OBSERVATIONS OF AN AMATEUR PI
I have only been properly investing in the stock market for a year. I had been frightened off the markets after getting burnt on my first tentative foray back in the nineties when I bought two shares at the height of the dot com boom – £1k in each, which was a lot of money for me back then.
I lost it all. Both companies went bust.
So I clung to the safety of ISA’s and TESSAs for years.
Then last year the markets tanked. I re-entered the market in October 2008. I have no background in finance. But I have worked in advertising and marketing for 15 years, with some of the planet’s biggest companies. I am also a novelist, so I enjoy the research aspect of investing.
My philosophy when I re-entered the market was to have no fear. I figured that all the fear has been priced into the crash. And a hefty percentage is still priced in today … and that presents some attractive opportunities.
Back in October 2008, I figured that I could double my money on virtually any share if I was prepared to hold for a year, and ignore the volatility. Of course, you quickly get sucked into the trading game as access to markets is so readily available now.
I have made 400% in 12 months. But I have over-traded. To put it into perspective, one of my early purchases was Taylor Wimpey at just under 5p. If I had simply bought and held … one trade … I would have seen 1100% profit.
Same with Barclay’s. I traded them three times between 55-90p, thinking I was clever. Then one time I sold at 90p and it just kept on going up. And you know how hard it is to rebuy a share at a higher price than you sold it for.
So, for what it’s worth, I thought I’d share a few observations from this last volatile 12 months; an aggregate of some of the thousands of posts I have made in that year (yes, thousands … makes me shiver … but more on that later). I stress that this is only one view amongst many.
DON’T KID YOURSELF
Any amateur can gain live access the markets from their office desks or their iPhone. It’s mesmerizing stuff. And it’s all too easy to start kidding yourself that you are an experienced day trader. You might get lucky riding a few peaks and troughs … but when the wider market is still trading in the bottom 30% of it’s historic curve, you will likely ultimately miss out on much bigger profits from simply holding some well-researched prospects. Witness my Barclay’s example above.
Accept that markets are volatile, and don’t beat yourself up about wild swings that are outwith your control (or the control of the companies that you are invested in).
AIM markets are more volatile than most, especially the lightly traded shares, where the spreads are elastic. Only the most experienced day trader can hope to truly profit on short-term plays. And I’m talking about the top 2-5%. Anyone else who can consistently turn a quick profit by calling the peaks and troughs, is either lucky or a liar. You always hear from the guys who made a quick buck, but you never hear about the many other trades where they lost out. It’s a dangerous game, because the markets can move so so fast, particularly on news (positive and negative).
There is another type of trader (not investor) who chases momentum, volume, spikes. This type of trading exaggerates rises, and exacerbates falls. It’s a fact of life and should in no way be confused with honest market sentiment about the longer term prospects of a company. It’s a snapshot of exaggerated emotion at one small moment in time. If you are skilled enough to capitalise on it, then great. But the vast majority of us are not blessed with such foresight or intuition. That’s why we resort to fundamentals (solid research), technicals (to time entries and exits), or ideally both. Rational as opposed to emotional pillars on which to base our investments.
Never jump in on a spike. You might get impaled on it.
Accept that you may have to hold a stock that trades flatly for many months before the potential you saw in it is realised, and it finally rockets. It’s difficult to hold while you see other stocks fly. You may feel like you’re missing out. But there is an old saying that it is better to be sitting on the plane and strapped in for take-off, than trying to chase it down the runway. If you end up trying to chase other stocks, you will overtrade … and you could well be selling out of a perfectly good position to catch a temporary spike elsewhere. And remember, the people who make most money out of shares that rocket, are the ones that bought and held while it sat on the launch pad.
Always buy into the company, not the share price. And just accept that you can’t be in them all. As long as you back more winners than losers, you’ll be OK.
BOTTOMS AND TOPS
We all know the adage: ‘buy low, sell high’. Sounds deceptively simple, doesn’t it? But it’s a surefire way to make money. Especially when markets remain depressed. Really, unless the core fundamentals of your investment take a sour turn, there should be little reason to sell anything at a loss as the market primes itself for recovery.
Warren Buffet never bought a share at the bottom. And he never sold at the top.
So don’t beat yourself up for not calling the bottom. In such volatile times, if you can stay within a 30% deficit on a share that you expect to deliver 100%+ profit at some point, then you are doing fine.
You’ve also heard the saying: ‘love to take your losses, and hate to take your profits.’ That may be true in a more stable market, where a 20% dip in a share may be indicative of something really alarming. But in a volatile market where shares like YELL can drop 24% in a day and then post two days of 30% rises, the less stressful and more profitable option may be to simply stick to your guns and hold.
THE ART OF SIMPLY HOLDING
If I’ve learned one thing over this last year, it’s that Holding is an underrated strategy. But it’s not easy. The only way to do it successfully, is to do your research and stick firmly to the reasons you bought in the first place. It also helps to remind yourself of a few core realities when markets turn sour:
1. Accept that you have invested directly in a company at a volatile time on the stock market.
2. Recognise that all stocks will go up and down, and that some will experience wild swings on certain days in either direction. Nothing goes up in a straight line.
