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Almost everyone makes investment mistakes. Yet, these mistakes may benefit us in the future, as we utilize our knowledge to make better and more informed business and investing decisions even if they cost us money the first time around. Like the advices from our parents, we must often experience it ourselves before we truly learn from them. However, if we know about our tendencies before we make them, it is much easier to recognize the problem and learn from it. Here are 10 common mistakes that people make when it comes to investing.
1. Blinded by Reward
Being blinded by the possible rewards of an investment can lead us astray when it comes to the associated risk of that same investment. Hearing others speak of amazing dividends, huge returns, and immense profit taking can leave us chomping at the bit to jump into an investment without considering the risks involved. You must often step back for a moment and consider just why the payoffs are so high for a particular investment, and then decide whether the risks of such payoffs are worth what might only be a fleeting reward.
Impatience has been the killer of many wise investments. Not waiting out a downturn in the economy or assuming a stock has seen its prime and selling it too soon, even though it’s a well-known and stable investment, could leave you with regrets.
As an example, one investor (he shall remain nameless for the purposes of this article) was once invested in Hilton Hotel Corporation stock. This same investor had bought his shares at $10. When the stock reached $14 and stabilized for several months, the investor lost faith even though he knew the stock was a rock solid investment. He didn’t need the money, but became inpatient and dumped the stock, took his profits and several years later Hilton was bought out, their stock selling for over $40 a share. Impatience got the better of him and he lost out big time.
3. Missed the Train
Missing the train when it comes to a hot investment can leave you frustrated and angry that you didn’t get on board with everyone else. Rather than chalking it up to a learning experience and looking for a new investment, you may decide to chase the train and jump on just as everyone aboard is jumping off. This can leave you holding the bag while others are taking their profits.
4. Bubble Bursting
A bursting investment bubble can leave a lot of people losing a lot of money. Not seeing the fall of a particular investment or investment area in time can leave you in a precarious position. During the last decade, areas such as real estate and technology have shown us just how dangerous bursting bubbles can be. When people start saying an investment is fail-safe or bound to make you money, it’s a good idea to start questioning the soundness of such advice. Remember the old adage, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
5. Influence of the Masses
It can be easy to get caught up in the excitement of an investment. When everyone around you is telling you how great a particular investment is and how much money they are making off of it, it can be difficult to ignore the opportunity. However, as with bursting bubbles, that same herd of charging cattle that leads you to water can lead you off the side of a cliff when it comes to your investment decision. Listening to the masses rather than your own good sense (i.e. housing bubble, tech bubble) could be an investing mistake you’ll kick yourself over down the road.
6. Taking Investing Personally
Sure, it might seem like big business is out to get you and the oil companies raise gas prices every time you head to the pump to fill up your car, but taking investing personally can be a big mistake. Making investment decisions based upon personal preferences or because you’re angry about losses may only leave you angrier because you didn’t base your decision on factual information and sound investing practices.
7. Uncomfortable Investments
Some people find that they are unable to stop thinking about their investments because they are worried about losing money. Even though their investment decisions may be good ones, they are unable to stop fixating on the investments and lose sleep over the fact that their money is at risk. Sometimes investments just aren’t worth the fear that comes with them and for some people certain risk-involved investments may be considered a mistake due to the loss of peace of mind they are suffering.
8. Heightened Expectations
Heightened expectations of investment returns can result in poor decisions. Often influenced by Wall Street analysts or our financial advisors, many are no longer satisfied with four or five percent returns on their investments. Heightened expectations due to constantly being led to believe returns of eight, nine, or ten percent are a regular occurrence can lead to skewed decision-making regarding where and how money is invested.
9. Low Capital Investments
Sometimes it’s not that we don’t make the correct decisions, but when we do, we don’t put enough money into the pot to make the decision worthwhile. Purchasing 10 shares worth of stock when the stock price is $10 a share, even if the investment takes off, might not make a significant difference in your overall portfolio.
10. Investing Before Debt is Reduced or Eliminated
Sometimes we make the mistake of putting the cart before the horse in our investing. By making investments, even if they result in higher returns, before reducing or eliminating debt, means taking a much higher risk than necessary. Even if a particular investment returns 10% annually, if you are paying credit card interest on a similar amount at 20%, your investment choice might not be a wise one.
It’s a well known fact that 95% of “retail” traders (i.e. the small speculators) will lose money trading the financial markets. Little wonder then that small speculators are referred to as “dumb money” by investment professionals and monitored as a contrarian indicator for future price direction.
