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chapter 1

Portrait of the Investor as a Young Man

My hometown, Demopolis, sits in the heart of the Alabama Canebrake, where the Black Warrior and the Tombigbee Rivers meet. The largest city in Marengo County, it lies in the center of a region of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi known historically as the Black Belt, so named for the layer of naturally rich, thick black prairie soil that almost two hundred years ago nourished the growth of vast cotton plantations, some of which outlasted slavery, none of which survived the boll weevil.

It was in that soil, when I was a boy, that my friends and I would dig for bait before setting off to spend the day fishing. Channel catfish are omnivorous and will strike at just about anything they can smell—­they are able to smell just about everything—­and earthworms, on a hot summer day, are a lot easier to gather than crickets. I must have been eight years old and we were digging in the backyard of my house when my cousin Wade, who was about ten months older than I, ventured a remark that, while entirely incomprehensible at the time, remains vivid to me to this day.

“If we keep digging,” he said, “we’ll end up in China.”

I was not ignorant of the fact that the world was round, but not until I was able to consult a globe—­I was an enthusiastic researcher even then—­did I come to appreciate that directly opposite Alabama, on the other side of the planet, sprawled the vast landmass of the People’s Republic, where covered in dirt and drenched with sweat I would eventually emerge if I were energetic enough to keep digging.

Decades have intervened since then, and I have followed a more circuitous route, but on the very doorstep of China is where I find myself living today, the father of two little blue-­eyed blondes who speak Mandarin as fluently as they speak English.

How I came to be a permanent resident of Singapore is a story about digging of a different kind, excavation perhaps less arduous, though no less energetic. It is a result of my endless effort to experience firsthand the inner workings of the world, to get out and unearth the real story, to explore it all for myself.

I have circumnavigated the globe twice now, once by motorcycle, once by car, investigating the world at ground level, charting the shifting circumstances of more than a hundred nations in the course of those five years. For me, understanding history and its consequences has not been an armchair endeavor, but a hands-­on adventure. It has led to great personal and material rewards, and it inevitably led me here, far from the backwoods of Alabama, to this largely Chinese outpost on the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula.

If history affirms anything, it is the proposition put forth by the Greeks that “nothing endures but change.” It originated with the philosopher Heraclitus in the sixth century B.C., when he informed us aphoristically that it is not possible to step twice into the same river. Success in life is measured by the ability to anticipate change, and I came to Singapore in response to the realization that the world is in the midst of a historic shift, a dramatic reshaping of the terrain, a decline of US leadership in the world and a commensurate rise in Asia.

I write this in the midst of a global financial crisis that most of the world’s politicians would have you believe is temporary. Things, we are told, will turn around. I will not argue with that. I am here to tell you, simply, that things are unlikely to turn around permanently in your lifetime. The staggering debt loads in many countries will lead to major changes in the way we all live and work. Many old institutions, traditions, political parties, governments, cultures, even nations will decline or collapse or simply disappear, just as has always happened in times of political and economic turmoil.

The investment bank Bear Stearns, for instance, was decades old when it went under in 2008. The financial-­services firm Lehman Brothers, when it foundered that same year, had been in business for more than a century and a half. The cave-­in of those long-­established, global corporations exemplifies the changing circumstances faced by many American institutions. Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford, though they might not know it yet, may be heading toward bankruptcy. Museums, hospitals, and other institutions we know and love are headed for trouble, and we are going to see a lot of them vanish in the upheaval, be it financial or economic.

Some have labeled me an alarmist, a modern-­day Cassandra. But nothing I see in the future need serve as cause for alarm, or even come as a surprise. The winds of change are blowing, they are blowing from the direction of China, and they are blowing in predictable fashion. What we are witnessing is business as usual, history turning a familiar page. And throughout history such moments of transition have presented opportunities to the attentive, so I am wildly optimistic about many things to come.

If you were smart at the start of the nineteenth century, you made your way to London. If you were smart at the start of the twentieth, you packed up and moved to New York. If you are smart at the start of the twenty-­first, you will find your way to Asia. A hundred years from now, the cycle of change could lead anywhere—­at the end of the first millennium, all the smart people moved to Córdoba, the flower of Islamic Spain, at the time the intellectual center of Europe and the most populous city in the world.

