1. Self-managed investors avoided buying many of the biggest winners.
How? Well, the market prices certain businesses cheaply for reasons that are usually very well known. Whether you read the newspaper or follow the news in some other way, you’ll usually know what’s “wrong” with most stocks that appear at the top of the magic formula list. That’s part of the reason they’re available cheap in the first place! Most likely, the near future for a company might not look quite as bright as the recent past or there’s a great deal of uncertainty about the company for one reason or another. Buying stocks that appear cheap relative to trailing measures of cash flow or other measures (even if they’re still “good” businesses that earn high returns on capital), usually means you’re buying companies that are out of favor. These types of companies are systematically avoided by both individuals and institutional investors. Most people and especially professional managers want to make money now. A company that may face short term issues isn’t where most investors look for near term profits. Many self-managed investors just eliminate companies from the list that they just know from reading the newspaper face a near term problem or some uncertainty. But many of these companies turn out to be the biggest future winners.
2. Many self-managed investors changed their game plan after the strategy underperformed for a period of time.
Many self-managed investors got discouraged after the magic formula strategy underperformed the market for a period of time and simply sold stocks without replacing them, held more cash, and/or stopped updating the strategy on a periodic basis. It’s hard to stick with a strategy that’s not working for a little while. The best performing mutual fund for the decade of the 2000’s actually earned over 18% per year over a decade where the popular market averages were essentially flat. However, because of the capital movements of investors who bailed out during periods after the fund had underperformed for awhile, the average investor (weighted by dollars invested) actually turned that 18% annual gain into an 11% LOSS per year during the same 10 year period.
3. Many self-managed investors changed their game plan after the market and their self-managed portfolio declined (regardless of whether the self-managed strategy was outperforming or underperforming a declining market).
This is a similar story to #2 above. Investors don’t like to lose money. Beating the market by losing less than the market isn’t that comforting. Many self-managed investors sold stocks without replacing them, held more cash, and/or stopped updating the strategy on a periodic basis after the markets and their portfolio declined for a period of time. It didn’t matter whether the strategy was outperforming or underperforming over this same period. Investors in that best performing mutual fund of the decade that I mentioned above likely withdrew money after the fund declined regardless of whether it was outperforming a declining market during that same period.
4. Many self-managed investors bought more AFTER good periods of performance.
You get the idea. Most investors sell right AFTER bad performance and buy right AFTER good performance. This is a great way to lower long term investment returns.
So, is there any good news from this analysis of “self-managed” vs. “professionally managed” accounts? (Other than, of course, learning what mistakes NOT to make—which is pretty darn important!) Well, I can share two observations that are, at the very least, fun to think about:
First, most clients ended up asking Formula Investing to “just do it for me” and selected “professionally managed” accounts with over 90% of clients choosing this option. Perhaps most individual investors actually know what’s best after all!
Second, the best performing “self-managed” account didn’t actually do anything. What I mean is that after the initial account was opened, the client bought stocks from the list and never touched them again for the entire two year period. That strategy of doing NOTHING outperformed all other “self-managed” accounts. I don’t know if that’s good news, but I like the message it appears to send—simply, when it comes to long-term investing, doing “less” is often “more”. Well, good work if you can get it, anyway.