It’s hard to believe that Portfolio Charts just turned six years old! It seems like only yesterday that I was first toying with a few personal spreadsheets and experimenting with ways to share them online, and I never imagined that those humble beginnings would eventually grow to everything you see today. Time really flies when you’re in the flow.
For lots of bloggers, the greatest challenge to sustained success is the finite number of good ideas worth writing about. I consider myself lucky, as portfolio theory is an under-served space with tons of avenues to explore, new data to uncover, and a constantly-evolving market for inspiration. If anything, I occasionally have a bit of the opposite problem where my pile of investing thoughts may be interesting as a whole but individual ideas don’t always rise to a post-worthy level.
To address that situation, I’ve decided to finally get with the times and try my hand at Instagram. It’s a nice medium for this kind of thing, as I’ve always felt that a simple chart or image along with a clearly articulated thought can be more impactful than a wall of numbers or words. So if you’re looking for something educational to add to your feed, I’d really appreciate the follow!
After one of our regular springtime walks through the neighborhood enjoying the flowering trees, neighborly hellos, and the smell of freshly mowed grass, my wife and I arrived back at our front porch. As I fumbled for the keys, she was clearly still thinking of the many beautiful homes we saw and had a moment of inspiration. “You know, we should really update our porch light. It’s completely rusted and the glass is cracked!” She had a point — it had definitely seen better days. So we hopped in the car and made a trip to the local hardware store. And that’s when things started to go downhill.
When working on something new, sometimes it’s easy to fall into the trap of putting off small incremental improvements while holding out for the next big idea. We’ve all been there. Maybe you’re avoiding boring tasks at work while spending all of your energy on something more interesting that probably won’t go anywhere. Perhaps you feel disconnected from other people because of the pandemic but spend your time fantasizing about a future party or thinking about moving rather than simply picking up the phone. And we probably all know someone who likes to talk about saving the environment but who can’t be bothered to pick up the litter in their own back yard.
Thinking big sometimes blinds us to the opportunities around us that are small in isolation but can cumulatively make a big difference.
Me? As a designer at heart, I definitely have a tendency to get caught so deep in new idea exploration that time flies and my everyday to-do list falls behind. But the little details really do matter, and I recently made a couple of small changes that I’d like to point out.
Late last year I introduced a fancy new feature called shortcodes that made it possible to save portfolio information. My implementation admittedly pushed the limits of Excel beyond the original design intent, so honestly it wasn’t a huge surprise when it eventually broke after Microsoft changed some things. But while technical constraints forced me to disable the shortcodes for a while, I really like the concept and I’ve never given up on finding a way to make it work.
After a ton of experiments and a lot of trial and error, I’m happy to announce that shortcodes are back! But rather than just resurrecting an old feature, I’ve also been able to finally figure out how to offer a useful site capability that always felt missing.
When going on a hike in uncharted territory, even the best weather forecast can be pretty spotty. So to choose whether to wear shorts or heavy snow gear, a rational first step is often to check the historical averages. What’s the typical temperature and precipitation in January? The future may be unknown, but good data can help us make educated decisions.
In that same spirit of wisely preparing for an unknown future by becoming students of history, I spend a lot of time collecting portfolio data from all around the world. The final 2020 numbers are starting to trickle in, so let’s talk for just a minute about what that means.
It’s not every day that I get an email out of the blue that completely blows my mind, and I have to admit my head is still spinning. Recently I was approached by the team at Cambria to let me know that one of my articles had been selected for Volume 4 of Meb Faber’s “The Best Investment Writing” series. To say it’s an honor doesn’t really do it justice. I’m incredibly excited to have made the cut, and truly humbled to be featured among so many investing heavyweights I admire. Thanks, Meb!
Like many areas of study with reams of background knowledge, one of the challenges of learning about engineering is the sheer number of books required. And we’re not just talking about small paperbacks telling straightforward linear stories, but massive volumes of technical data where the chapters are often referenced out of order based on the research subject of the day. Even when you eventually identify what you’re looking for, it’s really easy to forget where you found it or have a tough time explaining to others how to compile the same information. So when you find a particularly useful page in the deep sea of options, nothing beats a good bookmark.
Bookmarks are super handy in portfolio research as well. Spend enough time searching for the perfect combination of assets to meet your needs, and you’re bound to eventually find one that piques your interest. Rather than diligently documenting and re-entering multi-asset portfolios by hand, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to save and share ideas as easily as referencing a bookmarked page?
That’s a question I’ve been thinking about for years, and I’m excited to announce that I finally have a working solution. It’s not a traditional bookmark in the physical or website sense, but in a way it’s even more flexible. Portfolio Charts now features portfolio shortcodes!
While useful and accurate data is always my primary concern with Portfolio Charts, I spend way more time than you might realize creating the perfect visual design. Whether it’s selecting the ideal chart settings to make the data pop, finding just the right image to accompany a post, or iterating dozens or even hundreds of visual layouts to find the cleanest option, I’m always looking for ways to beautify each page.
One can certainly argue my design background contributes to my obsessiveness over each detail, but it runs a lot deeper than just wanting to create something easy on the eyes. I learned long ago that little visual choices really do matter. Like the bright aposematic colors that warn predators about the poison dart frog, eye-catching items often communicate very important information. So a truly beautiful design is way more than just skin deep.
It seems like only yesterday that I was first dipping my toes into the crowded waters of the financial blogosphere with no idea how to swim. But time really does fly, and Portfolio Charts just turned five years old! The site has grown leaps and bounds over the years and it’s amazing to see how far it has come. It’s truly a labor of love, and the intertwined journeys of personal education and creatively-shared knowledge have been tremendously rewarding for me and hopefully informative for you as well.
To celebrate the big day I thought it might be appropriate to briefly talk about the origins of Portfolio Charts, share how you can help guide the future, and initiate a fun challenge to mark the occasion.
The technology gods really threw me a curveball this week. Microsoft rolled out a stealth update of their online Excel tools with what I’ll politely call a bunch of new “quirks”, and many of the site calculators that worked fine for years suddenly were unable to do even the simplest tasks like display numbers correctly. I admittedly push spreadsheets to their graphical limits and have always navigated little bugs the best that I can. But this one was beyond simple formatting issues and quick fixes.
One of the things I’ve learned over the years, however, is not to get too hung up on things you can’t control. So instead of dwelling on what clearly doesn’t work right now, I decided to take this as an opportunity to focus on what I’m good at and step up my visualization game. The end result is a bunch of revamped charts that both work like a charm and should hopefully be even easier to use and understand.