Since the start of the bull market in March 2009, the S&P has gained a whopping 225%, including dividends. Impressive indeed.
This past week the S&P experienced a healthy whacking. The market was looking for an excuse to sell off. Argentina’s default, Middle East conflicts, Ukraine, disappointing corporate earnings, all good excuses.
Bull markets need to pause and correct from time to time. Retracements are constructive.
I will not bore you with my take on current fundamentals or technicals as to why the market is where it is or where it is heading.
Rather, I will share two simple thoughts as to why I think the market is still in the early stages of an enormous bull run taking the Dow to unimaginable heights.
#1 The retail investor has yet to participate in any meaningful way.
Until the market gets widespread retail distribution of equities we are far from any top. When your cab driver gives you investment advice, cocktail party talk reverts to hot stock tips and SEO specialists become Day Traders, this bull market is intact.
The individual investor will return in due course providing the fuel for much higher markets. Good news for E-trade, Fidelity, Schwab. (Most of these online trading platforms allow you to set up an account in which you can trade with “play money” so you can get a feel for how the markets work.)
#2 The market will go higher because most expect it won’t.
Most Wall Street pundits did not foresee nor call the crash of 2008.
Most Wall Street pundits did not foresee nor call the remarkable S&P recovery since 2009.
Most Wall Street pundits are looking for the market to sell off considerably, stabilize at current levels or have a very moderate increase over the next year or two. A clear sign to me the markets are going much higher.
One of the best known sayings on Wall Street is: “The Trend Is Your Friend”. The trend is upwards. Dow 25,000 here we come.
P.S. There is much talk about an “internet bubble”. Although I do agree valuations for many of these startups and grownups are beyond remarkable, it is difficult for any bubble to be pricked when control of the asset class is held by few. I’d relish the opportunity to short into some of these funding rounds but no such vehicle exists – yet.
By Jeff Robinson
Bi-weekly I like to visit a barber. I like my hair to be short and tidy. A good barber can buzz cut me in 5-7 minutes. Tack on a shave and you are good to go in 15 minutes.
When I first arrived in Barcelona a friend introduced me to a “stylist” who charged me E27 for 15 minutes work, 5 minutes of cutting and 10 minutes of him talking – about himself. The cut was good, (difficult really, to mess up a buzz cut) but E27 was outrageous. Walking about my neighbourhood I stumbled upon the chain Marco Aldany. Very nice facilities and E12 for the cut. Price/Value getting better but still not where I thought it ought to be. One day I cycled down to the El Born district. Eureka! Barber shops everywhere: “Haircut E5″. Then I spotted one at E4. Is it possible? How could you earn a decent living charging E4 a cut?
12 years ago Umair Qamar M.Sc.(Eng) arrived in Barcelona from his hometown state of Gujarat, India. Like so many, Umair came to Barcelona with high hopes and dreams. He wanted badly to be an engineer. For 2 years he pounded the pavement in search of a job. He took on odd jobs to earn enough income to survive, not once ever depending on any government handouts. His tireless search for employment was fruitless. He came to the realization that he would not be able to use his professional engineering skills. So what to do?
Umair’s father has owned and operated a small 1 seat barber shop in Gujarat for 57 years. His dad has cut over 500,000 heads of hair in his career. His dad charges 1E equivalent per cut and the seat in his shop is always filled. He does about 30 cuts a day earning E40 – E50 equivalent a day with tips – a very good income for the area.
Umair had a thought. If my dad can earn a good wage, support his family, have disposable income for the occasional holiday and be liked by everybody – why not give it a try.
Umair had saved enough money to rent out a small shop in the El Born. He painted the premises, cleaned and made it spotless. He bought a used chair in good condition. He had only one question before opening his doors for business. What do I charge? Umair spent the next couple of days scoping out the competition. He concluded that all the shops were basically the same. So how could he differentiate himself from the others? A call to his dad and he had the answers.
(His dad’s answers, slightly adapted)
#1 “Dress for success! Wear a nicely pressed pair of pants and a clean shirt. Make sure to be well coiffed, after all you are a barber. Be clean-shaven. Smell clean and fresh.”
#2 “Keep the store not just clean, but extra clean. Show your customers you care.”
#3 “Keep your price just below the competition and offer more. Finish each cut with a 2 minute Indian head massage. The customers will leave with a big smile. They will tell their friends to come. You will earn extra income from tips.”
#4 “Cut with intensity and precision. Make sure every line is straight and never ever miss a hair. Triple check your work.”
#5 “Have interesting wisdom to share with your clients. Read a lot. Be a good listener.”
