Interested in the Smead Capital Management book list? Listen in to hear Cole and Bill Smead list the books they have recently read, what they’re currently reading, and the books they have on deck. Also in this episode, value investing gurus, Bill and Cole, discuss the role higher interest rates are playing in today’s equity markets, how rising rates affect stocks, the increased risks in investments, and the impact on the real economy.
Have a book you would like to recommend for the podcast? Email suggestions to email@example.com.
You're listening to A book with legs, a podcast presented by Smead Capital Management. At Smead Capital Management, we advise investors who fear stock market failure. You can learn more at Smead cap. com or by calling your financial advisor.
Welcome to a book with legs podcast. I'm Cole Smead. I'm the CEO and a portfolio manager here at Smead Capital Management. At our firm, we are readers and book junkies. It can be said that leaders are readers, and we believe books provide us a great source of information for filtering what is and isn't important for us as investors.
Investing is the last great liberal art, and the best way to spend a lifetime of learning. This podcast is for readers, thinkers, business minded people, and investors. Who want to grow their knowledge from great authors in their writing. Charlie Munger often talks about using multiple mental models and analysis.
Our aim for this podcast is to help listeners test Munger's theory in business markets and people. See, today's date is October 2nd, 2023, uh, investors and people we run into often ask us, you know, what books are we reading? What's on our reading list. This is our quarterly episode for us to talk about books, books.
And as I always say, more books. Joining me to talk about our reading list is our chief investment officer and chairman, my dad, Bill Smead. Thanks for joining me, dad. Thanks for having me. So I'm as usual, like, you know, we got some fun books that we got to go through some stuff we got to discuss. Um, I, I think, you know, in the liberal arts sense, it's kind of fun to watch us jump around on some of these topics.
So, um, let's start out by, you know, what have. What have you recently read?
Well, of course, we read the Warner Brothers book by Chris Yogerst, and that was just fantastic. Cole's mother and I are, we watch Turner Classic movies, which is just loaded with Warner Brothers movies from the past, and connecting all those dots, and these brothers, and their immigrant background, and then The way that they were kind of the conscience of the movie business at the same time that the one guy was, had the least conscience among the brothers was a very successful producer.
So it was just a, yeah, it was, it was a fun book and a great.
So this will be a podcast that's coming out, uh, here in October, uh, with Chris and, um, we'll have some bonus content off the podcast as well. But to Bill's point, I think it really tells a different narrative of the Warner brothers, you know, another family, but obviously the studio itself.
It shows you that. Family starts with an F for a reason as you mentioned with Jack Warner. He you know, he did some strange things to his brothers But the other thing too is you know, I think you know You kind of hear these like very stereotypical stories of like well You know The movie studios were Jewish and that's why they were out to get society and so on and so forth and then you read the Warner Brothers book and Harry Warner To your point was this moral leader, a model Patriot in America, a model Patriot.
Correct. And so I think it really breaks down that, that stereotype, uh, completely and eviscerates it versus, you know, the other thing, I think there are other sensitive subject that it got into. That's again, it's a very sensitive subject is, uh, were the movie studios profiting off of. the Nazis, right?
Which has been a historical dialogue that's gone over and over and over again. In the discussion of the Nazis, it's interesting, you know, I think the movie, uh, that really typified that the Warners don't hold to that idea is the Confessions of a German Spy, which is a very popular movie, um, you know, at that time.
And so I think it's, it's really good book to take history, take it for what it is, take it on face value and really study who these people were. And Chris does a great job. He's just a kind of like a Hollywood super fan, um, and is a wonderful book and, and, uh, highly recommend. Uh, his book for, for people listening and, and obviously Bill and I both read that.
So what else? Yeah. Graveyard of the Pacific by Randall Sullivan. Very fascinating background. A guy wrote for Rolling Stone for 20 years, wrote this fantastic historical piece of, The importance of, of the meeting of the massively powerful Columbia River with the, with the ocean at the bar and the danger and a long history of people meeting their death on that body of water, just an incredible.
