oracle of louisville

Dream or Vision?

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Scott McKain has a story about a legendary motivational speaker with whom he had a chance to become acquainted. McKain, a best-selling author, consultant and friend, happened to share breakfast with him at a conference. He learned that this speaker lived his creed: ‘walked his talk’ as they say.

The integrity, confidence, and connectedness exuded by the legend led McKain to conclude this is success: to be who you claim to be, to do what you say you will do, to live the vision.

“Living the dream” is a phrase some use to describe an ideal life (sometimes ironically.) But dreams end when we wake up. A vision is something different. One of the definitions of ‘vision’ is the ability to think about or plan the future with imagination or wisdom. So living the vision is a way transform the future we desire into reality by what we do each day.

Here at 228 Main, we are thinking a lot about how our work for you might be improved in the years ahead. We don’t want to be big, but we do strive to make the very best things possible for you and yours. It is too early to say our vision has evolved and grown – but we are working on it.

We may ask you for input and perspective as we shape these plans. You will hear about the pieces as we figure them out. One thing we already know: having the best clients in the world makes the whole project a worthy endeavor.

If you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.

Look Rich or Be Rich?

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Some people have so much money, it doesn’t matter what they do with it. On the other hand, some don’t have any. Our work tends to be with those in between, those who need their money to work effectively. Clients, that’s where you and I live.

Many financially independent people we know faced the choice of a lifetime: they could look rich, or be rich. And they chose to be rich. The cost of impressing others is quite high when it manifests in expensive homes, vehicles, and conspicuous consumption.

The difference between a $250,000 home and a $500,000 one is not just $250,000. The recurring expenses connected with the more expensive home may include higher property taxes, larger utility bills, more interest expense, and greater maintenance costs. Those recurring expenses reduce room in the budget for accumulating wealth to live on in later life.

A recent article about $10,000 watches had the headline, “Affordable Watches That Will Make You Feel Like A Millionaire.” This seems funny to us. We delight in asking people whose invested wealth has reached the $1 million mark whether they identify as a millionaire now. Not one has answered ‘yes.’ So if a million dollars doesn’t make one feel like a millionaire, what chance does a $10,000 watch have in getting that done? (A large fraction of the millionaires I know wear $39 watches.)

The paradox is that those who strive to look rich may never accumulate much in the way of assets. Meanwhile, those who chose to be rich may eventually learn how to spend well. They can afford the vehicles that provide the most comfort, the homes that make daily life better, generosity to descendants or charities, and travel to bucket-list destinations.

The flaw in attempting to impress others is, we do not control what others think. We only control our own choices. Those everyday millionaires (and those on the way) in our acquaintance seem to have learned this early, and made the wise choice.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email or call.

Grateful for Wealth in Many Forms

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The Thanksgiving season is a natural time to reflect on the things for which we are grateful. We each have our own list, of course—it’s a personal thing. Perhaps there are similarities between your list and mine.

I think of the connections to friends, family, colleagues, and clients. You in these overlapping groups hearten me for life’s challenges, great and small. You strengthen me with the stories of your lives. You make me optimistic about the future, come what may.

I think of being able to make the most of the challenges we’ve been given, in part because of the material blessings we’ve received for our efforts. We have seen up close, the link between prosperity and health.

I think of my work, so enjoyable that I want to do it to age 92. Many people work only until they do not need to, at jobs that will be a joy to retire from. We’re always happy to help you who are in that boat, while being grateful for our situation.

I think of how glorious life is, here in the 21st century. 228 Main has been wonderful as the center of our business universe. And www.228Main.com, just a gleam in my eye at the dawn of the new century, has proven to be more beneficial than we ever dreamed.

Sunshine on my face, wind in my hair, fish jumping, birds fishing, babies laughing, old friends, fond memories and a thousand other things round out my list.

Happy Thanksgiving! Please email us or call if we can make things any better for you.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

 

Who We Strive To Be

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We have been reading the work of the late Donald Clifton of the Gallup Organization recently. The idea of working from your strengths was central to his work. As we think about building the optimal kind of organization to help you make the most of your position, what kind of strengths do we need?

In collaborative work such as ours with you, a deep relationship of mutual trust is a most useful foundation. This is the hallmark of what Clifton calls the Relator strength, or theme. Rather than meet many strangers, hoping to find some that might do business, the Relator seeks close relationships with those they know. We invest our time in communicating with you and working on your business, not hunting strangers to turn into clients.

The Strategic strength enables people to sort through the clutter to find the best path forward, to see patterns where others see complexity. Thinking about your goals in the context of the investment universe, and whole range of financial planning tactics, this skill might be mandatory.

