Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Book review: Microeconomic theory (Concepts and connections) by Michael Wetzstein

Microeconomic theory: concepts and connections – Michael Wetzstein

This book explains the principles of microeconomic theory. Starting from the basics in consumer preference and utility maximisation, it progressively covers more complicated topics all the way up to asymmetric information and externalities. Each chapter is ‘mapped’ out so you can see how the concepts connect to each other (hence the title). There are plenty of diagrams to graphically explain the concepts and there are plenty of tables and equations. The examples are very useful to see how the concepts are applied to situations.
Real life questions are asked throughout the chapters to show the connection between the theoretical concepts and real world use. The ‘application’ boxes provide insight to issues seen in the real world and use the concepts to explain how these issues are dealt with. For example: an application box explaining the minimum wage explains if you should be for it or oppose it.

What I gained from reading this book:
I think the best aspect in this book is the real life questions it answers. So many people don’t realise the potential use economics has in their daily life decisions. Each chapter answers specific important questions such as ‘How do we decrease our dependence on foreign oil?’, ‘Is allowing the poor to have affordable housing desirable?’, ‘Why have equal opportunity legislation?’, ‘Should you always play the lottery?’. The answers to these questions are very insightful and revealing. In addition to reading the answers, I learned how to answer similar questions on my own using economics. As you can see, economics is useful in a wide range of topics. The number one gain I made from this book was the ability to question everything I hear or see and find answers.

Well set out and provides useful examples and studies. Provides a good connection between the concepts and real world application. A wide range of topics are dealt with in detail.

The book uses a lot of equations and mathematics to explain the concepts. If you don’t like maths, you won’t enjoy these explanations. Of course the book also explains the concepts through words and diagrams, so it isn’t just math.

Recommended for: People interested in economics
I recommend this book for people wanting to learn economics. Because it starts from the very basics and covers a wide range of topics, it is a good choice. On the other hand, people who always question the Government’s policies will benefit from studying economics because it will give you a good understanding of why those policies were created. Economics provides a way to analyse the choices we make and helps us better understand those choices.
Genre: Economics

Overall rating: 6 out of 10 stars

Australians can buy the book by clicking the picture below:
Microeconomic Theory: Concepts and Connections

Where to from here:
If you decide you don’t want an in-depth book on economics and prefer to learn a general understanding of business as a whole, I recommend the following book:
MBA in a day by Steven Stralser
Alternatively, to read another book on economics, I recommend:

Friday, June 12, 2009

Book review: The ultimate depression survival guide by Martin Weiss

The Ultimate Depression Survival Guide: Protect your savings, boost your income and grow wealthy even in the worst of times – Martin Weiss

This book takes on two tasks: to analyse the current economic situation and see why a depression is likely to happen, and to give advice on how to protect your financial position if a depression does occur. The book starts by explaining why a depression is inevitable and explains why the government won’t be able to stop it from happening. In each chapter, step by step advice is given under topics such as “how to protect your job in bad times”, “How to go for profits in a down market”.

Many of the problems in the current financial system are identified and the author strongly makes his point that things will only get worse. Many comparisons are given between the First Great Depression from 1929 and the current situation to help explain why a Second Great Depression is inevitable. The author uses notes from his father to explain what it was like in the first depression.

What I gained from reading this book:
I read this book after seeing it on Amazon and the high average rating it received from the readers. To be completely honest, I was grossly disappointed by this book from cover to cover. My instincts were telling me the whole time that the author’s points were biased and not explained objectively. The author strongly emphasises that a severe depression worse than the ‘First Great Depression’ is inevitable. While he may have good reasons to say this, everybody knows that nothing in this world is 100% certain. To say that something is inevitable raises a red flag in my mind.

Another problem I had with this book was the advice given. Basically the author says to completely remove your money from real estate, stocks and even bank deposits and hold either cash or Treasury Bills. I was shocked at this advice. Then I remembered the title of the book “depression survival guide”. If a depression does occur, the people who follow this advice will be very glad they did. What the author fails to mention is that if a depression does not occur or if the global economy starts to recover (whatever the small chance), the people who followed this advice will deeply regret it.

I like to think of the advice as betting on a horse race. Imagine betting all your money on the horse named ‘Depression’. If ‘Depression’ wins the race, you win. If another horse wins, say ‘Recovery’ or even the least likely, ‘Expansion’, you lose big time. This book is betting that the economy will tank. Remember the saying not to have all your ‘eggs in one basket’? Well this book completely ignores that advice.