It's a great geography book. It's a great history book, but yet it's also a great story about him and his friend and, and dealing with some rough issues in their, in their upbringing. Well, yeah. And this is a little more close to home for you because obviously your dad got his. Yeah, that, that he talks about and, and shows how incredibly difficult it was to get from a pilot boat onto a ship and vice versa.
And my dad would get on those ships just inside the bar, whereas the bar pilots would be getting, doing that out. 25 miles off the coast and how dangerous all of that was.
Yeah, because Harold Smead, just so if you're not picking up on this, was a Columbia River ship pilot. So he would be taking boats from Astoria once they came across the bar and taking them as far inland as Lewiston, Idaho, which I think is the furthest.
Inland port. The dams kind of put the kibosh on any trips longer than that. When he was a tugboat skipper. Sure. Yeah, they'd go, they went all the way up there. But, but really, uh, long view for logs and, and, uh, uh, Portland and Vancouver for anything from containers to cars, et cetera.
And this is all pre GPS.
So like, whether we're talking about the bar pilots. Or like grandpa, as a Columbia river ship pilot, um, you were going off of memory and experience. Oh yeah.
Yeah. It, uh, uh, you, you had to know the bottom of that river, every inch of it and, uh, everything that went along, uh, uh, with it. Wait, one of my, one of my favorite things was dad.
Dad used to say, I used to, I get to go around the world without leaving town. So all these foreign ships come in to bring their goods. So one time he's on a, on a ship. coming up the river with a Japanese skipper who saw Mount St. Helens before it blew up. And he said, Oh, Fuji. It looked a lot like Mount Fuji to him in Japan.
And my dad just loved that, that, that, that, uh, that the spice of his life, effectively taking him around the world for six hour
trips every year. Yeah, so let's see, books that I just got done reading, um, you know, we, we, a couple of these are, are, I think all these actually already released, but we did Cage Kings by Michael Thompson, which is, you know, a phenomenal book.
I think it really, uh, talks about, it's a media book is what it is. I know it talks about, you know, the history of fighting and things of that nature, but it's really interesting, you know, um, we have right now, um, WWE merged with UFC to create a new company called TKO Holdings, um, that is led by, you know, Ari Emanuel, uh, of Endeavor fame, the, uh, agency.
And um, it's interesting to think about, you know, in the environment where, what is sport? What is the value of sport? It's terribly tangible, it's terribly expensive, and at the same time, it still captivates large audience. So I think it was a wonderful media book. The other book that we also did on the podcast was Gallop Towards the Sun.
The most complex thing. So in this world where it's easy to be... Uh, skeptical of the past. And I think that's like a common theme. Like, people being very highly skeptical of the past. Um, and what I would argue people often use is revisionist history. It was interesting to think about, uh, Tecumseh, the Shawnee chief.
Uh, and William Harrison, who ended up becoming, obviously, President Harrison later in his life. Where Thomas Jefferson... Or James Monroe, what they wanted as president might be different than what William Harrison did on the frontier. In other words, local policy can be superseding federal policy, which was allowable back then.
Could I go back to your cage kings for just a minute? Yeah. I was on a flight coming back from Europe recently, and I watched hmm.
Well, I, it just struck me how the world of boxing has kind of receded dramatically because people enjoy the, the cage fighting matches.
Or they get paid better to do other things in sport.
Yeah, exactly. But it was just interesting. It was a great story, by the way, about George Foreman and I enjoyed the movie a lot, but it just reminded me of how much things have changed.
Forty years ago we'd gather in the fraternity watched a big boxing match and that was a big thing Well, those fraternities today are probably gathering to watch the the cage Kings well,
but the interesting part is if a UFC fighter boxes They still make more money in their career for that first boxing match than they do their entire UFC career prior.
So, for example, Conor McGregor made more money fighting, uh, Floyd Mayweather than he had ever made in his entire UFC career combined. So, again, you know, it asks the question, what's of value? And I think one of the criticisms that Michael Thompson put out was how small the pay is to UFC fighters relative to It's only 20 percent of their EBITDA, and it's very common for that to be 40 percent in most sports, like football, like others.
