Long-Term Thinking: 1800-2013


Jan 3, 2014 at 11:18AM

Long-Term Thinking died on Tuesday. His last true friend, Vanguard founder Jack Bogle, was at his side. He was 213 years old.

Long-Term Thinking lived an illustrious life since the start of the Industrial Revolution, when for the first time, people could think about more than their next meal. But poor incentives and the rise of 24/7 media chipped away at his health. The final blow came Monday, when a trader on CNBC warned that a 10% market pullback -- which has occurred on average every 11 months over the last century -- could be "devastating" for investors. "That's it," Long-Term Thinking whispered from his hospital bed. "There's no more room for me here." He died soon after Bloomberg published its daily tally of how much the net worths of the world's billionaires changed in the previous 24 hours.

Long-Term Thinking endured the Great Depression, world wars, and spiking interest rates in the 1980s. But the last five years proved too much, as he fought for relevance with cable news, Twitter, and derivatives. He was hospitalized in May 2010 after pundits lost their collective minds over a "flash crash" that made a few stock prices freeze up for 17 minutes. "Computers froze for seventeen minutes and they literally think American industry vanished," Long-Term Thinking told his psychiatrist. "These people are insane."

Fifty years ago, the average stock was held for more than eight years, according to LPL Financial. By 2010, the average stock was owned for five days. Fifteen years ago, S&P 500 companies spent more than 40% of available cash flow on capital investments. That fell to just over 25% by 2007, with the difference going mostly to share buybacks, likely to boost option-based compensation. "Our culture has an endemic problem of short-term thinking," Long Term said in his final speech in November. "Years have become months, months have become days, days have become milliseconds, and milliseconds have become careers. However much you think you're winning in the short run, you're losing in the long run."

Long-Term frequently blamed media. Louis Rukeyser's Wall Street Week went off the air the same year Mad Money, Jim Cramer's daily investment show, debuted. The number of important financial events hasn't changed since Rukeyser could cover a whole week's news in an hour -- just the amount of drivel, gossip, nonsense, and hyperbole. It was too much for Long-Term Thinking to handle. Once the bastion of rational thought, he became the laughingstock of the financial world, repeatedly teased for his indifference to candlestick charts and the 50-day moving average.

Some mourned his passing. Peter Burton, a hedge fund manager from Greenwich, Conn., said, "It's sad to see him go. Everyone in my field knows he was right. With our own money, we think years out in the future. But with clients' money, I have three months to be correct, or I'm out of a job." Shaking his head, he continued: "The dirtiest secret in finance is that few of us are incentivized to do what's right. Your pension fund, your 401(k), and your kids' college funds probably have a time horizon measured in decades. But you pay me based on how I perform against my peers every 90 days. It's such a joke."

In lieu of flowers, his family asks that you turn off CNBC and stop checking your brokerage account. 

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Contact Morgan Housel at mhousel@fool.com. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

4 in 5 Americans Are Ignoring Buffett's Warning

Don't be one of them.

Jun 12, 2015 at 5:01PM

Admitting fear is difficult.

So you can imagine how shocked I was to find out Warren Buffett recently told a select number of investors about the cutting-edge technology that's keeping him awake at night.

This past May, The Motley Fool sent 8 of its best stock analysts to Omaha, Nebraska to attend the Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholder meeting. CEO Warren Buffett and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger fielded questions for nearly 6 hours.
The catch was: Attendees weren't allowed to record any of it. No audio. No video. 

Our team of analysts wrote down every single word Buffett and Munger uttered. Over 16,000 words. But only two words stood out to me as I read the detailed transcript of the event: "Real threat."

That's how Buffett responded when asked about this emerging market that is already expected to be worth more than $2 trillion in the U.S. alone. Google has already put some of its best engineers behind the technology powering this trend. 

The amazing thing is, while Buffett may be nervous, the rest of us can invest in this new industry BEFORE the old money realizes what hit them.

KPMG advises we're "on the cusp of revolutionary change" coming much "sooner than you think."

Even one legendary MIT professor had to recant his position that the technology was "beyond the capability of computer science." (He recently confessed to The Wall Street Journal that he's now a believer and amazed "how quickly this technology caught on.")

Yet according to one J.D. Power and Associates survey, only 1 in 5 Americans are even interested in this technology, much less ready to invest in it. Needless to say, you haven't missed your window of opportunity. 

Think about how many amazing technologies you've watched soar to new heights while you kick yourself thinking, "I knew about that technology before everyone was talking about it, but I just sat on my hands." 

Don't let that happen again. This time, it should be your family telling you, "I can't believe you knew about and invested in that technology so early on."

That's why I hope you take just a few minutes to access the exclusive research our team of analysts has put together on this industry and the one stock positioned to capitalize on this major shift.

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David Hanson owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway and American Express. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway, Google, and Coca-Cola.We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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