I moved to Asia in 2007, and even more significantly, I moved my children here. In their lifetime, a knowledge of Asia will be indispensable to success, and a mastery of Mandarin will prove, throughout the world, as important as the mastery of English does today. Power and influence in the world moved from Great Britain to the United States in the 1920s and 1930s. The loss of British leadership was exacerbated by a financial crisis and political mismanagement, and it was unnoticed by many until twenty or thirty years later. Power and influence are now moving from the United States to Asia, a loss of American leadership accelerated by the same forces, and a change that likewise remains unnoticed by most.

The transition to Asia comes at a time of a second historical shift. In the depths of a financial meltdown, the world is on the verge of a transition away from finance itself, a cyclical shift away from financial firms as a source of prosperity. Throughout history there have been periods where financiers were in charge, and there have been periods where the producers of real goods—­farmers, miners, energy providers, lumberjacks—­were in charge. In the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, before the big bull market, Wall Street and the City of London were backwaters. They will be again. The money shufflers are in decline, and those identified in the Book of Joshua as the “hewers of wood and drawers of water” will now inherit the earth.

Examining the forces of history responsible for the changes in question, embracing the simple hypothesis that nothing goes on forever, I have come to appreciate the observation of another of civilization’s great thinkers, Albert Einstein, who said: “Only two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity. And I’m not so sure about the former.”

Let us not forget that Cassandra, the Trojan princess who made a nuisance of herself when she warned against dragging the Greeks’ wooden horse into the city, if remembered for no other attribute, is remembered for having been right.

My aim in writing this book, among other things, is to cast light on how we came to be where we are and how individuals can go about educating themselves to prepare for the future. In doing so, I will share with you insights gained over the course of a lifetime in finance, investing, and the pursuit of adventure, lessons I learned growing up, following a road that led from the soil of the Black Belt to this Southeast Asian city-­state on the other side of the globe, a lifelong journey in the course of which I made the whole world my backyard.

My adventure in the markets began in the spring of 1964. I was a senior at Yale, and I found myself headed to Wall Street in much the same way that I had earlier found myself headed to the Ivy League: I stumbled into it.

In high school, I was an enthusiastic member of the Key Club, a student-­led service organization, part of Kiwanis International, which until 1976 was restricted to boys. Membership in the Demopolis Key Club was something of a big deal because the local sponsor had made the decision to admit only five boys a year. The year I served as president, the Demopolis club won the award as the world’s best Key Club from a small town. Every year, back then, Yale University granted a four-­year scholarship to a member of Key Club International. The scholarship was how I heard of Yale. Had it not been for the Key Club I never would have applied.

The school I fully expected to attend, the only college other than Yale to which I applied, was the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, a liberal arts college affiliated with the Episcopal Church. I was accepted at Sewanee shortly after sending in my application. It was not until April or May, some considerable time after my father sent Sewanee the required $50 acceptance fee, that I received a thick envelope from Yale containing notification that I had been accepted there and had been awarded the Key Club scholarship of $2,000 a year.

I was astonished.

I was seventeen and knew little about Yale except that it was in New Haven, Connecticut. My parents, however, were experienced enough to appreciate the significance of my being accepted. Both were college graduates. They had met at the University of Oklahoma, where both were Phi Beta Kappa. My father had studied petroleum engineering, my mother liberal arts. To them, my attending Yale was pretty big stuff. “We are a little bit worried to have you setting off to that bastion of liberalism in the North,” I remember my father saying, but in fact both he and my mother were ecstatic. My father’s joy would be tempered somewhat by his subsequent failure to get back the $50 he had sent to Sewanee. Fifty dollars in 1960 in Demopolis was a lot of money, and is still a lot of money today, but back then it was worth about seven times as much as it is worth currently.

I was the eldest of five brothers and one of fewer than fifty students in my high school class, and I was quick to exhibit to all of them the exaggerated sense of my own importance that flowed from my good fortune. I immediately started putting on the big dog, as we say in those parts, but my inflated sense of myself was destined to be short-­lived. Slowly it dawned on me, Oh, oh, now I have to go to Yale. And I was suddenly scared, because I knew I was in way over my head. I wondered, What am I going to do now?

