In response to a recent article on a "Mutual Fund Madness" tournament that discussed the mistake of focusing too much on short-term performance, The Wall Street Journal asked The Experts: How should investors stop themselves from reacting to short-term market events?
The Experts is an exclusive group of industry and thought leaders who engage in in-depth online discussions of topics raised in this month's Investing in Funds & ETFs Report and all future Wall Street Journal Reports.
Also be sure to watch three of The Experts—Gus Sauter, former chief investment officer at Vanguard; Meir Statman, behavioral finance professor at Santa Clara University and Sheryl Garrett, founder of the Garrett Planning Network—answer this question and others on video in a Google+ Hangout.
Terrance Odean: Review Fund Performance Once a Quarter at Most
My advice would be to not check your funds' performance more than once a quarter. There may be exceptional circumstances that require more frequently monitoring. Personally, I review the performance of funds I hold about once a year. And I make changes far less often.
Terrance Odean is the Rudd Family Foundation Professor and Chair of the Finance Group at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley.
Matt Hougan: Keep Some Mad Money in Your Portfolio
Everyone knows what to do. Write down your plan so it's committed to paper. Have a financial adviser so you have someone who will talk you off the edge before you sell. Only look at your portfolio on a monthly, quarterly or annual basis.
It all sounds great—and it is—but for most people, it won't work.
People are human. And if you're reading The Wall Street Journal, you're interested in the markets, which means you want to react. I work for a company called IndexUniverse and even I want to react.
What do I do? Two things:
First, I keep 10% of my money to play with. Ninety percent is off-limits, and with the other 10% I can do whatever I want. Any less than that and I'm tempted to muck with the other 90%; any more than that and I'll ruin my financial future.
Second, I've learned to think about downturns as opportunities. If you can make that switch in your head, so that you're excited when things go down because it offers the chance to buy more, you're in a better place.
Matt Hougan (@Matt_Hougan) is president of ETF Analytics and the global head of editorial for IndexUniverse LLC.
Rick Ferri to Matt Hougan: Have More Faith in the Financial Adviser
I disagree with Matt Hougan's view that having a financial adviser doesn't work to keep clients invested during market downturns. A financial adviser "circuit breaker" can be the cheapest insurance an investor can buy.
A sizable number of clients called us for advice during the financial crisis. Our consistent message was the same for all—this storm will pass, stay the course.
The vast majority of our clients stayed disciplined and made no change in strategy, a very small percentage required a small change in allocation, and only a few clients eventually capitulated. We couldn't save everyone, but we definitely had a positive impact.
Rick Ferri is the founder of Portfolio Solutions and the author of six books on low-cost index fund and ETF investing. His blog is RickFerri.com.
Michelle Perry Higgins: Follow These Five Tips to Ease Emotional Investing
This is the million dollar question. Another way to say it might be, "How do investors keep their emotions in check during chaotic times?" I'll admit that I become emotional from time to time with my kids, my husband and when my 49ers lose the Super Bowl. However, emotion has no place when it comes to investing.
Here are five tips I recommend to keep you focused with your investments when it may be tough to keep emotions at bay:
1.Don't be afraid to call your financial adviser if your nerves get worked up. Talk through your asset allocation, financial plan and current market events. There's no such thing as a stupid question, so don't be afraid to call.
2.Your asset allocation should align with your financial plan. If you are going to need cash within the next 7-10 years (i.e. income, home purchase, college funding or new vehicle) then those dollars should be out of the stock market. Irrational behavior can occur if you have money at risk that is needed in the short term.
3.If you tend to be a highly nervous investor, looking at your account daily or even weekly is probably not a good idea. You may want to consider viewing your investments a little less frequently.
4.Remember that corrections are sometimes healthy for the stock market. My clients always look at me cross-eyed when I say this, but it's true. The point here is that there is not necessarily a need for panic when corrections occur. See this graphic.
5.You may want to use those corrective periods in the stock market as a buying opportunity. Put a smile on your face and be happy that you are buying shares at a cheaper price.
Michelle Perry Higgins (@RetirementMPH) is a financial planner and principal at a San Francisco Bay area fiscal advisory firm.
Rick Ferri: Stay Disciplined With a Sound Investment Philosophy and Smart Strategy
Reacting to events and short-term market movements is the symptom of a bigger problem. It signals the lack of an investment philosophy.
My view of successful investing relies on three key principals: philosophy, strategy and discipline. Philosophy is an understanding about how markets work and a belief about whether or not prices can be predicted. Strategy is how a portfolio is constructed based on an investor's unique needs. Discipline is the willingness to stay true to the philosophy and follow a strategy.
I'll use myself as an example.
Philosophy: I have learned that the markets price securities in a relatively efficient manner and attempts to beat the markets most often result in lower returns than just riding them.
Strategy: I follow an aggressive balanced portfolio using all low-cost stock and bond index funds and ETFs. This strategy is based on my need for portfolio growth and future income.
