The more I live, the older I get, and the more the world changes around us, the more I see that our minds are not designed well for the current complexity of life in modern civilizations.
Our minds are built for very slow-moving and almost static environments where the people you know, the tools you use, and the dynamics around you change at a very glacial pace. The pace used to be so slow, that it would take generations for things to change. A ancient person could move back and forward in time 500 years and they'd likely be in a world that's mostly the same - same farming tools, same modes of transport, same deeply-local and family-based existence.
Imagine you went forward 500 in time. You're certain -- as I am -- that whatever world we arrive at 500 years from now, it'll be vastly different from the world today. We'd feel genuine anxiety traveling 500 years into the future because of how unpredictable we know it could be. We know at a deep subconscious level that the world is changing quickly.
This cosmopolitan, global, hyper-dynamic, tech-filled, and complex world we live in today requires that we embrace technology and use it in productive and effective ways. By using tech to offload memory, for example, we'll be making a prudent decision - remembering a few things in ancient times is different than having to remember hundreds of things with each thing in its own category (eg. home, work, car, finances, etc.). Another example might be using finance software or MS Excel to manage your money - living in a world with no money at all and mostly living in a quasi-communist family-oriented society is quite different than having to manage multiple account and making transactions with other humans and organizations on a daily basis.
Economic recoveries and bull markets move slowly; recessions and downturns move fast. So, be prepared...
Do you think that once a recession looms on the horizon, you'll be able to make preparatory moves to sustain your financial investments and your portfolio? If so, you're probably wrong. You're taking on too much risk and not effectively managing the risk within your portfolio and your financial life if you naively think that pre-recession prep isn't necessary.
Recessions come too quickly for most people - it'll probably be the same for you
Too often, people fail to take prudent steps to prep for recessions, market corrections, or economic downturns - they think they'll see the signs close to it and will be able to make the needed financial adjustments. This is incredibly hard to do, however, and most people fail at it.
The main reason it's hard to do is that, unlike economic recoveries and expansions, recessions come quickly and don't tend to give warning signs until after things are already bad (so, they're not really warning signs in this case).
There's too much prep work to do pre-recession
There is too much to be done to prep for a recession, and there might not be enough time to do it if you wait for some sort of warning sign to begin. These things may include the following:
The above items are essential if you want to both protect your financial and non-financial worlds during a recession. It's also important if you're going to thrive post-recession because of recessions, market corrections, and economic downturns bring asset prices down. The smartest investors are those who are eagerly awaiting a recession with a list of quality firms and other assets to buy up at low prices.
It's hard to find great firms at any time
Generally, quality firms are those who have healthy balance sheets, strong and growing earnings, proper management, and are engaged in businesses that are not readily open to competitive entrants. This is an entire field of study, however, and there isn't enough room in a single article to even begin to delve into this topic.
When thinking about risk and probabilistic outcomes, potential gains and potential losses aren't the same things. Only hyper-academic people who aren't actually engaging with the real world or putting something at risk (eg. money, health, life, friends, family, reputation, dignity, etc.) would argue that downside potential should be regarded in the same way as upside potential.
Only entities that
Let's say you're a casino or a major corporation and have a ton of time and a ton of money – in that case, a binary 49% vs. 51% loss-gain distribution (49% chance of total loss; 51% of 2x gain) might make sense because you've got a 2% edge. In the long run, this edge will play itself out so that you come out ahead, assuming you stay around for the long run.
Most retail investors, small or medium-sized businesses, or other smaller orgs won't be around, however, especially if they keep sustaining losses. They should definitely consider the 49% vs. 51% probabilities, but they should also consider another key item: whether or not they think they'll survive for long if they keep engaging in these types of bets . Because, even if the odds are in their favor, a small entity has to be around in order to see those odds actually play out. If you're not around, it doesn't matter how good the odds are – to win the game, you've got to survive long enough first.
Thinking about risk, therefore, isn't a binary operation where you can simply compare probabilities – it's a far more complex exercise that has to take things such as the following into account:
How to use historical stock market data to build your investing intuition, and move one step closer to becoming an investing superhero
On Monday, October 17, 1987, the S&P 500 dropped a little over 20%. Going back to 1950, this was the single worst one-day drop in the stock market. It showed and taught a lot then, and it can still teach market participants and investors today if they are willing to listen.
Historical financial data can be magical - it can help you travel into the past and see the forests from the trees. By listening to historical data, we can more easily understand that a single-day drop of 20% in an index such as the S&P 500 is possible. By knowing that a 20% stock market drop is possible -- and by seeing the number present itself to us in the data -- we can better understand the risks we face by investing and participating in the financial world.
How do we know whats or of stock market drops are possible?
What exactly does possible mean in the context of investing and considering severe market declines? Sure, we know it's "possible" for the S&P 500 to drop by this amount or that amount. But until you ground your understanding in some historical data, you're not going understand this possibility at a deep level.
Observing the S&P 500's daily price movements will help you learn what sort of severe drops are possible for your portfolio
First, a quick note on using the S&P 500: The S&P 500 is a great place to start because it's a reasonable proxy for the market. The S&P 500 surely doesn't represent the entire market of equities, financial assets, and let alone of all assets; but, it's a reasonable and easily-manipulatable proxy for "the market."
If we care about how bad things can get in a single day (eg. an extremely severe yet plausible one day decline in your portfolio), we'll want to look at daily price data. This type of data is readily available online. There's a lot of free data, but you'll have to pay to access longer time horizons or more esoteric data.