That summer, traveling to attend the Key Club convention in Boston, I got off the train in New Haven and went to the Yale admissions office. I wanted to know why I had been accepted. I hoped that by asking that question, I might get an idea of what to expect and understand what might be expected of me. The admissions director pulled out my folder and said, “What do you mean? Look, you graduated first in your class. You got a hundred in many of your subjects. Your average was almost a hundred.”

Yeah, but that was in Demopolis. Oh, my gosh, I thought, these guys think I’m smart, they think I know something.

Feeling totally unprepared to compete with students from prestigious northeastern prep schools, I arrived at Yale ready to study that much harder than everyone else. A test came up, I remember, and one of my classmates said that he was going to study five hours to prepare for it. “This test,” he said, “is worth five hours of study.” I found his reasoning very peculiar. My approach was to study as much as was necessary until I knew the subject, and then study some more just to be sure. It was the approach I took to everything, a discipline my brothers and I picked up from my parents: There is no such thing as enough. You just keep studying, or keep working, or keep researching, whatever the task happens to be.

Today, I wish I knew how to instill this characteristic in my children. I wish I could call my father or mother and say, “What pill did you give us?” Call it discipline, call it diligence, call it work ethic—­we all have it, my brothers and I. I do not know where it comes from. I wish I could find the gene. I am certainly not alone in recognizing the value of persistence—we all know smart people who are not successful; we all know talented people who are not successful. Persistence is what makes the difference.

The cost of tuition and room and board at Yale back then was $2,300. With my $2,000 scholarship I was $300 short to start with, and that was before the cost of books and other routine expenses. I got a job as a busboy in the dining hall a few hours a week and continued taking part-­time jobs at the university all the time I was there.

Work experience in one’s youth offers quantifiable benefits. While teaching the value of money, it also helps you develop an identity; in learning to manage finances, you gain a tangible measure of autonomy. I started paying my own way early in life, well before arriving at Yale. My father, when I was six, teaching me that “money does not grow on trees,” insisted that I pay for my own baseball glove. I went down to Braswell Hardware in Demopolis and picked out a glove that cost four dollars. I took it home, and every Saturday I returned to pay the proprietor, Cruse Braswell, fifteen cents until the full price had been paid. Years later, a Columbia business school dean, citing a university study, told me that the single most important predictor of a happy life in adulthood was having a paying job as a teenager.

All in all, I had a fine time at Yale. I majored in history and competed as a coxswain on the crew, lettering in my sophomore and junior years (I did not cox as a senior). I even did a little acting and landed a couple of leading roles. One was directed by John Badham, class of 1961. Can you imagine what a hit his movie ­Saturday Night Fever would have been if he had remembered me for the lead! But as much as I loved it, I never went too far with it, for the same reason that I did not cox as a senior. I devoted the time to my studies instead. And the discipline paid off. Not as smart as everybody else, I managed to graduate cum laude.

Revue de presse

"Buy it. We endorse it absolutely and enthusiastically." -Lou Dobbs, Lou Dobbs Tonight, Fox Business Network, February 7, 2013

“More than his outsized wealth and contempt for those in power, though, it is Rogers' knack for outsized fun that makes him seem worth knowing...Street Smarts shines when it conveys that zest.” -USA Today

"Street Smarts" is another great read from one of the most astute global investors of our time. With wisdom, humor, and amusing antidotes, the Investment Biker recounts his life's experiences in a manner that is as entertaining as it is educational. As an added surprise, readers may find his insight on fatherhood even more valuable than his perspective on history, economics, and the financial markets. –Peter D. Schiff; best-selling author, host of the Peter Schiff Radio Show, and CEO of Euro Pacific Capital, Inc.

