Monday, June 9, 2014

Brown and Macke, Clash of the Financial Pundits

Clash of the Financial Pundits: How the Media Influences Your Investment Decisions for Better or Worse by Joshua M. Brown and Jeff Macke (McGraw-Hill, 2014) is a book by financial pundits about financial pundits. It alternates between reflections on the financial media (I assume written by Josh Brown) and interviews conducted by Jeff Macke. The interviewees are Jim Rogers, Ben Stein, Karen Finerman, Henry Blodget, Herb Greenberg, James Altucher, Barry Ritholtz, and Jim Cramer.

Since both authors are members of the financial media (Brown is author of The Reform Broker blog and a regular contributor to CNBC, Macke is the host of Breakout on Yahoo Finance), the reader can’t expect to be told: “just turn off the news.” Instead, the authors try to explain which pundits may be worth listening to and which ones are just noise, or worse.

For investors who are not intrinsically skeptical and who have no idea of how to separate the wheat from the chaff, the authors offer a few good pointers. For the rest of us—hardened, cynical folk that we are, the interviews offer some good tidbits.

The book has a strange subtext, along the lines of “I once was lost but now I’m found.” Jeff Macke recounts his career-killing “Car People” episode on the now defunct evening program CNBC Reports and his subsequent emotional descent and recovery. And he interviews three insiders who to a greater or lesser degree faced their own professional crises: Henry Blodget, banned from the securities industry but now the editor and CEO of Business Insider; Jim Cramer, who took a drubbing on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show; and James Altucher, who seems to specialize in failing and bouncing back—and writing about it.

Whom do I personally consider worth listening to? First, those who readily admit they don’t know the answer. Bob Shiller comes to mind here. Second, those who move markets, such as David Tepper. And third, those who are both bright and entertaining, with Warren Buffett being perhaps the prime example. I assiduously avoid Cassandras, dim bulbs, and pompous pretenders—and does that ever save me a lot of time!

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