Phil Town is now a very wealthy man, but he wasn't always. In fact, he was living on a salary of $4000 a year when some well-timed advice launched him down a highway of investing self-education that revealed what the true "rules" are and how to make them work in one's favor. Chief among them, of course, is "rule #1": "don't lose money." Other rules are: don't diversify...think like an owner, not an investor ... never, ever be seduced into thinking the market is efficient. Town also believes strongly in "betting on the jockey," putting your faith in managers who've proven their financial mettle. Not only does Town reveal fresh methods for identifying who the truly reliable managers are, but he shows you how to test whether they really have faith in the businesses they're running.
By far, the most controversial of the audiobook's assertions will be that giant 401(k) type mutual funds can't help but regress to the mean, and in the next twenty years, the mean could be very disappointing indeed. There's a very real chance that a 401(k) investor could see his holdings not grow at all in the next few decades. Fortunately, Town's stockpicking techniques are meant to walk investing phobes through the do-it-yourself process, equipping them with the tools they need to make quantum leaps toward financial security.
Rule #1 says something new, and it says it in a way that every listener can understand.
Starred Review. For amateur investors who admire the incredible returns produced by Benjamin Graham-Warren Buffett-style value investing but can't figure out how to replicate these billionaires' methods at home, Town's investment guide is manna from heaven. A former river-rafting guide, Town learned how to calculate such crucial numbers as Return on Investment Capital and Equity Growth Rate from "Wolf," a wealthy rafter whom Town saved from a rapid in 1980. Under Wolf's tutelage, Town learned how to turn $1,000 into $1 million in five years, but the selection of lucrative stocks took weeks of library research. In this engaging and accessible book, Town shows readers how to replicate that sort of exhaustive market research on the Internet--and shorten the research time to just a few hours per stock. Fans of The Intelligent Investor will recognize that Town's Rule #1 formula--"1) Find a wonderful business, 2) Know what it's worth as a business, 3) Buy it at 50 percent off, 4) Repeat until very rich"--is a variation of Benjamin Graham's investment philosophy. (Graham and Buffett are cited heavily throughout the book.) But Town's ability to break down that philosophy into a detailed, step-by-step program that can be understood by any reader with basic math skills is unique. His chummy, reassuring tone ("If you're finding yourself already a bit overwhelmed, take a deep breath") will leave readers feeling empowered and ready to manage their money themselves. (Mar. 21)
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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August 27, 2007
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Excerpt from Rule #1 by Phil Town
An expert is a person who avoids small error as he sweeps on to the grand fallacy. --Benjamin Stolberg (1891-1951)
The gold standard of low-risk investing is a ten-year United States Treasury bond, which, at the time of this writing, has a return of about 4 percent. Invest in nothing but these bonds and you're guaranteed a 4-percent haul. The only problem with such a strategy, especially for the millions of soon-to-be-retired baby boomers, is that, at 4 percent, it takes 18 years to double your money. In addition, after 18 years, even with a low inflation rate of 2 to 3 percent, most of the gain is absorbed by higher prices, leaving you with only slightly more buying power than you had 18 years earlier. Despite this reality, investors buy billions of dollars of these 4-percent bonds.
Why in the world would anyone want to own a bond that barely keeps pace with inflation and realizes almost no real gain in wealth? Because almost everyone is convinced that a higher rate of return necessarily means a lot more risk. And they're more afraid of losing money in an attempt to get a higher return than of their inability to retire comfortably.
The fact is, a higher rate of return is not necessarily contingent on incurring significantly more risk. Let me explain.
HIGH RETURNS DON'T NECESSARILY MEAN MORE RISK
During a talk at the America West Arena in Phoenix, Arizona, I asked the audience, "How many of you drove your cars here today?" Most people raised their hands. "Okay, almost everybody. And how many of you took a huge risk driving here?" A few hands went back up. "You guys took a huge risk driving here?" I asked incredulously. "Either you drivers didn't really take a risk and are just clowning around, or at last we've found the problem with Phoenix traffic--you people with your hands up don't know how to drive. Is that it?" Everybody laughed. "Okay, so it wasn't so terrifying to drive down here. But now imagine that you're coming here but instead of you doing the driving, it's your eleven-year-old nephew behind the wheel. Are you taking a lot of risk now?" People laughed and nodded yes. "The trip was the same--going from Ato B. But when you put someone in the driver's seat who doesn't know how to drive, a relatively safe trip becomes an incredibly risky trip."
Exactly the same thing holds true for your journey to financial freedom. If you don't know what you're doing, your journey is going to be either very slow or very dangerous. That's why most people think that going fast (going after a high rate of return) is dangerous--because they don't know how to drive the financial car, and not because going fast is necessarily dangerous. It's only dangerous if you don't know what you're doing. And the essence of Rule #1 is knowing what you're doing--investing with certainty so you don't lose money!
Now, you're probably wondering, "What about mutual funds? What about all those techniques we learn to minimize risk and maximize returns?" Well, folks, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but here's the truth: Being a mutual fund investor is a whole lot riskier than being a Rule #1 investor. Investing in a mutual fund is, in many ways, like handing your car keys to that 11-year-old nephew.
THE MUTUAL FUND SCAM
If you own mutual funds that are attempting to beat the market, and you're hoping your fund manager can give you a nice retirement, you're highly likely to be the victim of a huge scam. You're not alone--100 million investors are right there with you. Fortune magazine reports that since 1985 only 4 percent of all the fund managers beat the S&P 500 index, and the few who did it did so by only a small margin. In other words, almost no fund managers have done what they're paid by you to do--beat the market. That significant fact went unnoticed through the roaring 1980s and 1990s as the stock market surged with double-digit growth, bringing your fund manager along for the joyride. But now the ride is over, and investors are starting to notice that their fund managers are pretty much useless. This is not a new observation.
Several years ago, Warren Buffett said this about your fund manager: "Professionals in other fields, like dentists, bring a lot to the layman, but people get nothing for their money from professional money managers." The key word here is nothing. And yet, what do you do? You give your hard-earned money to one of these guys and hope he can deliver those 15-percent-or-better returns, like the ones you got in the 1990s. Why? Because you don't want to invest your own money, and because you've been convinced by the entire financial services industry that you can't do it yourself.