SHAWN O'MALLEY | From We Study Markets Part II

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Unravelling the arrogance of vanity investing Shawn O'Mally from We Study Markets Newsletter

When too much Shawn is never enough. Here's part 2 of our chat. The highlight for me in this episode is the trap of vanity investing. It's when people talk about their investments as a way of showing how sophisticated they are. It's about bragging rights and commanding authority over the mere mortals who only want to invest in the boring old S&P500.

Shawn likens it to the bores who only want to talk about their own importance in the workplace. Those will real influence are likely to not show off.

That's a very common mistake that people make. But this is sort of a, a different form of financial arrogance. And definitely probably people who are younger or maybe hold theirselves in in too high of a regard as an individual investor. It's probably something they're have a higher propensity for. And on that point, it feels really good to tell people that you're making sophisticated investments.


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Chloe (1s):

Stocks for Beginners, Phil, Muscatello and FinPods are authorized Reps of MoneySherpa. The information in this podcast is general in nature and doesn't take into account your personal situation.

Shawn (11s):

There's a lot of arrogance the way people talk about their investments, and it becomes sort of a, something of an emotional appendage to them of You know, oh, I'm a Tesla investor, or You know whatever It is. There's a certain pride and emotional connection to what you're investing in. You know ultimately that's not gonna be good for your long-term investment decisions. That's only gonna distort your judgment and push you to do short-term things, and it's gonna create a lot of costly mistakes ultimately.

Phil (37s):

Hi, and welcome back to Stocks for Beginners. I'm Phil Muscatello, and recently we had Sean O'Malley, the chief editor and financial writer for the Investors Podcast Network on the podcast. And we were enjoying our conversation so much that we extended it so that we've got two episodes, which makes my job a little bit easier to try and get an episode out every week. Shawn, thanks very much for joining me.

Shawn (58s):

Yeah, very kind. I'm happy to dive into things more. I appreciate you having me back.

Phil (1m 4s):

So let's explore intrinsic value, because that's one of the bases of, of value investing is trying to pick up a company that's worth less than what the market is valuing it. What's a way that you look at intrinsic value? Yeah,

Shawn (1m 18s):


Phil (1m 18s):

I You know, I think of, of the, many of the many ways that you can look at intrinsic value.

Shawn (1m 23s):

Yes, that's a good way to say there. There are definitely many ways, and like I said, different schools thought in the value investing world, You know might find that to be a contentious question. But You know very generally, it It is actually a, a simple concept. And You know, I, I found that in the investing world, you go in these progressions where you learn the basic concept and you get more sophisticated and you say, oh, that's a too simplistic way to think about things. And then the farther you down you get down the road, you realize actually You know. Just that very basic principle is a very effective way to, to think about some sort of I idea in finance and You know to address intrinsic value. The core concept that underpins that is the idea that financial markets are not efficient and that would be blasphemy to You know your standard finance major or person com You know coming off of a a Wall Street job.

Shawn (2m 9s):

But You know. The, the idea is really that financial markets are driven by human emotion. And like this bubble we talked about in 2021 was that rational You know, probably not. And, and you could easily make the point that a lot of different financial assets at that time were wildly mispriced for the risks that those companies were taking. And without diving into that, again, You know, you can point to many examples across history about how human emotion has distorted financial asset prices on a short period of time. And so that's what this idea You know Buffet and, and Benjamin Graham talk about is, is Mr. Market You know, imagine every single day Mr. Market who epitomizes You know the entire stock market he's offering you You know a price on a plate at your door.

Shawn (2m 51s):

And You know asking you if you'd like to buy the company at that price. You know in reality, a real business's economic worth is much more durable and much more stable. Where You know on a given day, a company stock might surge 5%, it might go 10%, it might drop down 10%. And You know, you ask yourself, is McDonald's worth 10% more today than it was yesterday? And You know, probably McDonald's probably wouldn't have that kind of a dramatic movement. But You know, you certainly know the point of is it really worth one point half percent more today and then it's worth half a percent less tomorrow? And the answer is probably no. In that you've get this, if you imagine this line of intrinsic value of what it means to own shares in that business, the objective value for those the share price You know is constantly fluctuating up and down around that line.

