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Archive for the 'Book of the Week' Category

Monday, February 20th, 2017

Book Giveaway! David Foster Wallace’s Balancing Books

David Foster Wallace's Balancing Books

“Since its inception, David Foster Wallace studies has focused on a relatively small set of themes—irony, sincerity, addiction, and the mass media—often centered on Wallace’s own descriptions of his literary project in interviews and essays. Severs’s insightful new study builds on and challenges this critical orthodoxy, revealing how Wallace was a careful economic, political, and historical thinker. Wallace’s writing, as Severs shows in a series of original and bracing chapters that cover the author’s whole career, engaged provocatively with the New Deal, the social-welfare state, the monetary system, and the history of neoliberalism. Severs uncovers a new domain of questions that will dominate debates about Wallace’s legacy and the meaning of his important art for decades to come.” — Lee Konstantinou

This week, our featured book is David Foster Wallace’s Balancing Books: Fictions of Value, by Jeffrey Severs. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

Thursday, February 16th, 2017

Boom and bust returns as oil market loses its swing

Crude Volatility

“While it is possible the unmanaged interplay of supply and demand will yield more stable prices in coming years and decades, it is more likely future trends will resemble the past, featuring surprising shifts, sustained imbalances, and upheaval.” — Robert McNally

This week, our featured book is Crude Volatility: The History and the Future of Boom-Bust Oil Prices, by Robert McNally. Today, we are happy to repost an article by Robert McNally that “>originally appeared in the Financial Times:

Boom and bust returns as oil market loses its swing: For the first time in years, the global oil market is lacking a swing producer
By Robert McNally

Even in these hyper-partisan times, loathing for Opec still unites most Americans. Yet paradoxically, over four decades from the early 1930s to early 1970s, the United States was Opec, and much better at oil supply manipulation and price fixing than today’s Opec ever was.

Up until 1972, independent US oilmen and oil states like Texas acquiesced to heavyhanded government regulations over oil, imposing monthly quotas on producers. This was all done to vanquish chronic booms and busts that vexed the oil industry, consumers, investors, and officials.

This paradox bears directly on the epic, structural shift currently under way in the global oil market, with far-reaching repercussions not only for oil and energy, but also economic growth, security, and the environment. Wildly gyrating oil prices over the past decade mark the demise of Opec as an effective supply manager and the return of free crude oil markets. The resulting unwelcome and likely protracted return of boom-bust oil prices constitutes a major and under-appreciated financial, economic, and geopolitical risk to consumers, businesses, the incoming administration and governments worldwide. (more…)

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

Old Numbers, New Data

Crude Volatility

“I decided to write this book to explore more deeply how oil’s history can clarify recent trends and shed light on tomorrow’s path, and to present my findings to the general reader as well as the energy expert.” — Robert McNally

This week, our featured book is Crude Volatility: The History and the Future of Boom-Bust Oil Prices, by Robert McNally. In today’s post, we feature an excerpt from the preface to Crude Volatility, with some illuminating graphs. (Click on the images to see them full-size!)

Tackling this topic presented formidable challenges, not the least of which was getting good historical data and information. For “barrel counters,” the search for better data is a never-ending and arduous quest. Historical data on prices and spare production capacity—central to this book—are especially scarce and patchy. I am therefore delighted and proud that my able research assistant Fernando Ferreira and I were able to unearth historical data and present two novel data sets, neither of which (to my knowledge) existed until now.

The first data set is a continuous, market-based price series for U.S. crude prices extending back to 1859 and continuing to the present on a monthly basis. Constructing this series entailed digging up prices based on field quotations, exchange-traded pipeline certificates (a proxy for crude oil prices), prices paid by Standard Oil’s purchasing agency, and data from the American Petroleum Institute and the Energy Information Administration.

