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Fear is good if you are not part of the herd

No doubt a lot of you, scarred by the GFC or the 2020 pandemic-inspired drop in the market or by the current sell-off, are worried about a more significant market correction. It’s no fun investing in 'fear' and if that’s you then let me tell you about fear and in so doing rid yourself of the constant worry that the stock market is about to fall over and destroy your financial expectations.

Understanding and welcoming fear

Let's make a few points about fear.

First, there is always, always, always something to fear when to comes to the stock market and fear is good because it’s the fear that creates opportunities. Rather than avoid fear, you should welcome it. It is in the grip of stockmarket fear and exuberance that the most money is made in the shortest timeframe.

Second, you should also understand that when fear starts, we will perpetuate it. Fear is great for us, for the financial media, the brokers, the financial planners, the fund managers, for financial advisers, in fact it’s great for the whole finance industry. Some commentators make a living out of fear, like Nouriel Roubini or Marc Faber with his Doom and Gloom report. Why? Because fear triggers insecurity which drives investors to us. Fear is the sheep dog of financial services. It rounds up the sheep so we can shear them. 

Third, fear is also a powerful magnet that attracts eyeballs and in a competition for clicks, when investors are at their most fearful, the clicks and eyeball numbers explode. Everyone wants advice and we will provide. Advice is a Trojan Horse for commercial purposes, much more effective than common cheerfulness.

Click bait in its natural form starts with the words “5 things…”. To capitalise on that, we in the financial media chuck in some of the top click bait keywords, and then, if the glorious moment (as now) presents, we throw in some fear. The most commercial headline includes keywords “Warren” and “Buffett” and a small sprinkling of fear, and it goes like this:

“5 reasons Warren Buffett thinks the stock market will crash”

Publish and wait for the clicks.

The bottom line is that fear is just part of the great game that is the stockmarket (or any market). It creates the lows, it creates the best opportunities and for the finance industry, it is gold. Whether it is a broker looking for an order, a media person looking for attention, or a financial planner looking to convince a client that they need them, fear gets more traction than optimism. Fear gets attention.

So when the stock market drops 5% in a day there are a few things you don’t do. Don’t join in. Fear makes you vulnerable as an investor. It distorts your normally objective state of mind. If you get fearful when the market loses its head, you become part of the herd. Far better you recognise it for what it is: an emotional ‘moment’ in other people's minds. Rather, think about how you can exploit it. It will vary depending on the sort of investor you are and the sort of risk appetite you have.

A plan of action when fear hits

When the market loses its head in fear:

  • Stay cold, objective, logical. Look down on the fear. Emotion will not help you, it will cost you.
  • Accept what your shares are worth now. Don’t dwell for a moment on the highs and how much you were ahead. The highs are gone and there’s nothing you can do about it. Anchoring yourself to yesterday’s prices will deliver nothing but regret and a feeling of stupidity. Look at the bottom of the spreadsheet. That’s what you’re worth. Accept it.
  • Get excited. The market only presents great opportunities occasionally. One is coming. It is from moments like these that quick money is made.
  • Take an informed guess at what you think is going to happen next. The only thing that matters is what’s going to happen not what has happened. 
  • Decide what to do, if anything. Understand that no-one knows. Do your best. Just decide and live with it. Accept the outcome right or wrong. 

So, my thought process in the current sell-off has gone like this:

  1. Take 10 seconds. Tiger Woods says you are allowed 10 seconds to express your emotion after a golf shot, but that's all. Take 10 seconds. It's good for you, but there’s nothing to be done about the past now. Time to move on and decide what to do next.
  2. Identify the core issues. I read a lot and quickly (it’s pretty obvious) identified the core of the issues for the correction. Macro stuff. In this case inflation, interest rates and the fear of a US recession, with a sprinkling of China lockdowns and Russian risk.
  3. Decide if it’s a blip or a trend. I made an assessment of whether the main issues are likely to persist or turn on a sixpence. I decided this time they were more likely to persist.
  4. Do something or decide to do nothing. I’m good at selling, which I did this time. You should learn to do it. It's cathartic. You wake up the next day hoping the market collapses rather than fearing it will. It's empowering having cash and being ‘ready to go’.
  5. Take it day by day until the bottom. Now the game is to watch and wait for ‘Peak Fear’. The market will bottom one day. It could this week or it could be in a year. You must take it one day at a time. Wake up every morning and react. There's no predicting it. I know I’ll make more money in the recovery from the bottom, and more quickly, than I lost in the last few days. If I can get it right, it will be fabulous.

And that’s how you approach this moment. With the intention to exploit everyone else’s fear.

I believe you can time the bottom. Commentators say it is impossible so they don’t have to do it. For financial professionals, it’s easier handling docile 'buy and hold' clients who can be convinced that timing can't be done. 