Shawn (3m 34s):

And so the idea kind of comes down to at least how I think about It is, is using Mr Market to your advantage. And imagining You know he's coming and he is quoting you a price for owning shares of McDonald's every single day. And some days the price that he's quoting you is above the intrinsic value and other days it's below. And when it's below you should buy. And it's a very simple concept. And like I said, when you first hear that, it's like You know that's way too simple. That's that's dumb, that's too elementary. And you get down the road and then you eventually come back to that idea of You know, Hey, I wanna own great companies. And, I wanna buy them at a price You know that's a discount to this intrinsic value. And You know we can talk a little bit more, but I mean really You know ultimately leads to the question of what does it mean to to own a stock, right? And you're owning a share, an equity stake in a, a real enterprise that's doing real things in the real economy and is producing real profits.

Shawn (4m 22s):

And you have a claim to the difference between its assets and liabilities, which is it's equity. And, and so it's very easy to just see a stock as a number on a screen. And so You know when you think of it through that lens and somebody says, You know an intrinsic value, how is that different than the price? And if markets are efficient, then every day the price should perfectly adjust to new information. And then that should You know, reflect what the company company's intrinsic value. And You know the way Buffet and, and Graham and a lot of value Investors think of It is You know on the short term markets are fundamentally irrational. And you will get random discounts on stock prices and You know discounts to the intrinsic value. And if you can use that to your advantage over time, You know you can deliver superior investment returns and and beat the market averages or You know at least that's the philosophy that's that's guided, warranted Warren Buffet and, and so many other great value Investors.

Phil (5m 11s):

Is that like what your uncle was saying to you when he was saying Bank of America looks cheap at the moment? Do you think he had an understanding of intrinsic value or it was just going on gut instinct?

Shawn (5m 20s):

I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt But You know, it's, it's, it's hard to say. It's, it's hard to say You know intrinsic value. I guess kind of the crux of that question is that You know in theory, just like in theory, markets are perfectly efficient in theory, intrinsic value is an objective number. But in reality, there's a lot of different assumptions about a business that go into calculating its intrinsic value. And right, I mean the essence of intrinsic value is You know, the, the jargony way to say It is you're discounting all the company's future cash flows to equity back to today. Okay, well, right from there you're discounting you're using a discount rate. What interest rate do you choose? Do you use 10 year treasuries plus 3%?

Shawn (6m 1s):

Do you use three month treasury yields plus a certain percentage? And then that percentage you add, what is that? I mean, some people tell you the equity risk premium. Okay, there's many different ways to calculate the equity risk premium by, without getting too much further down into the weeds. Just that simple principle alone of how do you discount a cash flow or what rate do you use that's already you, you found yourself in a world of, of nuance. And then the other aspect of It is you're predicting a company's cash flows. Well, You know how many people predicted Covid nobody. And so all of those 2019 financial models that Wall Street bankers, And, Investors spent hundreds of hours on are pointless. And so is the takeaway from that to say, oh, well You know that was a, a black swan event and You know nobody could have predicted that.

Shawn (6m 45s):

So therefore I'm gonna go back to continuing to try to predict the future cash flows of a business. That's probably not the right takeaway, right? You, you need to have some understanding of You know there are these black swan events, these unpredictable events that are gonna disrupt whatever financial model that you lean on. And honestly, You know one of the best ways somebody ever put it to me was, okay, you're gonna try to model out, let's say Walmart's free cash flows over the next eight years and you're gonna try to discount that back. You're not gonna come up with an intrinsic value for company. Walmart has tens of thousands of employees, thousands of stores across the country, all kinds of different assets and You know unbelievable. You could spend your whole lifetime studying Walmart, every aspect of Walmart's business and You know you, you wouldn't know everything about Walmart and you're gonna predict that company's cash flows.

