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Hope and Regret: An Investor's Worst Enemies

InvestorEducation / Learning to Invest Apr 19, 2014 - 05:59 AM GMT

By: Investment_U

InvestorEducation

Alexander Green writes: It's often been said that the average investor's downfall are fear and greed. He tends to be too greedy to sell at market tops and too fearful to buy at market bottoms.

Yet fear and greed aren't an investor's worst emotions. Indeed, they have much to recommend them.


Greed - more palatably known as "rational self-interest" - is what keeps us on the hunt for worthwhile opportunities. It brings out animal spirits, the lifeblood of capitalism. If we didn't feel a desire to improve our lifestyle and circumstances, we wouldn't undertake ventures. The free enterprise system - the greatest engine of prosperity the world has ever known - requires risk-takers. We need entrepreneurs to start companies and investors to capitalize them. In short, Gordon Gekko got it right. Greed - the desire to get rich - is good.

Fear is another essential ingredient. It keeps us from getting carried away. Fear reminds us that the pursuit of wealth has a downside: loss. And it can be painful. As Fred Schwed wrote in his classic 1940 book Where Are the Customers' Yachts, "There are certain things that cannot be adequately explained to a virgin either by words or pictures. Nor can any description I might offer here even approximate what it feels like to lose a real chunk of money that you used to own."

Fear and greed balance each other. Greed keeps us looking up. Fear reminds us to "look out below!"

The Real Enemies

In my experience working with many hundreds of individual investors, what foils too many investment plans are not fear and greed but hope and regret...

Hope, in particular, has no place in any serious investor's tool kit. Finding yourself saying "I hope the market keeps going up" or "I hope this stock turns around and starts going the right way" is like hoping no one checks your alibi or audits your tax return. It's a clear indication that you're already off the rails.

We invest in stocks not because we hope the current trend will continue for another month or another year but because owning a diversified portfolio of fine businesses is the time-tested method of building and protecting wealth. Hope that stocks will keep trending up is often futile, a faith that will always be undermined eventually. But owning great companies to build long-term wealth? That doesn't disappoint.

Except in the short term. Then you may find yourself haunted by hope's evil twin: regret. As in "Why did I ever buy that company to begin with?" or "Why didn't I diversify outside the stock market?"

These are examples of counterfactual thinking. Thoughts like these generally begin with "If only I had..." or "If only I hadn't..." As Jason Zweig writes in Your Money and Your Brain, "Counterfactual thinking creates an alternative universe in which outcomes are always knowable and the right thing to do is always obvious."

It's make-believe, in other words. What you need instead is a proven investment strategy that allows you take advantage of the uncertainties inherent in the market. The Oxford Club's investment system, for instance, allows us to identify worthwhile opportunities, size our bets, hedge our risk, protect our profits and preserve our capital... whatever the markets throw at us.

Indeed, that's why the independent Hulbert Financial Digest has ranked our flagship letter The Oxford Communiqué among the top-performing investment letters in the nation for more than a decade.

In short, fear and greed keep us optimistic but sober. Hope and regret? Those are signs that someone is out of his element, over his head... or just dreaming.

Good investing,

Alex

P.S. The value of a proven investment strategy is seen most clearly during times of economic turbulence. Most people don't yet know it, but America is undergoing such a time right now that will soon change the way everything is paid for. Those in the know can take advantage. Those caught unaware will be taken advantage of. To learn more, click here.

Source: http://www.investmentu.com/article/detail/36787/hope-regret-investors-worst-enemies

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