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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
Structured Notes: The Secret to Improving Your Risk/Return Profile?
Structured notes provide some downside protection, while allowing investors to participate in market upswings. Learn all about them in this infographic.
Structured Notes: The Secret to Improving Your Risk/Return Profile?
Structured notes are gaining momentum in the market, with a whopping $2 trillion in assets under management (AUM) globally.
So why haven’t more investors heard of them?
Traditionally, structured notes had a $1 million minimum investment. They were only available to high-net-worth or institutional investors—but they are now becoming more accessible.
Today’s infographic from Halo Investing explains what structured notes are, outlines the two main types, and demonstrates how to implement them in a portfolio.
What is a Structured Note?
A structured note is a hybrid security, where approximately 80% is a bond component and 20% is an embedded derivative.
Structured notes are issued by major financial institutions. Since they are the liability of the issuer, it is critical that the investor is comfortable with the issuer—as with any bond purchase.
Almost all structured notes have four simple parameters.
- Maturity – The term typically falls within 3 to 5 years.
- Payoff – The amount the investor receives at maturity.
- Underlying asset – The note’s performance is linked to the price return (excluding dividends) of an asset, such as stocks, ETFs, or foreign currencies.
- Protection – The level of protection the investor receives if the underlying asset loses value.
As long as the underlying asset does not fall lower than the protection amount at maturity, the investor will receive their initial investment back in full.
This is the primary draw of structured notes: they provide a level of downside protection, while still allowing investors to participate in market upswings.
Types of Structured Notes
There are a variety of structured notes, providing investors with diverse options and a range of risk/return profiles. Structured notes generally fall into one of two broad categories: growth notes and income notes.
Investors receive a percentage—referred to as the participation rate—of the underlying asset’s price appreciation.
For example, a growth note has the following terms:
- Maturity: 5 years
- Participation rate: 117%
- Underlying asset: S&P 500 index
- Principal protection: 30%
Here’s what the payoff would look like in 4 different scenarios:
|S&P 500 return||Growth Note Return|
The S&P 500 can return a loss of up to 30%, the principal protection level in this example, before the note starts to lose value.
Over an income note’s life, investors receive a fixed payment known as a coupon. Income notes do not participate in the upside returns the way a growth note does—but they may generate a higher income stream than a standard debt security or dividend-paying stock.
This is because protection is offered for both the principal and the coupon payments. For example, say a note’s underlying asset is the S&P 500, and it pays an 8% coupon with 30% principal protection. If the S&P 500 trades sideways all year—sometimes slightly negative or positive—the note will still pay its 8% coupon due to the protection.
Income notes have another big advantage: their yields can spike in tumultuous markets, as was demonstrated during the market volatility near the end of 2018.
Why did this spike occur? Banks construct the derivative piece of an income note by selling options*, which are more expensive in volatile markets. Banks then collect these higher premiums, creating larger coupons inside the structured note.
Investors can diversify their return profile by using a combination of growth and income notes.
*Option contracts offer the buyer the opportunity to either buy or sell the underlying asset at a stated price within a specific timeframe. Unlike futures, the buyer is not forced to exercise the contract if they choose not to.
Structured notes are powerful tools that can accomplish almost any investment goal, and investors commonly use them as a core portfolio component.
- Step 1: Select a portfolio asset class where downside protection is desired.
- Step 2: Reallocate a portion of the asset class to a structured note
- Step 3: Improve risk/reward performance.
The asset class will demonstrate an enhanced return profile, with less downside risk.
A Global Market
While relatively small in the Americas, the structured notes market is growing on a global scale:
|Region||AUM (2019 Q2)|
In the first half of 2019, assets under management in the Americas was up by 4%. It’s clear the asset class presents enormous untapped potential—and investors are taking notice.
Lowering Barriers Through Technology
Technology is becoming more ingrained in wealth management—empowering investors to access structured notes more easily through efficient trading.
The market is already becoming more accessible. By 31 October 2019, the average transaction size had decreased by almost $500,000 over the year prior.
