Tag Archives: investing psychology

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.

The shock that finally comes

Investors had a rude shock on Tuesday morning when they found out that Dow Jones fell a whopping 1075.21 points the night before.  That followed by an after-shock tremor of another 1032.89 on Thursday, 8 Feb 2018. In total, the Dow Jones fell 1330.06 points for the week. This was the second week of fall since the peak at close of 26616.71 made on the 26 January 2018. To date, Dow Jones fell about 10% from its peak. As the saying goes when the Dow Jones sneezes, we catch a chill. For the week that passed, the STI fell about 6.5% to end at 3377.24. Although the STI volatility is much smaller, it is good enough to drive people crazy rushing in and out of the exit door. By now, we know that the recent peak of 3,600 has already passed us and we may not reach it back again so soon. As shown in reality, we do not know when the peak really is until it passed us in real time.

Out of my normal self, I was forced to react making buy and sell decisions in double quick-time to avoid being swept down by the avalanche and failing to pick up good stocks at discounts. This was happening as I was in the midst of scaling down some property stocks holdings after all the euphoria about en-bloc sales in the past few months. This will help get rid of some lousy stocks and enhance my liquidity in preparation for the next interest rate cycle. During times of distress, all stocks, whether good or bad, are all in a mixed bag, moving up and down with the market swings. Actually, such times are the real tests that separate excellent fund managers from the good ones, and the good ones from the lousy ones. As we all know, in an upmarket, everyone is an expert, but we only know who is really swimming naked when the tide recedes.

Extreme volatilities are also trying times when no classroom analyses are able to capture. It is just the human nature of greed and fear that swing stock prices up and down in real time. Even though I am a great believer of stocks’ underlying fundamentals, there are really more to just doing analyses to find out stock PE, BV or intrinsic value. To me, knowing some classroom fundamental analyses probably help us in the first 50% of winning the battle, we really need to understand how the market works as well as some understanding human & market behaviour. (That was why I decided to launch two courses instead of only one in the investing.com platform – Value Investing: The Essential Guide and Value Investing: The Ultimate Guide. The former being more a classroom analyses and the latter one being practical aspects of investing.   To me, these two parts have to come hand-in-hand to be more complete as a successful investor.) But again that does not mean that fundamentals or any analyses are of no value and can be thrown out of the window. On the contrary, I think understanding FA is extremely important. It helps capture the first 50% of the battle. It is usually during these trying times that we get to experience their importance. Stocks with good fundamentals usually fall together with the rest of the stocks during a market collapse but will get to be picked up first when we sense that the market is returning to calmness. And once the market is in the state of steadiness, these stocks leap further up ahead of the others. To me, value investing is still the most important subject to take away the stress off the crazy market place.

Happy investing!


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.

Averaging down

Abstract: A post by a pseudonym Luminac in the InvestingNote on 29 April 2017 mentioned that a close friend of him had invested in stocks like Cosco(F83), Noble(CGP), Hyflux(600) and had been accumulating them for over the past 10 years. She realized that the loss was too big and was on a crossroad of what to do next. I herewith share a similar life experience when I was in that situation some twenty years ago. No mention of the stock name shall be made in this post.


The share price was around $1.90 to $2.00 when the desire to re-own this stock became extremely burning. After all, I had owned the stock before and had sold them for a reasonably good profit. So, it cannot be very wrong to buy back this stock at around $2 when the highest price that it reached after a share split was $5. The company had made several mistakes and took extreme risks that on hindsight would have made me stayed far, far away from this stock. Unfortunately, my focus then was on the stock price. To me, the $2 price tag was a 60% discount against the $5 level that the stock had once reached.

Big mistake…the company was taking on so much risks and making so many bad business decisions that it had to make a rights issue at a huge discount. I cannot remember the exact ratio, but I think it was in the ball-park of ten rights for every one share owned. Certainly, it was forcing the minority shareholders to take on the rights to assume part of the huge risk. The share price tanked from about $1 just before the rights issue to around 10 cents. From then on, I started to follow more closely on the company developments and not on the stock price alone. A check on the past financial reports showed that the top man was still being paid in the region of either more than $750k or even more than $1m when the company was either earning insignificant profits or even suffering losses. Furthermore, the huge part (close to 90%) of the total remuneration was in the form of fixed salary and was even entitled to a few percent of ‘other benefits’. The percentage allocated to the bonus was far too little. So basically, the management is bleeding the company through their fixed salaries at the expense of the minority shareholders. In fact, the top man drew such a huge salary that he need not have to care much about the prospects of the company going forward. I believe all that was in his mind was he hoped to find a white knight who was stupid enough so that he could sell off the company lock, stock and barrel after bleeding it for so many years. A further check showed that at least one independent director was there for more than 10 years. As we know, independent directors are usually the ones that form part of the remuneration committee. Furthermore, during annual meetings, motions were almost always seconded by the same few persons as in the past meetings and so were comments quickly shot down by the management. The way I see it was that all these years, the company was simply wayang, wayang moving from one business type to another while waiting for a white knight to come along. After all, the people forming the management are getting old and they have no energy to turn the company around. Meanwhile, they continue to draw good salaries. I realized that I had bought a confirmed ticket to disaster. Are the minority shareholder interest protected at all? Surely not.

