Friday, January 20, 2012

Value Investing Recap Part 2 – Psychology and Temperament

Part 2 of my investing recap will focus on the psychological, mental and emotional aspects of investing, which are arguably just as important (if not more) than the quantitative and qualitative aspects of analysis into a Company and its business model. This is because having the wrong psychology can often scuttle an investor’s best intentions, even if he is a certified expert in analysis. The inability to control and master destructive emotions can cause significant losses for an investor and result in him not being able to preserve capital. Behavioural Finance is a very new field which combines finance theories with psychology to come up with models of investor behaviour which deviate from the rational and logical “standard” model. I will be touching on aspects of behavioural finance research with quotes and simple examples from the book “Investing and the Irrational Mind” by Robert Koppel. At the same time, I will also elaborate on some of the emotional and psychological attributes necessary for an investor to be successful in achieving a decent long-run return.

Patience, Discipline and Fortitude

The above attributes relate to the mental state of the investor as he observes Mr. Market’s erratic price fluctuations. It also embodies the attitude an investor should have when confronting investments which may look attractive from an analytical standpoint, but unattractive from a valuation standpoint. Patience is a key trait which investors should have, as there is always the temptation to swing for the fences even though one may not be prepared. Impetuous behaviour often leads to grief, and the ability to stand still while others are moving like whirling dervishes shows the strength of one’s conviction.

Discipline is needed to ensure that one stays true to investment principles and philosophies, and does not stray off the well-trodden path. Often, Mr. Market’s exciting gyrations will entice the unwary investor to cross over to the gilded path of speculation, wherein he may feel that it is harmless enough to commit a small portion of his wealth to speculative activities; all in the name of feeling the pulse of the market and to experience the adrenaline rush which comes from placing a gamble. In order to cultivate discipline, one must shut out the noise and “advice” which comes daily in the form of recommendations, exhortations and forecasts. To be disciplined also means strictly following your original plan for investment and not deviating from it, as this may mean an erosion of capital.

Fortitude is defined as the “mental and emotional strength in facing difficulty, adversity, danger or temptation”. This is probably the hardest mental and emotional quality to have as a paper loss can feel extremely painful due to the human tendency for loss aversion. Having fortitude means being able to overcome the mental anguish that you may have made a bad decision and to soldier on even though the odds seem against you. It is a character trait which is honed through many years of being in the market and getting used to Mr. Market’s manic mood swings. By focusing on the business of the Company, one can build up fortitude and be more emotionally resistant to such adversities and difficulties.

Calm, Rational and Realistic

An investor needs to maintain a calm attitude when approaching investing, and not get unduly excited, panicky or exuberant. Calmness helps one to think more objectively and to evaluate possible courses of action in a rational manner. This trait also means that one should logically think through all potential outcomes, including the so-called “Black Swan” ones, and be mentally prepared for significant losses should these events come to pass. If one is certain of committing capital, then the calm investor should proceed to do so only after considering all the possibilities.

A rational investor is more likely to react more calmly should any unexpected events occur, as he can maintain his sense of balance amid turbulence and uncertainty. In order to remain rational and objective, it is necessary to cultivate a mindset which does not react adversely to sporadic and unexpected events which most certainly will crop up in an investor’s lifetime, be they a sudden terror attack, a large drop in earnings or a natural disaster just to name a few.

Finally, an investor must learn to be realistic about companies. In the world of business, nothing is certain and sometimes the best laid plans and strategies may be fruitless if a new competitor or complementary technology/product is introduced. Hence, an investor must learn not to be too optimistic – according higher valuations to a company which is supposedly the next big growth engine or with the next new groundbreaking product or technology. Neither should the investor be unduly pessimistic and see only dark clouds ahead, which may cause him to unnecessarily divest of his holdings when the setback may just be temporary or transitional. These extreme emotions should be tempered by realism and business sense, which would allow an investor to logically and rationally assess the business prospects of the companies within his portfolio.

Behavioural Finance – Heuristics, Biases, Fallacies and Illusions

Now we come to the area of behavioural finance, which in recent years has been the subject of extensive and groundbreaking research. This is because it is a new field which can determine investors’ behaviour outside of the standard economic model of rational behaviour and profit maximization. Apparently, a lot of what we do actually runs counter to common sense and some of it even actively destroys our wealth! I shall not go in depth into the above four aspects but will just touch briefly on them. My reference is Robert Koppel’s book “Investing and The Irrational Mind”.

Heuristics simply refers to rules of thumb – shortcuts which our mind uses to arrive at conclusions. In any activity (investing included), our brains are hardwired to look for shortcuts which would make like easier and make decision-making quicker (though not necessarily more efficient!). For investing, we need to ensure that we rely on the correct and accurate heuristics in order to support our conclusions, and must actively avoid shortcuts which may results in flawed decisions.

