Posts

MC Stories – An Advisor’s Annotated Book Stack

 

I like to read historical literary texts as well as their inventive modern reinterpretations.  Both sets pose questions that don’t go out of style:  Who are we as a society?  What do we value?  What should we teach our children?  How do we know what we know?  My book stack offers a few examples…

With Infinity in the Palm of Her Handauthor Gioconda Belli takes a line from a William Blake poem and reimagines the conversations of Eve and Adam and the Serpent in the Garden of Eden.  Eve, and Adam to a lesser degree, ask the questions that we moderns might also wish to pose.

 

            Eve:  “What is there beyond this garden; why are we here?”

            Serpent:  “Why do you want to know?  You have everything you need.”

            Eve:  “Why would I not want to know?  What does it matter if I know?”

 

            Eve:  “It seems that you want me to eat this fruit.”

            Serpent:  “No.  I merely envy the fact that you have the option of choosing.  If you eat the fruit, you and Adam will be free, like Elokim.”

            Eve:  “Which would you choose?  Knowledge or eternity?”

            Serpent:  “I am a serpent.  The Serpent.  I told you that I do not have the option to choose.”

 

Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey are among the first origin stories of Western Civilization.  In The OdysseyOdysseus (like Eve, above) gets a shot at Eternity — but only if he marries the goddess Calypso.  Instead, Odysseus chooses finite life on his own terms, reuniting with his wife Penelope.  My copy of The Iliad is a signed first edition of the Robert Fitzgerald translation, a college gift that set me on a lifetime course of inquiry. Together the two books pose grand (and small) questions about how we should live.  The texts’ richness in language and allegory has been the source of new literature for almost three thousand years.  Each generation reinterprets the original.  Four hundred years or so after Homer, Aeschylus wrote The Oresteia, performed in Athenian amphitheaters.  A hundred years ago, an Egyptian-Greek poet, C.P. Cavafy, penned a short piece called Ithaca.

More recently, a classics professor at Bard College, Daniel Mendelsohn, wrote An Odyssey.  His aging father audited Mendelsohn’s class on The Odyssey, and this book becomes a meditation on what these historic texts mean to college students with brief life experience, juxtaposed with the meaning for someone who has lived a very long life.  The elder Mendelsohn audited the class in anticipation of joining his son on a Mediterranean cruise that would track the voyage of Odysseus.  An important part of Homer’s Odyssey is a son taking a journey to search for a father he doesn’t know; in Mendelsohn’s Odysseyit, too, is the search by a son for a father, this time a psychological and emotional expedition.

When my older daughter was a sophomore in college, she invited me to audit a class with her; the course combined architecture with gender studies.  Following a conversation with the professor, and germane to the syllabus, I wound up giving a lecture on “advice texts through history”.  In addition to the first four chapters of Homer’s Odyssey, other assigned reading included Discourse to Lady Lavinia His Daughter.  Here, a nobleman during the Italian Renaissance, Annibal Guasco, prepared his 11-year-old daughter to be a Lady-in-Waiting in the Court of Savoy, and as a gift, wrote the Discourse for her.  At such a young age, she required a crash course on decorum.  These are two examples offered by Guasco to Lavinia:

  • On the subject of talking badly about others behind their backs,“…Guard against this, for not only would it be unworthy of your noble rank, but the very earth would repeat it [even] if men remained silent.”
  • On the general topic of being thoughtful in one’s speech,“…Learn well how to control your tongue, considering that Nature enclosed it mysteriously within the lips and the teeth, as if behind two doors, to [hold back certain thoughts] with our teeth, even if they had got as far as the tip of our tongue, and then restrain them with our lips, if they had escaped the confines of our teeth.”

Guasco gave Lavinia advice in many areas of daily life, and among them, this:  “…it is very true that no greater happiness is attainable in this world than through intellectual achievement.”  In the year 1585, this was quite a bright light from a father to a daughter.

The Swerve – How the World Became Modern is a story that begins in the early Italian Renaissance, in 1417, with the discovery of an ancient text written by the Roman poet Lucretius, a follower of the Greek philosopher Epicurus.  (First, though, to set the record straight:  to be an “Epicure” is not to be a pleasure seeker in a hedonistic way; Epicurus placed greater emphasis on the avoidance of pain rather than the pursuit of pleasure, with more focus on intellectual pleasure, as it is the longer lasting one.)  In 1417, scholars knew of Lucretius, but his work had been lost to history for over 1,000 years – until an Italian manuscript hunter (yes, a real job) found a copy of “De Rerum Natura” (“On The Nature of Things”) tucked away in a German monastery.  The ideas contained within “On the Nature of Things” were shocking.  Though written before the birth of Christ, the text was heretical to the Catholic Church.  Contained in the most beautiful Latin verse were the ideas that all physical matter is made up of an infinite number of very small particles called “atoms”; there are different types of atoms, though the types are limited in number.  These atoms move in eternal motion, randomly colliding and swerving in new directions.  In this world of Lucretius, there are particles and voids – and nothing else.  Once brought back to Florence, the manuscript was treated as a secret document, and very few people were allowed to see it.  Scholars and artists learned about the ideas within “On the Nature of Things”, but to write about it would risk a Church accusation of heresy.  Painters, though, caught a break; they could paint the ideas of Lucretius onto the canvas, but they had, to use a modern term, “plausible deniability” when confronted by the Church. (“No, Monsignor, that creature is not from an early species that evolved into humans.  It is a chthonic beast from Greek mythology.”)

