Before I really knew anything about human behaviour, incentives, and how the markets really work, I was always blown away by the sheer amount of intelligence I would come across in the investment world.
Most of the people I’ve interacted with throughout my career are highly educated at some of the best colleges and universities in the world. Many continued their education by getting advanced degrees or prestigious industry designations. They can speak eloquently, hit you with reams of data, can sell a ketchup popsicle to a person wearing white gloves, and have the utmost confidence in their own abilities.
After a few years of being impressed by the sophistication and above average IQ of the various portfolio managers, strategists, analysts, and marketing people I came into contact with, I finally had a realization – intelligence can only take you so far in this world. I didn’t exactly have an epiphany on the topic, but over time the shine began to wear off.
It became apparent that the smartest person in the room isn’t always right. In fact, most of the time their intelligence works against them because they’ve become so sure of themselves and their investing abilities that they’re unable to change their mind or accept the fact that the markets don’t care what your IQ is.
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Bull markets seem like they should be easier than the alternative but even dealing with gains can be challenging as an investor. Research shows that investors trade more often during bull markets because we don’t know what to do with gains, it’s difficult to hold winners, and there are constant temptations with even bigger winners elsewhere. This piece I wrote for Bloomberg looks at how to deal with big gainers in your portfolio.
*******Major stock indexes are hitting new highs almost daily, adding to the huge gains many securities have posted in recent years. For example, Nvidia Corp. has gained almost 1,800 percent since the start of 2013. Over the past five years or so, Netflix is up 1,375 percent; Tesla is up 835 percent; Facebook is up 590 percent, and Amazon has risen 380 percent. Bitcoin is up more than 900 percent in 2017 alone.If you’ve been fortunate enough to be involved in any of these equities or other market stars, you made the right choice. But investors would be wise to work through their options on how to handle these stocks. Large gains in your portfolio are a good problem to have, but the good news also comes with psychological baggage. Continue Reading →
During three separate interviews this week I was asked if I was seeing any signs of complacency among investors, markets, or clients.
If anything, the people I talk to are more concerned with the high probability of lower market returns in the future but my view is surely clouded by the clientele and readers I deal with on a regular basis.Whether my sample size is representative or not, measuring market sentiment is getting harder and harder these days. Everyone now has a megaphone to voice their opinions — social media, blogs, 24-hour financial television, podcasts, conferences, magazines, financial news websites, etc.I don’t see how you can reliably track sentiment when it comes at you every day like a wave that changes form and shape depending on people’s mood that day. There’s just not much signal in all of the noise anymore.Of course, investors have been given plenty of excuses to be complacent. It feels as though volatility and bear markets have been outlawed in 2017 and stocks in the U.S. haven’t seen a down year since 2008.Since I don’t see any reliable way to track the potential complacency of investors as a whole, I tend to look at different ways investors can be complacent depending on which type of market environment we’re in.For example, last month I read the Schroders Global Investors Study which surveyed over twenty thousand investors from around the globe to get their expected portfolio returns over the coming 5 years. The results show this group was a tad ambitious: Investors expect an annual return of 10.2% on their investments over the next five years, according to a major new study.The Schroders Global Investor Study (GIS) 2017, which surveyed 22,100 people from around the globe who invest, found millennials even more optimistic. Those born between 1982 and 1999 expected their money to make average returns of 11.7% a year between now and 2022.Older generations were more realistic. The Baby Boomer generation – born in the two decades after the Second World War – anticipated 8.6% a year.Millennials (born 1982-1999, aged 18-35): 11.7% Generation X (born 1965-1981, aged 36-52): 9.8% Baby Boomers (born 1945-1964, aged 53-72): 8.6% Silent Generation (born 1923-1944, aged 73+): 8.1%Double-digit annual returns over the next 5 years from current valuation and interest rate levels seems like a stretch to me. I could be wrong but investors with such lofty expectations after we just went through a period of above-average returns (at least in the U.S.) seems to be somewhat complacent to me.Here’s another example (although this is more delusional than complacent):
“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.
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