Sunday, July 13, 2014

Investing Is Not A Sport

Investing using the sports mindset will leave you saying, "I've made a huge mistake." And it doesn't just take something as colossal as buying real estate in Iraq circa 2002. It is little decisions made all along the way. Examples:
  • Buying a stock and then watching its day-by-day or even minute-by-minute performance. This includes trying to explain every fluctuation in price. Most of what goes on over short periods is random noise. This is actually true of sports as well, but it is part of the allure of sports. However, following your investments' gyrations will lead to poor decision making and potentially heart failure.
  • Falling in love with a stock. You aren't a fan, you're an investor. You're making an educated evaluation of the asset's value. She's a beauty, but don't fall in love. She's one in a million and there are bound to be plenty better. 
  • Thinking that you "obviously" should have purchased some asset that recently had a great run. There is nothing obvious before the fact in investing. That "couldn't miss" real estate deal undoubtedly had tremendous downside risk that just didn't happen to play out. Remember, the reason you're even thinking about it is because it happened to be a winner. "If only I'd had money back circa 2002-03, I would have gobbled up Apple stock." Yeah, Apple's comeback was about as obvious back then as the 2004 Red Sox's comeback against the Yankees in the ALCS right before Big Papi stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the 12th. In hindsight the winning outcome seems logical and likely because it is the winner. We don't have to fully create the narrative as to how it could come to be. Reality has done that for us, but there were many, many other possible outcomes. Often some of these were individually more likely than the actual outcome. 
  • Getting wrapped up in performance rather than process. We choose teams and individuals to root for based on a lot of reasons many of which are based on past performance. But successful past performance in investing means buying yesterday's winners--a strategy that doesn't correlate very well with future investing success. Good investing is about finding a good process. That process should generate future investing success.
  • Talking yourself into taking a lot more risk than you should simply because the risk started small. Remember this amazing lucky break cum colossal mistake? You are never "playing with house money". 
  • As a related point, if you find yourself playing in the equivalent of the championship game, realize that you are mistaken. Investing doesn't work that way. You don't accrue your way into a large reward/low risk situation. Investing is about choosing a risk/reward mix over the long term.
  • Sitting a turbulent/uncertain/rough period out on the sidelines. There are no sidelines in investing. Cash is an asset. The mattress, safe deposit box, and interest-free checking account are all examples of investments--albeit, very poorly performing ones. The game is still going on whether you are playing a highly active role or trying to avoid all volatility. Inflation is constantly trying to eat away at the value of your net worth. And ALL periods are turbulent, uncertain, and rough. 
Perhaps golf offers the closest analogy to investing: your performance is largely independent of others' performances, your choices imply the risk/reward mixture (laying up versus going for the green), there is a cumulative effect between actions, the course you choose to play should be dictated by your abilities and your knowledge of the course will affect your performance, about the best you can hope for is a little better than "par", discipline is more rewarded than ability, etc. But even this analogy runs into strong limitations. Investing is always continuously cumulative. You never get to start a new round or new hole. Knowing how to successfully invest relies more heavily on learned skill than raw ability.