It is not simply that the little guys choose the wrong trade, there are a number of classic mistakes that are repeated over and over again that mean losing is all but a certainty, leaving the 5% of winners and the professionals to clean up.
This article highlights what we believe to be the top five mistakes that traders make that can be avoided and increase your odds of success dramatically.
1. Not Planning Your Trades
2. Lettings Losses Run and Closing Winners Too Early
Learn to take small losses and you won’t ever get smashed by an enormous loss that blows you out of the water completely – the markets will always be there tomorrow, as long as you still have capital, you are in the game.
On the flipside, novices tend to get over excited when their trades move the right way and into a profitable position and the tendency is to close the trade out earlier than planned to “bank” the profit. Of course there are times when this is the right course of action, but if your plan said close out at a certain point, unless something has changed, stick to the plan.
3. Chasing Losses
The best advice is to take a few days out of the markets, regroup and plan your next trade.
5. Staking Too Much
If you watch the news you have probably heard a lot about dollar depreciation these last few months. As part of the economic stimulus package, the Federal Reserve has had to keep interest rates at historic lows (thereby making the “price” of dollars very cheap) while borrowing enormous quantities of money from foreign and domestic lenders. These actions have weakened the dollar against several foreign currencies.
As a savvy investor, you should be worried about the decline of the dollar, because this directly hurts the value of your paycheck. However, like everything else in life, economic trends have two sides to them. In our case, dollar depreciation can actually be your opportunity to invest in other currencies. Even if you’re not particularly concerned about the recent decline, investing in foreign currency will help you to diversify your portfolio, which is always a good idea.
The most important thing to remember is that investing in a foreign currency must never be considered in isolation, so mind its impact on your entire portfolio. For example, let’s say you have $20,000 in U.S. investments and you read an article that is very positive on Brazil. Should you go ahead and invest $5000 in Brazil? If you do, you will have 20% of your overall investments in only one country. Ask yourself if you want that much exposure, especially since the Brazilian stock market is known to be quite volatile.
If however, you are still interested after careful consideration of your own investing portfolio, here are a few suggestions to gain exposure.
- Stock of Companies with Multinational Operations – Many big American companies derive a huge portion of their revenues from abroad. This means that when foreign currencies do well versus the dollar, the profits and stock prices of such companies get a boost. Examples of such companies are Coca Cola, Microsoft, IBM, Pfizer, McDonalds etc.
- Foreign Currency ETFs – These trade just like stocks on American stock exchanges and are backed by baskets of foreign currencies. In other words, owning a Euro ETF is like owning a money market account in Europe. CurrencyShares have a wide range of ETFs that provide exposure to different currencies. Another example is the SPDR Barclays Capital International Treasury Bond ETF. Make sure to check an ETF’s liquidity and trading commissions before buying it.
- Foreign Bond Funds – These mutual funds invest in bonds issued by foreign governments, i.e. they receive interest payments from foreign governments in foreign currency. As the foreign currency strengthens, the value of the interest payments converted into dollars goes up. Examples of such funds are Templeton Global Bond Fund and Aberdeen Global Income fund. Do watch out for high management fees and other costs before you purchase any mutual fund.
- Foreign CDs and Savings Accounts – Some American banks (notably Everbank) offer CDs denominated in foreign currencies. These CDs offer a higher rate of interest than dollar-denominated CDs, but carry the risk of exchange rate fluctuation, i.e. you may get back fewer dollars than you put into the CD if the dollar strengthens instead of weakening against the foreign currency. Currently, the 1-year Everbank WorldCurrency Australian Dollar CD offers 3.5% whereas the most competitive 1-year US CDs offer less than 2%. Unfortunately there is a high minimum amount you need to invest to open a WorldCurrency CD (around $10,000). Also note that all Everbank CDs are FDIC insured. So even though it does not protect against currency fluctuation risk, you are protected in the case that the bank becomes insolvent.
It is important to make sure that all foreign currency investments match your ability to take on risk. Go with reputable institutions and read the fine print on all your investments before you sign the dotted line.
I’ve been working in the credit card industry for almost a decade, and at this point I consider myself to be something of a subject matter expert. However, on a recent trip to London, I was humbled to discover some gaps in my basic knowledge of how to best use credit cards when traveling abroad.
