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Straightforward Investing Since 1969

The investment advisory firm of O’Brien Greene & Co. provides independent investment management to a diverse clientele. Individuals, families, and corporate retirement plans make up the majority of clients, although longtime clients also include trusts, insurance companies, and charitable endowments. We seek the preservation and growth of capital through good and bad markets, and our investment strategy emphasizes several themes: simple, transparent, separate accounts; direct ownership of high-quality stocks and investment-grade bonds; diversification across the market; customized portfolios with a high degree of personal attention. The firm has more than $270 million under management and its offices are located in suburban Philadelphia in the borough of Media, Pennsylvania.

Review & Outlook

Our take on the investing, financial, & economic themes of the day

Buffett on Market Downturns

26 August, 2015 by Ben O'Brien in Commentary
Though the market has bounced back today, the Dow and S&P are now solidly in correction, a pullback of more than 10% from July highs. Who do you turn to for insight in times of market panic? It can be tempting to turn on CNBC. But that may be the worst thing you can do because much of the media (especially cable news) thrives on stirring up the frenzy during uncertain times. After all there’s nothing better for financial TV ratings than a market downturn. One of the best people in my opinion to listen to in times of market panic is Warren Buffet who has shepherded his company Berkshire Hathaway through all sorts of up and downs for fifty years, growing it from a troubled New England textile mill into one of the largest global conglomerates. Buffett does not appear on TV to provide his two cents when the market is in a panic, however, he has written a great deal of  insightful material on his long experience in investing. Recently, I’ve been reading a collection of ... read more...

Reflections on Today’s Global Market Sell Off

24 August, 2015 by Mark O'Brien in Commentary
The managing of money is never easy.  That’s because the future is never clear, and markets are often fickle and counterintuitive, even in the best of times. But in times of financial panic, such as we are in, or appear to be in, managing money becomes especially difficult and that is not so much because of stocks and bonds and unfolding events but because of our human natures. In a career that has survived bear markets and panics in 1975, 1987, 2000 and 2008, to name just a few, I can say that the best thing to do is not to follow the news and even less to act on it.  Instead, concentrate on managing oneself, especially one’s fear of the unknown, which tends to be hyped up by the financial media.  If one is not disciplined, it is easy to imagine silly things. The Dow Jones industrial average just opened down 900 points.  Minutes later, as I write, it is down 500 points.  If one were to sell a stock, or buy a stock, the price one would get on execution is not the price one sees ... read more...

Technology Can’t Solve the Mystery of 401(k) Fees

A recent article in Bloomberg by Ben Silverman asks whether opaque and excessive fees in 401(k) plans can be solved by technology.  The answer, unfortunately, is a resounding no.  The article profiles an Israeli startup called FeeX which purports to analyze your 401(k) and give you recommendations about rollovers based upon cost.  The problem of opaque and excessive 401(k) fees is real, and I’ve written about it here often, but the service that FeeX offers doesn’t offer much value. First, FeeX’s algorithm will “recommend” rollover IRAs to you only from among IRA providers who will pay FeeX a referral fee for the recommendation.  This commission-based model of course limits the range of options.  FeeX isn’t really in the business of providing a service for ordinary investors, but in selling an online distribution platform and referral service to discount brokerages. Second, and more importantly, the most egregious 401(k) plans cannot be analyzed ... read more...

Investing in RULCs: A Promising yet Conservative Strategy

Your portfolio may contain REITs, MLPs, BDCs, TIPS or various other investment acronyms, but do you own any RULCs? Perhaps you’ve never heard the term. That’s probably because I coined it myself, or rather cobbled together the acronym from a phrase used by the legendary investor Benjamin Graham. RULC stands for “relatively unpopular large company”. These are major, sometimes industry-leading companies with substantial assets and often household names. But they have fallen out of favor with the investment community and sometimes the general public, giving them an attractive valuation. They have all the benefits of successful multinational companies — stability, liquidity, vast resources, access to capital, and often a global footprint — but they trade at a discount because they are somehow out of favor. Benjamin Graham described these stocks in his classic book the Intelligent Investor: If we assume that it is the habit of the market to overvalue ... read more...

When Start-Ups Take Investors’ Cash Just Because They Can

When the music stops, in terms of liquidity, things will be complicated. But as long as the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance. We’re still dancing. — Chuck Prince, CEO, Citigroup (June 2007) The music is still playing for “disruptive” start-up companies and their venture capital and private equity financiers, so the dancing continues.  The Wall Street Journal reports today that the co-working start-up WeWork has been valued at $10bn by its backers, including Fidelity.  A few months ago I camped out at a co-working site in Salt Lake City for a few days.  I enjoyed it and found it a great way to get work done while I was traveling and was staying in a hotel that lacked a decent library or business center.  As a business, however, its hard to see how WeWork deserves its valuation.  As the Journal article points out, WeWork is basically engaged in office rental arbitrage.  It rents office space at scale and long-term rates and sublets the space to many ... read more...