Why investors should avoid oversimplifications
- 17 January 2012
We like to think that all problems have solutions. The reasons may be complex and difficult to grasp, but our faith is that if we understand the causes, we can cure the effects.
And the simpler answers are better. The appearances of things are often confusing, yet if we dig deeply enough we will get to the core of truth that will give us more control over events. But that belief is getting harder and harder to sustain.
Investors, for example, used to try to focus on "the fundamentals" of a stock to determine if it would grow in value. Was the company well capitalized? well managed? strategically positioned in the market? Brokerage firms used to employ analysts to study such factors in order to advise their customers. But, then, economists looked at the data more closely and discovered that no analyst actually out performed the market systematically. The best an investor could do was to diversify, assemble a large basket of securities that covered the range of possibilities. That discovery led to the birth of index funds. They don't solve the problem for investors, but they make it easier to live with it.
Recently Jonas Lehrer wrote in Wired about how science too is failing us. He focused on the pharmaceutical industry's efforts to produce drugs that target specific ills, and he gave the example of an extremely promising drug to treat cholesterol developed by Pfizer. In the final phase of clinical trials it turned out that the drug did not work. Indeed, in many cases, it harmed patients. (See, "Trials and Errors: Why Science Is Failing Us.")
More from Mindful Money:
Sign up for our free email newsletter here, for your chance to win an Amazon Kindle 3G Wifi.
- June was worst month for FTSE in three years
- Are European powers trying to drive Greece out of the eurozone?
- Greek PM will resign if voters back austerity plans
- Tullow Oil is a 'buy' despite profit drop
- Greece gives further ground to creditors as Bank of England warns of risk to UK stability
- Greece misses payment deadline to IMF but reports suggest Tsipras will now accept many creditors' conditions
- UK growth higher than expected
- Cash-strapped drivers delay repairs
- A fifth of over-50s targeted by pension fraudsters
- Charges for using mobile data in Europe to be scrapped