Omission Bias and Financial Markets

Omission Bias is the tendency to judge the omission of an act more harshly than its commission.  It is widely studied in psychology and has been reliably replicated in a variety of scenarios.  In the context of financial markets, this can have adverse effects because there is no practical difference between investing $100 in a stock that declines 10% the next day and failing to buy one that appreciates 10% the next day.

This of course assumes that you actually have $100.  If you don’t have a float of cash available at all times, then you will not be in a position to seize opportunities.  So that would be the first piece of advice.  Maintain a certain percentage of your investable assets in the form of cash —  perhaps 10%.  Alternatively, you could arrange for a line of credit in a similar amount but make sure you do not do too much of this because it is high risk.  Conversely, holding 10% cash acts to reduce risk.

Another adverse effect of Omission Bias is that it impairs your ability to assess performance.  This is of crucial importance.  Many investors do not have clear enough data of what has worked for them and what has not.  It is essential to have a good focus on this for a number of reasons.  

One benefit is that you can only manage your portfolio appropriately if you have been examining its performance precisely.  A second benefit is that you might be able to identify some specific sorts of trade that you are particularly good at.  You can then seek to identify relevantly similar situations and exploit them.  Also — you might have a chance of avoiding disasters from the past occurring again!

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Our ability to look at our failures and learn from them is also impeded by our natural distaste for thinking about the unpleasant — but failures are always more instructive than successes.  One might almost say that any fool can succeed — but only an expert can fail well…

A major practical impediment to any attempts to correct for Omission Bias is due to the sheer scale of the problem.  The number of shares you did not buy yesterday is absolutely huge.  There is no way you can think about all of those.  Nor should you.  The more useful comparison is to think about the shares you could have bought or the ones you almost did buy.  So that tells us that you should be looking at several buy options at a time.  Look at what factors led you to choose the one you did choose.  

Maybe you were looking at three oil companies.  You compared them on price/earnings ratios, dividends and price/book value.  You made a choice.  Did that work out?  (Don’t do this next day.  Wait for a reasonable period.  Otherwise you will just be looking at noise.)

What fundamentally is going on with Omission Bias is a sort of agency effect.  If something bad happens and you could have prevented it but did not, this is seen as morally less culpable than if you did something which caused a bad outcome.  After all, “you didn’t do anything.”  I think this perception might be strengthened by the fact that the law says a lot about what we cannot do but rarely says anything about what you must do.  You are at liberty to walk past a baby drowning in a pond.  You are not at liberty to throw a baby in a pond.

This might be fine morally.  But stock markets are not outlets for moral action.  They are locations where you can profit.  Or not.  Bear in mind the possibilities of Omission Bias affecting your judgements of your own decision-making and your decisions will get better and more profitable.

Learn more in the video below:

How To Profit From Thorium

Current excitement in the Gulf of Mexico demonstrates one of the reasons why we need new angles in energy. That didn’t stop me buying BP shares at the weekend – after a price decline from 647p to 517p I put in a limit order with an upper limit of 500p, just to see if it would get that low. I got filled, which I thought was great until the top kill/junk shot tanked later on. So right now we are off 13% to 430p. My response to that was to buy some more – call me psycho. Anyway, in a year either I will have been wiped out or made out like a bandit, and those are the only two options I am interested in. Life choices are the same as trade choices. In case you were wondering.

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But anyway, to the point. Nuclear power is better than carbon-based energy generation. It’s greener – and you can’t defeat that argument by pointing to the waste problem – because we already have that problem. So we may as well have it in spades, right? In any case, the Finns are going to sort it out by sticking it deep underground in a sort of fairly stable rock chamber. And isn’t it about time the Finns contributed something? Where have they been lately? There’s been lots going on and we never hear from them. Finland buries its nuclear past. But does that look like good press? Is there a different answer?

Yes – there’s even a better option: thorium. For three major reasons.

Less waste

Thorium-based reactors produce waste products which have a half life much shorter than the 100s of thousands of years involved with uranium reactors.

It’s available

The uranium is going to run out. And quicker than you think if you note that we have maybe 60 years worth. That is at current rates of use but you might want to assume greater energy use in the future and a higher nuclear component.

It’s not weaponisable

You can’t make nuclear weapons from thorium. So if one state, say the US, wanted to persuade another state, say Iran, to act consistently with the latter’s stated intentions only in the realm of power generation, it could offer them thorium based reactor technology and then be intensely relaxed about the consequences. Because there wouldn’t be any.

So who believes this story and does anyone care?

HATCH, REID INTRODUCE NEW THORIUM NUCLEAR FUEL BILL TO PROMOTE ENERGY INDEPENDENCE

This is a Bill in the US Senate which notes that the energy dependence of the US is a national security issue for that country. There’s another Bill in committee which observes that the US nuclear submarine fleet would be grounded (I know that’s wrong – but what happens to non-flying vessels when they can’t go anywhere…?) without uranium fuel. And mandates the Secretary of the Navy to look at thorium as a replacement.

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Congressman Sestak’s Amendments in National Defense Authorization Act Pass House

So this is a US national security issue and a convincing picture in general. But the former element means one thing: lots and lots of money. Where’s the thorium? Virginia, for example. Not so much dealing with difficult people for essential products.

So what should you do if you believe the story? These are the two stocks to buy. Firstly you want exposure to the design story. And secondly you want some thorium. There’s the usual triple lock on investment decisions: compelling story, pure exposure, acceptable risk. The first box I already ticked. Secondly you can buy two stocks as listed below. The first one is a consultancy specialising in thorium reactor design. The second one is basically a very speculative outfit with at least three men and a dog in Canada. They have a licence to dig in a hill next to one where some people before found some thorium. [Actually it’s better than that – today they announced the hiring of a new experienced exec and they gave him “incentive stock options for 150,000 shares exercisable over 5 years at $0.14 each, subject to vesting provisions”. So this guy believes they are going north of there.]

Lightbridge Corporation

RockBridge Resources Inc

It will be apparent that option two is slightly more risky. Option one isn’t safe because nothing is, but it is NASDAQ listed so you have some better transparency and reporting. Though you should never forget that Enron was main board listed. Rockbridge are listed on the Vancouver startup board but you can get the exposure through a pink sheet OTC trade in NY. This is a pass-through derivative. So the recommended division should be something like 90/10. Which was what I was going for when I did this trade on behalf of myself and Mark L – except I got confused by the factor of two and ended up with 80/20. When you try to hold 20 numbers in your head at the same time, you always forget one, or mix up GBPUSD with USDGBP or something. But again, trades are like life and serendipity can be the new name for chaos.

See Also:

What Is “Theory Of Mind?”

The Psychology of Successful Trading: see clip below of me explaining my new book!

The Illusory Truth Effect And Financial Markets

The Late Evaluation Effect And Financial Markets