Are Investors Their Own Worst Enemy?

Jul 9, 2023 | Budget

Four people are walking with bicycles along a beach. A heading reads, "Are Investors Their Own Worst Enemy?" The logo and name "Stewardship Trust Advisors" are displayed at the bottom, questioning the impact of personal decisions on financial success.

Are investors their own worst enemy? Sometimes, this is the case. Nearly all of the mistakes made by investors can be attributed to their behavior which is typically dictated by their emotions. Fear and greed have a way of driving even the most rational people to make investing decisions which is why most investors typically underperform the markets. According to a study by DALBAR, the returns most investors experience lag behind 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%.

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.

Top Mistakes That Investors Make

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 five years, 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, 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 to get back in when it turns around – a feat very few investors can 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.

Don’t Let Your Emotions Drive Your Investment Strategy

Whether investing for retirement or any other objective, the biggest mistake many people make is not having 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 on 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, a targeted objective with 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. Then, with the help of a trusted, independent investment advisor, you need 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 twice each year to bring it back in line with your targeted asset allocation.

Contact Stewardship Trust Advisors

Are investors their own worst enemy? They can be. If you want to avoid common investment mistakes, Stewardship Trust Advisors is here to help. Schedule a consultation today.

These weekly articles which are produced and distributed by Pilgrims Capital Advisors, Inc. contain information on topics about investing, tax planning, estate planning, asset allocation, insurance, and many other financial subjects. Please note that they are very general and must be applied to your circumstances through the services of a trained or licensed professional who specializes in these areas. If you have questions or needs related to the subject matter of this article please contact us by clicking on the link below and we will point you in the right direction.

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