3. Take heart that lot of these swings will be precipitated by factors that are not within the control of the company: e.g. low or high volumes / sector slumps and boosts / wider market gloom or optimism / ii buying or selling / MM games etc. etc.
So really, your only hope of beating the market is to do your research, and buy or sell on the basis of that research … and the known news/facts. And, provided the fundamentals and news do not change, there is little point in selling out. Certainly, you would be foolish to take a loss on a share if the fundamental reasons you bought in remain unchanged.
How many times have people got spooked by a short-term slide, then sold up, only to see the share kick back up as quickly.
Example: I held SKR for a long, long time recently at around 15p. It seemed to do nothing for months while all around me, other shares rocketed. Many times I felt tempted to sell … especially as it would rise to 19p, then slide back to 12p. But I stuck to my guns (and my research). And it recently broke 45p.
There is an old saying that it is better to be sitting on the plane and strapped in for take-off, than trying to chase it down the runway. If you have researched your prospects, and you like the potential … and you have a target SP in mind (and a time-frame to achieve it), then provided the fundamentals remain intact, you should hold your position.
The more confident you are in the core fundamentals, the more cool-headed you can be about holding, or even seeing dips as buying opportunities. With market makers capitalising on the opposing emotions of rampant greed and abject fear, it is the cool heads who will make the money.
THERE IS A TIME TO SELL AT A LOSS
And that time is only when the fundamentals turn against you.
The biggest loss I ever took was about 40% on TRP … when they hit a duster. The SP recovered a little, but I put the money to work elsewhere. I didn’t sell on sentiment, I sold on bad news. That’s OK, because the fundamentals had changed. Sometimes this happens. You have to take it on the chin. It could have gone the other way.
But it’s worth reflecting that my biggest ‘losses’ by a COUNTRY MILE were on all those shares that I sold out too early (even though I might have sold at 100% profit). Examples: Taylor Wimpey bought at 5p and sold at 13p. It’s now 39p having touched 55p. Barclays bought at 50p and sold at 90p. Now look at it. Vedanta bought at 740p and took fright at 540p. Today it is 2209p.
Not making that mistake again.
PATIENCE: THE MOST VALUABLE COMMODITY
There is another saying that the stock market is just a mechanism to transfer money from the impatient to the patient.
Sadly, the tools we now have to access the markets actually encourage us to be impatient. Direct access to live prices, second-by-second Level2 analysis, instant RNS notification … no wonder we’re all jumpy!
And no wonder we over-trade. The brokers must be loving it. The Market Makers are capitalizing on it. Even shares that experience little volume get walked up and down to create the illusion that there is a liquid market, prompting us into hourly re-evaluations of some relatively safe and static holdings.
Warren Buffet (again) said that you should not invest for 10 minutes in something that you would not be prepared to hold for 10 years. It’s taken me a year to see the true virtue in this statement. I am now prepared to hold all my shares for years if needs be, to realise a strong profit. I’m 39. I have time on my side. I intend to use it.
Thankfully, when the markets are feeling bullish, most well-researched prospects put in some strong upward moves. You tend to find that, regardless of short-term volatility, the fundamentals will always win out. It is far less stressful to just sit tight and let your desired SP come to you.
Example: One of the first shares that I truly researched was Afren (AFR). I first bought them at 28p and watched them slide to 14p, when many were urging ‘SELL’. But this didn’t tally with what I knew about the company at where it was going. So instead of selling, I bought all I could at 14p. And I still hold 80% of them today at 90p+
GREED v FEAR
The market is just a tug-of-war between fear (bearish) and greed (bullish). It is important to take a position right in the middle. If you let either extreme govern your trading decisions you will, most likely, lose out.
So don’t be too fearful. If you’ve done your research into your investments, you should have nothing to be afraid of. This gives you a real advantage and puts you in control of your investment.
And don’t get too greedy. If you have hit your desired SP target, then take some profit. That is, after all, why we’re all invested. And it never feels bad taking a profit. You have beaten the market. You have earned it. Go do something nice with it!
We are trading in extremely volatile times when these opposing emotions can be manipulated, for better or worse. So it strikes me that it might be advantageous to try and remove as much emotion as you can from your trading strategies.
Easier said than done, I know. Especially if you rely on these BB’s to inform your trading decisions …
The iii BB’s are repositories of emotions. You can see them writ large in the thread titles. Often in CAPITALS. The site even ascribes a handy colour coding for our emotions. Raging red ‘Sells’ counter cool, confident blue ‘Buys.’
And by definition, the format invites participation from the most strong minded and opinionated. Sometimes we forget that the vast majority of shares are held by people who never post here. We’re small fry. We’re not as important as we like to think we are. Get used to it.