I also found myself frustrated with many parts in the book where the author would exaggerate problems by using bold or italic writing and using over the top adjectives. Phrases such as ‘financial war zone’, ‘crumbling economy’, or ‘jump from the frying pan into the fire’ really demonstrate the tone of the entire book. This style of writing felt very ‘snake oil salesperson’ to me and I am left feeling very sceptical. Everything seems to be either one extreme or another. For example, in the chapter entitled ‘How to escape the housing nightmare’, the headings use words such as: mania, corruption, fraud, cover-ups, deceptions, collapse! to tell you why you should sell. An objective discussion wouldn’t use such fear provoking words. The entire book is filled with over-the-top hyperbole that I can see will do nothing but instil fear in many people. Personally, this type of writing destroyed any confidence I had in the writer and his points.

When I finished the book, the first thing I thought to myself was that in ten years, either the author will be celebrated as a visionary, or he will be forgotten like so many other people yelling that ‘the sky is falling’. At the moment, many people are convinced that the author is right on the money.
So what did I gain from this book? I gained a basic understanding on how things have become the way they are now and an idea of what I could do if a depression does occur.

Delivers what it promises: a clear guide to ‘survive in a depression’. Very insightful explanations on the current bailouts and how the economy has come to this situation. Provides good advice for those who are worried that they will not be able to survive a depression.

Assumes that a depression will happen and bases the advice solely on that prediction. Uses so much hyperbole it almost sounds like listening to a salesperson make a pitch. Does not explain the risks in the advice given and takes a very biased position throughout the book.

Recommended for: People who are worried about the possibility of a depression.
If you don’t think you would be able to financially survive a depression, this book gives you advice what to do.
If you are wondering why the situation is so bad and why it could get worse, the book provides in-depth explanations. Although I really disliked this book, I know that everybody needs to consider the possibility (not inevitability) of a depression.
Just remember, although I didn’t enjoy the book, many other people did, so feel free to read the reviews by people on Amazon to gain a different perspective.

Genre: Personal finance

Overall rating: 5 out of 10 stars

Australians can buy the book by clicking the picture below:
The Ultimate Depression Survival Guide: Protect Your Savings, Boost Your Income, and Grow Wealthy Even in the Worst of Times

Where to from here:
I recommend the following book that gives fantastic advice on investing:
The four pillars of investing by William Bernstein

If you have read this book, feel free to leave a comment on your thoughts.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Book review: The four pillars of investing by William Bernstein

The four pillars of investing: Lessons for building a winning portfolio – William Bernstein

This book explains how to build an effective portfolio in plain English. The book is split into four parts (pillars): Theory of investing, History of investing, Psychology of investing and the Business of investing. The book explains why an understanding of these four key areas is crucial to achieve good returns. Examples are given for different people and how they would allocate their capital to different assets and why.
Many areas are discussed such as the history of bubbles and collapses, behavioural finance, the pitfalls of mutual funds and why your broker is not your buddy.

What I gained from reading this book:
I can easily say that this is the best investment book I have read to date. This is a big statement because I have read many investment books during my time at university studying finance. If I had to choose between reading four finance books that I read during university or this book, I would read this book. There is so much insight and valuable wisdom.
The great thing about this book is that you don’t have to be an experienced investor to follow these principles. The author clearly explains the process and why each point is important. So many other books fail to cover both aspects. The advice given in this book is top class and even top investors such as Warren Buffett recommend people do the same. Not only does this book explain why the advice is sensible, but it explains why the advice given by journalists, brokers and mutual funds shouldn’t be followed.
The overall gain I received from this book was a clear understanding of the industry, the markets and exactly what I should do to achieve the best results.

Fantastic advice for all investors. The entire book is written in a very logical way and is very easy to understand. Important insight into the investment industry and why the advice given by brokers and advisors should be ignored.

I wish this book was longer and more in depth.

Recommended for: Everybody
I whole heartedly recommend this book for everybody. Not only is it easy to understand, but everybody can follow the advice and construct an effective portfolio from it.

Genre: Investments

Overall rating: 10 out of 10 stars
Australians can buy the book by clicking the picture below:

The Four Pillars of Investing: Lessons for Building a Winning Portfolio

Where to from here:
If you are interested to hear from a different viewpoint on investing try this book:
Five key lessons from top money managers by Scott Kays