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Financial expert to speak on investing strategy

Sam Stryker | Tuesday, February 14, 2012


For students looking to make serious dough through investments, one financial expert will give his advice today: in the Internet era, you need to go against the grain.

Steve Cortes, a frequent on-air contributor for CNBC’s “Fast Money,” is speaking today in the Mendoza Jordan Auditorium at 6 p.m. He will discuss his new book, “Against The Herd — Six Contrarian Investment Strategies You Should Follow.”

“I think in this digital age, the dangers of group-think are more prevalent than ever, particularly in financial markets,” Cortes said. “I think social media in particular has fostered a greater susceptibility to false notions quickly becoming accepted as conventional wisdom.”

Cortes said the guiding principle behind his book is to not hold steadfast to commonly accepted financial wisdom.

“The book is a tutorial in contrarian thinking in markets,” he said. “By contrarian, I mean being willing to buck conventional wisdom as espoused by Wall Street and the financial media.”

Cortes also recommended against investing in China, despite the popular notion that the country will become a world superpower.

“My most provocative theme, what I lead with in the book, is I believe China, which most of the world thinks is the next great emerging power and will soon eclipse the United States in many ways, is a false notion,” he said. “I believe if anything China is a very dangerous place to invest, it is a very unstable country, and I am very bearish from an investing standpoint.”

For young investors, Cortes said steering away from these seemingly promising markets is an advisable move.

“I think that academia, like Wall Street, is incredibly assured that emerging markets … in the world are going to be growth stories in coming years and coming decades,” he said. “It is almost this accepted truth.”

Additionally, Cortes said young investors are often exposed to the misconception that heavily investing in stocks is a sure-fire method for financial success.

“From an investing standpoint, I believe Wall Street has also [emphasized] too high a percentage in stocks. It is too volatile for most people. It’s particularly sold to young people,” he said. “Wall Street has oversold to the investing public, especially young investors. The grave exposure to equity stock should be relatively small.”

For undergraduates looking to enter the business world, Cortes said the ability to learn is more important than field of study.

“I think the most important thing is it’s not what you are learning as an undergrad, whether it’s art history or you’re a business major,” he said. “It’s far more about learning how to learn.”

Additionally, Cortes said entering into a business-related career is challenging due to the government’s increased regulation of Wall Street.

“I wouldn’t dissuade anyone who has a passion, because you are going to do it anyways,” he said. “If you are interested in Wall Street for what it was, it is going to be a very different and a much tougher place going forward.”

A self-proclaimed “subway alum” with many family members who have attended the University, Cortes he nearly attended Notre Dame, but chose Georgetown University.

“I would have gone to Notre Dame if I had been better at football,” he said. “It broke my mother’s heart that I didn’t go there.”

After attending a Jesuit-affiliated university, Cortes said Catholic business principles are important to him. While his book is not written from a moral or political perspective, he said applying these principles to investing strategies is one of the ways he recognizes investing in China as an area of risk.

“I do believe one of the reasons China is a dangerous place economically in terms of markets is because of the incredibly unethical way the government treats the people,” he said. “It has not has become a force of innovation and invention. I think one of the reasons, to tie it all in a grand way to Catholic principles, is because the government is so limiting on thought and expression.”

A Chicago native, Cortes said through interacting with Notre Dame alumni, he recognizes Notre Dame produces graduates unlike any other school.

“Notre Dame takes [its Catholic identity seriously] other great institutions don’t have the faith aspect and they don’t have the sports aspect,” he said. “I think because they don’t have those, they don’t have the kind of life-long identity and spirit and cohesiveness that is certainly evident among Notre Dame grads.”