Monday, February 24, 2014

good investing advice from the master

 Berkshire Hathaway chairman Warren Buffett, known for his folksy straightforward communication style, turned to farming to recommend his winning strategy for investors to follow.
In an excerpt of his annual letter to shareholders published online by Fortune on Monday, Buffett used a 1986 purchase of a farm located 50 miles north of Omaha to support his case about simple, diversified and low-cost investing.
He had bought the farm because he could weigh how much the property would yield in corn and soybeans against its operating costs - and not to speculate on the value of the land or to sell it as soon as prices rose.
"Now, 28 years later, the farm has tripled its earnings and is worth five times or more what I paid," Buffett wrote in his annual letter to shareholders, adding that he has visited the property only twice.
"So ignore the chatter, keep your costs minimal, and invest in stocks as you would in a farm."
Buffett's advice reflected, as well, his bias toward holding assets for the long term. Rather than a constant flux of buying and selling, Buffett said investors should treat daily price changes as background noise, to be ignored in pursuit of a greater objective.
"The goal of the nonprofessional should not be to pick winners - neither he nor his 'helpers' can do that - but should rather be to own a cross section of businesses that in aggregate are bound to do well," he wrote.
For nonprofessionals, such as mom-and-pop investors saving for retirement, Buffett recommended a low-cost S&P 500 index fund, particularly highlighting Vanguard's. That mutual fund has a net expense ratio of 0.17 percent.
Buffett - ranked the world's fourth-richest person by Forbes magazine, with a fortune of $53.5 billion - also dismissed much of the market- and economy-watching that informs daily price fluctuations and, often, future price speculation.
"Forming macro opinions or listening to the macro or market predictions of others is a waste of time," wrote the man dubbed "the Oracle of Omaha" because of his performance in the markets.
Investors should instead focus on the future productivity of assets, rather than speculating on price movements, which Buffett said that he was unable to do successfully.
"Games are won by players who focus on the playing field - not by those whose eyes are glued to the scoreboard."
Berkshire Hathaway is expected to report its 2013 earnings on Saturday.
(Reporting by Luciana Lopez; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Study: Sitting For Long Periods After 60 Can Increase Disability Risk

CHICAGO - A study by Northwestern Medicine found for each additional hour someone 60 years or older sat they doubled their risk of being disabled, regardless of how much moderate exercise they did.  

The study is the first to show sedentary behavior as its own risk factor for disability.  Researchers found that sedentary behavior is almost as strong of a risk factor for disability as lack of moderate exercise.

“It means older adults need to reduce the amount of time they spend sitting, whether in front of the TV or at the computer, regardless of their participation in moderate or vigorous activity,” Dorothy Dunlop, PhD, professor of Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and lead author of the study.

To cut down on sitting time, Dunlop has the following suggestions:
  • Stand up when you talk on the phone or during a work meeting.
  • When you go to the grocery store or mall, park in a space farthest away.
  • When you get up to have glass of water, walk around the house or office.
  • Walk for short errands instead of taking the car.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator if you are able.
The study focused on a sample of 2,286 adults aged 60 and older from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. It compared people in similar health with the same amount of moderate vigorous activity. The study defined moderate activity as someone who was walking briskly, as if you are late to an appointment.

Researchers say that the study does not determine that sedentary behavior causes disability, just that can cause potential problems. 
Take note that sex is good for you in ways you may never have imagined and that the health benefits extend well beyond the bedroom.

Friday, February 14, 2014

for those investors with guruitis; a very important lesson.

What One Stock Expert's Epically Bad Prediction Teaches Us About Investing

Figure on top of a rising arrow.
Getty Images
You might not be familiar with the name Whitney Tilson, but you should be, because a spectacularly wrong prediction he made back in 2004 can teach you all you need to know about investing in stocks.

Well-known in financial circles, Tilson graduated magna cum laude from Harvard in 1989 with a Bachelor of Science in government studies and went on to earn his MBA with high honors from Harvard Business School. After that, he founded Kase Capital Management -- which runs three value-oriented hedge funds -- where today he serves as managing partner.

Tilson has written for Forbes, Kiplinger's, and the Financial Times, and is also a contributor to CNBC. You'll also find him regularly on Bloomberg TV and the Fox Business Network.

In 2004, Tilson founded the Value Investing Congress -- often called the "Super Bowl of Value Investing" -- a semiannual gathering of the best minds in the financial industry, where participants give presentations that are heavily covered by the media and often move individual stocks.

Tilson, by all traditional standards, has all the credentials and real-world experience to make investors stand up and take notice when he talks about the stock market, which is why you might be surprised to read what he wrote about Google's IPO almost 10 years ago:
Think about it. What are the odds that it is the leading search engine in five years (much less 20)? 50/50 at best, I suspect, and I'd wager that odds are at least 90% that its profit margins and growth rate will be materially lower five years from now. Yet investors appear ready to value this company at as much as $36 billion, nearly 200 times trailing earnings! Google with the same market cap of McDonald's (a stock I own)?! HA! I believe that it is virtually certain that Google's stock will be highly disappointing to investors foolish enough to participate in its overhyped offering -- you can hold me to that.
For the record, Google (GOOG) went public at $85 and is currently trading near its all-time high of $1,186.54, almost a 1,200 percent return. 

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It's hard to imagine how Tilson's call could've been any more wrong, and it illustrates some very important lessons for investors, the first of which is that there are no experts in the market.

An expert is defined as someone with comprehensive and authoritative knowledge in a particular field, but the nature of successfully investing in the market involves being wrong more often than not. Great investors aren't experts; they prosper not by being right on every stock they trade, but by constantly cutting their losers and letting their winners run.

Once you grasp this, it leads to the second lesson: Only price pays. No matter what script you think your investment will follow, there has to be some point at which you'll allow price movement to prove you wrong and exit the position.

