If Heaven had been an investment bank, God the CEO and Moses the salesman, Moses might have come down from Mount Sinai bearing two entirely different stone tablets, the Ten Commandments of equity investment perhaps, a philosophy designed to sell investment products and keep them sold with as little hassle from their clients as possible. They might have read something like this:
- The market always goes up
- Buy and hold
- Invest for the long term
- Rely on the miracle of compounding returns
- Invest in businesses not stocks
- You can’t time the market
- If you aren’t willing to own a stock for ten years don’t think about owning it for ten minutes
- Our favourite holding period is forever
- In the short term the market is a popularity contest. In the long term the market is a weighing machine.
And much like the real Ten Commandments most of us would have adopted these subliminal directives without really arguing them through or asking “Do they make us happy” because I’m not sure they do. Are we happy to ignore the short term and focus on the long term, to put our faith in the endless repetition of history? Are we happy that no-one is responsible for the performance of our investments in the short term? Are we happy with the position that the product seller knows best? Are we happy to accept a bunch of philosophies designed by product sellers to keep us invested and serve their purposes first and ours second?
Well I’m not. Buy into these and prepare to be bored and more than likely disappointed because quite honestly a well balanced portfolio isn’t going to get you far, not after fees, tax, inflation and the odd crash.
If you, like me, don’t want to settle for a managed fund’s performance letter once a year, don’t want to trust in the long term when the market collapses and want something a little more transformational then read on, because for your investing delight let me propose an alternative Ten Commandments, the Ten Commandments for any investor looking to do better than average, which is all of you. Here they are, the Ten Commandments of Transformation:
- Focus on just a few stocks. You cannot transform yourself with 20 plus stocks let alone a balanced fund. If you want extraordinary returns find one to five stocks that you get to know very well. This is crucial because diversification undermines transformation.
- Do the work. Spend one hour doing work on a stock and you will end up in the top 1% of people that know anything about it. Do ten hours work and you end up in the top 0.00001% of people that know anything about it. Someone who has followed and traded the same stock for a year has an even bigger edge. Get to know stocks. Not all stocks, just a few. Find some favourites.
- Be contrarian. There is no transformation in playing with the herd. Learn to identify extremes. Armageddon is opportunity. I doubled my money in Elders last year. Could have tripled it. Doing the work and spotting the turn, this is where the money is, in what the market doesn’t expect not what it knows.
- Develop a technical discipline. I don’t believe that technical analysis will make you rich alone but it is a tremendous risk management system. A share price is not a line on a chart, that line is the representation of thousands of people saying “You’re right” or “You’re wrong”. That’s a useful piece of information. So listen. And when they start telling you you’re wrong, don’t be smart.
- Ten ears are better than two. Expand your group of investing friends, even the dull and ignorant have their stories, you only need one or two ideas a year and so what if you waste a few hours over a bottle of wine and strike out.
- Use everything. Use fundamental research and technical trading skills. It’s all contributory information so use it all. Too many value investors and traders are blinkered. Why? Pride? There’s no place for that.
- Don’t make mistakes. You cannot transform yourself with good stocks if bad stocks are constantly chopping you down. Controlling losses is easy because they are right there in front of you on your spreadsheet. Sort them out first.
- It’s about stock prices not businesses. It’s an arrogant investor that thinks their money is invested in a business when the herd controls the share price. Share prices are half psychology, half value, not 100% of one or the other.
- No ego. There is no-one that good at investing. No-one that cannot learn something new. You will change your methods many times before the end so be flexible, respectful, open-minded.
- Enjoy it. No-one does anything well when they have to.
Come back in another 32 years for the updated edition of the Ten Commandments of Transformation, because there’s a lot more to learn.
Marcus Padley is a stockbroker and the founder of the Marcus Today share market newsletter. He has been advising institutional clients and a private client base for over 32 years.