Phil Town’s Rule #1, Part #5

[This is the final part of a multi-part review of Phil Town's book Rule #1, The Simple Strategy for Successful Investing in Only 15 Minutes a Week! If you haven't already, you might want to read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and/or Part 4 first.]

Does anybody really believe that they can buy a book containing a sure-fire formula for riches? I do not mean conceding that it is remotely possible, I mean truly believing that Town’s book, or one of its thousands of competitors, will disclose a magic technique to the reader. I am sure that there are a few out there that are that gullible, but I don’t buy the idea that Town’s large readership is made up entirely of such folk.

So maybe my efforts to demonstrate that Rule #1 does not work were a waste of time. If Town’s audience does not really expect his scheme to make them rich, then why bother showing that it will not? Moreover, if we accept that there are very few people out there who are both in the habit of reading books and naïve enough to think that reading a particular one will make them rich, how do these books become bestsellers?

For me, the most meaningful revelation from Rule #1 is just how impractical it is to carry out what Town advises. I expected that his formula for picking stocks would not work in the sense that the stocks picked would not do particularly well. I did not expect that it would not work in the sense that it would barely function, that it would be so hard to use it to pick stocks at all. And you might think that this kind of not working would be a big problem for the sales of the book. A scheme that is easy to operate but does not pick winning stocks at least has the virtue that it could take a year or two before the readers realize it is defective. A scheme that is more or less inoperable from the start would, you would think, be noticed right off and become a hindrance to climbing the bestseller lists.

The flaw in that logic is that it assumes that readers actually attempt to follow Town’s advice and discover it is defective. But just as the vast majority of Town’s readers does not, in the cold light of day, really think that his scheme will make them rich, the vast majority also does not bother to try to follow it. Why would they? They know deep down that it will not work, so why put in the considerable effort required to shatter the illusion that it might work? Which then begs the question, why buy the book at all?

Because Rule #1, like nearly all books (and seminars, for that matter) is, ultimately, primarily a form of entertainment.

Consider television cooking shows, a genre that dates back to the earliest days of the medium. Although nominally instructive, it is clear that almost all viewers will never cook the elaborate dish that the host prepares. They watch not to so they can follow the instructions, but because it is entertaining. If you are into food, watching a skilled chef prepare and discuss a dish is fun. You can, at least in the abstract, imagine yourself preparing and even eating it, and that is enjoyable for many. I know people who buy and read cookbooks on the same basis.

Or consider cowboy hats. Putting one on has no chance of turning you into a cowboy. But it helps with the fantasy of being one. (In reality, it is probably not a great job: long hours, low pay, lots of big dumb smelly animals, and no Internet access.)

The fantasy that goes with Rule #1, and other books like it, is that you will read them and become rich. That any modestly intelligent reader knows, at some level, that this is really unlikely, does not diminish their appeal. A person can read the book and imagine becoming rich just like the ordinary people in the inspirational stories included in the text. That some of the instructions are, in fact, impractical is unimportant. They only need to seem practical to somebody who will never attempt them. Just as the host of a cooking show can get away with using obscure ingredients or a tricky technique requiring years of practice, Town can get away with vague instructions that do not produce the desired result.

So in a narrow sense, I am willing to forgive these books for being as bad as they are. They fill an entertainment role for some, and, apparently, do it well. The problem is that personal finance is still an area that American adults need to master. After you are done watching the celebrity chef prepare Cajun crawfish stew, somebody still needs to cook dinner.

[Links to parts of this review: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5]

No Comments

  • By Isaac, February 10, 2010 @ 1:59 pm

    You raise some good points. It is not easy as it looks. But the thing that appeals to people is that many, many have been burned by fund managers, mutual funds, and buy and hold stategies. Town strikes a cord in that people getting involved with their investing can beat the experts…they also can do worse of course. But self-empowerment does sell.

  • By getagrip, February 23, 2010 @ 10:18 pm

    Sigh, and I had such high hopes for this book. However, upon reading the “every other type of thing you’ve been told to do in investing is wrong and I’ve got the real answer” first chapter, along with the vague “I went from one thousand to 1 million in a couple years” claim, my WTF meter rang off and I just had to check out some reviews.