During my stay in London, I used my credit card to make most of my purchases. Credit cards offer some of the best exchange rates and the convenience of not having to carry around large amounts of cash. I was also sure to use a credit card with no foreign transaction fee, so I knew I was getting a good deal. This was all well and good, until I came back home and received my credit card bill.
It was almost 10 percent more than the charges I thought I had made on my trip. When I examined my bill and receipts side by side, I discovered that I had been charged an extra fee for currency conversion on many of my purchases. My advice to you: never accept a merchant’s offer to convert your credit card transactions from the local currency into U.S. dollars. I accepted this offer many times while I was in London because an amount in dollars means more to me than the same amount in British pounds. What I didn’t know was that this is a consumer trap called Dynamic Currency Conversion.
Merchants use Dynamic Currency Conversion to charge travelers exorbitant conversion rates as high as 7 additional percent and pocket the difference as a fee. It gets by you because, if you’re like me, you’re not doing the math on the spot to see if the currency conversion is in line with the official exchange rate. If a merchant offers to make this conversion for you, save yourself some money and respectfully decline.
A secondary lesson that came from this trip, which I also learned the hard way, is that if you want to use your credit card in Europe, you need to carry your passport with you at all times. Most countries in Western Europe have switched to chip-and-pin technology for their credit cards. These cards are much more sophisticated than the magnetic stripe cards we have in the U.S. and offer more security.
Therefore, if you want to use the magnetic stripe cards, merchants expect that you have your passport with you as an added measure of security. This came as a surprise to me, given that in the United States they don’t even bother to verify your signature. Merchants will and have to accept your U.S. credit card, but if you don’t have your passport to identify yourself, you can pretty much forget about making the purchase.
Don’t get me wrong though. I believe that credit cards are one of the most effective ways to make purchases while traveling abroad. They offer favorable exchange rates, the security of not carrying around large amounts of cash, and the convenience of always having enough money and not being stuck with left over foreign currency.
In order to make the most out of your credit card though, my advice is to do the following: carry your passport with you at all times, decline any merchant’s currency conversion offer, and compare credit card applications for the best no foreign transaction fee credit card before you leave. If you do all of these things, there is no better way to make purchases overseas.
After deciding how much of your portfolio should be in each asset class (stocks, bonds, commodities, etc.), the next asset allocation decision to make is how much of your portfolio should be invested in your own country’s stock market and how much should be invested abroad.
Weighting by market capitalization
A common sense starting point would be to weight each country’s stock market according to its current market capitalization. That is, do the same thing with countries that index funds do with companies: Weight them according to size.
Most figures I’ve seen indicate that the U.S. stock market makes up just under 40% of the value of the entire world stock market capitalization.
Therefore, to have U.S. stocks make up any more than 40% of the equity portion of your portfolio is to bet that the U.S. stock market will outperform non-U.S. markets. (It’s analogous to holding an index fund that tracks the Wilshire 5000, then holding some additional shares of Exxon Mobil (XOM) because you’re convinced it will outperform the rest of the market.)
Most (U.S.) advisers, however, recommended that investors hold from 70-90% of the equity portion of their portfolios in U.S. stocks–far more than the 40% that would be justified by a market-cap-weighting strategy.
Even more fascinating is that this same phenomenon occurs in countries around the world. The phenomenon of investors over-weighting their own countries is known ashome bias.
The most commonly cited reason for home bias is that, in general, the more familiar we are with something, the more confidence we have in it. (This is also one of the reasons cited for why investors are comfortable holding extremely out-sized portions of their portfolios in the stock of their own employers.)
Why home bias is potentially a problem
With picking stocks, in order to outperform the market, you need to know something that the market doesn’t know. The same thing applies to picking countries.
And in each case, it’s unlikely that individual investors are privy to information of which the market is unaware. As a result, it makes a certain degree of sense to simply invest in each country in proportion to its market capitalization.
Taking Currency Into Consideration
In my opinion, however, there is a good reason for an investor to over-weight her own country in her portfolio. It comes down to currency. Regardless of where you live, you probably pay for almost everything you buy using the currency of your own country.
Consider what would happen if early in your retirement your own currency experienced a dramatic increase in value relative to other currencies and you were stuck holding a portfolio made up primarily of companies from other countries.
Those stocks would be plummeting in value (as measured in your own country’s currency). As a result, you’d end up having to liquidate an artificially high portion of your portfolio to pay your bills–even if your living expenses hadn’t increased at all.