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The 6 Biggest Mistakes Ordinary Investors Make

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The 6 Biggest Mistakes Ordinary Investors Make

The 6 Biggest Mistakes Ordinary Investors Make

In many areas of life, we are often our own worst enemies. The realm of personal finance is no different.

What’s the biggest threat to achieving financial independence?

Unfortunately, it’s your own brain.

You can invest in all the right things, minimize fees and taxes, and even diversify your holdings. But if you fail to master your own psychology, it’s still possible to fall victim to financial self-sabotage.

The Brain’s Design

Today’s infographic is from Tony Robbins, and it uses data and talking points from his #1 Best Selling book Unshakeable: Your Financial Freedom Playbook, which is now available on paperback.

The graphic is based on a chapter in the book that reveals the key psychological limitations of the human brain. It turns out that these fallible survival instincts have been hardwired into our brains over millions of years, and they become very troublesome when we try to make rational financial decisions.

To overcome these instincts, investors need to adopt simple systems, rules, and procedures that can ensure the decisions around money we make are in our best long-term interest.

What I’ve found again and again is that 80% of success is psychology and 20% is mechanics.

– Tony Robbins

Six Psychological Pitfalls to Avoid

Remember these six pitfalls – and how to counteract them – and you’ll be able to avoid the biggest mistakes often made by investors.

Mistake #1:

Seeking confirmation of your own beliefs

Your brain is wired to seek and believe information that validates your existing beliefs. Our minds love “proof” of how smart and right we are.

Even worse, this is magnified by the online echo chambers of the modern world.

  • News media (MSNBC, Fox News, etc.) tend to favor one point of view
  • Google and Facebook filter our search results
  • Unsubstantiated rumors can run unchecked, as long as they reinforce existing points of view

This can be exceptionally detrimental in investing.

Convincing yourself that a particular stock or strategy is correct, without taking into account contradicting evidence, can be the nail in the coffin of financial freedom.

The Solution: Welcome opinions that contradict your own

The best investors know they are vulnerable to confirmation bias, and actively ask questions and seek qualified opinions that disagree with their own.

Ray Dalio, for example, seeks the smartest detractor of his idea, and then tries to find out their full reasoning behind their contrary opinion.

The power of thoughtful disagreement is a great thing.

– Ray Dalio

Mistake #2:

Conflating recent events with ongoing trends

One of the most common – and dangerous – investing mistakes is to believe that the current trend of the day will continue.

In psychology speak, this is known as recency bias, or putting more weight on recent events when evaluating the odds of something happening in the future

For example, an investor might think that because a stock has performed well recently, that it will also do well in the future. Therefore, she buys more – effectively buying at a high point in the stock.

The Solution: Re-balance

Our memories are short, so what can we do?

The best way to avoid this impulsive and faulty decision making is to commit to portfolio allocations (i.e. 60% stocks, 40% bonds) in advance, and then re-balancing on a regular basis.

This effectively ensures you are buying low, and selling high. When stocks to well, you sell some of them to buy other assets in the underweighted part of your portfolio, and vice versa.

Mistake #3:

Overconfidence

Very successful and driven people often assume they will be just as good at investing as they are at other aspects of their life. However, this overconfidence is a common cognitive bias: we constantly overestimate our abilities, our knowledge, and our future prospects.

The Solution: Get Real, and Get Honest

By admitting you have no special advantage, you give yourself an enormous advantage – and you’ll beat the overconfident investors that delude themselves in believing they can outperform.

If you can’t predict the future, the most important thing is to admit it. If it’s true that you can’t make forecasts and yet you try anyway, then that’s really suicide.

– Howard Marks

Mistake #4:

Swinging for the Fences

It’s tempting to go for the big wins in your quest to build financial wealth. But swinging for the fences also means more strikeouts – many which can be difficult to recover from.

The Solution: Think Long Term

The best way to win the game of investing is to achieve sustainable long-term returns that compound over time. Don’t get distracted by the short-term noise on Wall Street, and re-orient your approach to build wealth over the long term.

The stock market is a device for transferring money from the impatient to the patient.