Discipline: My strategy is on autopilot. I am a diligent do-it-yourself investor and do not deviate based on the noise. Other options for discipline include investing in a balanced index fund or hiring a low-cost adviser to manage the portfolio.
If you have a sound philosophy and implement a prudent strategy based on it, then you'll find the discipline to ignore the noise and stay the course.
Rick Ferri is the founder of Portfolio Solutions and the author of six books on low-cost index fund and ETF investing. His blog is RickFerri.com.
Tom Brakke: Model the Behavior You Want Your Clients to Have
It depends on the situation, of course, since some people are more analytical and some more emotional. Like any form of communication, the more precisely you can tailor the message for the audience the better it is.
An investment policy statement can be very helpful, depending on how it is written and whether it truly explores the investment beliefs of the investor and provides a road map for the investor and the adviser.
For example, if an investment policy statement says, "We don't react to short-term events" and "We don't choose investments based upon historical performance," then you have an agreed-upon foundation on which to proceed and a simple reminder of that is usually sufficient.
Interestingly, advisers can be their own worst enemies in this regard, causing rather than solving problems. While it is common for them to fret about clients reacting to events and performance issues, consider what actually happens much of the time:
Rather than avoiding near-term events, many advisers use them as the cornerstone of their client communications (newsletters, emails, etc.), heightening rather than diminishing the interest in the events. And, a client might hear recorded market commentary while on hold, as I recently did, or visit an adviser's office where CNBC is playing throughout the day. All of those things might make an adviser look more "in the know," but they are counterproductive if you want clients to quit worrying about every little problem and market movement.
Similarly, the focus on performance that clients have can be fanned by the advisers themselves. Many advisers won't show a fund that doesn't have four or five stars from Morningstar, yet that is nothing more than a quantitative grade based upon past performance. Relying on those stars (or other ratings like them) is the same as clients overreacting to a 5% drop in the market; behavioral scientists call it recency bias and it is pervasive among investors, from individuals to advisers to hedge fund managers.
So, speaking to advisers, I'd say the most important thing to do is to model the behaviors that you would like your clients to have. That may lead you to reconsider some of your current practices.
Tom Brakke, CFA (@researchpuzzler) is a consultant, writer, and investment adviser who specializes in the analysis of investment decision making and the communication of investment ideas.
Charles Rotblut: Set Clear Sell Rules Before Buying a Stock
Here is a simple strategy for deciding when it is time to part with an investment: Before you buy a stock, bond or fund, think about what is attracting you to it and what could cause you to sell it. Then write your thoughts down. I use a spiral notebook to do this, but a sheet of paper, a blog or a whiteboard work just as well—anything that will later require you to physically alter what you wrote down.
There are a few reasons why this is a very effective strategy. First, since these are your personal sell rules, you are more likely to follow them. Second, the process of coming up with your sell rules makes you think about what could go wrong, and if you can't come up with clear sell rules, then you should be aware that you don't understand the risks of the investment. Third, one of the oldest rules is to sell an investment when the reasons you bought it no longer apply. Finally, if you do this before you place the buy order, you will have less of an emotional attachment to the investment and will be better able to make a rational analysis of it.
Charles Rotblut (@charlesrotblut) is a vice president with the American Association of Individual Investors.
Christian Magoon: A One-Act on Long Term Investing
Consider this hypothetical conversation:
"How old are you?" I replied to an excited question about the latest market trend.
"I'm 45. Why?" the man said.
"You'll understand in a minute. First I need to know your age in more specific terms," I responded.
"Seriously? OK, I am officially about 45 years and about three months old. Good enough?" the man sneered.
"Actually, it isn't. Be more specific," I said with a smirk. "How old are you, in days?"
"This is ridiculous!" he yelled.
"Exactly," I smiled and said. "Adults don't keep track of their age in days or months because they are insignificant in comparison to years. Years are what matter."
"True," he nodded. "So what's your point?"
"Just like keeping track of age works better using years, investing decisions work better when based on years—not months, weeks or days. You began this conversation asking me what I thought of the latest market trend, right?"
"Yes, about an hour ago," he sighed while tapping his foot.
"My answer is that investing based on short term events or results is, to quote you, ridiculous."
As CEO of Magoon Capital, Christian Magoon (@ChristianMagoon) provides strategic advice to potential and existing ETF Sponsors in areas of product development, marketing and distribution.
George Papadopoulos: Communicate to Clients That Investing Should Be as Fun as Watching Paint Dry
Concentrate on what you can control and avoid watching CNBC or anything with a stock ticker or market pundit.
Investing is a marathon, not a sprint. I often remind clients that financial markets do regularly go down unexpectedly and the question is not if but when this will happen again. Anything is possible in the short term. We always take the long-term approach sticking to the financial plan we have in place and our spectacularly boring investment style: A low-cost diversified portfolio consisting of broad-based ETFs that is rebalanced at set intervals while being mindful of opportunities to save on taxes.
