Byron Wien, former investment strategist at Morgan Stanley (MS) and current Vice Chairman at Blackstone Advisory Partners (BX), traveled to Austria 25 years ago and used Sigmund Freud’s success in psychoanalytical theory development as a framework to apply it to the investment management field.
This is how Wien describes Sigmund Freud’s triumphs in the field of psychology:
“He accomplished much because he successfully anticipated the next step in his developing theories, and he did that by analyzing everything that had gone before carefully. This is the antithesis of the way portfolio managers approach their work.”
Wien attempts to reconcile the historical shortcomings of investment managers by airing out his dirty mistakes for others to view.
“I think most of us have developed patterns of mistake-making, which, if analyzed carefully, would lead to better performance in the future…In an effort to encourage investment professionals to determine their error patterns, I have gathered the data and analyzed my own follies, and I have decided to let at least some of my weaknesses hang out. Perhaps this will inspire you to collect the information on your own decisions over the past several years to see if there aren’t some errors that you could make less frequently in the future.”
Here are the recurring investment mistakes Wien shares in his analysis:
Selling Too Early: Wien argues that “profit-taking” alone is not reason enough to sell. Precious performance points can be lost, especially if trading activity is done for the sole purpose of looking busy.
The Turnaround with the Heart of Gold: Sympathy for laggard groups and stocks is inherent in the contrarian bone that most humans use to root for the underdog. Wien highlights the typical underestimation investors attribute to turnaround situations – reality is usually a much more difficult path than hoped.
Overstaying a Winner: Round-trip stocks – those positions that go for long price appreciation trips but return over time to the same stock price of the initial purchase – were common occurrences for Mr. Wien in the past. Wien blames complacency, neglect, and infatuation with new stock ideas for these overextended stays.
Underestimating the Seriousness of a Problem: More often than not, the first bad quarter is rarely the last. Investors are quick to recall the rare instance of the quick snapback, even if odds would dictate there are more cockroaches lurking after an initial sighting. As Wien says, “If you’re going to stay around for things to really improve, you’d better have plenty of other good stocks and very tolerant clients.”
It may have been 1986 when Byron Wien related the shortcomings in investing with Sigmund Freud’s process of psychoanalysis, but the analysis of common age-old mistakes made back then are just as relevant today, whether looking at a brain or a stock.
See also: Killing Patients to Prosperity
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
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