The Thrill of the Chase
Men (and arguably women to a lesser extent) enjoy the process of hunting for a mate. Chasing the seemingly unattainable event aligns with man’s innate competitive nature. But the quest for the inaccessible is not solely limited to dating. When it comes to other aspirational categories, humans also want what they cannot have because they revel in a challenge. Whether it’s a desirable job, car, romantic partner, or even an investment, people bask in the pursuit.
For many investment daters and trading speculators, 2008-2009 was a period of massive rejection. Rather than embracing the losses as a new opportunity, many wallowed in cash, CDs, bonds, and/or gold. This strategy felt OK until the massive 5-year bull market went on a persistent, upward tear beginning in 2009. Now, as the relentless bull market has continued to set new all-time record highs, the negative sentiment cycle has slowly shifted in the other direction. Back in 2009, many investors regretted owning stocks and as a result locked in losses by selling at depressed prices. Now, the regret of owning stocks has shifted to remorse for not owning stocks. Missing a +23% annual return for five years, while getting stuck with a paltry 0.25% return in a savings account or 3-4% annual return achieved in bonds, can harm the psyche and make savers bitter.
Greed hasn’t fully set in like we witnessed in the late period of the 1990s tech boom, but nevertheless, some of the previous overly cautious “sideliners” feel compelled to now get into the stock game (see Get Out of Stocks!*) or increase their equity allocation. Like a desperate, testosterone-amped teen chasing a prom date, some speculators are chasing stocks, regardless of the price paid. As I’ve noted before, the overall valuation of the stock market seems quite reasonable (see PE ratio chart in Risk Aversion Declining – S. Grannis), despite selective pockets of froth popping up in areas like biotech stocks, internet companies, and junk bonds.
Even if chasing is a bad general investment practice, in the short-run, chasing stocks (or increasing equity allocations) may work because overall prices of stocks remain about half the price they were at the 2000 bubble peak (see Siegel Bubblicious article). How can stocks be -50% off when stock prices today (S&P 500) are more than +25% higher today than the peak in 2000? Plain and simply, it’s the record earnings (see It’s the Earnings Stupid). In the latest Sidoxia newsletter we highlighted the all-time record corporate profits, which are conveniently excluded from most stock market discussions in the blogosphere and other media outlets.
The Investor’s Emotional Roller Coaster (Perceived Risk vs Actual Risk)
The “Thrill of the Chase” is but a single emotion on the roller coaster sentiment spectrum (see Barry Ritholtz chart in Sentiment Cycle of Fear and Greed). The problem with the above chart is many investors confuse actual risk from perceived risk. Many investors perceive the “euphoric” stage of an economic cycle (top of the chart) as low-risk, when in actuality this point reflects peak risk. One can look back to the late 1990s and early 2000 when technology shares were priced at more than 100x years in earnings and every hairdresser, cabdriver and relative were plunging their life savings into stocks. The good news from my vantage point is we are a ways from that euphoric state (asset fund flows and consumer confidence are but a few data points to support this assertion).
The key to reversing the sentiment roller coaster is to follow the thought process of investment greats who learned to avoid euphoria in up markets:
“I’m always more depressed by an overpriced market in which many stocks are hitting new highs every day than by a beaten-down market in a recession.” -Peter Lynch
“Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful.” –Warren Buffett
While the “Thrill of the Chase” can seem exciting and a rational strategy at the time, successful long-term investors are better served by remaining objective, unemotional, and numbers-driven. If you don’t have the time, interest, or emotional fortitude to be disciplined, then find an experienced investment manager or advisor to assist you. That will make your emotional roller coaster ride even more thrilling.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold long positions in certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.