by Steve Selengut
Investment mistakes happen for a multitude of reasons, including the fact that decisions are made under conditions of uncertainty that are irresponsibly downplayed by market gurus and institutional spokespersons. Losing money on an investment may not be the result of a mistake, and not all mistakes result in monetary losses. But errors occur when judgment is unduly influenced by emotions, when the basic principles of investing are misunderstood, and when misconceptions exist about how securities react to varying economic, political, and hysterical circumstances. Avoid these ten common errors to improve your performance:
1. Investment decisions should be made within a clearly defined Investment Plan. Investing is a goal-orientated activity that should include considerations of time, risk-tolerance, and future income... think about where you are going before you start moving in what may be the wrong direction. A well thought out plan will not need frequent adjustments. A well-managed plan will not be susceptible to the addition of trendy, speculations.
2. The distinction between Asset Allocation and Diversification is often clouded. Asset Allocation is the planned division of the portfolio between Equity and Income securities. Diversification is a risk minimization strategy used to assure that the size of individual portfolio positions does not become excessive in terms of various measurements. Neither are "hedges" against anything or Market Timing devices. Neither can be done with Mutual Funds or within a single Mutual Fund. Both are handled most easily using Cost Basis analysis as defined in the Working Capital Model.
3. Investors become bored with their Plan too quickly, change direction too frequently, and make drastic rather than gradual adjustments. Although investing is always referred to as "long term", it is rarely dealt with as such by investors who would be hard pressed to explain simple peak-to-peak analysis. Short-term Market Value movements are routinely compared with various un-portfolio related indices and averages to evaluate performance. There is no index that compares with your portfolio, and calendar divisions have no relationship whatever to market or interest rate cycles.
4. Investors tend to fall in love with securities that rise in price and forget to take profits, particularly when the company was once their employer. It's alarming how often accounting and other professionals refuse to fix these single-issue portfolios. Aside from the love issue, this becomes an unwilling-to-pay-the-taxes problem that often brings the unrealized gain to the Schedule D as a realized loss. Diversification rules, like Mother Nature, must not be messed with.
5. Investors often overdose on information, causing a constant state of "analysis paralysis". Such investors are likely to be confused and tend to become hindsightful and indecisive. Neither portends well for the portfolio. Compounding this issue is the inability to distinguish between research and sales materials... quite often the same document. A somewhat narrow focus on information that supports a logical and well-documented investment strategy will be more productive in the long run. But do avoid future predictors.
6. Investors are constantly in search of a short cut or gimmick that will provide instant success with minimum effort. Consequently, they initiate a feeding frenzy for every new, product and service that the Institutions produce. Their portfolios become a hodgepodge of Mutual Funds, iShares, Index Funds, Partnerships, Penny Stocks, Hedge Funds, Funds of Funds, Commodities, Options, etc. This obsession with Product underlines how Wall Street has made it impossible for financial professionals to survive without them. Remember: Consumers buy products; Investors select securities.
7. Investors just don't understand the nature of Interest Rate Sensitive Securities and can't deal appropriately with changes in Market Value... in either direction. Operationally, the income portion of a portfolio must be looked at separately from the growth portion. A simple assessment of bottom line Market Value for structural and/or directional decision-making is one of the most far-reaching errors that investors make. Fixed Income must not connote Fixed Value and most investors rarely experience the full benefit of this portion of their portfolio.
8. Many investors either ignore or discount the cyclical nature of the investment markets and wind up buying the most popular securities/sectors/funds at their highest ever prices. Illogically, they interpret a current trend in such areas as a new dynamic and tend to overdo their involvement. At the same time, they quickly abandon whatever their previous hot spot happened to be, not realizing that they are creating a Buy High, Sell Low cycle all their own.
9. Many investment errors will involve some form of unrealistic time horizon, or Apples to Oranges form of performance comparison. Somehow, somewhere, the get rich slowly path to investment success has become overgrown and abandoned. Successful portfolio development is rarely a straight up arrow and comparisons with dissimilar products, commodities, or strategies simply produce detours that speed progress away from original portfolio goals.
10. The "cheaper is better" mentality weakens decision making capabilities and leads investors to dangerous assumptions and short cuts that only appear to be effective. Do discount brokers seek "best execution"? Can new issue preferred stocks be purchased without cost? Is a no load fund a freebie? Is a WRAP Account individually managed? When cheap is an investor's primary concern, what he gets will generally be worth the price.
Compounding the problems that investors have managing their investment portfolios is the sideshowesque sensationalism that the media brings to the process. Investing has become a competitive event for service providers and investors alike. This development alone will lead many of you to the self-destructive decision making errors that are described above. Investing is a personal project where individual/family goals and objectives must dictate portfolio structure, management strategy, and performance evaluation techniques. Is it difficult to manage a portfolio in an environment that encourages instant gratification, supports all forms of "uncaveated" speculation, and that rewards short term and shortsighted reports, reactions, and achievements?
Yup, it sure is.
Professional Portfolio Management since 1979
Author of: "The Brainwashing of the American Investor: The Book that Wall Street Does Not Want YOU to Read", and "A Millionaire's Secret Investment Strategy"