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:

Plan Continuation #Bias And Financial #Markets

Plan Continuation Bias is a major factor driving investor losses in stock and other financial markets.  For example, many investors tend to hold on to losers for too long when they should cut their losses.  In this article, I will outline how this bias permeates our psychology by looking at how it works in air crashes, and then go on to examine its effects in financial markets. Investors will learn how to address this bias and improve trading performance.

Plan Continuation Bias, simply put, is the tendency we all have to continue on the path we have already chosen or fallen into without rigorously checking whether that is still the best idea or even advisable at all. Operating with this bias, as with the other 180+ biases that are an unavoidable feature of our psychology, is generally a good idea. We simply don’t have the time to constantly re-analyse our decisions.

Berman and Dismukes wrote a NASA report on this problem, which they describe in a brief article. They define Plan Continuation Bias as follows:

a deep-rooted tendency of individuals to continue their original plan of action even when changing circumstances require a new plan

Berman and Dismukes “Pressing the Approach” Aviation Safety World, December 2006, pp. 28–33

The authors describe two air crashes which were in their view caused by the operation of Plan Continuation Bias. Flight 1420 into Little Rock, Arkansas crashed in June 1999 because the pilots ignored alarms and persisted with an approach in difficult weather conditions. Similarly, Flight 1455 crashed in March 2000 in Burbank, California because the pilots continued with an approach even though they knew that they were flying at 182 knots which they knew was 40 knots above the target touchdown speed.

It is very easy for us to sit here on the ground and do armchair flying. We would not have made these errors we say to ourselves, wrongly. If we saw that we were flying too fast or that there were multiple alarms sounding, we would abort the landing and go around. This is not difficult to do. This quick and wrong simulation of the pilots misses out many germane factors. The pilots are under some pressure to land planes quickly and efficiently for cost reasons. There are no guarantees that going around will improve weather conditions. But ultimately, the major factor in these crashes in human cognitive bias.

Plan Continuation Bias has significant effects on the psychology of all of us. As the authors observe,

Our analysis suggests that almost all experienced pilots operating in the same environment in which the accident crews were operating, and knowing only what the accident crews knew at each moment of the flight, would be vulnerable to making similar decisions and errors

Berman and Dismukes “Pressing the Approach” Aviation Safety World, December 2006, pp. 28–33

Plan Continuation Bias is just as relevant a factor in making decisions in financial markets. We can be just as liable as the pilots described above to sticking to the plan. We bought a stock, it was a good idea at the time, and we continue to hold it even though the original reasons for it being a buy have dissipated or not transpired.

In trading, while no one is going to be killed, it is still an environment in which decisions need to be made on an inadequate data set and sometimes under time pressure. It is also going to be a highly charged situation emotionally. The inadequate data set could result from factors such as the impossibility of predicting the future or the sheer scale of the operations of a listed company. Time pressure is particularly prevalent in day trading, but even more long-term investors are susceptible to effects such as feeling that “money is burning a hole in their pocket” and they need to put a trade on right now. The emotional charge comes from losing money. We are all highly averse to losses — in fact, we seem to be 2.5x more averse to losing money than we favour gaining the same amount. It hurts to lose. It challenges our self-perception.

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These observations lead to immediate suggestions as to how one can prevent Plan Continuation Bias from impairing one’s trading psychology.

  • Try to minimise the effects of an inadequate data set by either doing more research or not trading unless you are certain or can set downside limits. Don’t take trades where it looks like you need to know everything about a company or where you think other market participants can easily know more than you. Don’t trade things you don’t understand like Bitcoin.
  • Don’t do anything under time pressure. You will need to get used to FOMO because “just getting one more trade on” will kill you quite quickly. It’s fine to miss things. It is much more important to get a small number of decisions right than to try to catch every opportunity
  • Don’t trade when feeling strong emotions and try to trade emotionlessly. This is hard to do. It is particularly hard to learn this from practice/dummy accounts. It simply doesn’t hurt very much to lose play money. You should still start here, but be prepared for real life to be much harder. Get more Zen about it. It doesn’t matter if a trade loses as long as you are up over the year.
  • Learn more in the video below:

Optimal #Trading #Psychology

Understanding  basic psychology is one of the most important but also most neglected tasks for investors.  Of course, everyone realises that they need to analyse the investments they are considering buying.  But many traders do not realise that winning in investment is also about successfully predicting what other market players will do.  And that is a psychological task.

