December’s real-time test of market efficiency.

We have this month both a test of and an immediate HBS case study in market efficiency. A highly innovative electronic vehicle company is about to enter the major market index. Is that a problem for the many investors in the index funds and ETFs based on the S&P 500 Index, or are things as they should be in an efficient market? Market efficiency is presumed to be greatest in large-cap, liquid, well-researched companies. The EV company clears all three thresholds easily, with a market cap of over a half trillion (!) dollars, plenty of trading volume, and 36 separate …

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What if we counted differently……

Saijel Kishan’s recent Bloomberg article, provocatively titled, How Wrong was Milton Friedman is intriguing on many levels. It summarizes the work of George Serafeim, an HBS professor who wants to change how we measure company success and failure. Specifically, he wants to reward and punish companies on the income statement based on ESG impacts. That is, he proposes to put a dollar value on diversity or lack thereof, on polluting or not, etc. And then have those companies report profit and loss after consideration of their social impact. It’s an ambitious plan, and some would say just a natural extension …

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GM’s Alfred Sloane on dividends (1935).

Alfred Sloane was the legendary, long-time leader of General Motors. In 1935, he shared his views on GM’s dividend policy in the New York Times. The point is that the company that dominated an industry for over a half century felt completely comfortable paying robust dividends while investing in its business. Any answer from the Fab 15? (Google, Amazon, FB, etc)  Pdf of the column in the attachment, courtesy of the NYT. Sloan 1935

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The “non-cash” charge and the business investor.

An investment philosophy that considers stock market investing as simply another form of business investment will necessarily focus on the basics of business investing, such as cashflows. That is often at ends with how the stock market works. Case in point is the infamous “non-cash” charge……  Wall Street brokerages and too many investors are delighted to ignore non-cash charges because, well, they are non-cash.  It’s worth reminding investors what every business owner knows: that those non-cash impairments more often than not started out as cash outflows, usually for acquisitions. A non-cash impairment of goodwill or asset write down is the …

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NBN Interview with JC de Swaan: Seeking Virtue in Finance

JC de Swaan does not shy from a challenge. In his new book, Seeking Virtue in Finance: Contributing to Society in a Conflicted Industry (Cambridge University Press, 2020), de Swaan, argues that it is possible to work in finance and not fall prey to the worst ethical ills of a profit maximizing industry. A lecturer at Princeton and partner in at Wall Street hedge fund, de Swaan spent years chronicling examples of virtuous behavior in finance. He distills his research into four “pillars” of ethical behavior for financial professionals. They include 1. Customers first, 2. Social wealth creation 3. Humanistic leadership  and 4. Engaged …

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Are vanishing dividends a good idea? Hardly.

Exercising business ownership through the stock market is hard enough. The pressure to be a stock speculator is overwhelming. And it just got a little harder. A Bloomberg Opinion column from October 20, entitled, “Those Vanishing Stock Dividends Should Stay That Way,” took up the case of a junk rated (BB), highly cyclical mining company that cancelled its miniscule dividend in March of this year. The piece trumpeted that the stock’s share price rallied sharply off the bottom of the market that month. The author wrote that “shareholders appeared to send the message that they would prefer [the company] put …

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A thoughtful dissent from the ruling investing orthodoxy…..

Aswath Damodaran’s recent Musing on Markets blogpost (from Sept 21) offers a thoughtful dissent from the ruling orthodoxy on ESG investing. He highlights how the current “hype” (his word) leaves critical analytical questions “unanswered or answered sloppily.” For example, he asks,  “Do companies perform better because they are socially conscious (good) companies, or do companies that are doing well find it easier to do good?” If the latter, “researchers will find that ESG and performance move together, but it is not ESG that is causing good performance, but good performance which is allowing companies to be socially good.” He points …

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NBN Finance Interview with Tom Levenson: Money for Nothing

Modern finance isn’t really all that modern. Three centuries ago, Great Britain’s need for money to fight its wars, the appearance of joint stock companies, and the emerging quantification of all aspects of life converged to create new notions and forms of money and investments. And then there was a spectacular bubble in 1720. The South Sea stock rose and fell quickly, but the financing structures remained and last to this day in evolved form. In his new book Money for Nothing: The Scientists, Fraudsters, and Corrupt Politicians Who Reinvented Money, Panicked a Nation, and Made the World Rich (Random House, …

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Same problem–global warming–but very different answers.

Is there a consensus on the best response to global warming? Not even close. Left and right both bring their own tools, math, and, most notably, agendas–climate related and non-climate related–to their policy prescriptions. From the economic right, Bjorn Lomborg offers economic growth to increase adaptation to a warming planet, as well as market-based innovation to mitigate carbon generation. From the left, Robert Pollin (and his co-author Noam Chomsky) put forth an Eco-Socialist New Green Deal. Listen to the NBN interview with the former here, and with the latter here.

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