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Saturday 27 February 2021

Of course, it's going to be difficult - The wisdom of Charlie Munger

Charlie Munger has been one of the guiding lights in my life. A hero for me. Not in investing but generally on how I should go about leading my life. I have gained immensely over the years from listening to his advice. He is one of the few great thinkers alive. Recently, he spoke at the Daily Journal Annual Meeting. Below are my notes from the talk. Things that resonated with me.

Q. Please share your thoughts on the recent WallStreetBets GameStop short squeeze. It seems to involve a lot of your standard causes of human misjudgment.
A. Well, it certainly does and that's the kind of thing that can happen when you get a whole lot of people who are using liquid stock markets to gamble the way they would in betting on racehorses. That's what we have going in the stock market. The frenzy is fed by people who are getting commissions and other revenues out of this new bunch of gamblers. 
I think you should try and make your money in this world by selling other people things that are good for them. If you're selling them gambling services where you rake profits off of the top, like many of these new brokers who specialize in luring the gamblers in, I think it's a dirty way to make money and I think that we're crazy to allow it.

Q. What do you think of all of the SPACs and the promoters pushing them?
A. I don't participate at all and I think the world would be better off without them. I think this kind of crazy speculation in enterprises not even found or picked out yet, is a sign of an irritating bubble. It's just that the investment banking profession will sell shit as long as shit can be sold.

You get crazy booms. Remember the .com boom? When every little building in Silicon Valley rented at a huge price and a few months later, about a third of them were vacant. There are these periods in capitalism and I've been around for a long time and my policy has always been to just ride them out and I think that's what shareholders do.

Well, it's most egregious in the momentum trading by novice investors lured in by new types of brokerage operation, like Robinhood. I think all of this activity is regrettable. I think civilization would do better without it. You'll remember that when the first big bubble came, which was the South Sea bubble in England, back in the 1700s, it created such havoc, eventually, when it blew up, that England didn't allow hardly any public trading in securities of any companies for decades thereafter. It just created the most unholy mess. So human greed and the aggression of the brokerage community creates these bubbles from time to time and I think wise people just stay out of them.

I think everybody is willing to hold stocks at higher price earnings multiples when interest rates are as low as they are now. So I don't think it's necessarily crazy that good companies sell at way higher multiples than they used to. On the other hand, as you say, I didn't get rich by buying stocks at a high price earnings multiples in the  midst of crazy speculative booms, and I'm not going to change. I am more willing to hold stocks at high multiples than I would be if interest rates were a lot lower, everybody is.

I think all good investing is value investing, and it's just that some people look for values in strong companies and some look for values in weak companies, but every value investor tries to get more value than her pays for.

I don't think I know exactly what the future of banking is, and I don't think I know how the payment system will evolve. I do think that a properly run bank is a great contributor to civilization, and that the central banks of the world like controlling their own banking system and their own money supplies. So I don't think Bitcoin is going to end up as the medium of exchange for the world. It's too volatile to serve well as a medium of exchange. And it's really an artificial substitute for gold. And since I never buy any gold, I never buy any Bitcoin. And I recommend that other people follow my practice.

I'm constantly making mistakes where I can, in retrospect, realize that I should have decided differently. And I think that that is inevitable because it's difficult to be a good investor. I'm pretty easy on myself these days. I'm satisfied with the way things have worked out and I'm not gnashing my teeth that other people are doing better. I think that the methods that I've used, including the checklist, are the correct methods. And I'm grateful that I found them as early as I did and that the methods have worked as well as they have. And I recommend that other people follow my example. 

It's natural for people to think their own civilization and their own nation is better than everybody else, but everybody can't be better than everybody else. You're right, China's economic record among the big nations is the best that ever existed in the history of the world. And that's very interesting. A lot of people assume that since England led the industrial revolution and had free speech early, that free speech is required to have a booming economy, as prescribed by Adam Smith. But the Chinese have proved you don't need free speech to have a wonderful economy. They just copied Adam Smith and left out the free speech, and it worked fine for them.

If you stop to think about it, business success long-term is a lot like biology and in biology, what happens is the individuals all die and eventually so do all the species and capitalism is almost as brutal as that. Think of what's died in my lifetime. Just think of the things that were once prosperous that are now in failure or gone. Whoever dreamed when I was young that Kodak and General Motors would go bankrupt? It's incredible what's happened in terms of the destruction. 