Embrace the fear

You should welcome corrections and other people’s fear. The most exploitable moments of the market are the fabulous exponential, irrational, exuberant bits at the top and the most fearful, despondent, capitulations at the bottom. They are the bits, the extremes, the opportunities, that make the market worthwhile. Those extremes, those moments of stupidity, absurdity, farce, ridiculousness and nonsense are brought on by other people’s irrational fear and irrational exuberance. You should expect them, look forward to them, and use them, not avoid them.

A good investor watches and exploits the herd. Let that be you.

 

Marcus Padley is the author of the daily stock market newsletter Marcus Today, see marcustoday.com.au. This article is general information and does not consider the circumstances of any investor.

 

20 Comments
Denial
July 14, 2022

Whilst I don't disagree on the emotional response from "fear", in almost all cases doing nothing is far better net (after tax) outcome. Remember you have to be right twice if you sell. If anything the only thing to do is progressive add to positions so by always ensuring you're not 100% invested at any point in time you're able to take advance of weighted average prices. So many renters in financial services never get this FACT. If anyone wants statistically proof on this methodology being far far superior than using your "instincts" to time markets please refer to Nick Maggiulli On Why You Should 'Just Keep Buying'. His other notes and recent book are well worth the time

Graham Wright
July 13, 2022

Lots of investors know how they want to invest for future returns.
A couple of my fundamental beliefs:
Regarding the future, there are many possibilities, there are some probabilities but there are NO CERTAINTIES regarding the future. Assessing the risks and risk management are my only way of dealing with the future.
The future is not a natural function following natural laws. If they do exist, they are also accompanied by involvement and interference by people who try or even succeed in disrupting the path to the future. People are unpredictable so the path to the future is driven by power and emotion both as driving forces and emotional reactions. Hence my desire to walk the other side of the road and observe the people behaviour. I hope to avoid disasters but cannot claim to understand people. Again risk management. Change is an inevitable event on the pathway to the future. I must be prepared to change with the ebb and flow of the tide of life, not wait until the pains force me to change against my wishes.

James
July 13, 2022

Marcus is very entertaining and different to most fund manager types, charismatic and likeable even. But as noted by another poster his managed investment vehicle has not outperformed the ASX 300. When I looked at his advisory service I noticed a lot of churn of stocks with no real account being taken of transactional costs, some false dawns and an admission that to run a fund you need to stay the course a little more than react and sometimes jump at shadows. I like reading Marcus's insights they are insightful and entertaining and contain many investing truisms. His investing style (somewhat trading oriented) is however not one for me and I am sceptical of his or anyone's ability to consistently pick the top of bottom ie time the market.

Ruth
July 12, 2022

Marcus is the real thing, an honest player.

Bluey
July 12, 2022

Really, so Marcus and Graham Wright know how to pick the bottom? So does anyone: in hindsight, and preferably after the market has made a new high. If someone’s selling all their clients stock it’s probably because it’s leveraged and held at risk, or the stocks are speculative. If you convert to cash it’ll earn you minimal interest (and you may pay cap gains). If instead you hold quality Aussie blue chips, you can invest the 5-6% dividend yield at big down days in the market. A blue chip compounding strategy is really all you need. Unless you are a short term investor, in which case, why are you in the market?!

C (Wen)
July 12, 2022

Hi Graham, Plenty of research has demonstrated that people including those who invest for a living can't time the market. This hasn't stopped me trying :-) All the best.

Peter Symonds
July 12, 2022

You will know market has bottomed when Joe average is out of work and demands politicians fix it. At that point the central banks will go back to stimulus and up goes the markets.

Johnno
July 10, 2022

That this article gets so many reads confirms the observation that fear is good for the financial media.

Graham Wright
July 10, 2022

Why is Marcus soooo right? He is espousing practices for an individual investor to self=manage an individual's investments. He not trying to use the policies and practices used by Fund managers and thus promoted in the majority of literature. He's not a broker giving advice for which his client can hold him accountable legally. He is simply telling you and me, individuals, how we can be responsible for our own actions and act as we best see our future. Most importantly he highlights that yesterday is gone and we have to predict tomorrow as best we can and accept and live with the consequences and may those consequences be great and wonderful.

C (Wen)
July 10, 2022

LOL, this is the funniest thing I have read on this website. Please, no offence, with due respect, Marcus was a stock broker and is now a fund manager.

Graham Wright
July 10, 2022

You should read and think about what he has written in this article before considering his background. After some 15 years of reading Marcus's articles, and I've probably read more than a couple of hundred of them, I have learned from him that we should be skeptical of the literature of the industry and think for ourselves.
Meantime, I am content that since I exited 95% of my investments a few weeks ago, I content myself with 2 situations: 1. Every $20000 I have NOT LOST in the market since exitting is another year of supplement to extend my pension to afford a better standard of living for a longer lifespan, 2. I now have most of my investable wealth to invest at the bottom of the market for earlier profits and minimal losses to recover. And don't tell me we cannot time the market, I've been doing it quite successfully and profitably for some 20 years. I just do not follow the guidelines provided by the professionals and that is in line with this and many earlier articles by Marcus. I am most grateful to Marcus for his guidance over these many years.

