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The Little Book That Still Beats the Market

The Little Book That Still Beats the Market - Joel Greenblatt I'm far from a financial expert (don't ask me about my own portfolio... I tend to leave money in CDs and mutual funds and forget about it). However, I have done a bit of reading, and know enough to smell BS or something that has the ring of truth.

Greenblatt's book is aimed at the very naive (in the sense of not knowing much, not in the sense of being stupid or gullible) investor. That is, the average American who thinks s/he can use "common sense" and a few hot tips or some "expert opinions" on TV to pick good stocks. The early chapters are a very, very simple explanation of how the stock market works. Simple enough for a ten-year-old. Then he goes on to explain his "magic formula," which might sound like hucksterism, but basically it's a highly simplified version of Benjamin Graham's "value investing" strategy. (Graham was the guy who taught Warren Buffet.) The idea is basically: Buy high-value companies that are currently priced too low, do this consistently, and most importantly (and the reason why everyone isn't doing it): hang on for years. Greenblatt spends a lot of time emphasizing this: the market goes up and down, and you will see your portfolio go down, sometimes for years consecutively. The only reason following his or any strategy makes sense is if you believe that over the long run, it will perform well with the peaks outweighing the valleys. Most people will be enamored of a strategy until they've been watching all their stocks go down, down, down for two years straight (which is bound to happen now and then) and then they panic, sell, and move to some more promising strategy.

Greenblatt shows pretty compelling evidence that value investing does work, and consistently beats the market over a time frame of 5, 10 or 30 years, even with periodic dips and recessions. And he gives step by step instructions on how to pursue this strategy. But the main thing is you have to believe in it enough to stick with it, even during temporary periods where even the market average is beating your results.

Also, important caveat: he uses historical information and he explains the principles behind the strategy (i.e., which underly Graham's value investment model) in a simple and clear way, so they really do make sense. But, the stock market is a capricious beast: no one can be sure that for the next thirty years it won't suddenly start behaving in a wildly different manner. So, no guarantees, no matter how much sense anyone's advice seems to make.

Greenblatt also glosses over a few things, like fees (even for intermittent stock purchases, the fees can add up), and he barely touches on taxes, which can also take a bite out of your investment. He does mention IRAs, but does not explain them. That's understandable; this is a slim book and going into taxes and retirement funds and exactly where and how to buy stocks would bloat it quickly. But while I think his advice is sound, this book alone doesn't quite give you enough information to run out and start investing. But it will certainly give you a good start. Most importantly, if you take his advice, even if you don't follow his strategy precisely, you'll know better than to try day-trading or other short-term strategies (he tells the reader outright that unless you're a professional business analyst and probably not even then, you should not try to stock-pick on your own), and you'll be ready to commit to investing for the long term.