

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Berkshire Hathaway 2017 Annual Letter by Warren Buffett

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brk2016Berkshire Hathaway (BRK) has released its 2017 Letter to Shareholders. Instead of reading various media coverage about one aspect, I recommend reading the entire thing straight from the source. It’s only 17 pages long and (as always) written in a straightforward and approachable fashion. Even if you aren’t interested in BRK stock at all, reading the letter can be educational for individual investors of any experience level. Here are my personal notes with quoted exceprts.

Never use borrowed money to invest (leverage).

Our aversion to leverage has dampened our returns over the years. But Charlie and I sleep well. Both of us believe it is insane to risk what you have and need in order to obtain what you don’t need. We held this view 50 years ago when we each ran an investment partnership, funded by a few friends and relatives who trusted us. We also hold it today after a million or so “partners” have joined us at Berkshire.

There is simply no telling how far stocks can fall in a short period. Even if your borrowings are small and your positions aren’t immediately threatened by the plunging market, your mind may well become rattled by scary headlines and breathless commentary. And an unsettled mind will not make good decisions.

Lack of acquisitions. Berkshire hates paying too much for a company. They are also quite patient. Right now, there are many other competing buyers willing to pay high prices, so that is why their cash hoard keeps growing.

The less the prudence with which others conduct their affairs, the greater the prudence with which we must conduct our own.

Cash (Treasury Bills) is king.

During the 2008-2009 crisis, we liked having Treasury Bills – loads of Treasury Bills – that protected us from having to rely on funding sources such as bank lines or commercial paper. We have intentionally constructed Berkshire in a manner that will allow it to comfortably withstand economic discontinuities, including such extremes as extended market closures.

At yearend Berkshire held $116.0 billion in cash and U.S. Treasury Bills (whose average maturity was 88 days), up from $86.4 billion at yearend 2016. This extraordinary liquidity earns only a pittance and is far beyond the level Charlie and I wish Berkshire to have. Our smiles will broaden when we have redeployed Berkshire’s excess funds into more productive assets.

Be patient.

The light can at any time go from green to red without pausing at yellow.

Wells Fargo and Bank of America stock. If you’re looking for individual stock ideas, many people copycat the holdings of Berkshire Hathaway.

Charlie and I view the marketable common stocks that Berkshire owns as interests in businesses, not as ticker symbols to be bought or sold based on their “chart” patterns, the “target” prices of analysts or the opinions of media pundits.

I would also consider the overlap between the holdings of Berkshire Hathaway and Daily Journal Corporation (Chairman Charles Munger). Both have significant stakes in Wells Fargo and Bank of America in an approximate 3:2 ratio. (Both also own a much smaller amount of US Bancorp.) Keep in mind these are bought for the long run:

Stocks surge and swoon, seemingly untethered to any year-to-year buildup in their underlying value. Over time, however, Ben Graham’s oft-quoted maxim proves true: “In the short run, the market is a voting machine; in the long run, however, it becomes a weighing machine.”

Hedge fund bet. As expected, the S&P 500 index fund won against a group of actively-managed hedge funds, but there were some interesting details in the final results. Something to discuss further in a separate post.

Risk vs. time horizon.

Investing is an activity in which consumption today is foregone in an attempt to allow greater consumption at a later date. “Risk” is the possibility that this objective won’t be attained.

I want to quickly acknowledge that in any upcoming day, week or even year, stocks will be riskier – far riskier – than short-term U.S. bonds. As an investor’s investment horizon lengthens, however, a diversified portfolio of U.S. equities becomes progressively less risky than bonds, assuming that the stocks are purchased at a sensible multiple of earnings relative to then-prevailing interest rates.

Past shareholder letters.

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Anthony Bourdain: Taking One More Risk Changed Everything

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Anthony Bourdain gets to travel around the world, eat great food, and hang out with interesting people. I have read a few of his books and enjoy his TV shows, but this YouTube video from 1 Step Away revealed some new details about how it all started.

Bourdain loved writing but spent long days working as a chef. At age 44, having already made a few attempts at literary success, he decided to write up a short piece about restaurants. Finally, despite already having been rejected, he decided to send it over to The New Yorker (after a nudge from his mother). It ended up being printed in 1999. After taking that risk and that initial “yes”, he went on to write the bestseller Kitchen Confidential in 2000.

