The five best investment books we’ve read this year
We established our investment book club to help us learn from a wide range of perspectives on various topics. These are our recommendations for this summer.
Our emerging market equities book club aims to seek investment insights from beyond the everyday sources. We hope it will spark discussion, and nurture a broader appreciation of how societies, economies, and people function – as well as make us better investors in the process.
The five books detailed below are all hugely thought-provoking and are our recommendations for this year.
This year we invited the authors to discuss the books with us at the book club and three of them accepted. This really brought their ideas to life and generated great debates.
If you only manage to read one business book this summer, make sure it’s one of these.
Volt Rush: The Winners and Losers in the Race to Go Green – by Henry Sanderson
UK-born writer Henry Sanderson grew up in Hong Kong and is a former reporter for Bloomberg News in China and the Financial Times in London, where he covered commodities and mining. In this book, he examines the key metals required for the energy transition, especially in relation to electric vehicles (EVs) and the batteries required to power them.
While the transition to cleaner energy sources is essential to combat climate change, it's important to remember that the production of EVs and phones, as well as the storage and transmission of electricity, all require energy and earth materials. This has geopolitical implications similar to the previous oil transition, where the West secured reserves in the Middle East. However, this time China is taking the lead.
The author talks about lithium, cobalt, nickel, and copper in detail, through anecdotes on companies that are well-known by us on the emerging markets team. He also highlights how hard it is to balance the need to reduce carbon emission with the consequences on the local communities and biodiversity that the extraction of these materials involves. Changes in the supply chain will only come with continued consumer pressure; public awareness forces companies to reform how they produce materials and secure their energy.
Capital Account: A Fund Manager Reports on a Turbulent Decade, 1993-2002 – by Edward Chancellor
Capital Account tells the story of the Dotcom bubble, one of the world's greatest investment bubbles, from the perspective of professional investors as they were seeing it unfold. The book, comprised of selected reports from global investment firm Marathon Asset Management, explains how shareholder value - the idea that companies should be run in the interests of their shareholders - became corrupted in this era of frenzied finance. Senior managers, succumbing to the lure of stock option fortunes, took to manipulating their company's earnings. Professional investors, interested only in maintaining their investment performance over the next quarter, were willing collaborators.
This book introduces the idea of a 'capital cycle' approach to investment - an approach that brings together ideas from the fields of behavioural finance, economic theory, and business analysis. Capital cycle analysis - based on the apparently simple insight that high returns lead to excessive investment in the real world and subsequent poor returns for shareholders - enabled investors to identify at an early stage the inevitable collapse of the technology and telecoms bubble. The parallels with boom and bust on “growth stocks” of the past few years is remarkable and this book helped us navigate those years successfully.
Digital Transformation: Survive and Thrive in an Era of Mass Extinction – by Thomas M Siebel
In this book, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Thomas Siebel examines how new technologies are disrupting businesses and governments, and how organisations can harness these technologies to help transform their businesses into digital enterprises.
Siebel argues that the confluence of four technologies - elastic cloud computing, big data, artificial intelligence (AI), and the internet of things - is leading to a fundamental shift in how businesses and governments operate. In the book, Siebel demonstrates how these game-changing technologies are driving digital transformation and what businesses should do to benefit from them. While AI has suddenly taken off, few people understand the broader impact of these new technologies as well as Siebel. Although written in 2019, the book remains just as relevant today.
The Innovation Stack: Building an Unbeatable Business One Crazy Idea at a Time – by Jim McKelvey
Frustrated by the high costs and difficulty of accepting credit card payments, McKelvey joined his friend Jack Dorsey (the co-founder of Twitter) to launch Square, a start-up that enabled small business owners to accept credit card payments via their mobile phones. With no expertise or experience in the world of credit card payments, they approached the problem with a new perspective, questioning the industry's assumptions, experimenting, and innovating their way through early challenges, and achieving widespread adoption from businesses small and large.
But just as Square was taking off, Amazon launched a similar product, marketed it aggressively, and undercut Square on price. While for many start-ups this would have been a disaster, Square fought back and eventually Amazon discontinued its service. This book looks at what Square had done differently from all the other companies Amazon had killed and how he won the battle with a strategy he calls the “Innovation Stack”.
However, this book is much more than just the story of Square. It is a look inside the world of entrepreneurship, and a call to action for all of us to find the entrepreneur within ourselves and identify and fix unsolved problems, one idea at a time.
The China Questions – edited by Andrew S. Erikson and Jennifer Rudolph
In this book, 36 of the world’s leading experts on China answer key questions about where this superpower is headed and what makes its people and, more importantly, its leaders tick. In only a few decades, the world’s most populous country has moved from relative isolation to centre stage. The experts included in the book – all affiliates of the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University – attempt to explain China’s identity, culture, society, history, and politics in a number of short, accessible essays.
Questions in the book include: can China’s economic growth continue apace; can China embrace the sacrifices required for a clean environment; will Taiwan reunite with the mainland; how do the Chinese people understand their position in today’s global marketplace; and how do historical setbacks and traditional values inform China’s domestic and foreign policy?
Some of the essays address issues of importance to China internally, revolving around the Communist Party’s legitimacy to rule, the end of the one-child policy, and ethnic tensions. Others focus on China’s relationship with other nations, particularly the US, and if the US pulls back from its commitments in Asia, how will China assert its growing strength in the Pacific region?
The essays in the book generated important debates among our team which is formed of people from multiple nationalities including several Chinese nationals.