"There are almost no investment geniuses. The only ones I know of are Warren E. Buffett and John C. Bogle and Jim Rogers."  –Ben Stein, New York Times
“Jim Rogers makes my head hurt.” –Paul Krugman, New York Times

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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur (beta) 208 commentaires
186 internautes sur 195 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Wise Guy 21 janvier 2013
Par John Petralia - Publié sur
Format: Relié Commentaire client Vine pour produit gratuit ( De quoi s'agit-il? )
Part memoir, part investment primer, part history lesson, part travelogue, part sermon, Street Smart is all good. For me, it's the best and most coherent of the Jim Rogers trilogy which includes Investment Biker and Adventure Capitalist. I've enjoyed them all. I've also seen him many times on CNBC and before that on FNN. Despite having an annoying and immature need to constantly tell you how smart he is, I still find him a unique character, unpredictable, opinionated, irascible, incisive, and unconventional. Here's just a few paraphrased observations from this book that I found particularly intriguing:
* The US is declining as fast as Asia is rising.
* If you want to give your kids a good education, make sure they learn Chinese.
* The best investment opportunities are in Asia.
* The US spends twice as much on healthcare as the average nation and gets terrible outcomes.
* High healthcare and litigation costs are the major reasons why American carmakers can't compete globally.
* The fourth leading cause of death in the US is hospital infection.
* The US will go the way of Rome, Timbuktu, Morocco, Portugal, Spain and Greece.
* The cure for high prices is high prices.
* Jim Rogers is always two or three years ahead of the curve.
* Because governments are debasing currencies, commodities are the best investment.
* Don't believe government statistics.
* According to government stats, there are more pets in Japan than children.
* The school system in Singapore is far superior to any in the US.
* Marco polo did not have a passport.
* Throughout history, the most prosperous societies have been open ones.
* In the US, the primacy of the individual has become subordinated to the state.
* If you want to save America, change to a consumption tax, change our education system, institute healthcare and litigation reform, and bring home our troops (from over 100 countries.)
* The only real failure is not to try; the only improper question is the one unasked.
There's more. Lots more. Some of it a bit too personal, too petty, too self-serving. But, mostly entertaining and instructive. A good investment.
136 internautes sur 153 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Unfortunately in this book, Rogers simply does not live up to his name. 27 février 2013
Par Peter Matay - Publié sur
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
I expected much more from this book. I expected to learn something new. The book's misleading title suggests useful info to being "street smart." But instead of street smarts, the book is little more than a shallow account of Rogers' life. So, forget about any street smarts.

According to an interview with the Reuters, it took 70 years for Rogers to do the research for this book. But writing about past girlfriends and wives actually makes me actually loath the man. Although Rogers cares about morality and in business (he mentions why he left Soros), he does not seem to have much of morality and virtue in his personal life--a fact he lightly brushes aside by saying something to the effect that "I was never what one might call "good relationship material"".

Or, perhaps, I missed out that this was part of being street-smart...

Street-smarts? The author does not reveal any new secrets to being street smart, instead of constant boasting how others are wrong.

Adventures? Instead of featuring real, life-threatening adventures, such as being held hostage in Congo or buying fake diamonds (which Rogers briefly talked about during one interview) , the book is rife with low key adventures of how to choose your home, refurbish your decor, raise your children, make sure that one educates them properly.

If you follow Jim Rogers's writings closely--as I do--it seems that, while Rogers has perhaps a hundred stories to tell, he has told them all dozens of times in previous interviews. Most of the book is comprised of such recycled stories, often with the same oddities in style that leads one to suspect that this book was cribbed together by a ghost writer.

When Rogers isn't recycling old stories, he is repeating clichés. We have all heard that India is a basket case; that the stock market was a backwater when Rogers started on wall street; how so-called experts who never visited China suddenly began talking about China; how the US is the largest debtor in history; how agriculture will grow in importance over the next decade or two; how your children should learn Mandarin; etc. None of these are new or interesting any more. About the only new things I did learn were: the name of his second wife, how he bought a house, and how he made another Guinness world record.

Where Rogers does address something of interest, he utterly fails to give the details that would make it of value. Take, for example, this passage about what professor Rogers presents to his students:

"I am going to give you companies to analyze, and I will teach you how to do it...I told them how I went about analyzing companies. I gave them spreadsheets. I had the chairmen of a couple of large corporations come in, and in each case, I would sit and question the chairman as though I were a portfolio manager, an analyst...."

But he reveals nothing to the reader about how this is done. What are the questions that he asks investors? What did he ask the chairmen of large corporations? Merely telling us that he would "sit and question them" is useless.

