Monday, November 24, 2008

Oh, Ye of Little Faith


What is it? What does it mean to investors?

If something is provable, certain... there is no need for it.

You don't need faith when you already know.

Faith is for the times when you really don't know.

It's the belief in something despite a lack of evidence.

The essence of faith is doubt.

We investors are getting our faith tested these days.

Faith in policies that we were assured will fix the problems. Faith in the people who make them. Faith in companies who say their balance sheets really are okay. Faith that investing in stocks is a good and safe choice for the long term.

Algonquin Round Table raconteur, Alexander Woollcott once said, "Everything I love is either illegal, immoral or fattening."


Cheating vs. Owning Up?

Looking the Other Way vs. Taking a Stand?

Broccoli vs. Red Velvet Cupcakes?

You want a short and reliable guide to making the "right" choice?

It's the one that's most difficult to choose.

So here we have a market that is tantalizingly cheap (historically speaking) and absolutely terrifying.

What choice do you make if you have a long term horizon?

I say unto thee, brothers and sisters: Those who have faith in this market will be rewarded somewhere down the road.

I believe that. In fact, I'm acting on it.

But to tell you the truth, I'm just going on faith.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Investors Are in the 4th Stage of Grief - Depression

It's been a depressing time to be an investor these past few weeks. In my opinion we're at the worst point in this crisis so far, yet surprisingly to me, the MarketPsych Fear Index has only begun to rise in the past 3 days.

I think investors have been in a state of despair, not fear. They have essentially become resigned to further losses. That's obviously not healthy for the markets. And on a technical level, it doesn't bode well for a price recovery. On a psychological level, I think the entire financial community is in the 4th stage of the Five Stages of Grief called "Depression." See midway through this blog post for a prior discussion of the five stages.

The image above was borrowed from Irvine Housing Blog, and even though it incorrectly orders the progression of the Five Stages, it gets the point across.

I've been to New York to train portfolio managers and financial advisors every month since the crisis began, and I'm finding a tragic progression in the psychology of the people I've spoken to, just like the stages of grief (above).

In late September, I still heard hope - "this is a bad year, but it might still recover." A few people were frazzled and had abandoned their long term strategies for cash, but the vast majority had stayed invested and were taking big losses. (In general, the hope for a recovery, and the attempts to time the bottom, are characteristic of a continuing price slide, not a bottom.)

By late October I encountered paralysis and shock. There was furious scribbling when I described stress management techniques, but otherwise the portfolio managers I spoke with were somewhat listless and exhausted.

Last week, I encountered profound sadness, hopelessness, and despair. Some people approached me with deep concerns about their abilities to keep their jobs and their clients.

Nothing will ever be the same on Wall Street, and I'm afraid the shakeout of the financial industry is just beginning.

By being real about where you are, and staying positive and proactive, you'll make it through this crisis OK. Remember to work on the things you can control, and let go of those you can't. And dust off your Plans B and C - hopefully you won't need it, but knowing it is there is psychologically settling.

Once you've come to terms with the sad realities we're in, then it's time to start positioning for the future. There are great opportunities that come out of every crisis, and there is usually plenty of time to spot them and take advantage, since so many others are paralyzed. For example, boat trailer sales are up, since many people can't afford marina slip fees for their boats anymore. And of course, Safe sales are up... There is always opportunity, but sometimes it requires a little more creativity to see it.

Best wishes,

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Learn To Manage Financial Stress: A MarketPsych Guide

Are you glued to the financial news?
Ruminating and checking prices frequently?
Having difficulty sleeping? On edge, tense, or nervous?

These are all symptoms of stress, and they are common for anyone working in the finance these days. Unfortunately, stress can erode the ability to think clearly and perform consistently during the times we need those skills most. Fortunately there are several steps we can take to manage stress that will get us back on track to excellent performance.

Stress is the brain’s way of trying to protect us. It prepares us to handle unexpected surprises and potential threats. When we’re under stress, our adrenal glands release stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones actually affect our brains, causing a short-term focus, increased pessimism, impaired concentration, reduced attention span, increased mental rigidity, decreased patience, and enhanced detail-focus. These traits can be problematic for investors since they predispose them to make impulsive trades and information processing mistakes. That’s why stress management techniques can help you “keep your head” in volatile and unpredictable markets. In order to reduce stress now and make a long term plan to prevent future stress, try the three stage process in the attached document.

Best wishes,