Monday, July 13, 2009

Mutual Funds Explained: Prepping for the Third Quarter and Beyond

No market appreciates the beginning of a new quarter when it coincides with a holiday. No market enjoys bad economic news either. So, as earning season begins on Wall Street, a time of speculation, expectations and often dashed hopes and dreams, I want to take a moment and cover some of the behaviors that investors need to come to grips with.

Our sister blog has been reviewing some of the investor habits that are worth noting. You have just watched the recovery of many of your mutual funds, especially of you were not in index funds but allocated in growth both domestically and abroad.

Before You Buy: Why Investors Do What They Do

Loss Aversion begins the discussion with "Falling squarely into the realm of behavioral finance, numerous academics have sought to model a realistic estimate of how investors react in certain circumstances, whether those reactions were realistic given those circumstances and how financial decisions are evaluated and eventually made."

Investors are also guilty of narrow framing. "Coupled with loss aversion, narrow framing represents a look at how investors perceive their chances at wealth but only when they see it as the sole component. This is a discussion about risk."

Many of our beliefs about investing revolve around another bad habit: anchoring. Investors "may be investing in their retirement plan or simply making an economic (better yet, one with financial implications) decisions, but we often, as studies have shown, begin from some point of what we know. This is referred to as anchoring."

Mental accounting affects how we invest as well. "Mental accounting really becomes a problem, almost without noticing it has, is when you separate different elements of an investment. Some are willing to pay higher fund expenses in return for a riskier fund that has done well in the past."

Diversification is not what you think it is. "These feelings of "wrong-ness" are often the result of events beyond our control. Non-economic influences can derail the best efforts of an investor along with weather, military actions, even the health of the President. As Markowitz suggests: "Uncertainty is a salient feature of security investing".

In the first part of 2008, billions of dollars were being invested in a market near it top. In the second half of 2008, billions were withdrawn. This is herding at its best and worst. "It is okay to look at the winners and losers, for mutual funds they are posted quarterly while stocks are posted daily. It is also okay to want to align yourself with the winners while foregoing the losers. It is only called herding when the winners see a large influx of new investors because of past performance, an indicator that is usually disclaimed as not indicative of future results. But the actual act of buying into any investment with the hope that the current top is not actually a top but a lower rung on an ever-rising ladder."

And then there is regret. "One of the basic assumption in investing is risk. Risk is subject to a great deal of bad investor behavior and most notable of what occurs in an investor's mind is regret."

Nothing has impacted your investment style and direction and is in fact least suited to do so, than the media. "Has the hype in the media over the last several months had an effect on how your invest in your retirement plan? The answer is most likely, yes. And the reason is the media presentation of investor news and nowhere is this done better than on television."

And lastly, there is optimism, that feel good, I want to invest emotion that often gives us reason to engage in all of the previously mentioned investor behaviors. "In an essay written in 1903, titled Optimism, Helen Keller calls optimism "the proper end of all earthly enterprise. The will to be happy animates the philosopher, the prince and the chimney sweep." And while I don't want to throw water on those thoughts, optimism has a dark side when it comes to our investment behavior."

So before you get back into a market (that I hope you never left), take the time to examine the investor in the mirror.

No comments: