It’s 2020 – the beginning of not only a new year, but a new decade. The last decade was a tumultuous one geopolitically, but a successful one for investors. And much better than the previous decade which featured both the dot com crash (2000/2002) and the global financial crisis (2008/2009).
The 2010s will also be remembered for being the first decade in recorded history where the U.S. did not experience a recession, and the only decade other than the 1990s where stocks didn’t have a bear market (defined as a drop of 20% or more). If you invested $10,000 in the S&P 500 in 2010, it would have been worth $36,000 by the end of the decade. The Canadian investor’s experience however was not nearly as rosy, with $10,000 invested in the TSX in 2010 only being worth $19,500 by the end of the decade.
And through all the ups and downs, we kept reading and learning. Below are ten great articles we read over the last quarter and two book recommendations for the new year. The articles below cover everything from why the 2010s were the best decade ever, to the disappearance of politically-centrist parties, and the magnitude of the wildfires in Australia. I hope you enjoy the below selection of content and are enjoying the first month of the new decade.
I read quite a few books this quarter, so it was hard to choose just one to feature. So, I went with an easy-reading, well-written, page-turning work of fiction.
Donna Tartt, 2013
The Goldfinch is a coming-of-age novel by American author Donna Tartt. It was published in 2013 and won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction – so I’m obviously a little late getting to finally read it in 2019, but it was definitely worth it. In the book, 13-year-old Theodore Decker survives a terrorist bombing at an art museum, where his mother dies. Disoriented from the explosion, and via a chance encounter with another injured victim, he ends up taking a small Rembrandt painting called The Goldfinch with him. It becomes a central object/obsession in his life as he descends into a world of crime. The book was recently turned into a movie, but like most movies, it definitely didn’t do justice to the book.
Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber
Mike Isaac, 2019
I knew the big picture of the Uber story prior to reading this book, but I feel like I know a lot more of the important details after reading it. The book reveals Uber founder Travis Kalanick as the ultimate Tech Bro, who prioritizes explosive growth at the expense of staff, customer safety and everything else. I couldn’t put this one down, and I’ve definitely started to take Lyft more often after reading it.
How Will History Books Remember the 2010s?
Politico asked 23 top historians to write a paragraph on the events of the past decade, as they would appear in a history book 100 years from now. It is interesting to think of the decade from this ultra big picture perspective, and to read about the different events that each historian thinks these years will be remembered for.
Jeff Bezos’ Master Plan
Writing in The Atlantic, Franklin Foer spent five months working on this longform piece on what Jeff Bezos wants to accomplish. Covering everything from Bezos’ childhood, to his early days at Amazon, and his ascent to become the richest man in the world, the article is both wide-ranging and illuminating. This one is over 10,000 words, but worth a read if you’re interested in what drives the decisions that Bezos has made and is making.
How to Deal with Constantly Feeling Overwhelmed
In our fast paced and always-on modern world, it is easy to feel overwhelmed with your spate of responsibilities and a bulging to-do list. In this Harvard Business Review piece, Rebecca Zucker offers some specific practical advice, including pinpointing the source of the feeling, setting boundaries on your time, and challenging your perfectionism.
Three Big Things: The Most Important Forces Shaping the World
Investment writer Morgan Housel takes on some big topics in this longform piece. In it he argues that in order to understand what’s going on in the world today, you need to understand the three Big Things that are the root influencers of so many of today’s changes. According to Housel, those three things are demographics, inequality and access to information. Another long article, but worth it.
The Middle Abdicates
Author and wealth advisor Greg Curtis has released a very interesting series of blog posts over the past month on our increasingly polarized society. Curtis takes us on a tour of the World’s ten largest democracies (by GDP) and discusses how many of them are experiencing the disappearance of centrist middle-of-the-road political parties. We can see this in the U.S. with the prospect of a Trump vs. Sanders (?) general election, but it was interesting to see how many other global democracies are experiencing essentially the same phenomenon. The link above is to Part 1 of the series, but I’d recommend reading the full series at gregorydcurtis.com.
The Shadow Commander
In the wake of the surprise American drone strike in Iraq that killed Iran’s most important military leader, this 2013 New Yorker profile on Major General Qassim Suleimani is newly relevant again. It’s an excellent profile on the recently deceased man, who one former CIA officer called, “the most powerful operative in the Middle East today.”
JP Morgan’s Top Strategist Calls out ‘Armageddonists’ who Fuel Recession Fears
Despite the market’s strong performance over the past decade, there has been no shortage of people predicting impending doom in that same time frame. In a recent piece, JP Morgan’s Michael Cembalest called out these pessimistic prognosticators and provided an interesting table listing their doomsday predictions (and the dates they made them) over the last decade. Scroll down to the bottom for the table.
Why You Should Manage Your Wealth Like A Business
Writing in Forbes, Francois Botha discusses why we should all treat the management of our wealth as if we were managing a business. This is central to our beliefs at Northwood and we agree with most of his comments. In my meetings with prospective clients of Northwood, I’ve often come across successful entrepreneurs who have confided in me that they would never manage their business in the haphazard way that they manage their personal affairs. Worthwhile reading for anyone who would like to professionalize the way they manage their wealth.
Using US Map to Examine Scale of Massive Australia Wildfires
The images from Australia this year have been heartbreaking, and many people have expressed their horror and dismay over what is happening there. This simple article superimposes a map of Australia on to the United States (and parts of Southern Canada) to illustrate the magnitude of the devastation there. Even with the map, just the idea of losing half a billion animals in a few short months is hard to imagine, not to mention the human displacement and property loss.
We’ve Just Had the Best Decade in Human History. Seriously.
It’s easy to read the news, or watch the TV, or look at the state of politics, and think that everything is going horribly wrong. This is because good news is no news according to Matt Ridley. He systematically reviews the overwhelming evidence that the last decade was by far the best in our history. Extreme poverty and child mortality have fallen to record low levels, and famines have all but disappeared. If you enjoy the article, I’d also recommend Ridley’s 2010 book The Rational Optimist.
As a lifelong learner, I am always interested in reading material that broadens my horizons, challenges my thinking and provides all-important context for the decisions we make. This is true for the entire Northwood team. We’d also be interested in hearing what you’ve been reading lately. If you’ve come across any particularly insightful articles or books, please feel free to send them to me at email@example.com. Thanks to the many people who have already shared their ideas.