The Stingy News Weekly (02/28/2010)
Buffett in the boardroom
"Who wouldn't love to pick up the phone and ask Warren Buffett for advice? People have spent more than $1 million just to have lunch with the man. He was voted the most admired corporate director in America by Directorship magazine in 2008. Chief executives of companies he has a stake in laud his patience, foresight, and ability to capture the essence of a complex financial situation in just a few words. They also like the fact that he usually leaves them alone as long as they're getting the job done. Sometimes Buffett emerges from behind his desk and shows a side of himself that's far less familiar. When he sees something he doesn't like in a company whose shares he owns, the famously passive investor can swing into action to protect his investment - jawboning behind the scenes, scolding, cutting opportunistic deals, even hiring and firing CEOs. For some of those on the receiving end of his activism, it can feel a bit like being attacked by Santa Claus."
Berkshire Hathaway 2009 report
"Long ago, Charlie laid out his strongest ambition: 'All I want to know is where I'm going to die, so I'll never go there.' That bit of wisdom was inspired by Jacobi, the great Prussian mathematician, who counseled 'Invert, always invert' as an aid to solving difficult problems. (I can report as well that this inversion approach works on a less lofty level: Sing a country song in reverse, and you will quickly recover your car, house and wife.)"
Canada's marvelous mortgage system
"There were some significant differences between Canada and the United States during the recent financial crisis. In general, Canada's banking system proved more prudent, more resilient, and much less prone to excesses. Taking a closer look at these differences might tell us how the United States got into the mess it is in, and illuminate some ideas for future reforms."
Probability of recession
"The Fed's model (data here) shows that the recession probability peaked during the October 2007 to April 2008 period at around 35-40%, and has been declining since then in almost every month. For January 2010, the recession probability is only 0.82% (less than 1%) and by a year from now in January 2011 the recession probability is only .043%, the lowest reading in more than 26 years (since September 1983)."
Confirmation bias in action
"At least we can all agree it is the other guys' politics and ideologies that are twisting facts and obscuring evidence."
Quantifying qualitative factors
"I've just finished Ian Ayres's book Super Crunchers, which I found via Andrew McAfee's Harvard Business Review blog post, The Future of Decision Making: Less Intuition, More Evidence (discussed in Intuition and the quantitative value investor). Super Crunchers is a more full version of James Montier's 2006 research report, Painting By Numbers: An Ode To Quant, providing several more anecdotes in support of Montier's thesis that simple statistical models outperform the best judgements of experts."
4 ways to fix a broken system
"The land of the free has become a legal minefield, says Philip K. Howard -- especially for teachers and doctors, whose work has been paralyzed by fear of suits. What's the answer? A lawyer himself, Howard has four propositions for simplifying US law."
Too many scientists?
"American science education lags behind that of many other nations, right? So why does it produce so many talented young researchers who cannot find a job in their chosen field of study?"
The SEC enabled this charade
"The issue isn't derivatives; it's all financial transactions whose objective is to deceive or to weaken financial transparency."
Lowering the boom on leverage
"For those who worry that limiting leverage is somehow inconsistent with American tradition, it is worth remembering that the nation's founders strictly limited bank leverage in their own time, frequently at less than 4-to-1. Although bank runs remained a problem in early America because of the absence of deposit insurance, the dangers of high leverage were already well appreciated. Let's not lose sight of that wisdom now."
Dubai 1,000 Times
"Local-government officials have wasted stimulus funds by replacing infrastructure that was fine in the first place. State media complained in May 2009 that party chiefs in Jianyang, Sichuan province, decided to help boost the local economy by rebuilding a bridge that was in such good condition it had emerged unscathed a year earlier from the earthquake that killed 70,000 people. The so-called Bridge of Strength withstood a demolition crew that tried to blast it to pieces with dynamite, the official China Daily reported."
Tax system full of it
"Canada's tax system has become so complex and confusing, and revenue staff so unsympathetic, that a judge has awarded legal costs to an Ontario couple despite ruling against their case with the Canada Revenue Agency."
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