Want To Be An Above-Average Investor? Stop Trying To Time The Market

by: Lou Basenese

Nobody likes to fess up to their weaknesses. But I'm not here to coddle you. Nor am I going to boost your ego. I'm here to cut to the truth. Especially on Myth-Busting Mondays. Even when it hurts. And today, well, it's going to hurt. But like the saying goes, "No pain, no gain," right?

So let's hurry up and take our licks. That way, we can get to the positive part of our message…

Everyone Can't Be An Above-Average Investor

We've all heard the stat that 80% of people believe they're above-average drivers. Yet that's obviously a statistical impossibility. Psychologists refer to this phenomenon as illusory superiority. It means we're predisposed to overestimate our positive qualities and underestimate our negative ones. It turns up in classrooms, the workplace, social situations and - you guessed it - investing!

I know, I know. You're the exception and really are a better-than-average investor. Keep telling yourself that. Just realize that denial is often the first confirmation that you do, indeed, have a problem. Here's the truth: We're not even close to being above-average investors. Most of us suck. In a major way.

Take a look:

The latest research from BlackRock shows that the average investor underperformed not one, not a few, but every major asset class for the last 20 years. Even inflation. How can that be? It all boils down to a foolish belief that we can time the market.

Or, as BlackRock says, "Amidst difficult financial times, emotional instincts often drive investors to take actions that make no rational sense but make perfect emotional sense. Psychological factors such as fear often translate into poor timing of buys and sells."

Specifically, this belief manifests itself in investors moving into cash and trying to return to the market after the uncertainty of the day passes. I mean, how many of you moved into cash waiting for the European debt crisis to pass, the Great Recession to subside, or the "Fiscal Cliff" fiasco to be resolved? And how'd that work out for you, as Dr. Phil likes to say?

My guess - not too well. And that's simply because banking profits from market timing requires getting three decisions in a row correct: when to get in, when to get out and when to get back in.

I'm sorry. None of us is that good. Nor should any of us aspire to be that good. Why? Because the best days in the market often occur immediately after the worst. In fact, as I shared before here, 11 of the 20 worst days for the Dow were followed by historic rallies.

So if we try to time the market, we run the risk of it surging before we get a chance to get back in. Just like it did when the Fiscal Cliff deal passed.

As Larry Rakers, Portfolio Manager of Fidelity Dividend Growth Fund (FDGFX), notes, "The market moved within a matter of hours, and if you had fled stocks, you might have missed gains before you got back in." He adds, "It's very hard to predict when good days like that will take place, and you can't afford to miss them."

No, we can't! For proof, look no further than the latest report from brokerage firm, Fidelity. It reveals that missing a mere five of the best days in the market trims our long-term returns by 35%. And missing just the 10 best days cuts our profits by more than half.

Bottom line: To truly become an above-average investor, we need to stop trying to time the market. Simply because we can't! That's why the Forbes 400 list doesn't include a single market timer.

So when volatility spikes again, don't get all emotional on us and bail on your investments. Instead, let your trailing stops determine your exits. Or, as Rakers says, "Ignore the noise and just be thinking about the long term." That is, unless you like sucking at investing.

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