Monday, February 09, 2009

The Losing Game: Why You Can't Beat Wall Street

T.E. Scott would be among the first to tell you that it is impossible to call the tops and bottoms of the stock market. But Scott has timed one thing perfectly for sure: his book about the dangers of dealing with Wall Street, The Losing Game: Why You Can’t Beat Wall Street.

The Losing Game is neither a sophisticated nor a complicated look at the stock market. Rather, it is one man’s heartfelt opinion of a system he believes to be little more than legalized gambling on a national scale. The book is not a technical discussion of how the markets function, nor does it offer readers a way to beat the system. In fact, Scott does much the opposite. He believes that the deck is so stacked against the average investor, and that Wall Street has so many opportunities to siphon money from the investor, that very few people walk away from it richer than they began.

No matter what you think about the numbers used in Scott’s examples or his blanket indictment of everyone in the investment world, it is difficult to argue with his premise that, for most of us, investing in the stock market is just another way to gamble. In order for us to make money from our investment, someone has to lose an equal amount. We simply bet that our timing will be better than that of our fellow Wall Street gamblers who sell their stock to us just when we want it and buy it back when we are ready to sell. We bet against them – they bet against us.

Also hard to argue with is Scott’s contention that investors are being hustled constantly by people who could not care less whether the investor makes or loses money. The key for the pros is to keep all that money “in motion” by encouraging investors to buy and sell shares as often as possible so that the markets and brokers can collect maximum commissions. And that is easy enough for them to do since, for so many investors, playing the market is largely a series of irrational decisions dependent on the emotion of the moment. Investors desperately want to believe that they will “hit the big one” someday that will recoup all of their prior losses – classic gambling behavior.

The book does tend at times to be a bit more repetitive than necessary even when that repetition is seen as a way to highlight the points considered most important by the author. One set of four numeric examples, for instance, is repeated verbatim in four different sections of the book ( despite it being more than two pages long) rather than simply referring the reader back to the original set of numbers each subsequent time the example is used. That and a few noticeable editing flaws will test the reader’s patience a bit but will not distract from the book’s message.

The Losing Game has not convinced me to abandon the market completely but it has reinforced my determination to treat Wall Street the same way that I treat Las Vegas: bring only as much money there as I really can afford to lose and not a dime more. In both cases, I am betting against the House and, if I play too long, the House wins - that is, unless I first take my winnings home and keep myself there. I almost never see Las Vegas style gambling these days and I suspect that I will be seeing less and less Wall Street style gambling in the future.

Rated at: 3.5

4 comments:

  1. My finance prof in grad school told us the only way to beat the market was to cheat.

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  2. And we pretty much know that most all the cheaters work on Wall Street or in some other professional capacity.

    Insider trading is a problem, too, I have to admit...and I love to see it when people get zapped for that.

    I had "insider" status at my company several times a year and was sternly warned once a quarter that I could not buy or sell shares until after earnings had been posted - in fact, for three business days after we announced earnings, and that put employees like me at a disadvantage to EVERYONE else in the world.

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  3. This book is sure to stimulate conversation. Thanks for the review.

    Cheryl

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  4. It's definitely a timely book, Cheryl, and I'm sure that the opinions about it are strongly held on both sides.

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