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on March 31, 2009
Burton Malkiel's A Random Walk Down Wall Street is well known to be one of the modern classics on stock investing. I was already aware of the premise behind the book - the stock market is pretty efficient and most everyone is wasting their time trying to find inefficiencies to exploit - but I was interested in finding out what information inside could really help me as an individual, both as an investor and as a person interested in improving my personal finances. Here's what I found.

Chapter 1: Firm Foundations and Castles in the Air
The book starts off by defining two basic investment ideologies, the firm foundation theory and the "castle in the air" theory. The firm foundation theory basically says that you should invest based on the actual real value of what you're investing in; for example, if you buy a stock of Coke, it should be based on what the value of the Coca-Cola Corporation is. The "castle in the air" theory basically says that you should invest in response to what the crowds are doing and that you can make more money by riding the waves of people who are either following trends or trying to invest based on a firm foundation. Which one is right? The truth is that they both are, but at different times.

Chapter 2: The Madness of Crowds
This chapter is quite entertaining: it discusses financial "crazes" throughout history, including my personal favorite craze of all, tulipomania. In all three examples (tulipomania, the South Sea bubble, and the Wall Street crash of 1929), a market grew like gangbusters until everything was overvalued, then the values rapidly returned to normal. Graphs of prices in all three examples bear this out; within a year or two of the end of the craze, the prices had returned to roughly the same value as they were before the big run-up.

Chapter 3: Stock Valuation from the Sixties through the Nineties
Even more amusing, Malkiel continues this theme of markets that go crazy and then level off again by using several examples of cross-sections of the stock market where this occurred throughout the last fifty years. I was aware of the overvaluation of food stocks in the 1980s, for example, but to see that it has just repeated over and over again is an eye-opener. Take the Nifty Fifty from the early 1970s - people were basically speculating in blue chips, and by the end of the decade, the speculation had gone away and the stocks returned to normal blue chip levels.

Chapter 4: The Biggest Bubble of All: Surfing on the Internet
This all of course leads to the dot-com boom of the late 1990s and the bust in the early 2000s. Malkiel basically argues that this huge bubble was the result of a confluence of the same bubbles as before, all working in concert: the IPO mania that fueled the early 1960s stock market, the "smoke and mirrors" businesses of the South Sea bubble, and the chasing of future efficiencies that happened in the 1850s with railroad stocks all happened again with the dot-com businesses. And, again, it peaked and crashed and everything returned to roughly as they were before. Coincidence? Malkiel's main point in the whole book is that it's not a coincidence. Markets are efficient and time and time again, when inefficiencies occur, it won't take long for the market to weed them out.

Chapter 5: Technical and Fundamental Analysis
Given this central idea of market efficiency that's been pounded in with dozens of examples, Malkiel moves on to look at the two most common forms of analysis that occur on Wall Street: technical analysis and fundamental analysis. Technical analysis is the study of the behavior of prices on the market, using past performance to speculate on future performance, often using complex charts and trend lines. On the other hand, fundamental analysis revolves around analyzing the health of a business by carefully dissecting its financial statements, the market the business competes in, and its competitors. This chapter mostly serves as a detailed introduction to both, though it's already clear that Malkiel has somewhat more respect for fundamental analysis than technical analysis.

Chapter 6: Technical Analysis and the Random-Walk Theory
This chapter is basically a complete decimation of technical analysis; there's no other way to really put it. Perhaps the most devastating part is when he compares the stock market to the average length of a hemline in women's fashion and finds a correlation. In other words, technical analysis spends all of its time looking for correlations - but most of these correlations are spurious at best. By spending all of your time looking at charts, you're essentially cutting yourself off from a broader picture, making the spurious correlations even worse.

