irrational markets

Two Economists

© Can Stock Photo / skaron

The story goes like this. Two economists are walking down the street. One says, “Look! A $20 bill, just lying there!” and reaches to pick it up. The other says, “You fool! If that was really a $20 bill, somebody would have picked it up already.”

The underpinnings of this joke might be what is called the Efficient Markets Hypothesis, or EMH. It holds that all available information is already in the price of every security, so it is not possible to ‘beat the market.’ Related notions include the idea that investment selection does not matter, only the asset class or investment allocation.

Of course, our experience tells us that at times, certain investments do get mispriced. Condos in Las Vegas in 2007, tech stocks during the dot-com era, oil at $140 per barrel in 2008: all of these things seem to be examples of when the market was not efficient at all.

At these times, consensus expectations drifted far from the unfolding reality. “You can’t lose money in real estate” and “We’re in a new era, tech stock valuations don’t matter” and “Oil will never trade below $100 again” were the refrains of those faulty expectations. You may remember them.

Of course, we believe that the crowd can be wrong. That space between consensus expectations and the unfolding reality is where profit potential lives. One of our jobs is to try to find those exploitable anomalies and invest in them. Another is to go against the crowd when we believe it is wrong.

The simple rule, ‘never join a stampede in the markets,’ is one way we express this.

As a consequence, looking at the world with our own eyes, doing our own research, finding our own conclusions, this is what we do at 228 Main. It takes some courage to go against the crowd, to take unpopular actions, to stick with our strategies even when they require more patience than we had planned on. You and we are in this together: without your persistence, we could not do what we do over the long haul.

Hopefully from time to time we will find those $20 bills that others do not believe in.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.


Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

All investing involves risk including loss of principal. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.