(MoneyWatch) "The Clash of the Cultures: Investment vs. Speculation" is investing pioneer John C. Bogle's tenth and last book. It is an enjoyable read that ends with 10 lessons for investors that, while simple, are deeply valuable to the general public. I even developed my own scorecard to keep track of how the clash that Bogle, founder of mutual fund giant The Vanguard Group, alludes to is developing over time.
Clash of the Cultures is a great summary of the breadth of Bogle's 60-plus years in the investment field. He offers observations on the shocking change in the culture of finance that he has witnessed first-hand. Among the most important of the shifts is that short-term speculation has crowded out long-term investment. Though this has been great for the financial sector, it has come at the expense of the public.
Bogle also offer prescriptions for how to address such opposing forces. The bad news -- don't hold your breath waiting for the financial system to get fixed. The good news is that you can immediately begin following his lessons to at least lessen the chances of losing your hard-money amid this surge in speculation:
2. Time is your friend, impulse is your enemy. Take advantage of compound interest and don't be captivated by the siren song of the market. That only seduces you into buying after stocks have soared and selling after they plunge.
3. Buy right and hold tight. Once you set your asset allocation, stick to it no matter how greedy or scared you become.
4. Have realistic expectations. You are unlikely to get rich quickly. Bogle thinks a 7.5 percent annual return for stocks and a 3.5 percent annual return for bonds is reasonable in the long-run.
5. Forget the needle, buy the haystack. Buy the whole market and you can eliminate stock risk, style risk, and manager risk. Your odds of finding the next Apple (AAPL) are low.
6. Minimize the "croupier's" take. Beating the stock market and the casino are both zero-sum games, before costs. You get what you don't pay for.
7. There's no escaping risk. I've long searched for high returns without risk; despite the many claims that such investments exist, however, I haven't found it. And a money market may be the ultimate risk because it will likely lag inflation.
8. Beware of fighting the last war. What worked in the recent past is not likely to work going forward. Investments that worked well in the first market plunge of the century failed miserably in the second plunge.
9. Hedgehog beats the fox. Foxes represent the financial institutions that charge far too much for their artful, complicated advice. The hedgehog, which when threatened simply curls up into an impregnable spiny ball, represents the index fund with its "price-less" concept.
10. Stay the course. The secret to investing is there is no secret. When you own the entire stock market through a broad stock index fund with an appropriate allocation to an all bond-market index fund, you have the optimal investment strategy. Discipline is best summed up by staying the course.
Bogle's book raised some concerns for me over the future of this great clash of the cultures, yet it also left me with hope. One reason is he notes that index funds represented only 3 percent of equity assets 20 years ago compared with 28 percent today. And though Jack Bogle will never be able to convince most financial professionals of their disservice to clients, he appears to be having success persuading an increasing number of investors to keep away from the fox.
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