Andrew Tobias may not be the only investment guide you'll ever need to shuck off the fear and loathing that have overcome investors since Saddam Hussein burglarized Kuwait and the U.S. economy went to jail instead . . . but he sure doesn't hurt.
Tobias blew into town Wednesday like a breath of fresh Wall Street air, the guest speaker for Zions First National Bank's annual Customer Appreciation Luncheon at Little America Hotel.Has it really been 12 years since I first read "The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need" and subsequently interviewed the then little known author Tobias? Has it really been four years since he was last in town at the behest of Zions and his personal friends Roy and Harris Simmons to give Salt Lakers a dose of his patented financial wit and wisdom?
The answers are yes and yes. Tobias is now close to be being a household name, with four more books to his roster, a column in Time magazine, countless television appearances and a reputation as the nation's wittiest purveyor of serious topics.
Covering Tobias for a newspaper column is frustrating at best, impossible at worst. He talks so fast that simply listening to him is a challenge, never mind taking notes. Before you can stop laughing at a jab at the Federal Reserve, Tobias is well into another story lampooning American Express.
A decade may have passed since he told us everything we need to know about investing (well, maybe not everything; he's updated the book twice and written a sequel, "The Only Other Investment Guide You'll Ever Need," which Zions gave to each guest at the luncheon) but Tobias has lost none of the energy and enthusiasm that have made him the hero of small investors and the scourge of those who make a living from them.
Are things as bad as they seem right now? You'd think so from the media reports, Tobias told the gathering. He noted that his morning's reading included a prediction that the plunge in real estate prices would last another three years, a case for starting a war in the Middle East, a plague in Asia, the credit crunch and even a piece speculating that the events in the Persian Gulf are a prelude to Armageddon.
But optimism, not Armageddon, is Tobias' stock in trade and he noted that it is precisely when things look the worst that we are probably at the turnaround point. "After October 1987 (in which the Dow Jones average of stocks crashed 500 points in one day) was there anyone who didn't expect a recession?" It didn't happen, he reminded.
Look at the bright side, said Tobias. The Cold War is over - "and we won!" - and free enterprise is sweeping the globe, as is a movement toward international free trade. The world has recognized the dangers of ignoring environmental concerns and the United Nations has been rejuvenated into a viable force. Interest rates are heading downward and, yes, oil prices will come down as the gulf crisis is resolved one way or another.
Best of all, Tobias said, is the acceleration of technology, noting that he had in his hotel room a six-pound lap-top computer with more computing power than the entire U.S. Department of Defense had in 1952.
True, he conceded, there is currently a growing crisis of confidence which, spurred by negative news reports, tends to generate negative self-fulfilling prophecies. But this can be solved, he said, by bringing the "normal tension between greed and fear" back into balance. (Greed dominated in the '80s; now fear has taken center stage at the start of the '90s.)
Tobias has a number of solutions for the nation's current economic blues, some facetious, all controversial. They include taxing Social Security benefits, raising the tax on gasoline well beyond the extra nickel a gallon tacked on by Congress last month, and reducing the traditional 6 percent real estate commission to 5 percent ("You automatically increase the nation's property values by 1 percent.")