Entirely too much of the book is such meaningless verbiage. Among the many examples I could choose is this paragraph:

"We took up residence in a serviced apartment in Shanghai, which is similar living in a hotel. It is a setup designed for temporary but extended stays: a complete apartment, furnished, fitted out with cutlery, glasses, plates, linens, and such, and provided with housekeeping service--a living arrangement used extensively by corporations for employees on foreign assignments. You can just walk in, turn on the lights, plug in your computer...."

Really? I didn't know: a serviced apartment with a housekeeping service.

Reinforcing the suspicion that this book is not only ghost written, but that Rogers himself failed to read it, are a few inconsistencies and even suggestions of conflict of interest. In the book, Rogers gives this assessment of Russia's economic prospects:

"Any uptick in Russia's fortunes derives from the same commodities bull market that is casting sunshine on Brazil, and it will be just as temporary. Russians are currently facing the worst of all worlds. With a very low birthrate, their demographic problem is quite serious........and it is hard to see how O'Neill's hypothesis is gained any traction. In my view, Russia, which is already something of a basket case, will continue to disintegrate."

Nevertheless, about six months ago, Rogers began promoting Russia for investments. I do not know whether this was related to him becoming agricultural advisor to Russia's VTB Capital or not. But Rogers has been known to have a track record in promoting his own interests (e.g., indexes and funds). In the book, he confesses:

"At the same time, I started appearing on television, talking up commodities, mentioning the funds and other funds based on the index. The funds started growing fairly rapidly. Within three years, benefiting from my return and, inl , and, in larger part, from Tom Price's leadership - he did a brilliant job of saving things--the company had a few hundred million dollars under management"
In the end, what am I to think? Is Russia a basket case? Or should I invest in whatever groups Rogers is employed by? Or should I just assume that something has changed since his first assessment was written, rendering the book out-of-date? Or perhaps I should just take anything Rogers says about Russia with a grain of salt, as he himself suggests when he writes: "I am certainly optimistic about the changed attitude of Moscow, but one must keep perspective"

In conclusion, I would say to anyone who has long followed and come to respect Rogers, that he or she should pass this book by; Rogers' earlier books were much better. Is there anything worthwhile in it? Not much, but I did enjoy a few parts: reading about, the flight of Americans, FATCA, Singapore savings tax, the cost of litigation and a few other parts. Overall, however, these hardly counterbalance my disappointment in the rest of the book.

Unfortunately in this book, Rogers simply does not live up to his name.
28 internautes sur 31 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A Self Indulgent Book 6 février 2013
Par Esteban Ess - Publié sur
Format: Relié Commentaire client Vine pour produit gratuit ( De quoi s'agit-il? )
I have to admire Jim Rogers' chutzpah, courage, and adventurous spirit as well as his success in the financial world. But, I was not expecting to have to listen to him repeatedly tell the reader about how smart he is and what a wonderful life he and his family are living in Singapore. The book is sort of like having dinner with someone who regales you with their "war stories" and list of successes. After a while, the reader gets worn down unless you like to read self indulgent prose. I would like this book a little better if Mr. Rogers would tell more of the facts about the success of China. Yes, the Chinese people work very hard. Yes, the people are capitalistic and business driven in the extreme. Even the street corner food cart operator with a small, two stool cart, works his or her butt off and finds ways to leverage up their income. But, on the other hand, the government remains communist at the core and exercises central planning in various guises. I wish Mr. Rogers had spoken more to how the government subsidizes raw materials for factories and how goods are dumped on the US market below cost. (In fairness, the USA has dumped depreciating currency on China as artificially low interest rates on treasuries will be followed by inflation in the years to come). China had to learn the businesses it now operates and it gained plenty of teachers by accepting investment and factory operational help from a lot of foreign investor companies as well as from Taiwan which has been a powerhouse in electronics and semiconductors getting its start in those areas in the late 1960s. In my opinion, Taiwan pointed the way for how well Chinese can compete if left unchained to do so. The author had little to say about Taiwan and I would have liked to have heard more about South Korea and Malaysia as well. One can gain some useful ideas from the book and can develop some alternative ways to think about the current economic crises and what causes them. Jim Rogers takes the present financial leadership within a number of underperforming economies to task (including the USA) and gives you pause to think about how you should best protect and position your assets for the rough seas ahead of us all.
43 internautes sur 52 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Insights, Humor, Investment Ideas, Life's lessons all in one book 14 janvier 2013
Par promethian man - Publié sur
Format: Relié Commentaire client Vine pour produit gratuit ( De quoi s'agit-il? )
I have read several, perhaps all of Mr. Rogers books (A Gift to my Children, Hot Commodities, Investment Biker, Adventure Capitalist, and A Bull in China).
I would say this book is my favorite of his books because in some sense it is the best of his thinking on all the topics he covers in his other books, and it is also an important update in view of the last five years being so important and tumultous in modern financial history.

