Investment advisory newsletters; are they useful?

A Monday Morning Millionaire Program member recently stated: “I have been a subscriber to the Motley Fool to for over 20 years, and have profited from their suggestions.”  That comment prompted today’s blog. Objectively, the Motley Fool record is not nearly as good as their marketing department would have us believe, understandably and true of most marketed goods and services. The highly regarded Hulbert Financial Digest   placed the Motley Fool in the number 3 spot out of some 200 newsletters.  The Motley Fool does employ about 300 people so, yes, they are a successful organization from a corporate perspective.

How successul are their followers?

The point-form elevator pitch which follows is all you need to read to get the message. For details, read the entire blog.

Elevator Pitch

  • Investment advisory newsletters are popular. There are many.
  • Investment advisory newsletter quality is all over the map.
  • The Hulbert Financial Digest rates investment advisory newsletters. It is an excellent source of information for interested investors.
  • It is possible but unlikely that studying the Hulbert Financial Digest will improve on the passive (indexing) performance which the Monday Morning Millionaire Program recommends.
  • To have a meaningful impact on a portfolio, a buy or sell decision must involve a large percentage of that portfolio. This is a crucial point.
  • Even the best and most respected newsletters occasionally make poor recommendations.
  • Making a major commitment based on a poor recommendation could wipe out a portfolio.
  • Carefully studying investment advisory newsletters will definitely improve one’s cocktail party conversations. It is possible but highly unlikely that it will improve on the performance of the Monday Morning Millionaire Program approach to investing.

Long before the Internet protocol suite or Mark Hulbert’s respected Hulbert Financial Digest in 1980, I was spending about $20,000 a year subscribing to any and all investment newsletters that I could find. I reasoned that if I could find some consensus on a buy recommendation, I could act on it profitably. Not surprisingly, there was no consensus. Every buyer needs a seller who has an opposing view about the prospects of any security.

Further, it soon became evident that some of the newsletter authors were semi-literate. Additionally, many would simply remove losing recommendations from their model portfolios to make them look better. There was no agency regulating who could write and what could be written.

That is still the case today. Investment newsletter authors are not governed by any central regulatory agency. A high school student working from his bedroom could run an investment opinion blog.

So could dentist with no investment qualifications. Me, for instance. However…

  1. I have been investing in the stock market for over 50 years, the last 30 with confidence.
  2. I am proud of my investment record and display it (as reported by my bank). To be believable, all with investment opinions should show their personal portfolio performance.

The above points give me credibility and a reputation which I guard jealously. Now back to investment advisory newsletters.

Investment advisory newsletters are often written by great analysts who share their knowledge with others for a few hundred dollars a year. However, even the best of them can make serious errors in judgment. Many were rating Enron a buy, even a  strong buy just before its infamous collapse in 2001. Now, to have any significant impact, any buying or selling within a portfolio needs to be a large percentage of that portfolio. Many held such positions in Enron. Overnight they went from wealth to poverty. Many worked for Enron and were on in years with poor prospects of recovery. These tragedies of epic proportion simply cannot happen to passive index investors like Monday Morning Millionaire Program members.

The Monday Morning Millionaire Program guarantees that members will equal the performance of the American economy with half the risk, minus a negligible transaction cost. Over the last decade, that approach has outperformed over 95% of portfolios including professionally managed ones. Will it do so in the coming years?

Rosi’s and my retirement is based on that assumption.




How to amass a fortune predicting the market

On March 26, 2019, from Elliot Goldenberg, CEO  Mindware Seminars, CDE credits on dream vacations!


Have you heard of Steve Sjuggerud? Apparently, a very astute stock market player who has amassed a fortune predicting various points in the market over the last 20-30 years. He claims to have built a special algorithm to determine the market top.

Monday Morning Millionaire Program Answer:

We apologize for our delayed answer. Your question was buried together with a lot of other material.

Stansberry Research is an investment advisory organization which publishes several investment newsletters. Steve Sjuggerud is the founder of True Wealth which is one of these. In November 2003, the Securities and Exchange Commission accused Stansberry of fraud. The court found Stansberry guilty; appeal was denied.

Many who head advisory organizations make a fortune by being convincing enough with their marketing  that they build up a large following. Followers pay fees.


