TMF Interview: Burton Malkiel

Princeton professor Burton Malkiel is the author of the best-selling classic A Random Walk Down Wall Street, now in its eighth revised printing. Malkiel recently chatted with David and Tom Gardner on The Motley Fool Radio Show. We weren't able to broadcast their whole discussion, so we're publishing it in its entirety here, exclusively on Fool.com. This is the final installment; the others are linked in the box on the right.

TMF: Professor Malkiel, what is one thing you now know about investing that you wish you knew 30 years ago when you first wrote your book?

Malkiel: Well, I wish 30 years ago that there had been index funds. When I first wrote the book, there were none. There were no money market funds. There weren't Roth IRAs. There weren't 529 college savings plans so that I could have stashed some money away and let it accumulate tax free to send a kid to college. Those are the things that I wish I knew 30 years ago. I think I have the same idea of how you ought to invest as I had 30 years ago, but one of the reasons that I keep putting new editions of the book out is that the instruments all change. One of the things that the book does is keep people current with what are the current rules about retirement plans and what are the current instruments that are available for investors.

TMF: Let's call this one our obligatory monkey anti-defamation question. Talking profits and primates for a second, Dr. Malkiel, you once said that a blindfolded monkey throwing darts at a newspaper's financial pages could select a portfolio that would do just as well as one carefully selected by the experts. Why are monkeys being blindfolded, though? Why can't they take off the blindfolds and make their own picks? Why do we keep doing that to monkeys?

Malkiel: I think it is extremely unfair and I may be partly responsible for it. Let me tell you, when you have got the blindfold on, the monkey may miss the stock pitch completely. So, I will accept that criticism and agree with you entirely.

TMF: Now we go to our game "Buy, Sell or Hold," where we present you with something going on in society and we ask you, Professor, if it were a stock... would you be buying, selling, or holding going forward and one sentence as to why. We will begin with buy, sell, or hold the performance of Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan.

Malkiel: Oh, buy. I think he has really done an outstanding job.

TMF: Buy, sell, or hold the future of China?

Malkiel: I would buy that as well. This is, I know they have got a lot of problems now with this SARS and I think it will affect their rate of growth over the short term, but I think that if I were to pick one economy that was going to be the high-growth economy of the future, I would pick China.

TMF: Buy, sell, or hold reality television today?

Malkiel: I would say sell. The reason goes right back to our discussion about Krispy Kreme(NYSE: KKD) and stocks that are associated with the latest fashion. I think this is a near-term fascination and it will wear off so I say sell.

TMF: You don't know how much those words hurt my brother Tom.

Malkiel: Well, I'm sorry.

TMF: I just think reality television is going to replace all those sitcoms that Tony Danza had in the 1970s and I think that is a good thing.

Malkiel: They will for a while, but then there will be a new new thing.

TMF: So, don't underestimate the long-term staying power of the Danza. Buy, sell, or hold -- someone suggested that it might be the next bubble to burst -- the real estate market. 

Malkiel: I don't think this is a bubble. There is no question that real estate prices have been rising somewhat more rapidly than people's incomes and I expect the growth of home prices to flatten out in the future. But I don't think it is a bubble and I still think that real estate is a reasonable investment. Real estate should be more highly priced now because mortgage rates are lower. 

TMF: Buy sell, or hold the future of democracy in the Middle East?

Malkiel: That is really a tough one. I am going to say buy, but maybe I am voting with my heart. Certainly, the television images we have seen recently of cheering Iraqis when they thought that they could cheer without being shot in the back was awfully heartening for me. It is going to be difficult. Maybe I am voting with my heart, but I say buy.

TMF: Just a couple more. Burton Malkiel, you are after all a professor at Princeton, an Ivy League school. Buy, sell, or hold the value of an Ivy League education?

Malkiel: Well, again I have got a conflict of interest there obviously, but I think...

TMF: We see you as objective enough. We would like to know what you think the relative value is given the tuition fees vs. going to a state school?

Malkiel: Look, I think there are many wonderful state schools and I think for most individuals they should not feel because they didn't get into Princeton that their life is ruined. There are many, many great schools. I am not going to tell you that a Princeton education isn't great, it is great; but there are lots of great schools including a lot of state schools, a lot of schools that charge much less tuition and it matters much less what school you go to than it does when you get there try to take as much advantage as you can what the school has to offer.

TMF: You are a professor at Princeton, he was a professor at Princeton. Buy, sell or hold the economic wisdom of Albert Einstein? You know, we frequently hear that Einstein said that the greatest miracle that he encountered was compound interest. Did he ever say that really?

Malkiel: You know, it is interesting. I think I have used that, and he is absolutely right. That is again for the 20-year-olds. Start saving now because even at 6% to 7% interest rates, in 30 or 40 years you are going to have a lot of money. I believe Einstein did say that and I can't give you the citation, but I believe he said it was the greatest force in the world.

TMF: OK. Last one. He is one of New Jersey's favorite sons and most famous residents. So, Dr. Malkiel, buy, sell, or hold Bruce Springsteen?

Malkiel: Oh, The Boss? Buy. Absolutely. I love him.

TMF: You have made our radio producer the happiest man in the state of Virginia with that. Burton Malkiel is a professor at Princeton University. He is the author of the best-selling book, A Random Walk Down Wall Street, highly recommended by the hosts of this program. Professor Malkiel, thanks for joining us on The Motley Fool Radio Show.

Malkiel: Dave and Tom, thank you so much. Great questions.


Read/Post Comments (0) | Recommend This Article (0)

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.

Be the first one to comment on this article.

DocumentId: 1141367, ~/Articles/ArticleHandler.aspx, 4/16/2014 12:37:55 PM

Report This Comment

Use this area to report a comment that you believe is in violation of the community guidelines. Our team will review the entry and take any appropriate action.

Sending report...