Technology also offers other benefits for investors:
- Improved analytics
- Investment education
- Risk information
- Increased competition = lower fees
- Improved secondary liquidity
As more investors take advantage of this asset class, they may be able to improve their return potential while limiting their risk.
The History of Interest Rates Over 670 Years
Interest rates sit near generational lows — is this the new normal, or has it been the trend all along? We show a history of interest rates in this graphic.
The History of Interest Rates Over 670 Years
Today, we live in a low-interest-rate environment, where the cost of borrowing for governments and institutions is lower than the historical average. It is easy to see that interest rates are at generational lows, but did you know that they are also at 670-year lows?
This week’s chart outlines the interest rates attached to loans dating back to the 1350s. Take a look at the diminishing history of the cost of debt—money has never been cheaper for governments to borrow than it is today.
The Birth of an Investing Class
Trade brought many good ideas to Europe, while helping spur the Renaissance and the development of the money economy.
Key European ports and trading nations, such as the Republic of Genoa or the Netherlands during the Renaissance period, help provide a good indication of the cost of borrowing in the early history of interest rates.
The Republic of Genoa: 4-5 year Lending Rate
Genoa became a junior associate of the Spanish Empire, with Genovese bankers financing many of the Spanish crown’s foreign endeavors.
Genovese bankers provided the Spanish royal family with credit and regular income. The Spanish crown also converted unreliable shipments of New World silver into capital for further ventures through bankers in Genoa.
Dutch Perpetual Bonds
A perpetual bond is a bond with no maturity date. Investors can treat this type of bond as an equity, not as debt. Issuers pay a coupon on perpetual bonds forever, and do not have to redeem the principal—much like the dividend from a blue-chip company.
By 1640, there was so much confidence in Holland’s public debt, that it made the refinancing of outstanding debt with a much lower interest rate of 5% possible.
Dutch provincial and municipal borrowers issued three types of debt:
- Promissory notes (Obligatiën): Short-term debt, in the form of bearer bonds, that was readily negotiable
- Redeemable bonds (Losrenten): Paid an annual interest to the holder, whose name appeared in a public-debt ledger until the loan was paid off
- Life annuities (Lijfrenten): Paid interest during the life of the buyer, where death cancels the principal
Unlike other countries where private bankers issued public debt, Holland dealt directly with prospective bondholders. They issued many bonds of small coupons that attracted small savers, like craftsmen and often women.
Rule Britannia: British Consols
In 1752, the British government converted all its outstanding debt into one bond, the Consolidated 3.5% Annuities, in order to reduce the interest rate it paid. Five years later, the annual interest rate on the stock dropped to 3%, adjusting the stock as Consolidated 3% Annuities.
The coupon rate remained at 3% until 1888, when the finance minister converted the Consolidated 3% Annuities, along with Reduced 3% Annuities (1752) and New 3% Annuities (1855), into a new bond─the 2.75% Consolidated Stock. The interest rate was further reduced to 2.5% in 1903.
Interest rates briefly went back up in 1927 when Winston Churchill issued a new government stock, the 4% Consols, as a partial refinancing of WWI war bonds.
American Ascendancy: The U.S. Treasury Notes
The United States Congress passed an act in 1870 authorizing three separate consol issues with redemption privileges after 10, 15, and 30 years. This was the beginning of what became known as Treasury Bills, the modern benchmark for interest rates.
The Great Inflation of the 1970s
In the 1970s, the global stock market was a mess. Over an 18-month period, the market lost 40% of its value. For close to a decade, few people wanted to invest in public markets. Economic growth was weak, resulting in double-digit unemployment rates.
The low interest policies of the Federal Reserve in the early ‘70s encouraged full employment, but also caused high inflation. Under new leadership, the central bank would later reverse its policies, raising interest rates to 20% in an effort to reset capitalism and encourage investment.
Looking Forward: Cheap Money
Since then, interest rates set by government debt have been rapidly declining, while the global economy has rapidly expanded. Further, financial crises have driven interest rates to just above zero in order to spur spending and investment.
It is clear that the arc of lending bends towards ever-decreasing interest rates, but how low can they go?
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