If investing were easy, everybody would be rich...
It's tough to gain an edge on the market when it's made up of some of the smartest financial minds in the world.
And it's even harder to beat these professionals when you continuously make – often easily avoidable – mistakes.
Today, I want to go over three common psychological traps investors should avoid...
Trap No. 1: The Anchoring Trap
First impressions can be powerful. The anchoring trap happens when an investor is relying too heavily on what he or she originally thought.
Let's say you used to be a frequent shopper at Toys "R" Us years ago. If you ever needed a birthday present for your kids, Toys "R" Us always had the best toys at the cheapest prices. And its customer service was top-notch. As a result, any time someone brought up Toys "R" Us, the first thing you thought of was a quality company.
But what if you were so blinded by your initial perception of the company that you couldn't see the competitive environment was changing for Toys "R" Us?
For decades, Toys "R" Us was the dominant force in the retail toy world. But by the 2000s, families didn't need to go to Toys "R" Us to buy toys anymore... E-commerce giant Amazon (AMZN) made shopping for the same items a one-click affair.
So if you invested in this company during its heyday and held on, thinking that it was here to stay, you would have lost a lot of money when it declared bankruptcy.
You must always remain flexible when you invest. Things change constantly, and so should your thinking. Be open to new information. It's OK to change your opinions when the facts change.
Trap No. 2: The Pseudo-Certainty Trap
I see this one far too often. It deals with how much investors are willing to risk.
There are two parts to the pseudo-certainty trap: The first is when investors remove risk when their portfolios are performing well. You can think of it like this... A NASCAR driver won't win a lot of races if he slows down every time he is in the lead.
We can see this in the market today. Stocks are near all-time highs, and consumer confidence is up near highs, too. But investors are playing it safe.
You can see that mindset by looking at the recent run-up in safe assets, like 20-year Treasury bonds, municipal bonds, and gold. Despite the historic highs in stocks, investors have been looking for safety... And some folks may be underinvested today as a result.
The second part of this trap is when investors seek risk when their portfolios are falling. This can be detrimental, and it's what you need to watch out for the most.
When most people start to see their portfolios turn red, they often act out of desperation. They pile on risk to try and win it all back. This is a huge mistake. Most likely, your bet won't pay off... And you'll lose even more money.
When the market is falling, don't try to time it. Most people think they can catch a falling knife, and it turns out they can't. They buy when they think the market is at a bottom, only to have stocks fall by another 15%.
Avoiding the pseudo-certainty trap is all about getting in when there is an uptrend – and getting out when there is a downtrend.
Trap No. 3: The Sunk-Cost Trap
We've all done it...
We've all bought a movie ticket, sat down in the theater, and then realized halfway through that it's a terrible movie. But we made it this far and we've already paid for it... so we might as well finish watching the movie.
We all keep clothes in our closet that we know we're never going to wear, since we already spent the money on them.
And of course, the sunk-cost trap also happens when we buy a bad investment and refuse to sell it – even when it's obvious we're wrong. We see the stock plummeting, but we remain committed to the investment. And, worse still, we often put more money into the loser, thinking, "It has to go back up eventually."
This is easier said than done, but... know when to cut your losses.
Emotions make this hard to do. That's why I usually recommend investors use some sort of exit strategy. Stop losses are a wonderful tool for combatting the sunk-cost trap. Whatever you do, know when you'll sell any investment – ideally, before you ever buy it.
The bottom line is, investing is hard... So don't make it harder. Be aware of these traps and actively think about ways to avoid them.
Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig
Editor's note: For a deep dive into the world of investing, don't miss the 2019 Stansberry Conference next month. Just pick up an online all-access pass to watch the event from home. You'll be "in the room" with investing experts like famed short-seller Marc Cohodes... entertainers like Dennis Miller... and Stansberry analysts like Doc, Steve, and our founder Porter Stansberry. It's all at a fraction of the cost of joining us in person – plus, your online pass comes with a free gift. Get more details here.
"I believe it's high time we turned back to the long-term investment strategies that have lagged lately," Dan Ferris writes. Get his tips on investing in today's market here: Two Investing Strategies for the 'Swift, Strong, and Wise.'
"Far too many investors suffer from 'confirmation bias,'" Austin Root writes. "They formulate a positive thesis on a company and then work to find only the information that will prove they're right." Read more about his strategy on looking at the "dark side" of stocks right here.
Don't get overwhelmed by investing. In addition to avoiding these traps, following three rules can keep it simple and help you become a better investor...
WHAT THE RAILROADS TELL US ABOUT THE U.S. ECONOMY
Today, we're checking in on one of our favorite gauges of economic health...
Regular readers know we watch several sectors to get a feel for how the economy is doing. When the economy is booming, we usually see a pickup in industrial activity. Construction and manufacturing firms start getting more business. And the same goes for transportation...
Kansas City Southern (KSU) is a $13 billion railroad giant. It ships industrial products along its 6,700 miles of railroad track between Missouri and Mexico. Kansas City Southern moves all kinds of products in essential markets like agriculture, energy, and more. So when this company is making money, we know that commerce is humming along... In the most recent quarter, Kansas City Southern reported record sales of $714 million, up 5% from the same quarter in 2018.
As you can see in today's chart, KSU shares are trending higher. The stock is up nearly 40% in 2019 alone, and it recently hit a fresh all-time high. If you're ever in doubt about the U.S. economy, keep an eye on shipping stocks...