Shawn (7m 31s):

Whereas You know, if I were to just ask you, okay, let's do an intrinsic value of of Sean or of Phil, what, what, what are you worth today? And so you let's discount the next 10 years of your cash flows You know what what's your net income next year and the year after that and after that, and let's figure out You know what is your intrinsic value? Well, it's pretty safe to say, I have no idea what I'm gonna make in the next five years. You know in the next year I have a reasonable idea and then two years it gets a lot foggier. And then by five years out, I just about have no idea what I personally am gonna make. And nobody knows me better than myself. Right? And so if I can't even predict my own cash flows in some ways a, a hopeless pursuit for company And I know in some ways I I stand to contradict myself And I.

Shawn (8m 14s):

I don't mean to say that You know, trying to project a company's cash flows is a totally fruitless exercise. 'cause it isn't. It's,

Phil (8m 21s):

It's all we've got. It's all we've got sometimes, isn't it?

Shawn (8m 23s):

It's all we've got. But I really say that really just to mention that you have to be honest about the limitations of the tools that you're using. And if you think that you're just gonna create a discounted cashflow model and that the number that spits out at the end of that is the intrinsic value of Apple, you're a fool. You're have to learn that lesson the hard way and You know you can build in and make a more robust model and You know and try to build in some of that flexibility. But even still, how many people built into their financial models that the amount of flexibility that You know to account for a Covid pandemic in 2020 or 2008 financial crisis. And the reality is most people aren't thinking that way.

Phil (9m 2s):

Hmm. It gives the lie to analyst reports that predict or talk about a company's value down to You know several decimal points, doesn't it? Yeah.

Shawn (9m 10s):

I I guess you could say I'm not a, I call it the Wall Street industrial complex. And, I'm not a huge fan of, of a lot of the I'm

Phil (9m 17s):

Gonna, I'm gonna steal, I'm gonna steal that term by the way. I'm just warning you now. Please. That's

Shawn (9m 21s):

Great. Please do. Please do. I'm not a huge fan of a lot of the, the research that gets churned out of some of these institutions. I mean, I understand that there are different analysts writing these reports, but every day you could probably find a contradictory headline. You know Goldman Sachs is undervalued, says You know JP Morgan analysts or I. guess that wouldn't make sense to have two banks analyzing each other. But You know Goldman Sachs analysts say Apple Stock is undervalued. And then a week later they're saying, okay, apple stock is overvalued and they're just totally, you're, you're just going back and forth and contradicting each each other. And like I said, you can have different teams of analysts doing different reports, but It is something You know It is kind of hilarious to go through. And if you were to track these contradicting headlines that come out every few weeks, and You know, I remember with China's reopening from Covid a couple months ago, every Wall Street analyst was so bullish on China.

Shawn (10m 11s):

China Stocks were serving. It's

Phil (10m 12s):

Gonna be fantastic, isn't it? That's right. Yeah.

Shawn (10m 14s):

Yeah. It's gonna be the biggest economic reopening story in modern history. And You know there's all this pent up demand and all these people have been oppressed by authoritarian lockdowns and You know the economy's just gonna come out booming and there's gonna be so much pent up demand, it's gonna be unbelievable. You know, flash forward a few months, China's economy's not looking so hot. And all of those same investment banks are You know now writing reports about how you should be fleeing Chinese Stocks and talking about things like US tech restrictions and investment bans on China and You know currency risk. And they're coming up with all these other reasons to say that, okay, you shouldn't be investing in China. But really the point is that they're in the business of just selling a story.

Shawn (10m 55s):

You know an an investment story. People want an want a story, but behind why they're, they're making a, a financial decision. I'm investing in China because You know they have a billion people and their economy's gonna grow at this rate and it's gonna continue to You know industrialize and that's gonna accelerate and You know x, y, Z thing. It's gonna be China's century. And I'm not even disagreeing with that, but just using it as an example to say, a lot of these investment firms are in the business of You know they have no skin in the game. They're selling your research for the sake of, of selling research. And if they're wrong, people have very short term memories. It's like, oh, that You know I read this report and it didn't turn out to be true, but who remembers that You're constantly onto the next headline and the next story and, and reading the next piece of research.

