Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Herd Mentality

“Although markets do tend toward rational positions in the long run, the market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent.” - John Maynard

Today I would like to share with you a mental bias that concerns every investor, which is known as "herd mentality". But before that, let's acknowledge that the phenomenon of the herd mentality can be useful in many ways. For example, research shows that although 5% of the animals in a herd know the location of the water source, the entire herd is able to find it. In our daily lives, we use this instinct to navigate to the exit in cinemas and crowded streets.

We have to admit that herding is our human instinct. Herding always makes us feel comfortable, and being the odd one out make us feel uneasy. We are programmed to feel that the consensus view must be correct one; and this mistaken belief has led to many disastrous decisions such as the “Four Dragons” and “Four Tigers Era” of the 1990’s where many investors who were initially sceptical ended up buying into the hype under the mistaken belief that not everyone could be wrong. And yet, most people were wrong.

Some researchers theorise that investors follow the crowd and conventional wisdom to avoid the possibility of feeling regret in the event that their decisions prove to be incorrect.

Fear of Regret
People tend to feel sorrow and grief after having made an error of judgment. Investors deciding whether to sell a security are typically emotionally affected by whether the security was bought for more or less than the current price.

For example, most investors avoid selling stocks that are making paper losses in order to avoid the pain and regret of having a bad investment. The mentality is: after all, it’s only a paper loss, as long as I don’t realise the loss, it doesn’t count!

In addition, investors have the mindset of “what if the price goes up after I’ve sold it”; hence they would rather hold on to bad stocks hoping one day it will turn into a star.

However, some professional traders even advocate trend following as their winning trading strategy. They would apply technical analysis to help them in identifying the prevailing trend and trade with the trend. The biggest pitfall of this method is that it ignores fundamental analysis totally.

Herd mentality can be for good or bad. It is not totally wrong to follow the herd, but we must know when to follow and when not to. The challenge is in making an educated guess about when a turning point will occur and developing a trading plan to capitalise on it.

Happy investing,
Pauline Yong

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