Below, we have S&P 500 data April 3, 1950 to September 6, 2019. This represents an almost 70-year time horizon, a bit less than the expected lifespan of a person today. You can see this in the screenshots below (bottom and top of the table shown; table ordered earliest to latest).
The data has three columns - one shows the date, the other the closing price of the S&P 500 on that date, and the last column is the day-over-day change int he S&P 500 stated as a percent. The day-over-day change is easy to calculate - it's merely the one day change divided by the previous day's closing price. Declared as a formula, it is: [Day 2 - Day 1]/Day 1
This is called the arithmetic return. More complex return types -- namely the geometric return -- exist, but they are outside the scope of this discussion. The simple arithmetic return above is sufficient for our purposes.
Observing financial market data can teach you a lot and help to build a bit of market-related intuition
Just observing stock market data like this can be useful. Exploring data visually without graphing it can give us some interesting and potentially-valuable preliminary insights. This is especially true for people who haven't done this sort of data analysis before. For example, we can observe that in the very beginning of our data set (the first few days of April 1950), the S&P 500 was around $18. This is in sharp contrast to the almost $3000 S&P 500 level we observe below for September 2019. This plainly shows us that there has been some dramatic growth over the last 70 years in absolute metrics.
Although we can see some things by observing the financial data, it's hard to determine summary statistics about the S&P 500 data set visually. Stats like mean, median, minimum, and maximum are hard to see because all of the data needs to be taken into account. Taking all of the data into account can't easily be done relying on the human mind - it's just not what it's made to do. The data set has almost 17,500 rows - that's simply too much to comprehend without the use of computing devices/methods (or without a considerable amount of time to devote to this endeavor). Luckily, such devices/methods are easily available for free (eg. Google Sheets) or cheap (eg. Microsoft Excel) in the form of software. More complex options are available that are both free and paid (eg. R, Matlab, Tableau, etc.). Something like Microsoft Excel would be enough for the vast majority of use cases, however.
Finding the minimum, or the worst stock market day over the last 70 years
Some relatively easy functions can be used in Excel -- the tool of choice for most finance people -- to get some stats on the data. In the screenshot below, you can see the average, the max, and the min. The min is what we care about most here - it represents the lowest day-over-day S&P 500 change; it represents the most severe single-day drop in the S&P 500 over the last 70 years.
We can see that the worst drop is -20.47%. That means that in one single day, the stock market effectively dropped by over 20%.
Black Monday - an over 20% one day drop in the stock market
We can see the drop occurred on Monday, October 19, 1987, by examing our data set in greater detail. By filtering the data from largest to smallest, we can see what date corresponds to the worst stock market drop. Once we have the date, we can observe what happened around it in the days before and after Black Monday, which is what Monday, October 19, 1987is called in the financial industry.
The image below is the copied and pasted data from around Black Monday. It's interesting and useful to observe what happened around that time. We can see in the 10 days around Black Monday, 7 out of 10 days were losing days. We can also combine the losses to see what the cumulative loss over the 10-day period would have been. We can see that it's even worse - over the 10 days, the stock market dropped over 26%.
That means you could wake up one day over the course of your investing life and see that your portfolio is down 20% in a single day. That event would be tough to deal with - you'd be in for a very rough day and rough week. It would take some time to recover from the loss, but recovery would definitely be possible. A mistake, however, would be to panic and deviate form your long term investment strategy for no real reason beyond the fact that you're freaked out.
Use this knowledge to avoid panic sales and other forms of freaking out during the next inevitable stock market disaster
We all get freaked out in investing - it's your money that's on the line, and you don't want to lose it. Even small drops can seem bad. Even times where there's no movement could be perceived as bad if you were anticipating gains. You can't let these investing difficulties make you make investing mistakes, however. You've got to do your best to maintain a long-term perspective on investing. Something that helps us do that is exercises like the one we just went through. Looking at historical market data, understanding how the markets have moved over time, and understanding how markets may tend to move int he future are all essential things that will buffer you from foolish investing mistakes made out of fear.
If you'd like to explore the Excel file form which the above screenshots originated, you can download the file here. You'll be able to copy and paste the S&P 500 data to do your own data analysis work, like finding the maximum one-day increase.
At the beginning of your wealth-building lifetime, it's your rate of saving and investing that matters more than your rate of return
People in the investing and financial world fetishize rates of return. Often cited and mentioned in financial articles is financial/investing genius Warren Buffet. Since 1965, Buffet has generated (thru 2017) approximately 21% annually. This is astonishing and deserves both praise and diligent study, but for most people who are in the early stages of their investing lifespan, it isn't relevant or useful.
The reason it's not relevant or useful for most people who are in the earlier stages of their investing timeline is that a focus on investing rates of return is useless and distracting. It's not the rate of return that matters most for a twenty-something or thirty-something investor. Instead, it's their rate of saving and investing that matters far more.
Barring ridiculously large and deeply improbably investing returns, getting more return won't be as beneficial as saving more. Imagine you have $1000 today, you can get an astonishingly high 50% return, or you can save another $1000 and get a100% gain effectively. If you've got $10,000, this becomes harder to do unless your income is very high. At $100,000, it's very hard to save an additional $100,000 - you'd likely want to start giving proper focus to investing returns. At $1 million, you'd likely begin to see more gains from investing than from saving. Obviously, these numbers need to be adjusted depending on income, but the core principle remains the same - if you don't have a lot of capital to work with, stashing away more capital is going to be better for you than trying to finesse something with the small amount of capital you do have.
