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Every discretionary investment needs a proper funeral at some point

By Salient Partners. Originally published at ValueWalk.

But Brutus says he was ambitious; And Brutus is an honorable man. –Julius Caesar, Act 3 Scene 2 (1599)

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Competition Game - Always Go To The Funeral
Image source: Pixabay

That’s Ray Fearon as Mark Antony on the left and Paterson Joseph as Brutus on the right, in the 2012 Royal Shakespeare Company production of Julius Caesar. You can see a video of Fearon’s funeral speech for the murdered Caesar here. It’s an insanely powerful performance of an insanely powerful scene, with the repetition of the famous Brutus lines twisting the crowd like a rope.

The Democrats, the longer they talk about identity politics, I got ‘em. I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats. ? Steve Bannon, from his August 16 exit interview with Robert Kuttner in The American Prospect.

A spirit of national masochism prevails, encouraged by an effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals. ? Vice President Spiro Agnew (1918 – 1996), Nixon’s Bannon, the voice of the “Silent Majority” (with an assist from speechwriters Bill Safire and Pat Buchanan). Resigned office in 1973, pleading no contest to bribery and tax evasion charges. History never repeats, but it sure does rhyme.

Death has a cruel way of giving regrets more attention than they deserve. ? Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (1926 – 2004), author of On Death and Dying, developer of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

I’ve gotten three irreplaceable pieces of advice over the years, two for business and one for life. The business advice: 1) Always live to fight another day. 2) It’s not about the money. It’s. About. The. Money. The life advice: Always go to the funeral. That’s courtesy of my partner Jeremy Radcliffe. I’m not sure whom he heard it from. Now I’m passing it along to you.

It’s not easy to go to the funeral. Life closer to home has its demands. Travel on short notice is expensive. And god knows I’ve failed to live up to this advice as often as I’ve followed it. But every time I’ve made the effort, I’ve experienced a uniquely powerful and sustaining human connection that I really don’t have words to describe. Let me put it this way. Twenty years later, I remember who was at my father’s funeral, not in a sense of keeping score, but of abiding appreciation. There’s zero negative affect for those who weren’t there. Zero. I understand! But there’s a nuclear reactor of positive affect and energy for those who were.

Going to the funeral is part of the social contract we have with our families, our friends, and our tribe, both immediate and extended. It’s part of the social contract we have with ourselves. It’s part of the personal obligation that we have to others, obligation that doesn’t fit neatly or at all into our bizarro world of crystalized self-interest, where scale and mass distribution are ends in themselves, where the supercilious State knows what’s best for you and your family, where “communication policy” and fiat news shout down authenticity, where rapacious, know-nothing narcissism is celebrated as leadership even as civility, expertise, and service are mocked as cuckery.

Understanding the obligations we share in life and in death is the greatest lesson I’ve learned (and I hope passed on to my girls) from life on the farm. Because our obligations aren’t just to our human tribe, but to our animals, too.

I’m not a nut about this. The obligations we have to our animals aren’t the same as the obligations we have to our family. They aren’t the same as the obligations we have to other, more remote humans (hmm … sometimes I’m not too sure about that last bit, but let’s go with it anyway), but they’re obligations nonetheless. In life those obligations include water, food, shelter, and an environment that lets them express their sheepness or goatness or horseness or dogness or whateverness in a safe and healthy way. It’s all of those, especially fresh water. That’s a thing for me. In death, those obligations are a proper funeral, well attended. A grave plenty deep, well marked. A body positioned properly, well respected. Collars and bells and other instruments of control all come off, because there are no collars in death. That’s a thing for me, too.

I know this seems like a morbid topic, but it’s not for me, and I suspect it’s not for anyone who’s spent time on a farm. I’ve buried lots of animals. They’re born, they live, and they die. We give them a really good life. We respect our animals in life and we respect them in death. The care we give our animals when they die means nothing to the animals, obviously not to the dead but no more to the living. It means an enormous amount to us. It’s our personal obligation. We owe them, not the other way around, in life and in death.

Always go to the funeral.

Whew! Okay, Ben, let’s see you draw some lessons for investing and macroeconomics from that!

On the investing side, the lesson is that every discretionary investment needs a proper funeral at some point. Discretionary investments are born, they live, and they die. I’ve learned from a lot of great investors over the years, and one of the lessons that really stuck with me was that your portfolio should be one-third positions that hadn’t worked yet and you are getting into, one-third positions that are working now, and one-third positions that have worked and you are getting out of. It’s that last one-third that we all have the most trouble with. It’s not the positions that never work at all. We’ve all been trained to cut our losers, and so that’s what we do. In this business, you’re wrong about something every single day, and if you don’t learn early and well what to do when you’re wrong, then you won’t survive long. No, the much harder lesson is what to do when we’re right. We’ve all been trained to “let our winners run”, and there’s a lot of truth in that for a trader. Much less so for an investor. For an investor, it becomes an excuse to keep a discretionary position in the portfolio well past its natural lifespan, leading to a bloated portfolio, chock-full of merely good or used-to-be good positions. It’s the unforced error that I see more frequently than anything else out in financial advisor-land, because it’s really hard to say goodbye to an investment that’s served you well and faithfully.

I’ve buried lots of investments. You should, too.

That means a proper funeral, well attended. You communicate with your team and your clients. You tell them how and why the death occurred, and you invite

The post Every discretionary investment needs a proper funeral at some point appeared first on ValueWalk.

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