But perhaps the most important lesson from Tilson's tale is to never rely on anyone else to make your investment decisions, no matter what school he went to, what he does for a living, or which TV shows he appears on.

We're living in a time now where, thanks to the Internet and social media, a farmer in Nebraska has access to a quality of information and analysis similar to that available to a broker in Manhattan. Take into account the opinions of those you find reliable, but then incorporate your own analysis to come up with an action plan you believe in and take responsibility for.

No man is an island, or even a peninsula, so I encourage your feedback in the comments below. And don't forget to pick up my book, "Trading: The Best of the Best - Top Trading Tips for Our Time".

More from Brian Lund

Thursday, February 6, 2014

hospitals are good places to stay out of for many reasons

How Many Die From Medical Mistakes In U.S. Hospitals?

Sometimes the care that's supposed to help winds up hurting instead.
Sometimes the care that's supposed to help winds up hurting instead.
It seems that every time researchers estimate how often a medical mistake contributes to a hospital patient's death, the numbers come out worse.
In 1999, the Institute of Medicine published the famous "To Err Is Human" report, which dropped a bombshell on the medical community by reporting that up to 98,000 people a year die because of mistakes in hospitals. The number was initially disputed, but is now widely accepted by doctors and hospital officials — and quoted ubiquitously in the media.
In 2010, the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services said that bad hospital care contributed to the deaths of 180,000 patients in Medicare alone in a given year.
Now comes a study in the current issue of the Journal of Patient Safety that says the numbers may be much higher — between 210,000 and 440,000 patients each year who go to the hospital for care suffer some type of preventable harm that contributes to their death.
That would make medical errors the third-leading cause of death in America, behind heart disease, which is the first, and cancer, which is second.
The new estimates were developed by John T. James, a toxicologist at NASA's space center in Houston who runs an advocacy organization called Patient Safety America. James has alsowritten a book about the death of his 19-year-old son after what James maintains was negligent hospital care.
Asked about the higher estimates, a spokesman for the American Hospital Association said the group has more confidence in the IOM's estimate of 98,000 deaths. ProPublica asked three prominent patient safety researchers to review James' study, however, and all said his methods and findings were credible.
What's the right number? Nobody knows for sure. There's never been an actual count of how many patients experience preventable harm. So we're left with approximations, which are imperfect in part because of inaccuracies in medical records and the reluctance of some providers to report mistakes.
Patient safety experts say measuring the problem is nonetheless important because estimates bring awareness and research dollars to a major public health problem that persists despite decades of improvement efforts.
"We need to get a sense of the magnitude of this," James said in an interview.
James based his estimates on the findings of four recent studies that identified preventable harm suffered by patients — known as "adverse events" in the medical vernacular — using use a screening method called the Global Trigger Tool, which guides reviewers through medical records, searching for signs of infection, injury or error. Medical records flagged during the initial screening are reviewed by a doctor, who determines the extent of the harm.
In the four studies, which examined records of more than 4,200 patients hospitalized between 2002 and 2008, researchers found serious adverse events in as many as 21 percent of cases reviewed and rates of lethal adverse events as high as 1.4 percent of cases.
By combining the findings and extrapolating across 34 million hospitalizations in 2007, James concluded that preventable errors contribute to the deaths of 210,000 hospital patients annually.
That is the baseline. The actual number more than doubles, James reasoned, because the trigger tool doesn't catch errors in which treatment should have been provided but wasn't, because it's known that medical records are missing some evidence of harm, and because diagnostic errors aren't captured.
An estimate of 440,000 deaths from care in hospitals "is roughly one-sixth of all deaths that occur in the United States each year," James wrote in his study. He also cited other research that's shown hospital reporting systems and peer-review capture only a fraction of patient harm or negligent care.
"Perhaps it is time for a national patient bill of rights for hospitalized patients," James wrote. "All evidence points to the need for much more patient involvement in identifying harmful events and participating in rigorous follow-up investigations to identify root causes."
Dr. Lucian Leape, a Harvard pediatrician who is referred to the "father of patient safety," was on the committee that wrote the "To Err Is Human" report. He told ProPublica that he has confidence in the four studies and the estimate by James.
Members of the Institute of Medicine committee knew at the time that their estimate of medical errors was low, he said. "It was based on a rather crude method compared to what we do now," Leape said. Plus, medicine has become much more complex in recent decades, which leads to more mistakes, he said.
Dr. David Classen, one of the leading developers of the Global Trigger Tool, said the James study is a sound use of the tool and a "great contribution." He said it's important to update the numbers from the "To Err Is Human" report because in addition to the obvious suffering, preventable harm leads to enormous financial costs.
Dr. Marty Makary, a surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital whose book Unaccountable calls for greater transparency in health care, said the James estimate shows that eliminating medical errors must become a national priority. He said it's also important to increase the awareness of the potential of unintended consequences when doctors perform procedure and tests. The risk of harm needs to be factored into conversations with patients, he said.
Leape, Classen and Makary all said it's time to stop citing the 98,000 number.
Still, hospital association spokesman Akin Demehin said the group is sticking with the Institute of Medicine's estimate. Demehin said the IOM figure is based on a larger sampling of medical charts and that there's no consensus the Global Trigger Tool can be used to make a nationwide estimate. He said the tool is better suited for use in individual hospitals.
The AHA is not attempting to come up with its own estimate, Demehin said.
Dr. David Mayer, vice president of quality and safety at Maryland-based MedStar Health, said people can make arguments about how many patient deaths are hastened by poor hospital care, but that's not really the point. All the estimates, even on the low end, expose a crisis, he said.
"Way too many people are being harmed by unintentional medical error," Mayer said, "and it needs to be corrected."
ProPublica is an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public inter