By Bob Wood
Hey, have you heard the exciting news about Britneyâ€™s shaving her head? And have you followed the suspense surrounding the death of Anna Nicole Smith and the ensuing battle involving custody of her infant child? Well, of course you have! How could you be unaware of these events with the saturation coverage in traditional media outlets that call themselves sources of real news?
Of course, in a market-oriented economy, you could argue that media corporations simply sell what the public is most eager to buy. If the public were less interested in this type of news, or what passes for news, the market would adjust and give them what they really want.
In what first appears to be an unrelated item, my local newspaper this past week reported that, â€˜â€™In the most recent national test on reading, the nationâ€™s 12th-graders scored lower than they did in 1992. Only 73 percent scored at or above the â€˜basicâ€™ level in the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the Nationâ€™s Report Card. That was down from 80 percent in 1992.â€
So if I am reading that correctly, and I think I am, only 73% of our high school graduates have mastered basic reading skills? Thatâ€™s it? After 12 years of education? And, of course, that number includes only those who made it through grade 12!
So when considering this data, we might conclude that the public at large wants its news hand-fed the easy way, while hard assessments of the worldâ€™s most critical happenings just donâ€™t interest a viewing public that canâ€™t possibly miss the next episode of â€œAmerican Idol.â€ And with all this entertainment, who needs to read?
For investors wondering how such statistics affect making money in the markets, I suggest you consider how they relate to the news offered by the financial media. Unfortunately, the quality of financial news ranks right up there with the general news, and that business now resembles tabloid media more than anything advocated by serious journalists of the past.
What the public misses are vital areas of information that allow investors to make truly informed choices when putting their savings at risk. So while the general public stays willingly distracted from the most serious issues of the day, investors failing to venture away from mainstream business and investing news sources are at risk.
Think back to the late 90s when viewers of the business channels were assured of sustained economic expansion and a never-ending rise in stocks. A few in the alterative media were telling a different story, but how many heard it? And how many investors scrambled to buy real estate in the past few years with the hope of making easy money? They followed the advice of former Fed chief Alan Greenspan, who suggested their using non-traditional means for financing their purchases — such as adjustable rate mortgages! Well, how is that plan working out now? And you might remember that there was no shortage of â€œBearsâ€ warning that housing prices were rising much faster than the historical norm and that such price spikes always ended badly.
Luckily, alternative news sources always exist for those ready to accept responsibility for the results of their investing efforts. You just have to know where to look, and bring along your open mind! The art of investing is all about seeing both sides of an argument or premise and deciding for yourself which makes more sense.
For me, wise investing has meant paying a lot of attention to world events, rather than the latest reports of a certain celebrityâ€™s drinking binges or erratic relationship. What Brad and Angelina do next week doesnâ€™t affect the performance of my accounts one bit!
But we can find details about how we were led into one war with lies and how we may be lead into another war — with Iran — with even more lies. Many questionable reports come from traditional media outlets that source most of their stories within the government, which now may be perfecting the art of propaganda. This possibility should be an alert to investors.
Good sources that provide general news reported by real people who tend to check the veracity of government claims can be found at web sites like www.juancole.com, www.antiwar.com and www.rawstroy.com, among others. Buried in traditional media sources are excellent blogs by Dan Froomkin at the Washington Post, which is free reading on the Internet, and articles Paul Krugman, which requires a subscription to the New York Times,.
For investors, good reading sources abound, so bring your reading skills to www.dowtheoryletters.com and read Richard Russellâ€™s daily comments. His site will cost you a nominal amount, but what value is found when something is free? Well, for free you can get non-stop bullishness from the same â€œactorsâ€ on CNBC who warned you not to miss the Dowâ€™s rise to 36,000 in 1999. For offsetting information intended to sober such euphoria, Bill Fleckensteinâ€™s site, www.fleckensteincapital.com, is available at a bargain price and takes only minutes to read daily. Some of the best information on that site comes from submissions from readers, a knowledgeable crowd.
For anyone wanting information about relationships between global geo-politics and world markets, an entertaining source is Jim Willieâ€™s subscription site, www.goldenjackass.com (my apologies to any hurt sensitivities regarding the name — not chosen by me, of course.) But his monthly reports are â€œmust-readsâ€ which typically shred the nonsense offered by traditional media sources, whose main concern may be getting their news at the lowest possible costs, regardless of its true value to viewers.
A great source of information and news about U.S. foreign policies and what they are really producing around the world can be found at www.informationclearinghouse.com. This siteâ€™s host does the heavy lifting for you, by compiling a collection of news from disparate sources and guiding them to your home computer daily, if thatâ€™s what you choose.
Add to this list items featured in the Asia Times Online at www.atimes.com and take a good look at how U.S. policies are seen around the world. Note especially the opinions of those not necessarily disposed to forgiving our transgressions in the name of spreading democracy, no matter how messy those noble ventures become when pursued with methods of warfare.
For a good source on how U.S. economic policies are seen on an international scale, check out monthly reports from Dr. Kurt Richebacher at www.richebacher.com and view the economic world through the eyes of someone who adheres to the Austrian School of economics.
Those crazy people believe in the wayward notion that debt created to buy things will eventually have to be re-paid, as opposed to compounded without limit as espoused by our own economic policy makers.
How absurd, eh?
Subscribing to his site will cost you, but you can get the general idea behind Dr. Kurtâ€™s thinking for free at www.dailyreckoning.com, and, while there, be sure to read the Mogambo Guruâ€™s weekly tirades!
A couple other great sources of alternative economic news can be found at www.321gold.com and at www.prudentbear.com.
And donâ€™t miss Doug Nolandâ€™s weekly piece there, available on Saturday mornings. Noland once worked with Dr. Richebacher, so you get a good idea of what the latter thinks by reading Nolandâ€™s work for free.
One last source worth also mentioning is the great work featured on www.shadowstats.com, done by John Williams.
If you ever had suspicions about the validity of government data on the health of our economy and the true rates of inflation or unemployment, along with the methodology used to compile those figures (when they seem very much at odds with observations in your business and personal finances), Williams offers a great source of explaining the frequent disconnects.
In none of these places will you get salacious news about which celebrity is no longer dating the other, which is entering rehab since the pressures of fame and fortune are a heavy burden to bear, or which presidential candidate leads recent polling — with almost two years remaining before the next election.
But you will get all the information you need to offset and balance the â€œhappy talkâ€ about endless prosperity found at traditional sources and assured riches coming from investments in the stock market, even though you and I donâ€™t personally know anyone whoâ€™s accomplished that!
And from this broader perspective, you can make better investment decisions based on looking at the world in ways that producers of mainstream media outlets most often choose not to cover.
Have a great week
Bob Wood ChFC, CLU Yusuf Kadiwala. Registered Investment Advisors, KMA, Inc., firstname.lastname@example.org.