From a mathematical perspective, those in Finance can clearly show you how not being diversified -- in an economy that allows for diversification -- is not prudent. Why isn't it prudent? Because, for most investors, not having all of their eggs in one basket will prevent them from devastating loss should some baskets break. Baskets break all the time.
Although diversification is an ancient concept, the modern idea of financial diversification in the context of creating an effective investment portfolio can be attributed to Harry Markowitz. Markowitz published his seminal paper titled Portfolio Selection in 1952. Check it out here, and other places online.
Some investors, however, feel that they don't need this rule. Some investors think the rule, or more precisely, the nature of the world in the investing space, doesn't apply to them. They feel that they know more than the typical investor or investing firm knows - they think they're somehow better at picking stocks or making investment decisions. These people -- and they are everywhere -- believe that they're just different. It's a common thing in humanity, and it might not change.
Newton said there's inertia in the universe, so we now know more about our world and physics is better for it. That's not the inertia we're talking about here. Forget the universe for a second - focus on inertia in your mind.
Mental or spiritual inertia is a real thing. We won't try to define it here, but everyone who has experienced it knows what it is. It's when
Here are some examples of using interim in your own favor and taking quick, small, but intense bursts forward in whatever you'd like to achieve:
The problem with modern Western self-improvement and self-development thinking is that it treats the human mind as a machine when it should instead be treated more like a tree - we'll get into what this actually means in below. But, the vital thing to note is that this type of thinking has permeated self-improvement and self-development thinking quite profoundly. It has penetrated so deeply that when most people think of becoming better human beings are strictly in the machine paradigm; most people don't even understand that a different way of thinking about the mind and self-improvement exists.
Machine vs. Tree: Be a tree, not a machine
Machine: The machine paradigm is easy for most Western readers (e.g., readers who grew up in an environment where Western post-Platonic thought formed the foundation of academic/scientific thought) to understand. Treating your mind like machine means having a paradigm where you believe improvements to the machine (your mind) are to be made based on external analysis/planning/thinking (exogenous improvements) and where those improvements can be immediately implemented (e.g., upgrading the machine).
Tree: The tree paradigm is more difficult for Western-oriented thinkers to understand and is somewhat more in line with Eastern, though, but not completely. The tree paradigm is where you believe that mental "upgrades" are impossible or exceedingly rare, and you acknowledge how little control you actually have over your own mind. Instead, with the tree paradigm, you more clearly see the only real way to make lasting changes to your mind: through feeding it with useful information over a long period of time and allowing that information to be absorbed, integrate, and recalled later. Someone who understands the tree paradigm has a far clearer perspective on their own mind, their ability to improve or develop it, and the timeframes it takes for such improvements. This is just a brief into the tree paradigm - there's as much and more here as there is in the well-known machine paradigm
The descriptions above are accurate, but they might seem confusing to readers without proper examples. Often, the best way to illustrate a point quickly is to give examples. So, here are a few.
Problem: A man realizes he's terrible at relationships - his wife is unhappy and he finally realizes that there are things he just doesn't know about women, relationships, and how to have a happy marriage.
Problem: A man's friends sit him down and tell him that they feel he has a deep problem with aggression - at bars he picks fights, friends are always afraid of him getting upset when he's drunk, and they remind him of how he became aggressive with his wife a few months ago.
Problem: A high school kid who is good in school but self-conscious, timid, and possibly under-developed physically compared to his peers gets harassed at school by older, more aggressive kids looking for easy prey.
News is by definition most relevant in the short term – as time moves forward each piece of news information degrades quickly in terms of how relevant and/or useful it is. In effect, information can be thought of as having a half-life. If we map things out in this respect, we can see that not all information is equal:
So, if you’ve got a limited amount of time and energy -- and your goal is to maximize the amount of useful information you obtain -- you’ll want to focus on things with a far lower half-life. In practice, that means making choices like this:
Here are two great articles that in-part inspired this piece:
The Importance of Failing at Investing - It's Almost a Prerequisite to a Successful Long-term Investing Track Record
Failure is always unpleasant but a part of life that can teach. Not all things require failure - you can be a great academic and never fail a class and you obviously don't' want to be an engineer or an architect that ever fails. However, with investing, it's a whole different game - failure early on is almost a prerequisite to a successful long-term investing track record. It's not only that failure is ok, it's almost that utter failure early on (or possibly later on, but early on is better because you usually will have less invested early on).
Financial Markets are too Difficult to Predict
This is a pretty bold statement we're making - we're saying that not only is failure ok but that failure in investing is almost a prerequisite for a good long-term investing track record. This is the case because investing -- unlike so many other professions and activities -- involves intense levels of uncertaintly and potentially chaos. The markets are uncertain and can act in chaotic ways. Additionally, when they are chaotic, they are of the more complicated second order chaos variety - this means that not only is it hard to predict financial markets but that in attempting to predict them we influence them as well. The problem is that humans have a lot of deep-seated heuristics and cognitive biases that intensely cloud our thinking and prevent us from acting in rational ways.
