Interview: Spotlight on Prieur du Plessis

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I was recently interviewed by Mert Erkal (Search for Blogging) for the April 2008 edition of Bloghology. The questions and answers are republished below.

Mert Erkal: Prieur, please tell us about an investment professional’s life especially when alarm bells are ringing for global economy.

Prieur du Plessis: The investment environment is notoriously dynamic (or, perhaps, volatile) in the sense that different political, economic and a myriad other variables are forever changing and influencing the course of financial markets – sometimes irrationally, at least on the face of it.

An investor’s unique “investment personality” plays an important role in the way he/she copes with decision making, especially when confronted with lots of “noise”, but experience (i.e. grey hair) does provide one with a framework within which to assess situations logically and calmly.

I find investment to be totally absorbing – nothing short of a very specific (albeit exhilirating) lifestyle – allowing one not only to cope with “alarm bells”, but also to seek out opportunity when the world seems to be falling off a cliff. It is in such situations that the wheat is separated from the chaff and true dedication and professionalism invariably lead to superior investment returns.

Mert Erkal: You have 25 years’ experience in investment research and portfolio management. What was the motive behind creating your own blog?

Prieur du Plessis: I write primarily to organize my thoughts about financial markets and this has become a way of life. The truly original ideas usually come to me when I do my daily run.

I only started blogging in May 2007, but more than 1 200 of my articles on investment-related topics have been published prior to that in various regular newspaper, journal and Internet columns. I have also published a book, Financial Basics: Investment.

Although I am an investment professional, I have always seen the blog site as something personal rather than a commercial venture, but it has created global awareness for our investment management business, Plexus Asset Management, which may lead to monetary gain in the longer term.

Mert Erkal: How did you name your blog? Please describe your blog.

Prieur du Plessis: I’ll first answer the last part of the question. Investment Postcards from Cape Town is an international investment blog, focusing on the macro-outlook for stock markets, bonds, currencies and commodities (including gold).

In addition to investment articles, the blog also features a delightful section on investment humor (for those moments when the weight of down-markets becomes just a little too much to bear), podcasts, an index ticker, stock market polls, video clips and a translator.

The blog offers objective comment packaged in an easily comprehensible manner and has attracted in excess of 5 000 subscribers over a relatively short period.

As far as the blog site’s name is concerned, my aim is to write short and punchy posts on investments, in the same way as one will strive to convey a message within the space limitations of a postcard.

The “from Cape Town” bit has been added to the title in order to create some distance, literally and figuratively, between the hustle and bustle of the world’s premier financial centres – where the herd instinct is often prevalent – and the more tranquil Cape Town surroundings where I find it easier to formulate independent and objective investment ideas.

Mert Erkal: When reading your biography, I noticed that you like long-distance running. Do you see similarities between blogging and long-distance running?

Prieur du Plessis: There are numerous similarities between blogging and long-distance running, suffice to highlight the following four:

* Both blogging and long-distance running have as goal to excel over the longer term, i.e. to endure to reach a marathon personal best, or to provide high-quality blogging content that will build a loyal subscriber base and withstand the test of time. (It is, however, also tempting to be ahead at each 100-yard interval!)

* Success in both instances depends partly on natural talent, but also on dedication and perseverance. In reality, self-discipline is paramount.

* Both blogging and long-distance running are individual “sports”, rather than team “sports” where the momentum of a group of people can spur you on to greater achievement. This requires a “self-starting”-type of temperament in order to get the job done, and eventually to excite a large number of spectators / readers.

* Long-distance runners continuously fight the adversity of injury. Bloggers, similarly, get “injured” by writer’s block, comments in bad taste, wrong market calls (in the case of investment bloggers), etc. Fighting injury and regaining top form in both instances require mental toughness.

In short, I have become quite dependent on both blogging and running to provide my daily dosage of adrenalin. And the bonus is that they both work just fine on my travels across the globe.

Mert Erkal: What are your (investment) wise suggestions for Bloghology readers in 2008?

Prieur du Plessis: We are dealing with a rather unusual set of investment circumstances in the wake of the sub-prime fallout. Frequent comparisons with the Great Depression are the order of the day. In my opinion, the world may not quite be faced with Armageddon, but the uncertainty nevertheless calls for a prudent approach when it comes to money management. I therefore recommend that investment strategy should emphasize capital preservation, i.e. the return of capital rather than the return on capital.

The key to successful long-term investing remains compounding, i.e. investing regularly over a long period in a portfolio of solid dividend-paying stocks that can weather most short-term storms. But do accept that the investment world is becoming increasingly specialized and that it makes sense for most people to seek out professional help, particularly from advisers who have shown their mettle in both bull and bear markets.


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