    Thank you for this, if I want to effectively day trade I’ll read up on that. You’ve saved me some hours of crunching through the rest of the book before taking it back to the library.

  • By UFjeff, March 1, 2010 @ 11:40 am

    I don’t mean to play devil’s advocate, but how can you criticize whether or not this book works, if in fact you yourself have not tried the methods? I’m not new to the investing / trading arena, and while I can’t say this book, or any other for that matter, is a homerun because that’s subjective, I do see this book helping people break their “fear of trading,” which many newbies and even veteran traders often face. He’s just trying to say that you can do exactly what mutual funds are doing without having to pay the fees. All most mutual funds are trying to do is mirror the market.

    If it was a $50 book then I’d have a different argument, but it’s not. I’ll buy it just to see what his strategies are. Every financial book makes claims. Just take the important points of the book and apply it to your style of trading, or don’t.

  • By RickV, March 17, 2010 @ 4:28 pm

    I’m one of those folks who has a little experience with investing and EXPECT to get 10% on my investment if I let monkeys handle my money. After a thorough read, what I got was this: Town’s Graham/Buffett method of investing proposes that I can get 15% on my money. This doesn’t ssem like such a huge stretch when I consider the fact that Buffett still isn’t losing money. The one gripe I have is that he characterizes good companies as being almost as common as flies. He tells us that if the numbers don’t look good, forget it, there are plenty of good companies out there. 15 minutes? Try 15 hours…then you will come up with a handful of good investments. So does the rubber meet the road? All I can say is that I decided to drop $8,000 into these hand-picked hotties and 1.5 years later, I have doubled my money. It’s not a bad system, but I agree that there are plenty of dark crevices into which one could fall. The key appears to learn a good system and then keep learning and adjusting your system over time. Of course, you could simply take the shortcut and just look at the S&P Fair Value calculations and buy at 25-50% off. Generally, the Town method gives me very similar calculation for my hotties.

  • By Jason, March 26, 2010 @ 11:32 am

    I tried this book as a fresh faced beginner, some years back and it doesn’t work. If you want to loose money go right ahead and dive in.

    After, a month or two of trying to make a “margin”, I bailed and read the intelligent investor by Benjamin Graham and all of Warren Buffets, letters. I’ve since read all the investing classics and rule one ain’t one of them.

    There is NO substitute for hard work in this process.

    Here’s the thing, the stock market is a closed system, for everyone who gains 15% there’s someone loosing 10% (if we assume the economy grows at 5%). It’s like handing everyone a million dollars and saying, hey no problem with the economy, chill out, take some acid, and inflation doesn’t exist, la la la…

    Cloud Cookoo land!

    Actually, the only way to make money doing this (and I do) is the following:

    Be as sure as you can about the value of the business, I mean really sure, not projecting price to earnings or PEG or any of that rubbish, really get under the hood. There are ways and means to do it, they all require careful study, and they don’t all apply to all types of businesses. You have to understand what it is you’re buying.

    Buy the thing at a discount, to it’s true conservative value. Again value, it’s hard to get a handle it but there you go.

    Have the ability to wait it out, I’ve watched some of my buys get stampted and trampled down 60% or more in 2008. If you can’t live with that, pay your morgage off early, collect fine wines, buy government bonds. Be clear indicators will not save you!

    Finally, here is a real solid piece of advice, if the wiltshire all share index is valued at 120% the value of the economy and you start buying, you will loose money over the long term, that’s a guarentee.

    For those in Phils camp, keep on project future earnings with PEs of 50 jumping in and out of the markets with the rest of the lemmings, remember it’s a closed system, and you’re making me rich (thankyou).

  • By Graham, June 4, 2010 @ 9:59 am

    Good article. An advice to know and follow

  • By George, July 23, 2010 @ 11:32 am

    Jason, first you state the stock market is a closed system. Then you talk about 5% growth. You can’t have it both ways.

    As for Phil Town, in what part III, the author shows his method made 4% vs 2% of those that didn’t make it. Okay, what did the mutual funds do in the same period? We’ve all seen the chimp beat the funds. There might be a reason every year the various “which fund to buy” issues are top sellers.

    I’m about convinced any system will equal or beat the average mutual fund. If for no other reason than the fees cut any improvement over the S&P to insignificance.