I think I'm not really equipped to comment on any subject until I can state the arguments against my conclusion better than the people on the other side. If you do that all the time, if you're looking for disconfirming evidence and putting yourself on a grill, that's a good way to help remove ignorance.

I think Warren and I are better at buying mature industries than we are at backing startups like Sequoia. The best venture capital operation, probably in the whole world, is Sequoia's. They are very good at this early stage investing. I would hate to compete with Sequoia in their field. I think they'd run  rings around me. So I think for some folks, early stage investing is best. For other folks, what I've done in my life is best.

A lot of the old moats are going away, and of course, people are creating new moats all the time. That's the nature of capitalism. It's like evolution in biology. New species are created and old species are dying. Of course it's hard to negotiate in such a field. But there's no rule that life has to be easy on the mental side. Of course, it's going to be difficult.

Well, happy life is very simple. The first rule of a happy life is low expectations. That's one you can easily arrange. And if you have unrealistic expectations, you're going to be miserable all your life. And I was good at having low expectations, and that helped me. And also, if when you get reverses, if you just suck it in and cope, that helps if you don't just fretfully stew yourself into a lot of misery. Always tell the truth and never lied to anybody about anything. 

Friday 26 February 2021

Weekend Reading

Reading across disciplines is one of the best ways to improve our investment acumen. Here is a summary of some of the best articles I read this week. If you like this collection, consider forwarding it to someone who you think will appreciate it.

How to save the world?

Currently, the concentration of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere is around 414.68 parts per million (ppm) – there is consensus that, once the level reaches 450ppm it will raise the global temperature above 2 degrees Celsius, triggering extreme weather events and irreversible, catastrophic change. While some advocates of change suggest that the target should be 2030, Mr. Gates believes that’s unrealistic – carbon is too deeply woven into the fabric of everything we do – and could provide a distraction to the more significant goal of zero emissions by 2050.

When asked on betting on a single breakthrough happening in the next decade that really was a game changer, he says, “Well, part of the point of the book is that [we can’t rely on a] single breakthrough, we need artificial meat, we need lithium... But I would say, if you can get super-cheap green hydrogen, it sits in terms of the industrial economy at the peak. So, if you pencil in ridiculously low-cost hydrogen, then I can tell you how to make clean fertiliser and clean steel, and even clean aviation fuel.” Lastly, he says that he is optimistic about the world being net zero in terms of carbon emission by 2050.



AI in financial research

Technologists at Morgan Stanley have developed a virtual assistant that helps people throughout the organization plumb useful information from the 50,000 research reports the investment bank generates every year. “Our research reports can be many, many pages long,” said Eden Kidner, global head of research technology at Morgan Stanley. “And now we’re getting to the ability to actually find specific charts and paragraphs within the reports that answer questions.” The AskResearch bot is an example of banks ramping up the use of AI in different parts of their business.

“What we are seeing on the AI side, especially in natural language processing, is really amazing,” said Brad Bailey, research director for capital markets at Celent. “One aspect is the ability to get content from all types of structured and unstructured data and leverage that in numerous ways is a competitive edge and a huge benefit to client service.” The bot uses machine learning and natural language processing to become better at answering questions over time, Kidner said. The bot can retrieve earnings-per-share estimates for any company, or any of 50 other fundamental metrics the bank tracks or forecasts. It understands abbreviations like GDP (gross domestic product), so they don’t have to be spelled out, and synonyms. It understands multiple ways of asking questions.

“Trying to enable the bot to be able to find a specific paragraph, a chart or something that sits deep within that research and distill it up — that's where the high value of this bot is," Kidner said. "It’s also the biggest challenge to solve for." In the past, it typically took 10 minutes to go to the research portal and find a piece of research, he said. With the bot, the task takes less than a minute.



Can Shopify beat Amazon at its game?

Shopify isn’t doing what Amazon does - it isn’t competing directly and it wouldn’t fit inside a competition lawyer’s market definition. But it challenges Amazon at a very basic point of leverage by doing something different, but relevant. This is very often what competitive threats look like in technology. In markets with strong network effects or winner-takes-most effects, it’s very hard to displace a new incumbent directly, but pretty common to address an underlying customer need in another way. So, Google doesn’t think about Bing nearly as much as it thinks about Amazon and Facebook, and Amazon thinks about Shopify, because they change what the businesses might be, and offer your customers a different way to solve their problem.



