To Beat the Best Investors, Know When to Sell

To Beat the Best Investors, Know When to Sell

A new study has found that investors “spend much more brain energy on buying stocks than selling them.” This according to a recent article in NPR.

The study, titled “Selling Fast and Buying Slow,” was conducted by economists Lawrence Schmidt, Alex Imas, and Klakow Akepanidtaworn and investment professional Rick Di Mascio. It involved evaluating investor performance by comparing trading decisions made between January 2000 and March 2016 by 783 “big-time investors” (that collectively manage nearly $600 million) with “the simplest alternative investment strategy,” described as akin to “throwing darts at a list of names and buying or selling.”

“In other words,” the article notes, “it’s fancy-schmancy financier vs. monkey randomly throwing darts.”

Here is a summary of the findings:

  • The big-time investors are “real whizzes when it comes to buying stocks,” but when it comes to selling them, not so much. In fact, the stocks the group sold reportedly ended up rising in value faster than those they chose to keep.
  • Why? The researchers speculate that “these investors spend much more brain energy on buying stocks than selling them.” Citing concepts outlined in Daniel Kahneman’s book “Thinking Fast and Slow,” the study found that buying decisions originate more from the deliberate, rational systems in the brain (which Kahneman calls “System 2”) and that selling decisions come more from the knee-jerk, System 1 brain systems.
  • The research team believes that buying stocks is sexier than selling since it can make investors appear skilled at their jobs: “You can take the head of some sovereign wealth fund out to dinner and explain to her why you’re a genius for investing in some neat company.” But in the end, they argue, these investment managers are “failing to maximize returns for their clients. Without some changes to improve their selling decisions, they’d be better of strictly focusing on buying stocks and letting ‘a robot manage their selling decisions.’”