In reading this book, my impression is that he really wants to relate his wisdom and experience with others, just for the sake of sharing.
Examples of ideas covered include, 1) What he has learned from his marraiges and by being a parent, 2) Doing the foot work of going to off the beaten path places (Myannmar/Burma, North Korea) to look for perspective and untapped investment ideas, he even eats the local food (now that is putting your money or digestive system where your verbal mouth is) 3) The importance, promise, and cultural values of societies that save and invest rather than doing the opposite, e.g. US and other western countries. 4) Looking for investment opportunities where others do not see them, e.g. commodities 5) The importance of critical thinking, and his background in philosophy and history at Yale, allowing him to see the world in ways that others do not. 6) Importantly, the emotional and physical toll the lawsuits against him took on his life, which eventually were withdrawn or dismissed after a long drawn out process.

Mr. Rogers has been a successful investor including at Quantum Fund and more recently his being short on the financial sector during its meltdown. His call on commmodities has been variably right so far, e.g. gold, however less true of other commodities; we will see if that works out the way he thinks it will, and of course no one knows the future for sure. His attitude does seem over confident and when it is not, he comes across in his media interviews with sort of a pseudo-humilty if not downright sarcasm. He also discusses in this book his view that more businesses and economies should be allowed to fail, so that they can start over anew is poorly defended and based mostly on assertion. Allowing any and all businesses to fail could cause too much damage to innocent bystanders; a better discussion of the financial meltdown can be found in "Paying the Price" by Mark Zandi. However, at least Mr. Rogers criticisms of Mr. Paulson, Tim Geitner, Ben Bernanke and George W. Bush is written in a very humorous fashion. I also am not convinced of Mr. Rogers' arguments predicting the demise of even the most prestigious American Universities.

Mr. Rogers is a colorful personality who does not need to write books and presumably has plenty of money and much to do. I appreciate his willingness to share his thinking, his experiences, and much of the book is entertaining. Moreover, there are specific investment recommendations and career choice advice that are not obvious to most people; e.g. the USA graduates 200,000 MBAs each year; Mr. Rogers explains rather than going into finance, there is a shortage of farmers and farming that is on the horizon that I have not heard others discuss. Mr. Rogers also is positive on the future of Asia and has put more than his money where his mouth is by moving to Asia and raising his children there so they can be fluent in Chinese.

While I am grateful to Mr. Rogers for sharing his thinking, I think 4 stars is a fair grade for the criticisms I discuss above. However, I think the book is more than worth reading and taking seriously.
9 internautes sur 9 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Summary of the author's life and financial advice - but nothing novel if you've seen the author on financial news networks 14 février 2013
Par Jackal - Publié sur
Format: Relié
In the past, the author has written about his bullishness on commodities and China as well as his bearishness on the dollar. He is often featured on the financial news channels so his views should be pretty familiar. However, I really wonder why he is there as a talking head all the time. It is almost as if he would have ran out of money. George Soros, his previous partner, called the author a good analyst that could do the work of five people (or something to that effect). This makes me really want to see some hard data on the author's recommendations. In any case he is managing his own brand name pretty well.

In this new book we get a summary of the author's views and some biographical details. The book is written in a very informal style (good!) and can be read in an afternoon (less good!). I wish Rogers would go back to research and present his new ideas instead. Since there is no novel material in the book I cannot recommend it. Still the book will sell because Rogers is a brand.
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