Author Archives: SMS

Influential Reads – March 2021

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Whoa.  Where did the first quarter go?

There looks to be a light at the end of the COVID tunnel.  One vaccine down; one to go.  Apparently, there are some benefits of living in a state where a majority of people don’t believe in science.

It will be curious to see how people react to the potential end of the COVID pandemic.  I do fear a bit of a false reality though until further progress is made on the vaccine administration front.

And, don’t forget there are kids too.

Updated stats through March:

ArticlesBooks
January654
February491
March643
April
May
June
July
August
September
October
November
December
Total1788

Here are my most influential reads – in no particular order:

  1. POWDER, GROOMERS, AND BUMPS – “Truly, there are two kinds of powder skiing: resort powder and wild powder.” Stephen here: And wild powder kicks my ass.
  2. Ski Tulsa – “I’m not aware of any city that does the reverse, but if Summit County floated a bond issue to pay people to leave, I would vote for it.”
  3. Your Thinking Rate Is Fixed – “If you’re a knowledge worker, as an ever-growing proportion of people are, the product of your job is decisions.”
  4. Beware of the Bubble – “A bunch of kids on Reddit have formed a gang called “Wall Street Bets” to manipulate stock prices in an ongoing series of pump-and-dump schemes.”
  5. How Many ‘Shortage’ Anecdotes Equal Data? – “There is an old saying that the plural of anecdote isn’t data.”
  6. The Employment Situation is Far Worse than the Unemployment Rate Indicates – “Employment in January of this year was nearly 10 million below its February 2020 level, a greater shortfall than the worst of the Great Recession’s aftermath.”
  7. Not a Housing Bubble – “In a normal market, it does not take much of a shift to create an imbalance. Housing here is both too little supply and too much demand; these look like temporary issues, not a longer lasting condition.”
  8. Speaking, the Family Business – “Over the last five years I’ve given about 400 talks, and around 2% of the time, it all comes off the rails.” Stephen here: Been there.
  9. Question #9 for 2021: Will inventory increase as the pandemic subsides, or will inventory decrease further in 2021? – “In 2020, inventory really declined due to a combination of potential sellers keeping their properties off the market during a pandemic, and a pickup in buying due to record low mortgage rates, a move away from multi-family rentals and strong second home buying (to escape the high-density cities).”
  10. The Opposite of 2008 | Epsilon Theory – “In 2021, the US housing market – together with a Fed that thinks inflationary pressures are “transitory” – risks delivering the mother of all inflationary shocks.”

Note: This is based on when I read the article, not necessarily when it was first published.  Unfortunately, my backlog of things I would like to read always seems to dwarf the amount of time I can devote to reading.

Book Report: Fortune’s Formula

Reading Time: 3 minutes

“The sad fact is, almost everyone who gambles, goes broke in the long run.” – Fortune’s Formula, pp. 49

This is meant to be more of a book report, than a review.  In particular, I want to highlight three lessons from the book, Fortune’s Formula by William Poundstone, that I found impactful.  This also serves as a way for me to recall influential points in the book.

I enjoyed the book, which was an introduction into a few folks I did not know much about – Claude Shannon, Edward Thorp, and John Kelly, Jr.  And it covered topics that I always find entertaining – investing, making money, math, and even had a section titled “Entropy.”

However, three topics that did alter my perspective were:

  1. Correlations

“LTCM goofed by greatly underestimating the chance of a panic in which its trades would become highly correlated.  The fund was making hundreds of simultaneous bets.  It operated on the assumption that these bets had low correlation.” – pp 294

It has been awhile since I have spent time on Long Term Capital Management (LTCM), although When Genius Failed by Roger Lowenstien is still sitting on my bookshelf after many moves.

The above quote caught my attention.  

As I have written previously, the increasing correlations between asset classes in today’s market seem like something folks should be taking into consideration.  The same rising tide has caused all boats to float.

  1. Survival 

“The Kelly bettor cannot be ruined in a single toss.” – pp. 297

“It is that even unlikely events must come to pass eventually.  Therefore, anyone who accepts small risks of losing everything will lose everything sooner or later.” – pp .297

“This illustrates the ‘paranoid’ conservatism of Kelly betting.  The chance of hundreds of coins simultaneously coming up tails is is of course astronomically small.  No matter – the ideal Kelly gambler’s ‘survival motive’ precludes taking any chance of ruin whatsoever.” – pp. 295

The theme of always ensuring you live to fight another day in the Kelly system reminded me of a main theme in Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.  To paraphrase, if the action undertaken has the risk of ruin or death, then the overall probabilities can be a little pointless.  In other words, once you are ruined or dead, the probabilities of future gains are irrelevant.