So, let's see, the other book, uh, just got done reading, and, and really enjoyed, um, this is, this is a little bit, uh, selfish for Bill and I, but, um, uh, it's Taming the Street by Diana Henriquez, which is the history... of the SEC in the 1934 Act and the 1940 Act. And, you know, and I said this to her because I, I got the sense out of the book, but she really paints the picture that, um, William O.
Douglas is the patron saint of the SEC. Which, as most people know, he went on to the court and he's known as being on the Supreme Court for decades. But she kind of argues, and I, I would say, you know, as a, as a, as a Supreme Court judge, I, I don't think of it as much. I think of him a lot more as, as an SEC.
Uh, person because that's where I think he had his finest moments, um, but a lot of the, you know, rules, regulations, restrictions that are purposeful and beneficial to people that are still in the books, we run the 1940 Act mutual funds, you know, we're subject to 34 Act, uh, restrictions, um, et cetera, are due to the thoughtfulness of William O.
Douglas, who wasn't the first chair, the first chair was Joe Kennedy, right? Who was, uh, some could argue the biggest huckster. Up until that era, and Cole and I took classes in the, the school building at our, at our alma mater, Whitman College named after William O. Douglas, maybe the most famous graduate of our alma mater.
Yeah. So that was, uh, and that was a lot of fun. And I highly recommend to our audience, uh, when, when you listen to that discussion, you'll hear a very intriguing discussion at the very end where. Um, Diana and I, we debated labor versus capital. And, and I don't think, uh, Diana and I come from the same political party, but I unequivocally agreed with her that labor is going to beat capital.
I argued it's going to be economic powers that drive that. Um, and, and I think it was a very fun discussion. You know, if you're wondering like, you know, how do you be pragmatic in this world? I think that was a very pragmatic discussion that we had together. It was awesome. So I really appreciate Diana for that Um, so let's pivot bill to what you're currently reading.
Yeah, I I uh well through Uh, both life after capitalism by george gilder and a question of power by robert bryce the two intersect at one point in both books where Uh, Bryce, uh, kind of more comes from the political left, but is trying to emphasize how incredibly important electricity is. And boy, that is so apropos for what's going on today, which is everybody wants this to be an electric society, but they're all forgetting about how you make electricity.
And, and, uh, and then George Gilder has some of the same thoughts in his life after capitalism, but his is more. He's concerned that, that we won't be releasing enough CO2 to produce the agriculture that, to feed the world. So it's just very, both of them had incredibly interesting twists to, uh, current discussions, which leads you to believe that a lot of the supposed mainstream thoughts on those subjects are maybe not
accurate and, and maybe are more political than they are sensible. Yeah, and obviously, uh, you know, we've done a podcast with George on his book, uh, Life After Google, um, which is a, you know, great kind of framework. I, I really think of George as a great framework thinker. Um, I think he really does a great job of understanding how the world should be ordered to a certain extent.
Um, uh, you know, do I think George is perfect on everything? The answer is no. Um, and, and, but I think from a framework perspective, a lot of George's thinking is, you know, uh, seep through to how we look at things, your point, how we look at, you know, how energy markets are going to be ordered, how we look at human progress, technology, things of that nature.
I, so I would, I would highly recommend George's writing. Yeah, on a recent
drive vacation with my wife of five days, we drove past where he started his, uh, life after Google, which is the server farm that's planted right next to the Dallas dam. Uh, in fact, there's two of them and, and, uh, replacing what used to be an aluminum smelter.
Everybody that uses a massive amount of electricity for what they do wants to be closest to the dams because the electricity is the cheaper, the less far it has to be transmitted.
Um, the book that I'm currently in, I just cracked, uh, is Escaping Gravity by Lori Garver. And Lori was the deputy administrator at NASA.
Uh, during the Obama administration, and she was the person, and she had a history of being involved with NASA, um, but she was the person that actually brought in the agreements with Blue Origin and SpaceX, and, um, uh, you know, Richard Branson's entity, uh, I want to call it Battlestar Galactica, but that's, but that's not, uh, It's Virgin Galactica, um, and Virgin Galactic Galactics.
