Weighing In on Cuban vs. Ritholtz

by: Matthew Rafat

Interesting battle between two major bloggers and superstars. Barry Ritholtz compliments Mark Cuban but also points out that Mr. Cuban seems to be contradicting himself unless he has an edge. The original thread is here. I wanted to share my thoughts, and while I am usually on Mr. Ritholtz's side, in this case, he's missed the big picture.

Mr. Cuban has always maintained two overall themes: 1) the stock market has morphed into a casino, far from its original purpose, which was to help entrepreneurs expand their businesses; and 2) financial advisors and Wall Street have so many conflicts of interest, they are inherently dishonest and no longer consider retail investors’ interests. (Quite frankly, both of these themes are 100% correct.)

Mr. Ritholtz's comments seem to hold Mr. Cuban to a strange standard, i.e., If Cuban says the market is rigged and you should be in cash, bonds, or CDs, what exactly is his "edge" in giving this investment advice? The problem is that you don’t need an “edge” to be in cash. For most non-traders, the point of having a cash-centric portfolio is to avoid volatile investments. Mr. Cuban was just pointing out that the average retail investor is usually at a disadvantage in the stock market, meaning s/he should be in cash or another investment that is not subject to the whims of Wall Street bankers.

Thus, criticizing Mr. Cuban for his lack of an investment “edge” seems nonsensical, because he’s not giving investment advice–as Mr. Ritholtz himself admits. Mr. Cuban is just trying to guide people to a savings vehicle that does not require an edge. Now, if someone wanted to criticize Mr. Cuban in non-straw-man fashion, s/he could mention two things:

1) in the absence of 8% money market accounts, bonds and CDs, most of us rely on stock market gains to fund our retirements, because most of us don’t have billions of dollars in the bank; in other words, after a certain financial point, one does not need to subject himself to the whims of Wall Street (I still remember Ted Turner saying that he keeps all his money in Treasuries). However, since most people are not in Mr. Cuban’s financial position, his advice seems questionable in the absence of persistent deflation; and

2) being in cash has been a terrible move over the long run (30+ years) due to inflation, and therefore Mr. Cuban’s advice is not helpful to retail investors who lack billions of dollars for retirement. In short, Mr. Cuban’s 10 year time horizon is too short and conveniently selective, because under Bogle’s, Graham’s and Buffett’s theories, investors should be prepared to hold stocks for 30+ years to smooth out returns.

Perhaps Mr. Ritholtz is trying to start something with Mr. Cuban to get more readers. As an avid fan of both men, I have no problems with his strategy. I continue to wonder if the average long-term investor is best served by Mr. Cuban's all-cash advice.