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Don't Count on It!: Reflections on Investment Illusions, Capitalism, "Mutual" Funds, Indexing, Entrepreneurship, Idealism, and Heroes Hardcover – Illustrated, November 2, 2010
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Q&A with Author John C. Bogle
In Don’t Count on It, you discuss how we deceive ourselves, particularly with numbers. Can you describe what you consider to be the absolute worst illusion investors fall prey to?
The most damaging illusion for investors is their belief that they capture the stock market's return. For example, if the stock market provides an annual return of 7%, we know that the average investor's return will fall short of that by the amount of fees they pay. Those fees amount to about 2.5% annually for the typical investor, so their net return is down to 4.5%. Taxes might knock another 1% off of that, reducing the investor's annual return to 3.5% -- just half of the market's return. If you compound those figures over 50 years, $1 grows by $4.60 at 3.5%, and by $28.50 at 7%. In other words, the investor's cumulative return is less than 20% of the market's return. That's an enormous gap; one that can easily mean the difference between achieving one's long-term financial goals and falling well short of them.
If you could change just one thing about the practice of capitalism today, what would it be, and why is it the most important?
The biggest problem with capitalism today is our tremendous focus on the short-term. Institutional investors--who own 70% of our corporations--are predominantly concerned with whether or not the quarterly earnings of the companies they own will meet the stock market's expectations. As a result, our corporate managers move heaven and earth to try to meet those targets, so as to keep their firm's stock price high and maximize their stock-based compensation. But building corporate value over the long-term is hard; there are no quick or easy shortcuts. And as the past decade has demonstrated, decisions made to boost earnings and stock prices in the short-term tend to end up destroying shareholder value over the long-term. The sooner we can realign our focus from the short-term to the long-term, the better for all concerned.
What do you think about ETFs?
I like some; I am appalled by others. Specifically, I favor low cost ETFs that are focused on broadly diversified portfolios of stocks and bonds that investors can hold for a lifetime. These ETFs should provide investors with their fair share of whatever the returns our financial markets will provide. That's a winner's game.
On the other hand, I'm not happy with ETFs--the vast majority--that exist to enable investors to speculate, to play their hunches on which country or market sector will outperform or underperform over the short term. The turnover rates are enormous, holding periods are measured in mere days, and costs are far higher than those levied by broad market ETFs. That kind of speculation is a loser's game. So I believe that ETFs have the potential to play a significant role in the portfolios of long-term investors. Unfortunately, to this point their use seems to be dominated by those engaged in far more destructive investment approaches.
You talk about inspiring the next generation of leaders and your mentors in Don’t Count on It. What did your mentors have in common that you think is the most important trait in inspiring young people today? In other words, how can each of us be better mentors?
I think at the most basic level, my mentors were good people; men of strong character who loved their work. They realized that the work they did made a difference in people's lives, and they did that work with a great deal of ability, pride, and professionalism. They woke up every day and tried their best to make the world a little bit better. That's what I took away from the relationships I had with my mentors, and the extent that I've been able to emulate them, I think, explains a great deal of what I've been able to accomplish in my own career.
My views on mentoring have a lot in common with the themes of Don't Count on It. That is, these relationships are largely built upon trust, and attempts to quantify them are doomed to failure. Mentoring, in my mind, is less about helping someone fill out a checklist of accomplishments, and much more about passing along the immeasurable qualities one needs to be successful in their field --character, professionalism, honesty, intellectual curiosity, even humor. If you possess sufficient amounts of those characteristics, you're likely to be successful in whatever field you work in.
Praise for Don't Count On It!
"This collection of Jack Bogle's writings couldn't be more timely. The clarity of his thinking—and his insistence on the relevance of ethical standards—are totally relevant as we strive to rebuild a broken financial system. For too many years, his strong voice has been lost amid the cacophony of competing self-interests, misdirected complexity, and unbounded greed. Read, learn, and support Jack's mission to reform the industry that has been his life's work."
—PAUL VOLCKER, Chairman of the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board and former Chairman of the Federal Reserve (1979–1987)
"Jack Bogle has given investors throughout the world more wisdom and plain financial 'horse sense' than any person in the history of markets. This compendium of his best writings, particularly his post-crisis guidance, is absolutely essential reading for investors and those who care about the future of our society."
