Andrew Hallam, author of the book Millionaire Teacher, “crushed the market indexes” investing in individual stocks, but decided to sell all of those stocks, worth over $700,000, and put all that money into a total stock market index. He explained that he came to the realization that a big part of his success was due to luck even though he said that he researched companies more than anyone he knew, ordering five to 10 years worth of annual reports, and scrutinizing them from back to front. He pointed to Bill Miller, who ran a mutual fund which beat the S&P 500 for 15 straight years until the Great Recession at which time, the fund lost dramatically compared to the S&P 500. Hallam reasoned that if someone as smart as Miller, with the access to research and information that he had, could fail, then who was he to think that he could continue beating the market.
I’m not sure most people would have the self-awareness and humility to realize their limitations when they’ve been so successful. We’re humans and sometimes facts don’t matter. We often suffer from recency bias. “I’m beating the market, I must know what I’m doing when it comes to picking stocks!” It doesn’t matter that the facts and data show index investing consistently beats active investing. Sometimes investing in a bull market is dangerous because everyone thinks they’re smarter than they really are.
Back in the spring of 2000 when I was still in college, everyone and their mother was investing and making money in tech stocks. Everyone thought they were expert stock pickers and everyone was glued to CNBC. I opened a stock trading account so that I wouldn’t miss out on this money making opportunity. It was not a lot of money, but it was a lot of money to me at the time. I bought some internet stocks that were recommended by analysts which I had never heard of. I also bought well known stocks like AT&T (they were soon offering a wireless IPO and IPOs were hot!). Yes this is AT&T wireless. To you youngsters who don’t know a time without cellphones, wireless phones were a big deal back then and this stock would no doubt be a big deal (so I thought). About one month after I opened my stock trading account, the internet bubble burst and my stocks came crashing down. I lost 50% of the value in the account.
After the internet stock bubble bust, I was a little weary but I didn’t totally give up on stocks. Fortunately, when I started working, I kept most of my investments in mutual funds, and most of them were in low cost index funds. The lure of investing in individual stocks kept calling me though, because hitting a homerun with an individual stock was much more exciting than the slow gradual returns of index funds. However, I was always a little risk averse. Probably because of what I experienced during the internet stock bubble bust. That’s probably a good thing.
I invested in some winners. I purchased Nokia stock at $14. It made the most popular cellphones at the time and I loved my Nokia phones. The stock price went up to the $40 range and I held on to it…even as it went all the way down to the single digits. Around the time before the Great Recession, I held stocks in Starbucks. They were rapidly expanding and everyone had to have their daily grande non-fat caramel machiatto frappucino. However, I sold my shares in Starbucks for a small loss after the Great Recession hit, thinking the stock price would drop. Who’s going to pay $5 for coffee when the economy was in the tank and we’re in a recession? The price of Starbucks stock would eventually double and then triple from the price I sold it.
“Don’t forget that your incredible success in consistently making each move at the right time in the market is but my pathetic failure in making each move at the wrong time. … … I don’t know anyone who can do it successfully, nor anyone who has done so in the past. Heck, I don’t even know anyone who knows anyone who has timed the market with consistent, successful, replicable results” – John Bogle
I was having a conversation with a friend who thinks that he’s pretty knowledgeable when it comes to investing in the stock market. He has made some profitable investments. However, he has also often kept a lot of money in cash because he didn’t have the time to do the necessary research. He currently is staying out of the stock market because he believes that there is too much uncertainty, especially in the political arena. He said this months ago, but the stock market has still be roaring upwards. He might ultimately b e correct in his prediction, but his timing is off. You not only need to know what company to invest in. You also have to have the timing right as well when it comes to buying and selling. You have to be right about all three, which is why being a great stock picker is difficult. Do you think you can do that?