Most of the advice on the internet is not really psychology.  It is quasi-psychology.  You might get famous traders telling you things like “I always played tennis in the morning before my best trades to make sure I felt good.”  This is useless.  By all means, study what these guys do to get insights into how they analyse opportunities and maybe any tricks they have for bouncing back from a loss.  But famous traders don’t have any specific training in psychology so if you are specifically wanting to improve your own trading psychology, adopting their tips (such as the tennis one above) won’t really help you in achieving that goal.

Alternatively, there are some actual psychologists who write on the topic and are experts in the field of psychology.  But be careful about their specialisms.  Someone who is a clinical psychologist may be an expert  in schizophrenia but not necessarily other aspects of human psychology.  And of course the main thing is that these experts do not have any serious trading experience, so they also can’t help you improve your trading psychology.

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To identify the right sort of person, you need to ask two questions: does this person have significant trading experience and are they qualified in a related field?  I am one of these people.

To try to convince you of this, I will outline my ideas on how to optimise your trading psychology.  The first thing to know about is that we have a lot of cognitive biases —  mental shortcuts that are often useful when we want a quick and dirty answer and often very unhelpful when we are trying to get something right.  One example is Confirmation Bias, where people look only for evidence that supports what they already believe.  There have been many robust psychology experiments published, that show time and time again that we do this often and consistently.

The first thing to note here is that if you use this bias when making your own trading decisions, you will make bad decisions.  Every time!  So you will definitely not be optimising your trading psychology.  But here’s the key point: everyone else in the markets will be doing it too.

So what does that mean?  It means you need to know about Confirmation Bias and think about it in a market context.  Look out for it in yourself and be careful.  Expect it in other market players and trade accordingly.  

That’s how you stand the best chance of optimising your trading psychology. 

See Also:

The Psychology Of Successful Trading – Behavioural Strategies For Profitability

Why #Value Investors Should Buy #Bank Stocks

The Illusory Truth Effect And Financial Markets

Bad Arguments for the Permanence of Bitcoin

 

Investment Styles

An Introduction To Different Ways To Invest

There are two major investment styles which take completely different approaches.  They are value investing and momentum investing.  The former, also known as contrarianism, seeks to find cheap assets to buy.  It is called contrarianism because often it involves looking for assets which are cheap because no one likes them.  Momentum investing is simpler.  This simply observes that often, assets that have been performing well continue to do so.  So investors adopting this style just look for assets which have gone up and hope that they will continue to do so.

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I favour value investing.  One reason for this is because the problem with momentum investing is that assets which have done well continue to so until they don’t.  There is no way to tell when something which has gone up will stop doing so.  And we definitely know that nothing will appreciate forever!

The difficulty with value investing is knowing when an asset is cheap.  In the early days of investing, the concept of book value was very useful.  This is simply the accounting value.  If a company owns a factory and some machinery, the book value will be close to the value for which the factory and the machines could be sold. If you can buy a share, or a slice of the company, for less than the book value per share, you should.  

Book value is still very useful on many occasions.  But modern companies are very complicated, and often much of what they do cannot be valued simply.  A lot of their worth might be tied up in software, for example, which is harder to value than a building.  Or they might own a lot of IPR — intellectual property which again, is intangible and hard to value.  But the effort is worth it.  Finding a cheap company to buy is one of the best ways to trade successfully. 

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I have written a lot about the importance of psychological factors in investing.  It is absolutely crucial that you understand these, for two reasons.  Knowing about your own psychology will help you understand and improve your decision-making processes. It will be especially valuable to know when cognitive biases are likely to cause you to make errors in evaluating investments.  But just as important is knowing how other investors will think — after all, they have the same psychology as you do!  And knowing what other investors are likely to think of an asset is the key.  Because you want to find an asset which is not just cheap — but unjustifiably so.  Then you can expect it to go up sustainably.

See Also:

The Discerner Art Publication

What Is “Theory Of Mind?”

The Late Evaluation Effect And Financial Markets

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

Jacob Rees Mogg Is Wrong To Say That Loss of Passporting Will Not Be A Problem For The City

I consider the question as to whether The City will suffer a severe impact from the loss of passporting and conclude that it will

Jacob Rees Mogg made the claim below this morning on the Today programme:

“Passporting is mainly retail and UK financial services mainly wholesale.”

This was aimed at supporting the further claim that loss of passporting will not be much of a problem.  Passporting is the regulatory feature whereby financial institutions located in any EU member state can offer financial services in any EU member state.

The first thing we need is clarity on the distinction between retail and wholesale banking.  This maps approximately on to what we might call “high street banking” and “investment banking.”

The former are retail banks such as for example RBS or HSBC.  Their primary lines of business involve dealing with retail customers — i.e. individuals — and their financial needs.  They will offer deposit acceptance, interest bearing accounts (often in pre-crisis times with non-zero amounts of interest!) and mortgages.

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Investment banks such as Goldman Sachs or will mostly deal with HNWIs and corporate clients.  HNWIs are merely very rich individuals, who require additional services such as estate planning and access to hedge funds.  Corporate clients will want funding usually.  This is provided by investment banks often by issuing bonds for them on the global financial markets.  (There are also some banks like Citi who are both retail and investment banks.)

So now we see that the Rees Mogg position is approximately that the passport enables banking across the EU to individuals whereas the City specialises in corporate clients.  Rees Mogg is definitely correct that the passport enables retail banking.  Basically, the passport means that a banking licence in any EU member state is a banking licence in all EU member states.  With that in hand, one can be regulated by the ECB, open a branch anywhere in the EU and start accepting deposits and making loans.

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So the key contestable element of the claim becomes the one that one does not need to be an EU bank to conduct business with corporate clients in the EU.  One point to bear in mind is that many if not all investment banks which operate in The City will also be banks in Frankfurt.  So they will be fine; but of course London could easily lose a lot of high paying jobs and tax revenue.

But to look in more detail, I turn to a report entitled “THE IMPACT OF THE UK’S EXIT FROM THE EU ON THE UK-BASED FINANCIAL SERVICES SECTOR” from Oliver Wyman, commissioned by lobby group TheCityUK.  This report considers four aspects of the wholesale financial ecosystem:

  • Sales and Trading
    • Sales means buying financial assets such as stocks in bulk for major investors; trading is attempting to make a profit by e.g. predicting future directions of market assets
    • Wyman suggest that economies of scale mean that:

“banks could move other activities that are not directly restricted into the EU and away from the UK”

  • Market Infrastructure
    • This means “clearing.” When there are large volumes of trading — and there is well over £2tn (yes, trillion) of daily foreign exchange trading done in London — there are lots of trades that must be cleared.  This means basically moving cash from the bank that bought something to the  bank that sold it and changing the documentation accordingly.  (Incidentally, this sort of thing is why the blockchain is so interesting.  That however, is not a reason to buy Bitcoin: https://timlshort.com/2017/09/16/bad-arguments-for-the-permanence-of-bitcoin/)
    • Wyman suggest that fragmentation of clearing across jurisdictions will increase costs, and

Due to these inefficiencies, some firms could move their clearing out of the UK

  • Asset Management
    • This is managing large investment portfolios for corporate and financial clients such as large EU insurance companies
    • Wyman note that inefficiencies will arise if sales/trading desks migrate to  Frankfurt etc, and so benefits of managing portfolios from the UK could be eroded thus:

leading some companies to manage a greater portion of their assets from within the EU

  • Corporate and Specialty Insurance
    • This is the Lloyds market, specialising in writing large bespoke insurance contracts for major corporate clients
    • Here Wyman suggest:

A loss of depth in the marketplace due to the loss of EU-related activity might lead some insurance firms to relocate outside of the UK

Taking all of this into account, Wyman conclude that no passporting means:

up to 50% of EU-related activity (£20BN in revenue) and an estimated 35,000 jobs could be at risk, along with £5BN of tax revenues per annum

I therefore conclude that some elements of the Rees Mogg claim are true.  It is indeed the case that passporting is on the face of it more of a retail matter than a corporate one.  But corporate clients are still EU clients in a number of important lines of business.  And losing access to those clients from London desks will cause significant impairment to the UK economy.

Wyman confirm this when they estimate the effects of retaining passporting (or some equivalent regulatory arrangement).  They say that in this scenario:

revenues are predicted to decline by up to £2BN (2% of total wholesale and international business), 4,000 jobs would be at risk, and tax revenues would fall by less than £0.5BN per annum

This is still bad — there are no positives to Brexit — but less severe.  Nevertheless, our overall conclusion must be that loss of passporting is very bad news.

See Also:

UK Government Spending: Where It Needs To Be Cut And Why

Where To Cut UK Government Spending: An Alternative Approach

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

The Illusory Truth Effect And Financial Markets

 

 

 

 

 

 

If You Like Gin And Marmite, You Are Probably A Better Trader

There are correlations between taste preferences and personality (disorders) which are also highly present on the trading floor — so check your tastes to see if you are already likely to be a winner!

Evidence has been reported that there are correlations between liking certain bitter tastes and certain personality factors.  Personality as generally understood does not really exist; the belief to the contrary is known as the Fundamental Attribution Error.  However, there are some stabilities in character which are or approach being diagnosable as “personality disorders.”  These though are very much in the eye of the beholder in terms of whether or not they impair effectiveness.  It turns out that these same personality stabilities are highly prevalent in competitive professions, so these people must be doing something right.

Researchers from the University of Innsbruck reported as follows:

Individual differences in bitter taste preferences are associated with antisocial personality traits

Bitter tastes are basically self-explanatory.  Marmite and gin and tonic are two obvious examples, but tea or coffee without sugar could be others.  One might also start looking at wine types.

The authors found robust correlations between preferences for such bitter tastes and the Dark Tetrad, which is the Dark Triad plus everyday sadism.  The Dark Triad is one of the stable factors in personality.  It consists of Machiavellianism, psychoticism/psychopathy, and narcissism, at levels below threshold for diagnosis as a personality disorder.

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Machiavellianism could also be termed manipulativeness.  It reflects how likely someone is to be devious or to manipulate others for their own benefit.  Psychosis means susceptibility to delusions.  Some false beliefs — especially false positive beliefs about the self — are correlated with individual success.

Some authors in the literature include psychopathic tendencies instead of psychosis.  These tendencies come from a wide potential array of behaviours.  Some or all of the following may be present:

  • glibness
  • superficial charm
  • grandiosity
  • pathological lying
  • manipulation of others
  • lack of remorse and/or guilt
  • shallow affect
  • lack of empathy
  • failure to accept responsibility
  • stimulation-seeking behaviour
  • impulsivity
  • irresponsibility
  • parasitic orientation
  • lack of realistic life goals
  • poor behavioral controls
  • early childhood behaviour problems
  • criminal activity

Obviously some of these are very unhelpful.  But we can imagine that others could be extremely useful.

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Narcissism is an extreme level of self-absorption and self-belief.  This looks as though it will be really quite useful in terms of allowing people to fail repeatedly with no adverse ego consequences.

 

We know that the Dark Triad –and presumably also the Dark Tetrad, since that is very similar — are heavily over-represented in certain professions.  That is: investment banking, journalism and politics.  All of these professions are extremely competitive and perhaps also require a certain amount of ability to exploit others.  This can therefore explain why the Dark Triad would often be seen on the trading floor as well.

Of course, this shows correlation rather than causation.  However, since we have a plausible explanation as well as a correlation — it seems likely that being a Dark Triad person will be valuable when trading.  And now, since we have observed correlations* with bitter taste preferences, there is an easy way to check!

(Disclosure: I am well-known for liking ridiculous amounts of Marmite.  I don’t mind a gin and tonic either.  And I wrote this: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Psychology-Successful-Trading-Behavioural-Profitability/dp/1138096288/

So that’s one more data point!)

 

See Also:

What Is “Theory Of Mind?”

The Illusory Truth Effect And Financial Markets

The Late Evaluation Effect And Financial Markets

The #Bitcoin Bubble Is Caused By The Halo Effect

 

*The Innsbruck researchers say they have succeeded in:

consistently demonstrating a robust relation between increased enjoyment of bitter foods and heightened sadistic proclivities

The Psychology of Successful Trading

 

Getting your trading psychology right and understanding that of others are both essential prerequisites to successful trading in financial markets. I discuss the most important elements of trading psychology in my new book.

Buy the book here:

Thanks to Karine Sawan and film crew for video production.