My previous post was about human psychology and how by nature people have the tendency to buy the highs and sell the lows. Let’s assume we have now managed to control our emotions and we are cold blooded investors capable to take rational decisions. As I see it, the next step in investing is to have a clear exit and entry plans. Instructions to write down to guide us prior pressing the sell or buy button on the screen.
How to come up with these instructions? First we start from some hypothesis. After we have them clearly formulated, we verify through backtesting whether we are right, wrong or we have some fine tuning to do. We keep on adjusting the entry/exit hypothesis until the backtest is satisfactory enough so that the hypothesis now become our set of instruction to entry/exit an investment.
Clear enough? If not or not enough, let me illustrate this process through an example.
You might have noticed that once in a while the S&P500 drops by 3-4% and later there are usually three situations: go back up, move side ways and bloodshed. For simplicity, let’s imagine we are buy & hold investors. Allrighty, in the long term we’ll make money but… would do not be great if we could avoid major drawdowns (bloodshed). Definitely yes. Our hypothesis now become: I exit the trade when the market drop by a given % and I go back into the trade after a certain number of days. The hypothesis will become instructions only after the number of days and the % are properly specified and verified through backtesting. Next, take: Excel or Matlab or Python implement the optimization and backtesting routine and select the case that better suits your needs. In this example, using Matlab, I ran 732 simulations to optimize the entry/exit values for QLD (2x Nasdaq). As compared to a conventional buy & hold, the maximum drawdown can decrease from 84 to 47% while the CAGR from 26.7 to 28.8%. A couple of % points on CAGR might not seem that much but compounded over 13 years might mean more than double your returns. If you wonder about the optimized values for this specific case: 9.5% as trailback stop loss over a 35 days period (7 weeks).
I hope you enjoyed reading this article. Next post will be about portfolio optimization. Drop a line if you have a specific example of portfolio you would like to optimize.
In the meanwhile, wish you all a profitable week.
Since young age I have always been fascinated by philosophy and how human minds work. Even when facing the most unreasonable thoughts, digging deeper, there is (in the vast majority of the cases) a rationale behind.
So, why do 75+% of the investors lose money?
I can pin point at least three reasons: lack of strategy, poor portfolio asset allocation and emotions.
In this post I’ll focus on the emotion part that quite often makes us (yes, I did several mistakes when I started) buying the highs and selling the lows.
Buying low comes from an investment philosophy known as value investing. The basic concept of value investing is to buy investment instruments when they are “on sale.” That means buying when everyone else is selling (and prices are down) and vice versa. A smart value investor buys low, then patiently waits for the “herd” to catch up. Unfortunately, most investors tend to do the exact opposite: tend to chase trends and follow the herd.
A huge part of smart investing is psychological and the image below (sorry for the quality) illustrates one of the many psychological roadblocks investors have.
We may want to buy low and sell high, but that goes against our instincts and biases. When a stock/ETF is falling, we dump it. When a stock/ETF is rising, we buy it. We sell when the price is falling because we are afraid of losing more money; we buy when it is rising because we have a fear of missing out. To compound the problem, most investors are not experts at realizing when something high or low “enough.”
So what to do to avoid the drawbacks of trying to buy low and sell high?
• Understand your goals and risk tolerance: it is critically important to understand what it is you are trying to accomplish and how much risk you are comfortable taking. Once you have that figured out, you can create an investment plan that is appropriate for you and comfortable enough to keep you from impulse buying high and panic selling low.
• Avoid market timing: instead of trying to time investments perfectly and squeeze every last cent out of each one, focus on building a diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds that give you the greatest chance to succeed over the long term.
• Leverage your resources: having a great financial plan and a diversified portfolio is irrelevant if you don’t follow through and stick to it. Becoming self-aware of the pitfalls is a great first step
Stay tuned for a couple of posts to come about: strategy definition and portfolio allocation.
note: part of this post was originally posted on Investopedia