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.