  • By Matt, August 8, 2010 @ 12:48 pm

    I think that it is a good book, if nothing else it gets you thinking about the market. I think it was a good learning experience. I am a beginner, was afraid of the stock market, didn’t know where to start; and even if his strategy doesn’t work, the book has compelled me to develop my own strategy. It has also gave me a couple of methods on how to research a company…and it was a really easy read. Do I believe by reading his book and follow his strategy that I will get rich or obtain 15% gains? who knows, but I will say that it has givin me a desire to learn more. Do I think there is more to making money that what this book holds? Absolutely, but to me this has compelled me to learn more about what I don’t understand, and I am sure that I will be successful.

    Good article by the way.

  • By John, August 19, 2010 @ 7:53 pm

    My question is, “What was Phil Town earning, BEFORE and AFTER he wrote his book and made personal appearances, etc.?”
    Thank you for your in-depth analysis.

  • By Marie, December 18, 2010 @ 10:33 pm

    I thank you for your well-written, well-researched five part review. Your somewhat cynical tone completely charmed me and I am looking forward to reading the rest of your blog.

    This review was exactly what I was searching for – and it surprised me how difficult it was to find among all the reviews of happy customers (maybe – always hard to tell true identities on the Internet…) of Phil Town. Phil Town’s book is not my usual fare, but was recommended by a coworker, so I am reading it (library copy, of course).

    I have managed our family’s investment portfolio for years (sometimes more successfully than others) and have reached a point where I am fairly comfortable with it. It looks like your blog has a great deal of potentially helpful information for DIY investors – please accept my preliminary “thank you”.

  • By Tim, December 21, 2010 @ 8:01 pm

    I love the message. No book will make you a stock market superstar. But I’ll have to agree with Matt’s comments. This easy to read book introduced me to the market. You learn pretty quickly after that what his methods really are and what other people do with the same tools. For that,it has value. Although I readily agree it’s not going to work out well if you take it as gospel…

    And the thing about having to trade, based on his version of TA, every few weeks or month or so? Yeah, that part has been invaluable in the market over the last couple of years.

  • By jeff, December 23, 2010 @ 10:46 am

    Maybe Phil should wrote how he made money from 1 grant to 1 million step by step, rather than using the Susan and Doug, who are just not real. It just looks like a few champion stocks are picked to fit the story.

  • By Rikk, December 30, 2010 @ 3:15 pm

    Youve got some interesting insights. There seems to be some confusion. It helps identify growth stocks. Stocks to put on a watch list. Strong Companies. A lot of other books preach the same thing, Phil has a marketing flare with the 15 minute title.

    Although from your opinion Im a fool for reading it. You dont get it as well as others. Researching the companies IS A LOT OF WORK. Checking in on the companies is the 15 minute part. Thats just a lack of comprehension.

    Ive read both his books as well as others. Mixed in some parts and created screens played with the limts. His tactics helped look at some simple basics to assess growth quickly. After a while I abandoned the spreadsheets and you can do it in your head looking at the doubles.

    His methods arent anything new in predicting future price. Your a critic and that was your goal. Your not constructive. Your almost threatening. To paraphrase “YOU FOOLS KEEP DOING YOUR FOOLISH TOM WAYS SO I CAN GET RICHER”.

    Its a good book with some decent basic knowledge on how to evaluate with growth tactics predicting prices. If your sold by the title thats a little foolish. That sounds like your biggest problem.

    Buy Strong Companies when they are cheap – Great Advice
    Have a System – Great Advice
    Use Tools to get out or get in – Great Advice

    If I didnt use tools when the market created our new opportunities I would have been broke and never invested again. Buy and Hold Fools.

  • By Rikk, December 30, 2010 @ 3:53 pm

    P.S. I love your editorial. Keep it up. Your research is inspiring.

  • By JP, January 12, 2011 @ 8:50 am

    To everyone who has posted negative comments about Phil Town’s book, I have but one question to ask you: Are you a millionaire? The answer is probably an emphatic “no.” Is Phil Town a millionaire? Yes. Were Benjamin Graham, and Warren Buffet, from whom Phil Town derived his Rule #1 Investment Strategy, millionaires? You bet.