Chapter 7: How Good Is Fundamental Analysis?
Malkiel has at least some respect for fundamental analysis because it is based on foundational logic and is open to accepting wide varieties of data. However, he finds fundamental analysis to be deeply flawed as well. There are many reasons why fundamental analysis can be completely off base: random events (like 9/11), dubious financial data from companies (like Enron), human failings (emotional attachments and incompetence), the loss of good analysts to better positions, and so on. Basically, Malkiel concludes that professional analysts may have a slight leg up on individual investors, but this is mostly due to having more ready access to information and other materials and the advantage is minimal.

Chapter 8: A New Walking Shoe: Modern Portfolio Theory
From there, we move on to portfolio theory, which is basically the idea that people should have a diverse selection of investments and that these investments should maximize the rewards while minimizing the risk. Malkiel basically argues that it doesn't matter how much you diversify your stocks (and other assets), you are still exposed to some risk. In general, he has some respect for modern portfolio theory, but he goes on in the next chapter to point out why minimizing risk isn't always the best strategy.

Chapter 9: Reaping Reward By Increasing Risk
This was easily the most complicated chapter in the book and left me taking some lengthy breaks in the middle to digest the information. This chapter basically takes the ideas from the previous chapter and introduces a new factor: beta. Basically, beta is a number that expresses how closely an individual stock matches the behavior of the overall stock market in the past. Thus, in theory, stocks with a high beta should jump like crazy during a bull market and then dive like Greg Louganis during a downturn. With a very wide scope, this is true, but in specifics, it rarely turns out to be highly accurate.

Chapter 10: Behavioral Finance
This chapter takes a close look at behavioral finance, which applies human cognitive and emotional biases to their investment choices and thus how these biases affect overall markets. From behavioral finance, Malkiel concludes that the only parts that really work are the ones that are common sense: don't invest long term in what's hot right now, don't overtrade, and only sell stocks that are losers.

Chapter 11: Potshots at the Efficient-Market Theory and Why They Miss
Here, Malkiel walks through a series of criticisms of the overall idea of the book, which is that the market is generally very efficient and always reverts to the mean. He starts off by discarding some poor arguments and gradually moves onto better and better arguments, ending with evaluating Benjamin Graham's idea that one should identify and invest in value stocks for the long term. He easily deconstructs most of them and only has significant trouble with Graham's argument. I felt he slightly missed the boat on what Graham has to say, which is that value stocks will always have value. Malkiel points out that over a long period, both growth and value stocks do match up with the overall market, but value stocks do not have the monstrous dips that growth stocks have.

Chapter 12: A Fitness Manual for Random Walkers
This chapter is rather ordinary, as it is a basic chapter on how to build a healthy investment foundation, similar to ones that appear in most investment books. Get an emergency fund, make sure you're well insured, put as much investment as you can into accounts that are tax-sheltered (like Roth IRAs and 401(k)s), and so on - standard personal finance advice. He does strongly encourage home ownership, though. As for the question of what exactly to invest in, the next two chapters handle that.

Chapter 13: Handicapping the Financial Race: A Primer in Understanding and Projecting Returns from Stocks and Bonds
Ever heard the phrase "past performance is no guarantee of future results"? That's what this chapter is about: you can only use past performance as a very, very broad indicator of the future. In short, Malkiel believes that over a very long period, stocks will beat bonds and inflation, but with any period shorter than a decade, it's basically random and it's all about the risk you can stomach.

Chapter 14: A Life-Cycle Guide to Investing
Given that, the next chapter is basically a detailed guide on how to invest for yourself. In short, when your goal is more than a decade off, you should be heavily into stocks for the long haul, but if your goal is in the shorter term, you should be widely diversified, tending towards investments with lower risk (bonds and cash) as the big day approaches. In other words, Malkiel believes that investing in a target retirement fund is a really good idea.

Chapter 15: Three Giant Steps Down Wall Street
The book concludes with some more specific investment tips. In short, if you don't have the time to micromanage things, invest in an index fund. If you want to chase individual stocks, minimize your trading, only buy stocks that have numbers that are reasonable, and look for ones that have stories upon which people can build the "castles in the sky" mentioned in the first chapter. As for other options, like managed funds? He basically says no, or gives a very hesitant yes with a ton of caveats.

