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Finance:                   

‘There’s Always Something to Do’ – Christopher Risso-Gill:   I was always a big admirer of Peter Cundill, and was saddened to see he passed away at the beginning of the year. If I recall, Cundill was perhaps my first memorable introduction to the exotic world of international value investing, and I look forward to some useful tips and insight from a master in this book.

‘Free Capital’ – Guy Thomas:   I haven’t actually come across a copy of this yet. Yes, I’m a big supporter of bookshops…so I can suss out what books I actually want to buy on Amazon! Only kidding, I do try to buy in bookstores as much as possible. At least, they’re a lot more enjoyable and comfortable places to be these days. I’m bemused to recall my local bookstore years ago: As far as I could tell, the shop assistants (yes, they were called that then) had only 2 functions: a) to stare at you in contempt when you tried to buy a book, or even worse inquire about one, and b) to sneak up behind you, and yell ‘No reading the books!’ over your shoulder… How quaint!

You know, I’ve become v conscious of the ‘Walmart/Tesco problem’ these days. I can’t figure out whether people are hypocritical or just oblivious in their actions? NIMBYs rail against big box retailers setting up on the edge of town, but in the end just can’t help but shop there (‘just for the basics’, you know…). And suddenly, one day, they look around their town centre and wonder why it’s gutted and only selling tat to tourists. Of course, it works both way, small stores need to realize that what they’re offering now is an ‘Experience’. Far too often, I end up in some small shop trying to deal with the surly owner across a decrepit counter. What? Oh yes, of course, you’re out of stock… Makes you almost pine for big box’s well stocked shelves and anonymity! But a pleasant store, with a friendly/interested owner and a helpful staff, can be a real treasure! And deserves your support – that little extra you pay is worth it for the whole experience and a small insurance policy against them disappearing…

OK, back to ‘Free Capital’: I don’t know how meaty or insightful this one is, but it has an interview with Peter Gyllenhammar among others, so that’s good enough for me! Plenty of other, mostly anonymous, investors interviewed also so it will be fun to see if I can figure out who any of these people are. If you’ve ever been seduced by UK small cap/value stocks, this book’s for you.

‘Manias, Panics & Crashes’ – Charles Kindleberger:   Not sure why I’ve never gotten around to owning a copy of this classic. Just as well, a new Sixth Edition has just come out in paperback (although my local bookshop persists in trying to sell the 5th Edition?!), so it’s time to dive in. This was selected as one of the best investment books ever by the Financial Times. It deserves this reputation as it delivers a sweeping perspective on bubbles and crises over the centuries. I can’t emphasize enough the old quote: ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ The latest edition includes 2 new chapters on the 2007-08 Financial Crisis.

‘This Time is Different’ – Reinhart & Rogoff:   If I include Kindleberger’s book, I have to include this tome. A little tougher to get through, it reads like an academic paper, but I actually thinks it’s the most important finance book you could ever read. Packed full of data and charts, and an amazingly apt workbook for the current European sovereign debt crisis. When the markets are doing really well (remember that?!), and you’re feeling a rush of blood to the head, just take a deep breath and read one of these books again for a little perspective.

‘How Ireland Really Went Bust’ – Matt Cooper:   I’m generally trying to avoid the rash of Irish financial crisis books – Jesus, there really are some terrible hack jobs out there now… But I was so gobsmacked my father had bought ‘Who Really Runs Ireland’, that I had to read it and was pretty impressed with the depth of Cooper’s writing. I look forward to some choice anecdotes and quotes also!

‘Breakfast with Anglo’ – Simon Kelly:   But how can I resist a title like this?! I flipped through this at the airport recently – probably a little self-serving, but it actually delves into the nuts and bolts of some classic Celtic tiger property deals (and the associated banking lunacy).

‘When Money Dies’ – Adam Fergusson:   A topical analysis of the current crisis in the EU (and to come in the US)..! Ahem, sorry, this is actually a v old book that was brought back into print within the last year. One reason, I guess, is that the publisher noticed second-hand copies were trading at exorbitant prices as word quietly spread among economists/hedge funders about the merits of this book. Perhaps Seth Klarman could similarly take pity on the many poor investors out there who pay $1,000+ for a copy of his classic ‘Margin of Safety’! They can’t be true value investors, though…I’m not providing a link, but there’s a good pdf of the book out there on the web if you search around. Fergusson’s book is a pretty horrific account of the hyper-inflationary spiral in Weimar Germany, brought on by deficit spending and the wholesale printing of money. Sound familiar? A little bit of an extreme example, but v valuable historical and economic lessons to be gained from this book. Dipping in, I was fascinated to see the central bankers were v proud of their efficiency…in actually printing money – talk about missing the forest for the trees! I previously mentioned another book, ‘Paper Money’ by Adam Smith. If you can get your hands on a second hand copy, I thoroughly recommend it also. Despite being written 30 years ago, the content is still eerily appropriate today.

‘More Money Than God’ – Sebastian Mallaby:  I’ve pretty much read all types of hedge fund books over the years, and when I saw this on the shelf I didn’t feel like it would offer anything new. Flicking through the book, I was actually v pleasantly surprised. The writing is detailed but flows v well, and Mallaby exhibits a pretty in-depth knowledge and understanding of the hedge fund world and its subjects. At the beginning of the book he paints a fascinating portrait of A.W. Jones, most of which I’ve never read before, and with his other subjects he offers plenty of fresh insights and anecdotes. I can highly recommend this book – if you haven’t read this type of book before, I think you’ll enjoy it even more than I have. In fact, I’d venture that this book would even be a great gift for any interested, but non-financial, person!

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