Ideal time to start investing for best results

On May 15, 2019, from A. B…….DDS, NY City, NY


I am a 65-year-old dentist and was just introduced to MMM by a colleague. I have three sons and I was wondering if it was too late for me to start investing this way. I am certainly interested in advising my children to adopt this formula. I also wanted to know that if I start DIY investing, how do I get my funds from my money manager to ETF’s that I control. Please let me know what you think.

Monday Morning Millionaire Program Answer:

Chicago School of Economics professor Eugene Fama won the Nobel prize in economics for his Efficient Market Hypothesis. The Monday Morning Millionaire Program rests solidly on a foundation of the EMH. Investment scholars universally accept the EMH, although they have different opinions on its details. It is possible but highly unlikely to do better.
At age 65, you easily have 20 years or more to earn, save and invest. Of course, your children could not do any better, either. With youth on their side, they might run fun portfolios in which they try to outperform the market. These should be quite apart from their core portfolios.
Getting your funds into ETFs which you control can be done online, today. If you have a personal relationship with your money manager simply tell him or her to make the transfer. State that you want to eliminate the management fees but that you would like to communicate from time to time and that you wish to be charged on an hourly basis.
You might want to tell your money manager that that I have a $100,000 standing bet open to all money managers, payable by the loser to the winner’s favorite charity if, over the course of a decade, whatever they are recommending, after fees, beats the simple act of holding an exchange-traded fund which mirrors S&P 500 index.

One-minute explanation of recent market activity

The ten-year chart above shows:

  1. The S&P 500 index itself
  2. The Vanguard S&P 500 ETF (Symbol VOO)
  3. iShares Core S&P 500 ETF (Symbol IVV)
  4. Spider S&P 500 ETF (Symbol SPY)

2., 3., and 4. are exchange-traded funds (ETF’s) which are proxies of the S&P 500 index itself. The chart shows all four and the Monday Morning Millionaire Program recommends investing in one of these. Note that they are exactly the same, as expected. They show the performance of the American economy as a whole. (Buying the American economy is the third habit of highly effective investors.) The S&P 500 and its proxies have gone up over 150% over the last decade. You can cherry-pick investments which have done better but only with hindsight. No other category of investment has done as well. That has been the case for over 100 years and is likely to continue.

Now, the media are making a lot of noise about the market drop of the last week. (The five-day chart below shows the S&P 500 index itself and the three ETF’s which mirror it.)

Monday Morning Millionaire Program members have a long-term investment view. They would yawn at a 4% drop in after arise of over 150%. It has happened before. History shows that 5 percent drops happen more than twice a year; 10 percent, twice within three years; 20 percent, about once every three-and-a-half years; and 30 percent, once every five years. The more active members might start getting ready to rebalance their asset allocation and buy one of the increasingly cheaper proxies of the American economy.

Monday Morning Millionaire Program members know that the media need to say something even when there is a nothing to say.

Our comments BRK annual meeting, May 4, 2019

For a summary of the 2019 Berkshire Hathaway (BRK) Annual Shareholders’ Meeting see our report.

Called the Woodstock of capitalism, the annual BRK meeting attracts tens of thousands even though getting to Omaha is a major aggravation for many, hotel prices are at their highest, hotels require a four-day booking for the one-day meeting and the meeting has been broadcast live for several years now! Investors can follow it without needing to go there.

For Monday Morning Millionaire Program members, it is noteworthy to see that over the past decade, Berkshire stock has gone up 259% while the S&P 500 has gone up 314%! Over the last 10 years, by investing an exchange-traded fund which parallels the S&P 500, we have outperformed two of the best investment minds in history!  (Over the last five decades, BRK has done impressively better.)

Why is that? Why is the Monday Morning Millionaire Program outperforming Berkshire Hathaway?

BRK is one of the world’s largest enterprises. (Ten of the world’s biggest companies are American.) Like a large ocean liner, it cannot turn on a dime. Buffett and Munger have been stating for years now, that it is becoming increasingly difficult for BRK to perform well because of its increasing size. Monday Morning Millionaire Program members will not have that problem.

Buffet and Munger have said that the day will come when BRK performance will not equal the S&P 500 performance. It is well known that Buffett wants 90% of his estate invested in an index fund which matches the S&P 500 and the remaining 10% invested in Government bonds. How like the philosophy of the Monday Morning Millionaire Program! (Except for the fact that the Monday Morning Millionaire Program recommends money markets instead of bonds.)