—ARTHUR LEVITT, former Chairman, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
"Jack Bogle is one of the most lucid men in finance."
—NASSIM N.TALEB, PhD, author of The Black Swan
"Jack Bogle is one of the financial wise men whose experience spans the post–World War II years. This book, encompassing his insights on financial behavior, pitfalls, and remedies, with a special focus on mutual funds, is an essential read. We can only benefit from his observations."
—HENRY KAUFMAN, President, Henry Kaufman & Company, Inc.
"It was not an easy sell. The joke at first was that only finance professors invested in Vanguard's original index fund. But what a triumph it has been. And what a focused and passionate drive it took: it is a zero-sum game and only costs are certain. Thank you, Jack."
—JEREMY GRANTHAM, Cofounder and Chairman, GMO
"On finance, Jack Bogle thinks unconventionally. So, this sound rebel turns out to be right most of the time. Meanwhile, many of us sometimes engage in self-deception. So, this book will set us straight. And in the last few pages, Jack writes, and I agree, that Peter Bernstein was a giant. So is Jack Bogle."
—JEAN-MARIE EVEILLARD, Senior Adviser, First Eagle Investment Management
Insights into investing and leadership from the founder of The Vanguard Group
Throughout his legendary career, John Bogle-founder of the Vanguard mutual fund group and creator of the first index mutual fund-has helped investors build wealth the right way, while, at the same time, leading a tireless campaign to restore common sense to the investment world.
A collection of essays based on speeches delivered to professional groups and college students in recent years, in Don't Count on It is organized around eight themes
- Illusion versus reality in investing
- Indexing to market returns
- Failures of capitalism
- The flawed structure of the mutual fund industry
- The spirit of entrepreneurship
- What is enough in business, and in life
- Advice to America's future leaders
- The unforgettable characters who have shaped his career
Widely acclaimed for his role as the conscience of the mutual fund industry and a relentless advocate for individual investors, in Don't Count on It, Bogle continues to inspire, while pushing the mutual fund industry to measure up to their promise.
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"If Bogle writes it, it’s worth reading. His latest, Don’t Count On It, is a collection of 35 essays, every one of them filled with wisdom and insight. . . While I have read Bogle’s views on these issues many times, I’m always impressed with the quality of his writing (Where else can you read quotations from Adam Smith to Winston Churchill to Cato?), the wit and humility he shows and his passion to help investors. The book is a compelling read, one that in effect tells the story and mission of a great man. We’re lucky and privileged to have him fighting on our side. As Bogle noted in his book, Machiavelli “described the accumulation of worldly ‘glory’ as the motivating principle that drives leaders to undertake ‘great enterprises’ and do ‘great things’ on behalf of their fellow citizens and not just themselves.” Hard to find a better description of Bogle himself." (MarketWatch)
“Mr Bogle’s prescription for a better system is relatively simple: to demand proper fiduciary management from money managers. They must prioritise client interests, act as responsible corporate citizens, charge reasonable fees and eliminate conflicts of interest. Amen to that. It may sound like nostalgia from an old-timer, or idealism from a visionary. But without such changes, investors and society will continue to be short-changed as the financial community carries on regardless.” (Financial Times)
“In Don’t Count on It! Reflections on Investment Illusions, Capitalism, “Mutual” Funds, Indexing, Entrepreneurship, Idealism, and Heroes, Bogle hammers at what he labels the cost matters hypothesis: Whether markets are efficient or inefficient, investors as a group must fall short of the market return by precisely the amount of the aggregate costs they incur. It is the central fact of investing. Not surprisingly, the book deals extensively with the low-cost innovation for which Vanguard is best known: the stock index mutual fund. When the company first made indexing available to small investors in 1975, critics derided the notion as “Bogle’s folly.” To Bogle, however, the benefits to investors were irrefutable. . . The impact of indexing has been so great that a second, hugely important contribution by Vanguard has been overshadowed. Vanguard originated the now standard segmentation of bond funds into short-, intermediate-, and long-term varieties. Bogle was enshrined in the Fixed Income Analysts Society Hall of Fame for this innovation. The author of Don’t Count on It! does not dwell on such honors, which include being named one of the world’s 100 most powerful and influential people by Time magazine. In fact, Bogle devotes the final section of his book to tributes to four of his own heroes: Walter Morgan, economist Paul Samuelson, investment guru Peter Bernstein, and Dr. Bernard Lown, a Nobel laureate whom he credits with keeping him alive in defiance of a mystifying heart ailment. Bogle also shows modesty in sharing credit for his contributions to the field and in downplaying his own theoretical expertise. His unashamed display of such old-fashioned virtues, as well as his heretical view that running a business is not entirely about maximizing the wealth of the owners, has earned him the nickname ‘St. Jack.’” (Financial Analysts Journal)