Yeah, sorry. Um, and so I actually, how I got, uh, to, you know, learn about her book was I was up at one of our vendors, um, you know, partner to us, uh, that we'll, we'll take our business to for, uh, our SAS software to run, uh, you know, our firm operationally, um, Ridgeline, they had her come speak up there and, um, She came off, you know, again, very pragmatic as someone that was dealing with government.
I mean, you want to talk about a nightmare, a bureaucracy like NASA. Um, she talked about the billions of dollars being spent every year in NASA. Um, so a couple of things, and this is why I'm really interested in the book. She pointed out when Nixon signed the space shuttle. Um, we were supposed to be going to space something like 30 to 40 times a year.
And, uh, I think in the entire prior, you know, 30 years, we'd only gone to space like 130 times. So we were only going about four times a year. And she also talked about, you know, again, incentive structures. And I think this is what her book will get at. And I'm really excited for, um, because obviously Munger talks a lot about incentive structures.
She talks about how the incentive for Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Was to just keep the money rolling it wasn't to innovate or do it cheaper or more timely Because again that that's not how the contract was structured to suckle. Yeah to suckle and so versus How do you make a change to contracts that do cause good incentives or good behaviors?
And that's a process and so after hearing her talk of what that was like I'm really interested to get deeper into that book Um, you know, she knew Elon Musk early on, you know, before we consider him this very wealthy person and, and, you know, before people, uh, ascribed the intelligence that he probably had back then, but they obviously ascribe it to him now.
The wealthier you get, the smarter people think you are. So, um, so it's just a very interesting book. Uh, and I'm really deeper into Laurie's book. Um, so let's, let's pivot, uh, to lastly, you know, books we've had recommended to us, I'll, I'll go first. So there's three books coming up that I've came across, or I've had someone recommend to me, um, uh, money Kings by Daniel Schulman.
Um, I read his prior book, which was, um, Sons of Wichita, which is all about the Koch brothers. The Money Kings is really about the Jewish investment banks. Um, and I'm really excited to get into that. Um, obviously just love Wall Street history in general. I'd like to be included in that one. The, um, the next one is the Ruble by Ekaterina Prevalova.
It is a history of Russia through the ruble. Um, and so she's using the currency as a way of talking about the cultural and political history of, of Russia, and, and that's, I, I, that'll be a fun one to crack into. Um, the other one that I had someone recommend to me, and I actually saw a clip of him speak, um, is Science After Babel by David Berlinski, and he was on Joe Rogan.
If you want a very interesting discussion, Um, you know, watching a guy who believes in intelligent design discuss this with Joe Rogan, and Joe Rogan, um, you know, is, is, sits in a very, what I'll call, he sits in an evolutionary theory camp, um, I think is, is where he sits. It was just interesting to watch the dialogue back and forth between these two gentlemen.
Um, I have not cracked David's book yet, but I kind of have a sense of what could come out of that. Um, and I, and, and, um, so that, that'd be a fun book to get into. Bill, uh, what, what books are you looking forward to? Well, I, I've started
Long Street by Elizabeth Veron. Fascinating book, um, uh, about a, a guy who grew up in the Old South, uh, effectively on the wrong side of the slave issue, uh, a successful military man that Southern general.
Southern general fought for The South, and then, uh, recognizes his error later in life and, and makes it a career of trying to reverse the wrongs that were, uh, perpetuated by his original work. Uh, quite a, quite a, uh, a redemption kind of a story. Yeah, James Longstreet, uh, being the Southern General that, that Bill's mentioning, um, and, and it's funny because I think in, uh, I think it was, I think it was, um, um, Uh, Grant, by Ron Chernow.
Ron Chernow talks about how Lee was romanticized after the war. And, again, you know, we want to be pragmatists in what we do. James Longstreet. Changed his tune right when as as Kane says when the facts change. I changed my mind. I changed my mind He changed his mind and and and and Lee and other people they were never pragmatic.