*Buy Or Don't Buy?*
We know one thing for sure: there's a ton of information packed away in this book concerning how the stock market - or any market - works. Most of the book focuses on different ways of analyzing the market to find an edge - and concludes that they're largely junk; the end of the book takes what was learned from this and applies it to investing in general.

This might sound really weighty, but it's not. This book was very easy to read, much easier than I expected before I opened the cover. There's a solid sense of humor behind it, nestled in with all the information, and the information itself is presented in a way that's easily digestible.

If you have any interest in how the stock market works, you should definitely read A Random Walk Down Wall Street. It gives a very critical look at what most people are saying about the stock market - and why a lot of it is potentially rubbish. It also clues you in on how to invest if you take that view of the world.

Of course, there are many other perspectives on the market, and the truth is that the stock market can be exploited by individuals, but that exploitation requires a lot of work, work that is simply not feasible for most people (or even for most investment professionals). While I recommend buying this book, I also recommend pairing it with a solid book on individual stock investing to get another perspective. Taking both viewpoints together will give you a very good understanding of how Wall Street - and pretty much any market - really works, and how you can either try to beat it or ride with it.
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on July 14, 2004
In a nutshell Malkiel's advice is to own your own home, buy no-load index funds (equities and bonds), buy international index funds, and mix your investments according to your age. You should also have medical and plain term life insurance, and cash on hand for a few months in case of an emergency. This book is a complete course in how to manage your money effectively, whether you're a millionaire or a low-income earner. It also gently but firmly chastises proponents of get-rich-quick schemes such as day traders.
First, the book explains what is financial risk, and points out that everything is risky, even insured savings accounts since inflation can destroy the value of cash. Malkiel describes just how risky various investments are, and how the risk is one investment is often offset by the risk in another. Second, Malkiel describes a variety of specific investments (e.g. no load index funds, your own home, individual stocks) and suggests how individual investors should mix them, depending on their personal circumstances. For instance, an ambitious young woman in her twenties can consider aggressive high-risk high-growth funds. If they boom, she's rich, if they bust she's young enough to recover her losses through income. This would not be true of a middle-aged couple about to pay for their children's college years.
"A Random Walk Down Wall Street" should be in every family's library.
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on January 12, 2011
My review pertains to the newest 2010 edition of "A Random Walk Down Wall Street". I found it to be a well-updated classic. The author is very knowledgeable and makes a strong case for sensible investing choices using index funds and ETF's. Each chapter is peppered with experiences, jokes, and other interesting anecdotal tidbits. The old references that were fit for the 70's or 80's were purged or modified to make this book fit 2011. For the investor or anyone interested in building their own nest egg and then protecting it, this is a highly recommended book. I consider myself to be a rather experienced and seasoned investor but I learned a lot of new things reading this book. I have also read "The Little Book of Common Sense Investing" by John C. Bogle of Vanguard fame. I much prefer "A Random Walk Down Wall Street". Random is a much bigger book and will require more time to read, but it's much more thorough and less biased. If you have the time to read it, I would recommend A Random Walk over the Little Book.
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on January 31, 2005
Mr. Malkiel provides an outstanding all-in-one stock book for the educated but non-technical investor. He includes overviews of the financial, economic and psychological foundations for stock markets, as well as entertaining summaries of the history of stock markets in the world and in the U.S. Mr. Malkiel takes a sensible, long-term approach to investing with stocks and bonds, at the same time pouring cold water on various market theories. He approvingly quotes the phrase "the stock market is like a casino in which the odds are rigged in favor of the player" which is probably the best summing-up I've ever encountered when thinking about stocks. Some of his more salient and direct advice includes these gems:

* "A simple 'buy-and-hold' strategy typically makes as much or more money than technical strategies" (p 151).