Like the Monday Morning Millionaire Program, Buffett and Munger enthusiastically promote investing in the US because of its economic dynamism, ingenuity, and ambition.

The odds of beating the S&P 500 over the course of a market cycle (peak to trough to peak) are much closer to 0% than they are to 10%.  Equalling the index following the Monday Morning Millionaire Program philosophy minus a small transaction fee is a certainty.

Investing successfully in the short run requires luck. Investing successfully over the long run following the Monday Morning Millionaire Program is guaranteed.

Good luck to us all.

Dinner With Charlie: The World According to Mr. Munger

With time, all of us will decline from the neck down. At age 95, Charlie Munger is an inspiration showing what is possible from the neck up.

“The safest way to try and get what you want is to try and deserve what you want.” Charlie Munger

Warren Buffett’s long-time business partner says one key to his success is that he’s ‘good at destroying my own best-loved ideas’

By Jason Zweig, Wall Street Journal

May 3, 2019 11:11 a.m. ET

Charlie Munger is a living reminder that to be a great investor, you must be a great learner.

Listening to the vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., as my colleague Nicole Friedman and I did on a visit to his Los Angeles home in late April, you would never guess that one of the world’s greatest investors is 95 years old—or that he is nearly blind, or that he can barely walk without severe back pain. Mr. Munger has a superabundance of stamina, curiosity and concentration that many people a third his age would envy.

Nicole and I—along with Mr. Munger’s friend Peter Kaufman, chief executive of Glenair Inc., an aerospace-parts manufacturer in Glendale, Calif.—were there to talk with him about his obsession with designing buildings for schools and other nonprofits.

But Mr. Munger was there to talk about anything on his mind, which is just about everything. His favorite activity, he says, is figuring out “what works and what doesn’t and why.”

In his study, books—Shakespeare, Twain, biographies, histories, and anthologies of humor and short stories and poetry—are everywhere. Mr. Munger says he reads himself to sleep every night, sometimes staying up until 3 a.m. (On a normal day, he’s back at his work by 8 a.m.)

“ ‘Warren and I feel it’s our moral duty to be as rational as we can possibly be.’ ”

—Berkshire Hathaway Vice Chairman Charlie Munger

We arrive just after 6 p.m. Once Mr. Munger starts talking, he speaks almost nonstop for hours.

At one point around 10:30 p.m., Mr. Munger signals that the evening is over. But then another thought occurs to him and he leans forward again, reopening the floodgate of words he had just closed. He doesn’t stop talking until a few minutes before midnight.

Here, in brief, are some of the topics we touched on. (A fuller transcript is available at this link.)

WSJ: Can any companies resist competition from Inc. ? Who is Amazon-proof?

Mr. Munger: I think that Amazon has more to fear from Costco [Wholesale Corp.] than Costco has to fear from Amazon. In the end [Costco]’ll be more efficient and they’re already more trusted. So I would say all the figures show that Costco has nothing to fear from Amazon.

WSJ: What about Berkshire?

Mr. Munger: Everybody else has a lot to fear from Amazon. I didn’t name Berkshire! I named Costco.

WSJ: Will Berkshire’s returns shrink?

Mr. Munger: We’ll earn a lower return than we did on the way up. Not only is it harder to have all the extra money, but we had idiot competition when we were young. Now we’ve got tough competition scrounging every area and little niche. No, it’s way harder.

WSJ: Should investors still buy Berkshire?

Mr. Munger: Well, compared to what? Compared to ordinary securities, of course. If you’ve got anything like what we had when we were young, then you shouldn’t buy Berkshire.

WSJ: Compared to the S&P 500?

Mr. Munger: I think we’ll beat it a little. But that’s not bad with a market cap of over $600 billion. That’s difficult! Most people won’t do as well as we will.

WSJ: Index funds now own more than 23% of Berkshire’s Class B shares. Do you worry that they are becoming too powerful?

Mr. Munger: It may be good. Now that the index [funds] are starting to push people around a little, it may be a plus. It may make the thing more capitalistic. But it will never be considered a plus by the people who are in the corporations. Hell, they like a system where they can do what they want and you would too, if you were at a venture like Procter & Gamble or whatever. You wouldn’t want anybody changing your world from the outside.