You are as good as your team

The legend of Steve Jobs is that he transformed our lives with the strength of his convictions. The key to his greatness, the story goes, was his ability to bend the world to his vision. The reality is that much of Apple’s success came from his team’s pushing him to rethink his positions. If Jobs hadn’t surrounded himself with people who knew how to change his mind, he might not have changed the world.

For years Jobs insisted he would never make a phone. After his team finally persuaded him to reconsider, he banned outside apps; it took another year to get him to reverse that stance. Within nine months the App Store had a billion downloads, and a decade later the iPhone had generated more than $1 trillion in revenue.



Jeff Bezos - the greatest tech CEO ever?

What is clear, though, is that any attempt to understand the relentlessness of the company redirects to their founder, Jeff Bezos, who announced plans to step down as CEO after leading the company for twenty-seven years. He is arguably the greatest CEO in tech history, in large part because he created three massive businesses, all of which generate enormous consumer surplus and enjoy impregnable moats: Amazon.com, AWS, and the Amazon platform (this is a grab-all term for the Amazon Marketplace and Fulfillment offerings; it is lumped in with Amazon.com in the company’s reporting). These three businesses are the result of Bezos’ rare combination of strategic thinking, boldness, and drive, and the real world manifestations of Amazon’s three most important tactics: leverage the Internet, win with scale, and being your first best — but not only — customer.




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Friday 19 February 2021

A Year of Quantletters

I have been writing short notes on different topics related to quant based and systematic investing for the quantletter we publish every month as part of quantamental. 

I have extracted the notes and compiled them in one place for easy reading.

You can download it from here.

Thursday 18 February 2021

Weekend Reading

Reading across disciplines is one of the best ways to improve our investment acumen. Here is a summary of some of the best articles I read this week. If you like this collection, consider forwarding it to someone who you think will appreciate it.

Use tech to your advantage for preventing bad habits and nurturing good ones

Technology often creates a level of convenience that enables you to act on your smallest whims and desires. At the mere suggestion of hunger, you can have food delivered to your door. At the slightest hint of boredom, you can get lost in the vast expanse of social media.

When the effort required to act on your desires becomes effectively zero, you can find yourself slipping into whatever impulse arises at the moment. The downside of automation is that we can find ourselves jumping from easy task to easy task without making time for more difficult, but ultimately more rewarding, work.

When working in your favor, automation can make your good habits inevitable and your bad habits impossible. It is the ultimate way to lock in future behavior rather than relying on willpower in the moment.

By utilizing strategic onetime decisions and technology, you can create an environment of inevitability—a space where good habits are not just an outcome you hope for, but an outcome that is virtually guaranteed.



Build a "Murder Board" to kill your favourite ideas!!

We learn more from people who challenge our thought process than those who affirm our conclusions. Strong leaders engage their critics and make themselves stronger. Weak leaders silence their critics and make themselves weaker. This reaction isn’t limited to people in power. Although we might be on board with the principle, in practice we often miss out on the value of a challenge network.

Some organizations and occupations counter those tendencies by building challenge networks into their cultures. From time to time the Pentagon and the White House have used aptly named “murder boards,” enlisting tough-minded committees to shoot down plans and candidates. At X, Google’s “moonshot factory,” there’s a rapid evaluation team that’s charged with rethinking proposals: Members conduct independent assessments and only advance the ones that emerge as both audacious and achievable.



The algebra of wealth: follow your talent

please read the full article and not just the excerpts here…

Successful people often unwittingly head fake young people with the humblebrags of “follow your passion” and “don’t think about money.” This is (mostly) bullshit. Achieving economic security requires hard work, talent, and a tremendous amount of focus on… money. Yes, some people’s genius will be a tsunami that overwhelms a lack of focus and discipline. Assume you are not that person. Rich is having passive income greater than your burn. People on a path to money focus on their earnings; people on a path to wealth also focus on their burn. Anyway, it’s not your income, but your income-to-expense ratio, that determines if you’re rich.

My observation is that there are four factors in the algebra of wealth: focus, stoicism, time, and diversification.



