The Worst Investments: Learning from the Past [Part 1]

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The Worst Investments: Learning from the Past [Part 1]

Photo Credit: Rob Pym

This is another Aleph Blog series of indeterminate length. I won’t bleed as much as my friend James Altucher, but I will reveal the worst investments of my life. There have been a lot of them. Good investments have more than paid for the losses, but the losses were significant in two ways:

  • The losses were large enough to hurt.
  • Each loss taught me something; usually I did not make the same mistake twice.

After I finish this series, I hope that it can serve as a guide on what to avoid in investing for younger folks, so they don’t repeat my errors. Okay, older folks can benefit as well… and maybe along the way, I’ll throw in a few colorful stories of investments that weren’t losses, but still taught me something.

SALT New York: Wellington’s CEO On The Benefits Of Active Management

At this year's SALT New York conference, Jean Hynes, the CEO of Wellington Management, took to the stage to discuss the role of active management in today's investment environment. Hynes succeeded Brendan Swords as the CEO of Wellington at the end of June after nearly 30 years at the firm. Wellington is one of the Read More

Here we go!

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In the late 1980s, I fell prey to a boiler room scam. I was relatively new to investing for myself, though I had paper-traded stocks for years, and was seemingly able to pick good stocks. So why did I give in to the slick sales pitch? Inexperience, for one, and slack capital for two — in my late 20s I really did not have a plan for what I wanted to do with my slack capital. I had done some investing in the stock market, but made money too quickly, and I feared that the market was once again too high (isn’t it always?).

Regardless, it was pretty dopey, and ended up being a 98% loss. A class action suit was created, which after 8 years ended up with nothing for any of the plaintiffs, and as far as I can tell, the lawyers lost money as well, since they were seeking a share of the recovery. Somewhat bitter at the end, the law firm closed its last letter saying something to the effect of, “At least we have the satisfaction that all of those that we have sued have lost all of the money that we can find.” Cold satisfaction, that.

I can tell you that the experience made me unwilling to transact any personal business over the phone that I did not initiate. For long-time readers, this helped lead to my saying,

Don’t buy what someone wants to sell you. Instead, research what you need, and buy that.

That’s a good lesson to begin with. Till next time.

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David J. Merkel, CFA, FSA — 2010-present, I am working on setting up my own equity asset management shop, tentatively called Aleph Investments. It is possible that I might do a joint venture with someone else if we can do more together than separately. From 2008-2010, I was the Chief Economist and Director of Research of Finacorp Securities. I did a many things for Finacorp, mainly research and analysis on a wide variety of fixed income and equity securities, and trading strategies. Until 2007, I was a senior investment analyst at Hovde Capital, responsible for analysis and valuation of investment opportunities for the FIP funds, particularly of companies in the insurance industry. I also managed the internal profit sharing and charitable endowment monies of the firm. From 2003-2007, I was a leading commentator at the investment website RealMoney.com. Back in 2003, after several years of correspondence, James Cramer invited me to write for the site, and I wrote for RealMoney on equity and bond portfolio management, macroeconomics, derivatives, quantitative strategies, insurance issues, corporate governance, etc. My specialty is looking at the interlinkages in the markets in order to understand individual markets better. I no longer contribute to RealMoney; I scaled it back because my work duties have gotten larger, and I began this blog to develop a distinct voice with a wider distribution. After three-plus year of operation, I believe I have achieved that. Prior to joining Hovde in 2003, I managed corporate bonds for Dwight Asset Management. In 1998, I joined the Mount Washington Investment Group as the Mortgage Bond and Asset Liability manager after working with Provident Mutual, AIG and Pacific Standard Life. My background as a life actuary has given me a different perspective on investing. How do you earn money without taking undue risk? How do you convey ideas about investing while showing a proper level of uncertainty on the likelihood of success? How do the various markets fit together, telling us us a broader story than any single piece? These are the themes that I will deal with in this blog. I hold bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Johns Hopkins University. In my spare time, I take care of our eight children with my wonderful wife Ruth.

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