Saturday, November 06, 2010

Exclusive Interview with Ken Fisher Part 3 - Con Artists, Madoff, Rats

Ken Fisher is a money manager, and on the list of the Forbes 400 Richest Americans. He is also a Forbes columnist, where he recently recmmended several income stocks, such as TransCanada (TRP), Repsol (REP), and Sanofi-Aventis (SNY). His latest book, Debunkery: Learn It, Do It, and Profit from It-Seeing Through Wall Street's Money-Killing Myths was just published. He is also author of several other books, including The Ten Roads to Riches: The Ways the Wealthy Got There (And How You Can Too!) and How to Smell a Rat: The Five Signs of Financial Fraud

Ken Fisher Interview Part 3
Please note: Interview took place on Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Let's talk about Bunk number 11, A Good Con Artist is Hard to Spot. As a follow-up to your How to Smell a Rat book from last year, do you think things have change in terms of the government taking a look at possible rats, or individual investors being more alert and aware, or do you think nothing has really changed?

I think there's been a little bit of change on the part of the government but only a little bit, and let me address that. First, while my book How to Smell a Rat made the best sellers list, for the most part in today's world, book sales are down anyway. You can make the New York Times best sellers list if your book sells 35,000 copies in the first year, which isn't that much. My Only Three Questions book had to sell 125,000 copies in 2007 to do that. Today you can do it for about 35,000 copies. So that tells you 35,000 people bought the book, probably half of them never even opened it, and gave it to somebody as a gift or whatever, and people got it as a gift, and so on. So my point is not that many people as a percent of the investor world actually gets past the basic methodology.

There's this notion that nobody could have figured out Bernard Madoff was Bernard Madoff. Bernard Madoff, as I wrote about it in the book, had ALL the classic signs of the con artist, every single one, straight on down the list, and the most telling about that was that he took custody. Now what the SEC is starting to do, which is very good in the aftermath of Madoff and as I prescribed in that book, not that they listen to me, they understand this, the SEC has accelerated their inspections of those who take custody and put more emphasis on them and less emphasis on those that don't take custody, because they understand that this kind of thing happens 100% of the time where somebody's taking custody. So if you are looking for Bernard Madoff's, you look among the realm of those that take custody.

The dilemma unfortunately, is that you've got a lot of people that operate in realms that don't require an SEC registration, and unless somebody complains about them, they're not going to see them, smaller hedge funds and what have you. I think Bernard Madoffs will be harder to do at that size. If Madoff hadn't existed, Stanford would have been the biggest one in history. Both of these were lots and lots of much smaller ones, and that world is still out there. That world, that I wrote about in How to Smell a Rat, every time you have a bear market, Ponzi scheme operators get uncovered. It's kind of the Warren Buffett line that "you don't know who's swimming naked until the tide goes out."

Whenever you have a bear market and sentiment falls drastically, Ponzi scheme operators that are dependent on raising new money from optimistic people to pay off redemptions, which is the game of the Ponzi operator, they can't do it so they get uncovered for the first time. And guys that have successfully Ponzi schemed through a whole market, they get uncovered in a bear market and the consequences of a bear market. So the big ones for this cycle have been done. But that doesn't mean there aren't people out that are still doing it. There will be and the next cycle around there will be another raid.

Unfortunately, I don't believe that this stuff ever goes away. It's a little like the notion of mildew in a moist environment; you may clean it off here and clean it off there but once you wait, it just comes back. Or maybe Neil Young's line in a song he did a long time ago that "rust never sleeps."

End of Part 3

The Debunkery book is available at Amazon.

Ken Fisher obviously doesn't give individual stock recommendations in his interviews, but some stocks he likes that were mentioned in his recent Forbes columns, including high dividend stocks, are available in the form of a free Excel list at

Part 1 of this interview is available HERE.

Part 2 of this interview is available HERE.

By Fred Fuld at

Disclosure: Interviewer doesn't own any of the stocks mentioned in this interview series at the time the article was written.

Copyright 2010. All rights reserved. Reproduction of this interview prohibited without permission. All opinions are those of Ken Fisher, and do not represent the opinions of or the interviewer. Neither Stockerblog nor the interviewer nor the interviewee are rendering tax, legal, or investment advice in this interview. If you want tax, legal, or investment advice, contact the appropriate professional.

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