Recognizing Investor Biases

One of the biggest risks to investors’ wealth is their particular behavior. Many people, including investment professionals, are susceptible to emotional and cognitive biases that cause less-than-ideal financial decisions. By identifying subconscious biases and understanding how they could hurt a portfolio’s return, investors can develop long-term financial plans to simply help lessen their impact. The next are some of the most common and detrimental investor biases.


Overconfidence is one of the most prevalent emotional biases. Almost everyone, whether a teacher, a butcher, a mechanic, a physician or perhaps a mutual fund manager, thinks he or she can beat the marketplace by selecting a few great stocks. They get their ideas from many different sources: brothers-in-law, customers, Internet forums, or at best (or worst) Jim Cramer or another guru in the financial entertainment industry.

Investors overestimate their particular abilities while underestimating risks. The jury is still from whether professional stock pickers can outperform index funds, however the casual investor is sure to be at a disadvantage contrary to the professionals. Financial analysts, who’ve usage of sophisticated research and data, spend their entire careers trying to determine the appropriate value of certain stocks. A number of these well-trained analysts focus on only one sector, for instance, comparing the merits of purchasing Chevron versus ExxonMobil. It’s impossible for someone to maintain a day job and also to execute the appropriate due diligence to maintain a portfolio of individual stocks. Overconfidence frequently leaves investors with their eggs in far not enough baskets, with those baskets dangerously close to 1 another.


Overconfidence is usually the result of the cognitive bias of self-attribution. This is a kind of the “fundamental attribution error,” by which individuals overemphasize their personal contributions to success and underemphasize their personal responsibility for failure. If an investor happened to purchase both and Apple in 1999, she might attribute the loss to the market’s overall decline and the Apple gains to her stock-picking prowess.


Investments are also often subject to an individual’s familiarity bias. This bias leads visitors to invest most of their money in areas they think they know best, as opposed to in an adequately diversified portfolio. A banker may develop a “diversified” portfolio of five large bank stocks; a Ford assembly line employee may invest predominantly in company stock; or perhaps a 401(k) investor may allocate his portfolio over many different funds that focus on the U.S. market. This bias frequently results in portfolios with no diversification that may increase the investor’s risk-adjusted rate of return.

Loss Aversion

Many people will irrationally hold losing investments for longer than is financially advisable consequently of their loss aversion bias. If an investor makes a speculative trade and it performs poorly, frequently he’ll continue to carry the investment even when new developments have made the company’s prospects yet more dismal. In Economics 101, students understand “sunk costs” – costs that have already been incurred – and that they ought to typically ignore such costs in decisions about future actions. Only the future potential risk and return of an investment matter. The inability to come quickly to terms having an investment gone awry can lead investors to lose more money while hoping to recoup their original losses.

This bias may also cause investors to miss the chance to recapture tax benefits by selling investments with losses. Realized losses on capital investments can offset first capital gains, and then around $3,000 of ordinary income per year. By utilizing capital losses to offset ordinary income or future capital gains, investors can reduce their tax liabilities.


Aversion to selling investments at a loss may also derive from an anchoring bias. Investors could become “anchored” to the first price of an investment. If an investor paid $1 million for his home during the peak of the frothy market in early 2007, he might insist that what he paid may be the home’s true value, despite comparable homes currently selling for $700,000. This inability to regulate to the newest reality may disrupt the investor’s life should he need to market the property, for instance, to relocate for a better job.

Following The Herd

Another common investor bias is following herd. When the financial media and Main Street are bullish, many investors will happily put additional funds in stocks, regardless how high prices soar. However, when stocks trend lower, many individuals will not invest until the marketplace indicates signs of recovery. As a result, they are unable to purchase stocks when they’re most heavily discounted.

Baron Rothschild, Bernard Baruch, John D. Rockefeller and, lately, Warren Buffett have all been credited with the word that certain should “buy when there’s blood in the streets.” Following herd often leads people to come late to the party and buy at the the top of market.

As an example, gold prices significantly more than tripled in the past four years, from around $569 an ounce to significantly more than $1,800 an ounce at this summer’s peak levels, yet people still eagerly dedicated to gold as they heard about others’ past success. Considering the fact that the majority of gold is employed for investment or speculation as opposed to for industrial purposes, its price is highly arbitrary and subject to wild swings centered on investors’ changing sentiments.


Often, following herd is also a consequence of the recency bias. The return that investors earn from mutual funds, referred to as the investor return, is normally lower than the fund’s overall return. This is simply not as a result of fees, but rather the timing of when investors allocate money to specific funds. Funds typically experience greater inflows of new investment following periods of good performance. Based on a study by DALBAR Inc., the common investor’s returns lagged those of the S&P 500 index by 6.48 percent each year for the 20 years ahead of 2008. The tendency to chase performance can seriously harm an investor’s portfolio.

Addressing Investor Biases

The first faltering step to solving a problem is acknowledging so it exists. After identifying their biases, investors should seek to lessen their effect. No matter whether they’re working together with financial advisers or managing their particular portfolios, the best way to take action is to create a plan and stay glued to it. An investment policy statement puts forth a prudent philosophy for certain investor and describes the forms of investments, investment management procedures and long-term goals that may define the portfolio.

The principal reason for developing a published long-term investment policy is to avoid investors from making short-term, haphazard decisions about their portfolios during times of economic stress or euphoria, which may undermine their long-term plans.

The development of an investment policy follows the fundamental approach underlying all financial planning: assessing the investor’s financial condition, infrastructure indices setting goals, creating a strategy to generally meet those goals, implementing the strategy, regularly reviewing the results and adjusting as circumstances dictate. Having an investment policy encourages investors to be disciplined and systematic, which improves the odds of achieving their financial goals.

Investment management procedures might include setting a long-term asset allocation and rebalancing the portfolio when allocations deviate from their targets. This technique helps investors systematically sell assets that have performed relatively well and reinvest the proceeds in assets that have underperformed. Rebalancing will help maintain the appropriate risk level in the portfolio and improve long-term returns.

Selecting the appropriate asset allocation may also help investors weather turbulent markets. While a portfolio with 100 percent stocks might be appropriate for one investor, another might be uncomfortable with even a 50 percent allocation to stocks. Palisades Hudson recommends that, at all times, investors put aside any assets which they will have to withdraw from their portfolios within five years in short-term, highly liquid investments, such as for example short-term bond funds or money market funds. The appropriate asset allocation in combination with this short-term reserve should provide investors with more confidence to stick with their long-term plans.

While not essential, a financial adviser could add a coating of protection by ensuring that an investor adheres to his policy and selects the appropriate asset allocation. An adviser can provide moral support and coaching, which will also improve an investor’s confidence in her long-term plan.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Related Post