Motilal Oswal Asset Management Company Ltd. (MOAMC) is a public limited company incorporated under the Companies Act, 1956 on November 14, 2008, having its Registered Office at 10th Floor, Motilal Oswal Tower, Rahimtullah Sayani Road, Opposite Parel ST Depot, Prabhadevi, Mumbai - 400025.
Motilal Oswal Asset Management Company Ltd. has been appointed as the Investment Manager to Motilal Oswal Mutual Fund by the Trustee vide Investment Management Agreement (IMA) dated May 21, 2009, executed between Motilal Oswal Trustee Company Ltd. and Motilal Oswal Asset Management Company Ltd.
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The psychology of high investment returns - why do we chase it? Part 1

Blog Blog Details
  • October 19, 2020
  • Pratik Oswal|
  • Head of Passive Funds Business

In 2018 I lived on Stanford University campus (where my wife was studying) and got intrigued by a French philosopher Rene Girard who used to be a professor there. According to Rene, - human desire tends to be based on other people s desires. We want things not because of what they really are, but because people like us desire it and we want to imitate them. This is a really powerful thought. 


The decision to marry is because friends around marry, the decision to have kids happens because everyone around is getting pregnant. It also determines where we work. When I was graduating college in 2010 - everybody wanted to work on the trading floor or in the investment banking business of Goldman Sachs. Ten years hence - it s Google, Amazon, and other tech startups. Our parents chased financial well-being, such as owning a house, a car as the primary pursuit of life. Today it can be the number of followers you have on social media, and tomorrow it may be something else. The fact is that our actions depend a lot on what other people think is cool, and we tend to chase that excitement. 

Let s come to investing. John Bogle (founder of Vanguard) once said, "Money flows into most funds after good performance, and goes out when bad performance follows." Why does this happen? 

Returns offer ease in decision making.
With hundreds and thousands of mutual funds out there - high returns become the default filter for choosing investments. Buying a mutual fund is equivalent to trying to decide between 1000 different hair dryers. It s hard to predict which hair dryer will work and which won t. The best decision is to buy a decent one and stick to it for a very long-time -, but investors keep on buying the best hairdryer and sell the worst hairdryer. Investors don t understand that juggling hairdryers is more damaging over the long-run. Every hairdryer goes through good and bad performance over a longer time span. 

Social proof
If everyone’s investing in it – it must be good. 

Ratings tend to be high for good performing funds. 
If returns are the first filter for investors, the next filter tends to be star ratings. Very rarely will investors see a good performing fund with a bad rating. Unfortunately, ratings also tend to follow good performance, so investors are back to square one. In fact, in many cases, rating upgrades tend to happen after a period of good performance by the investment. This again is a type of return chasing behavior. 

Studies show reversion to the mean works in investing too. 
A lot of studies show mean reversion in the investment industry as well. By definition, mean reversion is a theory that suggests that asset prices tend to revert to an average level over a long enough point in time. This theory also suggests that investors following the opposite of return chasing should ideally make more money, i.e., sell good performing investments and buying poor performing investments. In technical terms, this means portfolio rebalancing and yes - it works wonders and forms the basis of intelligent investment management. Unfortunately, many investors do the opposite of rebalancing - buy more of good performing funds by selling poor-performing funds.

Advisors and wealth managers do not advise poor-performing funds. 
If an advisor sells a good performing fund and it does not perform - it s technically the fund s fault. If he sells a poorly performing fund which then delivers poor returns, that’s the advisor’s fault. To give another example - if someone advises Infosys as a stock recommendation and if Infosys underperforms - something is probably wrong with Infosys. But if an analyst recommends a small-cap stock - then it s the analyst s fault. Investing in under-performing managers and selling strong performers may end up being a good strategy - but comes with significant career risk. That s why you should never expect an advisor to recommend a poor performing fund.
 
Outcome bias
The investment industry is obsessed with not the process but the outcome of things. Advisors and investors are not judged by the quality of their decisions but by their investment outcomes. A good decision going sour is a sign of poor decision making. A wrong decision with a little bit of luck is a sign of superior decision making. Good performers talk about their investing prowess, and low performers speak about bad luck. Not many talk about their investing process and frameworks. 

FOMO (fear of missing out) 
This one is relatively self-explanatory. It s the reason why equity flows tend to be highest at market peaks. Fear of short term loss (FOSTL) is the reason why nobody invests during market bottoms. Overall, FOMO and FOSTL lead to poor long-term investment outcomes. 

In conclusion - Rene Gerard s theory of mimetic desire follows into the investment industry too. Charlie Munger once said, "All I want to know where I m going to die, and I ll never go there." I hope this article explains where investors should not go when it comes to their return-seeking behavior. 

Pratik Oswal
Head of Passive Funds Business, Motilal Oswal AMC

(Published originally in Financial Express on 19th Oct) 


Disclaimer:
This article has been issued on the basis of internal data, publicly available information and other sources believed to be reliable which is as on date. The information contained in this document is for general purposes only and not a complete disclosure of every material fact and is not sufficient to be used for the development or implementation of an investment strategy and advice to any party. The article does not warrant the completeness or accuracy of the information and disclaims all liabilities, losses and damages arising out of the use of this information. The statements contained herein may include statements of future expectations based on our current views and assumptions and involve risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results, performance or events to differ materially from those expressed or implied in such statements. Readers shall be fully responsible/liable for any decision taken on the basis of this article. 

Mutual Fund investments are subject to market risks, read all scheme related documents carefully.

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