The key issue here is frequency of the data. BP helpfully publishes historical crude oil prices back to 1859 on an annual basis. But annual averages fall short of illustrating boom-bust price trends as more frequent and dramatic price swings—daily, weekly, monthly—get lost in the annual average. Unless otherwise noted, all prices cited in this book, including this new monthly historical price series, are in nominal instead of real or inflation-adjusted terms. Using real prices would not change the story from a volatility perspective, but I decided to use nominal prices to better connect the prevailing historical narrative with price changes…

The second unique data set developed for this book is for U.S. spare production capacity extending back to 1940 and continuous data on U.S. and global spare capacity since 1955 (that is, including the Seven Sisters until the early 1970s and OPEC afterward). This entailed exhuming information from various government and industry reports and publications. Currently, EIA’s published OPEC spare production capacity extends back to 2003.

My goal is to contribute to our understanding of the economic and political forces that shaped oil prices in history so as to better understand them today and tomorrow. Whether I have succeeded I leave to you, dear reader, to judge…

(Click on the images to see them full-size!)

Oil Disruptions, Spare Capacity, and Crude Prices

Nominal Crude Oil Prices

Monthly Crude Oil Price Ranges

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

The Texas Paradox

Crude Volatility

“By beginning the story of oil prices with the birth of the industry, we can better appreciate why oil prices are naturally volatile and why that volatility has posed an enormous problem not only for the oil industry but broader economy, causing oilmen and officials to go to great lengths to stabilize oil prices.” — Robert McNally

This week, our featured book is Crude Volatility: The History and the Future of Boom-Bust Oil Prices, by Robert McNally. To start the week’s feature, we are happy to present an excerpt from the book’s introduction, in which McNally examines the uncomfortable relationship tension between our desire to avoid a situation where monopolies dictate oil prices and a situation where oil prices fluctuate wildly.

Monday, February 13th, 2017

Book Giveaway! Crude Volatility: The History and the Future of Boom-Bust Oil Prices

Crude Volatility

“Robert McNally has written an excellent biography of a world-famous character, known for volatility and violent mood swings, sometimes reviled but always a player in the world economy and politics—the oil price. Insightful and timely, Crude Volatility explores the clash over many decades between “boom and bust” prices and the efforts to harness them. In the current market, McNally explains why volatility is likely to win out over stability—highly significant for what will remain the world’s most important commodity for many years to come.” — Daniel Yergin, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Prize and The Quest and Vice Chairman of IHS Markit

This week, our featured book is Crude Volatility: The History and the Future of Boom-Bust Oil Prices, by Robert McNally. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

Friday, February 10th, 2017

Fact or Fiction: how much do you know about the future of the US economy?

Building the New American Economy

This week, our featured book is Building the New American Economy: Smart, Fair, and Sustainable, by Jeffrey D. Sachs, with a foreword by Bernie Sanders. For the final day of the week’s feature, we are happy to present a quiz, based on Building the New American Economy, that tests your knowledge of the present and future of the American economy.

Thursday, February 9th, 2017

Press roundup – Jeffrey Sachs

Building the New American Economy

“The key to resolving America’s ills depends on greater fairness, decency, and honesty lie within our own borders, notably on how we share the benefits of advanced technologies such as robotics and artificial intelligence, and the booming profits they are producing. The real counterpart of falling American working-class incomes is not the rise of Mexican incomes but the soaring profits and incomes now going to the 1 percent. The key solutions for American workers are right at home, not in overseas military adventures, new arms races or self-defeating trade wars.” — Jeffrey Sachs

This week, our featured book is Building the New American Economy: Smart, Fair, and Sustainable, by Jeffrey D. Sachs, with a foreword by Bernie Sanders. For today’s post, we feature a roundup of some of Sachs’ recent writing for major national newspapers.