Ben Graham, the father of value investing, once said: "Individuals who cannot master their emotions are ill-suited to profit from the investment process." In many ways, we are getting paid to help clients make sound financial decisions and keep them focused on the long term in a disciplined manner. Rebalancing at set intervals forces us to "buy low and sell high."
We will always wage battles against the emotions of greed and fear.
This is why it is so important to know your client well. In the client-screening process, I make it very clear that I am not a stock picker and my investment style is as exciting as watching paint dry. Some people need the excitement that comes from buying a stock and watching it. They need to have that feeling of being a player embracing their inner Warren Buffett. (Why does it always seem to be men who fall into this category?) I understand it. I am perfectly fine if they take up to 5% of their portfolio and go open a "mad money" account at E*Trade ETFC -1.85% and trade it like the E*Trade baby. After a while, they give up.
George Papadopoulos (@feeonlyplanner) is founder of the eponymous Fee Only Wealth Management firm based in Novi, Michigan serving affluent individuals and families.
John Rogers: It's Not Just Individual Investors Who Need to Correct Nearsighted Investing
There are two proven ways for investors to avoid the trap of overreacting to short-term market moves: First, eliminate short term mistakes and find a trustworthy adviser. Second, avoid trading your portfolio monthly and look to periodically (annually) rebalance your asset allocation.
The dangers of nearsightedness are just as great in management teams and boards. An excessive short-term focus by top management can hurt investors in multiple ways and detracts from long-term value creation and investment. One way to avoid this is to build truly visionary board leadership to foster and promote longer-term thinking.
Boards of directors and corporate executives can combat the short-term thinking that has tripped up companies with depressing regularity. They can do this by focusing on these points:
• Embracing the role of visionary stewards on behalf of stakeholders
• Eschewing the quarterly earnings guidance game
• Communicating long-term strategic goals to stakeholders
• Ensuring that compensation is adequately linked to long term strategy
• Compensating executives with a clear focus on long-term value creation
• Providing strong risk oversight for the firm
• Being fierce advocates for a strong corporate culture that will serve their stakeholders
• Emphasizing the importance of board culture with independent-minded directors willing to address difficult decisions
By focusing on what is most important over the long term, boards can ensure more enduring and sustainable value creation for stakeholders.
John Rogers is the president and CEO of the CFA Institute.
Meir Statman to Matt Hougan: Mad Money Isn't Right for Every Portfolio
A person with $100 million can afford to "play" with $10 million, placing them all on red and losing fast or trading online and losing slowly. But a family with a $100,000 retirement portfolio cannot afford to play with $10,000 and lose. Play videogames if you must. Play basketball if you wish. But don't play away money you need for a secure retirement.
Meir Statman is the Glenn Klimek Professor of Finance at Santa Clara University, and Visiting Professor at Tilburg University in the Netherlands.
Gus Sauter: For Market Success, Brace Yourself for a Long, Volatile Ride
The classic advice was to buy your securities, put them in a drawer and not look at them again until you retire. Unfortunately, things have changed. We don't get certificates to stick in a drawer anymore. Instead, we get statements quarterly or even monthly and we have Internet access to our investments 24/7. We are bombarded with information and pundits state – with no uncertainty – what the markets will do. So, with two very significant bear markets imprinted in our minds, it's not surprising that investors respond with a hair-trigger reaction to even a slight disturbance in the market.
The most successful antidote to cure investors' propensity to overreact to short-term events is education. In many aspects of our lives, our expectations for the future are shaped by our experiences of the past. And we anticipate that the most recent experiences, the ones freshest in our minds, are most likely to be repeated. To overcome this overreaction, investors should understand three things:
1. Success is earned by focusing on the long term – both backward and forward. The historic bull market of the 1980's and 90's is fading from memory for many investors. It's important to remember that even with meager returns during this century, the market returns over the past thirty years and longer have been very favorable. Looking forward over a long time horizon I believe the market is more likely to provide returns similar to the longer-term historic returns than those of the recent past.
2. The stock market always has been and always will be volatile. That is why stocks have provided a superior return to other asset classes. Quite simply, investors would not suffer the volatility of the market if they weren't rewarded for it. So realize that there will be sharp, even scary pullbacks from time to time.
3. Very, very few investors outperform the market by trying to time it. Instead, investors who do try to time market swings typically sell out after the market has pulled back and then buy back in at higher prices.
So, realize that the stock market is likely to outperform other types of investments over the long term. It can be, and most assuredly will be, a wild ride. And, most investors will not outperform the market. So ignore all of the noise and hyperbole and be satisfied with what the market returns over the long term.
To be forewarned is to be forearmed.
George U. "Gus" Sauter is a senior consultant to Vanguard. From 2003 through 2012, Mr. Sauter served as Vanguard's chief investment officer.