    The problem with 98% of people is that, they want to be wealthy, but they do not want to do the work that it takes to become wealthy. Phil Town never said in his book that it would be easy to implement the Rule # 1 strategy. In fact, he stated the exact opposite: That the reader would have to PRACTICE implementing the Rule # 1 strategy, and, as with everything else in life, continual practice would render that implementation easier and easier over time.

    It’s not rocket science people; if you aspire to be a millionaire, do what the millionaires do. And if you want to be good at something, find out who is the best at it, and replicate his/her actions. Don’t take advice from non-millionaires and underachievers. Period. If you want to be a successful investor, why in the hell would you follow in the steps of anyone else BUT Warren Buffet. He’s the greatest investor the world has ever seen. And Phil Town’s book divulges all of Warren Buffet’s stratagems in a clear, up-to-date manner,which is easy for the lay investor to understand(even if it might be moderately difficult to implement).

    Now, let’s be realistic. Warren Buffet became a billionaire investor because he put thousands of hours–ever since his youth–into honing his craft and trade. Phil Town does not promise his readers that they will become billionaires like Warren Buffet, for his book was written for beginner and intermediate investors who do not have available the endless hours that it would take to master all of the financial knowledge pertaining to the stock market.

    If you want to become a billionaire investor, quit your job and devote 20 or more hours per day to learning all of the rudiments and principles that govern successful trading. That’s what Warren Buffet did. But if you simply want to safeguard your principle investment, and add to it a risk-free, compounded interest of 10 to 15% on an annual basis, I suggest you create a checklist based on all of the principles outlined in Phil Town’s book, and follow this step-by-step guide unwaveringly. You won’t lose.

    And stop listening to any advice to the contrary. Phil Town turned $1,000 into $1,000,000 over the course of five years using the value investing system. Warren Buffet turned $9,800 (in 1950) into a net worth of $40 Billion dollars (as of 2010). So why in the hell would you listen to any financial advice to the contrary, especially from people who don’t have the financial record to back it up. Such advice usually comes from easily-frustrated individuals who want to get rich quick, and don’t have the patience, or the desire, to master and practice the sound, financial principles that will make them rich OVER TIME.

    Do what the successful financiers have done–with unwavering devotion–and you will be successful as well. All the same, take advice from people without a strong financial track record, and you’ll find yourself wavering on the brink of fiscal mediocrity. Just like them.

    It’s that simple.

  • By Matt, January 22, 2011 @ 6:25 pm

    Phil Town turned $1000.00 into $1,000,000.00 in 5 years. If you double your money every year for 11 years you will be a millionare. If anyone knows an investor who can double their money every year for 11 years, I will kiss your butt. If he did make a million in 5 years it wasn’t as an invester. He may be a gifted trader, but he didn’t write a book on trading. His strategies may or may not work, but that isn’t the point. The point is that he did not use these strategies to make his money, and his book implies that he did. In my eyes that means that everything he said is automatically BS until proven otherwise. And I have neither the time nor inclination to do that.

  • By JP, January 31, 2011 @ 11:48 pm

    To Matt:

    Read the book, man. Phil Town never once said that he turned $1000 into $1,000,000 in five years exclusively through investing. Phil Town is a real estate investor as well, and dabbles in many other business ventures (such as public speaking, publishing, etc.). You claim that he did not write a book on trading, when, in fact, the entire book (Rule #1) is based on the value investing paradigm that was created by Warren Buffet’s mentor, Ben Graham. If that’s not a book on stock trading, I don’t know what is. Last I checked, Warren Buffet was the most successful trader of all time.

    I have studied the value investing system for the past ten years, from its inception in 1927 to its use in the present day by such luminary investors such as Jean-Marie Eveillard, Walter J. Schloss, and (of course) Warren Buffet. Phil Town’s book presents the value investing system in a practical, easy-to-understand way, for the laymen (unlike Ben Graham’s treatise “The Intelligent Investor”, which was written for intermediate and advanced traders).

    Matt, never say something is BS until you take the time to research it thoroughly for yourself. Unless you do, your statements are, at best, ignorant and lacking in factual validity. If you would have taken the time to read Phil Town’s book, and do some background research on it, you wouldn’t need anyone else to “prove [you] otherwise”, because then you would know, for yourself, whether or not Phil Town’s advice was well-substantiated.