Shawn (11m 38s):

And a lot of people get trapped up into that. And You know, maybe I'm being unfair to the investment banks because I mean that's really a, a chronic issue all throughout society, right? I mean, you turn on CNBC and, and even my, my friend Jim Cramer, who I have to thank for introducing me to the world of, of finance investing. I mean, he's certainly, certainly guilty of every single night talking about different socks, socks to buy I don. Exactly. And, and increasingly it's been a You know something of a meme to to hold him accountable for some of the picks that he's gotten wrong. Reverse at the end of the day reverse. He has his skin in the game. Yeah. Like he, he You know if he tells somebody to buy Apple and they lose money on it, he doesn't lose his job. He doesn't lose money. And You know. You just have to be very mindful. I actually You know I keep saying skin in the game. I just read Nasim Taleb's book, Skin in the Game.

Shawn (12m 20s):

And I think You know as a general person going through life, you should be very skeptical of any advice that's given to you by somebody that has nothing to lose for telling you that. And You know that's true in your career. And that's also true in the financial world where if somebody gives you unsolicited advice to buy a stock, you should run the other direction. They have no skin in the game and, and you, you shouldn't trust that they're going to to have your best interest in mind.

Phil (12m 42s):

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Phil (13m 24s):

That's five zero. By using this promo code. You can subscribe for six months for only a hundred dollars, or check it out for a month for only $25. That's deep knowledge and use the promo code Stocks for Beginners 50 by using this code. You'll be helping to support this podcast, deep Knowledge investing, helping you to beat the market. I just wanna get back for a moment to the idea of intrinsic value and buying companies when they're at a discount to their intrinsic value. Now of course, this can be very difficult and it's that whole idea of trying to time the market can be very dangerous for Investors, but isn't this where dollar cost averaging comes in, that you can use this to your advantage in, in a very, I I I don't wanna say safe because there's nothing safe about anything in markets, but this is a way that you can use it to your own advantage in investing that sometimes you're gonna be buying companies when they're expensive and sometimes you're gonna be getting them at a discount just by the way that you invest.

Shawn (14m 28s):

Yeah, yeah. And You know, and there's two different ways to think about dollar cost averaging And I, I would say You know as, let's say you're, you're a sophisticated value investor and you're trying to make your own stock pick, there's advantages to to dollar cost averaging, like you said, where you can kind of wade into a position or maybe it's this discipline of, like we talked about, of You know you have this idea or range of what you think a, a company's intrinsic value is. And whenever you feel very comfortable that it's below that, that you enter that position again. And You know by not going in all at once, you give yourself some flexibility there of if You know the company's stock continues to go down and that there's an even more emotional reaction and that or that emotional reaction compounds on itself that doesn't necessarily impact the company's intrinsic value, but it's You know some sort of fear that's spreading through the market.

Shawn (15m 11s):

You give yourself some flexibility to, to buy at an even greater discount. And, and then as you mentioned too with You know, just as your, your run of the mill passive investor, I think if you, there, there's some statistics out there that, that basically say you shouldn't dollar cost average, just from a very technical perspective of You know if you're on a four decade time horizon, basically You know it, it's all about time spent in the market and not timing the market. And to some extent even dollar cost averaging, there is an element of of timing into that. You said You know, am I gonna do this every two weeks, every month, every year? How much might I invest on these different frequencies you are making? There is an element of market timing to it and granted it's a better way to do market timing, but you are taking on You know market timing risks.

Shawn (15m 52s):

And so from a very technical perspective, I've definitely seen studies where it's like you should just put in, if you're gonna invest $5,000 for the year, just put in in as soon as possible in four decades. It's not gonna matter whether you did at the top of market or the bottom of the market. I don't really agree with that. You know there's, there's an emotional factor to investing that's very important that, that shouldn't be overlooked. And investing large sums of money at all at one time is very scary. And I feel that anxiety. I mean, when I'm going to make a big investment, You know, I kind of hesitate over that the the buy button, And I like to think that I, I'm pretty confident that I know what I'm doing and and you still have maybe a twinge of anxiety before you do that. And so You know if you think that making a a lump sum investment at one time is going to make you more likely to panic out of an your your long-term investment strategy, you should definitely dollar cost average.

