Every investor’s investment strategy should adequately address the following five questions:
(1) What specific stocks will I buy?
(2) When should I buy these stocks?
(3) How should I buy these stocks?
(4) When should I sell these stocks?
(5) How should I sell these stocks?
In addition, the answers for questions #2, #3, #4, and #5 should vary depending upon the different components of an individual’s stock portfolio. If the answers for questions #2 , #3. #4, and #5 exhibit no variance, then the risk profile for all stocks in the portfolio will be the same, an undesirable trait.
There is a very good reason why people that try to mimic the portfolios of very wealthy successful investors never can achieve nearly the same success as the investors they mimic. The reason is that they can only answer one piece of the above 5-part investment puzzle– the question of what to buy. In fact, I could open up my portfolio to investment novices, show them all the stocks I own now, and out of 1,000 novices, all of them would have an extremely difficult time duplicating my future returns. In fact, it’s entirely plausible that investors would lose significant amounts of money on the very same stocks that would produce my largest gains.
Again, understanding a complete investment system will determine portfolio returns, not just knowing what to buy.
Why Most Investment Firms’ Strategies Fail to Adequately Address the 5 Questions
The evolution of job titles for investment professionals from broker to financial consultant to financial advisor is ironic, because the original title, for the great majority of employees in this industry, is by far the most accurate. Most financial consultants are nothing more than brokers that broker the money you give to them. They serve as middlemen between you and the money managers hired by the firm, and are so interchangeable with one another that a retail investor’s portfolio returns are not likely to vary significantly from one consultant to another at the same firm.
Back when I worked as a “broker” at a Wall Street firm, I remember hearing a story about a very successful (meaning high-income earner) financial consultant that bought nothing but exchange traded funds (ETFs) for his clients. His rational for doing so was four-fold.
(1) Mutual fund expenses were too high (true);
(2) Expenses on ETFs were low (true);
(3) The overwhelming majority of money managers can’t beat the performance of the major domestic indexes (true); and
(4) Therefore, ETFs were the best way to invest for his client (false).
Global investment firms never train their brokers how to be superior stock pickers. They train them how to be superior salespeople. So in concluding that allocating entire portfolios solely to ETFs was the absolute best possible strategy for his clients, this particular consultant’s logic was erroneous. The consultant drew this conclusion solely based upon his foundation of investment knowledge, one primarily filled with investment sales strategies. In fact, though I was never able confirm this, I heard many anecdotal stories that this particular financial consultant was able to outperform the vast majority of financial consultants at the firm with his “I will only buy ETFs” strategy.
Though I wouldn’t be surprised if this were true, the fact that this particular consultant was able to gather so many clients based on such a faulty strategy was a remarkable statement about the average investor’s knowledge of how to build wealth. To me, as unknowledgeable as financial consultants are about proper wealth building strategies (given their constant diet of investment sales strategies), this proves that the average retail investor, even those with millions of investable assets, are far less knowledgeable.
In conclusion, every retail investor should thus utilize the 5 questions of building wealth to determine if his or her investment strategy is faulty or strong. With any strong investment strategy, all 5 questions will be relevant. Own a faulty investment strategy and most likely, one or more of the 5 questions will be irrelevant. And the faultiness of the strategy no doubt will be manifested in weak returns. To illustrate how the 5 questions of building wealth will “out” any poor investment strategy, let’s take a look at a couple of examples. Let’s start with two different portfolios, one primarily built around ETFs; the other primarily built around Mutual Funds.
(1)What Specific Stocks Should I Buy?
Neither the Mutual Fund or ETF strategy can answer this question, so you don’t even need to ask the final four questions to know that neither of these strategies will help you build wealth.
How about a portfolio that consists of all individual Chinese stocks? This portfolio passes question #1, the question of what specific stocks to buy. Next, if we drill down to see how this portfolio was constructed, the portfolio manager’s answers to questions #2 and #3 — “When were these stocks bought and why?” and “How were these stocks bought and why?” – will reveal whether or not the portfolio was indeed constructed solidly.
Finally the portfolio manager’s answers to questions #4 and #5 — “How will these stocks be sold and why?” and “When will these stocks be sold and why?” will reveal if strategies are in place to lock in profits or minimize potential losses. However, remember the earlier point I made in this article: “the answers for questions #2, #3, #4, and #5 should vary depending upon the different components of an individual’s stock portfolio.” Most likely for a portfolio built on stocks that trade in a frothy, emerging market, there will be little variance in the answers for questions #2, #3, #4 and #5. This lack of variance again would expose the weakness of this investment strategy.
Although just a rough guide, the 5 questions should provide you a quick way to establish the intelligence and strength of your current investment strategy.