- Publisher : Wiley; 1st edition (November 2, 2010)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 640 pages
- ISBN-10 : 047064396X
- ISBN-13 : 978-0470643969
- Item Weight : 2.27 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.2 x 1.85 x 9.25 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #148,633 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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Without divulging too much detail about the book, here's a relatively short guide to Bogle's topics. The seven parts of the book address:
1. Investment illusions. For example, as Bogle makes clear mutual funds taken as a whole simply cannot earn the markets' returns--because mutual funds have their own expenses. Indeed, Bogle's simple formula--net returns to investors = gross returns on assets minus the costs of operating the financial system--is pretty obvious, but one that investors tend to forget. Another illusion cited by Bogle is that mutual fund investors actually earn the returns of their funds. That is, if the XYZ mutual fund earns an average annual return of 8% over a 10-year period, chances are that XYZ's shareholders didn't achieve that 8% annual return, due to the well-documented tendency of investors to add to their investments when they feel optimistic (and markets are high) and reduce their investments when they feel pessimistic (and markets are low). Simply put, buying high and selling low reduces one's return.
2. The failure of capitalism. Bogle is actually a champion of capitalism, not some anti-capitalist critic. However, Bogle maintains that self interest and free markets alone won't necessarily guide an economy effectively. Rather, he says, there is a need for a broad fiduciary standard applicable to market participants, so that corporate managers, brokers, etc. put the interests of their shareholders and clients before themselves. (Some would argue that sufficient fiduciary standards already exist, but Bogle doesn't buy that argument.)
3. What's wrong with "mutual" funds? For starters, Bogle observes that "mutual" typically refers to an entity that's owned by its participants. In that case, only the Vanguard Group of mutual funds, Bogle maintains, is truly "mutual." Surprise, surprise--Bogle helped found the Vanguard Group.
4. What's right with indexing? Traditional indexing has taken a lot of flack in recent years, so Bogle (who helped start the indexing movement) fights back. He says the intellectual theory of indexing is not dependent on the notion of "efficient" markets, but rather on the concepts of low cost, diversification and tax efficiency. I admire Bogle as an honest and passionate advocate for investors, but I should note that not everyone will agree about the importance of the efficiency argument to the concept of indexing.
5. Entrepreneurship and innovation. I am taking more of your time than I planned, so I'll become briefer. In this part of the book, expect yet more of Bogle's characteristic idealism concerning the determinants of innovation.
6. Idealism and the new generation. Here we go again. More of Bogle's passionate arguments.
7. Heroes and mentors. We all owe a lot to those who have inspired and guided us, and here Bogle describes four men who were influential to him: Walter Morgan, Paul Samuelson, Peter Bernstein and Bernard Lown.
In conclusion, if you are an investor who is concerned about the economic and investing environment in which you participant, and if you are not already familiar with John Bogle's thoughtful commentaries on a host of relevant topics, then this book would be well worth your careful consideration.
I thought one of the most telling points here was Bogle's observation that the word "risk" has been re-defined by the financial industry to mean "the chance of losing a customer" instead of "the chance that a customer will lose his money." In spite of observations like that, he encourages his readers to learn how the financial system works and to continue to invest in index funds of stocks and bonds. In the process, he defends this conclusion admirably with facts and data. All in all, an unblinking, sober assessment of the financial system in the U.S.A.
Note figures and tables don't show up well on Kindle (they're too small to be easily read). It's almost a wash whether it's worth it for the ease and convenience of reading on a small, portable electronic device, or you'd be better off hauling around dead trees and scanning figures and tables without a magnifying glass.
Top reviews from other countries
My only criticism is that it is somewhat repetitive, being based on a a number of past articles and speeches by the author. As a result it is rather long.