WSJ: Can big tech companies survive the political pressure to break them up?

Mr. Munger: The answer to that is yes. When these tidal forces of change come in, the politicians [are] pissing against the tide. It won’t work. The tide is too strong. Nobody’s going to stop the Internet that enabled me to get that table for $100. And everybody’s threatened by it. And it’s not going away. And it shouldn’t go away. It’s good for the world. What would it be like if we were all digging for potatoes together?

WSJ: Who could succeed you, Warren Buffett and Jack Bogle [the late founder of the Vanguard Group and pioneer of index funds] in encouraging higher standards of business conduct?

Mr. Munger: The kind of people that come to the top are the kind of men with reasonably high IQs, but not super-brilliant, who would have been elected head of a fraternity house. At the top, you need a certain kind of a mind that automatically makes sense about investments and money. People have it or they don’t, and if they don’t have it, you can’t create it. It’s almost an inherited knack….You’re asking for a lot. It doesn’t happen very often.

WSJ: You must have more than one knack.

Mr. Munger: Part of the reason I’ve been a little more successful than most people is I’m good at destroying my own best-loved ideas. I knew early in life that that would be a useful knack and I’ve honed it all these years, so I’m pleased when I can destroy an idea that I’ve worked very hard on over a long period of time. And most people aren’t.

WSJ: Most people hate that.

Mr. Munger: Yes. But actually, I know how much power and wealth is in it, so I like it. Plus that’s enlightenment. Power, wealth and enlightenment. Not a bad combination.

WSJ: I wouldn’t ask most people this, but I’m sure you won’t mind. What would you want the first paragraph of your obituary to say?

Mr. Munger: Both Warren and I feel it’s our moral duty to be as rational as we can possibly be. A lot of people who are brilliant in some ways tend to make these utterly asinine decisions in other ways. We both tend to collect the asininities of the world in a kind of checklist. And we try to avoid everything on the checklist.

Investing outside tax-advantaged accounts

On May 6, 2019, from T. S….. S….. DDS, Ontario, Canada


Is your portfolio setup also effective in a non-registered account? That is, one in which the tax advantage has been removed?

Cheers and Thanks

Monday Morning Millionaire Program Answer:

Investing within the framework of the habits of the highly effective investors is the best way to go in any account.

Having said that, please note that all investors should top up all tax-advantaged accounts before investing outside these. Over the course of an investment lifetime, investing in a tax-advantaged account can make a positive difference of hundreds of thousands of dollars compared to investing any other way.

Tax-advantaged accounts generally do not allow selling cash-secured, uncovered puts — a minor shortcoming. Only when all tax-advantaged accounts are fully topped up should investors consider placing money in other types of accounts.

Our personal portfolios, 5/06/19

Since January 2012, we have outperformed the market slightly in our core portfolios. It is almost a certainty that we will not be able to continue to do so. However, since we have the habits of highly effective investors, it is an absolute certainty we will be able to equal the market minus a small transaction fee. Seasoned members on the Monday Morning Millionaire Program do so.

Every Tuesday, I publish with comments, Rosi’s and my core portfolios and my fun portfolio holdings and the activity which took place on Monday. Rosi has her fun skiing, cycling in the skiing off-season, making muffins, walking our dog, reading, making our travel arrangements and spending time with our grandchildren. She does not have a fun portfolio.

Fun Portfolio

Please note that the only way to beat the market is to ignore one or more of the six habits of highly effective investors. We ignored two. One, the portfolio is fully invested, that is, it cannot be rebalanced to a sensible asset allocation and two, it has only one stock, that is, it is not diversified by owning the entire US market via an exchange-traded fund which mirrors the S&P 500 index.

Last Friday, my cash-secured uncovered puts on ABBV closed below the strike price and I got assigned. Now, the fun portfolio was fully invested in ABBV. That allowed me to write (sell) covered calls on ABBV. I did so, strike price $79.00, expiry date this coming Friday, May 10, and got $US630.00 per 10 contracts.

My fun portfolio suffered a serious loss when I committed all of it to ABBV, the underlying, which tanked soon after. Since my fun portfolio makes up only 5% of Rosi’s and my market holdings, it cannot have a major impact overall.  It could, however, come up with an unusually good opportunity which we could apply to our core portfolios.