Shawn (16m 41s):

And so You know from a financial point of view of, of kinda what you're talking about, there are some advantages to dollar cost averaging, but I actually really see it as an emotional hedge where if you just know I'm gonna set a recurring automatic schedule that I'm gonna stick to disciplined and You know every month $500 are withdrawn from my bank account and then they buy an s and p 500 index fund and You know, I know I, even just having that plan gives you an element of confidence. Whereas You know it's very tempting to have a lump sum investment and You know you're doing a whole nother element of market timing where you're constantly maybe telling yourself, oh, You know CNBC said the stock market is overvalued And I bet if I wait a month I can get You know I can buy the S&P 500 when it's down another 10% and then it goes up 20% and you missed You know the best month in five years in the stock market.

Shawn (17m 29s):

And so yeah, dollar cost averaging is a great emotional hedge to just having a very basic plan and sticking to it for better or worse. There's

Phil (17m 36s):

A lot of stories that we tell ourselves about companies. I just wanted to get back to this point a little bit. We spoke about it briefly in the previous episode that you're on, but people like to be able to talk about the companies or Stocks that they've bought and the the weirder the story sometimes the more impressive it can be. And I believe a friend of yours was involved in a Polish micro cap stock of some sort. Tell us about that and and that kind of trap that people fall into.

Shawn (18m 3s):

No, no, and and it, it's an interesting trap because it's not one of the, the common ones You know of. I mean, what I just described of You know, having a lump sum investment and and thinking that, oh, You know if I wait two weeks, maybe I can buy in after a sell off and then You know missing a, a big bull rally or something like that. That's a very common mistake that people make. But this is sort of a, a different form of You know financial arrogance. And definitely probably people who are younger or You know are maybe hold theirselves in in too high of a regard as an individual investor. It's probably something they're have a higher propensity for. And You know on that point. It feels really good to tell people that you're making sophisticated investments.

Shawn (18m 44s):

'cause it, it feels like You know you're signaling to the world. Oh, I'm a I'm a sophisticated investor. You know I'm, I'm invested in Polish micro caps or I'm invested in uranium, which is something that I did invest in or You know telling people that Oh, I invest in commodities and Oh, you invest in the stock market. You know I I'm got oil futures there. There's a certain meat. Yeah,

Phil (19m 6s):

I'm I'm a Forex trainer. You know,

Shawn (19m 8s):

Right? Oh my gosh, there's

Phil (19m 8s):

So funny. There seems to be, there seems to be a particular about that. Yeah,

Shawn (19m 11s):

Sorry. Yeah, yeah. No, no. It's so funny you say that because You know one time I was sitting at a hotel bar And, I'm just waiting to get a drink and the bartender comes up to me and You know, I think he overheard or he saw that I was like reading the Wall Street Journal or something and he, and he goes outta his way to bring up a conversation and he goes, oh, well yeah, actually I'm a Forex trader. And I You know, I I just, I'm I'm sitting there in disbelief of like, You know, you could just see the way he, he said it You know, there's a certain arrogance to the way he said it where I was like, You know, I don't know whether this guy's good at Forex Trading or not, but he's not doing Forex Trading for the right reason. You know he, he's doing it 'cause he likes to be able to go up to people at the bar and tell them he's a Forex trader and he is counting on most people not to know enough to call him out on that.

Shawn (19m 56s):

And You know, I didn't call him out on it, but it was just sort of a funny thing where I could see that he, there was so much vanity in that statement and it's something I've been guilty of too. You know if we talked about some of the investing mistakes people made in the bubble of 2021. Some people were investing in Dogecoin. I was investing in uranium And I was actually You know. Funny enough I was investing in Russian Stocks. And so You know, I I I thought You know I was so brilliantly savvy because You know, oh, You know everybody else is You know just buying the S&P 500, but I'm owning these obscure You know Russian Stocks that are really cheap on a You know price to earnings and price to book ratio. And You know, some Wall Street analysts said that that was what they were doing. So I'm doing it too, which makes me as smart as as them.

