ALBA, which sharp-eyed readers know changed its symbol to GLDD, closed last night at $6.74 and the warrants (GLDDW) at $1.80. Notwithstanding the likelihood of dips along the way – and the possibility of something awful (no stock is without risk, even one in a company that moves mud) – I am cheerfully holding on to all of mine.


Fred: ‘About a year ago, you recommended Prof. Greenblatt’s ‘little book that beats the market.’ Some of your readers (me) might appreciate an update.’

☞ I’ve gotten no reports of bad results; and, in the last couple of days, these two unsolicited year-end wrap-ups:

  • Dan Flikkema: ‘Quick update on Magic Formula investing. Net of all expenses, I’m up 16.7% for 2006 which is a long way from 30% but still about 1.2% better than the Vanguard Total stock market fund did this year.’
  • Don Szostak: ‘After the first full year of Magic Formula Investing (at your suggestion, using only funds I can afford to squander), that account returned 31.95%, even with Fidelity’s $8.00 commission per trade. That’s about double the Dow. Thanks for the tip, even though 48 trades a year is more than I like to do.’

My sense is that these readers not only did well, but that they did so with less risk than they otherwise might have taken (given both the diversification and the value orientation of the strategy). So mine may be The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need; but, as I’ve long maintained, it is not the only investment guide that’s any good. I stand by my enthusiasm for The Little Book That Beats the Market.


Christmas morning, I picked up a Taurus from Hertz and drove Charles and my folks out to Long Island for the joyful chaos we call Christmas at the Nolans. There were five of us in the car, counting the Hertz Lady, who for $9.95 a day has proven an indispensable member of my family.

She and I have a complicated relationship. She has emboldened me to go places that I – born without a sense of direction – never would have dared to go before. Yet, she can be temperamental, demanding, and defensive when she makes mistakes. She sometimes gets flustered.

I know this, because I get a kick out of flustering her. Sometimes I will do a series of U-Turns just to blow her mind. ‘Recalculating route! Recalculating route!’ she will cry, throwing up her hands, exasperated.

I had always assumed she was just a complicated computer program, not a real woman in a box, or I would not have done this to her. But I have seriously come to suspect otherwise, and I’ll tell you why.

The next day, December 26, she and I and Charles drove to the smoky mountains of North Carolina (or perhaps the Blue Ridge mountains, but they were smoky). I had tested her patience with a few Rest Stop figure-eights; but, again, I was assuming she was just software, not a female HAL from the movie 2001.

When we got to our destination, Main Street in Highlands – ‘You have arrived’ – we were seemingly in the middle of nowhere. We wanted 270 Main Street, a delightful bed and breakfast, but she had seemingly washed her hands of the project at two in the morning up a very windy mountainous road, with the only visible street sign reading ‘Raoul.’

Raoul and what? Eventually we discovered, or intuited, that our twisty road had simply become Main Street, with Raoul the first intersection. We began to see mailbox numbers (640, 620 . . . ) that became more promising as they declined.

She was silent throughout all of this, if I recall, or else she was repeating her other favorite phrase – ‘Proceed to the highlighted route’ – but her LCD display, unnervingly, showed us growing ever more distant from Main Street.

Suddenly, we rounded a bend into a well lit, charming little town. A minute later, we were at 270 Main Street, the very friendly Main Street Inn.

All being well that ends well, we put this episode out of our minds and – having turned off power to the car – assumed we had put it out of her mind as well.

A couple of days later we proceeded from North Carolina to South Carolina. I had a Mapquest printout, but the Hertz Lady seemed quite confident, and I decided not to challenge her authority. Remember: at this stage, I still thought she was just software.

Well, we are going through mile after mile after mile after mile of narrow twisty mountain road, guard rail to my right (did I mention that I am afraid of heights?) – and sometimes no guard rails where any sane person would have wanted there to be – and I am beginning to wonder whether we might be trapped in a sort of paved mountain maze, gas tank slowly emptying (you have seen Deliverance?), proceeding 522 miles from Highlands to Charleston at 25 miles an hour.

I was beginning to speak ill of the Hertz Lady, when – finally – she announced: ‘Right turn in two miles.’

The tension drained from my neck. We were saved. Shortly, the two-lane mountain road would intersect the Interstate. Could Chevron and McDonalds be far behind?

The steep drop off to my right was still daunting; but (‘Right turn in one point one miles’) level ground would be soon at hand.

(Really? We still seemed awfully high in the mountains with no traffic signs ahead. But then, the Hertz Lady owns a satellite, with the ultimate bird’s eye view.)

‘Right turn in point five miles.’

‘Right turn.’

This she said with her customary assurance, and the ‘ding ding‘ that signifies: ‘yes, now – turn now.’

Which, had we done so, would have led us through a guard rail, off a cliff to a fiery death.

The Hertz Lady, I realized just in time, was trying to kill us.

We did not, as evidenced by my living to tell the tale, turn right. Many miles later, we came, finally, to a gas station and someone from whom to ask directions.

And from there on, all the way to Charleston and then up to Washington, she more or less behaved. My sense is that she was actually a little embarrassed for having let her professionalism lapse.

Listen, Lady: the customer is always right . . . no matter what he says about you when he thinks you’re not listening, and no matter how many figure-eights he performs to push your buttons.

All I’m saying is, now that I know she is a real person, with feelings (which would explain, by the way, why you can’t ‘select the voice’ you want to hear – it is always her voice), I am going to try to be a little more respectful. But you need to know: don’t mess with the Hertz Lady. She might try to kill you.


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