Forbes Magazine Review
Forbes is a bi-weekly magazine that concentrates on general business issues. Their focus areas are listed below (the share of their content in each area is in parenthesis):
- Business (67%)
These are profiles of various businesses and business people.
- Investing and Personal Finance (13%)
These are articles that analyze or recommend specific stocks.
- Non-business (20%)
These are articles about politics, social issues (like improving education), and technology (iPhones, etc.).
Forbes is well-known to have a conservative outlook. Because of this, liberals won't like the magazine at all, and conservatives will love it.
Forbes is a very high-quality, well-written business publication. The business profiles are essentially condensed case-studies written by people with high business IQs. The good thing about Forbes is that they dont pander to the latest hot news item. For instance, you'll read about a turnaround at Sony when you had no idea that Sony was turning around. Another good thing is the tone of the writing - it has a seriousness to it that you don't see often. Other business magazines seem like they try to make business "fun," but Forbes doesn't have to do this with rich people because for them reading about business is
The highly-opinionated editorials section is one of the most popular sections. Although most people like the honesty and candidness, I think that Steve Forbes tends to come off like a know-it-all. He constantly proposes one-size-fits-all solutions. For example, he thinks that a strong dollar is a cure-all for the economy. He doesn't realize that the primary force that influences the US economy is the middle-class consumer. And he tends to propose solutions - like the flat tax - that will never happen. Although these issues are thought-provoking, they are also a distraction to the day-to-day routine of a trader or investor. I do think that the broader economic issues are an important factor to monitor as an investor; the smartest investors take a big-picture outlook when it comes to the economy, and don't waste their time drowning in minutia and constantly churning macro-economic issues. Most of the people who do waste their time are simply armchair economists who get baited by the media to give a voice to the "macro-economic talking heads".
To some people, Forbes has the reputation of being a stuffy, conservative magazine for old money types. I hesitate to write this because I don't want to get tied up in liberal-vs.-conservative rhetoric. But I generally agree with this belief and I think that it shapes the content in a couple of meaningful ways.
First, they tend to write mostly about high-profile, blue-chip companies. These are not the kind of people who do bottom-up analysis and comb though data to try to find a nice small-cap stock. Their concentration on blue chips will be viewed as positive or negative by different people. Some people like reading about stocks that they are most likely to have positions in. Other investors will be tired of reading about companies that they already know a lot about - and companies whose stocks are most likely to be efficiently priced.
And second, they spend a disproportionate amount of time writing about the industries that are run by old, white men - specifically media and automobiles. For example, they seem to have a pathological addiction to writing about General Motors - even though the auto industry is probably the second least-attractive industry to invest in (behind airlines). This normally wouldn't bother me that much since people should write about what they know best, but these industries are very mature and their best investment days are behind them. Hence, the writers come off as regressive incumbents desperately trying to defend their entrenched territories by faithfully clinging to their outdated ideologies. Consider the following article in the June 30, 2008 issue written by Jerry Flint, who (unsurprisingly) has covered the automobile industry since 1958 (edited for space):
"Our government will soon have to decide if we want a domestic automobile industry. If it does nothing, that industry will be dead in three years.
Our presidential candidates
are part of the problem.
What to do?
Halt immediately all new regulations--safety regulations, emission regulations, bumper regulations, mileage regulations.
[and] someone has to tell California to stop making its own rules.
Whose fault is this? In no small part, Detroit's executives.
Then there was bad luck, or whatever it is that has pushed gasoline prices to $4 a gallon.
Our government will have to help for a change instead of piling on, treating the automobile and the industry like devils."
I was in disbelief when I read that article. Although I could give many technical rebuttals to their argument (should we even have an auto industry?, what about the environment?, how will making crappier cars make them more competitive? won't China just beat us anyway?), it is the purely pathetic and hypocritical nature of the article. A supposedly pro-business magazine pleads for the government to rescue a chronically incompetent industry? Anybody who claims to be a capitalist should be absolutely embarrassed to write something like this. The author's bio page
on Forbes.com, where he writes a weekly column about the 3-company American auto industry, showcases his obsession with the auto industry. Forbes readers laud the magazine for supposedly being superior to the other, less-sophisticated business magazines, but even the bourgeois BusinessWeek gets it right in their May 26, 2008 issue with the article, "GM's Challenge: Live Green or Die".
Their "old, white man bias" doesn't end there. Consider their philosophically tainted coverage of the internet. They had two front-page articles entitled "Hiding Behind the Net: Anonymity Lets Creeps, Criminals and Malicious Mobs Run Wild" and "Attack of the blogs: They destroy brands and wreck lives. Is there any way to fight back?" First of all, I can't think of a single instance where a blog actually "destroyed" a brand. And second, they didn't say "they can
destroy" - they said "they destroy" - as if that is what blogs were created to do. With the internet changing business so profoundly, do you want to read a magazine written by people who sound like they have never used email before?
Another big problem I have with the magazine is that many of the companies that are profiled are private companies. Although this means that there is probably more originality when it comes to the subject matter, it also means that you have less opportunity to directly profit from it.
Another major problem is that Forbes, similar to the now-defunct Conde Naste Portfolio
, focuses too much on "power" rather than "business". After taking a look at the Forbes website in order to write this review, I see 2 particular articles which illustrate this principle perfectly ("Facebook Co-Founder Taps Into Skyrocketing $600M Net Worth, Buys The New Republic"...and..."Brioni Power-Dressing Suits"). The average business person is not going to benefit at all by reading an article about how one of the Facebook nouveau riche purchased a magazine publisher. But if there is one single move that is a marker of power of an individual, it is the purchase of a media company (buying a sports team is second). The article on "power suits" is a more superficial example. With 17 separate references to billionaires on their front home page alone, the Forbes website almost becomes a self-parody.
Forbes is not a bad magazine to add to your research arsenal but you should know its role and limitations. Like all general business magazines, they have a few decent articles every month that give an insightful analysis on the businesses they profile. This allows you to stay educated on the fundamentals of companies and industries. But since there is little direct investing information, you still need to go and do some technical analysis and valuation.