Have you ever been shocked by your own behavior?

That’s how Robert Sapolsky begins his book “Behave”.

“No”, I thought, before I realized you were supposed to say “yes” and thus be enticed to read the book to find out why humans do things they can’t explain or feel ashamed of.

I just don’t see it. Why would you do things that shock yourself?

Pull the trigger if you want to. Go to the gym if it’s good for you. Party if you like, but don’t do it if you feel bad afterward — that is, bad-er than you expected.

HOW DO YOU TRADE?

Talk about being shocked, some stock traders surprise themelves – and me – again and again, when they keep trading on emotional impulse during reporting season instead of according to set parameters within a proven strategy. If you were that guy or girl the last four weeks, don’t be in April.

I hope this doesn’t come as a shock to you, but since daytraders create exactly zero value (negative even, due to the false liquidity they provide, and the exaggerated price swings they cause as they react to other people’s moves), a trader without a superior strategy will lose money over time. That’s before commission and fees.

In the corporate world, profit is of course created by providing goods and services to the client that have a higher value than they cost to produce. A daytrader is only trying to do one better than his or hers counterparty. It’s a zero sum game less commission for them, and a negative for the market and society in general. The more people engaging in non-research based trading the less real products and services are made available, and the poorer the society.

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Completely off topic, I caught the song Bloodline when partying about a week ago, and I just had to listen to it A LOT OF times.

However, when a song is that good and instantly catchy, it’s almost bound to fall out of favor just as quickly. Not completely unlike the current stock market rally for cyclicals, based on explosive credit in China and The Fed’s sudden dovish U-turn. Well, with the best start to the stock market in 30 years behind us, you know it’s not time to buy shares.

On the other hand, gold is really picking up some speed, despite s strong dollar and a stock market rally. I’m happily holding on to all my types of gold, including Nueva Granada and Gran Colombia. If you’re Swedish, you really should listen to my and Anna’s talk with gold and precious metals investor extraordinaire Eric Strand here.

Taking stock of my CV

What is a career? Why should you have one? Does it need to make “sense”?

I have a masters in finance and I’ve had three jobs in finance. Then I retired. Makes sense, right?

In my mind, I’ve only had three jobs: as a research analyst at SkandiaBanken (1994-1996), as a research analyst at Swedbank (1996-2000), and as a portfolio manager at Futuris (2000-2015). I studied for my masters in finance between 1990-1994.

In reality, however, I’ve been drawn to chemistry (my first choice for college after high school), translation, match making, programming and P2P lending (1984-1987):

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My job experiences

When I was 10-12 years old (1982-1984) I programmed my own simple computer games and charged my friends for playing it. I specifically remember a motorcycle game. I also performed a lot of unpaid programming in BASIC and machine code, which I think helped build enormous focus, logic skills and discipline.

Since around when I turned around 12, I started my own “bank”. I used to lend a dollar or two to my peers that lacked cash for candy or pastries in school. I gave my clients the choice of paying back for free the next day or at criminally steep charges for every extra day. It was very profitable. Often I charged 100% interest for a week. Today a kid doing that would probably be expelled or sued in some way.

When I was around 13-15 years I helped with my father’s accounting. I remember getting around 10$ an hour.

During our neighbor’s 40-year party (I was 12), I was put to work recording all the guests’ preferences to create the perfect seating scheme in real time. My take home pay for 4 hours of stressful work with dozens of drunk adults was a total of 4$.

As a 13-15 year old I had to do a week here and there on real jobs (obligatory job experience in school), such as a shoe department, a pizza restaurant and a machine leasing firm. Those experiences finally taught me to never, ever wanting to work in manual labor, in particular not having to stand up all day. Funny how I 20 years later had to re-learn the importance of not sitting.

I also remember some cold winters, around the same age, pushing physical ads down people’s mailboxes for a minimum pay.

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I even spent three weeks one summer in sales for personality tests in a company related to the Scientologists. I was paid a bonus for every sale, as well as a fixed weekly wage (around 300$, I think)

Later, around 1990, when I was 18) I was hired to automate that same personlity test in a pretty elaborate Excel macro for a few hundred dollars.

As an 18 year old in college (1990), I was lured by promises of extreme wealth into the romantic matching business Perfect Partners. My job was to get women to sign up for this membership based couples matching business. I was paid a commission per new active member and a monthly salary of around 1000$.