The Focus strength gives people the ability to concentrate on goals, set a course, and stay on track. That is a good description of what we are trying to do here at 228 Main. The Achiever strength helps get things done, stay productive, and work effectively.

In the dynamic world we live in, change is constant. Technology advances, the economy and markets go through their cycles, and tax law changes. The Learner strength is how people adapt and thrive as the world evolves.

One of the blessings of the challenges we’ve faced: we had to figure out how to delegate, how to depend on a team approach, how to work together to get you what you need. We are striving to build a diverse team where each member works from their strengths, happily and effectively, to take care of business for you.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.


Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

Two Economists

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The story goes like this. Two economists are walking down the street. One says, “Look! A $20 bill, just lying there!” and reaches to pick it up. The other says, “You fool! If that was really a $20 bill, somebody would have picked it up already.”

The underpinnings of this joke might be what is called the Efficient Markets Hypothesis, or EMH. It holds that all available information is already in the price of every security, so it is not possible to ‘beat the market.’ Related notions include the idea that investment selection does not matter, only the asset class or investment allocation.

Of course, our experience tells us that at times, certain investments do get mispriced. Condos in Las Vegas in 2007, tech stocks during the dot-com era, oil at $140 per barrel in 2008: all of these things seem to be examples of when the market was not efficient at all.

At these times, consensus expectations drifted far from the unfolding reality. “You can’t lose money in real estate” and “We’re in a new era, tech stock valuations don’t matter” and “Oil will never trade below $100 again” were the refrains of those faulty expectations. You may remember them.

Of course, we believe that the crowd can be wrong. That space between consensus expectations and the unfolding reality is where profit potential lives. One of our jobs is to try to find those exploitable anomalies and invest in them. Another is to go against the crowd when we believe it is wrong.

The simple rule, ‘never join a stampede in the markets,’ is one way we express this.

As a consequence, looking at the world with our own eyes, doing our own research, finding our own conclusions, this is what we do at 228 Main. It takes some courage to go against the crowd, to take unpopular actions, to stick with our strategies even when they require more patience than we had planned on. You and we are in this together: without your persistence, we could not do what we do over the long haul.

Hopefully from time to time we will find those $20 bills that others do not believe in.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.


Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

All investing involves risk including loss of principal. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

Where Did All The Risks Go?

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In what seems like the good old days, we thought about many kinds of risk. Now, to many, risk only means one thing. All the other kinds of risk seem to have disappeared. Here are some of the classic risks as we learned them long ago, and still understand today:

Market Risk. Changes in equity prices or interest rates or currency exchange rates that hurt the investment value.

Liquidity Risk. Being unable to sell an investment without a discount for lack of buyers.

Concentration Risk. Having all your eggs in one basket, when the basket gets upset.

Credit Risk. A bond issuer might not be able to pay you back because of adverse conditions.

Inflation Risk. A loss of purchasing power over time because investments fail to keep up with a rising cost of living.

This old-fashioned approach to risk focused on possibilities for what might happen in the future. This makes sense to us, since the future is where we will get all of our coming investment results, good and bad. The past is past.

But perhaps the most popular approach to risk today is based totally on the past, not the future. Past volatility is supposedly the measure of risk in any investment and every portfolio. Modern Portfolio Theory (MPT) implicitly assumes that past volatility is the sole measure of risk. Yet volatility is inherent in any form of long-term investing, and has little to do with many of the classic forms of risk.

Investment firms and advisors promoting ‘risk analytics’ and many measures of ‘risk tolerance’ are using this backward-looking theory of risk. It has nothing to do with the classic definitions of risk, outlined above. In our opinion, some of the latest and greatest risk management technology is not focused on actual risk at all, and could discourage people from enduring the volatility required to achieve long term results.

Meanwhile, the classic understanding of risk has us thinking about its many dimensions as we choose securities and build portfolios. One drawback of our approach? It takes more work to do things the old-fashioned way. But we think it is the right way to go. No guarantees, of course.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.


Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

All investing involves risk including loss of principal. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

Richard R. Berner, In Memoriam

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My old friend Dick Berner passed away recently, at the age of 89. Although afflicted with chronic and serious conditions, he was making plans to get out of bed and start taking care of business again, all the way to the end. When not totally lucid from the effects of pain medication, he spoke about working on imaginary deals.

Dick was an early mentor. He hired me to come to Louisville when I was just 22 and living near where I grew up in the middle of Omaha. He taught me more about working with people in a few days than I had learned in 18 months as a life insurance agent.

