How You, The Amateur, Can Beat The Pros

My family and I spent the Easter weekend over in Ballarat. Our kids had never been to Sovereign Hill. We ate boiled lollies, freshly baked tarts, and panned for gold. What a time consuming exercise gold panning is, but oh, how much fun it was. The amount of time, energy, and patience that is required is enormous. And even if you endure the process, the reward, a speckle. After spending almost 2 hours entertaining myself, here’s what I walked away with. I was assured the gold I had discovered was worth more than the $1 bottle I bought to put it in.

It’s been one month since the AFR reported It’s the end of an era in Australian funds management. Funds management is a tough gig, especially in this day and age as technology and fee pressure adds fuel to the fire. Professional investors are not all they’re made out to be – unlike professional sports. Consider this. You’re an avid boxing fan. You’ve got all the top gear, gloves and all. Would you jump in the ring with Mike Tyson?

Charles Ellis (founder Greenwich Associates) said, “Well, 90% of stock market volume is done by institutions, and half of that is done by the world’s 50 largest investment firms, deeply committed, vastly well prepared — the smartest sons of bitches in the world working their tails off all day long. You know what? I don’t want to play against those guys either.”

Playing their game on their terms will leave you and your portfolio for dead. There are however, a number of advantages amateur investors have over the pros. Here are my top 5:

Benchmarks: As a pro, you are measured against a benchmark day by day, second by second. Arbitrary or not, that’s that game. Rather than applying a considered long-term philosophy, short term comparison of benchmarks will eventually take hold. As an amateur, you have no benchmarks to compare yourself to each week, quarter, or year. You can feast on all the free market have to offer over the long-term.

Short-termism: As an amateur investor, you don’t have to trade as frequently as the pros. With all the twists and turns in the stock market these days, you can avoid making sticking plaster decisions by not reacting to all the noise and remain focused on the long game.

Doing nothing: With every zig and zag of the market, the pros needs to act. It’s difficult to justify fees and demonstrate expertise by doing nothing. So, they do more. As an amateur investor, you probably sat idle for that last 20% correction. Am I wrong? The pros, pulling their hair out for either missing the decline or not positioning themselves to participate in the recovery. Jack Bogle once said, “Don’t do something, just stand there.”

Fees: You can keep yours low. The pros cannot. Staff, conferences, flights around the world, expensive offices, legal and compliance departments are only just the beginning for these guys and gals. As an amateur, you have access to the US stock market for just 0.04%. The average pro charges 1.09% – that’s a 2,725% increase on what the amateur has access to.

Forecasts: You don’t need to make them. The pro’s do. And then they trade on it – despite there being ample evidence that they have any capability in this area. And I get it. Acknowledging that markets are very unpredictable in the short-term and responding with, “I don’t know” to questions that are asked of you, is not the way you climb the industry ladder. I guess it’s better to have a sophisticated point of view and be wrong.

Like panning for gold, stock picking is a damn hard game to play. Sure, it’s entertaining for those panning, but when the spectators (investors) have been waiting this entire time, and all you can produce is a speckle of gold (if that), and the speckle (return) is not worth more than the bottle of water (fees) you bought, which is more often the case, they’ll spit in your face and leave you for the dogs.