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Between 1990-1997 (18-25yo) I translated manuals, authored manuals, not to mention programmed database applications for my father’s company, all the while working long hours as an analyst. Some of those databases might actually still be in use in the pulp and paper industry.

My starting pay as an analyst was around 1400 USD a month before taxes. My moonlighting as a programmer and translator paid perhaps an extra 500 USD a month.

So, between 1982 and 1996, I spent a lot of time on more or less unpaid work. Then my real career took off, each year’s pay dwarfing the previous. Actually, just one single year at Futuris (2000-2015) often paid more than my entire career before Futuris.

In January 2014, however, the money wasn’t enough. I needed more intellectual challenges and consequently handed in my resignation. A year after that I spent my last paid day at Futuris on January 1, 2015.

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Since I retired when I was 41-42, I’m doing more than ever…

I run three podcasts, several newsletters, appear in podcasts, TV-shows, fintech debates, lecture, write articles and not least write on a book, not to mention juggle two dozen private equity investments. Fortunately, I spend considerably less effective time on my diverse activities than I would on a typical job.

My average over the last 10-12 weeks has been close to 25 hours a week on writing, producing and investment meetings. Add another 20 hours for dog walks and 5 hours lifting weights (plus a few more for getting there and back, and showering) and you quickly see the need for good organization not to be unnecessarily occupied all the time.

To make sure retirement feels like retirement, I’ve scheduled two full weekdays per week completely off “work”. Those days I just read books, take long walks, hang out with friends or my dog or girlfriend.

Be careful what career you wish for

So, what’s the point of all this?

Ask yourself what kind of career you really want, and why you want that career. What is the point of your career; how is it supposed to make your life in total more meaningful and enjoyable?

Tip: Regularly take stock of what you have actually done, what you currently seem to be doing, what you actually want out of life, and whether your daily actions are bringing you closer to those targets. If not, make a change! Quit that job, start that business, leave your family — if you think it will bring more meaning.

Other people’s money

How should you react to what other people are doing with other people’s money? Should you react at all?

How should you react to published insider trading (not the illegal kind)? As a case in point, the multinational apparel retailer Hennes & Mauritz dropped from 360 to 117 in three years during heavy insider buying.

By the way, IPOs, stock buybacks and insider purchases all peak at the market peak, so don’t confuse insider activity with opportunity

What about when an incumbent sells a large stake to a newcomer? Is it news when 5% of the company changes hands from one known entity to another? Which party could be assumed knows more?

What about large moves in the stock price. Do the sellers know more than you? Is there valuable information in the price move?

NB: Sometimes a changed price or price trend actually affects value (through better or worse access to capital, e.g., in banks or vulnerable companies in need of finance that can give a high return on capital)

How do you and how should you react to what other people are doing with their money?

  • on the stock exchange
  • privately (neighbor buys a car)

Do you buy a stock because you see it has increased in price?

Do you buy a car (or a kitchen) because your neighbor did? Or because you read in the paper that the kitchen renovation business is booming?

Conclusion

Actually, stock prices are a good gauge on general sentiment, on other people’s wants, needs, fear and greed. However, it’s mostly a game of group psychology and herding – in particular for single stocks which are prone to sectarianism (see Tesla for an illuminating example, where no profits and an endless stream of broken promisies and debunked claims of fantastical innovations haven’t deterred the company’s followers).

What does work very well in terms of other people’s money is patterns for entire markets. Money sloshes around the world from country to country, sector to sector, asset class to asset class. During bull markets investors become indiscriminate in their buying which creates strong trends, and convergence of valuations and price movements. But when investors start losing their faith, or their cash flow, convergence turns into divergence, the market narrows to fewer and fewer things that still “work”

In the end other people’s money show the way from the topping formation of entire markets down into a bear trend, through a set of signals of risk aversion and indecision: High yield bonds increse their spreads to less risky alternatives, an increasing number of companies set either 52 week lows or highs, fewer companies and sectors lead the overall market upward, the range of valuation multiples between industries, sectors and companies increases.

On the other hand, if you are a value investor with a strong view of the cash flow outlook for a specific company, it need not matter whether the market is turning bearish or not. Just make sure you don’t get surprised by profits turning to losses, dividends turning to requests for new share issues, or dwindling profits and cash unexpectedly activating expensive debt covenant clauses.

It’s not supposed to be easy.