If you’ve ever wondered why clients remember their winners so well—and are so quick to sell them–while forgetting the losers and how badly they have done, some academics have done you a favor. You can read this article for the full explanation. Or you can look at this handy graphic from CXO Advisory that explains how clients use different reference points for winners and losers. In short, the winners are compared with their highest-ever price, while losers are compared with their break-even purchase price.
Source: CXO Advisory
It explains a lot, doesn’t it? It explains why clients make bizarre self-estimates of their investment performance. And it explains why clients are perpetually disappointed with their advisors—because they are comparing their winners with the highest price achieved. Any downtick makes it a loser in their eyes. The losers are ignored, in hopes they will get back to even.
The antidote to this cognitive bias, of course, is to use a systematic investment process that ruthlessly evaluates every position against a common standard. If you are a value investor, presumably you are estimating future expected returns as your holding criterion. For relative strength investors like ourselves, we’re constantly evaluating the relative strength ranking of each security in the investment universe. Strong securities are retained, and securities that weaken are swapped out for stronger ones. Only a systematic process is going to keep you from looking at reference points differently for winners and losers.