    You are a classic example of those who don’t understand, yet critique. Your misunderstanding (through lack of viable research on the topic in question) is the cause of your doubt and skepticism. Before you critique a book, or a person, or an idea, or a concept, or whatever else, seek to understand it first. And not via the mouths of others, but rather, through you own, substantiating research.

    You say Phil Town’s book is BS, yet you have never read a single page of it. That’s like me saying you are full of BS, though I have never met you before or spoken to you personally. It would be wrong of me to make such an assumption.

    Would you trust the review of a movie critic who hadn’t even watched the movie he was critiquing? Take the time. Do the research. Know for SURE what you are talking about before you talk about it.

  • By Bob, February 7, 2011 @ 9:57 pm

    I turned $10,000 into $155,500 in 22 months with this book. Rock on Phil.

  • By Professor Lembach, March 11, 2011 @ 3:02 am

    JP – “Phil Town turned $1,000 into $1,000,000 over the course of five years using the value investing system.”

    “Phil Town never once said that he turned $1000 into $1,000,000 in five years exclusively through investing.”

    So which is correct? You wrote both, and they directly contradict each other. It’s a generalization, but anyone making such a basic logical error really needs to stop talking. You have neither reason nor credibility to lean on.

  • By JP, March 24, 2011 @ 6:08 am

    Professor Lembach,

    If you took the time to research and read the book, and the subject matter at large, you would understand that the Value Investing paradigm is not restricted to stock investments. It is a system that can be utilized to obtain success in any investment field, including stocks, real estate, bonds, treasuries, crack, heroin, whatever the business model.

    When I made the statement: “Phil Town never once said that he turned $1000 into $1,000,000 in five years exclusively through investing,” I meant “STOCK” investing. Not investing at large. You sound like a smart individual. I take it that you know that there are other forms of investing aside from just stocks. Phil Town is a renowned public orator, investment mogul, etc. If you’re foolish enough to think that he turned $1,000 into $1,000,000 in five years exclusively through stock investments, maybe you’re not as smart as I think.

    This will be my last post defending Phil Town against naysayers who have no experience in the market. I, personally, turned a pittance into a small fortune by utilizing the Value Investing system. So, Professor Lembach, your remarks that I lack “reason” or “credibility” are merely empty words, spoken by one who, I assume, does not have any viable experience in the market, or any kind of substantial wealth at all. Money talks, and I’m sitting on a lot of it, all because I took the time to read and research Phil Town’s investing premise, which is a carbon copy of Benjamin Graham and Warren Buffet’s investment strategy.

    So, naysayers, you can question my “credibility” all you want, but don’t expect me to respond. Though, I WILL entertain any posts by those who want to learn more about the value investing system, so as to reap maximum returns on their investments.

  • By Jacob Maynard, November 10, 2011 @ 2:20 pm

    I’ve read all five pages of this review and it appears you have some excellent points. I say “appears” because I’m a complete beginner at investing. When I was searching for reviews for this book so I could begin laying a foundation, I came upon this blog. I’m pretty hesitant to buy the book now. I do have one question for you, though. How do you recommend I get started? You seem pretty critical of most books that people would read to start out. Which, in my mind, leaves me with little options to learn (save for actual investors, but I’m short on those). Any assistance would be much appreciated. Cheers!

  • By Robert D., November 20, 2011 @ 12:35 am

    Even though I cannot properly rebut this series in one post due to all the flaws in logic or other omissions that cannot be expressed by logic and my limited time, let me just say that I find it amusing that you try to make the argument that this methodology doesn’t work because your screened picks lost money in 08, even after writing these posts in 09.

    Just saying.

    Cheers.

  • By My Reference Frame, April 26, 2012 @ 10:58 pm

    Thanks. Great set of articles. You just save me the trouble of actually reading it. I admit it: I was duped into thinking it might be worth my while. What software did you use to analyze the stocks?

