10 rules backed by science


We live in a world of information overload. With so much easily accessible information at our fingertips, it can be difficult to sort genuinely useful information from flat-out bad advice.

In the realm of money and investing, this problem becomes magnified. In the financial arena, the stakes are high — for both investors and those trying to sell products. There is so much “advice” out there, and a great deal of it is conflicting information.

So when people learn I’m a financial advisor, they can hardly wait to work this question into the conversation: “What is the real secret to investing?” Given the information-saturated world we live in, they are desperate for a few succinct, practical and easy tips that they can use to build wealth in a smarter way. So using a “less is more” framework backed by science, I’ve narrowed down my core investment philosophy, knowledge and experience into 10 simple rules for how to invest and build wealth.

Rule 1: Give up trying to find bargain stocks.

I know it’s fun to look for bargains. But consider this: In 2015 around 99 million trades took place daily, with a dollar volume of around $447 billion. That’s per day, folks. What these numbers tell us is that buyers and sellers are continually setting the market prices for stocks, and we can rely on these prices to be fair enough.

The chances that you will find a bargain stock — which thousands of professional analysts with powerful resources at their fingertips have simply overlooked — are exceedingly small. Go for a bike ride instead.

Rule 2: Give up trying to find outperforming mutual funds.

I can say this with authority, given my four years of researching funds at Morningstar: Very few mutual funds outperform their passive benchmarks over time. Yes, some may crush their benchmarks in any one particular year. But it’s the long term that matters, and few funds cross that high hurdle.

Here are the daunting odds: According to data from Dimensional Fund Advisors, over a 15-year time horizon, only 43 percent of the active equity mutual funds studied were able to survive.

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Beyond that, only 17 percent were able to beat their benchmark over that time period. You see a similar story on the active fixed income side: Forty-three percent survived, only 7 percent outperformed.

A better approach: Use mutual funds that aren’t trying to actively pick stocks to beat the market, such as index funds from Vanguard and Dimensional Fund Advisors.

Rule 3: Don’t be a performance chaser.

The Securities & Exchange Commission really nailed it when it required all mutual funds to prominently display: “Past performance is not predictive of future results.” Just because a fund was successful in the past doesn’t guarantee a lucrative return in the future. It’s that simple.

Of course, this doesn’t stop mutual funds from displaying their past results. Just ignore them. Curious to know what really predicts future outperformance? Fees.

Morningstar has done heaps of research that confirms over and over: The best predictor of long-term success is low fees. That’s why investors have been flocking to low-fee mutual funds.

Rule 4: Embrace the benefits the market provides.

Many investors get caught up in the idea they can “beat the market.” It’s human nature to want to beat the odds. As one grad school finance professor said to me: “Despite all the evidence to the contrary, most investors still try to beat the market. I don’t understand it. … Maybe it’s because it feels un-American to settle for ‘average’ market returns, even though average market returns have been quite stellar over time.”

You’re busy as hell. Don’t spend valuable time and energy trying to conquer and outsmart the market. Let the market work for you.

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