Over the last few days I have had great fun watching business news channels. After the BSE Sensex crashed by 855 points or over 3% on January 6, 2015, all kinds of explanations have been offered for the fall by the business media in general and market analysts in particular. Greece will soon be in major trouble. The dollar is rising against other currencies. The global cues are not good. Oil price has fallen to below $50 per barrel. This means that the world is entering an era of deflation (Deflation, a scenario of falling prices, is the opposite of inflation, and I am amazed how easily market analysts who appear on television use this term). The Modi effect is slowing down. The foreign investors need to realign their portfolios with the changing global economic scenario. And the proverbial, Indian economy is not doing well and corporate investment is needs to pick up. Two days later on January 8, 2015, the Sensex rallied 366 points or 1.4%. Market analysts and the business media told us that value buying was now coming in and this had led to the rally. What amazes me is that investors suddenly saw value in stocks with the market falling by just 3%? Benjamin Graham must be turning in his grave. He clearly never would have envisaged a day like this. Also, the investors did not see value on January 7, 2015, when the Sensex was almost flat. It fell by around 78.6 points or 0.3% on that day. But they suddenly saw value on January 8, 2015. What changed overnight? That no market analyst bothered to explain. In the Indian context, the foreign institutional investors have been driving the market for a while now. On January 6, 2015, they net sold stocks worth Rs 1,534.23 crore. But this was neutralized to some extent by domestic institutional investors buying stocks worth Rs 1,079.6 crore on the same day. Markets go up. Markets go down. And just because analysis exists doesn’t mean we analyse everything. I haven’t heard a single market analyst or a journalist in the business media till date say that today’s stock market movements were due to random fluctuations. As John Allen Paulos writes in A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper: “Almost never does a stock pundit say that market’s or a particular stock’s activity for the day or the week or the month was largely a result of random fluctuations.” With so many numbers and stories going around it is always possible to say something which on the face of it sounds very sensible. “The business pages, companies’ annual reports, sales records, and other widely available statistics provide such a wealth of data from which to fashion sales pitches that it’s not difficult for a stock picker to put on a good face…All that’s necessary is a little filtering of the sea of numbers that washes over us,” writes Paulos. This is precisely what has been happening over the last few days. The information and analysis being provided is essentially adding to the clutter. As Nassim Nicholas Taleb writes in Fooled by Randomness: “The difference between noise and information…has an analog: that between journalism and history. To be competent, a journalist should view matters like a historian, and play down the value of the information, he is providing.” This Taleb, feels can be done by saying: “Today the market went up, but this information is not too relevant as it emanates from noise”. But in an era of 24 hour news channels this is easier said than done. “Not only is it difficult for the journalist to think more like a historian, but it is, alas, the historian who is becoming more like the journalist [and to add my two bit so are market analysts]…If there is anything better than noise in the mass of “urgent” news pounding us, it would be like a needle in a haystack. People do not realize that the media is paid to get your attention. For a journalist, silence really surpasses any word,” writes Taleb. To be fair to the business news channels, the business newspapers follow the same formula of trying to come up with an explanation for market movements all the time. It’s just that since they do not have to react instantly to everything, some amount of noise gets filtered out in their reporting. A few years back I happened to interview valuation guru Aswath Damodaran and asked him a fairly straightforward question: How much role does media play in influencing investment decisions of people? The reply he gave was very interesting: “Media and analysts are followers…Basically when I see in the media news stories I see a reflection of what has already happened. It is a lagging indicator. It is not a leading indicator. I have never ever found a good investment by reading a news story. But I have heard about why an investment was good in hindsight by reading a news story about it. I am not a great believer that I can find good investments in the media. That’s not their job anyway.” This is something that investors need to keep in mind while following the media in their quest to understand why are the markets moving the way they are. It is worth remembering that business news channels and the business newspapers need to operate even when there is no major news. As Maggie Mahar writes in Bull—A History of the Boom and Bust, 1982-1984: “The perennial problem for the media is that balance sheets do not fluctuate on a daily basis. Once a reporter has laid out a company’s assets and debts, how does he fill the news hole the next day? Only by tracking market’s daily performance.” Analysts help the business press in filling up the daily space. This is something that former Morgan Stanley analyst Andy Kessler writes about in his book Wall Street Meat: “The market opens for trading five days a week… Companies report earnings once every quarter. But stocks trade about 250 days a year. Something has to make them move up or down the other 246 days [250 days – the four days on which companies declare quarterly results]. Analysts fill that role. They recommend stocks, change recommendations, change earnings estimates, pound the table—whatever it takes for a sales force to go out with a story so someone will trade with the firm and generate commissions.” And once analysts have a daily opinion, the media gets some masala to fill up its daily space. The trouble is that while the media ends up filling up space, investors who follow the media are bound to end up confused if they follow the media on a daily basis. It is worth remembering here what hedge fund manager Bill Fleckenstein told Mahar: “The trouble is that investing doesn’t lend itself to play-by-play reporting…Speculation does, but investing doesn’t.” The column originally appeared on www.equitymaster.com as a part of The Daily Reckoning on Jan 9, 2015
Fooled By Randomness
Why Congress has learned the wrong lessons from India Shining
Human beings love a good story. And a good story is complete. If something has happened then there is needs to be a ready explanation available for it. Nassim Nicholas Taleb writes about this in Fooled by Randomness. Taleb recounts watching Bloomberg TV, sometime in December 2003 around the time Saddam Hussein was captured in Iraq.
