The Yuppie Bounce & the Lemming Leap
Making money in the stock market is a tough game, and most people don’t beat the market because like lemmings the average investor follows the herd mentality to underperformance. So, should Wall Street analysts and the media be crucified for their analysis? The short answer is yes. Certainly there are some exceptional analysts and journalists, however most of them merely report what is happening or are looking in the rear-view mirror. Beyond that, the vast majority of commentators prey on emotions of the public and masses by pushing them into knee-jerk selling panics at the bottom and also getting them frothing at the mouth to buy at market peaks. Can I understand why they offer such bad advice? Yes. Quite simply, the incentive structures are wrong.
If you are an analyst or journalist, the number one priority (incentive) is not to be wrong, because if they are mistaken, then job loss becomes a bona fide risk. However, if they throw in some fancy language and mix it in with a lot of caveats, there virtually is no risk of being wrong. If factors happen to change, no worries, their opinions can change too. Therefore, most analysts huddle together in tight packs reporting the same news du jour as everyone else, while mixing in a fair dosage of fear and greed to drum up more interest. These incentives align well for the journalists/analysts but unfortunately not for the average investor.
Joshua Brown over at the Reformed Broker recently wrote an excellent piece highlighting his so-called “Yuppie Bounce” example. Last winter, as all the discretionary consumer stocks (Joshua Brown calls them “waster stocks”) were getting pasted, the pundits were advising investors to pile into defensive stocks. Lo and behold, this was the absolute worst time to follow that advice. Mr. Brown gives a superb Starbucks (SBUX) versus Wal-Mart (WMT) example showing how SBUX has effectively doubled over the last nine months just as WMT flat-lined.
Investing is like a game of chess, so although a current move may sound logical, it’s more important to think about decisions multiple steps into the future. Most successful long-term investors don’t follow the conventional lines of thinking, and they are generally swimming against the tide. Therefore, if you are going to jump in with the other lemmings, make sure you have your life preserver with you.
DISCLOSURE: Some Sidoxia Capital Management and client accounts HAVE direct positions in WMT at the time the article was published. 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.