Biases are cognitive and psychological in nature, and refer to a particular form of behaviour which arises due to personality traits inherent in human beings. Examples are over-reaction bias, endowment effects, hindsight bias and anchoring bias just to name a few. Over-reaction bias exaggerates the effects of bad news and makes us over-react to events, thus bad news is magnified in terms of emotional impact while the effects of positive news is muted. Endowment effects make it seem like what we own is more valuable than what we do not own, and is usually used to describe the fact that once one owns shares in a company, they would seem more valuable to him than an outsider viewing the same shares. Hindsight bias is one of the most pernicious and common biases and relates to people thinking that they would know what was going to happen, after the fact! This fools people into believing that they could predict what was going to occur. Finally, anchoring bias causes our minds to anchor on a specific price or event and we tend to use this as a benchmark even after it is long obsolete or irrelevant. For more info, please borrow or buy Robert Koppel’s book.

Fallacies are misconceptions resulting from incorrect reasoning that often triggers an emotional response (Koppel, 2011). Some of those discussed in the book include the Fallacy of Accident (Black Swan Theory), Gambler’s Fallacy and Psychologist’s Fallacy. The Fallacy of Accident is a fallacy based on the faulty logic of a generalization that disregards exceptions, thus this applies to assessment of companies without considering scenarios which seem too “impossible” to occur, even though there may be a reasonable chance of it occurring. Gambler’s Fallacy was discussed before in one of my posts, and I shall not dwell on this further. Psychologists Fallacy is interesting because it is the case where the observer assumes that others have the same information and perceptions of the world as he does, and thus he bases his assumptions and logic based on this.

Illusions are pretty interesting phenomena, and this was the first time I had stumbled upon such an extensive array of illusions which can play tricks on our minds. Basically, an illusion is defined as perceptions which differ from objective reality. There are several discussed in the book, but the two worth mentioning (in my opinion) are “jumping to conclusions” and “clustering illusion”. Jumping to conclusions is a case where one believes they possess superior knowledge, therefore they take shortcuts with respect to decision-making, which may end up costing them an arm and a leg. Clustering illusion is the belief in the existence of patterns where none exist, and can usually be found among chart readers who swear by a certain pattern, though nothing may actually exist. I liken this to seeing picture of animals or familiar shapes in clouds, whereas everyone knows clouds are just random collections of water droplets.


The above is a very summarized list of the psychological and mental attributes which an investor should strive to possess in order to manage the “softer” aspects of investing. While having a firm foundation for analysis is important, it is also equally important that the investor does not neglect the emotional aspect of investing. This is because as humans, we do not always behave rationally and with cold logic (like a computer), therefore it is important to understand these emotions and harness them to make better investment decisions.

My next post (my second-last post) will focus on my four and a half year investment journey, and what I had learnt along the way, mistakes made and lessons learnt. I will also pay tribute to value investors who had inspired me as well as people (including bloggers) who had taught me about life, personal finance, wealth building and money management.


Singapore Man Of Leisure said...


I sometimes think these "soft" skills are the reasons why 2 persons with the same knowledge of finance and accounting have vastly different investing results.

Come to think of it, that would explain why classmates - technically taught by the same lecturers, same textbooks - walked different paths after graduation.

Some call it luck; but some say attitude/personality determines luck...



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Temperament said...

Hi MW,
You are now holding a more complete vision of investment in the stock market from the 1st time i come to read your articles. Hey but don't stop your valuable "fundamental analysis" of companies. You really help us a lot. i think you are going to be more successful in your investing in the stock market.

Musicwhiz said...


Oh yes I do agree with you on the "Soft Skills" part. I have been training myself on this for years - meeting people, socializing and gaining knowledge through contacts and networks. It's a very important and integral part of investing!

And attitude and personality (disposition) do influence luck to a certain extent.


Musicwhiz said...

Hi Bhavikk,

Thanks for the link. A good read.


Alexander said...

Hi Musicwhiz,

I fully agree with you that that an investor needs to be patient and discipline in the way he/she approaches investment. However, it is definitely not an easy especially when the hype of the market sways the emotion of the investor.

Musicwhiz said...

Hi Temperament,

Thanks for your kind words. I really feel encouraged, though at this point in time I still feel that I have so much more to learn in terms of company analysis and value investing. I am definitely still far from my goal of consistent passive income to replace my active income, but I am getting there.

Thanks again!


Musicwhiz said...

Hi Alexander,

Yes, Mr. Market calls and beckons daily. Emotional control is thus very important.