At this point, American government bond prices (commonly referred to as treasury bills) had gone up, and the caption on television explained that this was “due to the capture of Saddam Hussein”. Some thirty minutes later, the price of the American treasury bills went down, and the television caption still said that this was “due to the capture of Saddam Hussein”.
The question is how could the capture of Saddam Hussein lead to have two exactly opposite things? That is simply not possible. But there is a broader point here. If something happens, the human mind needs a reason, an explanation or a cause for it. Without it, the loop is not complete. Hence, the human mind actively seeks causes for events that have happened, whether those causes are the real reasons for the event happening is another issue all together.
As Ed Smith former English cricketer wrote in a recent column “The point, of course, is that causes are being manipulated to fit outcomes. They weren’t causes at all, merely things that happened before the defeat. The ancient Romans had an ironic phrase for this terrible logic – post hoc, ergo proper hoc, “after this, therefore because of this”.”
An excellent example of this phenomenon in an Indian context is the defeat of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the 2004 Lok Sabha election. Of the explanations that followed the one that gained most credibility and is still holding on strong, is the India Shining Campaign.
Since the results of the 2004 Lok Sabha elections came in, it has been widely held that BJP lost the elections because of the “insensitive” urban centric India Shining advertising campaign, which ignored the aam aadmi. The irony is that even the BJP came to believe this.
As Arati R Jerath points out in a recent column in The Times of India “Significantly, L K Advani was to acknowledge later that the India Shining slogan was “inappropriate” for an election campaign. In hindsight, many in the BJP realized that the tone and tenor were arrogant and insensitive and that it glossed over prevailing social and economic inequities that the NDA government had failed to address.”
This logic doesn’t hold true against some basic number crunching. The difference in vote share between the Congress led UPA and the BJP led NDA was a little over 2%. The NDA got 33.3% of the vote whereas the UPA won 35.4% of the vote. As economist Vivek Dehejia, the co-auhtor of Indianomix – Making Sense of Modern India, said in an interview to Firstpost “That 2% difference in vote share can equally be attributed to a number of other explanations, such as bad luck, as it is to anything else. Or let me put in another way; if you look at those results, basically it came down to a coin toss. A third of the voters voted for the NDA, another third voted for the UPA and a third voted for somebody else.”
Hence, if the NDA had got 1% more vote and UPA had got 1% less vote, the situation would have been totally different. And maybe in that situation, people would have been talking about how the India Shining campaign really worked. Given this, it is not always possible to figure out why something happened. The broader point is that India is too diverse with too many issues at play to attribute the win or a loss in Lok Sabha elections to one cause, which in this case happened to be the India Shining campaign.
But such has been the strength of this explanation that it continues to prevail. In fact, the Congress party has gone at length to explain why there recently launched Bharat Nirman campaign is totally different from the India Shining campaign of 2004. “India Shining was hype, hoopla and spin. Our campaign is different. Bharat Nirman is not a poll campaign, it tells the India story of the past nine years,” the information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari was recently quoted as saying.
In fact, the India Shining campaign had put too much emphasis on India, people came to believe, and missed out on Bharat. So the Congress has taken great care that the Bharat Nirman campaign caters to Bharat.
