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Why I Fired My Broker

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  • Why I Fired My Broker

    FOR MOST OF our adult lives, my wife and I have behaved in the way responsible cogs of capitalism are supposed to behave—we invested in a carefully calibrated mix of equities and bonds; we bought and held; we didn’t overextend on real estate; we put the maximum in our 401(k) accounts; we gave to charity; and we saved, but we also spent: mainly on gasoline, food, and magazines. In retrospect, we didn’t have the proper appreciation for risk, but who did? We were children of the bull market. Even at its top, my investment portfolio was never anything to write home about. Its saving grace was that it was mine. And I imagined that when we did cash out, at 60 or 65, I would pass my time buying my wife semisubstantial pieces of jewelry and going bass fishing like the men in Flomax commercials.

    Well, goodbye to all that. I took a random walk down Wall Street and got hit by a bus.

    How am I sure it’s goodbye? The signs are rampant, but one has become stuck in my mind: a video of Richard Bernstein, the chief investment strategist for Merrill Lynch (sorry, I mean the Merrill Lynch division of Bank of America, which, by the time you read this, may be the Bank of America division of the United States Government), advising Merrill clients such as myself that one of the best financial strategies to adopt now would be to extend my “investment time horizon.”

    “If one were to trade the S&P 500 for one day, the probability of losing money is about 46 percent,” Bernstein states. “However, as one extends that time horizon from one day to one month to one quarter to one year to 10 years, the probability of losing money decreases as the time horizon lengthens.”

    To which I would add this observation from Keynes: “In the long run, we are all dead.”

    This is what I heard Bernstein say: give up. You’re not going to make money on your investments in the next 10 years, or 15, or 20, so you should stop worrying about your portfolio and go to the movies like everyone else.

    I called Bernstein and asked him if he was, in fact, advocating a form of Stoicism. He said I was misinterpreting his views. “This is not some sort of psychological compensation device. What I’m saying is that in looking for investment ideas, we should be looking over a five-, six-, seven-year time period. You have to give an investment strategy time to reach gestation.”

    But my investment strategy gestated for 15 years. And then it died.

    As I write this, the markets are back down to 1997 levels. In Japan, they’ve sunk to 1983 levels. I pointed out to Bernstein that 1983 was 26 years ago. The investor who bought Japanese equities in 1983 and held on to them has stayed absolutely flat. “That’s not correct,” Bernstein said. “That doesn’t take into account dividend payments.”



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  • #2
    That is a really good article. Quite sobering.
    Squadly dinky do!