Book review: Street Smarts: Adventures on the Road and in the Markets

Book review: Street Smarts: Adventures on the Road and in the Markets

Jim Rogers on his own life and why he is betting on Asia, especially China.

Street Smarts: Adventures on the Road and in the Markets
By Jim Rogers
Crown Business
Pages: 272; Price: Rs 599

Would you invest in North Korea or Myanmar? Many would laugh off such a question. But not investment legend Jim Rogers. "I am dying to find a way to invest in both North Korea and Myanmar. Major changes in these two countries are among the most exciting things I see right now, looking to the future," he says in this book, arguing that both countries will eventually have to reform and open up under global pressure. And when that happens it will provide great opportunities to multiply wealth. Incidentally, Rogers was one of those who warned about the US housing bubble - which caused the 2008 financial meltdown - as early as 2003.

However, North Korea and Myanmar will have to wait. For the time being, Rogers is betting on the rest of Asia, and China in particular. The US powerhouse is on a decline, he says, crumbling under the burden of debt and weak, directionless leadership, while China is ascending. Insights gained during his travels across the globe have convinced him that "China was the world's next great nation".

Rogers puts his money where his mouth is. Sensing the Asian emergence, he not only sold his mansion in the US and relocated to Singapore in 2007, but also insisted his two daughters learn Mandarin in primary school.

The book starts with a young Jim Rogers recounting his days as a student at Yale and Oxford universities, and moves on to his first steps into investment. Rogers' recollections from the time when he did not have money to buy a pair of shoes for an Oxford boat racing event, to when he partnered another investment legend, George Soros, in setting up the hugely successful Quantum Fund, to his later life as a teacher and writer, is as good a read as any. Now in his 70s, Rogers made a big enough pile to be able to retire from active fund management at 37. So, what are the asset classes to invest in now, in Rogers's view? The answer is commodities, especially farm produce.

"The current bull market in commodities started in 1999 … Like all bull markets it will end in a bubble. But the bull market has years to go," he says. In contrast, he feels equities have run their course. "Soon, stockbrokers will be driving taxis ... while farmers will be driving Lamborghinis."

Among his many investment tips, Rogers says: "The way to become a successful investor is by investing only in what you yourself have a wealth of knowledge about." At another place, he repeats: "To be lucky, do your homework."

But when it comes to India, Rogers himself could have done a little more homework. Consider these observations: "All growth rate figures are unreliable. It is stupefying to me that India could claim to have a clue to what is going on even in India, much less in China or in the US" or "When it comes to growth rate, Indians base their numbers on what China is reporting, making sure that theirs are better than, or at least in line with, China's."Really?

His assessment of Indian society is even more baffling. "It (India) is a country with a Muslim minority but is still, as home to a billion people, one of the larger Muslim countries in the world. And the Muslims and the majority Hindus continue to slaughter one another." We can give such observations a pass and digest the stuff about which he truly has a "wealth of knowledge".