Core portfolios (all are tax-advantaged)

After withdrawing our entire annual budgeted income needs from my personal core portfolio last week, I followed Paul Samuelson’s advice (Samuelson is an economics Nobel laureate) stating that investing should be like watching paint dry or grass grow. We maintain a 50/50 asset allocation with 50% in a US money market fund (TDB166, now paying 2.24% annually, down from 2.25% two weeks ago) and 50% in the RSP ETF.   That 50/50 asset allocation equals the market over the course of a market cycle (peak to trough to peak) with half the volatility, that is, half the risk.




Predicting the future based on history

“Historical data may be imperfect, but it remains the only unbiased way to measure risk and make assumptions about the future.”  (The Economist, Sept. 23, 2009)

Inexact as it is, past behavior is a useful forecast of future behavior. For stock market investors, two items are highly predictable:

  1. Stock prices will fluctuate. (J. P. Morgan)
  2. Through overt and covert fees, Wall Street/Bay Street will continue to prosper at the expense of investors. (Milan Somborac)

Monday Morning Millionaire Program members know that the only way to get their fair share of history’s strongest economy at a fair price is to practice the habits of highly effective investors.

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Highlights from the 2019 Berkshire Hathaway Shareholders Meeting

When Berkshire started broadcasting its annual meetings, Rosi and I stopped going. Toronto to Omaha is an unpleasant flight including a stopover (recently, Air Canada introduced a direct flight). We miss our Omaha friends, the excitement, the drama, the patio lunches, dining at Gorat’s, Warren Buffett’s favorite restaurant — the entire experience, but…watching the full meeting from the comfort of our lounge chairs has its merits.

Stripped of ads, below, you can see the meeting report by Sam Ro Managing Editor Yahoo Finance


Warren Buffett spent Saturday speaking to Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-A, BRK-B) investors as well as the rest of the world at the 2019 Annual Shareholder Meeting in Omaha, Nebraska.

Known as the “Oracle of Omaha” for his track record of picking winning investments, Buffett was joined by his right-hand man Charlie Munger, vice chairman of Berkshire. The duo shared their unscripted views on their company, the financial markets, the economy, politics, corporate governance, and investing.

Their comments on the near-term have been known to move markets. Their insights on the long-term have earned fortunes for investors.

“I’m a card-carrying capitalist”

Buffett wants to make very clear where he stands regarding economic policy.

I’m a card-carrying capitalist,” he said. “I believe we wouldn’t be sitting here except for the market system and the rule of law on some things that are embodied in this country.”

This comes as socialist policy proposals have gotten increasing amounts of support from the far left.

While Buffett has historically supported Democratic presidential candidates, he does not believe the pendulum will actually swing that far.

“I don’t think the country will go into socialism in 2020 or 2040 or 2060,” Buffett said.

“I think we’re all in favor of some kind of government social safety net in a country as prosperous as ours,” Munger added. “What a lot of us don’t like is the vast stupidity with which parts of that social safety net are managed by the government.”

[Read More: Warren Buffett: I’m a ‘card-carrying capitalist’, rejects US embrace of socialism}

Buying Amazon was a ‘value’ bet

On the Thursday ahead of the meeting, Buffett revealed to CNBC’s Becky Quick that Berkshire had amassed a new position in Amazon (AMZN). He attributed the purchase to “one of the fellows in the office that manage money.” In other words, the decision was made by Todd Combs or Ted Weschler.

This was a troubling development for some Buffett watchers who believe that Amazon stock is closer to its top than its bottom.

During the meeting, an investor asked how “value investors” like Buffett, Combs and Weschler could support such a bet.

“It’s interesting that the term value investing came up because I can assure you both managers — and one of them bought some Amazon stock in the last quarter — he is a value investor,” Buffett said.

“The two people that, one of whom made the investment in Amazon, they are looking at hundreds of securities,” he added. “Because they are managing less money in their universe, they are looking for things that they feel they understand what will be developed by that business between now and judgment day.”

Buffett further argued that all investing “value investing.”

[Read More: Warren Buffett defends Berkshire’s Amazon stock purchase as ‘value investing’]

In defense of Wells Fargo leadership

Wells Fargo continues to recover from its fake account scandal, which the world first learned about in September 2016. The bank admitted that employees had created millions of accounts for clients without their permission.

