#92 - Andrew Tobias - “There Are Just A Few Things You Really Need to Know About Investing, and They Don't Ever Change"

52 minutes

In Episode 92, we welcome investor, author, and activist, Andrew Tobias.

Meb starts by asking Andy about his background and introduction to investing. Andy gives us his origin story, with highlights including collecting stamps, an early introduction to the stock market, a trip behind the Iron Curtain which led to a brief dalliance with Communism, then his becoming a paper millionaire due to some creative accounting (then those monies disappearing). It’s a fascinating look back.

Next, Meb recalls a survey we conducted some quarters ago, soliciting readers’ favorite investing books of all time. Andy’s book from 1978, The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need, turned out to be high on that list. Meb asks Andy to explain the thesis of the original book, and whether there have been any significant changes in subsequent editions.

Andy tells us “There are just a few things you really need to know about investing, and they don’t ever change. The problem is it’s hard to get people to really grab onto them.” He goes on to say that investing isn’t like cooking or chess, where the more you read/learn, the better. Instead, with investing, the more you read, the more you can get yourself into trouble. He gives us an example using commodity speculating. Given that so much about investing remains constant, Andy’s revisions in subsequent editions haven’t been too substantial.

Meb pushes a bit more, asking if there’s any subject about which Andy has changed his mind since the original publication.

Andy tells us he’s become a bigger fan of special opportunity investing. Most people aren’t looking for this type of thing. So, Andy discusses putting 80% of your portfolio into inexpensive index funds, but spreading the remaining 20% over 5-6 really interesting, exciting speculations. Most will go to $0, but maybe you hit with one or two, and those proceeds offset the losses and more. Plus, this satisfies the need to have something more exciting to do with your money.

Meb agrees with this idea, and asks about Andy’s speculative process – is it rooted in quant or is there a discretionary component? Andy answers by giving us an example with Support.com.

Next, the guys discuss valuations, comparing where we are now to where we were back in the early ‘80s. It seems we’re flip-flopped a bit in terms of interest rates and equity valuations.

This segues into private investing, with Andy telling us about how came to own farmland. Turned out to be a great investment, buying at $500 an acre and selling years later at $3K an acre. Meb agrees farmland is a great asset class, but it’s hard to allocate toward.

This dovetails into a few other private investments in which Andy has participated, most notably “Honest Tea,” which was purchased by Coca Cola, as well as a small, musical comedy, which went on to play on multiple continents over many years.

The guys bounce around a bit here, discussing the need to spread your bets in private market investing… lockups… the benefit of illiquidity… binary thinking… Andy’s firsthand experience with selling way too early…

There’s plenty more in this episode, including Andy’s concerns for our existential future, his most memorable trade, and finally, a product he endorses which might help tackle dementia and improve reflexes. Apparently, Tom Brady swears by it.

What are the details? Find out in Episode 92.

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