The enemy in the mirror

Recently, I came across a brilliant article on mistakes that many investors make.

It talks about the common mistakes many investors make and there are psychological reasons behind these. Investment decisions are taken more often based on biases like these rather than the economic ones.

This is very similar to what I have written in the book “Riding The Roller Coaster – Lessons from financial market cycles we repeatedly forget”

#RidingTheRollerCoaster – 230



Common stocks … common tendency

Remember the words of Benjamin Graham: “Most of the times common stocks are subject to irrational and excessive price fluctuations in both directions as the consequence of the ingrained tendency of most people to speculate or gamble … to give way to hope, fear and greed.

#RidingTheRollerCoaster – 199



First forecasting … and then denial

Ben Bernanke was asked in 2005 about the possibility of fall in housing prices in America. He said: “It’s a pretty unlikely possibility. We’ve never had a decline in house prices on a nationwide basis.”

We know what happened later.

When the house prices started falling in 2007, he further added, “The impact on the broader economy and financial markets of the problems in the subprime market seems likely to be contained.”

First came a forecast, which went horribly wrong and then came a denial that this is not e problem.

As Lao Tzu has said, “Those who have knowledge, don’t predict. Those who predict, don’t have knowledge.”

#RidingTheRollerCoaster – 188



Intellectual and emotional level understanding

On an intellectual level, most investors have no trouble understanding the notion that high past returns result in high prices, which, in turn, result in lower future returns. But at the sam time, most investors find this almost impossible to accept on an emotional level. By some strange quirk of human nature, financial assets seem to become more attractive after their price has risen greatly. …

… If prices fall drastically enough, they become the lepers of the financial world. Conversely, if prices rise rapidly, everyone wants in on the fun.

William Bernstein wrote in “The Four Pillars of Investing – Lessons for building a winning portfolio”.

Eventually, it’s all in the mind. The value of an asset is always in the way it is perceived. When you think of market price, it often gets misleading. The crowd sets the prices of the assets and the crowd depends on the same. This often becomes a vicious or a virtuous cycle. The crowd leads itself astray.

Here is an excerpt from the book “Riding The Roller Coaster – Lessons from financial market cycles we repeatedly forget”

Speculative euphoria as the Pied Piper

Large-scale speculation in any asset is a recurring phenomenon. History suggests that every now and then, we will witness euphoric activities – the asset may change, the people may change, the place may change; but there will always be some such events at an amazing regularity.

This is the period when common sense takes a back seat. Incidentally, the current indicators, all point in only one direction – that of the current momentum. The Pied Piper of speculation is at work. Just like the story above, the music is heard only by those who get into the spell of the market and they cannot control themselves from following it. In the story, the Pied Piper took the children to the other side of the hill never to return. In real life, the Pied Piper of speculation takes investors’ money to the other side of the mountain (called expensive markets).

People chase the hottest fad assuming that this is never going to end. The immediate past is extrapolated into infinite future.

#RidingTheRollerCoaster – 175


The fact that I got away does not mean there was no risk at all …

Amit - python

In the photograph here, I have draped a live python around my neck at the night safari at Singapore. The fact that I am alive means that nothing happened to me – I did not lose life. Does it mean I did not take any risk at all?

Same thing happens with investments.

One tends to get confident when nothing untoward happens to the investments even when one has taken risks. this confidence soon turns into overconfidence. This overconfidence in one’s abilities leads to the search for even more risks. One tends to start looking at something that nobody is looking at – the adventurous in us want to seize this opportunity. And we leave the shores and dive into the deep seas.

#RidingTheRollerCoaster – 163


Imagination …

Humans are believed to be the only animals with the power to imagine. We can imagine situations that are not there yet, or events that have yet to take place. This ability has probably been one of the major factors behind all developments.

So when we are feared, we imagine the possibility of an event with unacceptable or bad outcome. And imagination of profit leads to en emotion known as greed.

#RidingTheRollerCoaster – 161


Financial illiteracy and overconfidence

“Mixing a decline of financial literacy with an increase in self-confidence is a toxic combination,” said John Howe, professor and chair of the Department of Finance in the Trulaske College of Business.

Essentially, the big problems that majority of people do not understand are:

  1. Ignorance about one’s own ignorance. We are often not aware of what we do not know.
  2. Assuming that expertise is fungible. It is assumed that expertise in one area is equivalent to expertise in another area – especially “management of personal finances”

Expertise or success in one area makes one confident and sometimes overconfident. Add a dose of ignorance to that and one does not even acknowledge that one could be ignorant in management of money.

Professor Howe further continues, “This opens the door for more honest mistakes as well as fraud. It’s widely known that older adults are very common victims of financial fraud. It’s important that as we age, we find someone who has our best interests in mind when managing our finances.”

Important to recognise our own inability, our own limitation and seek professional help.

#RidingTheRollerCoaster – 152