Long-term Investing

'Freakonomics' authors blast stock pickers

Stock experts like 'monkeys with dart boards'
Stock experts like 'monkeys with dart boards'

Putting their alternative take on economics to the world of stock picking, "Freakonomics" authors Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt have told CNBC that investors might try blind luck rather than follow the advice of their portfolio manager.

"We talk about the ability of experts to predict the future, whether the future is geopolitical or financial. And if you look at, let's say, stock picking advice specifically, you find that the experts, the people that we must revere, the people that we pay the most, are generally about as good as a monkey with a dart board," journalist Dubner told CNBC Thursday. "So if you're a buyer you have to consider what their incentives are, what their research says and how counter intuitive you can afford to be."

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"There's somebody on the other side of that trade who is just as confident, just as optimistic...one of you is right and one of you is wrong," economist Levitt added.

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"It's part of what markets are so great...you have all of these incredibly smart people and that's why markets are so efficient. Because on every side of the transaction you've got these good people doing it."

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Dubner and Levitt melded pop culture with economics back in 2005 with their book "Freakonomics: A rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything." The book tries to apply economic theory to diverse subjects like drug dealing and sumo wrestling, and managed to sell 4 million copies worldwide, according to the authors' website.

With the third book in the series being launched in the U.K. this week, called "Think like a freak," they told CNBC that now they are trying to give readers "a little more perspective" and help people actually solve problems.

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They called it a "quasi self-help manual" that is a checklist of behaviors you can apply to think a little bit more creatively. They advocated the use of "quitting" in certain life circumstances like in a job or a relationship, acknowledging that you can't know everything and encourage people to "think like a child."

'Some truth in that'

The authors' assertion that short-term stock picking was pure luck proved less controversial than might be expected with CNBC guests on Thursday.

"There is probably some truth in that," said Ron Mock, the CEO of Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan, Canada's biggest single-profession pension plan.

"I think it is really tough to be anything more than a random walk looking at very short-term trading," he added.

Andrew Balls, the deputy chief investment officer of Pimco, also concurred on the difficulty of stock picking.

"We (Pimco) are not smart enough day-to-day or hour-to-hour to outguess other people in the market," he told CNBC.