During three separate interviews this week I was asked if I was seeing any signs of complacency among investors, markets, or clients.
In late July, Oaktree Capital’s Howard Marks put out a memo describing current investment trends that could turn out to be mistakes. Marks urged caution on equity valuations, low volatility, FAANG stocks (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google), ETFs, interest rates, private equity, venture capital and even bitcoin.
Caution alone is not an investment strategy, so Marks penned a follow-up memo last week to give investors six options for how to invest in a low-return world:
- Invest as you always have and expect your historic returns.
- Invest as you always have and settle for today’s low returns.
- Reduce risk to prepare for a correction and accept still lower returns.
- Go to cash at near-zero return and wait for a better environment.
- Increase risk in pursuit of higher returns.
- Put more into special niches and special investment managers.
And here’s how he would proceed, given today’s choices:
“Become more humble as the market goes your way.” – Bernard Baruch
Lately, it feels like every time I time I log into check my investment accounts the market values are higher than the previous time I looked. The stock market continues to hit all-time high after all-time high. I have to admit, it feels pretty good when things are going your way in the markets and it seems like everything you touch turns to gold.
This is easy. Everything I buy just keeps going up.
It would be nice to assume that my intelligence has risen along with my skills as an investor, but I have to admit that’s not really what’s going on here. We just happen to be in the midst of a strong bull market. So I have to remind myself. Seeing your investments rise is no way to validate your level of intelligence. In fact, it can be extremely dangerous to your wealth when the music stops playing.
Who needs an insurance policy when all of my risky investments have been rising for years?
Researchers have found that the brain activity of a person who is making money on their investments is indistinguishable from a person who is high on cocaine or morphine. The brain of a cocaine addict who is expecting a fix and people who are expecting to make a profitable financial gamble are virtually the same. The danger in allowing a bull market to increase your confidence as an investor is that it can lead you to take unnecessary or avoidable mistakes to continue to get that high.