The Aleph Blog » Blog News

Archive for the ‘Blog News’ Category

Regarding Sorted Tweets

Friday, July 4th, 2014

I received the following from a reader of mine:

Dear Sir:

Have you removed your weekly Twitter digests? They were fantastic reading – please bring them back if you can.

I’m a huge fan of your work.


I’ve been really busy, and I haven’t been tweeting much.  I regard my blog audience as my main audience, and so I want to ask my main audience one simple question.  Do you value my “sorted weekly tweets” or not?  You can email me, and I will consider the requests; the more that email me, the more likely I continue to do it.




Business Website

Saturday, June 21st, 2014

I am not asking for any asset management business, but I set up a website for my asset management business.  You can visit it here.  It is crude and basic, compared to Aleph Blog.  If you are curious about what I do to make a living, you can find out about it there.  That’s all.

Peterson’s Guide to Financial Blog Commenters

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

I’ve been blogging for over seven years… this is just an experiment, and unlikely to be repeated.  Here goes:

Have you ever read through comment streams on major financial news and blogging websites?  Or the Message Boards at Yahoo?  It is often ugly, bitter, and uninformed.  That’s why I am bringing to you the Peterson’s Guide to Financial Blog Commenters!  Let’s have a look at the zoo:

The Insult Masters

Couple arguing

There are many who can’t argue the details of an article, so it saves time and face to insult the author or other commenters.  These are all too common, and make life dreary for serious thinkers.

The Person with a Little Insight



There are well-meaning and knowledgeable commenters, and they are a breath of fresh air compared to most of those who comment.  Would that we had more of them.  More often found in places where authors don’t write offensively.

The Person with a Lot of Insight



This is rare, but occasionally you get commenters that know more than the writer, or at least are on a par.  If you spot them in the wild, take a snapshot of them, and send it in to the Aleph Blog.  I appreciate great wisdom wherever it is found.  Usually found as blogs that take a studious and serious tone.

Cult Members / Victimhood





The internet has many nooks and crannies, more than a mountain of English muffins.  Let me point out a few with respect to cults & victimhood:


  • Bitcoin
  • Xenophobia
  • Guns


  • Bush
  • Obama
  • 1%
  • Bankers
  • Government
  • Big Biz & Big Government
  • The Purple Party (I.e. “there ain’t a dime’s worth of difference between the Republican and Democrat parties.” George Wallace)
  • Jews — Really?  We haven’t gotten past this?  Anti-Semitism is so 20th Century.

Partisan Hacks



You know how the world works, and you talk down to the unwashed who don’t agree.  Though they may deprecate religion, they are as bad as the worst of the religious in not listening to the views of the other side — after all, they have the knowledge that few do.

Too Much Time on Your Hands



I don’t know why some people leave incredibly long comments at a website or blog.  It would be far better for them to start their own blog where they can showcase their work, and put it forth positively, rather than merely reacting.

The Writer is a Shill



There are some commenters that exist only to push a view for which they are compensated.  Be wary of those who stridently comment in areas where there is some financial advantage to do so.

Pushes Pet Issue

pushes pet issue


Much like the cult members and victims, there are those that will push their pet issue, because that is a main goal of theirs.

Tells Sob Story

sob story


Cute kid, huh?  But some people use comment threads to grieve over their story where they allege they were abused by powerful corporations, governments, etc.



Some just make jokes about the article or comments, and this is perhaps the most common of all… after all, who doesn’t like a good joke?  Unless, of course, you are the target…

Pot Shots

pot shot


There are many who go for quick hits on authors or commenters.  After all, in an anonymous culture, there is no cost to being insulting or rude.  So take a pot shot, right?




Like those that have to much time on their hands, those that rant have a lot to say, and you are entitled to all of it.




Finally, the least valuable — those that insist on points of grammar, when the sense of the communication is easily known.


My main point here is that most who comment on financial websites and blogs should not do it, or they should change, so that they comment in such a way that they elevate the discussion above the analogy of a common brawl.  Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.  Aim for the good of others, rather than putdowns.  It’s that simple.


