Saturday, 28 September 2013

A Dozen Things I’ve Learned About Investing From Peter Lynch

1. “Nobody can predict interest rates, the future direction of the economy, or the stock market.  Dismiss all such forecasts and concentrate on what’s actually happening to the companies in which you’ve invested.” It is far more productive for an investor to focus their time and energy on systems which are potentially understandable in a way which might reveal a mispriced asset. George Soros said once: “Unfortunately, the more complex the system, the greater the room for error.” The simplest system on which an investor can focus is an individual company. Trying to understand something as complex as an economy in a way which outperforms the markets is not a wise use of time and is unlikely to happen.    

2. “The way you lose money in the stock market is to start off with an economic picture. I also spend fifteen minutes a year on where the stock market is going.” and “If you spend more than 13 minutes analyzing economic and market forecasts, you’ve wasted 10 minutes.”  The media’s objective is to convince you that obsessively following the news cycle is necessary for an investor. In short, the media’s interest is to to convince you to watch their advertising. While you don’t want to be oblivious to the state of the economy, listening to talking head pundits and incessantly following the news cycle is actually counterproductive to profitable investing. Instead, focus on the companies  you chose to follow.

3. “The GNP six months out is just malarkey. How is the sneaker industry doing? That’s real economics.” The difference between the predictive power of microeconomics and macroeconomics is “night and day” since with the former vastly fewer assumptions are required and the systems involved are far less complex. The best investors make investing as simple as possible, but no simpler.  Lynch is saying he may pay attention to the economics of an industry, but only to understand the economics of the companies he chooses to follow. 

4. “To make money, you must find something that nobody else knows, or do something that others won’t do because they have rigid mind-sets.” It is mathematically certain that you can’t beat the market if you *are* the market. You must find bets that are mispriced, be right about that mispricing and when you do find a mispriced bet, by definition, your view will be contrarian.  

5. “A share of a stock is not a lottery ticket. It’s part ownership of a business.” Many people love to gamble since it gives their brain a dopamine hit. They gamble even though it is a tax on people with poor math skills. The right thing for an investor to love is the process of investing, not the bet itself.  The right process for an investor is to understand the value generated by the underlying business.  

6. “Investing without research is like playing stud poker and never looking at the cards.” You can’t understand a business and its place in an industry without doing research. And in doing research you must find something that the market does not properly discount into the price of the stock or bond. If you spend more time picking out a refrigerator than researching a stock, you should instead be buying a low fee index fund.

7. “Owning stocks is like having children—don’t get involved with more than you can handle. The part-time stock picker probably has time to follow 8-12 companies.” The time in any given day, week etc. is a zero sum game. If you work at a day job and you have a life, only so much time is left to follow stocks and bonds.  It is better to be a mile deep in understanding 8-12 companies than an inch deep on many more.

8. “Everyone has the brainpower to follow the stock market. If you made it through fifth-grade math, you can do it.” Addition, subtraction, multiplication and division is all the math skill you need. Investors should ignore formulas with Greek letters in them.

9. “People seem more comfortable investing in something about which they are entirely ignorant.” Suspending disbelief about an investment is easier for many people for some reason when you know less rather than more, especially if the story is well crafted and told by the promoter.  When confronted with someone touting a stock, imagine them holding a megaphone at the circus and then think about what they are saying.  

10. “If you can’t convince yourself ‘When I’m down 25 percent, I’m a buyer’ and banish forever the fatal thought ‘When I’m down 25 percent, I’m a seller,’ then you’ll never make a decent profit in stocks.” and “Bargains are the holy grail of the true stock picker. We see the latest correction not as a disaster, but as an opportunity to acquire more shares at low prices. This is how great fortunes are made over time.” Who doesn’t like it when something like a hamburger is cheaper to buy? Stocks and bonds are no different.  Also, don’t put yourself in a position where you may need to sell at the wrong time.

11. “A market player has 50 percent of his portfolio in cash at the bottom of the market. When the market moves up, he can miss most of the move.” Markets over long period of time inevitably rise. They always have and always will. That is the good news. The bad news is that you can’t “time” when the rise in a market will happen. By trying to “time” the market you can miss a big move up and if you do, your returns will show it.   

12. “Only invest what you could afford to lose without that loss having any effect on your daily life in the foreseeable future.” Nothing is worse than not being able to care for people you love. Don’t take that risk. And don’t put yourself in a position where you are likely to panic more than usual due to the pain of something normal and inevitable (e.g., a 20% correction in the stock market). Peter Lynch said once: “Small investors tend to be pessimistic and optimistic at precisely the wrong times.”

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