Conrad Black is still a star. The media still love him. Newspapers and electronic media report everything that happens to him with great enthusiasm and in great detail. But let’s face it: Lord Black is a has-been. His days of power and influence are over. We don’t see sports reporters following the lives of Bobby Orr or Wayne Gretzky. We don’t see Parliamentary reporters telling us detailed stories of Brian Mulroney or Jean Chrétien. So why do editors and journalist still love to tell us about Conrad Black?
Perhaps it’s because he was once a media baron; he’s one of them. He’s a member of the club ― their club. Maybe that’s why they love to tell us every little thing about his Lordship’s up-and-down career. Maybe they actually do have a sincere affection for this man, even though he has been convicted of several serious criminal offenses. They are experts on Conrad Black. But I wonder what good their expertise can do. Just because they know him and love him and report all the details of his life, are we obliged to pay attention? Or would our time be better spent following the story of someone we love, someone who is interesting to us, someone who is a member of our club.
In Beyond the Bull, my book on investing, I discuss the importance of paying attention to the news. In the investment world, we need to pay attention to news that affects our investments ― and to ignore news that is irrelevant. Part of learning to become a better investor is learning what’s important for us and what’s important for someone else. The endless stories about Lord Black’s adventures in crime and their consequences seem to be important for someone else.
I wish investing were always this simple. But the financial world is a perverse place. Sometimes what seems important is useless and what seems useless is important. In a way, stock market news is a bit like Conrad Black news: interesting, but not important to investors.
The investment firm Gluskin Sheff released a study on the long-term profitability to Americans of certain investments over the past ten years. Of the asset classes they studied, the US stock market was the poorest performer at -2.3% (annual return for 10 years). The best performing asset class over the past ten years was gold at +33%. US government bonds rang in at +11%. You’d think that prudent investors would naturally have their investment in the better-performing bonds and gold, and not in the poorer-performing stock market.
Yet day after day, we see an endless stream of news about the stock market ― and hardly ever do we see news about gold or bonds. The financial media seems hooked on the under performing but glamorous stock market and uninterested in bonds and gold: the investments that are leading the pack. It’s like sports writers filling the dailies with Orr and Gretzky ― or Parliamentary writers following Mulroney and Chrétien . . . or Conrad, Lord Black. Interesting, but not important.
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