Cognitive Biases and Heuristics Can Lead an Investor Astray
An engineer or an actor or an architect or a college student or an academic doesn't need to fail because their professions are (1) far less uncertain in terms of predicting outcomes and (2) rely on things that are less affected by heuristics and cognitive biases. For example, a bridge builder uses principles of physics to predict the behavior of materials in various situations - not only does this prediction not involve deeply complex or chaotic systems, but it can also be tested in small-scale environments before being implemented (something that's not really possible in a world where time travel hasn't been invented yet). Here's a brief list of some heuristics and cognitive biases:
Two Main Benefits of Investment Failure
Failure in investing does one of two things (and maybe both):
A Real-Life Example of Investment Failure
As an example, I failed big time when I was about 20 years old. This was right before the Great Recession and my friend was working at Washington Mutual as a teller while going to school - the now defunct predominantly- Western bank that was purchased by Chase after it's collapse. We were young college students interested in entering the market and we had no inkling that the Great Recession might come. We bought a significant amount of WaMu stock. Then the economy tanked and the stock went down. We were pretty heavily invested in this one stock at the time. He went to his job every day and he told me no to worry - after all, how could a big bank like this with so much real estate and so much branding and so many customers collapse? It wasn't going to happen. Then, the bank failed and we lost our entire investment.
That experience taught me a lot about investing:
Most people in history created their livelihood -- either by creating income or by actually producing the necessities of life with their own hand and toil -- within family or communal units. The idea of working at a job for a larger entity such as a corporation is extremely new in the grand swath of human history. In effect, almost all of the people who ever lived could in effect be classified as small business owners - this is even true today as most US employment comes still from sole proprietorships or small businesses.
Why is it useful to understand the history of work/labor?
This idea is very important to people living in modern societies because we have a view within our minds that is quite different from reality. Many people believe that:
Going beyond the present day and having at least a basic conception of the things our ancestors did to create substance and value in their ancient worlds will assist in opening up your mind to new opportunities, new ways of combining life with work, and new ways of creating value for others.
Hunting and Gathering - The First Sole Proprietorships
For most of our history, we hunted meat and gathered fruits and vegetables to feed our families and our very tight-knit communities. The lifestyle involved simply waking up with the sun, looking for food during the day, and resting in the evening. Bedtime was when it became dark and no hunter-gatherer had to plan very far ahead.
The first really interesting thing to think about when thinking about how hunter-gatherers provided for themselves is how there were almost never any intermediaries. Besides the possibility of occasional trade within tight-knit communities, hunter-gatherers had what can be considered a two-step method to getting what they wanted. In terms of purity of execution, this was the most basic/fundamental way of obtaining food and water - a hunter gather would literally expend energy in order to obtain the final product he/she sought.
The second interesting thing arises from the first - hunter-gatherers didn't create value for other human beings in order to achieve their goals. Of course, a hunter-gather might want to provide for his family and create value in that pursuit, but that's not what we mean here. What we mean is that hunter-gatherers either went to pick edible growings or killed animals in order to obtain sustenance. In that pursuit they did not serve any other human being in any way - they simply went out into the world and obtained what they needed from it. Contrast that with today's world where we almost exclusively have to earn our livings by creating value for other people, be they your employees or your customers (which are also your employers in a sense). We're not making a normative statement here - we're simply making a descriptive statement.
The third very interesting thing about thinking of the working hunter-gatherers performed is that they had a direct understanding of how their efforts and skills translated into the final product they obtained. Of course, hunter-gatherers likely had some sort of quasi-religious beliefs where they imbued objects, the weather, etc. with spiritualistic aspects and they might have relied on them to provide. However, that doesn't detract from the simple physics of hunting and gathering - every hunter-gatherer must have understood how it was their own physical efforts out in the world that were the proximate cause of their gain. They could have thought the ultimate cause came from the skies or from the tree spirits or elsewhere, but they surely understood that the proximate cause was their own effort - they surely understood that without themselves leaving their cave, picking growing, or killing an animal and dragging it home, their families would not have food to eat. Contrast that with today's modern corporate worker who works in a corporate office or campus and who has
These complex factors can include things such as
Yes, a person's well-being still depends on themselves and everyone must take responsibility for their lives - you must work hard and well so that you're able to do well in your job and in life. However, it is abundantly clear that the level of mental control that a person feels over his or her method of meeting wants/needs should have been far greater in the past than in today's complex and interconnected environment where so much of the economy is not visible or understandable by a single individual.
This understandability of relationship between soil and result could be psychologically beneficial to human beings on many levels. This isn't a psychology website and we're not purporting to have any theoretical or empirical underpinning for these statements, but it does seem to make sense that an individual who has a clear "a leads to b" understanding of the relationship between toil and result -- as opposed of "a to b to c to d to a BLACK BOX to e to f to g" understanding -- would have greater psychological comfort and less psychological stress.
In no way is above supposed to make you envy a hunter-gatherer - we live in a far richer world (both physically and mentally) than our ancestors and anyone who would want to give up today's peace, today's luxury, and today's comfort for a hungry dangerous life of basic subsistence and survival is a quite unusual person.
Agricultural Revolution and Farming
After many centuries of foraging, humans ended up farming. This happened gradually over the course of centuries as well, but the end result was the literal transformation of human life from a nomadic existence to a settled life that would be far more familiar to the modern person.
Although life transformed as well as the approach fro providing for it, humans still operated at a family or communal level - humans still remained in effect small business owners. The business changed, of course humans went from hunting and gathering to
Humans mainly operated as family units after the agricultural revolution according to current historical data with larger family-based communities existing for things that went beyond the family. In effect, each household ran a small farming business that employed the entire household from a relatively young age by today's standards.