This past month, Professor Sachs has contributed multiple op-eds to The Boston Globe just a few of which we will describe here. On February 5th, he wrote on “Donald Trump’s dangerous China illusions,” exploring China’s recent history as an emerging global superpower and warning that the United States can no longer assume that it maintains primacy in world affairs as President Trump has argued. On January 29th, Prof. Sachs argued in “The balance sheet on ‘America First’” that only one of President Trump’s economic assertions has a grain of sense in it: that there should be a cutback in federal military spending. Otherwise, Sachs asserts, Trump’s directions in trade and investment policies are misguided. Third, in January 22nd’s “The shifting global landscape,” Prof. Sachs looks back at the publication in 1776 of Adam Smith’s foundational economic text The Wealth of Nations and finds parallels to today’s global climate that indicate a changing of the guard in how we think about and experience economic issues.

Sachs has also written frequently for Project Syndicate, where this month he published pieces on “Why Millenials Will Reject Trump” – the keys are their diversity, the particular nature of the economic challenges they face, and their awareness of the effects of climate change – and on “Learning to Love a Multipolar World,” exploring the roots of the vastly changed position the United States finds itself in in international politics.

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

Bernie Sanders on creating an economy that works for all

Building the New American Economy

“What I heard and what I continue to hear is that Americans have had enough of establishment politicians and establishment economists who have claimed for far too long that we must choose between economic growth, economic fairness, and environmental sustainability. They have sold us a bill of goods that says we can’t have all three. Well, they are wrong. To my mind, widely shared prosperity, economic fairness, and environmental sustainability must go hand in hand.” — Bernie Sanders

This week, our featured book is Building the New American Economy: Smart, Fair, and Sustainable, by Jeffrey D. Sachs, with a foreword by Bernie Sanders. Today, we are thrilled to present an excerpt from Bernie Sanders’s foreword.

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017

Why We Need to Build a New American Economy

Building the New American Economy

“My core contention is that with the right choices, America’s economic future is bright. Indeed, we are the lucky beneficiaries of a revolution in technologies that can raise prosperity, slash poverty, increase leisure time, extend healthy lives, and protect the environment.” — Jeffrey Sachs

This week, our featured book is Building the New American Economy: Smart, Fair, and Sustainable, by Jeffrey D. Sachs, with a foreword by Bernie Sanders. To start the week’s feature off, we are happy to present an excerpt from the first chapter, in which Sachs explains his purpose in writing the book, and starts to delve into what it would take to build a new American economy for all.

Monday, February 6th, 2017

Book Giveaway! Building the New American Economy, by Jeffrey D. Sachs

Building the New American Economy

“Jeffrey Sachs remains one of the most thought-provoking economists in the world today because he dares to challenge presidents of both parties and the orthodoxies that bind them to disastrous policies. His critiques are fierce and his solutions fearless in the face of political and academic groupthink. That makes Professor Sachs a rarity in public life and this book an absolute necessity.” — Joe Scarborough

This week, our featured book is Building the New American Economy: Smart, Fair, and Sustainable, by Jeffrey D. Sachs, with a foreword by Bernie Sanders. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

Valuation as a Bridge

Narrative and Numbers

“What comes more naturally to you, story telling or number crunching?” — Aswath Damodaran

This week, our featured book is Narrative and Numbers: The Value of Stories in Business, by Aswath Damodaran. For today’s post, we highlight Professor Damodaran’s YouTube video, below, introducing the book and its project.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Narrative and Numbers!

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

From Data to Stories

Narrative and Numbers

“…this book is about my journey from an unquestioning trust in numbers to an increasing focus on stories in valuation and my stories about the companies that I value in this book. I don’t expect you to buy into my stories. In fact, I hope that you disagree with me and tell your own stories and that this book will help you convert those stories into valuations.” — Aswath Damodaran

This week, our featured book is Narrative and Numbers: The Value of Stories in Business, by Aswath Damodaran.

The following is an excerpt of a post originally published by Professor Damodaran on his blog on Wednesday, January 11th, 2017.

When I taught my first valuation class in 1986 at New York University, I taught it with numbers, with barely a mention of stories. It was only with the passage of time that I realized that my valuations were becoming number-crunching exercises, with little holding them together other than historical data and equations. Worse, I had no faith in my own valuations, recognizing how easily I could move my final value by changing a number here and a number there. It was then that I realized that I needed a story to connect the numbers and that I was not comfortable with story telling, and that realization led me to start working on my narrative skills. While I am still a novice at it, I think that I have become a little better at story telling than I used to be and it is this journey that is at the core of my newest book, Narrative and Numbers: The Value of Stories in Business.