They never changed their mind well and and he this this guy put up with a lot of abuse because he wasn't willing to tow the party line and And as a southerner as a southerner fit in with the the powerful Southern Democrat Uh, defense of slavery and their willingness to discriminate and, and torture people just because of the color of their skin.
So, um, let's see, we had a couple other books recommended to us, uh, by Chris from Ohio is how I'll refer to him. Um, he recommended, uh, The Fourth Turning Is Here by Neil Howe. And uh, I, I'm somewhat familiar with Neil because he wrote The Fourth Turning, uh, and I can't remember the other gentleman he wrote it with, but I heard, um, Double lines, um.
Gunlock. Gunlock. He had mentioned it in a TV spot. Um, and, and, and, the fourth turning has to do with what I know of the writing is there's these turning points in cultural society from a political and demographic perspective and they're kind of arguing that here we are now. Their original book they wrote quite a long time ago.
Um, and so, I, so that's one book we had recommended to us. The other one that, uh, Chris recommended was Ubiquity. Why Catastrophes Happen by Mark Buchanan, which I have not, uh, looked into that or cracked it. So I, I, um, don't have any feel, but just wanted to mention those cause, cause Chris, uh, recommended. I didn't have any from super fans, Steve.
Um, so it will be, it will be unrequited this quarter. The kind of turning that you might be referring to would be. Uh, we have argued that the baton is being passed to the millennial group from the baby boomer group, the two largest population groups up till now.
Yeah, but they, they, it's more than demographics.
They talk about just, just things needed, environments needed. Um, uh, so they, they, they put other things into that, but their demographics do have something to do with it. Um, so that, so, you know, uh, I, I want to pull out kind of a question from the question bag. Um, because I know we've talked a lot about this, I know that we get questions around this, um, so the question I want to pose, uh, to discuss Bill is, you know, we've gone from really low interest rates to much higher interest rates.
The last time interest rates were above 5 percent was 2007. So, so far in my life, in my adult career, it's, it's only happened twice thus far and it took, you know, effectively 15 years, 16 years to get back to something like that. So why hasn't the mean reversion from low interest rates to higher interest rates been more damaging for assets?
I have a book that might answer that question. It was called Who Moved My Cheese.
Which yeah, what was it Stuart Spencer or something? Yeah, I think
so Anyway, the the point was you had these three mice and they used to go to the same spot Every day to get their cheese and then all of a sudden the cheese dried up And so the story was how the three of them reacted differently to having to adapt to go find cheese someplace else Yeah And, and, and what we've got is a stock market that, that just is so used to getting their cheese from the same places that the low interest rates caused to be the best place.
And they're just not very willing to give up on that, that spot. So it'll be interesting to see how much torture it's going to take to move people off that old spot. Well, so when you say, well, let me add one thing. So. We have seen the effect of interest rates in certain markets though. Okay. So if you think about the carnage of the bond market at one point, You know, bond market investors got damaged in a way they didn't think they could.
So we've seen, we've seen this in the credit markets, high price to sales, glamor stocks, the Pelotons and the beyond meats and some of those things. So, you know, the SPAC thing has cooled down. The IPO markets cooled down. Um, you know, I, I'll use an example. We, we've talked a lot about this. Um, I think it was Howard Hughes Corp.
Their CEO said they went to 47 banks to try to get a multifamily apartment loan. And they couldn't get one out of 47 banks. Uh, I have some friends locally. I mean, this is Phoenix. There's a lot of real estate that's done in this town. And, um, a friend who builds multifamily apartments, uh, I asked him what a construction loan costs.
Right now to get a property, uh, a new property developed, uh, for multi family. And he said a minimum of 10%. Okay, so if, if short end treasuries are at five and a half, the bank's saying, for me to take any risk, I need 450 basis points over my funding cost, my overnight cost. Um, when, when we're, when I'm hearing, you know, when we're talking to people, you know, that do other things in the investment business.
I, I've been hearing it's not outlandish to see mid teens interest rates being thrown out at banks. And obviously we all know what happened with Silicon Valley Bank and, and those kind of banks. So it's interesting that we're seeing this in credit funded markets. Underneath the surface though. Underneath the surface.