Here people had a bit more complexity - their toil no longer immediately translated into value creation (eg. food to eat) but had to go through the intermediate step of waiting for the seeds to grow into plants. The same is true for livestock - farmers and heard had to wait for livestock to grow and spend time and energy on breeding instead of just going out into the wild to kill game.
We can see that from hunting and gathering to farming -- things which make up by far the vast majority of human existence -- we operated in very small-scale communities and were in effect creating our livelihoods within our family units. In effect, all hunter-gatherers and farmers until the Industrial Revolution turned farming into big business can be classified as small business owners in the very broad sense of the world. These individuals worked primarily for themselves and their families. Farmers in certain eras might have had to pay taxes to lords or barons or other elites, but these can be thought of as quasi-taxes. Almost all of humanity did not know the meaning of providing your labor (either in the form of physical or mental exertion) to another individual in return for some sort of payment - this was the case for many reasons, one of which was an economy that was so poor that it could not sustain such interactions in a meaningful way.
Artisans and Craftsmen - Sole Proprietors Throughout History
Beyond farming, there have been at times in history a class or artisans or craftsman. This class developed after the Agricultural Revolution as settled communities were needed in order for this class of people to arise. They mainly operated in larger cities and they ran what can be considered small businesses. The words "artisan" and "craftsman" is too narrow, however, as these individuals operated a large variety of business. These businesses including:
All of the above can also be classified as small businesses. They are more like the small businesses we think of today - instead of directly producing their own livelihoods, these artisans and craftsmen would set up shop and serve their communities. They would very likely have most of their family involved in the business and live either close by or directly above their shops.
The Modern Working World
Although the majority of US jobs still come from small businesses, most people think of work as something you do in a large-scale setting such as a corporation. Most people even aspire to such work.
This work is quite different than operating a small business because it involves providing your labor to a larger entity that you do not control and likely can never fully understand (not even the CEO of a large firm fully understand what's really going on). This creates a sort of "black box" effect where you provide your labor into a "black box" and then some income is given to you. You aren't totally sure about the actual value you're creating for the firm and you don't fully understand how your labor fits into the bigger puzzle.
There are of course many benefits working in jobs - most of these benefits come from a certain stability that is not always present in running a small business. However, there might be some psychological costs that affect a person in the following ways:
Working in a job might make a person blind to other small but very profitable opportunities where their skills might be used. They might not ever consider opening their own business, running their own website, consulting on their own, or providing value on a small scale. This is unfortunate because it is in such small setting where you are able to capture the full value of your efforts (instead of the employer capturing most of the value). This is really how people get rich today - most people will never get rich working for a job and saving a large portion of their income; the vast majority of people in our world get rich in entrepreneurial activities.
Some Examples of Employment Throughout History
Although most people worked for themselves throughout history, there were some interesting examples of employment throughout history. Here are a few:
If you're invested in the stock market -- be it with an individual portfolio, through an IRA, through a robot-advisor, or through a 401k -- you should know that markets will decline, economies will suffer, and your portfolio value will decrease. You can try to create a situation for yourself where you won't be exposed to the volatility of the markets, but the only real way to do this is to not be invested in equities at all - by entering the markets you're implicitly accepting a certain amount of short-term volatility that could cause you to see your portfolio drop by quite a bit. It's how you handle this drop that determines your resiliency as an investor and, in the long-run, that determines whether or not you're a successful investor.
Recessions Will Occur and Markets Will Decline
First, it's key that you understand that market will decline - you can't hide from this unless you're not invested in equities. If you only hold cash or fixed income securities (eg. bonds), you can safely ignore market prices on equities. In the case of cash, you don't care about the market either way. In the case of bonds -- although bonds can of course rise and fall in value based on credit worthiness and interest rates -you generally are more concerned with the ability of the borrower (eg. sovereign government, municipality, or firm) to pay as the agreed-upon schedule. If you hold stocks, however, you are exposed to two key factors:
Exiting the Stock Market at a Macroeconomic Downturn is One of the Greatest Mistakes an Investor Can Make
Imagine you own your house outright in 2007 and then in 2008 through 2010 the housing market starts to decline as it did in the US. Would you sell your paid-for house after seeing a drop in real estate prices of 30% or more? Clearly, that would be idiotic if you didn't need the money for something specific. Why, then, do so many investors feel so inclined to sell their stocks after a market drop? Just as with a paid-for house, you own your stocks outright unless you bought them on margin (highly unlikely for most retail investors).
Adding a mortgage on the house makes the situation riskier and it is, therefore, more understandable that you might need to sell your house in an economic downturn (eg. income loss). However, people are still far more inclined to sell losing stock positions in a macroeconomic downturn than they are to sell their mortgaged house. This doesn't make any rational sense and it represents a fundamental flaw in the way most people approach their portfolios.
Now, if something fundamental changes - meaning one of the following:
THEN you can be justified in existing a position. In this case, you'll be exiting, not because of a macroeconomic decline, but because of a macroeconomic change to your world of the stock you're holding.
In other circumstances, however, existing a previously good position is just foolish and will lead you to underperform the market over the long term. Additionally, you'll be effectively shooting yourself in the foot - you will be purposely selling off at the worst possible time instead of holding out a bit for a far better market scenario where a more fair value can be obtained for your investing.
Play Mind Games With Yourself to Prepare for the Inevitable Market Decline
One of the greatest ways to prepare for the inevitable market collapse (if you still think that this won't happen you need to go back and diligently study investing history before you proceed any further into the markets) is not use the same tactic elite athletes use to prepare themselves for competition - mental visualizations of game day with a focus on the desired outcome and the challenges that will likely be faced.