Shawn (20m 37s):

And there's a lot of different kind of traps and, and pitfalls you can fall into with with that type of thinking. But I, I think It is very common there. There's a lot of arrogance to the way people talk about their investments and it becomes sort of a, something of an emotional appendage to them of You know, oh, I'm a Tesla investor, or You know whatever It is, there's a certain pride and emotional connection to what you're investing in. You know, ultimately that's not gonna be good for your long-term investment decisions. That's only gonna distort your judgment and push you to do short-term things. And, and It is gonna create a lot of costly mistakes ultimately. But it's something I, I can sympathize with And, I feel like in very many ways I'm recovering from that mindset of You know. I don't want to just invest in something for the sake of investing in it to sound maybe fancier than I am.

Shawn (21m 22s):

And to be able to project to others about how sophisticated I am You know when in reality, especially at that time, I didn't understand the risks that I was taking by investing in, in Russian securities. Right? I had no concept to me that you could be sanctioned for investing in certain companies in certain countries. And it may be illegal. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, it became illegal for foreigners to own Western Stocks. And so those ETFs that I was invested in went to zero. They were worth nothing unless you're Trading options seldom in You know the kind of stock investing world. Do you see something actually go to Zero You know, maybe it's a 90% decline over a year or something like that. That happens sometimes. But I, I genuinely watched You know my entire investment in these Russian ETFs go to zero because I held onto that.

Shawn (22m 8s):

And You know that wasn't me betting on Russia, but it was me at the time just thinking, oh, I found these really undervalued Stocks and not realizing for a reason they were undervalued because there were a whole lot of geopolitical risks that I was totally not accounting for as a very naive young stock investor. And so You know I've continued to learn from that And. I'm sure I'll make plenty more mistakes like that, that I will also hopefully learn from. But I think there's a, a Ray Dalio expression, pain plus reflection equals progress. And so you should never let an investment mistake go to waste without having some reflection that allows you to progress from it. And so You know, I I certainly have reflected a lot on that investment decision specifically, and it led me to a conclusion that You know the reason I was investing in uranium and Russian ETFs is mainly because I liked being able to say I was doing these obscure things.

Shawn (22m 60s):

And I liked the way that made me feel. And then ultimately that led me to get zeroed out and You know, fortunately I'm young enough that it, it's not gonna be terribly consequential for You know my long-term financial health. But it was a, it was a good learning lesson And, I'm certainly glad that I've continued to reflect on it and, and hopefully progress past making that type of mistake. Again,

Phil (23m 18s):

I think it's worthwhile reflecting that people who are sophisticated Investors who have made very good money don't actually talk about it. They don't show off about it. I mean, I, I think about a mate of mine and he's obviously done very, very well. He invests in mining startups like You know the tiniest, tiniest miners You know who are sitting there in the desert with their hard hats on and, and a shovel next to a hole. I mean, they're talking about those kind of level of operations and he is done very, very well about it. But he never talks about it. He only wants to talk about surfing or AC C D C or You know whatever his obsession is. He's not showing off about what he's doing. And I think it's worthwhile thinking about that, that you're not gonna be a great investor just because you can talk about something that will impress someone else.

Phil (24m 2s):


Shawn (24m 3s):

Yeah. And again, with, with so much of the financial world, a lot of these lessons extend other places, right? I mean, You know. Yeah. The, the guy who You know you go out to drinks on a Friday and all they can do is talk about their job and You know basically what are they telling you? They're telling you how important they are. Right. And You know the most important person in the room is probably gonna be the person not talking about work at all. They're the most humble. The VP isn't necessarily bragging about a vp, it's the mid-level manager who's trying to make everybody else believe that they're a VP or going to be a VP one day. And yeah, it's the same You know fundamental human emotional truth is, is certainly true investing. And there's different, certainly different contexts where that You know emotional truth is true in different ways, but in this specific context, the person who is the loudest about what they're investing in, unless maybe it's their job to do that, which even in that case is not maybe even a good way to think of it.

Shawn (24m 58s):

But You know the people who are the loudest about stock investing or investing in general are probably the people you want to run away from because they probably actually know the least. And they're using that You know, they're calling attention to it and, and using kind of their confidence as a way to project and knowledge and sophistication that actually probably alludes them.

Phil (25m 17s):

Hmm. It's a great listen, isn't it? It's been great chatting with you Sean. Thank you very much for joining me today.

Shawn (25m 23s):

Thanks Phil. Thanks

Chloe (25m 24s):

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