The Order of Time by the Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli shakes up what we know about the nature of time.  Rovelli is a lyrical writer, so the book is both a joy to read and a challenge, as our perceptions of time are challenged by him.  He tears down our assumptions about time, revealing a universe, where at the most fundamental level, time disappears.  Flipping through the pages just now, I see that I am going to have to re-read it.

Last, but not least, is the classic and definitive book on investment bubbles.  Written in 1841, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds covers Tulip-mania, the South Sea Bubble, and John Law’s Mississippi Scheme.  There are, unquestionably, lessons to be learned from this book about today’s financial world — particularly regarding the Fed’s current money-printing regime, as well as the understanding that people will, and do, pay crazy amounts of money for items of fleeting worth.  Popular Delusions shows how the bubbles build.  From a distance of two centuries and more, foolishness seems obvious.  When we are living in it, though, it takes focus to keep questioning commonly-held beliefs, asking ourselves over and over, “How do we know what we know, and from there, which actions should we take?”

Next time:  “What’s the deal with all those record albums in the picture?!”

Bruce Tyson

 

MC Stories – Poker Play – Optimizing your investment approach

I am fascinated by the markets and all things related to investing. I have always enjoyed solving puzzles and various brainteasers. I enjoy deep-thinking games and activities that involve a constant change of information. One of my favorite games to play is poker. I love the game for the challenge it presents—playing the cards, playing the people, playing the odds—all while not letting emotions get the best of you.

With each round of betting, new information is learned and a new decision tree is spawned. Each hand delivers a range of potential outcomes and, depending on how you play the hand, you can either end up adding chips to your stack or biding your time for a better opportunity. Poker is a game of skill; however, even the best, most disciplined players will not win every time because there is a level of uncertainty with each hand played. Despite that uncertainty in the short term, over the long term the right strategy combined with a disciplined approach often becomes a winning strategy.

In this way, poker is very similar to investing. Having the right investment strategy and staying disciplined often leads to long-term success. In poker, you combine various cards of different suits and numbers to create the best hand. With investing, your “hand” is a diversified portfolio and it contains a combination of various asset classes (stocks, bonds, real estate, etc.). When investing (just like in poker), some combinations are better than others, based on the specific goal. Depending on what type of poker you are playing, sometimes the best hand wins and other times, technically speaking, the worst hand wins (Razz and 2-7 Triple Draw, for instance). Similarly, when it comes to investing, if you do not know the objective or the goal, then it is often difficult to know which “hand” of assets will give you the best chance to achieve the outcome you are seeking.

To have long-term success in poker or investing you must have a disciplined approach. Oftentimes people believe poker to be a game of excitement and thrills; however, those who play poker professionally are affectionately referred to as “grinders” for spending long hours playing through the monotony of poker, hand after hand, in order to make a living. When people think of investing, they conjure images of day traders or getting rich overnight, but, when done correctly, investing is boring. As the renowned investor George Soros once quipped, “If investing is entertaining, if you’re having fun, you’re probably not making any money. Good investing is boring.” Whether playing poker or investing, making educated decisions based on the information available as well as the probabilities related to historical outcomes is necessary to consistently make decisions with confidence.

In the short term, it is difficult, if not impossible, to consistently predict the outcome. For instance, during a single day, the markets will either be positive or negative, and in poker you can do everything right, with the odds in your favor, and still end up losing a hand. If this continually happens, without a plan or a strategy, it can be frustrating and can sometimes lead to poor decisions driven by emotions. In poker, a player making emotional decisions no longer based on strategy is considered to be playing “on tilt,” whereas an investor making emotional decisions is often acting out of fear—fear of losing in a market downturn or fear of missing out (FOMO) during a market rally. Regardless of the activity, poker or investing, emotional decisions typically lead to poor decisions with unpredictable outcomes.

The goal then is to be aware of these emotions so when they appear you can objectively evaluate your decisions to determine whether the correct action is being taken. How do you do this? In poker, you can work with a coach to evaluate your play and review how you played during specific situations to ensure you are always playing with the optimal strategy. In investing, you can work with an advisor to create a financial plan based on your specific goals to determine your appropriate long-term strategy. Either way, having an independent third party can be a valuable resource to keep you on track.

