Business Maverick

Business Maverick

Good investing! After the Bell year-end note

Good investing! After the Bell year-end note

The newsletter is an unusual journalistic form, and its speed and regularity can be both a blessing and a curse. The speed often results in a somewhat uncrafted newsletter. It follows something of the pattern of my wife’s riff on EM Forster’s query, “how do I know what I think until I hear what I say?”

But that unvarnished, immediate reaction to the news can also be an advantage: it’s direct and honest; importantly, it’s much less cluttered with doubts and hedging.

That, of course, gets me into all kinds of trouble. I’ve occasionally made jokes in poor taste because often jokes rely on generalisations and sometimes people can take offence. My colleagues have quickly brought me up short on those, very deservedly. And my views are, well, not to everybody’s taste, so there is that too.

But the point of discussing issues of the day, particularly concerning something so amorphous as the markets, is to challenge and stimulate. My Christmas break reading will likely include a book by journalist Monica Guzman called “I Never Thought of it That Way”. Guzman examines argument and truth in our very polarised times and ponders why we don’t seem to care about the truth behind perspectives other than our own. I’m not even sure that is true, but perhaps as a general perception, it might be accurate.

I’ve heard her interviewed about the book, and she draws an interesting distinction between puzzles and mysteries. We are drawn, she says, to puzzles because they are solvable, and all we need to solve them is the missing piece. We like mysteries, outside of fiction, much less because they cannot be solved.

That tendency to prefer puzzles to mysteries inclines us to believe we have the truth even when it’s only our own truth. The way we are shaken from this certainty is to be challenged and open and curious, and all of that is much harder than it seems. I hope this newsletter helps in that way, even if the presentation of its content is a little unvarnished.

I have had lots of support from readers too and I thank you all so much for that. I get a bit of flack too, particularly for the endnote “good investing”, which some readers think is hilarious because usually what precedes it is a diatribe on poor investing or dreadful news. It’s a valid point, but as I keep saying, the markets are much more resilient than people caught up in their own doubts and fears can imagine.

This year was, in some ways, a good example. The JSE is likely to end up this year, and if you had forced me to guess its value in June, I would have said that would be an impossibility, especially cuz South Africa.

Companies, I suspect, are a bit like yachts; even when the wind is blowing against them, you can still make some ground by tacking left and right. It’s not the same as when the wind is at your back, but even in hard times, gains can be achieved.

And that may be the story of this year. Anyway, I return early in the new year. My colleague Ed Stoddard has offered to help produce the newsletter for the first week we are back next year whenever I am on leave. And can I conclude, with meaning …

Good investing!

Tim Cohen



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