Currencies of Antiquity

The Reichsmark was never an international currency.So studying inflation in the Weimar Republic is not enough.This post traces the history of the Drachma,Denarius,Bezant and Dinar–the international currencies of antiquity.I think knowing this history will help us see the parallels and understand our world better.If macro-economics is not really your thing,atleast knowing about the coins should give a rough idea of which ones would be more collectable for their bullion content!

The Drachma

wealthymatters.comThe Greeks minted stunningly beautiful coins.Non-Greeks thousands of miles away treasured these coins and so they became the first “international currency”.Archeologists have found Greek coins as far away as China, India and Northern Europe. In fact, even though Rome soon rose to eclipse Greece, most Asians kept using Greek money for centuries.

The main currency of Greece was the Athenian Drachma (pic on the left). It was a silver coin, and its weight and quality stayed amazingly consistent through the centuries. From Solon, around 600 BC, to Alexander the Great, around 300 years later, it stayed exactly 67 grains of fine silver. This was the money Alexander brought to India, and from there it traded yet further East becoming the monetary standard of all Asia. And even as Greece declined and was finally absorbed into Rome, its value did not fall much. By the end of the Drachma’s life, it had only declined to 65 grains of fine silver. This is an extraordinary achievement. No other civilization has ever had an international currency that stayed the same value —or pretty much so, since a fall from 67 to 65 grains of silver is a loss of less than 3%. And this was not only during the period of its greatest influence, but even as it declined in power over a period of six centuries.Whatever the secret of the Greeks was, no international currency since then has ever been able to keep its value, even as the government issuing it started on its seemingly inevitable decline.Certainly the conquering Romans were astounded at how the Greeks had mastered money. They paid Greece the ultimate monetary compliment by fashioning their own money, the Roman Denarius, as an exact copy of the Drachma right down to the size and weight. Read more of this post

The Difference Between Business And Philanthropy

 ” If you open a restaurant , and the public does not like your food , you will know . If you do the wrong things in philathropy , you don’t get a feedback from the market system . ”

                   ——- Warren Buffett

I was very glad to hear these words today.The Buffett-Gates fortune is huge and I worry about how it will influence Public Policy in India.We have been too uncritical of Western ideas in the past ,adopted them with over-enthusiasm and have lived to regret it.Eg.Population Control,Green Revolution etc.I am glad that Buffett is aware of the implications of bad philanthropy.

India Emerged I found these words of Warren Buffett in today’s newspaper.I guess it’s time for us Indians to celeberate a bit.

” I don’t consider India as emerging market , I consider it as a very big market . But if you look at what many classify as emerging market , the business tends to be much smaller . We need to invest billions of dollars and that is very tough in emerging markets . ”

                                                                                            —— Warren Buffett

The Dhandho Investor

This book is pretty small – just a little over 200 pages.And I love it.I am naturally a bargain hunter and love shopping in sales.I also love getting high quality goods at bargain-basement prices.So It’s small wonder that I am attracted to value investing.The danger of shopping in sales is that a person picks up things they don’t have any use for or items that are not a perfect fit just because they are cheap.Then there is a danger of buying poor quality stuff just because it seems to cost so little.The same applies to buying stocks cheap.Sometimes the whole market is beaten down and all stocks seem cheap, but if I buy stocks of companies I would not normally buy because of their poor returns to investors,just because they are cheap,I am left with the problem of selling them when the market and the stock recovers.This is a problem for me personally as I have a tendency to get married to my stocks.At other times a stock sells for low P/E multiples simply because there is something fundamentally wrong with the company. Stocking up on the shares and hoping for a turn-around is pretty foolish.But I am an optimistic type and I need to force myself to turn away from such situations.Over a period of time I have found ways to control my habits.When the markets are down,I first establish a budget and then try to make a list of likely stocks and arrange them in order of attractiveness depending on Buffett-style criteria and tell myself that I’m to invest over 80% of the budget on only the top 5 of my list.I find this stops me from stocking up on not so great businesses that I might find hard to sell later.Then I have accepted the fact that I am a speculator at heart.I no longer try to fight the urge but try to use the Dhandho Principles that come pretty naturally to me to gain out of my speculative tendencies.This is a book I recommend for all investors like me who like value investing but can’t overcome the urge to speculate.

Here is a round up chapter-wise of what is found in the book:-

Chapter 1

Pabrai starts the book by discussing the term “dhandho“which is a Gujarati word meaning “business”. Gujarat is a western coastal state in India that has served as a hotbed for trade with Asia and Africa. The Patels are a community of particularly entrepreunerial Gujaratis whose entrepreneurial ventures led to them forming a dominant part of the East African economy by the early 1970s. When Asians were thrown out of Uganda in 1972 on the basis of their race, a flurry of Patel immigrants landed in Canada, England and the United States. Read more of this post

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