Harsh Reminder

Charles Schafer

DURING THE RECENT bull market, I fell off the wagon and bought some technology companies, once again trying my hand at stock picking. I’m talking about companies like Spotify Technology, MercadoLibre and Roblox. It was a small percentage of my portfolio, but I felt the pain.

I’d tried picking individual stocks when I was younger. I thought I had a better chance now. After all, I was more educated and knew more about researching companies. I convinced myself that if I put in more time—listening to all the earnings calls, reading all the research reports and slide decks, and looking at all the SEC filings—I’d get better results.


The reality: I was just as driven by market euphoria as everyone else. I put my hand in the fire and I got burned—again. If it were the first time, I wouldn’t have been so hard on myself. But the truth is, I knew better.

I knew the research says 90% of active fund managers fail to beat their benchmark index over the long haul, and yet I opted to be a more active investor. I knew that 90% of the long-term variation in a portfolio’s return is explained by asset allocation, and yet I decided to pick individual stocks. I knew that sticking to evidence-based investing, keeping costs low and diversifying are what I should focus on, rather than dabbling in whatever highflying stocks or sectors were in vogue at the time. I knew the history of bubbles and manias, including railroads in the 1800s, the Nifty Fifty stocks during the 1960s, Japan in the 1980s and the dot-com mania of the 1990s. I knew about all these, and yet I didn’t see the bubble right in front of me.

I knew all this, and yet I did it anyway. This was my first mania, and I feel as though I failed the test.

I wasn’t the only one to get caught up in the recent bull market run and lose money. An estimated 10 million new brokerage accounts were opened in 2020 alone. According to S&P Global, retail trading was 47% higher in 2021 compared to pre-2020 levels. Much of that volume was in meme stocks. If you’d been invested in anything related to cryptocurrencies (symbol: BITW, -65% over the past 12 months), cloud computing (WCLD, -47%), e-commerce (IBUY, -65%), special purpose acquisition companies (SPAK, -46%) or any other highflier that crashed over the past year, you might be feeling the pain, too.

But my investment education has taught me something else: fleeing from investing altogether would be a mistake. I know about loss aversion, and the fact that we experience portfolio losses more than twice as acutely as we experience portfolio gains. I also know that, over the long term, my investments should fare well as long as I stick to my plan and always focus on my financial goals.

If I’m being honest with myself, picking individual stocks was not part of that plan, and it doesn’t align with my financial goals and with what makes me feel fulfilled. My losses may be painful now, but that’ll pass and I’ll always remember what this past year felt like. It will help me stay on the path to better investing. It will help me utilize the knowledge I’ve gained over time. It will help me stick to a boring and coldly efficient investing plan. And that’s the way it should be.

Charlie Schafer is an aerospace engineer with an interest in personal finance and investing. His other hobbies include reading widely and homebrewing beer. Charlie lives with his wife and two children in South Philadelphia. His previous article was A+ for Effort.

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