On how to change your mind

Changing your mind, more often than not, requires you to grapple with your own identity. Admitting that you were wrong feels personal. We have to face the fact that we’ve been walking around the world all this time believing in something that isn’t true. Even worse, we have to admit that we’re the type of person who walks around being wrong.

If somebody sees an idea, or an opportunity, or forms an opinion that is different from mine, I should say, This is an interesting opportunity to learn something from someone who sees things differently from me, and I wonder if they know something I don’t.



Remove "society's soundtrack" from your ears to be successful

By the age 45, Beethoven was completely deaf. He considered suicide, one friend reported, but was held back only by the force of “moral rectitude.” It’s here that Beethoven’s story veers toward legend. Cut off from the world of sound around him, working only with musical structures dancing through his imagination, at times holding a pencil in his mouth against his piano’s soundboard to feel the consonance of his chords, Beethoven produced the best music of his career, culminating in his incomparable Ninth Symphony, a composition so daringly new that it reinvented classical musical altogether.

Beethoven’s diminished hearing limited the influence of “prevailing compositional fashions.” Whereas his earlier work was “pleasantly reminiscent” of his instructor, Josef Haydn, his later work was spectacularly innovative. “Deafness freed Beethoven as a composer because he no longer had society’s soundtrack in his ears.”


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For momentum trend following systematic trading, subscribe to Quantamental at www.quantamental.in

Friday 12 February 2021

Weekend Reading

Reading across disciplines is one of the best ways to improve our investment acumen. Here is a summary of some of the best articles I read this week. If you like this collection, consider forwarding it to someone who you think will appreciate it.

Bubbles are not always bad!

The dot-com bubble laid the tracks for the Internet as we know it today. A large number of tech start-ups with seemingly good ideas went out of business after the dot-com flameout. But that era planted the seeds for the next wave of innovation that occurred, which gave us services like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Airbnb and Google. Some people create life-changing levels of wealth during manias. Others lose their shirt when the bubbles pop. Yet all bubbles are not bad in and of themselves. The silver lining from a bubble is society often benefits from the sheer amount of money that pours to invest.



The problems of putting everything online - poisoned water at home

Hackers remotely accessed the water treatment plant of a small Florida city last week and briefly changed the levels of lye in the drinking water, in the kind of critical infrastructure intrusion that cybersecurity experts have long warned about.

Sheriff Bob Gualtieri of Pinellas County said at a news conference on Monday that the level of sodium hydroxide — the main ingredient in drain cleaner — was changed from 100 parts per million to 11,100 parts per million, dangerous levels that could have badly sickened residents if it had reached their homes.

The authorities said the plot unfolded last Friday morning, when an employee noticed that someone was controlling his computer. He initially dismissed it because the city has software that allows supervisors to access computers remotely. But about five and a half hours later, the employee saw that different programs were opening and that the level of lye changed.



You should not be very rich - for the sake of your children

Growing up in a family where your father’s pretty wealthy is much more complicated than growing up in a family where your father is not wealthy. When your family is not wealthy, you’ve got to really achieve something or you’re not going to get anywhere. You’re on your own.

Whereas my own children, and the children of families like mine, I think have a bit of a disadvantage. As a general rule of thumb, the people running the world are people from blue-collar families who are lower middle class. It’s rarely the case that somebody whose father was a billionaire turns out to be better than his father, becoming a multibillionaire or running the world.



Learning from sports applied in business or investing

There are many connections, similarities, and common underlying principles between sports, war, and business. The main connection between the three is that they represent instances of peak human competition and rivalry. And when there is competition, there are winners and losers. One of the key aspects that differentiate winners from losers, and one we can learn from, is mentality and psychology. However, athletes are some of the greatest peak performers in the world, and they are both alive and have made many mistakes we can learn from. They have many more opportunities for iteration and feedback loops than the rest, which is why sports psychology is highly interesting.



10 Insane Facts From Bill Bryson’s “The Body”

The stratum corneum or the outermost layer of the skin is made up of dead cells. All that which makes us look good — our beauty — is literally dead. The global beauty industry estimated to be worth over $700 billion, is essentially for decorating deceased tissue. Our vanity, confidence, self-respect, ego, self-worth…is a sliver of dead skin.

Race is literally skin deep. Technically, it’s a few millimetres of the epidermis. It isn’t biologically significant or defined. Millimetres of dead skin and an intuition driven brain are the root causes of racism, socio-economic disparity, discrimination, bias, violence, eugenics, caste and slavery.


