8 Fascinating Reads

There are more good news articles, commentaries, and analyst reports on the Web every week than anyone could read in a month. Here are eight fascinating ones I read this week.

Worldly wisdom
Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-B) vice-chairman Charlie Munger recently gave a talk at the Daily Journal Corp. shareholder meeting. The blog Farnam Street has a partial transcript. Here's a taste:

I think the idea that everybody is going to have wonderful results from investing is inherently crazy. Nobody thinks everybody is going to have wonderful results from playing poker. In the end, the wealth of the country is based on the productivity of the country, which only advances so fast. Of course, if you pay more and more people for not working, it's hard to see how that grows the productivity of the country.

What broken looks like
Steven Brill wrote a monster article in Time about America's broken system of health care billing. An example:

The family's first bill -- for $348,000 -- which arrived when Steven got home from the Seton Medical Center in Daly City, Calif., was full of all the usual chargemaster profit grabs: $18 each for 88 diabetes-test strips that Amazon sells in boxes of 50 for $27.85; $24 each for 19 niacin pills that are sold in drugstores for about a nickel apiece. There were also four boxes of sterile gauze pads for $77 each. None of that was considered part of what was provided in return for Seton's facility charge for the intensive-care unit for two days at $13,225 a day, 12 days in the critical unit at $7,315 a day and one day in a standard room (all of which totaled $120,116 over 15 days). There was also $20,886 for CT scans and $24,251 for lab work.

Funny because it could probably work
Eddy Elfenbein sarcastically writes about his plan to become a billionaire:

Step One: Form bank holding company, the Bank of Eddy.

Step Two: Borrow $470 billion from the Federal Reserve at 0%.

Step Three: Announce tender offer to buy out Apple for $500 per share.

Step Four: Once I have control of Apple, use the $140 billion in cash to buy all the mortgage debt I can possibly find. (Also, buy CNBC.)

Step Five: Every six month, IPO a different Apple division. Spin-offs, you know, outperform.

Step Six: Use proceeds to pay off the Fed.

Step Seven: Distribute the rest to Bank of Eddy shareholders minus, of course, my $10 billion fee.

Step Eight: Relax at pool.

So...who's with me?

The next boom
The American Spectator writes about America's energy miracle:

Now here's the big news. As far as tight oil is concerned, the Bakken is just square one. The Eagle Ford formation in Texas, which is just getting started, is estimated to have the same amount of reserves (3-4 billion barrels). But another 15.4 billion barrels -- 64 percent of all U.S. reserves -- lie in the Monterey formation of central California. (Why does California always get the best of everything?) If Golden State politicians allow this oil to be developed, it will be far more significant than the ANWR or the Keystone Pipeline.

The tide goes out
Wall Street isn't the magnet of America's best and brightest that it used to be, writes Reuters. Now there's a talent drain:

The issue, executives say, is not pay, but how much scope there is to innovate and build businesses, which is why more bankers and traders are leaving the big Wall Street firms for Silicon Valley, joining private investment partnerships like hedge funds and private equity funds, or going into energy and other industries.

David Boehmer, head of financial services in the Americas for the recruiting firm Heidrick & Struggles, said he hears this message from Wall Street employees looking to leave the industry.

"I get people saying, 'I'm bored and I need to do something about it-this isn't a challenge anymore,'" he said.

The problem is particularly acute for big banks such as Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS  ) or JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM  ) several senior bank chief executives, managers and consultants told Reuters in interviews at the World Economic Forum here.

"There is a massive talent drain in our business," said a senior Wall Street executive, who declined to be identified.

Money problems
Disagreements about money is highly correlated with divorce rates, as Catherine Rampell of The New York Times writes:

Moving on
Polls routinely show a majority of Americans think the country is on the wrong track. Maybe it is. But as Steven Johnson writes, a lot of things are moving in the right direction:

Over the past two decades, what have the U.S. trends been for the following important measures of social health: high school dropout rates, college enrollment, juvenile crime, drunken driving, traffic deaths, infant mortality, life expectancy, per capita gasoline consumption, workplace injuries, air pollution, divorce, male-female wage equality, charitable giving, voter turnout, per capita GDP and teen pregnancy?

The answer for all of them is the same: The trend is positive. Almost all those varied metrics of social wellness have improved by more than 20% over the past two decades. And that's not counting the myriad small wonders of modern medicine that have improved our quality of life as well as our longevity: the anti-depressants and insulin pumps and quadruple bypasses.

Still bullish
Wharton finance professor Jeremy Siegel is still bullish on stocks. Have a look at this recent interview:

Have you read anything good lately?


Read/Post Comments (5) | Recommend This Article (13)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On February 28, 2013, at 9:39 PM, ynotc wrote:

    Regarding the read on the health care system; The further removed from the purchasing process one is the more ridiculous the cost and credits.

    If anyone of us had to pay our health care as if we were shopping for a new car we would be much more concerned with the value, reliability and ultimate longevity of the product.

    Once you remove the purchaser one or two levels from the cost everyone assumes that the person further up the chain is looking out for thier self interest.

    The only one who can truly look out for your self interest is you. That is what TMF teaches regarding investing and it is a universal truth.

  • Report this Comment On March 01, 2013, at 2:43 AM, herky46q wrote:

    So much for peak oil.

  • Report this Comment On March 01, 2013, at 9:30 AM, TMFMorgan wrote:

    <<If anyone of us had to pay our health care as if we were shopping for a new car we would be much more concerned with the value, reliability and ultimate longevity of the product.>>

    Agree 100%. Although beyond being removed from the payment structure, purchasing a car and needing health care are very different transactions. If I don't like the price of a car, I can walk away, go to another dealer, maybe come back next week, etc. If I get in a car wreck and am bleeding to death on the side of the road, I have little choice. I need the care right now, at this second, end of story. The leverage is by far in the providers' hands.

  • Report this Comment On March 01, 2013, at 7:53 PM, TheRealRacc wrote:

    TMFMorgan, can you comment on how you see profit margins changing for health insurers due to potential "Obamacare" changes? I do not like when political pundits try to interject their political opinions with business assumptions, but there is heavy negative outlook on margins moving forward and I would like to know how I should be feeling about my AFL and others.

  • Report this Comment On March 04, 2013, at 3:35 PM, JustSavvy wrote:

    A particularly great week of reading, thanks.

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