Six New Year’s Resolutions for Investors
The markets are closed today, in observance of New Year’s Day. Now’s a good time for reflection.
Last week on Christmas eve, I enforced an annual family tradition: we all gathered in the living room to watch a DVD of A Christmas Carol, the movie version released in 1951 (my favorite adaptation). Alastair Sim plays the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, a portrayal that for me is the definitive Scrooge.
Charles Dickens’ immortal tale of redemption has universal applicability to all areas of life, even modern investing. Did you make money mistakes in 2020 that you regret? Did you get punished over the past year for various investing sins? Well, now’s your chance to put aside the ghosts of the past and face the new year with a clean slate.
As we say goodbye to a fraught 2020 and say hello to a new year that’s full of promise, make these six new year’s resolutions. They’re not only relevant for 2021, but they’re timeless advice for any year.
1. Don’t jump into bull markets and bail out during market downturns.
There’s a natural allure to “up” markets, but the intoxicating effects of a bull market are not related to an investor’s need to have money rationally invested and allocated according to specific goals.
A bull market gets the animal spirits racing, clouding investors’ judgment. By the same token, a down market gets investors depressed, causing them to run away from undervalued bargains or to precipitously sell their investments at a loss.
The herd mentality is hard to resist; most investors behave like lemmings and march right off a cliff. They succumb to the “group think” of the media, friends, the Internet, colleagues, family…everyone telling them what stock or investment to buy, everyone ready with brilliant advice.
But here’s a general rule of thumb: Once your barber, cabbie or shoe shine guy starts giving you hot stock tips, it usually means the market has hit a peak.
Most investors do well in a bull market, but don’t mistake a bull market for brains. Be a contrarian investor. If the herd points in one direction, move in the other.
And the LAST thing you want to do is bail out of a down market, thereby locking in your losses. You’re usually better off waiting out a downturn, instead of panicking. When the markets hit their pandemic-induced lows of late March 2020, I counseled readers to stay invested. This advice paid off.
2. Don’t abandon long-term investment goals and succumb to short-term fads.
There’s a difference between long-term net worth generated as the consequence of a methodical investment approach, and a greedy investor who jumps aboard the latest “story stock” touted on CNBC. The former has accumulated wealth over a sustained period of disciplined investing; the latter tends to benefit from random occurrence, as if playing in a casino.
Stay committed to your existing strategy. Sure, any strategy needs to be calibrated, according to changing market conditions. You should remain flexible.
That said, don’t hyperventilate over a sudden, short-term opportunity that contradicts your long-range plans. Create a strategy that’s right for you…and, despite the temporary gyrations of the market, stick to it.
3. Don’t remain in thrall to your most recent experiences.
The investment adage “past returns are no guarantee of future performance” is all too often forgotten. Don’t dwell on past glories or defeats; stay forward-looking.
Sometimes, investors fall in love with a stock. They assume it will continue to do well in the future simply because it’s done well in the past. Take emotion out of the equation.
4. Don’t spend insufficient time reviewing your portfolio.
Whether you’re an entrepreneur forging a business or an athlete preparing for an event, persistent dedication of money, time, and attention is needed to reach success.
Those who infrequently review their investment strategy will get blindsided by constantly changing events. You can’t put your investments on automatic pilot. The coronavirus pandemic has made it clear that you need to stay on your toes. Review your investments on a regular basis; pick a time frame (e.g., quarterly or monthly) that works for you.
5. Don’t make decisions based on the commentary of financial pundits on television.
Ideologues tend to occupy an echo chamber with those who share their beliefs. Through various media (especially television) these chattering “experts” wield undue influence. If you allow this cranial flatulence to sway your investment decisions, you’ll lose money.
Be forewarned, the preening pundits on what passes for “news” on cable television often disguise their ties to a political party or interest group. They tend to rely on cherry-picked or distorted data that push an agenda.
These operatives are so enamored of their preconceived notions, they refuse to acknowledge any evidence to the contrary. Absent on their list of priorities is the well being of your portfolio.
The insatiable need of 24-hour financial channels for content virtually assures that anyone who can communicate at least a semblance of competence can get on the air. Unfortunately, there is virtually no follow-up on the advice conveyed.
Now, let’s get one thing clear: My column Mind Over Markets is neither liberal nor conservative. I shun any party label that smacks of red or blue. I represent only one color and that’s green. For me, the underlying economic and business fundamentals transcend all other considerations.
I follow the Jack Webb school of investing: “Just the facts, ma’am.” And by most empirical facts today, investors have plenty to cheer about in the new year.
6. Don’t take your eye off the big picture.
Focus on the trends that will exert a significant impact on your investments; don’t lose sight of the forest by staring at the trees. Monitor economic and financial trends instead of getting caught up in temporary headlines.
A big move in a stock, up or down, on a single day might seem at the time like a lot of money, but don’t lose perspective. Don’t blow out of proportion the ostensibly big developments that really are minor in the context of your long-term plans.
Don’t churn your accounts with a lot of unnecessary buying and selling; you’ll rack up fees and lose your sense of balance. Invest your money, not your emotions.
One shrewd move is to tap into “mega-trends” that will unfold regardless of economic cycles. In previous Mind Over Markets articles, I’ve devoted considerable editorial coverage to one of the greatest growth opportunities available: the roll-out of 5G (fifth generation) wireless. After months of research, our investment team has found the best 5G play. Click here for details.
As 2021 gets underway, our strategists will continue to find the best investments for you. That’s a resolution we always keep. In the meantime, during the holiday, be sure to enjoy your most important investment: your family. Time and effort invested in family will pay you dividends for a lifetime. Happy New Year.