Twenty years ago, a professional nightclub dancer named Nicholas Darvas wrote a book called "How I Made $2,000,000 in the Stock Market." Darvas used a simple -- but hardly foolproof -- system: He would cut his losses quickly if a stock went down and let his winnings ride if it went up. Darvas established a genre of investment literature that persists today.
Most Darvas-style books are brief, first-person accounts of stock-market victories. They tend to be repetitive, anecdotal and useless. They usually have a single idea with which they pound the reader over and over.
Take, for instance, Jerome Tuccille's "Mind Over Money." Tuccille's idea is that most people lose money in the stock market because they don't really want to make money. The author supports this dubious notion with a single case study, that of a bar owner named Joe Ferguson who has been cheating the Internal Revenue Service out of thousands of dollars each year by not reporting his bar's full income. Joe proceeds to blow his cash on some wildly speculative propositions in the market -- apparently to purge himself of his ill-gotten gains. "Deep inside," writes Tuccille, "Joe Ferguson did not believe that he deserved all his money. . . . In reality, there was no way he was ready to handle being a millionaire."
Sure, there are a few Joe Fergusons out there. But most people would be quite comfortable with a million dollars these days, and a fair number of them may have bought Tuccille's book in the hope that he would provide them with some clue on how to make it. Alas, he doesn't. The main text ends on page 145, and Tuccille launches into 30 pages of stock recommendations, listing 225 stocks that he thinks are good buys. Don't expect any revelations. On the list are AT&T, General Motors, RCA, DuPont, General Electric, CBS. . . .
A more worthy carrier of the Darvas torch is Morton Shulman, author of "How to Invest your Money & Profit from inflation." Like Tuccille, Shulman provides no notable revelations. He advises readers to sell their stocks and bonds, to go into debt, and to invest in real estate, commodities, gold, foreign currencies, wine, art and antiques. This is standard counsel if you think that the rate of inflation will continue to rise. But Shulman wrote his book when inflation was a mere 13 percent; today it's pushing 20. If it goes to 25, his investments will probably pay off, but if it drops to 15 they may not.
Still, it isn't Shulman's advice that makes this such a good book. It's the way he tells his story. Like Darvas, he is relentlessly personal. Shulamn has made a fortune, and he shows how he did it. He's so brash, so obnoxious that he's actually endearing.
Darvas reproduced copies of cables to his broker in his book to prove he made the brilliant stock buys he said he did. Shulman reproduces his monthly brokerage statements, which reveal that he made large profits buying German marks and gold and selling government bonds. In the section of his book on commodities, he writes:
"In 1975 I made $4,400 net in the commodity market. In 1976 I made $48,000 and in 1977, $56,000. In 1978 I made $60,500. If anyone thinks I'm not telling the truth, you are welcome to inspect my trading account at the firm I do my commodity trading: Friedberg & Co., 347 Bay Street, Toronto."
Shulman's approach to commodities is refreshingly nervy. Most investment books warn the little guy not to dabble in commodities -- the buying and selling of contracts for future delivery of all sorts of raw goods, from copper to hog bellies to orange juice -- because you can lose your entire investment (and more) in a single day. But Shulman is enthusiastic. He says that other writers quote statistics saying that 80 percent of all commodity traders lose money. "If these suckets are losing," writes Shulman, "who is making that money? It's people like me."
He uses a simple system that requires about 15 minutes a day of study. Essentially, he follows upward price trends, buying cotton or plywood or silver as it rises, pyramiding his contracts (buying more and more with his profits), then selling out entirely at the slightest sign of weakness. wAgain, this is a good strategy as long as the rate of infltion rises. But who can say it will continue year after year?
Shulman is no ordinary hack. He is the Canadian version of a renaissance man: an M.D., former chief coroner of Toronto, former Ontario legislator, president of an investment firm, syndicated columnist and host of a weekly television show. He is also a wine connoisseur and art collector. oIn the last capacity, he wrote a book called "Anyone Can Made Big Money Buying Art" (Macmillan 1977) and was roundly criticized in art circles -- both for treating art solely as a vehicle for profit and for owning a personal collection of "kitsch." He doesn't argue with such criticisms: "Well, perhaps I am a philistine by art-world standards." He's out to make money.
One has to admire Shulman's crass, backslapping, risk-taking style. In an age in which taste counts for so much, he readily admits he doesn't have any -- and proves it on every page. As a result, every page is a joy to read. a
Consider Shulman's advice to young investors with only a few thousand dollars. Most money writers, like Tuccille, tell people with under $5,000 to salt it away in a saving account or a money-market fund and forget it. Not Shulman. He advises buying gold, Swiss francs, or commodities: "Take a chance. You may lose your stake and have to start again, but this is the one time in your life when you will be able to take that chance. I was in this category 25 years ago and I took a chance with my stake and won. As a result, I have lived like a prince ever since."