The Digest #154

Published on July 6, 2023

“As in walking you take care not to tread upon a nail, or turn your foot, so likewise take care not to hurt the ruling faculty of your mind. And if we were to guard against this in every action, we should enter upon action more safely.”

– Epictetus


After a six month hiatus, I’ve decided to resume publishing a periodic compilation of resources that I think others might find interesting. Posting this type of content was my intent when I started a newsletter in January 2020. I published a total of 153 issues, a pace of about one issue per week, so the newsletter was named The Weekly Digest.

I’m now referring to these compilations as The Digest without specifying an exact frequency. I plan to publish two or three issues per month depending on the amount of interesting material I encounter and the time that I have available. My intent is to surface content that most readers haven’t seen. For this reason, I will avoid posting too many links to the mainstream media, although there will be some exceptions.

The goal is to emphasize signal over noise and to avoid recency bias. It is all too easy to find yourself on a treadmill of consuming “news” that will be irrelevant in short order. Staying informed amid the noise is difficult and hopefully The Digest will help.

My main focus is to write original articles on business and investingpersonal financebooks, and philosophy along with essays categorized as journal entries.


Articles

Life is Short by Paul Graham, January 2016. “If life is short, we should expect its shortness to take us by surprise. And that is just what tends to happen. You take things for granted, and then they’re gone. You think you can always write that book, or climb that mountain, or whatever, and then you realize the window has closed.” (PaulGraham.com)

Graham and Dudville by Brooklyn Investor, June 27, 2023. Brooklyn Investor wrote a blog for several years starting around 2011 but stopped posting new articles a couple of years ago. Now he’s back. This article discusses poor performance of value funds, looks at Berkshire’s recent performance, and asks if value investing is dead. He also recently wrote about Berkshire’s acquisition of Alleghany. (The Brooklyn Investor)

How Acquisitions Add Value — Or Don’t by Geoff Gannon, May 1, 2023. In this article, Geoff Gannon responds to a question about how management teams and investors should think about acquisition opportunities. Specifically, to what extent can the value of a company can be enhanced after an acquisition by making changes that promote operational efficiency? The article points out many of the dangers involved in paying a price that assumes big improvements. (Focused Compounding)

Why You Believe The Things You Do by Morgan Housel, June 21, 2023. One of the human tendencies Charlie Munger identified in his Psychology of Human Misjudgment is named “Simple, Pain-Avoiding Psychological Denial”. I was reminded of that tendency when I read this article. “Here’s a universal reality: What you believe to be true is influenced by how much you want it to be true. The more something helps you deal with uncertainty, the lower the bar is for you to believe it’s true.” (Collaborative Fund)

AI’s Winners, Losers and Wannabes: Valuing the AI Boost at NVIDIA by Aswath Damodaran, June 23, 2023. Enthusiasm about artificial intelligence recently propelled NVIDIA to a $1 trillion market capitalization. Aswath Damodaran has owned shares of the company since 2018 and shared a detailed analysis that led to his decision to sell half of his position to retain the optionality of further upside surprises. Some people might scoff at “splitting the difference” but I recalled that Peter Cundill also sold half of his winning positions, something that I confirmed when I referred to the book review on Cundill’s biography that I wrote in 2017. (Musings on Markets)


Podcasts

For many years, I was skeptical that podcasts were worth paying attention to, but a road trip during the pandemic started to change my perspective.

I still prefer to consume information by reading, but there are occasions when reading is not possible. I now have several favorite podcasts that I queue up and listen to when I’m doing something (cooking, cleaning, driving, etc.) that makes reading impossible. 

Here are a few links to episodes of podcasts that are consistently worthwhile.

David Senra – Passion & Pain, August 30, 2022. 1 hour, 23 minutes. In this podcast, Patrick O’Shaughnessy interviews David Senra, the creator of Founders podcast. Senra’s concept is simple: each of his episodes covers a book about a prominent individual. I have read many books after listening to podcast episodes, most recently biographies of Sam Walton and Henry Ford. Over three hundred episodes are free and I would recommend Founders Premium for more content. I’ve listened to well over half of the back catalog at this point. Highly recommended! (Invest Like the Best)

Swimming Across: A Memoir by Andy Grove, December 21, 2020. 1 hour, 10 minutes. This is the latest episode of Founders podcast that I’ve listened to as I go through the back catalog, mostly in chronological order. I’ve read Andy Grove’s book, Only the Paranoid Survive, and was familiar with some of his history as a refugee from Hungary. However, I never realized the drama surrounding his escape and how close he came to being captured. I plan to read Swimming Across in the near future. (Founders Podcast)

General Motors – 1920 Annual Report, July 5, 2023. 51 minutes. Jacob McDonough is the author of Capital Allocation: The Financials of a New England Textile Mill, a book about Berkshire Hathaway’s early years that I reviewed a few years ago and highly recommend. McDonough recently started a podcast for the purpose of discussing old 10-K reports. So far, he has posted three podcasts on GEICO and two on General Motors. Think of these podcasts as similar to what David Senra is doing on Founders, except with the subject being a 10-K rather than a biography. (The 10-K Podcast)

  • Related: Book Review of My Years with General Motors by Alfred P. SloanNovember 21, 2016. McDonough discusses Alfred Sloan in his podcasts on General Motors. Sloan was an instrumental part of the evolving automobile industry starting in the 1920s. Under his leadership, General Motors developed a strategy that took market share from Ford by being more responsive to evolving consumer preferences and changes in the overall industry. (The Rational Walk)

What It Really Takes to Convert an Office Building Into ApartmentsJuly 6, 2023. 46 minutes. “Big cities like New York have two real estate problems. Housing is scarce and office buildings are empty (or at least under-utilized.) So there would seem to be an obvious solution: turn the offices into homes. And indeed there has been a lot of talk lately about ‘office-to-residential’ conversions. But it’s very hard, for a wide variety of reasons.” (Odd Lots)

Lockheed Martin: The Complete History and Strategy, May 29, 2023. 3 hours, 37 minutes. “Today we bring you two absolutely incredible stories. The first is Lockheed’s legendary Skunk Works division — the elite team of aviation geniuses who produced some of the greatest airplanes in history: the U-2, the Stealth Fighter, and the incomparable SR-71 Blackbird. The second story is arguably even more important, but not widely known! It’s the secret and true origins of Silicon Valley — and Lockheed’s primary role in it.” (Acquired)


First Half Highlights

So far, I have been fairly active in 2023 with fifty articles published in the first half of the year. The Rational Walk’s subscriber list has grown by ~44% year-to-date so I figure that many of you have not seen at least a few of the articles listed below.


Evolution Valley, Kings Canyon National Park, September 7, 2013

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The Digest #154