He would have been about 48 when we met, and was operating an insurance agency, a savings company, a bulk oil distributor, an auto parts store, and a fledgling new vehicle dealership. Just a few years prior, he got out of a more established dealership. (It operates on a much larger scale today in the hands of his son-in-law and daughter, forty years later.)

Within a few years of meeting, he started developing acreages and homesites, and got his real estate license. For most of the last thirty years, real estate was his primary business.

Dick was tireless in business, endlessly working on new ideas, always thinking. And he nearly lived out my long-held ambition of working to age 92.

Perhaps because he had always figured things out and was not afraid of new ideas, he challenged me with new things all the time. I got a business education right on Main Street in Louisville that was priceless. It has served me well ever since.

Life is filled with joy and pain. The mortality rate, being 100%, is a source of some of that pain. But the lives we lead tell a story. It fills me with joy that I got to be a small part of Dick’s story, and have him be such an important part of my story.

Rest in peace, old friend.

Free Lunch?

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A few investment institutions, including those which maintain accounts for investment advisors, have gone to zero commissions on stock transactions. We are reminded of the old saying, “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” Of course, every ongoing business collects every dime of its costs from customers, one way or another.

We are reminded that the warmest apartment house on a cold day is the one where utilities are not separately metered. A resident might say “The rent is high, but the heat is free.” In truth, the landlord is getting the cost of the heat out of the tenants. And, more heat gets used because of the illusion that it is free.

Investors have benefited mightily from competition in financial services through the years. Lower costs and improved services and choice are good things. This latest step, however, looks to be a step backward. Some observers believe that zero-commission trading will lead to more trading, just like the apartment house that uses more heat.

We favor pricing mechanisms that have customers paying for the services they use. This is the fairest way to allocate the costs of anything. Nobody believes that maintaining the infrastructure and expertise to handle securities trading, account for it, and deliver services to the investor is free. Everybody knows those costs will be paid somehow.

As fundamental, long term value-oriented investors with relatively low turnover, we would hate to be subsidizing rapid-fire traders who benefit from zero commissions. Clients, we will be monitoring developments closely, seeking to maintain sound economics for your business and ours.

If you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.


Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

Dumb as a Rock?

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Haven’t we all heard the insult ‘dumb as a rock’ at one time or another? We recently came to the conclusion that there is something worse.
Sometimes people fail to act as smart as a rock.

A rock never acts rashly when presented with an unexpected situation. Nor makes impulsive decisions based on fleeting feelings. Nor changes long term strategies because of short term conditions.

No rock ever wanted to sell all investments because of that Democrat or Republican that got elected. No rock wanted to jump on the latest fad in the markets.

Perhaps striving to be as smart as a rock fits in with one of the ideas that legendary investor Charlie Munger talks about. His notion is that it is a lot more valuable to not be stupid than it is to be smart. After all, smart people may make stupid mistakes.

Do not take this the wrong way. We believe in education. We read incessantly. We are always searching for perspectives or knowledge that might give us an edge. Brains are useful. But it helps to remember, as Munger said, to avoid being stupid.

One of the nuances of being human is the possibility that we can be two things at the same time. Generally kind people might be rude. Those who tend to be rough might be gentle. And smart people might do stupid things. When we analyze opportunities or think about financial decisions, we try to not be stupid.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.


Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

Important but not Urgent

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On the advice of a speaker at a conference, I am in the process of re-reading Stephen Covey’s classic book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. This 1980’s staple of business literature is surprisingly timeless.

One of Covey’s theories is that time management is really self-management. He suggested that all tasks might be categorized according to urgent or not urgent, and important or not important. Those things that are both urgent and important must always be handled: production, emergencies, project deadlines.

But many important things are not urgent:

  • Building relationships.
  • Increasing productive capacity.
  • Looking at new opportunities.
  • Planning.
  • Recreation.

On any given day, these non-urgent things might be ignored without huge cost. But in the long run, the time we spend on them might be a key indicator of success, health, and happiness. A balance between production (urgent and important) and taking care of productive capacity (important but not urgent) may be a hallmark of sustainable enterprise.

This seems to apply to our personal lives as well as business. (If we are doing it right, we lead integrated lives – being the same person off the job and on the job, anyway.) Many things that give us a chance for a longer, healthier life are important but not urgent.

Working on your plans and planning, whether for retirement or estate planning or whatever, falls into that ‘important but not urgent’ category as well. Easy to put off, not a big cost to ignore for a short time, but with a huge impact on long term outcomes.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.


Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.