A lot of the time the debate on this site is reasoned and informed. But a lot of the time, it isn’t. It can get heated. It can get personal (ironic, given that none of knows each other at all). At it’s worst, it can become a forum for lies and misinformation: ramping and deramping; pumping and dumping.
Take nothing as gospel. But take out what you can.
The bottom line when it comes to investing is that you have to trust your own judgement. It’s your money, after all. And you are choosing to invest it yourself, as opposed to trusting it to a bank or a fund manager.
So it’s wise to base your judgement on as many contributing factors as you can muster (be they technical or fundamental). If you base an investment decision on one factor alone – just as if you only invest in only one stock – you have more chance of getting it spectacularly wrong. You are taking a risk that you do not need to take.
So keep your emotions in check, and keep your eye on your prize. Stick to the rational reasons you invested in a stock until other rational reasons emerge to alter that position.
And don’t be swayed by the opinions of strangers, whose motives will vary wildly, and whose identities may be manifold.
Also, and this is by no means scientific, but I have actually found that when the mood on a BB turns sour, and the bickering is rife, that it’s not a bad time to buy in. The YELL board was awful when it sat at 12-14p and I bought. It hit 80p months later.
And I remember posting long research posts on GKP when it moved from 6p to 11p. They hit 19p and everyone was happy. Then they slid all the way back to 11p, and idiots and derampers started spreading their poison and spitting venom at valuable posters who had selflessly shared info.Most of those posters have now disappeared from the GKP board and have set up their own private board.
And if you want a lesson in not listening to the views of strangers on BB’s, here are some quotes from a poster called ‘Master Shanus’ on the GKP board in August when the SP was around 12p (it hit 130p just weeks after he posted) –
‘I have to say most investors here are being taken for mugs. I have a good sense to see which way the wind may be blowing…meanwhile most of you desperately cling on to your higher risk GKP investment shares in the hope one day it may fruit. Fundfemale will end up Nofundfemale before too long if she puts contrarian views on ignore, while Buybuy seems a little slow on the uptake and is the most representative of the blatant rampers on this billboard that dupe investors into putting in money when a share is at its peak. GKP ain’t going anywhere for a while. I look forward to grabbing a few around 10p, 8-9 if I am lucky, 5p if the well is a duster … More clowns than a Hungarian circus troop here … I would stress caution, not that anyone is going to listen … I have been bang on with this share … risky risky risky… ’
Read that again, and then look at some of the posts from doom-mongers on your current BBs, be it SXX, YELL, RBS, whatever. Notice any similarity? Still prepared to be spooked out of your investment by those who shout loudest?
DON’T BE SPOOKED
Here’s a tip for all. Tonight, while the London market is closed, take a long, cold look at every company you hold. Ask yourself:
Why did I buy this company?
Have those reasons changed?
If the answer to the second question is ‘no’, then you have nothing to worry about. You have faith in the company and everything remains on track. You remain satisfied that this company will deliver your desired return. In other words – YOU ARE IN CONTROL OF YOUR INVESTMENT. Nobody else.
So it matters not a jot what Jonnydoomster, Happyramper or Newalias27 says on these boards. 90% of it is hot air and posturing … and it will NOT affect the performance of this, or any other company. It’s just people trying to make a quick buck. Nothing wrong in that … but it’s so transient. It’s investing into whims, momentary flickers of sentiment … some times it pays off, quite often it doesn’t. And it’s an exhausting strategy. Look at the frequency with which some of these people post.
The only thing that should concern you are the fundamentals in play.
If they remain favourable: stick to your guns.
If the news changes: rethink your investment.
But don’t let yourself be wound up, spooked or manipulated by complete strangers on an online BB who have no greater insight into the company than you may possess yourself.
Constructive debate is good. Schoolboy posturing aint.
Why do you invest? Presumably to buy yourself a better quality of life in some shape or form. For some it is the security of paying off a mortgage. For others it is the thrill of owning a Porsche. We are even witnessing people entering the markets with some redundancy money to try and carve out a better Christmas.
Whatever your goals, I hope you achieve them.
But it’s not worth getting stressed about. Some people say that if you are not losing sleep at night, then you have not invested enough. I think that’s rubbish.
Staring at a L2 screen all day and losing sleep at night is not the way I want to live. So after a hectic, fraught year in which I have over-traded, lost sleep, put on weight, and generally made unwelcome sacrifices in my personal and professional life, I have made a good amount of money, but I honestly feel less happy than I did 12 months ago.
So I have revised my strategy. I paid off the mortgage in February. I have withdrawn all my original capital and protected it in a boring bond. And the rest of my gains remain invested in well-researched, no worries, longer term prospects across a diverse range of sectors.
There was a lot of fear and fuss on the SXX board last night. The SP would likely be volatile this morning as a result. The ‘old me’ would have jumped on an early bus to work, fired up my level 2, and then traded some of the volatility.
As it was, I shunned the early bus and walked the 35 minutes into work, enjoying a crisp Autumnal morning. And the best bit … I’m £1.20 better off, and the only pounds I lost are around my waistline.