Diary of a Private Investor: I'm not putting on the 'motley' when I invest

We cannot refer to investing as a foolish pursuit or Christmas parlour game. It is a sober business dedicated to making serious money
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The Independent Online

Age breeds intolerance. Matters that some years ago I would have dismissed as inconsequential now, to use a colloquialism, get right up my nose. For example, there is a financial website I view on a daily basis because I believe it is one of the most sensible information sources around. The advice it gives is carefully considered and easy to understand, the facts are up-to-date, even its bulletin boards (those magnets of misinformation that enable amateurs to chatter online) seem to attract less than their fair share of loonies.

Age breeds intolerance. Matters that some years ago I would have dismissed as inconsequential now, to use a colloquialism, get right up my nose. For example, there is a financial website I view on a daily basis because I believe it is one of the most sensible information sources around. The advice it gives is carefully considered and easy to understand, the facts are up-to-date, even its bulletin boards (those magnets of misinformation that enable amateurs to chatter online) seem to attract less than their fair share of loonies.

So what annoys me? It's the name of the site, the Motley Fool. Who in their right mind would call a source of serious financial information by such a barmy name? Even more mystifying, why would any organisation that purports to provide considered guidance to private investors insist that whenever its executives speak in public they must wear silly three-pointed coloured hats?

Whenever I see my friends from Motley Fool addressing a conference of investors wearing their daft jester's headgear I cringe with embarrassment for them. And before they call me curmudgeonly and beat me about the head with their pigs' bladders let me add that yes, I know that the fool they refer to is the one in Shakespeare's As You Like It because he showed that the truth lay beyond the bounds of conventional wisdom. But in my dictionary a fool is "a person who acts unwisely or imprudently, a stupid person". That's how 99 per cent of the population would describe a fool so it's rather insulting to associate the word with private investing.

Now, having got that particular little hang-up off my chest, I turn to yet another word that is worming its way up my protuberance. Fun. I'm fed up with hearing from people who should know better that this business of researching potential investments and deciding which companies should be the guardians of our money is "fun".

In one of my dictionaries it means "merriment" and in the other "amusement, especially lively or playful". Those definitions might describe snowballing, or playing charades at Christmas with granny and the kids, or the antics of a new puppy, but they do not remotely relate to what I do to earn a crust. Exhilarating, exasperating, disappointing, perplexing, annoying - yes, all these words come readily to mind when we think about investing, but certainly not fun.

I could forgive those folk who know next to nothing about the financial world. They might truly believe that, as we risk our life savings on buying shares that often repay our support by diminishing in value, we cannot quell the chortle that begins to rise in our throats. But I have difficulty in relating to the author of a new book in which the first sentence says: "Let me assure you that trading shares is much more fun than any form of gambling, and trading shares on the internet is the most fun of all." On page 8 he says it again, "buying shares is fun". And on page 9 he repeats exactly the same words.

Maybe the writer, Alistair Fitt, who is a professional mathematician and amateur investor, believes what he says but in my opinion investing is a form of gambling - the element of share price uncertainty makes it so - and it most definitely is not fun.

That said, Mr Fitt's book is a pleasant surprise. It belies its title Online Share Investing, a UK Guide. Seeing that on the bookshop shelves one could be forgiven for believing that it is devoted to explaining how to buy and sell shares online - ie via the internet. Fortunately this is not case, although in the first third of the book Mr Fitt does demonstrate a good knowledge of the pitfalls as well as the pleasures of this remote system of dealing.

To me though, the real delight is that the volume provides a first-class explanation of many aspects of share trading. Ignore all that blurb on the dustsheet that "the author understands the mathematics behind the markets, how all those jolly hard sums are worked out, what all those numbers mean and how you might expect them to influence your online trading strategy".

I guess whoever wrote that had not read the book. Maths features hardly at all. There are sections on strategy, research, blue chips, growth shares, new issues, AIM, OFEX, investing overseas, options, futures, spread betting and Contracts-for-Difference. Plus there are pieces on warrants, convertible bonds, websites and glossaries of financial and internet terms.

I found Online Share Investing easy to read and understand. Published by FTyour money.com it should prove helpful to any investor who wants to build a knowledge of stock market investing and regular dealing online.

The other newly published book I read this week also deals with finance and the Internet and is called e-cash, all you need to know about managing your money online (notice no capital letters are used in the title, apparently they are non-U in internet-speak).

The author is journalist marianne curphey (also no capitals) and given equal prominence on the cover is that the foreword is written by Sir Richard Branson (he gets his initials in capital letters, as befits a knight of the realm). In his four-page contribution to the 278-page book, Sir Richard says he believes the internet is a boon for the individual and also for selling financial products.

In this context he takes the opportunity to mention the launch of Virgin's latest financial services offering.

E-cash is not aimed specifically at investors, although there are brief sections on buying and trading. Rather it concentrates on all aspects of managing money online, from setting up a bank account and searching for a mortgage or insurance to submitting a tax form and keeping personal money records. The book is an easy read and is published by Prentice Hall at just £10.

Incidentally, both the above books come from the Pearson Education publishing stable. They are the same unusual but perfectly acceptable shape (7insx6.5ins). One has 287 pages and costs £16.99, and the other has 278 pages and costs a tenner. Why, I wonder, is that?

terrybond@hemscott.net

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