Why I Don’t Write a Newsletter

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

At various points over the last 20 years, various friends have encouraged me to write a newsletter.   I have resisted these requests, because in general, I don’t have respect for newsletter writers.

If you’ve got great ideas, invest in them, and start a firm to do so for others.  Don’t hide behind the virtual sham of “this is only entertainment.”  I’ve been blogging for seven years, and I am not trying to entertain but to educate.  I don’t give financial advice because I don’t know who I am speaking to; everything is general, so what I write may be applicable to some readers, but certainly not all readers.

Second, since I have created my own firm, I owe a duty to my clients that they get my best insights, implicitly or explicitly.  Implicitly: I no longer mention what my holdings are, unless I write about them.  At present, the sharpest reader who is not a client knows 20% of my equity portfolio at best.  Explicitly, I write to my clients once a quarter, and tell them what I am thinking, and why I have taken the actions that I have in their portfolios.

It is simpler for me from an ethics and compliance standpoint to keep public and private information separate.  It gives my clients the focus they deserve, and allows me to write on a wide amount of topics of interest to many people, without doing damage to either side.  As always, if I have a position in something I write about, I will disclose it.

Post 2400 — Seven Years at the Aleph Blog!

Friday, February 28th, 2014

Two million or so words ago, I started this blog.  I wanted to do something different; something that reflected my character, and would be an aid to many.  I wanted it to be a bit of a “brain dump,” so that I could impart what I have learned to many.  After seven years, I think the task is mostly complete.

Tonight I would like to thank one group of people I have not thanked before — my clients.  I don’t advertise my services, at least I haven’t so far, though that may change in the future.  My clients provide me with my living, and I appreciate it.

Aleph Blog is fun, and it turns a profit, but is enough to fund my family for three weeks per year.  Those that blog for a living have to be far more promotional than I would like.  I’m happy writing about the things that move me the most, and hopefully, provide the best information for readers.

But if anyone would have asked me where my readers would be coming from seven years ago, I would have said almost entirely from the US & Canada.  That’s almost true — 30% of my readers, as measured by Quantcast, hail from outside those two nations.  Here’s a table, based off of January blog activity:


Uniques %

Uniques Index

United States






United Kingdom















Czech Republic






Hong Kong










































New Zealand






South Africa















Korea, Republic of















United Arab Emirates













































Rest of the World



The “Uniques Index” adjusts to show how popular I am per capita in each country.  100 would be the average popularity.

I’ve been impressed over the years with how many people have written to me from across the Earth, asking questions, thanking me, etc.  Many I have turned into blog posts.  Don’t be shy to write; I may not respond — I can’t get to everything.  I read them all, and about half become blog posts, because they address ideas that many need to hear about.

The Future as I see it Dimly

I have more book reviews to write.  I would like to write a piece asking what is the most fragile significant element on the global economic scene, but so many things are fragile that it is hard to pick one out.

This may take more than one part, but I want to do a review, category by category, of the main ideas I have tried to propound over the last seven years.  I’d like to start that series over the next month.

I’m almost finished with my “The Rules” series — only 1-3 to go.  As I get closer to the end, I find my remaining topics aren’t so compelling.  I used the best ones first.

Aside from that, Buffett season is here, so expect to see an analysis of his letter, annual report, and 10-K.  Lord helping me, and with aid getting the statutory statements, maybe 2014 is the year I write the piece that details his holding company structure.


Wherever you live in the world, whatever your first language is, thanks for reading me.  I am grateful and humbled that I have such a large audience.  I only hope that I can continue to earn your trust by writing great stuff month after month, year after year.

Finally, thanks to those who link to me, and those who mention me on Twitter.  May the Lord Jesus Christ bless you all.


Book Review: Financial Blogging

Friday, January 24th, 2014


This is a practical book that is a very good book.  Do you want to write things that people want to read?  This book will help you do it.

