Liberal Arts Investing

By “considering many ideas over a wide range of disciplines,” we can become smarter investors. This according  to Robert Hagstrom, author, CIO and senior portfolio manager at EquityCompass, as reported in a recent CFA Institute article.

“In the parlance of investing,” the article explains, Hagstrom “believes that by using multidisciplinary investment decision models, including physics, biology, philosophy, and literature” we can improve our investment decision-making process. Hagstrom calls the approach “liberal arts investing” and says it is gaining popularity.

He identified one apostle of the approach, Charlie Munger, who once said, “all the wisdom in the world is not to be found in one little academic department,” and “specialization causes a lot of bad thinking.”

Hagstrom invokes the study of physics in his discussion: “Not every action has an equal reaction. Sometimes, big, big actions in the markets can have no consequence.” But he adds, “That which has fallen will come back. That which is great will—it’s reversion to the mean that we think is the essence of how money works.”

With respect to the world of literature, Hagstrom quotes former Motley Fool columnist Morgan Housel’s reference to Sherlock Holmes, who he said, “understood that no person has a monopoly on wisdom. The closest you get to the truth is by weaving together as much relevant information from the widest web of various topics and fields as you can…That’s also true in investing.” In fact, Hagstrom said that his firm encourages interns and analysts to read detective stories to develop skills for reading signals and figuring things out. “We think it’s just a good exercise,” he said.

Hagstrom argued: “As complexity and markets go up, people are struggling to figure things out. Perhaps what they thought they knew, how it worked, doesn’t work. Things are getting more challenging. And so, they begin to think, ‘Maybe there’s something that I don’t know. I need to think about things differently.’”