Fred Schwed, Jr. – Who’s He?

Fred is not often remembered, but he should be. He was a stockbroker and later an author about Wall Street.

He told deep stories in his book, “Where Are The Customer’s Yachts?” It is amusing, thought provoking, and instructive. It is also 80 years old. We are slow learners.

Where Are The Customer’s Yachts?

The title is a question that digs deep into the meaning of life on Wall Street and all its shiny towers, deep carpet, Porsches, and fine dining.

A wealthy customer from the Mid-West appears at a New York investment bank and is being courted by a representative seeking to become the agent for investing the considerable sum. After an impressive lunch, the broker takes the potential  client to the yacht club and points out the yachts that the principals of the firm have docked there. The Mid-Westerner did not become wealthy by missing key facts. His question, “Where Are The Customer’s Yachts?” gets to the heart of the question – Who makes money on Wall Street?

It does not imply that the traders are not worth their pay, but it invites you to dig a little deeper. For all we know, the answer was Miami, Malibu, and Milwaukee. Nonetheless, it is worth noticing.

Some other thoughts from the book.

Complex presentation. Many have heard the admonition that figures don’t lie but liars figure. It is true that well-collected information does not lie, but it is also true that you can create a lie by carefully selecting the figures you want to use. Fred had the idea well under control.

“One can’t say that figures lie. But figures as used in financial arguments, seem to have the bad habit of expressing a small part of the truth forcibly, and neglecting the other part, as do some people we know.”” 

Find the voids. An important step in assessing data is to look for what is missing. Unpainting the carefully crafted picture.

No one knows the future.  The future is a product of what happens in the future not a product of what has happened before, although there may be similarities. It rhymes as Twain calls it. Macro-economic predicting is like predicting the weather. It is immensely complex and no one knows all the important variables. Some factors have not yet been invented.

“History does in a vague way repeat itself, but it does it slowly and ponderously, and with an infinite number of surprising variations.”

For one thing, customers have an unfortunate habit of asking about the financial future. Now, if you do someone the single honor of asking him a difficult question, you may be assured that you will get a detailed answer. Rarely will it be the most difficult of all answers – “I don’t know.”

Don’t ask an advisor for the impossible. You will get a a complex presentation, and we know that’s not so good.

Emotions like fear and greed matter. Neither is easy to prevent, fear especially.

“Like all of life’s rich emotional experiences, the full flavor of losing important money cannot be conveyed by literature. You cannot convey to an inexperienced girl what it is truly like to be a wife and mother. There are certain things that cannot be adequately explained to a virgin by words or pictures.”

Put it more simply. There is such a thing as a paper profit but we treat all losses as real.

Assigning blame. We don’t learn much when we assign blame to others. There are two defences

  1. Know who you accept advice from and why.
  2. Never let tactics drive your actions. They must attach to your vision and known circumstances.

“The burnt customer certainly prefers to believe that he has been robbed rather than that he has been a fool on the advice of fools.”

When you do not understand, in depth, what you are trying to do, people can sell you methods, (tactics.) Tactic-first action is always wrong.

Blame yourself more often and life will improve.

The takeaway

The stock market is a complex, highly variable, system that no one understands completely. Being wrong easier than you think.

Making it simpler may improve performance, but only if you have a clear focus of attention. In the stock market, avoiding things you don’t understand is usually more profitable than taking the time to understand them. Know your circle of competence.

Investment is process driven. If you treat each purchase and sale as an event, you will get it wrong.

Have reasonable objectives. The market will not outperform for you because you want it to or need it to. Understand the reasonable limits and manage yourself within those.


I help people have more retirement income and larger, more liquid estates.

Call in Canada 705-927-4770, or email don@moneyfyi.com

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