And, but yet, the equity market seems like it's doing just fine. Yeah, well,
they, they, again, you, you, you can, you, you can ignore things for quite a while in the investment business. But, the, the tendency is, it'll go that way for a substantial time and then it will correct. Incredibly abruptly at some point in time, everybody go, gosh, where did this come from?
Well, the answer is all the time that that people were oblivious to it while it already existed.
So one one other thing, uh to add to this and i'll ask you it bill Um, so, you know, we're talking about what it does on asset markets What do you think the effect will be on the economy and let's just use I mean, we're at historically low unemployment What do you think will happen to the economy and unemployment in comparison to what we're talking about in asset markets?
Well, well, uh There's things that we think we have skills in predicting and there's things that we don't have skills in predicting and we try to stay Pretty close to the things that we do but from a historical standpoint And you and I have already talked about this the The normalize, I, this is just really normalizing interest rates.
Correct. Uh, so normalizing interest rates is ultimately going to have some economic fallout. I, I, I, in, in, in and investment fallout be because, You have this gravitational pull that Buffett talks about. So, so price earnings ratios are 20, 21 times earnings. Well, for years, you know, we were always nervous when the market PE got above 14 and, but with 1 percent interest rates.
That, that, that wasn't shocking, but we've already normalized and, and yet the, the price earnings ratio is 20 or 21. So, so again, you'll, you can ignore that for a while. It just, it'll, it'll happen abruptly
when it happens. We, and I think about it, like, so I think everybody wants to look back at 07 to 09 and say like, okay, what happened then?
And how did that be my playbook for living life, which is, um, by the way, that, that treats it like a formulaic rote process. And it's impossible. And it didn't, it didn't, there was bad demographics. There, there was just totally ridiculous real estate speculation. But, but in many respects, whether we're talking demographics or anything like that, the economy grabbed the hand of the asset markets and said, Hey, Let's go to hell together.
Okay, but it was the economy that really led the asset markets this time I think it's the inverse of that the asset markets will grab the hand of the economy And slowly pull them into hell because, again, are we seeing damage in the economy from higher interest rates? No. We don't see it in jobs. We don't see it in house prices.
The things that would affect the mainstream middle America economy, it is asset related. It's credit related. It's what wealthy people deal in.
But, but again, those kinds of things have 12 to 18 month lead times.
Correct. To where, you know, it will eventually affect the real economy. But it will take time for that to eventually happen.
I mean, as an example, I mean, yeah, no one's getting poorer in their home right now. Now let's go call the average real estate agent in America, and say, hey, what do your recent 1099s as a contractor look like in home sales?
70 percent fewer listings. A good friend of ours that's a solid real estate agent says there's 30 percent fewer listings in the Phoenix area than there was a year ago.
Correct. So, you know, if they've made great money the last three or four years, you can see You can weather that storm for a year, maybe two, but you can't go out and weather that for three years. And that's when it would, again, that's where the credit issues, you know, asset issues start to affect the real economy.
Would you want to be a mortgage broker right now where you just got done doing the biggest volume you've ever seen in refinancing your lifetime within a two year stretch? And now you might never see a refinancing again.
And that's a natural corrective force. Uh, we figured out that back in 07 about, uh, 4 percent of U. S. adults were employed directly or indirectly associated with residential real estate. And by the time we got to the bottom in 09 or 010, probably 60 percent of those people had to seek employment somewhere else.
Exactly. So, um, let's see. So I just want to say to our audience and our listeners and our tribe, Send us your questions.
We'd love to tackle it and kind of our, our, our big question next quarter. Bill, thanks for joining me, uh, to share with the podcast listeners. What's on the Smead book list. Um, for our listeners, if you have a great book that you'd like to recommend, email podcast at Smead cap. com. That's podcast at Smead cap.com. You can also reach out to us on Twitter. Our handle is at Smead cap. Uh, we'll give you a shout out next quarter when we do this again, if you got book recommendations, questions, like I said, thank you for joining us for the Smead book list on a book with legs podcast. We look forward to the next episode.
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