Elite athletes focus on the win, but they also visualize and understand the pain and the suffering that game day will likely entail. Instead of being optimistically naive, they in advance fully understand how difficult game day will be, they accept that difficulty fully, and they commit to persevering in spite of it.
Applying that same theory to your investing life you might want to visualise the goals you want to achieve (eg. the return you want to obtain over time or the number you want to hit in your portfolio) but you also will want to sit down and imagine how a 10% market drop will feel, how a 25% market drop will feel, and how a 50% market drop will feel.
Typically a 10% market decline will occur once every couple of years, a 25% market decline will occur once every decade or two, and a 50% market decline will occur up to a few times in your investing life. Failing to prepare for this almost inevitable circumstance could cause you to sell at a 50% market drop - clearly a very unpleasant outcome if waiting just a few years would allow you to recover all of your gains as has been shown via a study of US stock market history.
When you're playing these mind games with yourself it's key to really visualize the scenario and get that negative feeling in your gut you would get on the morning fo the crash. You will likely not have as intense emotions as you would actually staring at your dropped portfolio, but you should definitely feel that nasty feeling in your stomach. If no feeling accompanies this exercise you're doing it wrong and you should continue doing it over time until you really get that unpleasant gut feeling.
Once you have that gut feeling, let it wash over you and don't try to make it go away as humans tend to do with all emotions. Let the feelings stay with you and explore it a bit. See what that feeling is telling you to do. Realize how your emotions are ruling over you instead of anything rational - this is dangerous because investing is very unnatural to human beings and only rationality will help you do well. Tell yourself
It's important to not underestimate the power of such mental exercises. It's easy to dismiss this and argues that imagining things during a bull market won't help you when things really go bad and you actually are sitting in front of your broker's website looking at a number that is 50% less than it was yesterday. Of course, the two things aren't the same, but the power of visualizing is far greater than meets the eye at first. A lot of mental resilience to making foolish moves can be built up using the exercise above and be doing it once a quarter will over time create a healthy mental discipline against acting like a crazy person when things really go bad int he stock market.
The stock market has proven a great investment over the last century - investing prudently and in a disciplined way in the stock market would have yielded great results in every two-decade-long period in the US. This means that no matter where you start in the last 100 years (even a day before the collapse that started the Great Depression), if you invested wisely (meaning you diversified and dollar cost averaged into the market), you would have been far better off by investing in 20 years than you would have been holding the money in cash instead.
If this is the case, why are so many people so afraid of buying stock? Here are 3 reasons why:
1. You Don't Understand What a Stock Actually Represents
If you're afraid of investing in the stock market, you might simply not understand what a stock actually represents - you literally don't know what it is. Of course, you've heard of stocks and you know they are some sort of financial instrument or products, but if pressed you probably can't give even a basic definition that would clearly define what a stock is.
If you're in this camp of people, it does make a bit of sense that you're hesitant to invest in equities and delve into the stock market. People are often (and often rightly) afraid of what they don't understand - human nature keeps us safe by making us a bit frightened of the unknown. If you don't really know about something, how can you know if it's good or bad? Just as importantly, if you don't know about something, how can you know how to deal with it in productive and effective ways? Maybe it's better to just stay away from those things you don't know?
Staying away might be a good idea for some things in life, but it's a bad idea when it comes to delving into the equities market in your financial life - by not investing in companies around the world through the purchase of shares on the stock market, you are denying your financial self and your portfolio one of the best ways regular individuals can have a piece of the global financial pie and ride the wave of global growth over the long term. Without investing in stocks, you're not going to benefit when global GDP increases - you're going to have to rely either solely on your own labor income or a bit of interest income you'll earn by letting other people use your capital. Buying shares of good firms around the world, however, will allow you to literally have an ownership state in the global economy.
So, if you don't know anything about stocks today, it's time to learn. Fortunately, you're already ahead of many others because you're here reading this on this website - you've already taken a crucial first step. Next, you'll want to pursue around Pennies and Pounds a bit more in a free-form way to just get a feel of the kind of stock-related information that is out there. Once you've got a general conception, a book or two will prove quite useful in helping you delve deeper and learn more about personal finance and the stock market. Never underestimate the importance of learning about personal finance - your financial life is a key part of your overall life and not spending any time in studying up is as foolish as not going to school but expecting to do well in the job market.
2. You've Invested in the Stock Market in the Past, but You've Been Burned and Remain Scarred
Maybe you do know about stocks. Maybe you've even ventured out into the equities market in the past. And maybe you've been burned by it. Maybe you've
If the above happened to you, it's no surprise you're hesitant to go back into the stock market. You probably feel like
Although it's understandable that you feel this way, it's totally wrong - you're wrong if getting burned in the past has fundamentally created a negative outlook of the stock market for you. You got hurt in the past not because there are fundamental flaws in the stock market or that investing in stocks is simply not for you - you got burned because you made incorrect decisions.
Investing in stocks well requires a certain amount of basic knowledge. Things such as
If you got burned in the past in the stock market you probably bought a single stock or just a handful of stocks - this is foolish unless you're a Warren Buffet and for most people proper diversification is key. If you invested in Lehman Brothers or Pets.com or any other hot stock pic, you would have gotten burned - you invested without diversification and you invested in the wrong thing.