Having a day job but working for yourself as well definitely sounds familiar. You don’t need to quit everything and chase your dreams into bankruptcy. There is honor in taking a job that puts a roof over your head and supports your family. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep taking some calculated risks. Look for upside potential without taking a lot of downside risk. What if Bourdain had given up after the first round of rejections? It only takes one “yes”.

Previous mentions of Anthony Bourdain:

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Berkshire Hathaway vs. S&P 500: Shrinking Edge?

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It is well-known that the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway (BRK) is Warren Buffett, and that its long-term performance has crushed the S&P 500. This is usually illustrated with an impressive chart like this one from Business Insider:

brkvsp500_bi

I’m currently reading A Man for All Markets by Edward Thorp. Among his many impressive accomplishments, Thorp even managed to be an early investor in Berkshire Hathaway. However, an ongoing theme in the book is that edges don’t last forever. He includes a chart in his book about how the performance gap between BRK and the S&P 500 has narrowed over time (I added the pink highlighting):

brkvsp500_red

The book states that the dates were chosen when “the price graphs suggested that they were natural divisions”. Now, even Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger have stated upfront that future returns for Berkshire will be much more modest than in the past. Their current asset size is simply too large. Of course, they still maintain they’ll do just fine, otherwise they’d just give up (or at least pay a dividend). It will be interesting how their edge holds up in the future.

Disclosure: My investment portfolio is predominantly invested in indexed and low-cost funds, but I do hold some Berkshire Hathaway shares in my 5% “play money” portfolio of individual stocks and marketplace real-estate investments. I still want to go to a BRK shareholder meeting in Omaha one of these years.

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Kelly Criterion and Your Fun Money Allocation

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chipsDo you think you’re a below-average driver? I didn’t think so. In the same vein, Jason Zweig had a funny tweet the other day that hit home:

His linked article ends with this advice:

Put 90% of your money in low-cost index funds and lock yourself in by adding a fixed amount every month through an electronic transfer from your bank. […] Speculate with just the remaining 10%, and use a checklist of buying criteria to make sure you never buy a stock purely because it has been going up.

This coincided with me reading stuff about the Kelly Criterion, a mathematical formula used to determine the optimal size of a series of bets. Basically, the greater your “edge”, the greater your bet size should be. If you have zero edge, then you should bet nothing. If you have negative edge, you should theoretically bet against yourself (if only casinos allowed that).

Here’s an interesting example that involved a special coin where you have the advance knowledge that it has a 60% chance of heads and 40% chance of tails. In short, with this edge you should consistently bet 20% of your bankroll each time. That’s it! If the coin was 52.5% heads/47.5% tails, you should only bet 5% of your bankroll. Most people do not find this intuitive.

What’s your own edge? Consider that some folks think that only 5% of Active Investment Managers Will Add Value. This is where I insert a couple of Charlie Munger quotes:

I think it is roughly right that the market is efficient, which makes it very hard to beat merely by being an intelligent investor. But I don’t think it’s totally efficient at all. And the difference between being totally efficient and somewhat efficient leaves an enormous opportunity for people like us to get these unusual records. It’s efficient enough, so it’s hard to have a great investment record. But it’s by no means impossible. Nor is it something that only a very few people can do. The top three or four percent of the investment management world will do fine.

If you stop to think about it, civilized man has always had soothsayers, shamans, faith healers, and God knows what all. The stock picking industry is four or five percent super rational, disciplined people, and the rest of them are like faith healers or shamans. And that’s just the way it is, I’m afraid. It’s nice that they keep an image of being constructive, sensible people when they’re really would-be faith healers. It keeps their self respect up.

Bottom line. In stock market investing, most of us lack an edge and thus should stick with index funds. But we all like to think we have some edge, so maybe a 5% or 10% fun money allocation is acceptable. Anything higher would be claiming to have some crazy, unreasonable edge. I would say it also depends on how aggressively your fun money is managed. Berkshire Hathaway stock is relatively low risk. Mine is invested in short-term loans backed by real estate with conservative loan-to-value ratios and a target return of 7%. The latest cryptocurrency promoted by celebrities on social media? Not low risk.

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