The need for mindset change in investing (2)

In any stock seminar, we often hear of the same question over and over again. What are the stocks to buy and what to sell? In fact, it is probably the only question in the mind of investors when they attend stock seminars and investment talks. We all like to hear out what is the next popular stocks in town, and hopefully to make some financial gains out of it.

Of course, we all know that good stocks generally move upwards over time in line with their earnings. But within a very short period time in terms of days, weeks or even months, share prices move in random walk fashion. So, there could be some ‘bad luck’ times when no matter how well we did our due diligence, there could be one or two stocks that fall underwater. Buying stocks is a calculated risk. And often, we cannot wait for all the uncertainties pertaining a particular stock to go away to buy it. By the time, when we are certain that the most of the uncertainties have been removed or considerably reduced, the share price would have already moved up significantly. How fast a stock price moves to reflect the fresh information depends on how efficient the stock market is. Then, there are also times, in the spur of the moment, we bought the wrong stocks or even the right stocks at a wrong price. There are also situations whereby government or the relevant authorities suddenly made changes in their policies or there could be some shocking news that hit a company and we were caught in such situations. Worst of all, we buy on hearsays, market rumours and friends’ recommendations even though they might not necessary come with bad intentions. So, there is a high chance that at any one time when we open up our stocks portfolio, there may be 1 or 2 or even more stocks that are eye-sores in an otherwise, a ‘perfect’ portfolio. Hopefully, these bad stocks form a very small percentage in the portfolio and they are overwhelmed by the bigger gains in other stocks in the portfolio.

At least for the start of our investing journey, the problem often is not because of the one or two bad stocks in the portfolio because, over time, we will get to know which stocks are good and which are bad. The whole problem is that we try to save the bad stocks in hope to make them good. This type of investing philosophy is likely to have been inherited from our young days. Right from the very early stages of our formation years, we have been conditioned by the school system to focus on subjects that we are weak in. For example, when we get 90% for Mathematics and 60% for our English, we are very often asked to focus more on our English, sometimes even at the expense of our Mathematics, in hope to bring up the grade for our English. Very often, we bring such philosophies into our investments. While some stocks advanced, there are also others that fall. As in investing psychology, we tend to be more concerned about those that fell than those that have gained. Consequently, we keep on put new monies, and worse still, sell off the good stocks and buy into those stocks that are declining in hope to make it a ‘perfect’ portfolio with all stocks in the positive territory.  But very often, things get more complicated. The declining stocks got worse and the rising stocks got better. This is where the disaster starts. Imagine we try to sell off some good stocks to average down the stock price of Noble even until today. The stock just simply sinks and sinks. As we have more and more stocks into the portfolio, it also becomes much harder to average down each time. Even blue-chip counters like SPH and Comfort-Delgro are not likely to see turns-arounds anytime soon. So, for those trying to average them may eventually give up after a few years of trying. In short, the whole portfolio ends up with a lot of stocks in negative territory and only a small quantity of good stocks on the positive side. As such, the whole stock portfolio underperformed badly.

In essence, sometimes, we have to accept some imperfection in our stock portfolio. Many investors who have been in the market for some time would probably agree with me that if we simply focus on those stocks that have gained and let go of those stocks that have incurred losses, they could have been very much better off than trying to average down the under-performing stocks. There is imperfection, but this is really the play-to-win strategy when dealing with stocks. It is just like playing a game of chess. We never hear of anyone, even world class players, winning a game of chess without losing a single chess piece. In fact, very often, they are willing to trade off high-value pieces to win the game. Even a king with just a pawn may win in the whole chess game. Very often, many investors out there try to save all the counters to bring them into the positive territory by simply averaging down but, eventually, find themselves struggling to outperform. This is because there are too many drags on the portfolio. Then, there are others who do not invest because they cannot accept even some loss counters. On the whole, it is a bigger loss because good stocks do gain in the long run. In summary, it is generally acceptable to have a few minor losses just like not every business endeavour turn into a success story. It is alright to be imperfect. We play-to-win and not to play not-to-lose in stock investing. That should be the mindset.

Note – A video clip on this investing psychology is available free in bpwlc.usefedora.com.  The video clips are part of the more than 60 video clips on the online course in InvestingNote.com, namely: Value Investing – The Essential Guide and Value Investing – The Ultimate Guide.

Disclaimer – The above arguments are the personal opinions of the writer. It is not a recommendation to buy or sell the mentioned securities, the indices or any ETFs or unit trusts related to the mentioned indices. 

Brennen has been investing in the stock market for 28 years. He trains occasionally and is a managing partner for BP Wealth Learning Centre. He is the instructor for two online courses on InvestingNote – Value Investing: The Essential Guide and Value Investing: The Ultimate Guide. He is also the author of the book – “Building Wealth Together Through Stocks” which is available in both soft and hardcopy.