Wells’ woes led to the departure of CEO John Stumpf in 2016 and more recently Tim Sloan in 2019, who took over for Stumpf.

Some have called for jailing Wells’ top executives including CEOs. Buffett and Munger disagree.

“It looks to me like Wells made some big mistakes in what they incentivized,” Buffett said. “I’ve seen that at a lot of places. That clearly existed at Wells. To the extent that they set up fake accounts, a couple of million of them that had no balance in them, that could not possibly have been profitable to Wells.”

While the top execs were responsible for the incentives, they should not be responsible of the acts those incentives incentivized, Buffett and Munger argue.

“I don’t think people ought to go to jail for honest errors of judgement. It’s bad enough to lose your job,” Munger said. “I wish Tim Sloan was still there.”

[Read More: Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger defend Wells Fargo’s disgraced CEOs]

Berkshire’s volatile earnings and growing cash hoard

The meeting kicked off with Buffett delving into the current state of Berkshire and its recent performance.

First and foremost, Buffett decried a new accounting rule that has been making a mess of Berkshire’s net earnings. Specifically, the rule force companies to mark-to-market the value of their stock portfolios. And Berkshire’s portfolio is massive, which has caused wild swings in earnings.

“The bottom line figures are gonna be totally capricious,” he said. “What I worry about is the interpretation…I just hope nobody gets misled.”

That said, Berkshire reported modest growth in its quarterly operating earnings.

Second, Buffett and Munger addressed stock buybacks. During the first quarter, Berkshire repurchased $1.7 billion worth of class A and B shares. This comes as the M&A options remain unattractive.

“We’re going to probably be more liberal when it comes to repurchasing shares,” Munger said.

“In the years ahead, we hope to move much of our excess liquidity into businesses that Berkshire will permanently own,” Buffett said in his 2018 letter to shareholders. “The immediate prospects for that, however, are not good: Prices are sky-high for businesses possessing decent long-term prospects.”

For now, Berkshire’s cash hoard continues to grow. As of the end of Q1, the company was sitting on $114.2 billion, up from $111.9 billion at the end of Q4.

“We are certainly willing to spend $100 billion [on buybacks],” Buffett said should Berkshire’s market value falls below intrinsic value.

[Read More: Warren Buffett decries accounting rule change that has made a mess of Berkshire’s earnings]

Coca-Cola and cannabis

On Friday, Buffett and Munger shared some thoughts on marijuana in response to a question from Fox Business Network’s Liz Claman.

“It would be a mistake for Coca-Cola (KO) to get into the marijuana — cannabis business,” theyreportedly said to Claman. “They have a wholesome image and that would be detrimental to it.”

“Our chairman and CEO, James Quincey, has repeatedly stated we don’t have plans to get into this space,” a Coca-Cola spokesperson said to Yahoo Finance.

Coca-Cola is arguably the most successful investment Berkshire ever made.

It all began with a ‘monumentally stupid decision’

Buffett, 88, first invested in a Berkshire Hathaway, a failing textile company, back in December 1962, accumulating 7% of the company at $7.50 per share. The company was owned by a man named Seabury Stanton, who in 1964 asked Buffett for the price he’d be willing to sell his stake. Buffett said $11.50, and they had a deal.

However, Stanton later turned around and made a tender offer to shareholders for $11.275 per share. Buffett didn’t care for that behavior, so he ended up hanging on.

“That was a monumentally stupid decision,” Buffett said in his 2014 letter to shareholders. “Irritated by Stanton’s chiseling, I ignored his offer and began to aggressively buy more Berkshire shares.”

Buffett took control of the company in May of 1965. And that was followed by another two decades of tough lessons.

“During the 18 years following 1966, we struggled unremittingly with the textile business, all to no avail,” he said. “But stubbornness — stupidity? — has its limits. In 1985, I finally threw in the towel and closed the operation.”

Despite his great success and status, Buffett’s career is riddled with failures. Ultimately, his real triumph is learning from his mistakes to eventually seal his legacy as the world’s greatest investor.

Furthermore, through letters, interviews, meetings and TV appearances, Buffett has shared his lessons with the public so that they can be better investors themselves. So while many know him as a great investor, there are plenty who will also remember himas a great teacher.