“This fragility that comes from path dependence is often ignored by businessmen who, trained in static thinking, tend to believe that generating profits is their principal mission, with survival and risk control something to perhaps consider – they miss the strong logical precedence of survival over success.” – Antifragile, pp. 160.

  1. Overbetting

“For true long-term investors, the Kelly criterion is the boundary between aggressive and insane risk-taking.  Like most boundaries, it is an invisible line.” – pp. 298

Investment sizing or “bite size”, as well as appropriate levels of diversification, is something I have been spending time on.  The entire Kelly system is designed around the appropriate way to size bets based on the ratio of the edge – how much you expect to win – compared to the odds – the public odds.

“A fractional Kelly bet doesn’t sacrifice much return.  In case of error it is less likely to push the bettor into insane territory.” – pp. 233

But given where the market seems to be and the increasing correlations, I have been keeping bite size small.

“Risk management is a tough lesson to learn on the job.  It can take years for ruinous overbetting to blow up in a trader’s face.” – pp. 303

This would be called “resulting” in the terminology of Thinking In Bets by Annie Duke.  Giving too much credit for the outcome, regardless of the process.

Book Report: The Hard Thing About Hard Things

Reading Time: 2 minutes

“That’s the hard thing about hard things—there is no formula for dealing with them.” – Ben Horowitz

This is meant to be more of a book report, than a review.  In particular, I want to highlight three lessons from the book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz, that I found impactful.  This also serves as a way for me to recall influential points in the book.

This was another book that I did not know much about going into it.  While I am not a CEO, I sit close enough to that seat, that I got a lot out of this book.  I have spent a good portion of my career in early and growth stage companies and could appreciate a lot of the author’s experiences as well.  The book also gave me some perspective to look back at the CEOs that I have worked closely with and evaluate why some of their behaviors and styles worked and why others fell short.

However, three topics that did alter my perspective were:

  1. Reward Employees for Identifying Problems 

“The resulting action item for CEOs: Build a culture that rewards—not punishes—people for getting problems into the open where they can be solved.”

This one kind of flew in the face of a common maxim – “don’t bring up problems without solutions.”  The point being that in many cases the employee identifying the problem may not be in a position to provide a solution.  Or maybe finding a solution is going to take a broader effort or a larger organizational decision.  It makes a lot of sense, especially in the context of a start-up or growth stage business, to reward employees for raising issues.  There are going to be lots of challenges and problems.  Get them on the table so the organization can solve them.

  1. Hire for Strengths

“Hire for strength rather than lack of weakness.”

“You hired for lack of weakness rather than for strengths. This is especially common when you run a consensus-based hiring process.”

I am really not a big fan of consensus driven hiring processes.  For most hires, I think the hiring manager should have a lot of latitude in picking the person she feels best fits her team.  This is also where having an HR team in place that understands the team culture and the role can make a lot of difference.

For executive hires, I agree here as well.  I think the executive team or portions of the executive team should be consulted, but more on a confirmatory basis.  However, this is really the CEO’s job to build the team.  It’s ultimately her decision, and her decision alone.  

  1. Build A Good Company 

“If you do nothing else, be like Bill and build a good company.”

Sometimes I can get a little tone deaf on some of the softer organizational things.  This was a good reminder that building a good place to work should be a top priority.  This is not to say that I think for one minute that gift cards, swag, snacks, and other “perks” will make a company a good place to work.

At the end of the day, what else are you going to have, if you haven’t built a good company?  In my opinion, this is hiring the right kind of people, providing challenging work, rewarding the right kinds of behaviors, minimizing politics and bureaucracy, and having fun.

Influential Reads – February 2021

Reading Time: 2 minutes

February had a lower reading count for a few reasons.  First, we had a much needed week of vacation that kept us busy and on the road a bit. It’s the first time we’ve really traveled outside of the area since October. Second, work has just been busy.  Third, I am reading Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport, which I am enjoying but it’s taking me some time to get through the book.  The book is recommending a deliberate disconnection from digital distractions and I am beginning to feel that reading the news falls into that category for me. I am going to spend a bit of time reflecting on that.

