If you had half a million dollars and invested it in mutual funds, chances are you would leave $25,000 a year of potential income on the table. Over 20 years, that underperformance could cost you over $1,000,000 when you include reinvestment.
This conclusion is based on a recent study by Dalbar, Inc. It found that mutual fund investors (individuals and investment advisors) consistently earn below-average rates of return. This group’s average annual rate of return for 20 years underperformed the average by over 5%.
The study concluded most of this underperformance has little to do with sound investment strategy and everything to do with psychological factors. It outlined several behaviors that contribute to poor investment decisions such as badly-timed buying and selling.
Lack of Diversification – Many investors try to reduce risk through diversification, but very few do it properly. They try to diversify by having several advisors, many brokerage companies, or different mutual funds. Using these strategies creates a false sense of security that one’s portfolio is diversified. Real diversification is having investments in many different asset classes, i.e., stocks, bonds, real estate, cash, commodities, absolute return, and international equivalents.
Anchoring – This is relating something to a familiar experience that isn’t necessarily true. For example, a financial salesperson may compare investing in an equity mutual fund to growing a tomato plant. You put in a little seed and watch your plant grow and grow, until one day you have a bushel basket of luscious tomatoes. It’s an appealing image, but it sets an unrealistic expectation of an equity mutual fund. Neither stocks nor tomato plants grow that steadily. Some don’t grow at all. Others grow overnight and then die just as suddenly. Some get wiped out by hail. And some thrive.
Media Reporting – Reacting to the financial news without a more in-depth examination can ruin the most sound investment strategy. Very few financial reporters have degrees in economics or finance. Most financial reporting is faddish, trendy, sensational, and shallow. Research suggests investors who shun or limit their intake of financial news do better than those who don’t.
Herding – This is the concept that the herd knows best. Few people want to be going east when the whole herd is heading west. This is especially true when the herd is panicking: selling out of fear that their investments are going to nothing or buying out of fear of being left behind. The most successful investors avoid stampedes.
Loss Aversion – This is placing more emphasis on avoiding loss than on the possibility of gain. It results in investors wanting their cake and eating it too by searching for an investment with a high return and low or no risk. Such investments don’t exist. When they discover this, many investors don’t invest at all. Others go into an investment expecting it won’t go down, then sell out at precisely the wrong time when it does.
Delusion – This is an attitude that “bad things only happen to others, but not me.” A deluded investor is one who holds onto an investment even when it’s apparent that it’s never coming back.
Narrow Framing – This is making a quick decision without gathering or being aware of all the facts and considering the implications. Usually, the investor doesn’t uncover “the rest of the story” until it’s too late and the financial damage is done.
No one wants to leave a sizeable amount of potential retirement income on the table. The best tool for getting more of that income into your pocket isn’t necessarily studying investment philosophy. It may be more important to learn more about your own behavior.