Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Random Walk Down Wall Street: Chapter 11

Though not exactly a book related to value investing, this oft-cited work of Princeton economist Burton Malkiel discusses many important features of stock market investing. An understanding of its prime contentions is useful for beginners and experts alike.

The author discusses various investment options that individual investors have at their disposal. Insurance is discussed, and within this section, the various types of insurance in which individuals should "invest", depending on their situations. Bonds (both investment grade, and junk), money-market funds and real-estate (both as the investor's home, and in the form of Real Estate Investment Trusts) are discussed as asset classes in which investors should participate. Malkiel also discusses the various tax deferral and (legal) avoidance strategies that are available to US investors (IRAs, Roth IRAs, Keogh Plans, annuities).

Malkiel also discusses how investors can protect against inflation. While he believes common stocks and real estate are the best hedges against inflation, Malkiel does not buy into the idea that investors should buy "things" like art, commodities and other assets for this purpose. For one thing, relying on a greater fool (who will buy the "thing" back later) is risky, while common stocks and real estate offer a claim on real cash flow. At the same time, Malkiel advocates that gold constitutes a part of the investor's total portfolio as a diversification mechanism because of its tendency to have low correlation with the US market. Treasury Inflation-Protection Securities are also discussed as inflation hedges.

Malkiel finishes with a word on commissions. There are many methods to buy the various securities that are available to investors, and some will charge more than others. Searching around for the best commission can result in shaving several percentage points from the fees investors pay. The discount brokerage business, for example, is extremely competitive, and doing a bit of research can go a long way towards achieving strong returns.

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