Updated stats through February:

ArticlesBooks
January654
February491
March643
April
May
June
July
August
September
October
November
December
Total1788

Here are my most influential reads – in no particular order:

  1. Democrats eye big ACA changes in COVID relief bill – “Any attempt to control the cost of care would quickly erode any support from the health care industry.”
  2. AOC Won’t Stop Haunting Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley – “You’re not ‘muzzled,’ Hawley. You’re just deeply unpopular, and aided insurrection.”
  3. Normalcy – “The damage of social media and Fox News propaganda remains: 73 percent of Republicans still believe the 2020 election was marred by widespread voter fraud. The hate machines whir on.”
  4. Eventual Failure of False Beliefs – “I don’t even has to name the players, sites, or brands — you know exactly who I am referring to, the enablers of all those people who exist within a bubble of their own making, while steering utterly clear of reality.”
  5. Google’s next big Chrome update will rewrite the rules of the web – “When Google does remove them [third party cookies] in 2022, it won’t be first – but its huge market share does mean it will have the biggest impact.”
  6. A Subtle Mistake About How to Acquire Useful Career Skills – “A different style of project, however, does seem to work better: benchmark projects.”
  7. A Global Stock Fund That Couldn’t Care Less About the Growth-Versus-Value Debate – “For Global Focus, he starts his research by looking for structural change—either new companies doing something different or older companies doing something new.”
  8. Calculating the Rule of 40 – “Weighted Rule of 40 = (1.33 * Revenue Growth) + (0.67 * EBITDA Margin)” – Stephen here: I hate a charade.  Can we just admit that investors don’t care about profitability.  Growth, growth, growth!
  9. Texas seceded from the nation’s power grid. Now it’s paying the price. – “There are, in the contiguous United States, three major interconnected systems — one covering everything east of the Rocky Mountains, one for everything west of the Rocky Mountains, one for Texas.”
  10. Yoga for Cyclists: Five Poses to Make you Faster – “A strong core and back are essential capabilities for cyclists. Chaturanga is an exercise that can easily be integrated into your routine to target core strength, back strength, and upper body strength.”

Note: This is based on when I read the article, not necessarily when it was first published.  Unfortunately, my backlog of things I would like to read always seems to dwarf the amount of time I can devote to reading.

Diversification

Reading Time: 2 minutes

There’s been volumes written on the topic of diversification.  The pros, the cons.  What diversification really means?  How many positions one needs to hold to be diversified?  

Here are some good quotes. I doubt I could add anything useful if I tried. However, I mostly agree with the below statement.

“Being truly diversified means that there almost always will be a part of your portfolio that is sucking wind. (Big note: if every piece of your portfolio is working really well, it means one of two things: you’re incredibly lucky or you are not actually diversified. I would assume the latter.)” – De Thomas Wealth Management

Here’s what the holdings look like in my account where I attempt to deploy a broad, diversified, ETF strategy.

Not too much pain here…

I assure you this is a broad mix of ETFs representing equities, fixed income, real estate across U.S., international, emerging markets, etc.  Most would call this a well diversified portfolio.

The fact that almost every fund is pegged up against its 52 week high makes me more than nervous.  The issue is not that these aren’t funds holding diversified assets.  The issue is almost every asset is moving up together and correlations among asset classes are increasing. 

“He notes that the correlation between the yield on the Barclays Global Aggregate Bond index and global stocks currently sits at 0.24—a correlation of 1 means two assets move in lockstep—and has been fairly steady since the market stabilized after the coronavirus meltdown. If the correlation turns negative, which would mean that stocks and bonds move in opposite directions, it could be bad news for equities. “ – Barrons

When did stocks and bonds start moving in the same direction? It used to be, they didn’t.

So how do you diversify when correlations are increasing? 

Well, if most asset classes are going up, then you probably don’t care about diversification as much or the fact that correlations are increasing. Higher correlations mean assets are moving in the same direction. If that direction is up, then I guess higher correlations are good.

However, you will probably start to care about diversification and correlations more if the wheels start coming off. I’ve found this chart helpful in thinking through that problem historically.

Although as the chart says, past performance is not an indication of future performance.

Mask Wearing Point System

Reading Time: < 1 minute

The purpose of a mask is to cover the airways to the lungs.  

Parts of the human body that part of the respiratory system and are airways to the lungs include:

  1. Nose  +5 Points
  2. Mouth +5 Points

A total of ten points is available.

For the avoidance of doubt, here is a list of things that are not airways to your lungs:

  1. Feet
  2. Ears
  3. Hands
  4. Elbows
  5. Knees
  6. Belly Buttons
  7. Arm Pits
  8. Chins
  9. Pets
  10. Other Inanimate Objects

There is no extra credit for covering any of these items. 

Additional points are deducted (-5 points) for covering these items in lieu of the either or both the nose or mouth.  Additional points (-100 points) are deducted for being a leader of this country and not knowing this.