If you're going to stock pick, then make sure you pick the right stock. is not possible for most and, therefore, stock picking should be avoided like the plague. Instead, diversification via the use of mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) should be utilized with a few stocks here and there if you're willing to take on the risk. Additionally, a robust (but not too robust) cash position (that is separate from your emergency fund) would provide liquidity and help reduce the overall volatility of your portfolio.
You also might have gotten burned because you invested at the wrong time (eg. the Dot Com Bubble or in 2006/7) and then sold at the wrong time instead of waiting for the market to recover. Instead, you should have:
Instead of going in at once, a dollar cost averaging approach where you invest a bit every month or every quarter allows for less risk because instead of investing at a single time, you can take advantage of market drops by having your money purchase more stocks, mutual funds, and ETFs. Additionally, you must be disciplined enough to not sell in a market panic - this is very hard and this is what kills most investors. You need to study the history of the stock market and keep that history in mind in order to temper the craziness that will arise in your mind when you see your portfolio going down. A good investor that is invested in a strong and diversified portfolio will not sell at a panic - this investor will understand how foolish it is to liquidate positions at a market drop and will instead keep disciplined and follow through with his or her investing strategy.
3. You've Heard too Many Stock Market Horror Stories
Maybe your dad or your uncle got burned investing in stocks. Maybe a high school teacher told you about her venture into the stock market and how horribly it turned out. Maybe your grandparents' told you stories of the Great Depression and how they only hold cash and bonds. Maybe you've watched one too many news episodes during the Great Recession. Maybe you grew up in a house where there was a lot of misunderstanding and fear about the stock market.
Whatever or whoever go this fear into your head - it's not rational. Stocks have created tremendous amounts of wealth for both rich people and middle-class people over the last century. The Great Depression, the Great Recession, Black Friday, the Dot Com Bust, and all of the other horrible things that happened in the financial markets would not affect an investor that was properly diversified and dollar cost averaging (instead of going all in at once). It's normal that hearing of other people's failures when investing in stocks would make you cautious, but it doesn't have to be that way - you can easily succeed in the stock market if you take a disciplined and prudent approach. More importantly, if you're going to really build wealth and not simply rely on your own income, the stock market is one of your best bets.
Data vs. Intelligence - How to approach the stunning amount of data in the world to succeed in your business or your career
We live in a world of massive amounts of data. You've likely heard the term "Big Data" many times before, but it's far beyond this and you probably don't have a full grasp of how amazing our modern and connected world (mainly the developed 1st world) is today.
In the year 248 AD, Rome celebrated its 1000th anniversary - it had been 1000 years since the founding of Rome. More data is created in one year today than was created in those 1000 years of the Roman Republic and Empire. This is an astonishing fact that should bring a sense of awe to every intelligent and curious person - humanity is creating absolutely vast amounts of all kinds of data today.
What kind of data?
Here are just a few examples of the kinds of data creation that take place every day - that takes place very second every second:
The list above is meant to be broad in order to demonstrate the broad swath of things from which data is created today. Data can be created by governments or big corporations, but data can just as easily be created by small businesses and individuals during their everyday tasks and processes.
The above list is just a tiny example - almost anything remotely automated or electronic creates some sort of data today.
A Key Question
If we have an exponentially larger amount of data today than in the past, why aren't we exponentially smarter today as a society? Sure, the size of our economy as measured by GDP or GNP is much larger than at any point in history, but we can still see that we haven't moved that far way from past societies and civilizations in terms of the things that are most important to humanity.
Going further, why aren't businesses incredibly smart if we have so many data available? So many small and medium sized businesses today still operate under the same paradigms as businesses of the past. The problem is that even though there are tremendous amounts of data (and easy ways to collect more), the data isn't being productively used. The data is just sitting there. It's easy to collect data - it's hard to use it effectively.
What you really need isn't data - it's intelligence. You don't need a data dump on your hard drive or a stream of data flowing in at many GBs a second - you need to know how to turn whatever data you do have (hopefully it's quality data) into intelligence. This is what the human mind does - it turns raw data from sensory inputs into intelligence via the brain.
To better illustrate the importance of intelligence and the inadequacy fo data alone, let's imagine a fictional scenario. Imagine giving an ancient hunter-gatherer tribe all of the data available today on a giant supercomputer. Of course, they won't be able to access that data, but let's ignore that for a second and imagine that SOMEHOW that ancient tribe could in fact access all of this vast data. Do you think that things would really change for that tribe? It is likely that the tribe would be incapable of utilizing the data in any way and creating any actionable intelligence from it - they wouldn't have either the mathematical/statistical sophistication to extract much meaning from it and they wouldn't have the background landscape required to absorb and process the data in appropriate and meaningful contexts.
The Definition of Data
Merriam-Webster's dictionary defines data as follows:
1. factual information (as measurements or statistics) used as a basis for reasoning, discussion, or calculation <the data is plentiful and easily available — H. A. Gleason, Jr.> <comprehensive data on economic growth have been published — N. H. Jacoby>
2. information output by a sensing device or organ that includes both useful and irrelevant or redundant information and must be processed to be meaningful
3. information in numerical form that can be digitally transmitted or processed
We define data in simpler terms:
Data are discreet units of information that provide some evidence of something in the real world
Data isn't something complicated. Although we might take a technological slant in our mind when thinking about data today, data can come in many forms. Data can be written on a stone tablet, on a piece of papyrus, on a piece of paper, or by tying knots using a string to keep track of things. Data can come in magnetic form as on credit cards. Data can come from CDs and DVDs or data can be stored on a flash drive. Data isn't technological - data is just information but technology has helped us gather and store vast amounts of it.
