One question I get all the time from investors is “How do you sift through all of the news, data and media?” thrown at investors each day. I use some time-saving methods to quickly plow through a huge volume of material. If you follow these, you can learn how to identify what matters, who is worth following and what to avoid.
As always, a caveat: We each have different jobs and investment goals. What I find interesting and important might not be relevant to you. Instead of simply giving you my list of most and least favorite sources, I’d rather show you how you can build your own online research team. It’s a subject I touched on last year in “Use the news: How to get the most out of financial media.”
Our goals here are threefold: First, to help you sift through the daily fire hose of information that seems to overwhelm so many investors; second, showing you how to filter out that which is unhelpful (or even worse, money-losing); and third, to create an efficient process that allows you to become more informed about finance.
You can cherry-pick some of the best techniques and shortcuts I have learned over the years. These will allow you to spend less than 15 minutes a day sifting through lots of material, then selecting only the most important and interesting items to read. My daily commute allows me almost 90 minutes of pleasurable, uninterrupted reading time of some of the smartest and most interesting writing in the English-speaking world. (See this for a flavor of my routine.)
Here’s where you should start:
Curators are the folks who compile a daily list of items from around the Web. I curate a daily Top 10 Reading list for Bloomberg View. But I also look at a few favorite curators which you should definitely scan. Each weekday, “Further Reading” from FT Alphaville is worth checking out (it can get a bit wonky). Real Clear Markets publishes a twice-daily reading list (it has a political bent). I also like Abnormal Returns, which puts out a long list of the day’s most interesting investing related articles. Next Draft covers pretty much everything else.
These four generate about 75 headlines from almost 1,000 sources a day. Quickly scan through, looking for topics that interest you. Your challenge is to be both selective (in quality) and broad (in subject matter). The curators make this much easier.
Make use of technology: I have been using Instapaper in combination with the curators for years now. The software installs a “Read Later” applet on my browser. Whenever I see something I think I might be interesting, a simple click sends the full text of that article to my iPad. It is a marvelous invention, and one that gives you the ability to read all of these articles even when you are without Internet access.
Browers tabs: Part of my daily routine is to open a browser folder that has 40 or so tabs. As part of my morning research, I quickly scan this series of Web sites to see what happened overnight, and what might be interesting. The obvious business sites are Wall Street Journal (Money & Investing), New York Times (Business and Upshot), Bloomberg (Most Popular and Exclusive), and the Financial Times. The less obvious ones include The Washington Post (Wonkblog and Knowmore), WSJ blogs (Real Time Economics and MoneyBeat), as well as tech and finance-related sites. The goal is to be able to get updated frequently as news breaks.
RSS feeds: Tales of the death of RSS — really simple syndication — have been greatly exaggerated. Use any RSS client (something simple like My Yahoo will do) to collect your own list of favorite blogs, sites and authors. This is a simple way to assemble and shift through a collection of sources that might not update as often as the big media outlets.
Note that there is a small learning curve, and you will quickly figure out those salacious headlines often lead to worthless articles. Soon, you will be able to tell if something is worth reading in a paragraph or two.
Twitter: Speaking of firehouses, Twitter is a massive resource not well used by many people. My solution is to break it into groups of experts who populate my personal research team. Scroll through the people I follow, then look at some of my lists: behavioral, technology, economics, etc. This allows me to tap into some of the smartest minds on the planet, in a way that is meaningful and manageable. (You can also play with software like TweetDeck to help you better organize Twitter.)
Traditional journalists: Create your own media research team: I have my favorites whom I always read: Matt Levine of Bloomberg View, Jesse Eisinger at Pro Publica, Morgan Housel of the Motley Fool, Jason Zweig of the Wall Street Journal, etc. There are another dozen of regulars on my daily must read list. Develop your own list.
The quarantine: Just as important as finding people with an excellent track record of providing investing insights is avoiding the people who will result in money lost. Learning who should be ignored is the flip side of the favorites. I have spilled plenty of ink about the kinds of pundits who have been wrong too often to be taken seriously anymore. (See “Pay close attention to what’s motivating market commentary” and “Reduce the noise levels in your investment process.”)
My approach is to quarantine these people like they have deadly bubonic plague. Here is how I do that: Whenever I see a suspect analysis, an outrageous statement or any sort of forecast, I diary it for a year or two in the future. My favorite technique is to use any calendar — it can be your computer’s or Google’s or Outlook. I have previously mentioned a site called Follow Up Then, which has become a favorite of mine.
It takes you some time, but you will eventually be able to identify a bevy of people worthy of your disdain. Aggressively ignore their money losing blather. Snicker each time you see their latest nonsense. Once you figure out whose track record stinks, it is easy to not be fooled by their noise.
You now have the makings of your own set of personal researchers. Find a balance that allows you to consume as much information as you need.
One last note: My experience has been that most investors can make much better use of their time. That means less mindless financial television viewing, and more reading of the classic financial books. In a future column, I will share my list of must-read books for all investors.