That difference notwithstanding prima facie there doesn’t seem to be much difference between India Shining and Bharat Nirman. Both are campaigns launched to highlight the achievements of the incumbent government. India Shining was launched well before the Lok Sabha elections and at that point of time, the BJP leaders maintained that the campaign was meant to attract international investment and beyond that nothing more should be read into it. The Congress seems to be doing the same. As Tewari said “Elections will be held on time. There is no need for speculation.”
Eventually, the BJP got caught into its marketing blitzkrieg and advanced elections by six months. The extent to which Congress wallahs have gone to deny the link between Bharat Nirman and the Lok Sabha elections being advanced, leads this writer to believe that most likely elections will be advanced. As the line from the great British political satire Yes Minister goes “The first rule of politics: Never believe anything until it’s been official denied”. The Congress, like BJP, is in the danger of getting caught in its own spin.
India Shining cost the taxpayer around Rs 150 crore. Bharat Nirman has already spent around Rs 200 crore of the taxpayer money. As an article in the Brand Equity supplement of The Economic Times points out “Sources close to the campaign say that close to Rs 200 crore has been spent on this campaign under various heads. So large is the campaign that in recent months the government has been the single largest consumer of air time and media space on many of the major channels in volume terms.”
What hurts is the fact that the revenue stream of the government at this point of time is stretched. The Ministry of Finance has even gone to the extent of running an amnesty scheme for service tax defaulters. A defaulter can declare and pay his taxes and thereby avoid any fines or even other penal proceedings. If finances are so stretched, why is money being wasted on an advertisement campaign like Bharat Nirman?
More than anything else this government has lost so much credibility that any advertisement campaign cannot help. As Jerath puts it “The campaign is a pathetic attempt to sweep the controversies of the past three years under the carpet. A slick film and a lyrical jingle cannot erase the stench from various corruption scandals or make up for non-performance as food prices rise and the economy slows down.”
The lesson drawn from India Shining should have been that feel good advertisement campaigns run by the government and paid for by the taxpayer, do not really matter in an electoral democracy as diverse as India. Instead the government, which is seen tom-tomming its own achievement, comes across as arrogant. But the parties in power love it. As the Brand Equity points out “The temptation has been too great and a campaign of similar proportions has been released. Perhaps the only difference is that ‘India’ has been replaced by ‘Bharat’ and ‘Shining’ by ‘Nirman’. While the Congress insists that this is not a political campaign (just as the BJP insisted with India Shining), the timing and the quantum of spends seem to belie that.”
The only person Bharat Nirman benefits is the information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari (and the media houses which get paid for carrying these advertisements), who after taking over as the I&B Minister had to show that he was doing new things that could revitalise the image of the Congress party and he has done precisely that. But this benefit might be short lived because in the days to come if the Congress led UPA loses the next Lok Sabha elections (as it is likely to), then Bharat Nirman will be held responsible for it, like India Shining was.
And then Manish Tewari, might become the new Pramod Mahajan, the man behind the India Shining Campaign.
To conclude, what happens to the taxpayer who finances these expensive campaigns? Well all he can do is sing the old Mukesh song (sung in the style of KL Saigal) “dil jalta hai to jalne de. aansoo na baha, fariyad na kar”.
The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on May 20, 2013
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He tweets @kaul_vivek)
People should listen to market experts for entertainment, not elucidation.
Michael J. Mauboussin is Chief Investment Strategist at Legg Mason Capital Management in the United States. He is also the author of bestselling books on investing like Think Twice: Harnessing the Power of Counterintuition and More Than You Know: Finding Financial Wisdom in Unconventional Places. His latest book The Success Equation: Untangling Skill and Luck in Business, Sports, and Investing is due later this year. In this interview he speaks to Vivek Kaul on the various aspects of luck, skill and randomness and the impact they have on business, life and investing.
How do you define luck?
The way I think about it, luck has three features. It happens to a person or organization; can be good or bad; and it is reasonable to believe that another outcome was possible. By this definition, if you win the lottery you are lucky, but if you are born to a wealthy family you are not lucky—because it is not reasonable to believe that any other outcome was possible—but rather fortunate.
How is randomness different from luck?
I like to distinguish, too, between randomness and luck. I like to think of randomness as something that works at a system level and luck on a lower level. So, for example, if you gather a large group of people and ask them to guess the results of five coin tosses, randomness tells you that some in the group will get them all correct. But if you get them all correct, you are lucky.
And what is skill?