Coming out of US public schools, not everyone is prepared to write for a broad audience because:

  • They aren’t good with spelling and grammar.
  • They can’t make it interesting.
  • They don’t know what to write about.

This book can help with many of the deficiencies, aiding writers, to write and rewrite tight prose.

This book will help you source ideas.  It will help you refine ideas, as you write and rewrite ideas.

It will help you map out ideas before you write, so that you have a visual outline of what you want to say, which will aid you in expressing your ideas.

Now if you read this book does it mean that it will guarantee that you write great stuff? No.

You have to have some edge that you want to express.  Most investment commentary is garbage.  Those the have a differential insight might be able to create value.  But that is not generally true, unless we are at Lake Wobegon, where all of the children are above average.  Lake Wobegon is fictitious, easy excess returns are hard.

The main idea is start blogging, and start improving.  Start with a good idea that would have broad interest. Then write, revise, revise, revise.  Writing gets better with effort and editing.

Beyond that, you will have to think of compliance.  Disclose all relevant interests that you the writer might have.  If you own or short a stock that you write about, disclose it.

This book will improve your blogging.  It will sharpen what you write about, the frequency at which you write, and how you write.  This is a great book for financial bloggers.



Who would benefit from this book: Almost all financial blogger could benefit from the book.  Though I am experienced, there are many places where I learned more.  If you want to, you can buy it here: Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients.

Full disclosure: I asked the author for a review copy, because I respect her to a high degree.

If you enter Amazon through my site, and you buy anything, I get a small commission.  This is my main source of blog revenue.  I prefer this to a “tip jar” because I want you to get something you want, rather than merely giving me a tip.  Book reviews take time, particularly with the reading, which most book reviewers don’t do in full, and I typically do. (When I don’t, I mention that I scanned the book.  Also, I never use the data that the PR flacks send out.)

Most people buying at Amazon do not enter via a referring website.  Thus Amazon builds an extra 1-3% into the prices to all buyers to compensate for the commissions given to the minority that come through referring sites.  Whether you buy at Amazon directly or enter via my site, your prices don’t change.

A Note on Commenting at Aleph Blog

Saturday, January 4th, 2014

In general, at Aleph Blog, if you keep your comments clean, even if I disagree with them, they will be published.   There is one exception to this, that if you accuse me of evil intent, I will ban you from posting comments.

Look, Aleph Blog is free.  I could set up a subscription service but I haven’t, and have no intention of doing so.  I blog for the good of readers.  If you think I am acting out of evil intent, then stop reading me, or, set up your own blog and criticize me.

I have only banned two commenters in seven years at Aleph Blog.  There have been many comments that I have not agreed with, but I allowed to be posted.  There have been many comments that called me stupid.  All of those were posted.  I don’t mind that — call ne stupid as much as you like.

Barry Ritholtz, the leading finance blogger, at his blog, reserves the right to deny anyone the right to comment, and that is fair.  I put forth the effort to create this blog, and as such, I set the rules for commenting.

I rarely deny the ability to comment, but I will do so to the degree that it impugns me, or degrades the blog.

All that said, thank you for the 99%+ that comment here.  I appreciate your comments.

Advice For Would-be Bloggers

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

Today I read the following article 2014 Resolution: This Year, I Will Blog.  Good article, and it features useful advice from Susan Weiner, who writes the blog Investment Writing.  I think highly of Susan, and we are having her come speak to the Baltimore CFA Society on March 24th.  Writing is not so well-learned among many investment analysts, and employers of analysts would like to see better quality writing out of their employees.

But in response to the blogging article, I would like to give a few tips on blogging.  Most of these won’t be very profound, but there is basic “blocking and tackling” to do if you want to be a good blogger.

1) Choose the periodicity of your blogging.  Will it be multiple times per day, once a day, a few times per week, once a week, a few times a month, or monthly?  I think that is the limit in terms of keeping the attention of readers — you can’t blog less than monthly.

