Disciplined Reading

[via Yuvaraj] Chetan Parikh writes:

Reading is definitely my thing, too, and I think you have to read not just business stuff but also history, novels, and even some poetry. Investing is about glimpsing, however dimly, the ebb and flow of human events. It’s very much about breasting the tides of emotion, too, which is where the novels and poetry come in. Besides, sometimes you have to refresh your mind and soul by consuming some crafted, eloquent writing. When I get home at the end of a business day, after being absorbed in investment babble and dull, plodding writing, replete with trite phrases such as make no mistake, which is my pet peeve, I am stuffed with babble. My gorge rises at the thought of more business carbohydrates. So I sit down with a nice big glass of wine and immerse myself in something I want to read. I always have at least one book going, and my taste is eclectic, but the sine qua non is that it has to be well written.

I am a visile. A visile primarily absorbs information through the eyes by reading. An audile ingests information mostly through the ears, through talking and social interaction. Charlie Munger, too, is a visile. Of course, we all do some of both, but I share Munger’s skepticism that someone who doesn’t read much can be a really successful investor. I do know a number of people who are very successful traders and speculators who don’t read anything but the sports page.

Two Cows and Modern Finance

Paul Kedrosky links to a hilarious Bloomberg column which explains modern finance using “two cows” metaphors. An example:

Leveraged Buyouts

You have two cows. You come home from the fields one day to find Henry Kravis chatting to your spouse at the dining-room table. Two days later, you have no spouse, no farm, and no table. Two guys the size of sumo wrestlers have saddled up the cows and are riding them around the farmyard.

Bond Market

You have two cows. One is Brazilian, one is Australian. They yield 25 quarts of milk per day. That’s half as much as three years ago, when you traded your less-lactiferous German and U.S. cows for them. You are thinking of swapping for a pair of Namibian cows. They only have three legs but, hey, they produce 26 quarts per day.

Derivatives

You have two cows. You repackage five of them into a Collateralized Lactating Obligation, pay for a AAA credit rating, slice the CLO into 10 pieces and sell it to investors, skimming the cream from the milk for yourself. Three of the cows fall ill, and the credit rating plummets. You get to keep the cream.