Rules of Investment “News”

It does not matter if you get your financial news from Barron’s, the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, CNBC, CNN or God forbid Seeking Alpha, Twitter or StockTwits.  It’s all hyperbole. Every last word from every last source.  Even the great headlines that are derived from the venerable investment banks like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley or Bank of Americal/Merrill Lync are all full of opinions, sometimes errors, and at times outright conflicts. 

First rule of reading or watching Wall Street hyperbole is to test it. Is someone selling you a stock, thesis or idea. If they are selling you ANYTHING them STOP. All you may take from the information are facts you may not have known. You must learn to separate the facts from the opinions. When someone is selling you something they are often intimately intertwined.  Their agenda may be financial or political but regardless the information is intended to help the author or broadcaster.  Not the reader or viewer. 

Second rule is that EVERYONE “talks their book”.  This means they love to disseminate information that will help them make themselves money. Sometimes it’s by pumping a direct investment they own. Other times it’s less conspicuous and involves misdirection that still in someway benefits THEM.  The better the manager the better they are are at selling their book without disclosing their holdings.

Third rule is that the only information you should ever trust is data that you can confirm from original sources. For example, you can read employment headlines from the media, or catch a blurb on the news.  I challenge you to compile 10 angles of the same data point. If you can do that you may begin to understand.  If you hear a sensational headline, say about and economic data point or a corporate announcement, first step is to stay off the blogs and Twitter.  Second step it to read the original source for yourself. There was an employment report over the summer that sent the market tumbling and broadcasters reeling. Upon inspection at the BLS website, the folks who report the data, it was clear that the headlines were spinning one negative angle when the proponderance of the report was average to mildly positive.  A keen trader would have bet against the day’s sentiment. 

Fourth rule is that the venerable investment banks produce research for their Investment Banking clients. Not their wealth management clients.  The difference is time horizon and the inherent conflict often leaves retail investors taking the bad side of a “smart money” “trade”.  Investment bank research should never be confused with “investment research”. As an investor you (like Warren Buffet) are putting money to work for years and years.  The investment bank publishes research with a three month view, if that. 

Fifth rule is investment bank ratings are misleading.  Many firms use Buy/Hold/Sell or Overweight/Equal Weight/Underweight or some form of a “stop light” (green/yellow/red) ratings system.  Most investment banks only provide research on companies that they have taken public or are actively engaged with. Despite Sorbanes Oxley if you think you’re getting conflict free research, you’re fooling yourself.  Yes Chinese walls exist today to limit the most perverse forms of conflict, but there has always been an adage on Wall Street that buy means hold, hold means sell and sell means the company is going out of business. The key is that the banks don’t like to provide sell ratings unless it’s abundantly clear the company is failing in someway. The key point is that failing companies generally don’t make great investment banking prospects.  The others do and a corporate CFO is unlikely to engage the bank that has given it a poor rating or is telling its clients to sell the stock.  

The Sixth rule is that some sources are so consistnatly wrong you can almost bet against them. Start your own experiment. Be sure to track recommendations from the same person not just the same news source. I.e. A specific column in Barons or your favorite stock promoter. Create mock portfolios online each time your source publishes new ideas “buy” them in that date at that current price.  Let it run for a while. The more you track the less you will trust anyone.  I promise.  And if they are telling you to short, well then you can add that to your mock portfolio too.  

Seventh rule is that the less time it took to write or broadcast the comment the less credibility it has. I’m sure they’re could be one needle in every haystack but I would beg you to NOT go looking for him or her. Every person who tweets a stock tip or market tip is not sharing their brilliance but rather instigating you to help their trade. It’s not always clear what they own or which side of the position they are on, but I assure you the brightest minds in investing are not simultaneously sharing their best ideas with you in a public forum. 

Eight rule is a follow up to the seventh rule. When you do find that brilliant investor who is generous enough to share his or her best idea with the world then simply STAY AWAY.  The simple reason is that every other lemming has followed into a trade they don’t understand and now it has become “crowded” with imbeciles.  Ironically the initial movement helps the first investor who announced the “brilliant idea,” but the more people that follow in, the lower the average IQ of each additional investor.  As soon as an adverse headline hits that trade you will see the lemmings fall faster than you can imagine. Only the folks who did the original research will know what to do, but you won’t read about their actions until months after they have taken them. 

Ninth rule is that extremes always end with mean reversion.  The media loves to sell papers, magazines, page views and ad space. The more they can get your attention, the more money THEY make. When moments become scary, the media loves to go to extremes.  The more extreme the story, the better the odds you will read it or tune in. Of course that is also the time of the highest probability of mean reversion.  I remember reading about negative oil prices as a story from Davos last year when oil was bottoming.  Oil rallied about 80% from the time that story was floated earlier this year. 

The tenth and final rule is that no one is better at protecting and MAKING money than YOU!  The best investments you ever make will be the ones you spend the most time researching on your own. Most of your time will be eliminating ideas once you realize the risks in the investment.  Test your beliefs and the beliefs of the source of your idea. If you can beat an idea up on all sides and still feel comfortable with the risk and reward then you will have the most important skill of ALL great investors.  That is STAYING POWER.  This is what separates good and bad investors from great ones. If you know what you own, why your own it and the detail of any catalysts you anticipate, then YOU will make INFORMED decisions that will ALWAYS work out better than actions you take as a result of headlines.  

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