* "No technical scheme whatever could work for any length of time and ...even if they did work, the schemes would be bound to destroy themselves" (p 167).

* Regularities in stock market movements are arbitraged away over time; whoever spots such a regularity would not tell everyone else, but instead would keep it to him- or herself to get rich (p 168).

* Many analysts are incompetent or are compromised by institutional conflicts of interest (pp 181, 183).

* "The evidence from several studies is remarkably uniform. Investors have done no better with the average mutual fund than they could have done by purchasing and holding an unmanaged broad stock index" (p 187).

* Don't ignore small cap companies: "smaller firms tend to have higher rates of return" (p 239).

* Investors should look for stocks with relatively low P/E ratios and low values relative to their book values (pp 239, 261).

* The only market-timing strategy that makes any empirical sense is to purchase stocks that have had relatively poor recent performance (p 257).

* The stock market goes through manias but is fundamentally logical (p 258).

* Your tolerance for risk should be judged by how well you can sleep at night with your portfolio (p 280).

* Zero coupon bonds can be a good investment if the tax aspects are adequately addressed (p 299).

* "I recommend low-expense bond index funds" (p 300).

* "I now believe that if an investor is to buy one U.S. index fund, the best general U.S. index to emulate is the broader Wilshire 5,000-Stock Index, not the S&P 500" (p 360).
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on August 6, 2007
A Random Walk Down Wall Street: The Time-Tested Strategy for Successful Investing, 9th ed., by Burton G. Malkiel, is a classic and brilliant explanation of how investors make the same mistakes over and over again, and how you can avoid those mistakes. If you want to understand how the stock market works, and decide for yourself if you should be investing in index mutual funds or picking stocks, this book is a must-read.

This book is not short, but that's because it goes through the history of investing (starting in 1592! through the dot-com era), explains how professionals invest and modern portfolio theory, and how you can apply all that to your investment portfolio.

I read this book before I was an investment advisor, have re-read it since, and recommend it to my clients who want to understand how the stock market, and how investors, work.

Pros: Love the stories of early investment bubbles, like the tulip bulb bubble (yes, actual tulip bulbs) and how the dot-com bubble was just history repeating itself. Great explaination of modern portfolio theory, that a non-financial-geek can understand.

Cons: Still is pretty technical for some people, and no one could say the book is short or quick reading. Modern portfolio theory may not work in all asset classes (like international investments, though that may be changing).

What I have learned: I love sharing stories of all of the bubbles throughout history, when I'm at a cocktail party or networking event. Helps me explain to clients and press why the dot-com bubble happened, why indexing works (in some asset classes), and how someone should evaluate the fundamentals of a stock.
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on May 1, 2003
A Random Walk takes the reader on a path from the point of view of an academic, rather than that of a trader. That is sufficient to make this book different from most other stock market tomes. Malkiel's premise is that neither the the average investor nor the professional trader can expect to perform better that the "market" over any significant period of time. He considers market events to be random, and thus unpredictable. He offers piles of data to support his contentions, and his arguments are compelling.
Yet, those who trade using technical analysis scoff at books such at this, claiming their systems consistently beat the averages. The author points to the fact that most managers of mutual funds, pensions etc. fail to perform better than index funds and Malkiel recommends that public investors place their investment money into broad based index funds. The S&P 500 Index fund is recommended, as it is unrealistic to expect fund managers to perform better.
This classic has been around for 30 years and this revised edition is worth your time, especially if you have never read an earlier edition. Just be aware that many technical traders consider this to be a work of fiction.
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on July 18, 2005
Let me start by saying this book is an absolute must-read for anybody interested in the stock market and their potential to succeed in it! With that said, this should NOT be the only book on the subject you read. Written by an academic, Random Walk is highly biased towards the Efficient Market Hypothesis, which although important to be aware of, must be understood in its appropriate context (one of many different models of how the market MIGHT work).

