Are Investors Their Own Worst Enemy?

Featured Post | Published at Feb 3, 2020, 12:00 AM in wealth management by Dr. Brad Klontz


We like to think that we are logical, rational beings. We want to believe that we weigh the pros and cons of each decision and choose the most effective course of action before we act. However, when it comes to money, our brains haven't evolved much beyond those of our furry animal friends.

Money is a hot topic. Studies show that it is the number 1 source of stress in our lives, in good times and bad. Money is a primary source of conflicts in couples, and the number 1 cause of divorce in the early years of marriage. Whether it is a steady build-up of funds over the years or a significant real or imagined sudden financial gain or loss, money comes wrapped in an emotional package; and when we are emotionally charged we become rationally challenged. Neuroscience has shown that when our emotions run high, our logical, rational brain shuts down. When it comes back online, we typically rationalize our behaviors. Simply put, when it comes to investment decisions made when we are anxious or excited, we can't trust our instincts. When we let our animal brain make our investment decisions, it wreaks havoc on our financial lives. - Dr. Bradley Klontz

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When it comes to investing, people can be their own worst enemy. Nearly all of the mistakes made by investors can be attributed to their behavior which is typically dictated by their emotions.+ According to a 2015 study by DALBAR, the returns most investors experience lag the actual returns of the mutual funds they buy. In 2014, the average equity mutual fund investor underperformed the S&P 500 by a wide margin of 8.19%. Over the 20 year period ending in 2014, the S&P 500 index returned 9.85%, but the average equity fund investor only earned 4.66%.1

Why? DALBAR concludes that investors are at their worst when the market does poorly, selling once they have a big paper loss and then sitting on the sidelines until the markets have recovered their value. Therefore, they tend to participate in the market primarily when it is in retreat and miss the market when it is on the rise.

Among the many behavioral mistakes investors make are:

Trying to time the market. While it’s not impossible, few investors have been able to move in and out of the market at the right time consistently enough that they gain any significant advantage over the buy-and-hold crowd. Morningstar estimates that the returns on portfolios that tried to time the market over the last decade underperformed the average return on equity funds by 1.5 percent during that period, and that includes several years of negative returns. To do better, investors would need to have called the market shift seven out of ten times, a feat that true timing pros have a hard time matching.

Trying to pick the winners. Over a five-year period, from 2006 to 2010, only 48 percent of managers of large-cap funds were able to beat the S&P 500. The vast majority of them barely edged out the index. It gets worse for portfolio managers who focus on the international markets--only 18 percent managed to outperform the international index. What this means, is that in that period of time, if you had simply invested in an S&P 500 index fund, which required no active portfolio management (so, you wouldn’t have paid the 2 percent investment management fee), you would have earned a better return than more than half of the portfolio managers.

Reacting to short-term events. The behavioral instinct of humans to want to do something in response to extreme market events is a survival mechanism that tends to work against us in the investment sphere. Studies have shown that the more often one changes one’s portfolio, or, for that matter, even looks at it, the lower will be the return. When investors shift their focus away from their long-term objectives to short-term performance, the results are almost always negative. This can best be illustrated when investors, in mass, bail out of a declining equity market with the intention of getting back in when it turns around – a feat very few investors can actually achieve, leading Warren Buffet to quip, “The stock market is a highly efficient mechanism for the transfer of wealth from the impatient to the patient.”

Market crashes, financial meltdowns, Middle East wars, and tsunamis are all consequential to our lives in the moment; however, their impact on the markets over a 20- or 30-year period is so minimal as to cause nothing more than a tiny blip on your long-term investment performance.

Whether investing for retirement or any other objective, the biggest mistake many people make is not having a plan or a sound investment strategy in place to guide their decisions. The challenge in investing is not that it takes special skills or knowledge; it’s that it is often driven by emotions which can be devastating for investors who lack a clear investment strategy along with the patience and discipline to follow it. Without an investment strategy based in sound principles and practices, investors will more often than not succumb to the emotions of greed and fear which causes them to act in ways that are counter to their long term needs.

It must start with a goal, and a plan based on reason and logic with a targeted objective and a specific time horizon so you can determine how much you need to invest, what rate of return is needed on your investment and how much risk you will need to take in order to achieve that rate of return. Success should be measured by asking yourself a few questions "Am I on track to meet my goals?" and "Does my current plan provide me comfort and confidence to sleep at night and/or to focus on other priorities?" Investments are a tool to help you reach your destination. If you are not sure about the destination, then it is difficult to know, manage and succeed. With the help of a trusted, independent investment advisor, you can get help to construct a properly diversified investment portfolio allocated across several asset classes that reflects your specific objective for growth for the next 15 to 20 years. The only time you should buy or sell any securities after that is when your investment objective changes (which should be rare if you’ve planned properly) or to rebalance your portfolio each year to bring it back in line with your targeted asset allocation.

If you need help with your Financial Life Plan, or would like us to review your current investment and retirement accounts, please call us to schedule an appointment so we can learn about you, answer your questions and share how we can help. 1-866-520-4985

*This content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The information provided is not written or intended as tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for purposes of avoiding any Federal tax penalties. Individuals are encouraged to seek advice from their own tax or legal counsel. Individuals involved in the estate planning process should work with an estate planning team, including their own personal legal or tax counsel. Neither the information presented nor any opinion expressed constitutes a representation by us of a specific investment or the purchase or sale of any securities. Asset allocation and diversification do not ensure a profit or protect against loss in declining markets. This material was developed and produced by Advisor Websites to provide information on a topic that may be of interest. Copyright 2014-2016 Advisor Websites.