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Summer reading – You want to, but which book to pick?

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BNP Paribas Asset Management
 

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As a business professional, you do not want to take your job with you when you head to the beach (or wherever you go this summer to unwind). But you could use the opportunity to read that insightful book that you did not get round to when you were in full swing, working hard at home or in the office. The question, though, is which book would be worthwhile.

Some books on our summer reading list will question long-held and era-defining assumptions, e.g., the idea that economic growth is needed for shared prosperity; that philanthropy is all good; that markets are efficient (or that tools built around this notion are fit for purpose in our era).

Others might shake some of the assumed certainties around demographics and the importance of the dependency ratio, for example, in emerging markets. Some will examine more distant history and draw lessons for us now, while others will track and analyse developments around events as recent as the pandemic or the great financial crisis.

Here are suggestions by some of our experts and specialists.

Alex Bernhardt, global head of sustainability research

Prosperity Without Growth, by Tim Jackson. This book helps to frame some of the challenges we face – those related to the physical aspects of climate change as well as those related to orthodox economic frameworks. A leading ‘post-growth’ economist, Tim Jackson makes a compelling case for a steady state economy (notably only in developed markets) to achieve sustainable prosperity for all.

Winners Take All, by Anand Giridharadas. The basic premise of the book is that billionaire wealth has been accrued often via inappropriate means (e.g. tax evasion, environmental pillaging) and that the philanthropic efforts of some billionaires acts as a smokescreen. He is a compelling speaker so if you don’t have time for the book, watch him on YouTube. Food for thought certainly.

Moving Beyond Modern Portfolio Theory, by Jon Lukomnik, James P. Hawley. The book touches on a subject which has long been a bugbear of mine – the inadequacy of MPT (or more broadly, neoclassical financial) frameworks to assess secular change due to their adherence to equilibria and rational actors and efficient market hypotheses.


Fabien Benchetrit, senior portfolio manager – flexible and absolute return funds

The Great Demographic Reversal: Ageing Societies, Waning Inequality, and an Inflation Revival, by Charles Goodhart, Manoj Pradhan. This book discusses topics including the renewal of upward pressures on inflation stemming from a shift in demographics due to ageing. This will affect the available supply of labour, but also raise the share of labour, causing inequality to fall. Can India and Africa offset the emerging demographic headwinds in the ageing economies?


Mathieu Bernard, small cap portfolio manager

The Lehman Trilogy, by Stefano Massini. Everyone knows how the story of Lehman Brothers ended, but how did it start? This novel moves from the humble beginnings of a Bavarian immigrant to the US, later joined by his two brothers, to their success in business and investing and ultimately the spectacular collapse of Lehman Brothers, triggering the largest financial crisis in history.


Jean-Philippe Olivier, head of investment specialists, MAQS

A Man For All Markets – Breaking The Odds From Las Vegas To Wall Street, by Edward O. Thorpe.

This autobiography recalls Thorpe’s whizz kid passions, academic founding and obsession with beating first the casino and then the markets with his quantitative models. On Wall Street, he ushered in quantitative finance and launched one of the first hedge funds.


Alex Johnson, head of absolute return multi-sector fixed income

Doom, The Politics of Catastrophe, by Niall Ferguson. The book is about a fascination with pessimism (disasters, decline…), and by inference states that it is often misplaced.

The Premonition: A Pandemic Story, by Michael Lewis. This tale of the (initial) US response to the pandemic showcases medical visionaries pitted against ignorance, misinformation and bad science. It also goes to organisational dynamics, offering lessons we could all learn from.

The Verge, Reformation, Renaissance, and Forty Years that Shook the World, by Patrick Wyman. Historian Wyman describes the origins of globalisation and finance in the Renaissance through the lives of 10 real people, laying the foundations of our modern world.

 


Derek Glynn, equity research analyst

The Outsiders: Eight Unconventional CEOs and Their Radically Rational Blueprint for Success, by William Thorndike. The book discusses eight CEOs who excelled at allocating capital and human resources, and delivered outsized investment returns for their shareholders over a long period of time. Thorndike extracts lessons and reveals an alternative model for leading a company.

Signals: Charting the New Direction of the Global Economy, by Jeff Desjardins. The book presents a wide variety of data to illustrate key trends across society, demographics, the environment, digitalisation, money & markets, consumer behaviour, technological innovation and geopolitics. These ‘signals’ provide clues to the future direction of the economy, society, and markets.


Ed Lees and Ulrik Fugmann, co-heads Environmental Strategies Group

Arguably, the best test of a book is time. If years after publication a books reveals itself to have been prescient, it merits rereading. In this respect, as markets grapple with the question of whether a structural rise in inflation lies ahead, we are returning to The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism, by Jeremy Rifkin.

This work highlights the reasons why currently we are much more concerned by the deflationary pressures from the zero marginal cost society. Rifkin argues that the marginal cost of energy and power from renewables will go to zero. Electric vehicles and alternative transportation cost will also go towards zero with continued innovation and downward pressure on battery costs; healthcare costs falling as we become smarter on DNA sequencing; technology and artificial intelligence are reducing costs and pricing; the list goes on. Add to this demographic developments, globalisation, working from home. The debate about inflation is not over, but this book is for us part of the rationale as to why we are not buyers of long-term inflationary pressures.

Another favourite, also by Rifkin, is The Hydrogen Economy: The creation of the Worldwide Energy Web and the Redistribution of Power on Earth. It is almost 20 years old (written in 2002), but it is still highly relevant in depicting the journey we are on towards a hydrogen powered economy.


Any views expressed here are those of the author as of the date of publication, are based on available information, and are subject to change without notice. Individual portfolio management teams may hold different views and may take different investment decisions for different clients. This document does not constitute investment advice.

The value of investments and the income they generate may go down as well as up and it is possible that investors will not recover their initial outlay. Past performance is no guarantee for future returns.

Investing in emerging markets, or specialised or restricted sectors is likely to be subject to a higher-than-average volatility due to a high degree of concentration, greater uncertainty because less information is available, there is less liquidity or due to greater sensitivity to changes in market conditions (social, political and economic conditions).

Some emerging markets offer less security than the majority of international developed markets. For this reason, services for portfolio transactions, liquidation and conservation on behalf of funds invested in emerging markets may carry greater risk.

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