Uncertainty can be challenging, but it can also create opportunities. Remember this the next time you get together for your monthly poker game or are analyzing your investments. In order to capitalize on an opportunity, you must first identify the goal. Then, with the goal in mind, you can create and implement the correct strategy. That will allow you to stay disciplined and consistently take the appropriate actions. And then, when emotions come into play (and they always will), to improve your chances for long-term success, have a system or person in place to help with decisions to counteract those emotions. Do this consistently and over time you will find success at the tables and in your portfolio.

 

MC Stories – The Technology Age — The Good, the Bad, and a Little Gen Z

Do you remember the time before cell phones, computers, or even televisions?

The generation who might answer “no” to this question, Generation Z, categorized as those born between the years of 1997 and 2015, is also known as the “Smartphone Generation.” According to a 2018 Pew Research Center survey, 95% of 13- to 17-year-olds have access to a smartphone, and a similar share (97%) use at least one of seven major online platforms.1 Teens surveyed have different opinions on whether social media has had a positive or negative effect on their generation. On a macroscale we are learning quickly to deal with the good and bad that is coming from this new Technology Age.

The Good

Staying connected to family and friends is easier than ever. One major cause for the positive impact is that the technologies traditionally used for business purposes, like videoconferencing and screen sharing, are now being brought into the home for personal use. For example, family meetings over Zoom are the new Sunday dinner meetup and grandparents or parents of Generation Z now celebrate birthday parties, baby showers, and graduations virtually. While in-person is preferred, most are happy they can enjoy each other and still maintain safety guidelines during the current pandemic.

Generation Z can also weigh in on the political conversations happening in this crucial election year on platforms such as Twitter and TikTok, even if they are not old enough to vote. Empowering youth to take an active role in their future is the result of independence and resources not afforded to previous generations. Activism is not unique to Gen Z, but this younger generation is sharing opinions of each other at a rapid pace that is affecting their self-worth.

The Bad

The more time teens spend looking at screens, the more likely they are to report symptoms of depression.2 The current circumstances of 2020 may lead you to believe that there is nothing occurring to feel left out of—but not so fast: FOMO, or fear of missing out, still runs rampant due to platforms like Facebook and Instagram, which show us a skewed view of the world and other people’s lives. Young adults who are looking for ways to monetize themselves and make cash fast are using technology to invest more easily which could have a good return or very bad returns depending on the market environment.

New online trading platforms such as Robinhood reported an increase in new accounts, spurred mostly by new investors who saw the market downturn in March of 2020 as an opportunity to start investing. Traditionally, financial professionals who trade stocks are required to pass an exam to obtain their securities license and are regularly monitored according to industry regulations. Millennials and Generation Z, while not as experienced in the investing space, still felt confident buying familiar big name tech stocks.3 If investors employ a buy-and-hold strategy, they may come out successful; but if individuals are allocating mortgage payments or student loan debt to a risky portfolio, they are in for a roller-coaster ride—emotionally and financially.

Generation Z

The Smartphone Generation may be young but they are mighty. They are coming of age during a volatile economy and an unprecedented technology age. The percentage of teens that reported they are online “almost constantly” virtually doubled in 2018 from a couple of years prior. This data makes them prime targets for online advertising and social media campaigns. With the access and speed currently available to this generation, the need to be a prudent investor is even more important. For the parents and other adults affected by this plugged-in generation (i.e., All of Us), it would be advantageous to learn the habits of this new generation and listen to their viewpoints, which are just as bold as past generations but reach much further. Making a wave is much easier with a touch of your smartphone and we are all now finding ourselves in the splash zone.

 

 

1 https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2018/05/31/teens-social-media-technology-2018/

2 https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/essay/on-the-cusp-of-adulthood-and-facing-an-uncertain-future-what-we-know-about-gen-z-so-far/

3 https://www.cnbc.com/2020/05/12/young-investors-pile-into-stocks-seeing-generational-buying-moment-instead-of-risk.html

Staying Connected During COVID-19 – Webinar #2

In the second webinar of the Staying Connected series, our Wealth Advisor, Executive Vice President and CCO, Eric Selter, and Wealth Advisor, Celia Meagher addressed the following client questions surrounding the latest developments of COVID-19 and its impact on the market:

  • What does the stimulus package mean for my portfolio?
  • What are some tips on handling my financial emotions during this unsettling time?
  • What is Morton Capital doing behind the scenes?

To register for access to these online events and/or submit any questions you would like our Wealth Advisors to answer for you please email us at questions@mortoncapital.com

https://vimeo.com/403014629

We look forward to you joining us on future webinars!