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A Fall Bonus: Quality Investment Reading

More often than not, when I go to the bookstore I leave disappointed. That is usually because I either see my own two books languishing on the bookshelves (or not, in which case I have to beg the bookstore to restock) or because everything is of the ilk, "How to make $1 million overnight in real estate" or "my daddy's neighbor's cousin is the millionaire next door."

Surprisingly, a number of good books have come out about investing in the past few weeks.

Here's what's out there worth reading:

Unconventional Success by David Swensen. If you don't know him, Swensen runs Yale's endowment and has returned 16% a year since he started with the university, beating all other college endowments, including runner-up Harvard. The difference between Swensen and Harvard's Jack Meyer is that Meyer (who is quitting to start a hedge fund) pulls down a $17 million yearly salary vs. Swensen's $1 million. All I can say is, he must love his job.

Unconventional Success basically describes Swensen's approach to asset allocation. A good chunk of the book is spent bashing mutual funds because of their exorbitant fees. However, I think the best part of the book is when he's analyzing other alternative asset classes such as private equity, hedge funds, venture capital and municipals.

His analysis of private equity was particularly interesting. He basically says that it's correlated to the S&P 500, but with leverage (LBO firms use up to 4:1 leverage or more), and it's completely illiquid. So why not buy an index with daily liquidity and just lever it up?

Fortune's Formula by William Poundstone. This book describes the 60-year-long attempt to build a systematic approach to trading. The author focuses on Ed Thorp, who initially wrote the book on how to count cards in blackjack and then settled on more mundane topics like how to make $500 million in the markets. The book follows the antics of information-theory pioneer Claude Shannon, next John Kelly, the pioneer behind money management, and then Thorp and others. A great book that ultimately is a history of the early hedge funds and pioneers.

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