Now, the less frequently you blog, the higher the quality has to be.  Length is not an issue here.  Post length is not correlated with quality.  Make your thoughts and words count.  There is no prize for number of words.  There are only prizes for value added.

One more thing: once you choose how often you want to blog, stick with it.  Regularity is needed to establish an audience.

2) Define the area in which you want to blog.  What is your differential insight?  Where are your thoughts strongest versus the consensus?  There are relatively few bloggers that can cover a wide area.  (And as one that does cover a wide area, it means that posts covering different areas may not interest some of your readers.)

3) Start small.  You don’t have to write masterpieces from day one.  Commenting on articles that you excerpt can be a great way to begin.

Another great way is to start assembling linkfests a la Abnormal Returns.  You will not likely do better than Tadas, but I have seen many small linkfests that are worth reading.

4) Ask who your target audience is.  Are you aiming at professionals, intelligent amateurs, or Joe Lunchpail?  Then tailor your language to fit the audience, as well as your choice of topics.

Also remember that other bloggers and journalists may link to you, so consider what your extended audience might be like.  (I’ve seen my articles translated into so many languages that I have lost count.  I never thought that would happen.)

5) Get ready to be hurt.  The internet is a cruel place, and there is all manner of anonymous backbiting that goes on.  But there are way to minimize it:

  • Have a comments policy, and block people from commenting who violate it.
  • Be humble in your writing; more attacks come to those who are brash.
  • Double-check what you say before clicking “publish.”
  • When you are wrong, own up to it.  That establishes credibility, it does not destroy it.
  • Avoid profanity.  Bloggers that use profanity attract a bad crowd of commenters.

6) Reach out to other bloggers.  Link to good stuff from other bloggers, and when you write something good, send a copy to bloggers you respect (not too often).  Respect the time of leading bloggers, and only send the best.

7) Use Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook to expand your distribution.   Social media can enhance your influence; just be sure not to annoy your readers.

8 ) Be ready for the long haul.  Don’t enter into this unless you are thinking of doing this for years.  Of the major bloggers I knew back in 2007 when I started Aleph Blog, most of them are still in the game, and they are still hot stuff.  But I have seen many promising bloggers put out a few significant posts and fold.  It is like what Jesus said [Luke 14:28-33]:

For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it— lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’? Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.

Think about what it will cost you to blog before you start doing it.  Figure out what you can sustainably do without destroying important relationships that you have.  Blogging is about consistency, not occasional genius.

9) Don’t worry about your writing skills.  They will improve over time.  Oh, if you could read the turgid stuff that I wrote thirty years ago.  Between a writing Nazi who was my boss at AIG, and writing for RealMoney, my writing style improved dramatically as an adult.  Hint: Flesch Test your writing, and use the grammar and spelling checkers within Microsoft Word.  Aim for language that high schoolers should be able to read.

10) Every time you write, look into your heart and ask what you feel strongest about.  Then write about it, and be bold (yet still humble).  (Catch the balance.)


Blogging is not easy, but it is rewarding.  It may help you build a business.  It may gain new friends for you.

You won’t be perfect from the start, but aim for continuous improvement.  Aim to be “good enough,” and improve from there.

If you try and need advice, feel free to e-mail me.  I will try to aid you in what limited time I have.  After all, I write long blog posts once a day on average.

May you prosper more than me, and achieve far more.  May I see your name five years from now, a star, and say, “I knew him when…”

Post 2300 — On Business Issues

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

Every 100 posts or so, I take a moment to think about the broader aspects of what I do.  As a blogger, my goal is to educate, and I think I have covered many issues well here.

As an asset manager, my goal is to serve existing clients well.  Most of my assets under management stem from value investing, and 2013 has certainly been good to my clients and me.  2013 has made up for 2011-12, and then some.

What has surprised me is how existing clients have added to their assets with me.  I expected growth to mainly come through new clients, but at present, most is coming from existing clients.

Another thing that surprised me is that a number of my clients said have said something like this to me, “I really appreciate that you don’t press us to give all of our assets to you.  But you help us as if you have all our assets.”