For skill, the dictionary says the “ability to use one’s knowledge effectively and readily in execution or performance.” I think that’s a good definition. The key is that when there is little luck involved, skill can be honed through deliberate practice. When there’s an element of luck, skill is best considered as a process.
You have often spoken about the paradox of skill. What is that?
The paradox of skill says that as competitors in a field become more skillful, luck becomes more important in determining results. The key to this idea is what happens when skill improves in a field. There are two effects. First, the absolute level of ability rises. And second, the variance of ability declines.
Could you give us an example?
One famous example of this is batting average in the sport of baseball. Batting average is the ratio of hits to at-bats. It’s somewhat related to the same term in cricket. In 1941, a player named Ted Williams hit .406 for a season, a feat that no other player has been able to match in 70 years. The reason, it turns out, is not that no players today are as good as Williams was in his day—they are undoubtedly much better. The reason is that the variance in skill has gone down. Because the league draws from a deeper pool of talent, including great players from around the world, and because training techniques are vastly improved and more uniform, the difference between the best players and the average players within the pro ranks has narrowed. Even if you assume that luck hasn’t changed, the variance in batting averages should have come down. And that’s exactly what we see. The paradox of skill makes a very specific prediction. In realms where there is no luck, you should see absolute performance improve and relative performance shrink. That’s exactly what we see.
Any other example?
Take Olympic marathon times as an example. Men today run the race about 26 minutes faster than they did 80 years ago. But in 1932, the time difference between the man who won and the man who came in 20th was close to 40 minutes. Today that difference is well under 10 minutes.
What is the application to investing?
The application to investing is straightforward. As the market is filled with participants who are smart and have access to information and computing power, the variance of skill will decline. That means that stock price changes will be random—a random walk down Wall Street, as Burton Malkiel wrote—and those investors who beat the market can chalk up their success to luck. And the evidence shows that the variance in mutual fund returns has shrunk over the past 60 years, just as the paradox of skill would suggest. I want to be clear that I believe that differential skill in investing remains, and that I don’t believe that all results are from randomness. But there’s little doubt that markets are highly competitive and that the basic sketch of the paradox of skill applies.
How do you determine in the success of something be it a song, book or a business for that matter, how much of it is luck, how much of it is skill?
This is a fascinating question. In some fields, including sports and facets of business, we can answer that question reasonably well when the results are independent of one another. When the results depend on what happened before, the answer is much more complex because it’s very difficult to predict how events will unfold.
Could you explain through an example?
Let me try to give a concrete example with the popularity of music. A number of years ago, there was a wonderful experiment called MusicLab. The subjects thought the experiment was about musical taste, but it was really about understanding how hits happen. The subjects who came into the site saw 48 songs by unknown bands. They could listen to any song, rate it, and download it if they wanted to. Unbeknownst to the subjects, they were funneled into one of two conditions. Twenty percent went to the control condition, where they could listen, rate, and download but had no access to what anyone else did. This provided an objective measure of the quality of songs as social interaction was absent.
What about the other 80%?
The other 80 percent went into one of 8 social worlds. Initially, the conditions were the same as the control group, but in these cases the subjects could see what others before them had done. So social interaction was present, and by having eight social worlds the experiment effectively set up alternate universes. The results showed that social interaction had a huge influence on the outcomes. One song, for instance, was in the middle of the pack in the control condition, the #1 hit on one of the social worlds, and #40 in another social world. The researchers found that poorly rated songs in the control group rarely did well in the social worlds—failure was not hard to predict—but songs that were average or good had a wide range of outcomes. There was an inherent lack of predictability. I think I can make the statement ever more general: whenever you can assess a product or service across multiple dimensions, there is no objective way to say which is “best.”
What is the takeaway for investors?
The leap to investing is a small one. Investing, too, is an inherently social exercise. From time to time, investors get uniformly optimistic or pessimistic, pushing prices to extremes.
Was a book like Harry Potter inevitable as has often been suggested after the success of the book?
This is very related to our discussion before about hit songs. When what happens next depends on what happened before, which is often the case when social interaction is involved, predicting outcomes is inherently difficult. The MusicLab experiment, and even simpler simulations, indicate that Harry Potter’s success was not inevitable. This is very difficult to accept because now that we know that Harry Potter is wildly popular, we can conjure up many explanations for that success. But if you re-played the tape of the world, we would see a very different list of best sellers. The success of Harry Potter, or Star Wars, or the Mona Lisa, can best be explained as the result of a social process similar to any fad or fashion. In fact, one way to think about it is the process of disease spreading. Most diseases don’t spread widely because of a lack of interaction or virulence. But if the network is right and the interaction and virulence are sufficient, disease will propagate. The same is true for a product that is deemed successful through a social process.
