Saturday, April 4, 2020

Some Secrets to Investing Success

To be a "successful" investor, you've got to start by defining success. It is different for just about everyone. Two investors with nearly identical demographics including age, lifestyle, and net worth can have significantly different financial goals. And financial goals are almost never determined along one dimension. Thinking they are is a formula for a typical 80s movie, and most were bad depictions of how investing works even though they have classic status.

Here are five hot tips to get you a leg up on the competition:

1. Get a head start. As a Sooner I can tell you there is no substitute.
Imagine you, a very conservative person, begin investing at age 25 by putting $100 per month into a very safe bond index fund (perhaps BND). You do this for 20 years (240 months straight). Let's suppose this bond investment grows at an average rate of 3.5% per year. Although you put in $24,000 of your own money, that money is growing on average as it is invested. So after the 240th month you would expect to have about $34,576 of which about $10,576 is the growth of the investment. At that point when you are 45 years old you stop saving additional money and just let the bond investment grow for the next 20 years or until you are 65 years old (40 total years of investing). 
Now imagine me, a rather aggressive person the same age as you, waits until you are done putting money in to begin my own investing. At that point, 20 years after you started, I start investing $100 per month and I don't stop adding $100 per month until age 65 (20 years of adding to my investment just like you) and I invest in a stock fund with more risk and return potential (perhaps VT). Let's suppose this stock investment grows at an average rate of 8% per year--more than double your investment return per year. After 240 months I've added just as much as you, $24,000 of my own money. I've also enjoyed a higher rate of return on those investments. But do I have as much in total? In this case, no.
At age 65 you have over $68,798 while I have only $57,266. And if you would have chosen the stock fund instead of the bond fund keeping the other assumptions the same, you would have over $266,914--being early is an amazing difference!
See the chart below and notice how starting early allowed you to be invested more conservatively.

Here is a short video showing the same principles at work.
2. Protect against the downside first and foremost.
It is mathematically impossible to save enough and earn enough on that savings to cover spending more than you have. Try it and see. If you save $20 million and earn a return of $40 million on it (a 200% rate of return!), you still cannot spend $61 million. Even if you borrow against the $60 million to try and get an additional $1 million, you have to come up with that $1 million to pay back the loan. Spending prudence should seem self evident. So too should investing prudence because you mathematically cannot spend investment earnings you do not achieve. 
If I put all my investment (eggs) into one stock or bond (basket so to speak) and that stock or bond goes broke, my investment is gone. If I put all my investment into two stocks or bonds and one of those goes broke while the other is fine, I have only lost half of my investment. Repeat this logic for more and more individual investments, and you will eventually get to a point of diversification where the impact of picking a complete lemon (stock or bond that goes to zero) is immaterial to you. That should be a goal for most investors.
The entire stock or bond market basically cannot go to zero. If it does, you got bigger problems than your IRA balance like the colossal asteroid that must have struck the Earth. In fact, the history of economic growth has been a reliable (eventual) pattern of higher highs and higher lows. Diversification is your first best risk reducer against the threat of ruin.
3. Grab the right rate of return.
It is all about beta not alpha. Beta is the fancy way of saying give me the market's performance. Alpha is the fancy way of saying give me something different (hopefully better) than the market's performance. Beta is passive investing, boring, dull, easy, anybody can do it. Alpha is the sexy stuff. Alpha is the smart money, the guys zigging when the panicked sheep are zagging. At least, that is the story so many like to tell.
The fact is overwhelmingly most professional money managers do not beat their benchmark. Let that sink in--the guys paid millions of dollars to add value for investors by being better than their benchmark are most of the time subtracting value. Investors are paying a fee to get a lower rate of return than they could otherwise.
The key decision for most investors is not "can I beat the market?" but rather "can I be the market, and what market do I want to be?" Remember, every investor is different--different risk tolerances, different various goals, different unique circumstances and biases, etc. Getting the right mixture of various investments (AKA, asset allocation) is the first best method of achieving your financial goals--notice how this works hand in glove with diversification. The asset allocation decision will almost exclusively determine the risk/return path your investments travel making other decisions small contributors to performance.
4. Look for the rewards of liquidity and transparency.
Listen to Jason Zweig among so many others. Don’t trust hedge funds. Understand that private equity = public equity minus liquidity minus transparency plus fees plus leverage. As Cliff Asness points out, let others accept a discount for illiquidity (when a premium would be the theoretical demand of investors). You want access to your money while invested in assets and processes you can understand, fully benchmark against, and truly see the value of
5. Resist temptation and envy--the key drivers of FOMO.
This one has many short sub components (here are a few):
  • Don't time the market -- This is an impossible task and anyone who tells you different is a liar or a fool.
  • Therefore, stay invested and on your long-term plan -- Uncle Freddy very likely doesn't know something you should be emulating. This time (any time) is very probably NOT a time to go to (some different asset allocation as compared to your long-term plan).
  • You will never be significantly invested in the best performing single investment because of rules 2 & 3 above -- You don't want the risk that has only luck as its investment thesis.
The bottom line of this is successful investing generally is simpler, cheaper, and duller than advertised.

No comments:

Post a Comment