– Warren Buffett

Mistake #5:

Staying Home

This psychological bias is known as “home bias”, and it is the tendency for people to invest disproportionately in markets that are familiar to them. For example, investing in:

  • Your employer’s stock
  • Your own industry
  • Your own country’s stock market
  • Only one asset class

Home bias can leave you overweighted in “what you know”, which can wreak havoc on your portfolio in some circumstances.

The Solution: Diversify

Diversify broadly, in different asset classes and in different countries. From 2000 to 2009, the S&P 500 only returned 1.4% per year, but foreign markets picked up the slack:

  • International stocks: 3.9% per year
  • Emerging markets: 16.2% per year

A well-diversified portfolio would have done well, no matter what.

Mistake #6:

Negativity Bias

Our brains are wired to bombard us with memories of negative experiences.

In fact, one part of our brain – the amygdala – is a biological alarm system that floods the body with fear signals when we are losing money.

The problem with this? When markets plunge, fear takes over and it’s easy to act irrationally. Some people panic, selling their entire portfolios to go into cash.

The Solution: Prepare

The best way to avoid negativity bias is to:

  • Keep record of why you invested in certain securities in the first place
  • Maintain the right asset allocation that will help you through volatility
  • Partner with the right financial advisor to offer advice
  • Focus on the long term, and avoid short-term market distractions

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.

– Benjamin Franklin

Conclusion

These simple rules and procedures will make it easier for you to invest for the long term.

They’ll help you:

  • Trade less
  • Lower investment fees and transaction costs
  • Be more open to views that differ from your own
  • Reduce risk by diversifying globally
  • Control the fears that could otherwise derail you

Will you be perfect? No.

But will you do better? You bet!

And the difference this makes over a lifetime can be substantial.

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Investor Education

Why Investors Should Rethink Traditional Income Strategies

Traditional longer-terms bonds are no longer as effective—so which additional income strategies should investors be considering?

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income strategies

Why Investors Should Rethink Traditional Income Strategies

Humans are creatures of habit. We all have daily routines, whether it’s walking the same lunchtime route, watching a familiar TV show, or cooking the same meal over and over again. Once we develop a pattern, it can take a drastic change to convince us to rethink our approach.

One such shake-up to ingrained investment habits is the changing landscape of income investing.

In today’s infographic from New York Life Investments, we explain why traditional long-term bonds may not be as effective as they were in the past, and which additional income strategies investors can consider.

The Status Quo

For years, investors have relied on traditional longer-term bonds as the centerpiece in an income portfolio. These debt instruments usually pay out interest to investors on a predetermined schedule, providing a steady income stream investment. Historically, they have also been subject to less volatility than equities.

The typical bond portfolio is diversified, much like the Bloomberg Barclay’s U.S. Aggregate Index. Here’s how the sectors are broken down in the index:

SectorMarket Value
Treasury39.5%
Government-Related5.8%
Corporate25.0%
Securitized29.7%

Unfortunately, this income strategy has been less effective in recent years. Over the last decade, core bond duration has increased by 1.5 years while yields have decreased by almost 2%. Essentially, interest rate volatility has increased—but investors are less compensated for the risk.

In light of low rates and higher expected market volatility, it’s critical that investors explore other income solutions. Luckily, there are many lesser-known asset classes for investors to consider.

Additional Income Strategies: An Investor’s Choice

When investors decide how to re-allocate, they can keep these objectives in mind:

  1. Preservation of principal (risk level)
  2. Pursuit of capital (growth potential)
  3. Perseverance in markets (long-term objectives)

Which additional income strategies can they explore?

Taxable Municipal Bonds

Issued by state and local governments, the yield of taxable munis has historically been higher than that of other sectors. Taxable munis also have a strong credit rating—over 76% of U.S. municipal bonds outstanding are A+ rated or better.

Insured Municipal Bonds

Investors can get additional downside protection with insured municipal bonds, which are guaranteed to pay interest and principal back by private insurers. They have historically performed similar to munis while capturing less of the “downside”, often providing an attractive risk-adjusted return for income investors.

Short-duration, High-yield Bonds

Bonds with a shorter duration and higher yield can be a lower volatility approach to achieving the same income investing goals.

Yield and Risk in Bonds (July 1, 2014 – June 30, 2019):

Bond TypeYieldStandard Deviation (annualized)Yield per Unit of Risk
U.S. Aggregate Bonds2.492.940.85
High Yield Bonds6.055.601.08
Low-duration, High-yield bonds5.003.901.28

Short duration funds have lower interest rate risk, and can offer attractive yield per unit of risk.