Certainly, I need not have to say much about the stock price with a company like that. It was $5 during the good times, and was $2 was I re-purchased it, and then it tanked to around 10 cents after the huge rights issue. If only I had read into the fundamentals, I would have painfully cut loss or simply just not do anything. My loss would have been, at most, a few thousand dollars. My big mistake was that I keep on averaging down while praying that the stock price would turn around. Just like many gamblers did, I did not simply average down, I bought more than our original holdings in hope to quickly breakeven, but somehow the tide was always against me. The descent was steeper than what I could average down. I also found it got more and more difficult to average down because of the increasing stake when it was on its way down. I did manage to sell some when the stock price blipped up temporarily, but the realized gain was simply too insignificant to offset the unrealized loss. It went on a long time when I suddenly realized that the hole was just too big to patch. It had already lost 90% to 95% of the value that I initially bought. Selling off at this time would not lead me anywhere and averaging down is not the answer for such a stock. Furthermore, I was too focused on this loser that I missed out many winners out there. I had lost a lot in terms of opportunity cost.

So, for many years, I had been sailing on a pirate ship without realizing it. Summarizing the whole episode, the management took the company as an ATM to draw their huge salaries. The minority shareholders were bearing the business risks all because they made bad and lousy business decisions. And, yet as a minority shareholder, I have no say in the company affairs. Do you think one should continue to be vested in the company stock? After all, the company founders have recovered all their capital from the IPO and could have even profited greatly from it. What incentives do they have to bring the company to the next level? It all boiled down to the responsibility of the management.

To get out of such disaster, I need to change my mind-set. It is no point in buying and selling stocks that make us can’t eat or sleep at peace. After all, we invest for our retirement or for times that we become incapacitated. Stocks must withstand a passage of time. Why should we be in the situation that we invest our money in exchange for more problems? Don’t we already have been facing a lot of challenges in our daily lives? To date, all these going back to basic thoughts have been a big blessing in my investing journey. I managed to benefit from the GFC in 2008/2009, averted the penny stocks clash in 2013 and the high yield bonds that still plaque many investors even today and many nonsense investing scams that mushroomed over the past years. Several good stocks have become multi-baggers, and two of them have been bought out and privatized. Sure, good stocks can also tank during financial disasters, but history has shown that they come back stronger when the crisis got past us.

Now, let me add a last paragraph to the mentioned stock in this post. If the above episode on that single stock had not been painful enough, here comes the salt on the wound. Just 2 years ago, the SGX introduced the minimum trading price (MTO) rule of $0.20. All stocks below 20 cents have to be consolidated. I did not know the exact trading price then because it was no longer important to me. It was probably less than 1 cent at that time. Doing a 10 to 1 consolidation had no meaning as it would still be below 20 cents. So, it ended up with consolidating 100 shares into 1 share, which theoretically meant that the stock should be trading at $1 after the consolidation. With the consolidation, the stock became extremely illiquid. The trading volume was low and the buy-sell spread was far in between. Perhaps a lot of investors would have realized by now that for fundamentally lousy companies, consolidation equates to value destruction. The stock price fell to around 60 cents after the consolidation and, by today, it is around 30-40 cents. By this time, my loss is 10 times that of the original loss. However, all these no longer matter because the final value on paper is a very tiny black dot on my portfolio.

So, if you ask me should we average down, my answer is if it is fundamentally lousy stock is …never. Never catch a falling knife. But if it has good fundamentals that can possibly translate to a price upside in future, then perhaps, it may worth a second shot.

Brennen has been investing in the stock market for 27 years. He trains occasionally and is a managing partner for BP Wealth Learning Centre. He is also the author of the book – “Building Wealth Together Through Stocks” which is available in both soft and hardcopy. Analyses of some individual stocks can be found in bpwlc.usefedora.com. Registration is free.