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For technofunda investing and positional trading, subscribe to our Hitpicks advisory service on www.intelsense.in

For momentum trend following systematic trading, subscribe to Quantamental at www.quantamental.in

Thursday 4 February 2021

Weekend Reading

Reading across disciplines is one of the best ways to improve our investment acumen. Here is a summary of some of the best articles I read this week. If you like this collection, consider forwarding it to someone who you think will appreciate it.


Plants which send emails (& act as sensors)!!!

Through nanotechnology, engineers at MIT in the US have transformed spinach into sensors capable of detecting explosive materials. These plants are then able to wirelessly relay this information back to the scientists.

When the spinach roots detect the presence of nitroaromatics in groundwater, a compound often found in explosives like landmines, the carbon nanotubes within the plant leaves emit a signal. This signal is then read by an infrared camera, sending an email alert to the scientists.

This experiment is part of a wider field of research which involves engineering electronic components and systems into plants. The technology is known as “plant nanobionics”, and is effectively the process of giving plants new abilities.

While the purpose of this experiment was to detect explosives, Strano and other scientists believe it could be used to help warn researchers about pollution and other environmental conditions.

Because of the vast amount of data plants absorb from their surroundings, they are ideally situated to monitor ecological changes.



The power of feedback loops

The idea that people like (or hate) what other people like (or hate) is important, because it lets small ideas grow bigger than you’d guess if you assume everything is ranked by quality alone. Social momentum is hard to model on a spreadsheet, so it’s hard to predict or think about in terms that seem rational. But it’s so powerful.

A little momentum early on can grow into something enormous, well beyond what may have been predicted in the beginning. The same thing happens inside companies: Marc Andreessen says 80% of employee culture is just “winning.” The best employees want to work at companies that are winning, and when a company attracts the best employees it tends to win. If you don’t appreciate how powerful that feedback loop is you can be shocked at how dominant and wildly successful a few companies or products can become. Apple, Amazon, Tesla – they’re all enjoying the glorious feedback loop.



The difference of being right and being successful in investing

The difference between good advice and effective advice. Good advice is everywhere. You don’t have to look very hard. People generally know what they have to do to improve their health, finances, or lifestyle. But knowledge alone is never enough to change behavior.

Good advice tells you how to succeed at something while effective advice shows you how to succeed. Good advice is about tactics while effective advice helps you build systems.

When all else fails, the go-to excuse for underperformance is “this was a low-quality junk stock rally so our more high-quality businesses were left behind.”

The insinuation here is all those other investors who bid up low-quality businesses must be idiots. It’s the perfect excuse because it makes you feel smarter than everyone else even when they’re making more money than you.

But sometimes low-quality businesses can be a great investment at the right price or valuation. And sometimes high-quality businesses can be a terrible investment at the wrong price or valuation.

Everyone already knows who the great companies are. The challenge comes from figuring out the value of those great companies and the expectations embedded in their price.



Invert to solve big problems

Inversion is a powerful thinking tool because it puts a spotlight on errors and roadblocks that are not obvious at first glance. What if the opposite was true? What if I focused on a different side of this situation? Instead of asking how to do something, ask how to not do it.

Everyone wants to make more money. But what if you inverted the problem? How could you destroy your financial health? Before you worry too much about how to make more money make sure you have figured out how to not lose money. If you can manage to avoid these problems, you'll be far ahead of many folks and save yourself a lot of pain and anguish along the way.



Changing someone's mind

When we try to change a person’s mind, our first impulse is to preach about why we’re right and prosecute them for being wrong. Yet experiments show that preaching and prosecuting typically backfire — and what doesn’t sway people may strengthen their beliefs.

Instead of trying to force other people to change, you’re better off helping them find their own intrinsic motivation to change. You do that by interviewing them — asking open-ended questions and listening carefully — and holding up a mirror so they can see their own thoughts more clearly. If they express a desire to change, you guide them toward a plan.



For building a solid long term portfolio, look at subscribing to www.intelsense.in long term advisory.

For technofunda investing and positional trading, subscribe to our Hitpicks advisory service on www.intelsense.in

For momentum trend following systematic trading, subscribe to Quantamental at www.quantamental.in