One of the key features of data is that it gives us some sort of information about the real world. This is due to the fact that data arises from the real world. The only way data can be created is by somehow recording some aspect of the outside world in some sort of storage mechanism. That mechanism might be robust or it might be fragile, it might be high advanced or primitive, but it has to (at least for a time) store some sort of information that is somehow derived from the real world.
Data that has no basis in or relationship to the real world is utterly useless for the purposes of using it to create value and making more effective decisions. Imagine a set of data that is just made up randomly - a random list of customer data that includes totally made up random numbers for purchase amounts, transaction IDs, customer contact information, items or services purchased, customer acquisition methods, discounts applied, and satisfaction surveys. How could a business use this made up data in any meaningful and purposeful way? They couldn't. This data would be of use to no one because no amount of technical knowledge or manipulation would yield anything positive - you cannot derive anything from it. In effect, it's "garbage in, garbage out" with data.
Intelligence, in the sense we're discussing here, is the use of data in effective ways to achieve valuable (whatever that means) goals and objectives in the real world.
What sort of goals are we talking about? They can be any goal that is worthwhile:
Most worthwhile goals are achieved through a combination of effort and intelligence - effort alone is not always enough because you need to put your effort int he right direction. Of course, intelligence alone is useless without the effort to use it also - but intelligence s the seed from which our goals can be productively and effectively achieved.
Intelligence is what sets humans apart in some ways from the other beings that inhabit the world we find ourselves in. Although lots of animals are intelligent in some ways, they're not as intelligent as us. We can use complex models of the world to make decisions - this is why we are the dominant species.
Intelligence is the stuff that builds bridges, building, and apps. Intelligence is what wins battles in war and battles in the boardroom. Intelligence is what allows you to outperform in life and in business - it's what can set you apart in the battlefield of business and make that customer come through your doors or visit your website or download your app instead of your opponents'.
Data vs. Intelligence
Data and intelligence are two different but interrelated things. Data is used in order to obtain intelligence. Or, stated another way, you need data if you're going to have some sort of intelligence.
Intelligence doesn't just arise out of nowhere. The kind of intelligence that is useful (the productive kind of intelligence that helps with making effective decisions int the real world) is based on data. Therefore, intelligence and data are not two different but similar things, they are two very different things with one being required fro the other. It's like water and oxygen - you need oxygen atoms to make water, but water and oxygen are far from the same thing. Just as with oxygen and water, you need data to have intelligence, but intelligence is far more than just data - it's using data to create an understanding of the world.
Intelligence can exist in many forms. It can mean knowing your:
Intelligence can also mean knowing things there aren't specific numbers, but are more comparative in nature - things such as:
Intelligence can also be binary - it can include things like:
The modern world is the epitome of security when taken from a historical perspective. We have taken a rough, difficult, dangerous, and unpredictable existence as human beings and, over many centuries, transformed it into a far more predictable, calm, and secure way of life.
Now, by security and insecurity I don't mean the modern definition of the term - I don't mean confidence or lack of confidence in yourself. I mean something much deeper and more universal when I use these terms in this context. I'm talking about being truly secure and being deeply insecure as a human being in relation to the world around you.
To better illustrate what I mean by these terms I'll provide an example:
Be the Mouse?
So, if a mouse is the epitome of an insecure creature and a lion is the epitome of a secure creature, why would I imply with my title that insecurity is somehow good - why would I imply that you should somehow be insecure? Because you're not a lion.
You're not a lion - you're a fragile human being that has to be concerned with far more than his or her place in the animal kingdom. You have to be concerned not only with your survival today in a physical sense, but with your survival in a financial, career, emotional, and mental sense. Life more difficult for us human beings - we're competing on more playing fields.
Security = Death
Although being too deeply insecure will cause you mental trauma, the only way to truly have security in any of the places where it is important is by being constantly insecure. The moment you are too secure you're dead meat. The moment you're content with your situation or position or the moment you let your guard down you give room to the cold and harsh world and those in it to destroy you. Don't give the world or any person that room - be constantly vigilant and never feel sorry for yourself for it.
Don't feel bad for being insecure - the modern world we live in makes us think that a sense of security is one of the ultimate goals in life. In today's world too many people feel that we should have a constant sense of peace and calm and security - we want to feel like everything is ok and that there's nothing to worry about. Stop wanting that and realize that the game will never end and the struggle will never cease - the moment you overcome something, there is something else waiting for you. The moment you achieve some sense of security, there is something else to be on guard against. You must stop putting so much value on being in a calm state - a calm state means nothing and is nothing. A state of vigilance and security in everything you do is another state and it's not less good - it's the natural state of a creature as fragile as us.
And now, given the rise of cyrptocurrencies and crypto assets to quasi-mainstream financial assets, we're dedicated to providing quality, relevant, and interesting material on cryptocurrencies and cryptoassets. Articles on Bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripple, Cardano, and many more cryptocurrencies and cryptoassets can be found on Pennies and Pounds - all that in addition to a plethora of information on what cryptoassets are, how the entire crypto industry came to be, blockchain/immutable ledger technology, mining, proof of work, proof of stake, and how to prudently invest in crypto if you are so inclined (based on your risk tolerance and ability to withstand the volatility that will come with a crypto portfolio).