  • By KW, May 11, 2012 @ 6:37 pm

    JP, -well spoken- I read (Payback Time) and I thought it was a GREAT read for a beginning *value* investor book. Before this book I read Benjamin Graham’s “The Intellegent Investor” & “Security Analysis”. These books go into great detail (especially SA) about value investing. I have only been reading these types of books for the last 12 mths. and can honestly say that value investing is my foundation for any type of future investment. Whoever bashes this type of method has either never done it or just doesn’t have patients to do the work and see it through.
    While the books I’ve mentioned don’t have a ABC-123 method of investing, and from all the value investing books I’ve read none of them 
    do. But what they do have is sound principles for investing. PRINCIPLES: 
    “A fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behavior or for a chain of reasoning.
    A rule or belief governing one’s personal behavior.” For any beginners out there I would suggest you ignore the negative statements from this article and read the books that will inspire you and only act on the information that resonates with you. Not from a cynical blogger. As for Phil Towns book (Payback Time) it’s a GREAT start. 
    Because if you read his book and it SUCKED, your right and if you read it and you LOVED it well, your right too. You see what you THINK about is what you BRING about. Looking at new information with a healthy dose of scepticsisum is fine but approaching it with a CLOSED mind is just a waste of time, money and plain ignorant because in the end you already know what the resulting is…I knew this was to hard to learn, or you have to be an expert to make any money, or it’s your just gambling your money away. 
    Bottom line in any type of investing your goal is to midigate, reduce and in some cases eliminate the downside or the risk first then look at the up side. To many people get this step reversed. 

    Even though I don’t agree with the bloggers article I thank him for the opporttunity to reply. 

    Lastly, BIG thanks to JP who provided the inspiration for me to reply. If you haven’t done so please re-read JP’s replies (words of wisdom) 

  • By Doc Brown, September 28, 2012 @ 12:25 am

    The strategy is simple, that doesn’t mean easy.

  • By meh, September 28, 2012 @ 12:31 am

    So what investment strategy, pray tell, has worked so well for you that it outperformed this one? Or are you going to keep it a secret because if you were making so much money you wouldn’t bother with writing books, let alone blogs

  • By Scott, June 21, 2013 @ 5:59 pm

    I read and enjoyed “Rule #1″. I also enjoyed this critique. I think the book gives some good principles to keep in mind when investing, this critique shows you not to expect a magic formula. I have invested in two stocks using the Rule #1 formula. The first was OLP (One Liberty Properties). I made 40% in a couple of years. The second was Fossil (FOSL) and I am down 8% in a week (worst stock market week of the year though). I’ll hang on and see how it goes. Fossil has been a solid company (as Rule #1 investing requires) and I like Fossil products. I have a $70 Fossil watch that I get compliments on all the time. We’ll see.

  • By John, July 20, 2013 @ 9:57 am

    Wow. A lot of negative stuff here. I think people expect not to use their brains and have everything hand feed to them. If find a basket of stocks at MOS and just put money in your not doing it right.. Invest time in some google searches on the board members, CEO and VPs…insider trading etc. If you don’t do that and just buy whatever passes you aren’t following the method. Also invest time in to learning how to read charts. Not just indicators but price action and trending.

  • By Jen, July 20, 2013 @ 10:00 am

    Great Book. The calculations can be confusing but using one of many services available will help with completing these calculations. Remember to always use money you can lose…not money you need to pay the rent with. This year I see several Rule 1 stocks up 10 to 20…as high as a 100% return (DWC for example).

  • By Fotowoltaika, August 18, 2013 @ 4:57 am

    I think that this it’s a very interesting idea and I agree with you. This post has truly rich my science and experience, I’m happy. I found this site and I can share with you my observations and thoughts. If you have new solutions or ideas, please send me a notice by email.

  • By MarkL, September 15, 2013 @ 2:40 am

    Without getting into a long history, I am a options trader who back in 06 read Rule one and as a newbie, believed in it and followed it. When “payback time” came out I attended a seminar in Newark Nj that Phil was supposed to be teaching and taking us to the next level. He wasn’t there. Instead, there was a hard selling jerk who taught NOTHING.(Phil did grace us with a Skype call where we got to here about his wife’s horse show) At the end of the “seminar” people were split up by income level, witch was probably the sleaziest thing I’ve ever witnessed. Then, we were hard sold Phil’s options programs. Shameful. Discussing.

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