8 Fascinating Reads

Good reads, short quotes.

Morgan Housel
Morgan Housel
Apr 18, 2014 at 12:15PM

There are more good articles on the Web every week than anyone could read in a month. Here are eight fascinating things I read this week.

A private equity firm uses a personality test to hire workers, finding it more effective than typical credentials:

One of Vista's best software salesmen used to be a roofer. Another previously worked at a Verizon store, and went to making $240,000 a year, from $22,000. In Iowa, a pizza deliveryman took the Vista aptitude test, got an A, and was offered a job paying $43,000 annually.

Not only are many of these workers less expensive than their better-credentialed peers, but to Mr. Smith, they are often more driven to succeed. And employing them, he believes, provides a social good.

Clocking in
A lot of people say we have a skills shortage. But ask American businesses, and what we really have is an effort shortage. Businesses say one of the greatest problems is finding punctual workers:

As one analyst sarcastically put it, basically nobody got into Stanford this year. There are a lot of good stats in this article:  

Stanford received 42,167 applications for the class of 2018 and sent 2,138 acceptance notices, for a first-year class that, ultimately, will number about 1,700.

The University of California, Los Angeles, the national leader in applications, had more than 86,000 requests -- twice as many as in 2005 -- for space in a first-year class of about 6,000, and it also received 19,000 applications to transfer from other colleges and universities. This year, for the first time, the admission rate for first-year applicants at U.C.L.A. and the University of California, Berkeley, could drop below 20 percent.

Warren Buffett is tired of hotels jacking up prices during Berkshire Hathaway's (NYSE:BRK-B) annual meeting in Omaha. This year he has a recommendation: AirBnB. 

The billionaire investor is planning to mention the website at Berkshire Hathaway's upcoming annual shareholders' meeting on May 3 as a low-cost alternative for shareholders who don't want to pay the jacked-up rates that Omaha hotels charge while the gathering is taking place every year ...

Mr. Buffett, who said he's a bit of a "mother bear [who] can get fierce about protecting shareholders," said in a recent interview he thought Airbnb could provide a cheaper option. "I want to protect my cubs, make sure shareholders are well taken care of," he said.

Young money
Millennials -- those born between the early 1980s and early 2000s -- are viewed as a broke generation, drowning in student loan debt and a sour job market. But a lot of them are doing just fine:

A report from The Shullman Research Center, titled "Millionaires Have Their Own Generation Gap," found that 23 percent of today's millionaires are millennials. There are now about 5 million millennial millionaires. That's half as many as the boomers. But it's more than the older and more established Gen-Xers, who count only 4 million millionaires among their ranks.

Tracking your performance as an investor is really important. Amazingly, a lot of smart people don't do it. Here's recent Nobel Prize winner Robert Shiller:

Q: Do you think of yourself as someone smart enough to pick winners in the stock market?

A: Well, I actually think I'm smart enough to pick winners. I've always believed in value investing. Some stocks just get talked about, and people pay all sorts of attention to them, and everyone wants to invest in them, and they bid the price up and they are no longer a good buy. Other stocks, they are boring. There is no news about them -- they are making toilet paper or something like that -- and their price gets too low. So as a matter of routine, you buy low-priced stocks and sell high-priced stocks.

Q: What's your personal track record: Are you more up than down?

A: I have never done a personal analysis. I have to do that. But I believe that I've done well in timing the market, although not perfectly.

Many are thrilled at the prospects of America becoming energy independent. Some think that's a fantasy:

As the EIA explains at length here, you need to lay on a whole bunch of assumptions to get to zero net imports. Oil prices would have to stay high enough that companies find it profitable to seek out difficult deposits. Offshore fields in the Gulf Coast and elsewhere would need to have more recoverable oil than forecasters currently think -- and these areas still haven't been explored very thoroughly. Drilling technology would also need to continue to improve, with companies able to pack more wells closer together in oil and gas fields.

Some experts are skeptical that drilling productivity will keep improving so dramatically. Case in point: David Hughes, a geoscientist at the Post Carbon Institute, has argued that individual fracking wells are declining more quickly than people thought -- which will make it harder to increase overall production. Other energy analysts think that oil forecasting is more akin to astrology than science, and we shouldn't put much stock in any medium-term predictions of these sorts.

Satirical site The Onion writes about the job market of yesteryear:

According to a Gallup report published Tuesday, over 95 percent of the nation's grandfathers began their careers by walking straight into a place of business, saying "I'm the man for the job," and receiving a position right there on the spot. "I just went right up to the owner, looked him dead in the eye, and told him I was the person he was looking for," said 78-year-old William Chambers, whose story was nearly identical to accounts given by thousands of other grandfathers interviewed for the report, each of whom emphasized that they placed both their hands firmly on the businessman's desk, explained that they were "go-getters," and concluded by saying that, if hired, they would be the hardest worker the company had ever seen. "Right away, the fellow told me he liked my gumption, and then we sealed it all with a handshake. I had that job until the day I retired."

Enjoy your weekend.