Story versus Numbers

What comes more naturally to you, story telling or number crunching? That is the question that I start every valuation class that I teach and my reasons are simple. In a world where we are encouraged to make choices early and specialize, we unsurprisingly play to our strengths and ignore our weaknesses. I see a world increasingly divided between number crunchers, who have abandoned common sense and intuition in pursuit of data analytics and complex models and story tellers, whose soaring narratives are unbounded by reality. Each side is suspicious of the other, the story tellers convinced that numbers are being used to intimidate them and the number crunchers secure in their belief that they are being told fairy tales. It is a pity, since there is not only much that each can learn from the other, but you need skills in investing and valuation. I think of valuation as a bridge between stories and numbers, where every story becomes a number in the valuation and every number in a valuation has a story behind it.

Narrative and Numbers

When I introduce this picture in my first class, my students are skeptical, as they should be, viewing it as an abstraction, but I try to make it real, the only way I can, which is by applying it on real companies. I start every valuation that I do in class with a story and try to connect my numbers to that story and I try to be open about how much I struggle to come up with stories for some companies and have much my story has to change to reflect new facts or data with others. I push my students to work on their weaker sides when they do valuations, trying asking story tellers to pay more heed to the numbers and beseeching number crunchers to work on their stories. Seeking a larger audience, I have not only posted many times on the process but almost every valuation that I have posted on this blog has been as much about the story that I am telling about the company as it is about the numbers. In fact, having written and talked often about the topic, I thought it made sense to bring it all together in a book, Narrative and Numbers, published by Columbia University Press, and available at bookstores near you now.

From Story to Value: The Sequence

So, how does a story become a valuation? This book is built around a sequence that has worked for me, in five steps, starting with a story, putting the story through a reality check, converting the story into a valuation and then leaving the feedback loop open (where you listen to those who disagree with you the most and try to improve your story).

Narrative and Numbers

There is no rocket science in any of these steps and I am sure that this is not the only pathway to converting narrative to value. These steps have worked for me and I use four companies as my lead players to illustrate the process.

  • Uber, the ride-sharing phenomenon: I start with the story that I told about Uber in June 2014, and the resulting value, and how that story evolved over the next 15 months as I learned more about the company and its market/competition changed.
  • Amazon, the Field of Dreams Company: Amazon is a story stock that seems to defy the numbers laws and I use it to illustrate how the value for Amazon can vary as a function of the story you tell about it.
  • Alibaba, the China story: The China big market story has been used to justify the valuations of many companies, but Alibaba is one case where the use of that story is actually merited. In my story, Alibaba continues to dominate the growing Chinese online retail market and my value reflects that, but I also look at how that value will change if Alibaba can replicate its success globally (Alibaba, the Global Story).
  • Ferrari, the Exclusive Club: I value Ferrari as an exclusive club, leading into its IPO, and explore how that value will change if you assume that it will follow a different business model.
  • In the later chapters, I bring in other familiar names (at least to those who read my blog), to illustrate how macroeconomic factors affect stories and Yahoo! to examine the effect of the corporate life cycle. In the final part of the book, I turn the focus on management and look at how the story telling skills of top managers can make a significant difference in how a young company is perceived and valued by the market and how that skill set has to shift as the company ages…

    Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Narrative and Numbers!

    Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

    A Tale of Two Tribes

    Narrative and Numbers

    “So let’s see where we stand. We relate to and remember stories better than we do numbers, but storytelling can lead us into fantasyland quickly, a problem when investing. Numbers allow us to be disciplined in our assessments, but without stories behind them, they become weapons of intimidation and bias rather than discipline.” — Aswath Damodaran

    This week, our featured book is Narrative and Numbers: The Value of Stories in Business, by Aswath Damodaran. For the first post of the week’s feature, we are happy to present an excerpt from the book’s first chapter, “A Tale of Two Tribes.”

    Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Narrative and Numbers!

    Monday, January 30th, 2017

    Book Giveaway! Narrative and Numbers, by Aswath Damodaran

    Narrative and Numbers

    “No one has contributed more to the craft of valuation than Aswath Damodaran. In Narrative and Numbers, he correctly shows that you can’t understand the stock without the story. After Damodaran’s eye-opening tour, you will forever appreciate the vital contribution of human nature to number-crunching.” — Michael Mauboussin, Head of Global Financial Strategies, Credit Suisse

    This week, our featured book is Narrative and Numbers: The Value of Stories in Business, by Aswath Damodaran. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

    Friday, January 27th, 2017

    Leadership Imperatives to Achieve the Holy Grail of Business: Long-Term Growth

    If You're in a Dogfight, Become a Cat!

    “These harsh realities point to two burning questions of relevance to all senior executives: 1. Why is it so hard for companies to sustain above-market business performance? 2. What can companies do to beat the odds and crack the code to securing the holy grail of business: long-term profitable growth?” — Leonard Sherman

    This week, our featured book is If You’re in a Dogfight, Become a Cat!: Strategies for Long-Term Growth, by Leonard Sherman. For the final post of the week’s feature, we are happy to present an excerpt from a short manifesto by Sherman, posted at 800-CEO-READ’s ChangeThis magazine. You can read the post in full here.

    Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a copy of If You’re in a Dogfight, Become a Cat!.

    In all human endeavors we tend to revere stars that perform at a superior level over a long and illustrious career. Sports Hall of Famers Aaron, Montana, Jordan, Pelé, and Nicklaus and arts honorees Ozawa, Tharp, and Simon have earned legendary acclaim for performing immeasurably beyond the reach of most mere mortals.

    In business, as well, a few widely recognized companies have been able to deliver consistently superior growth over the long-term, including Amazon, who last year became the fastest company to reach $100 billion in sales, and J&J, 3M, and The Ball Corporation, each of whom has been out-innovating and outgrowing the overall market for more than a century. (more…)

    Thursday, January 26th, 2017

    How Much Do You Know About Corporate Strategy?

    If You're in a Dogfight, Become a Cat!

    “Cats are a different breed of animal—clever, solitary hunters who are more inclined to explore new territory and to redefine the game on their own terms than to engage with the pack in a no-win dogfight. Cats are agile and innovative, and seek their prey (customers) with tactics that dogs cannot easily replicate.” — Leonard Sherman

    This week, our featured book is If You’re in a Dogfight, Become a Cat!: Strategies for Long-Term Growth, by Leonard Sherman. Today, we are happy to present a quiz on corporate strategy, with information pulled from the many case studies in If You’re in a Dogfight, Become a Cat!.

    Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a copy of If You’re in a Dogfight, Become a Cat!.

    Wednesday, January 25th, 2017

    A Conversation with Leonard Sherman

    If You're in a Dogfight, Become a Cat!

    “In dogfights, as in business, strong players may gain a temporary advantage, but fighting for dominance with traditional weapons usually takes a heavy toll on all combatants, and the prospect for renewed battles remains a constant threat.” — Leonard Sherman

    This week, our featured book is If You’re in a Dogfight, Become a Cat!: Strategies for Long-Term Growth, by Leonard Sherman. Today, we are happy to present an interview with Sherman, in which he explains the title of his book, details how companies can drive long-term growth, and lists companies that have successfully broken away from the pack by becoming a cat in a dogfight.

    Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a copy of If You’re in a Dogfight, Become a Cat!.

    What inspired the unusual title of your book?

    My motivation for writing this book grew out of thirty years as a management consultant and venture capitalist, working with a lot of companies struggling to restore profitability and growth. I observed a number of common causes of these business challenges, so when I joined the faculty at Columbia Business School, I made growth strategy the focus of my research.