#6 “Work hard long hours each and every day. 7 days a week. 9am till 9pm. One hour for lunch to regain your strength and focus.”
#7 “Be courteous to all in your neighbourhood, they will become your customers.”
#8 “Remember your customer’s names. Greet them with a big smile and hello. Thank them for coming when they leave. They will feel special.”
#9 “Exercise daily. Your mind and body will need it.”
#10 “Invest in a comfortable pair of dress shoes.”
Fast forward to the present. Umair owns 3 barber shops. He is married with 4 children. He takes 2 weeks holiday per year. He cuts on average 40 heads a day. His overhead is negligible. Do the math, he’s earning a very good living. In his spare time he uses his engineering expertise to fix electronic equipment for others.
“My goal is to cut 500,000 heads just like my father. I will have earned a very good honest living through hard work.” Umair said. He added:” Make your customers happy, they will always return and bring friends.”
Simple sage advice…
For about thirteen years after they first start school, most Western children engage in their life’s most intense period of knowledge gathering. Yet many finish their secondary education without the ability to objectively analyse that vast trove of knowledge. That’s because the emphasis of most formal education systems is on teaching children how to acquire knowledge, rather than how to evaluate it. That skill, essential for making informed judgements, is called “critical thinking.”
Not all schools are the same, of course. Some do build critical thinking into the curriculum, and their students benefit from it while studying and throughout their lives. But, if we’re not lucky enough to have attended one of those schools, can we learn critical thinking later in life? There’s no doubt that we can. We just need to learn and practice the following five basic techniques:
#1 Be sceptical.
Intelligent scepticism means not blindly accepting other people’s opinions. We respect those views because we assume that they’re based on objective evaluation and analysis. Yet we allow for the possibility that they’re methods were not sufficiently thorough. In any case, we know that, even with the same data, we may well come to different conclusions
#2 Examine ourselves.
Our first response to solving a new problem is to rely on knowledge we already have. Unless the issue is very simple, however, that existing knowledge is unlikely to be adequate, objective, and specific to the new problem simply because the problem is new. Relying on our existing knowledge is partly an evolutionary reflex response and it is vital in a crisis, especially when further information is not readily available. In non-crisis situations, however, we seldom have to rely solely on our existing knowledge. Yet people attempt to solve problems every day with just that knowledge. Not surprisingly, it rarely produces satisfactory results. Critical thinkers solve new problems by examining the accuracy and objectivity of their existing information, and then obtain whatever new data they need to make a final judgement.
#3 Examine our audience.
This is an extension of examining ourselves because we sometimes let our audience affect our thinking. We may tweak the information to match what the audience likes to hear in order to massage our egos, or to elicit a specific response that benefits us. This may be dishonest, but it doesn’t mean it lacks critical thinking. The lack of critical thinking happens when we do this unconsciously, when we’re not aware that the audience is influencing the way we think.
#4 Examine our own prejudices.
Related to the second technique above, we must have the unbiased information in order to make informed decisions. Yet some of our sincere beliefs may be flawed or even wrong. It’s confronting to challenge those beliefs, but it’s crucial for critical thinking.
#5 We should not be afraid of not knowing.
Few things get in the way of critical thinking more effectively than ego. Ego stops us saying, “I don’t know,” sometimes even to ourselves. Ego tells us that such admissions are signs of weakness. In reality, they’re merely telling the truth. (See my blog “Pitch and Toss – business Presentations and Preparedness.”) The truth is a great mind cleanser; it eliminates confusing mental garbage. The biblical advice “the truth will set you free” is spot on. Unless we are honest with ourselves, we will never be free to think critically.
To sum up:
When we have to make important decisions, we must never rush the process regardless of the time pressure. We should put our egos aside and examine the arguments, both for and against, with healthy scepticism. If necessary, we should gather relevant additional information to help in our decision process. Finally, we need to pause, stand back, and carefully reflect on the overall issue, whatever it may be, before reaching our conclusion. That is the basis of critical thinking. It takes time, but by taking our time, we avoid wasting our time and that of others.
P.S. Happy Canada Day!
By Jeff Robinson
At the World Cup in Brazil, the top football superstars are demonstrating their rare mental and physical abilities. But it is the strikers’ skills that stand out and excite our imaginations. These brilliant athletes constantly compute every other player’s location on the field and the ball’s trajectory like master chess players, but with the speed of a supercomputer. Each striker is primed, waiting to deliver a deadly shot at goal when the moment presents itself. When it does, he blocks out all other thoughts and focuses solely on his body, the ball, and the goal. You have to feel sorry for the goalkeeper.