Influential Reads – January 2021

Reading Time: 2 minutes

January 2021

Well, that month is over.  It went about as well as expected.

Updated stats through January:

ArticlesBooks
January654
February491
March643
April
May
June
July
August
September
October
November
December
Total1788

Here are my most influential reads – in no particular order:

  1. Stocks Are Allowed To Be Expensive Since Bonds Yields Are Low…Right? – “Many are just willing to clickautoinvest into stocks at any valuation level.”
  2. The office as we know it is over—and that’s a good thing – “According to a recent study by FlexJobs, 65% of newly remote workers don’t want to go back to the office.”
  3. Lessons From the Tech Bubble – “Unfortunately, the quip “it’s not a bubble if everyone says it is” just isn’t true. Investors were comparing the internet sector to tulip mania as early as mid-98. Bernstein held an entire conference on it in June 99!”
  4. Lunik: Inside the CIA’s audacious plot to steal a Soviet satellite – “The boastful Soviets had sent their Luna rockets on a world tour.”
  5. This Year I’m Not Setting Goals: I’m Creating Practices – “They are activities you choose to dedicate time to every single day or with a set frequency of your choice.”
  6. Bronte Capital Ganymede Fund Partner Letter December 2020 – “But “sold to naïve investors” is a basic tell.  This tell has not worked in 2020. Indeed, it is a way to lose considerable money as a shortseller.”
  7. You Should Be Recruiting Different Types of Leaders for Remote Teams – “Instead of valuing confidence and charisma, remote teams value leaders who are organised, productive and facilitate connections between colleagues.”
  8. A New Year is a Beautiful Fresh Start – “Start at One — this is one of my mantras this year.”
  9. Even the Best Investors Stink at Selling Stocks – “People who buy and sell stocks for a living aren’t just unskilled when it comes to selling—they’re the inverse of skilled.”
  10. A simple 2 x 2 for choices – “It’s useful to have a portfolio of projects, because not all of them are going to work.”

Note: This is based on when I read the article, not necessarily when it was first published.  Unfortunately, my backlog of things I would like to read always seems to dwarf the amount of time I can devote to reading.

Gaming It

Reading Time: < 1 minute

Looks like Q discovered the stock market.  Some recent comments on Reddit related to GameStop (GME):

“HOLD!”

“WE LIKE THE STOCK”

“DIAMOND HANDS!”

“IF HE’S NOT SELLING, IM NOT SELLING!”

In business school, we had this class that was called Management Game.  We formed management teams for simulated companies.  Each week we made a series of decisions, which were input into a computer simulation.  There were board meetings.  And best of all, there was even a stock market.

Every “player” was given some “game money” to trade.  So, we got to trade with make believe money.  Sort of like the real stock market today.

I remember, I cornered the market in my company’s stock and drove the price way up.  Which was great, as long as I kept buying.  And then I stopped buying….

Turns out I was the only buyer.

It was a good lesson in markets.  The current price is only a reflection of the current marginal buyer and seller.  That’s it.  Don’t read any more into it.

Book Report: Arguing with Zombies

Reading Time: 3 minutes

“One classic example of government doing it better is health insurance.” – Paul Krugman

This is meant to be more of a book report, than a review.  In particular, I want to highlight three lessons from the book, Arguing with Zombies by Paul Krugman, that I found impactful.  This also serves as a way for me to recall influential points in the book.

My mom gave me this book.  Krugman is not an author I have followed closely, although I did read The Return of Depression Economics years ago.  The book is mostly a collection of Krugman articles – organized by topic.  So the chapters are bite size. I think mostly due to timing – the pandemic and election cycle – I found this book a bit depressing.  

However, three topics that did alter my perspective were:

  1. Healthcare Confidential.  

“How does the V.H.A. do it?  The secret of its success is the fact that it’s a universal, integrated system.  Because it covers all veterans, the system doesn’t need to employ legions of administrative staff to check patients’ coverage and demand payment from their insurance companies.  Because it covers all aspects of medical care, it has been able to take the lead in electronic record-keeping and other innovativations that reduce costs, ensure effective treatment, and help prevent medical errors.  Moreover, the V.H.A., as Phillip Longman put it in the Washington Monthly ,”has nearly a lifetime relationship with its patients.”  As a result, it “actually has an incentive to invest in prevention and more effective disease management.”

This just makes so much sense to me – on multiple fronts.  I just do not understand the angst over a universal healthcare insurance coverage option or an integrated, government sponsored healthcare provider.  The incentive system in our current fragmented and disjointed healthcare system which is heavily influenced by private payors is not delivering the results the citizens of this country deserve.  We can better.  I don’t understand the fear around trying to do better.

