Wax in my ears

No matter what your mother may have told you, wax in your ears may be a good thing--especially as an investor.

In ancient Greek literature, the hero Odysseus developed a tactic for dealing with the peril of sirens. Forwarned by Circe, Odysseus filled the ears of his men with wax so they could not hear the sirens' songs. He then had his men tie him to the ship's mast. Thus armed and restrained they were immune to the beguiling sounds that led so many other sailors to their deaths.

Fooled by Randomness author Nassim Taleb recommends this same tactic for dealing with the noise in the market. By "noise" Taleb refers to the beguiling voices of the likes of Jim Cramer, CNBC, Bloomberg or any of the countless financial pundits jabbering away at any point in time. To Taleb they are siren songs that will entice him into bad decisions that could eventually lead to his ruin. So he - in a manner of speaking - fills his ears with wax.  He actively ignores the pundits and works to draw his own conclusions.

Taleb's advice is good for all of us. When I was managing mutual funds for American Express, I was often quoted in the Wall Street Journal's Credit Markets column. At first it was a nice ego boost to see my name in print explaining why the bond market had a good or bad day. Soon, however, it became a challenge. The reporter expected me to come up with something pithy and quotable even when nothing noteworthy was going on. (He couldn't very well write, "Nothing much happening today in the bond market...")

If you multiply my experience by all the column inches and programing hours that need to be filled every day, you start to get a sense of how much "filler" is out there relative to the amount of real information. Odysseus and Taleb have the right idea. A little wax in the ears is probably a very good thing. Just don't tell Mom.