I know that I have to do marketing, but I don’t like it, and so I do as little of it as possible.  Part of it is the unpredictability of investing.  I have a good track record, but does that really mean I will do better than the index in the future?  Markets are fickle, and much more is due to favorable providence than most of us imagine.

All of us say, “Past performance is not indicative of future returns,” but few of us truly act as if we believe it.  How many consultants  will bring forth managers that are underperforming but have good prospects?  Isn’t the proof in the pudding?  Past may not be prologue, but it is incredibly difficult to get in the door with those who advise individual and institutional investors if you don’t have a winning track record.

Why is that?  Secretly, everyone believes that “Past performance IS indicative of future returns.”  Success breeds success, right?  The man with the hot hand will remain hot, no?

Sadly, no.  Though momentum effects sometimes work in the stock market, there is no evidence for manager outperformance persistence, outside of Graham-and-Doddsville.  But you can’t get naive buyers to think otherwise.  Almost all individual and institutional investors choose managers at least partially on past performance.  That’s the sad truth, and all the disclaimers in the world can’t change that.

I am grateful for the trust my readers place in me.  I am grateful for the trust my investors place in me.  And I hope that I never disappoint you badly.



Ten Years of Investment Writing

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

I’m late on this.  My first foray into public writing on investing was when I started writing at RealMoney on October 17th, 2003.  But how did I get there?

Sadly, almost all of the works of RealMoney prior to 2008 are not accessible.  My first effort was writing Jim Cramer the day after General American Life Insurance failed on August 10, 1999.  He wrote a short piece asking why no one was paying attention to the failure of a major life insurer.  He wanted to know what happened.  I had heard about the failure, and so I searched for more data on it, and I saw Cramer’s article, only one hour old, so I sent him an e-mail as “your friendly neighborhood investment actuary.”

I explained the situation to him in about three hundred words, and lo and behold, my e-mail was featured in a post by Cramer that very day saying how amazing it was that he could get such a cogent explanation that was not available elsewhere on the web.

Not wanting to wear out my welcome with Cramer, I e-mailed him maybe eighty times over the next four years, with occasional e-mails to Herb Greenberg and Howard Simons.  I e-mailed mostly bond market and insurance information.  But in the period from 2000-2003, information on the bond market from an active institutional participant was interesting.  At least, I thought so, and Cramer usually returned my e-mails, as did Herb Greenberg.

In August 2003, after I had taken a job as an insurance equity analyst at a financial services only hedge fund, Cramer e-mailed me, asking me to write for RealMoney.  I don’t have the actual e-mail, but he said something to the effect of “You write better than most of our contributors.  Please come write for us.”

I went to my boss to ask permission, and he refused.  After some pleading on my part, he eventually relented.  That said, when Cramer wanted me to appear on “Mad Money,” he refused, and did not give in.  He did not want the name of his firm associated with Cramer.  I was disappointed, but I understood.

At RealMoney, I wrote about a wide variety of topics as I do at Aleph Blog.  My editor one day called me and after we chatted for a while she said to me, “Did you know that you are our most profitable columnist after Cramer?”  I expressed surprise, and asked how it could be.  She said that I wrote more comments in the columnist conversation than most, and my comments were substantial.  Also, readers would read and re-read my posts, which was rare at RealMoney.

My objective was to teach investors how to think.  I did not want to get into the “buy this, sell that” game.  My most unpleasant memories revolve around bad calls that I made on a few stocks.  I think it was fewer than five stocks, but when you get it badly wrong, passions are heightened.

Cramer and I often disagreed with each other at RealMoney.  I felt I had friends with Cody Willard and Howard Simons, and a few others like Aaron Task, Roger Nussbaum, Peter Eavis, etc.  If I didn’t mention you, please don’t take that as a slight, I just can’t remember everything now.  I thought highly of most of the cast at RealMoney, including the news staff, who would occasionally call me for advice on bonds, insurance, or investing theory issues.