    The curious title of my book metaphorically captures the competitive challenge all businesses eventually face, as well as the management mindset required to sustain profitable growth. In dogfights, as in business, strong players may gain a temporary advantage, but fighting for dominance with traditional weapons usually takes a heavy toll on all combatants, and the prospect for renewed battles remains a constant threat. As examples, the ongoing dogfights between Walmart and Target, HP and Dell, and United and American Airlines have taken a heavy toll on all players. Cats are a different breed of animal—clever, solitary hunters who are more inclined to explore new territory and to redefine the game on their own terms than to engage with the pack in a no-win dogfight. Cats are agile and innovative, and seek their prey (or in business terms: customers) with tactics that dogs cannot easily replicate. In the business dogfights cited above, Amazon, Apple, and Southwest Airlines have clearly exhibited catlike behavior.

    You point out that most companies fail to sustain long-term profitable growth. Why do they fall short?

    The critical starting point for an effective business strategy is a genuine, customer-centric business purpose—by which I mean a corporate ideology that inspires an organization and provides strategic clarity on the purpose and priorities of the enterprise. I want to emphasize this point because it often gets short shrift. Skeptics might scoff at this notion, noting that every company says the right things about their vision but often acts differently. After all, Wells Fargo was founded on being “a trusted provider that builds lifelong relationships one customer at a time,” and VW was committed to “offer attractive, safe and environmentally sound vehicles.” But these aberrations serve to reinforce the imperative of a customer-centric vision that really guides corporate behavior. Companies that have the best track record in sustaining long-term growth have remained true to their founding corporate vision, including Johnson & Johnson, 3M, IKEA, FedEx, Starbucks, Apple, Costco, JetBlue, and of course Amazon. Commenting on the importance of Amazon’s customer-centric business purpose, CEO Jeff Bezos said: “We’re stubborn on vision but flexible on details,” and “whenever we get into an infinite loop and can’t decide what to do, we try to convert it into a straightforward problem by saying, ‘well, what’s better for the consumer?’” An abiding genuine commitment to delivering superior customer value serves all stakeholders well. (more…)

    Tuesday, January 24th, 2017

    Introducing “If You’re in a Dogfight, Become a Cat!”

    If You're in a Dogfight, Become a Cat!

    “Cats are a different breed of animal—clever, solitary hunters who are more inclined to explore new territory and to redefine the game on their own terms than to engage with the pack in a no-win dogfight. Cats are agile and innovative, and seek their prey (customers) with tactics that dogs cannot easily replicate.” — Leonard Sherman

    This week, our featured book is If You’re in a Dogfight, Become a Cat!: Strategies for Long-Term Growth, by Leonard Sherman. To start the week’s feature, we are happy to present an excerpt from the preface to If You’re in a Dogfight, Become a Cat!.

    Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a copy of If You’re in a Dogfight, Become a Cat!.

    Monday, January 23rd, 2017

    Book Giveaway! If You’re in a Dogfight, Become a Cat!, by Leonard Sherman

    If You're in a Dogfight, Become a Cat!

    “A wonderfully comprehensive view of competition and competitive strategy and illustrating it well with contemporary examples and citing of the scholarly literature and linking that to action oriented techniques.” — John Czepiel, New York University Stern School of Business

    This week, our featured book is If You’re in a Dogfight, Become a Cat!: Strategies for Long-Term Growth, by Leonard Sherman. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

    Friday, January 20th, 2017

    On Childhood and Love

    Marriage as a Fine Art

    Philippe Sollers: The love encounter between two people is the rapport between their childhoods. Without that, it doesn’t amount to much.

    Julia Kristeva: You’re right to begin with childhood, because ours were so different, and yet we’ve brought them into tune.

    This week, our featured book is Marriage as a Fine Art, by Julia Kristeva and Philippe Sollers. For the week’s final post, we are happy to present an excerpt from the book’s second chapter, in which Kristeva and Sollers discuss the importance of childhood to shaping how one lives and loves.

    Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Marriage as a Fine Art!