Investing Resolutions for 2017

This is a good time to think through how you want to behave during 2017, in respect to your investments. Successful investing is difficult, but it’s not music theory. There are useful lessons to learn from what others have done to succeed and to fail.

Investments are more challenging if you do not pay careful attention to several factors. Some are obvious.  Like income taxes and transaction costs.  Both bite into the amount you keep, and that’s the only part of your income that matters.  Other factors are equally clear, but often overlooked. Volatility and leverage come to mind. Either can be your friend or your arch enemy.  You must understand the power of each and their effects.  Studying these will lead to a serious factor that enhances or limits success.

You are the factor! That’s why we need some resolutions.

If you want to use leverage to speed up the win, or you like to buy and sell based on volatility, you may have a you problem.  The basis for this one is impatience. No good investor is impatient. Repeat that. No good investor is impatient.

The signs are clear.

An investor with nearly no liquidity over a long time is trying too hard for yield. Liquidity is a powerful advantage.  You can buy the bargains that Mr. Market presents and you can avoid selling at depressed prices when things go wrong.

Leverage can be a worry or a wonderful ally. Usually it appears with impatience. I want it now.  If I borrow at 4% and invest to earn 10% I do far better than investing half as much money at 10%. The numbers work, but relying on numbers tends to bring problems. No plan is completely foolproof. An important thing to remember is that debt is not volatile. If the market falls 30%, debt falls 0%.

Impatience misrepresents time and time matters most in building wealth. Unless of course you notice Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos.  Clearly private equity deals or venture capital is the place to be.  If you believe that, you are falling for a thinking flaw. Survivor bias. You only see the ones that work. There are hundreds of failures for each big success.  Be balanced.  The best venture capital firms lose on about 80% of their investments. You are not as skilled as they are.

Misreading indicators matters too.  If you focus on rate of return and especially on relative rate of return you will go wrong.  Rate of return in the short run matters only in terms of the market’s pricing mechanism and that is the lesser important part of value.  Understand business value. The market price represents the feelings of the people in the market.  The value of a business is more durable.

Instead of buying a stock, think about buying a business. Good businesses may not always reflect their value in the stock price, but over time, they tend to move toward higher value and better dividends. Look for businesses with little drama.

Drama is the hard thing to avoid. For some people the drama is the part of the investment they seek. I suppose most tax shelters and initial public offerings would be difficult without hype. If you invest for excitement and social status you are in trouble. You will have given up most real value to get these. There is nothing free in the investment world. If you get more of one thing, you give up something else to get it.

Better to invest in boring businesses with a solid track record, competent managers, and a transparent, liquid market. It will not be as exciting to talk about at the bar at the golf club but it will generate more net worth.

The final you-problem is do-it-yourself. Most people do better with a helper who can be their conscience, their cheerleader, the one who keeps track of taxes and the law, the one who does research and handles recording.  The one who provides the voice of reason when things go bad.  You could check it out. People with advisors tend to end up with bigger portfolios and somewhat lower rates of return.

If you see how that paradox works, you are ready to be an investor.

Don Shaughnessy arranges life insurance for people who understand the value of a life insured estate. He can be reached at The Protectors Group, a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency in Peterborough, Ontario.  In previous careers, he has been a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software start-up, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business.

Please be in touch if I can help you. 866-285-7772

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