  1. The Great Center-Right Delusion. 

“What the authors of the piece show is that congressional aides grossly misperceive the views of their bosses’ constituents; this is true in both parties, but more so the Republicans.  What they don’t point out explicitly is that with the exceptoin of the A.C.A. repeal, Democrats err in the same direction as Republican, just less so.  Specifically, both parties believe that the public is to the right of where it really is.”. 

“What I’m suggesting, in other words, is that there’s a shared inside-the-Beltway delusion:  that America is a conservative, or at most center-right nation, a view that isn’t grounded in reality.”

Hey conservatives.  You are in the minority.  Please keep that in mind.  

Should we be surprised that most folks want good healthcare, higher wages, a cleaner environment, better social safety nets, and are not concerned about the taxes on the ultra-wealthy?

The rural bias in the Senate, the electoral college system, and Fox News are distorting the reality of the situation.  And if enough people from California keep moving to Texas, the electoral college won’t matter any longer either.

  1. Transaction Costs and Tethers: Why I’m A Crypto Skeptic. 

“So I thought it might be worth explaining why I’m a cryptocurrency skeptic.  It comes down to two things: transaction costs and the absence of tethers.”

“Set against this history, the enthusiasm for cryptocurrencies seems very odd, because it goes exactly in the opposite of the long-run trend.  Instead of near-frictionless transactions, we have high costs of doing business, because transferring a Bitcoin or other cryptocurrency unit requires providing a complete history of past transactions.”

“Cryptocurrencies, by contrast, have no backstop, no tether to reality.  Their value depends entirely on self-fulfilling expectations – which means that total collapse is real possibility.”

I am not sure why but my interest in cryptocurrencies is zero.  But this was an interesting take on why cryptocurrencies are not about to replace real currencies any time soon.

Influential Reads – December 2020

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Sedition is overt conduct, such as speech and organisation, that tends toward rebellion against the established order. Sedition often includes subversion of a constitution and incitement of discontent toward, or rebellion against, established authority.” – Wikipedia

The election season started a vicious cycle of checking the daily news multiple times a day.  So I am going to be making a concerted effort to get out of the daily news cycle and spend more time reading longer form reads and books.  Hopefully, those results can be seen in the coming months. However, I am still pretty pleased with reading twenty five books this year – even if a fair number were the result of binge reading Carl Hiaasen books as an antidote to current events.

Updated stats through December:

ArticlesBooks
January654
February491
March643
April
May
June
July
August
September
October
November
December
Total1788

Here are my most influential reads – in no particular order:

  1. Dave Barry’s Year in Review 2020 – “On Nov. 12 the nation pauses to observe the 50th anniversary of the date that the Oregon state highway department attempted to dispose of an eight-ton dead whale on a beach by detonating a thousand pounds of dynamite under the carcass…”
  2. Newsmax issues sweeping ‘clarification’ debunking its own coverage of election misinformation – “Newsmax, which is attempting to outflank Fox News from the political right, posted a notice on its website Sunday night and then had a host read the full two-minute statement on the air Monday.”  Stephen here:  I still hope they get their pants sued off.
  3. How Offshore Oddsmakers Made a Killing off Gullible Trump Supporters – “The online bookmakers that fielded bets on the election saw their largest single-event windfall ever. To understand why, you need to understand election betting and Donald Trump supporters.”
  4. Supercharging Your Financial Bullshit Detector – “In what is eponymously known as Sturgeon’s Law, science fiction writer Ted Sturgeon posited that 90% of everything is crap.”
  5. North Carolina GOP lawmaker urges Trump to suspend civil liberties to keep power – “Steinburg on Tuesday said he would support Trump if he suspended civil rights protections to detain his political enemies and change the election result.”
  6. 3Q 2020 GMO Quarterly Letter – “very odd and speculative things have been going on.”
  7. The Art of Asking Good Questions with The Language Compass – “The worst distance between two people is misunderstanding.”
  8. Why You Should Quit the News – “The goal of the news is to motivate you to keep consuming news.”
  9. Hanlon’s Razor: Relax, Not Everything is Out to Get You – “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by neglect.”
  10. How to Build Self-Esteem – “The mark of true self-esteem is not feeling like you lack nothing—it’s being comfortable with what you lack.”

Note: This is based on when I read the article, not necessarily when it was first published.  Unfortunately, my backlog of things I would like to read always seems to dwarf the amount of time I can devote to reading.