Practical analysis for investment professionals
05 December 2014

Weekend Reads: Zombies, Strategy, and the Future of the Planet

Posted In: Weekend Reads

This is a bit of a different take on Weekend Reads, as I am filling in for the excellent Dave Larrabee, CFA, and thought I would take the opportunity to share some of the papers I find valuable. I have long maintained an “interesting articles” Dropbox folder where I place the best and most timeless pieces I’ve ever read. Whenever somebody I don’t see often asks me to send along anything interesting I’ve come across, I share that folder with them.

As you might guess, this is a mediocre way to share knowledge. For one thing, a whole bunch of PDFs doesn’t necessarily lend itself to easy perusal. For another, a gigantic block of PDFs is rather inscrutable. Why is there an article about soybeans in Uruguay next to my folder on systematic trading? My only answer until now has been, “Why do you think?”

So this post is intended to make amends. Reading any of the pieces below is guaranteed* to make you smarter, better looking, and vastly wealthier. With two exceptions, they are also likely to keep well. For fairness’s sake, I have excluded all of the great content published by my colleagues. But there is no reason to despair: subscribe here and you’ll never miss a post.

Without Further Ado

Let’s start by looking at the stuff you might not expect. The paper “Death and Taxes and Zombies” follows on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s guide to surviving a zombie apocalypse, and actually provides an interesting window into estate planning. Adam Chodorow’s meditation on determining whether a zombie is alive or dead is worth reading in and of itself, but the paper affords some serious insight into what happens taxwise when you or a partner die. If you hand it to a client, they are likely to actually read it. Plus, it contains the phrase “while it seems unlikely anyone would become a zombie for tax purposes,” so you know it’s good.

Were a zombie apocalypse to actually occur, it would likely become important to stop it. In that case, I’d want whoever was in charge of responding to have read the excellent paper, “Leverage Points: Places to Intervene In a System,” by Donella Meadows. This is perhaps the best introduction to the analysis of complex systems that I can imagine, and I find myself continuously referring to her framework when I am structuring my own response to an issue.

In thinking through responses to complex issues, it is common to use the word “strategy” . . . in many cases again and again. If you’ve ever heard someone use the word and found yourself muttering, “You keep using that word . . . I do not think it means what you think it means,” you need to read “What Is Strategy?” the seminal paper from Harvard Business School professor Michael E. Porter. I love the idea of looking at companies as systems of activities, which Porter does almost magically well here. It’s also worth reading because someday somebody might ask you what strategy is, and you should probably have an answer.

Time for Some Investing Stuff

Sometimes people ask you for a quick thing to read about investing, and that can be tough to respond to well. Fortunately, Walter Schloss typed out a list, entitled “Factors Needed to Make Money in the Stock Market,” that fills that gap nicely. It also offers the opportunity to make a very important point about investing information: the shiniest, best-packaged information is almost never the most valuable.

Conventional wisdom often falls into that category. Many have been told that it is impossible to beat the market. It is probably hard, but those who hold that view need to examine the fantastic work Antii Petajisto has done in “Active Share and Mutual Fund Performance.” It’s not only quite readable but may fundamentally transform the way you think if you have been browbeaten into believing there is no point in attempting to practice the craft of investing.

I have two more recommendations in this category. One you likely expect (pictured below) and another that you really should have a look at. The Credit Suisse Global Investment Returns Yearbook is perhaps one of the most valuable documents printed each year. For the sort who likes to know how the world is coming along, it is truly required reading.

This next one I hope you were able to guess. After all, the author is more or less responsible for CFA Institute existing. . . .

We really like this book where I work.

A photo posted by Sloane Ortel (@sloaneortel) on

Thinking Long-Term

In closing, I’ll leave you with a number of “long-range planning” documents for homework over the upcoming holidays. It’s long surprised me that people don’t think it’s important to listen when the Chinese government tells you what it’s planning to do, the US National Intelligence Council talks about the trends it sees materializing, or the UN lays out broad goals for human development. These documents are perhaps one or two levels of magnitude less material than the Magna Carta or the Declaration of Independence to the path of human history, but that doesn’t mean it’s altogether improbable that your grandchildren will learn what’s discussed in them in history class someday.

First, if you’re at all concerned that China is slowing down, you need to read China 2030, which was published in 2012 by the World Bank and China’s Development Research Center of the State Council (DRC).

Similarly, don’t you want to know what the US National Intelligence Council thinks are going to be the biggest trends in the same time horizon? I’d candidly be disappointed if you didn’t, and fortunately they’ve even made their report available in Kindle format.

How do both of these documents compare with investment reality? Let’s ask investment reality. The World Investment Report 2014 issued by the UN tracks flows in foreign direct investment (FDI) and issues commentary about what’s happening in the world. It’s worth at least a skim.

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All posts are the opinion of the author. As such, they should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed necessarily reflect the views of CFA Institute or the author’s employer.

Photo credit: ©iStockPhoto.com/JLGutierrez

* Every conceivable caveat applies.

 

About the Author(s)
Sloane Ortel

Sloane Ortel publishes The Sloane Zone, an email newsletter that comes when you least expect it and makes more sense than it should. She joined CFA Institute's staff as a sophomore at Fordham University, and was instrumental to the global growth of Enterprising Investor as a collaborator, curator, and commentator over the subsequent eight years.

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