If you do read this book you'll receive a valuable financial history lesson exposing you to many of the financial irrationalities of the past (most recently the dot-com bubble) -- this alone makes the book well worth buying!

You'll also receive an introduction to the various forms (three are presented) of the Efficient Market Hypothesis. Without getting into specifics, the EMH discounts an individual's ability to outperform the market by assuming that all publicly available news/information on a company has already been factored into a stock's price. The implication being that by the time you hear about a company's latest developments it's too late to use this information to your advantage.

Although the EMH is important to be aware of, it's also important to realize that not everybody who's trading stocks subscribes to it or accepts it as part of their trading philosophy. You might consider flipping through The Alchemy of Finance after finishing Random Walk to read the opinion of someone who subscribes to a very different trading philosophy!

Bottom line:

Random Walk is one of the "classics" that anybody who is serious about the stock market will have read; however, limiting your financial education to just this book would be a very poor idea!
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on September 30, 2004
This is actually three books in one.

The first part is a history of stock market bubbles from the 17th to the 21st century. That, in itself, is enough to make this book invaluable.

The second part is an excellent introduction to different investment and stock valuation methods.

The third part is the author's specific investment advice. It is not, as some reviewers have said, a "buy index funds" approach. It is based on asset allocation between stocks, cash, bonds, and real estate, depending on your age and risk tolerance.

While some people, who I am sure are very successful investors, look down on this "simple" asset allocation advice, in my opinion Malkiel's suggestions are right on the money for over 90% of investors. If you can get rich by investing in the stock market, good for you. This section of the book is about preserving and slowly growing your hard-earned savings, based on the amount of risk that you choose to take.

Bottom line: Read this book. It can save you thousands of dollars in bad investments.
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on June 7, 2003
I just finished reading the '95 edition and am looking forward to reading the updated version. I would highly recommend this book to any beginning investor (spare me Suze Orman!), or to experience investors who may have dismissed it based on mainstream media characterizations.
After hearing so much about this book over the years, I was surprised after reading it how misunderstood it is.
As it turns out, Malkeil is a "weak" random walker by his own definition, and sometimes mildly mocks the "strong" random walkers who claim all relevent information is reflected in stock prices at all times. I had always dismissed this book as an absurdity based on the understanding that it espouses the strong approach. It most assuredly does not.
He begins the book talking about historic market bubbles and their eventual collapses as examples of ineffecient markets. At the close he describes his inventments in discounted closed end funds as an example of exploiting a market inefficiency.
His thesis is that inefficiencies and insider information can be exploited, but such opportunities are difficult to identify, may be inaccessible to the average investor, and do not persist. So in the absence of this information, how is one to invest over the long term? Mainstream media latches onto the stock indexing approach as though it was the sole method espoused by the author. Although Malkiel presents a compelling case for indexing, and discredits technical analysis outright, his approach is hardly dogmatic and often nuanced.
Other noteable misunderstandings about this book are too numerous to mention here; often purchased but rarely read it seems.
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on August 3, 2000
As a financial consultant in a global financial services firm, I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone in the markets. Burton Malkiel's central concepts still hold up in this seventh edition. He updates with stories of the latest investment follies, and uses them to back up his central assertion: investing in the capital markets requires a long-term time horizon, an understanding of the risks involved, a resistance to rushing into the latest hot trend without researching it, and some kind of investment strategy. (Those investors who trade, trade, trade on broker advice should always remember: Brokers make money on every trade in commissions-- they don't care if *you* lose all of your money.) Burton's continued support of index funds as an important part of any diversified asset strategy is backed up by good, rigorous research. Even the best active managers get burned-- Warren Buffett's hot streak finally ran out in the first half of this year, didn't it? Mean reversion does finally win out in the long run. Investors who play the stock market like the Lotto always lose out to the long-term strategists. "A Random Walk down Wall Street" is, and will always be, an immensely valuable work.
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