And this applies to investing as well?
This applies to investing, too. Instead of considering how the popularity of Harry Potter, or an illness, spreads across a network you can think of investment ideas. Tops in markets are put in place when most investors are infected with bullishness, and bottoms are created by uniform bearishness. The common theme is the role of social process.
What about someone like Warren Buffett or for that matter Bill Miller were they just lucky, or was there a lot of skill as well?
Extreme success is, almost by definition, the combination of good skill and good luck. I think that applies to Buffett and Miller, and I think each man would concede as much. The important point is that neither skill nor luck, alone, is sufficient to launch anyone to the very top if it’s a field where luck helps shape outcomes. The problem is that our minds equate success with skill so we underestimate the role of randomness. This was one of Nassim Taleb’s points in Fooled by Randomness. All of that said, it is important to recognize that results in the short-term reflect a lot of randomness. Even skillful managers will slump, and unskillful managers will shine. But over the long haul, good process wins.
How do you explain the success of Facebook in lieu of the other social media sites like Orkut, Myspace, which did not survive?
Brian Arthur, an economist long affiliated with the Santa Fe Institute, likes to say, “of networks there shall be few.” His point is that there are battles for networks and standards, and predicting the winners from those battles is notoriously difficult. We saw a heated battle for search engines, including AltaVista, Yahoo, and Google. But the market tends to settle on one network, and the others drop to a very distant second. I’d say Facebook’s success is a combination of good skill, good timing, and good luck. I’d say the same for almost every successful company. The question is if we played the world over and over, would Facebook always be the obvious winner. I doubt that.
Would you say that when a CEO’s face is all over the newspapers and magazines like is the case with the CEO of Facebook , he has enjoyed good luck?
One of the most important business books ever written is The Halo Effect by Phil Rosenzweig. The idea is that when things are going well, we attribute that success to skill—there’s a halo effect. Conversely, when things are going poorly we attribute it to poor skill. This is often true for the same management of the same company over time. Rosenzweig offers Cisco as a specific example. So the answer is that great success, the kind that lands you on the covers of business magazines, almost always includes a very large dose of luck. And we’re not very good at parsing the sources of success.
You have also suggested that trying to understand the stock market by tuning into so called market experts is not the best way of understanding it. Why do you say that?
The best way to answer this is to argue that the stock market is a great example of a complex adaptive system. These systems have three features. First, they are made up of heterogeneous agents. In the stock market, these are investors with different information, analytical approaches, time horizons, etc. And these agents learn, which is why we call them adaptive. Second, the agents interact with one another, leading to a process called emergence. The interaction in the stock market is typically through an exchange. And, finally, we get a global system—the market itself.
So what’s the point you are trying to make?
Here’s a key point: There is no additivity in these systems. You can’t understand the whole simply by looking at the behaviors of the parts. Now this is in sharp contrast to other systems, where reductionism works. For example, an artisan could take apart my mechanical wristwatch and understand how each part contributes to the working of the watch. The same approach doesn’t work in complex adaptive systems.
Could you explain through an example?
Let me give you one of my favorite examples, that of an ant colony. If you study ants on the colony level, you’ll see that it’s robust, adaptive, follows a life cycle, etc. It’s arguably an organism on the colony level. But if you ask any individual ant what’s going on with the colony, they will have no clue. They operate solely with local information and local interaction. The behavior of the colony emerges from the interaction between the ants. Now it’s not hard to see that the stock market is similar. No individual has much of a clue of what’s going on at the market level. But this lack of understanding smacks right against our desire to have experts tell us what’s going on. The record of market forecasters has been studied, and the jury is in: they are very bad at it. So I recommend people listen to market experts for entertainment, not for elucidation.
How does the media influence investment decisions?
The media has a natural, and understandable, desire to find people who have views that are toward the extremes. Having someone on television explaining that this could happen, but then again it may be that, does not make for exciting viewing. Better is a market boomster, who says the market will skyrocket, or a market doomster, who sees the market plummeting.