I resisted the idea of starting a blog.  I said to my editors at RealMoney, “The Columnist Conversation is my blog.”  But in early 2007, while trolling the comment streams on Jim Cramer’s blog, and making comments defending him, a number of readers told me that I was one of the best writers on the site, so why didn’t I emerge from Cramer’s shadow?

I thought about this hard for about a month, and then I did it, after doing my research.  I created Aleph Blog, with the first post coming on 2/17/2007, and the first real post on 2/20/2007.  That first real post was prescient, and laid out a lot of what would happen in the bust.

But as I started, the Shanghai Market crashed, and Seeking Alpha pushed one of my posts to the top of their front page.  Cody Willard pushed another post of mine to his media contacts.

I was off and running without doing that much to advertise my blog.  I appreciated that because I think the best way of advertising my blog is to write good content.  I don’t generally like to quote large amounts of the writing of others, and add a few comments from me.  To me, that seems lazy.  I would far rather spend some time, and give you my thoughts.  I’m not always right, but I am always trying to give you my best.

After ten months of blogging, I stopped contributing to RealMoney because I liked the editorial freedom that bloggng offered.  I was never writing for RealMoney in order to get paid, so not getting paid at Aleph Blog was not a problem.

At Aleph Blog, I write about what resonates within me.  That usually produces the best results, though because I write about a wide variety of topics, some people don’t know what to expect of me, and aren’t interested in what I write.  I understand that, and I am not unhappy with a smaller audience.

What I did not expect when I started blogging was that I would do:

  • Book Reviews
  • The Education of a Corporate Bond Manager
  • The Education of a Mortgage Bond Manager
  • The Education of an Investment Risk Manager
  • The Rules

and other series at my blog.  I did not consider that I might be a conference blogger for notable institutions like Bloomberg and the Cato Institute.

I also did not realize that I would take aggressive stances against a wide number of semi-fraudulent financial practices like penny stocks, structured notes, private REITs, and a wide variety of other bad investments.

It’s been a lot of fun, and I did it to give something back.  With great power comes great responsibility, and that is why I blog.  Nothing more, nothing less.

May the Lord Jesus Christ bless you.

Thanks for reading me.



David Merkel is an investment professional, and like every investment professional, he makes mistakes. David encourages you to do your own independent "due diligence" on any idea that he talks about, because he could be wrong. Nothing written here, at RealMoney, Wall Street All-Stars, or anywhere else David may write is an invitation to buy or sell any particular security; at most, David is handing out educated guesses as to what the markets may do. David is fond of saying, "The markets always find a new way to make a fool out of you," and so he encourages caution in investing. Risk control wins the game in the long run, not bold moves. Even the best strategies of the past fail, sometimes spectacularly, when you least expect it. David is not immune to that, so please understand that any past success of his will be probably be followed by failures.

Also, though David runs Aleph Investments, LLC, this blog is not a part of that business. This blog exists to educate investors, and give something back. It is not intended as advertisement for Aleph Investments; David is not soliciting business through it. When David, or a client of David's has an interest in a security mentioned, full disclosure will be given, as has been past practice for all that David does on the web. Disclosure is the breakfast of champions.

Additionally, David may occasionally write about accounting, actuarial, insurance, and tax topics, but nothing written here, at RealMoney, or anywhere else is meant to be formal "advice" in those areas. Consult a reputable professional in those areas to get personal, tailored advice that meets the specialized needs that David can have no knowledge of.

 Subscribe in a reader

 Subscribe in a reader (comments)

Subscribe to RSS Feed

Enter your Email

Preview | Powered by FeedBlitz

Seeking Alpha Certified

Top markets blogs award

The Aleph Blog

Top markets blogs Bull, Boards & Blogs

Blog Directory - Blogged

IStockAnalyst supporter

All Economists Contributor

Business Finance Blogs
OnToplist is optimized by SEO
Add blog to our blog directory.

Page optimized by WP Minify WordPress Plugin