What John Roberts' stock portfolio reveals about him.

Commentary about business and finance.
July 26 2005 5:32 PM

How To Invest Like a Supreme Court Justice

What John Roberts' portfolio reveals about his character.

Get this man an index fund. Click image to expand.
Get this man an index fund

Journalists, politicians, and activists are scouring the legal writings of Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts for insight into potential future rulings, but perhaps another kind of examination would reveal even more about his character. Does Roberts act rationally, or is he hotblooded and emotional? Is he prudent and patient, or a compulsive gambler in search of the next big score? Does he think for himself or follow the herd? Can he manage conflicts of interest? Roberts' legal writings offer only tentative answers to these questions. But his financial records supply clear ones.

To that end, here is a psycho-financial analysis of Roberts.

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Overview
Roberts' complete financial records are private, but as a federal judge he must file annual financial-disclosure reports. Roberts' financial-disclosure report for calendar year 2003, the most recent one available, is posted here by the group Judicial Watch. Roberts will presumably file more up-to-date materials during the confirmation process.

The financial-disclosure report required Roberts to state his income, reimbursed expenses, financial transactions, and gifts received in 2003, as well as his family's assets and liabilities at the end of the year. Roberts listed non-investment income of just over $1 million from his old law firm Hogan & Hartson. That covered his last five months' work for the firm as well as a payout of his equity interest when he left to become a judge.

More interesting are the Roberts' family assets, which include

46 common stocks
31 mutual funds
four money market funds
three bank accounts
one exchange-traded fund
one real-estate investment trust
one coal unit trust
one-eighth share of a cottage in Limerick, Ireland

The disclosure form doesn't give an exact value for each asset, only a range (i.e., $15,000 to $50,000 or $250,000 to $500,000). At the end of 2003, Roberts' assets were worth as little as $3 million and as much as $7 million. (Given that the stock market has soared since then, the net worth could now be in the $10 million range.) Roberts' most valuable assets were his bank accounts, which held between $1 million and $2 million. (His house in Chevy Chase, Md., is not listed on the form.)

Analysis
So, what do Roberts' investments say about him? He is rich, but not so rich that the $200,000 Supreme Court justice salary would feel like chump change. Still, he will be comfortable hobnobbing with other capitalists-turned-public servants in Washington (for whom $200,000 is chump change). Roberts benefits or will benefit from virtually all the various Bush tax cuts, from income to dividends to capital gains to estate taxes. His fortune is self-made, which suggests a bias toward self-reliance rather than entitlements and subsidies.

Roberts' one-eighth share of the cottage in Limerick (worth less than $15,000), combined with an investment in the "New Ireland Fund" (also less than $15,000) suggest a possible Gaelic fetish.

Roberts' stock and mutual-fund holdings in 2003 were highly diversified, consisting of domestic and international stocks in multiple industries. In keeping with Roberts' reputation for prudence, the equities consisted primarily of dividend-paying blue chips like Coca Cola (less than $15,000), AT&T (less than $15,000, sold), Merck (less than $15,000), etc. Those who view Roberts as a robotic starched-shirt, however, should note evidence of a romantic-idealist streak: a chunk of XM Satellite Radio worth between $100,000 and $250,000. This bizarrely out-of-character investment suggests that Roberts is either clairvoyant or not afraid to dream: The stock is up tenfold since early 2003.

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