Mart
July 10, 2022

"And don't tell me we cannot time the market, I've been doing it quite successfully and profitably for some 20 years" .... Graham - wow, congratulations! With a 20 year track record I'm wondering if you would be open to posting on Firstinks when any future highs / lows of the market are about to happen please ? I'm sure I'm not the only subscriber that would be really grateful. Regardless of your answer, do you have a feel / record of the impacts of capital gains / losses (and I guess costs of trading) over the 20 years ? I'd be interested to understand the details .....

Graham Wright
July 11, 2022

To me it is all about individual stocks in industries I am familiar with and understand from practical experience. Then it is trying to read market sentiment which is more often "gut feeling" and a willingness not to be greedy. I've seen a few "credit squeezes", inflationary periods where I rode interest rates on borrowings up to 18% and then down, rising cost of living chasing earnings that grow faster, seen natural disasters disrupt markets, unemployment up and down, businesses failing, to name some significant of my experiences. Most importantly, I try to learn from my experiences so that I can position myself for survival. That's the basis of my gut feelings.
I prefer to look at my feet, not the horizon. It's what is happening now, not what may or may not happen in the future. Too many influences and interferences distort the ability to predict too far ahead. Since 1973 I have expected a major correction to correct the major pay rises that commenced that year, but the can has been kicked down the road since then. Maybe this time, but maybe not for the major correction. Depends on who has the best ability to influence the market.
The way I see it now, the market is and has been heading down for some months to date. I do not see anything to say it has bottomed or may be near the bottom. My "gut feeling" is we may be some months from the bottom. I also feel the turn around may not be instantaneous. At the bottom there may be a small sharp upturn but that is probably unpredictable and could only be timed by being in the market before and after the event, visible only in hindsight. Trying to more accurately time that would be very high risk. After that, the real market upturn will follow and one could enter early in the upturn and profit from a lower risk investment.
But then I'm only an old bloke battered around by the diversity of a life lived , self-educated in investing and trying my best to survive and profit sufficiently to enjoy a simple retirement. So don't follow me because I don't know where I am going until I get there, but I expect to know where I am every minute of my journey.

Kevin
July 11, 2022

How many times do you have to pick the bottom.Taking things out of context his buy and hold I disagree with,but it depends what you want to see.I like buy and hold.This century CBA at $23 and change march 2003.Missed bottom by around 10 cents.The GFC bought on the way down around $42,missed bottom ( $26 capital raising).CBA tops at $96 in 2015 then goes down,I get in 2018 around March at $72.Bottom may have been $67 or $68,I was over watching share prices,I don't look at them. CBA hits top perhaps Jan this year $110 - $112 falls to whatever it did to date,I'm in at $92 or $93 in Feb before it goes XD ,because of Graham's podcast and my white line fever.I pick up 3 dividends in just over a year .Early Feb next year I'll know how close I got to bottom. The buy and hold?.I bought CBA at the IPO and just kept on reinvesting dividends.The buy and hold growth is great,the buying the dips has been great. CBA would pay for my retirement on its own.I have no intention of selling any across the whole journey.I don't know when to sell,it means I trigger CGT events ,I don't want to pay CGT.I don't want to give up the income it provides for me,the watching prices lost attraction for me years ago. What context do you want to look at and see. The general article I have no problems with,and I am not going to take the buy and hold mantra out of context.

Mart
July 11, 2022

Graham - thank you, appreciated. Your comment "but then I'm only an old bloke battered around by the diversity of a life lived , self-educated in investing and trying my best to survive and profit sufficiently to enjoy a simple retirement. So don't follow me because I don't know where I am going until I get there, but I expect to know where I am every minute of my journey" is up there with the best advice I've read on Firstlinks. I hope that the other Graham (Hand) makes it comment of the week !!

CHRIS
July 08, 2022

I have followed Marcus for a long time. He delivers sound advice, straight from the shoulder. For all the amateurs; heed the advice.

Ryan
July 07, 2022

Great article, timely and timeless.
Of course it's easy to say and hard to do, but you say it very well, thanks.

Jack
July 07, 2022

So contrary to what every other expert says, Marcus believes he can pick the bottom. The problem with timing is not only when to sell but when to buy. I look forward to reading Marcus's article a week before the bottom of the market. Or will we only learn in hindsight?

Dudley
July 07, 2022

To out perform, selling at maxima, buying at minima, is very helpful / necessary. https://sma.marcustoday.com.au/growth-sma/ 'the Marcus Today SMA is not the same as the portfolio published in the Marcus Today newsletter' However, the Growth SMA has not out performed the ASX 300 Accumulation Index even though the 300 contains many over valued zombies that an out performing trader should be 'run rings around'.

michael
July 07, 2022

Thank you

 

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