Analogies with team sports are common in business. Successful companies, like successful football squads, are blends of magical teamwork, inspiring leadership, and individual brilliance. In business, entrepreneurs are the strikers. They’re the ones who deliver the goals and do it by focusing on one task at a time. They may appear to multitask because they are always clearly aware of all the jobs in their schedules. But they process each one separately, and, when they do, they give each one their full and undivided attention. That’s a form of strategic, operational focus.
Strategic operational focus doesn’t happen merely by deciding to focus on a particular task instead of on others. Most of us have many potential work-related tasks that we could perform at any given time. The problem is that all those tasks create a confusing drone of “background noise” in our minds while we’re trying to deal with any one of them. Too much of our attention is taken up with worries about the other tasks we need to carry out, and often we’re not even clear which tasks really have to be done. Not surprisingly, we have difficulty deciding which task we should do first, so we usually take the easy way out and pick the least demanding one. Our minds are like an untidy house where finding anything is a time-consuming, daunting chore. (See my blog “Clutter – The Invisible Chains That Impede Our Success.”) In that inefficient scenario, it’s impossible to fully focus on any one task, so each one takes longer to complete and rarely turns out as well as it could. Luckily, there’s a simple solution.
We need to adopt a strategy similar to that of the great football strikers. They’re acutely aware of everything happening around them, yet become instantly laser focused when called on to perform their primary task – shooting at goal. For business people, it’s a straightforward three-step strategy that each of us can easily implement. First, we must make a list of all the tasks that need to be carried out. Second, with an erasable felt-tip marker, we must write the most urgent of those tasks – preferably no more than six – on a small white board positioned near our desk. This board and its urgent list of tasks should be permanently and easily visible to us as we work. A computer or other electronic device is not suitable for this purpose.
Those first two steps have near magical properties because they clarify our entire task schedule and eliminate the confusing background noise. With that mental clarity, we can take the final crucial step, namely, fully focusing on whichever single task we decide to tackle. That’s how smart entrepreneurs build successful businesses and great football players reach the World Cup.
P.S. I just finished reading two great books I highly recommend:
#1 The Obstacle Is the Way by Ryan Holiday
#2 Think Like a Freak by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner
P.S.S. I’m super excited to be moving into our new offices in Barcelona. If you are a local or visiting from out-of-town, shoot me a note – it would be pleasure to show you what we are up to. And yes, whiteboards are everywhere in the office.
A business presentation is a powerful tool. When it’s delivered by a top-class presenter to an important audience, it can motivate staff, encourage partners, excite customers, and reassure investors. But a presentation is a double-edged sword, as dangerous as it is valuable. In the wrong hands it can frighten off investors and customers, demoralize partners, and demotivate staff.
The game of pitch-and-toss is a good metaphor for a business presentation because it combines skill and luck. The player who pitches a coin nearest to a mark earns the right to toss the other players’ coins into the air and wins the ones that land heads up. In business presentations, pitching the message close to the mark is vital. It means the message is clear and clicks with the audience. That never happens by chance. What happens by chance is the audience response. A good presenter anticipates much of that response through thorough preparation. Continue reading »
By Jeff Robinson
I have a friend who ran his own business for eleven years. Each year, the company’s profits grew, and in the tenth year, it employed over a hundred people. In the eleventh year, its two biggest customers went out of business because of the recession. A year later, the company went bust. What struck me most at the time was that, despite the fact that my friend had created the business from nothing, built it into a successful company, and that its collapse had nothing to do with him, he regarded himself as a failure.
I know other people whose businesses failed due to circumstances similarly outside their control, but who never felt like failures. I also know a few who failed because of their own bad management, but who believed they were in no way to blame. Continue reading »
By Jeff Robinson
Barcelona is a beautiful city. The citizens, weather, cuisine, arts and culture and beaches are just some of the ingredients that make it so special. Barcelona is on most everybody’s travel destination bucket list.
I moved to Barcelona in late 2010. The economy was indeed suffering. You couldn’t have a conversation with a local without hearing the word “crisis”. My contrarian mind began to machinate. Where are the opportunities?
Why do I think real estate prices are ready to rise, dramatically? Continue reading »
When we leave our house, we lock the doors and turn on the alarm. If we wander into a rundown neighborhood in a strange city, we become wary, especially after dark. Yet, when we go online, many of us throw caution to the wind and act as if the worst thing that could happen to us is boredom.
With its estimated ten billion networked computers and other devices, the Internet forms an environment so vast and complex that, even if humans were able to adequately police it and prevent malicious activity (which seems highly unlikely), we could never be certain no vulnerabilities remained. The system’s constant growth coupled with smarter criminals makes the Internet simultaneously more useful and more dangerous. Continue reading »