August 2017

Second Grade

For William’s First Day of Second Grade

Today’s post is a departure from the norm of investment news and snark.  I’m going to share a bit about my son, William, and ask you to spend a minute of your day to think about his cause. William was born in 2010 with Autosomal Recessive Polycystic Kidney Disease, or ARPKD.  We spent his first days with him in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).  He was in a plastic box and a machine was helping him breathe.  These were critical days.  We couldn’t hold our son.  He was cradled by a tangle of tubes and monitoring cables.  Most of all, the sounds will stick with me.  The beepbeepbeepBOOP alert of his pulsox unit, the inflating of the blood pressure cuff every 15 minutes, and assorted klaxons and pings haunt me.  You wonder if this alert is the big one.  What’s wrong?  And we were powerless to do anything, wondering if…


No is the Secret Sauce

No, the Secret Sauce

“I thought you guys had some sort of insider’s edge and that’s how you get returns for your clients’ investments…?” My friend was grilling up burgers and dogs for his kid’s birthday party while picking my brain about investing.  He was surprised to find out how vanilla our investment philosophy is.  No secret sauce.  No insider tips.  I don’t know a guy who knows a guy.  Just control what you can control.  A sensible asset allocation and a financial plan puts you ahead of most people. He was right, though.  We do have a special investment technique. We say no. We say no to high-cost, low value-add money managers.  No to the absurd, overly-complicated, sketchy, and irrelevant.  It’s not always an easy no, though.  In some cases, we have to work to get to no. In 2012, we were pitched an energy LP.  It was a helluva pitch.  Polished presentation….


Reese is a good dog!

Who is Holding Your Leash?

On PIMCO’s blog, Gene Frieda writes that “markets do not explode every time volatility is low, but volatility has always been extremely low when markets have exploded.”  This reminded me of the variable or intermittent reward system I stumbled upon when researching training techniques for my dog. The idea is that instead of getting a reward every time the dog performs the desired behavior, you reward on a variable schedule.  For example, you’d reward a treat for every 5 times the dog performed the ‘sit’ command properly.  Sometimes you reward after 3 sits, sometimes you reward after 7 sits, but it averages out to every 5 sits.  Here’s the crazy thing: it works on people, too.  Casinos have understood this for a long time.  This is also why your significant other is on social media during dinner.  They are looking for that dopamine hit that social media provides randomly. I…


No Picture

Chasing Risk

  I read the Howard Marks memo last weekend and you should, too, if you haven’t already.  The memo got me to revisit some of my investing viewpoints.  It’s easy to listen to the same investment philosophy on repeat.  My fear is that one day I’ll look up and find that everyone’s streaming their investment philosophy on their phones while I’m listening to a walkman.  So I read everything I can.  Howard Marks is one of the very best.  He’s usually a bit cerebral for me, but the latest memo is perfect.  I ran out of highlighter halfway through my first read. Right off the bat he lays out four conditions that he sees in the market: unusual uncertainties, low prospective returns, high asset prices, and rampant pro-risk behavior.  I don’t agree with him on the first two points, but asset prices do seem high.  I have a man-crush on…