Dear Future Me: Please Listen!

Dear Future MeMy April Research magazine column is now available online. I’m particularly proud of it (and I hope and pray I will listen when the time comes). A taste follows.

So I’ve spent a good deal of time thinking about what I might do to limit the chances that I will fall prey to this dreadful decline scenario. Since I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to write this column, I’m writing this particular column with a very specific purpose. In effect, I want this column to serve as a letter to my future self. Since I’m blessed with children who are smart, honorable and financially literate, this is a reminder to my future self simply to listen to them and to keep listening to them when they tell me I need some help.

By way of this column I’m asking them—begging them—to show me this column if I resist them in any way…. I’m hoping and praying that this column—put in front of my face and read aloud if necessary—will be enough to convince my future self to listen to the people who love me when they (I hope gently) let me know that I could use more help than I’m allowing.

So Bob, when the kids tell you to stop driving, give them the keys. When they tell you to run major decisions past them, set up a system that enforces your cooperation (requiring a co-signer on checks for example). When they tell you to consider whether you ought to keep living without help, look into getting care or moving to an assisted living facility (and take their advice as to which option is best). When they—horror of horrors—offer financial advice, take it. You have three fantastic kids who have made you proud every day of their lives. Trust them to watch out for you and to love you, even when you don’t like it.

Dear Future Me: Please Listen!

Everybody Plays the Fool (Sometimes)

Back when I was in high school, an R&B group called The Main Ingredient, fronted by Cuba Gooding, Sr., scored a big hit with Everybody Plays the Fool.

Everybody plays the fool (sometimes)
There’s no exception to the rule (listen, baby)
It may be factual, it may be cruel (I ain’t lyin’)
Everybody plays the fool

So, so true.

top10Everybody does play the fool at least sometimes, about love and money. So, in honor of April Fools’ Day, here is a helpful list of ways nearly all of us play the fool about money (sometimes). Remember, there’s no exception to the rule (listen, baby). Continue reading

Too Many Variables and Too Much Randomness

My NCAA basketball tournament bracket is a mess and your bracket is too. Despite nearly 12 million entrants, the first week-end of the tournament wasn’t even over and there were no perfect brackets left in the ESPN bracket challenge. And the last man standing was hardly an expert either — he admitted not to have even seen a full game all season.

It seems like it ought to be easier than that to pick winners. There is no spread involved and a full season of games has been played, allowing us to evaluate the teams with a significant amount of data. But the short answer is that there are simply too many variables.and too much randomness involved to think that we can succeed in picking all those winners.

Continue reading

Michael Covel Podcast

Covel PodcastMichael W. Covel is the bestselling author and entrepreneur who founded TurtleTrader.com, which was later expanded into TrendFollowing.com. His Trend Following podcast is among the most popular of its kind, with guests having included Daniel Kahneman, Harry Markowitz, Michael Mauboussin, James Altucher, Gerd Gigerenzer, Dan Ariely and Barry Ritholtz and listeners approaching 3 million. Mike is slumming today as I make an appearance. We spend a good deal of time discussing A New Kind of Investment Outlook, a piece I wrote earlier this year. I hope you’ll listen in.

Follow the Money

Hedge funds per CarlHal Holbrook had a wonderful supporting role in the Watergate saga All the President’s Men, a 1976 Alan J. Pakula film based upon the book of that name by Pulitzer Prize winning reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post. Holbrook played the conflicted, chain-smoking, trench-coated, shadowy source known only as “Deep Throat” (over 30 years later revealed to have been senior FBI-man Mark Felt). Woodward’s meeting with his source when the investigation had bogged down is a terrific scene.

Sadly, Holbrook’s iconic line – “Follow the money” – was never spoken in real life and doesn’t appear in the book or in any Watergate reporting. Still, Woodward insists that the quote captures the essence of what Felt was telling him. “It all condensed down to that,” Woodward says. More importantly, it provides a profound truth. Indeed, when asked 25 years later on ”Meet the Press” what the lasting legacy of Watergate was, legendary Post editor Ben Bradlee replied with the words of screenwriter William Goldman, if not Mark Felt: ”Follow the money.” It provides good guidance for reporters generally and really good guidance when one is looking at the financial advice business.

With this important touchstone at the forefront, it’s crucial to recall that the financial advice business generally builds products and portfolios for marketing purposes rather than investment purposes. For the industry as a whole, “results” relate to sales far more than to what investor-clients end up getting. Accordingly, the idea is to play to people’s hopes, fears and prejudices rather than speak the (less marketable) truth. Moreover, if something can be positioned as new, novel or complex — and thus offering a plausible justification for a high fee — so much the better.
Continue reading

“The Americans” teaches confirmation bias

The AmericansThe Americans, the 1980s Cold War spy drama from FX about two Soviet spys living as Americans in suburban Washington, DC, is the best show on television, even if not a lot of people are watching. Of course, what it is really about is life, family, and the intersection of role-play and reality to each. As Emily Nussbaum of The New Yorker explains, it’s “a show about human personality as a cruel performance, even (and sometimes especially) with the people we claim to love. It’s about marriage as much as it is about politics.” In any event, on a recent episode, the FBI agent played by Noah Emmerich is asked about his backstory — three years undercover with white supremacists — by another agent.

“What did it take to fool them?”

“Telling them what they wanted to hear over and over and over again.”

“That’s it?”

“People love hearing how right they are.”

People love hearing how right they are

How right he is.

For further (related) reading:

Should We Pay the Shakedown Artists or Not?

Before being closed down by the Federal Trade Commission, a revenge porn site called “Is Anyone Up” came up with a creative but disgusting twist on the sleazy genre by including a link to a phony “independent third party team” that would get the offensive pictures taken down for a fee.1 In other words, the site and its proprietor horribly violated peoples’ privacy and then extorted them for money to stop violating them. That sick scheme provides a perfect lead-in to a discussion of the San Diego Chargers and the recently announced joint stadium proposal made by the Chargers and the Oakland Raiders that would involve both teams leaving their current cities and moving to the Los Angeles area.

Continue reading

Wealth, Poverty and Keeping Perspective

0315annuityanalyticsmi600-resize-600x338My column in the March issue of Research magazine is now available online. I’m proud of it and hope you will read it in its entirety. Here’s a taste.

I’m simply thinking about people like that poor mother, wondering how she might provide for her kids and hoping against hope that things might get just a little bit better. Nearly all of us in this business have been blessed beyond reasonable expectation and almost surely beyond our talent and effort (raises hand). We need to do more, be more and give back more. It’s simply the right thing to do.

Wealth, Poverty and Keeping Perspective

Recency Bias, as demonstrated by Lawrence O’Donnell

LincolnAmong the effects of recency bias is our tendency to overvalue and overemphasize the recent past as compared to more distant events and then to extrapolate it into the future. Lawrence O’Donnell was guilty of it to a remarkable extent this week during a discussion on his show relating to President Obama’s approach to radical Islam and a particular speech he had delivered that day that O’Donnell thought pandered to the religious (critics, of course, thought the President was trolling). Notice how he prefaced his criticism (my emphasis; you can watch this segment of O’Donnell’s show here).

President Obama, who is the most gifted writer and speaker in the history of the American presidency, today delivered the worst speech of his presidency.

Even allowing for the possibility that O’Donnell was using hyperbole to make his criticism seem more pointed, the claim that the current president — who undoubtedly is exceptionally gifted — “is the most gifted writer and speaker in the history of the American presidency” is, frankly, absurd. Continue reading