Yield-Centric Equities

Equities can also play a role in an income focused portfolio. Investors should look for established companies that are achieving:

  • Growth in free cash flow
  • Stable or growing dividends
  • Share buybacks or debt reduction

Over the last 40+ years, the annual compound return of stocks with growing dividends have outperformed dividend cutters on the S&P 500 by more than 4%.

Preparing for Your Future

Maximizing the benefit from new income opportunities can take time. For this reason, it’s important to consider potential portfolio changes now, so that these strategies can play out in the lead up to retirement years.

It may be tempting to stick with the status quo—both in daily routines and investment strategies—but those who proactively adjust their approach will be able to maximize their potential.

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Investor Education

How Equities Can Reduce Longevity Risk

With life expectancies increasing, will you outlive your savings? Learn how allocating more of your portfolio to equities may reduce longevity risk.

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Will You Outlive Your Savings?

The desire to live longer — and outrun death — is ingrained in the human spirit. The first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, may have even drank mercury in his quest for immortality.

Over time, advice for living longer has become more practical: eat well, get regular exercise, seek medical advice. However, as life expectancies increase, many individuals will struggle to save enough for their lengthy retirement years.

Today’s infographic comes from New York Life Investments, and it uncovers how holding a stronger equity weighting in your portfolio may help you save enough funds for your lifespan.

Longer Life Expectancies

Around the world, more people are living longer.

YearLife Expectancy at Birth, World
196052.6 years
198062.9 years
200067.7 years
201672.1 years

Despite this, many people underestimate how long they’ll live. Why?

  • They compare to older relatives.
    Approximately 25% of variation in lifespan is a product of ancestry, but it’s not the only factor that matters. Gender, lifestyle, exercise, diet, and even socioeconomic status also have a large impact. Even more importantly, breakthroughs in healthcare and technology have contributed to longer life expectancies over the last century.
  • They refer to life expectancy at birth.
    This is the most commonly quoted statistic. However, life expectancies rise as individuals age. This is because they have survived many potential causes of untimely death — including higher mortality risks often associated with childhood.

Longevity Risk

Amid the longer lifespans and inaccurate predictions, a problem is brewing.

Currently, 35% of U.S. households do not participate in any retirement savings plan. Among those who do, the median household only has $1,100 in its retirement account.

Enter longevity risk: many investors are facing the possibility that they will outlive their retirement savings.

So, what’s the solution? One strategy lies in the composition of an investor’s portfolio.

The Case for a Stronger Equity Weighting

One of the most important decisions an investor will make is their asset allocation.

As a guide, many individuals have referred to the “100-age” rule. For example, a 40-year-old would hold 60% in stocks while an 80-year-old would hold 20% in stocks.

As life expectancies rise and time horizons lengthen, a more aggressive portfolio has become increasingly important. Today, professionals suggest a rule closer to 110-age or 120-age.

There are many reasons why investors should consider holding a strong equity weighting.

  1. Equities Have Strong Long-Term Performance

    Equities deliver much higher returns than other asset classes over time. Not only do they outpace inflation by a wide margin, many also pay dividends that boost performance when reinvested.

  2. Small Yearly Withdrawals Limit Risk

    Upon retirement, an investor usually withdraws only a small percentage of their portfolio each year. This limits the downside risk of equities, even in bear markets.

  3. Earning Potential Can Balance Portfolio Risk

    Some healthy seniors are choosing to work in retirement to stay active. This means they have more earning potential, and are better equipped to recoup any losses their portfolio may experience.

  4. Time Horizons Extend Beyond Lifespan

    Many individuals, particularly affluent investors, want to pass on their wealth to their loved ones upon their death. Given the longer time horizon, the portfolio is better equipped to ride out risk and maximize returns through equities.

Higher Risk, Higher Potential Reward

Holding equities can be an exercise in psychological discipline. An investor must be able to ride out the ups and downs in the stock market.

If they can, there’s a good chance they will be rewarded. By allocating more of their portfolio to equities, investors greatly increase the odds of retiring whenever they want — with funds that will last their entire lifetime.

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