Phil Tetlock, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, has done the best work I know of on expert prediction. He has found that experts are poor predictors in the realms of economic and political outcomes. But he makes two additional points worth mentioning. The first is that he found that hedgehogs, those people who tend to know one big thing, are worse predictors than foxes, those who know a little about a lot of things. So, strongly held views that are unyielding tend not to make for quality predictions in complex realms. Second, he found that the more media mentions a pundit had, the worse his or her predictions. This makes sense in the context of what the media are trying to achieve—interesting viewing. So the people you hear and see the most in the media are among the worst predictors.
Why do most people make poor investment decisions? I say that because most investors aren’t able to earn even the market rate of return?
People make poor investment decisions because they are human. We all come with mental software that tends to encourage us to buy after results have been good and to sell after results have been poor. So we are wired to buy high and sell low instead of buy low and sell high. We see this starkly in the analysis of time-weighted versus dollar-weighted returns for funds. The time-weighted return, which is what is typically reported, is simply the return for the fund over time. The dollar-weighted return calculates the return on each of the dollars invested. These two calculations can yield very different results for the same fund.
Could you explain that in some detail?
Say, for example, a fund starts with $100 and goes up 20% in year 1. The next year, it loses 10%. So the $100 invested at the beginning is worth $108 after two years and the time-weighted return is 3.9%. Now let’s say we start with the same $100 and first year results of 20%. Investors see this very good result, and pour an additional $200 into the fund. Now it is running $320—the original $120 plus the $200 invested. The fund then goes down 10%, causing $32 of losses. So the fund will still have the same time-weighted return, 3.9%. But now the fund will be worth $288, which means that in the aggregate investors put in $300—the original $100 plus $200 after year one—and lost $12. So the fund has positive time-weighted returns but negative dollar-weighted returns. The proclivity to buy high and sell low means that investors earn, on average, a dollar-weighted return that is only about 60% of the market’s return. Bad timing is very costly.
What is reversion to the mean?
Reversion to the mean occurs when an extreme outcome is followed by an outcome that has an expected value closer to the average. Let’s say you are a student whose true skill suggests you should score 80% on a test. If you are particularly lucky one day, you might score 90%. How are you expected to do for your next test? Closer to 80%. You are expected to revert to your mean, which means that your good luck is not expected to persist. This is a huge topic in investing, for precisely the reason we just discussed. Investors, rather than constantly considering reversion to the mean, tend to extrapolate. Good results are expected to lead to more good results. This is at the core of the dichotomy between time-weighted and dollar-weighted returns. I should add quickly that this phenomenon is not unique to individual investors. Institutional investors, people who are trained to think of such things, fall into the same trap.
In one of your papers you talk about a guy who manages his and his wife’s money. With his wife’s money he is very cautious and listens to what the experts have to say. With his own money his puts it in some investments and forgets about it. As you put it, threw it in the coffee can. And forgot about it. It so turned out that the coffee can approach did better. Can you take us through that example?
This was a case, told by Robert Kirby at Capital Guardian, from the 1950s. The husband managed his wife’s fund and followed closely the advice from the investment firm. The firm had a research department and did their best to preserve, and build, capital. It turns out that unbeknownst to anyone, the man used $5,000 of his own money to invest in the firm’s buy recommendations. He never sold anything and never traded, he just plopped the securities into a proverbial coffee can(those were the days of paper). The husband died suddenly and the wife then came back to the investment firm to combine their accounts. Everyone was surprised to see that the husband’s account was a good deal larger than his wife’s. The neglected portfolio fared much better than the tended one. It turns out that a large part of the portfolio’s success was attributable to an investment in Xerox.
So what was the lesson drawn?
Kirby drew a more basic lesson from the experience. Sometimes doing nothing is better than doing something. In most businesses, there is some relationship between activity and results. The more active you are, the better your results. Investing is one field where this isn’t true. Sometimes, doing nothing is the best thing. As Warren Buffett has said, “Inactivity strikes us as intelligent behavior.” As I mentioned before, there is lots of evidence that the decisions to buy and sell by individuals and institutions does as much, if not more, harm than good. I’m not saying you should buy and hold forever, but I am saying that buying cheap and holding for a long time tends to do better than guessing what asset class or manager is hot.
(The interview was originally published in the Daily News and Analysis(DNA) on June 4,2012. http://www.dnaindia.com/money/interview_people-should-listen-to-market-experts-for-entertainment-not-elucidation_1697709)
(Interviewer Kaul is a writer and can be reached at [email protected])