1. We are hardwired from birth to be lousy investors.
Our survival instincts make us fear loss much more than we enjoy gain. We run from danger first and ask questions later. We panic out of our investments when things look bleakest - we are just trying to survive! We have a herd mentality that makes us feel more comfortable staying with the pack. So buying high when everyone else is buying and selling low when everyone else is selling comes quite naturally - it just makes us feel better!
We use our primitive instincts to make quick decisions based on limited data and we weight most heavily what has just happened. We run from managers who performed poorly most recently and into the arms of last year's winners - that just seems like the right thing to do! We all think we are above average! We consistently overestimate our ability to pick good stocks or to find above-average managers. It is also this outsized ego that likely gives us the confidence to keep trading too much. We keep making the same investing mistakes over and over - we just figure this time we will get it right!
We are busy surviving, herding, fixating on what just happened and being overconfident! Maybe it helps explain why Mr. Market acts crazy at times.
2. So, how do we deal with all these primitive emotions and lousy investing instincts?
The answer is really quite simple: we don't!
Let's admit that we will probably keep making the same investing mistakes no matter how many books on behavioural investing we read.
3. How to invest in the stock market?
Traditionally, stocks have provided high returns and have been a mainstay of most investors’ portfolios. Since a share of stock merely represents an ownership interest in an actual business, owning a portfolio of stocks just means we’re entitled to a share in the future income of all those businesses. If we can buy good businesses that grow over time and we can buy them at bargain prices, this should continue to be a good way to invest a portion of our savings over the long term. Following a similar strategy with international stocks (companies based outside of the United States) for some of our savings would also seem to make sense (in this way, we could own businesses whose profits might not be as dependent on the U.S. economy or the U.S. currency)
4. These words of wisdom from Benjamin Graham
In an interview shortly before he passed away, Graham provided us with these words of wisdom:
The main point is to have the right general principles and the character to stick to them.… The thing that I have been emphasizing in my own work for the last few years has been the group approach. To try to buy groups of stocks that meet some simple criterion for being undervalued—regardless of the industry and with very little attention to the individual company.… Imagine—there seems to be practically a foolproof way of getting good results out of common stock investment with a minimum of work. It seems too good to be true. But all I can tell you after 60 years of experience, it seems to stand up under any of the tests that I would make up.
That interview took place thirty-five years ago. Yet we still have an opportunity to benefit from Graham’s sage advice today.
I wish you all—the patience to succeed and the time to enjoy it. Good luck.
Book: Joel Greenblatt: The Big Secret for the Small Investor (2001)