There are several reasons an investor may underperform over time: poor stock selection, suboptimal asset allocation decisions, mistimed trades, too much trading, switching managers too often, and so on. But often times when it boils down to it, an investors’ worst enemy – almost always – is him or herself.

The field of behavioral finance is dedicated to understanding why and how investors get in their own way so frequently, and there is no shortage of in-depth research addressing the issue (trust us, we’ve read a ton of it). One particular bit of research conducted by DALBAR showed that from 1997–2016 (20 years), the average investor’s annualized return was a meager +2.3%. That’s devastatingly low, but it is even more heart wrenching to learn that the S&P 500’s annualized return over the same period was +7.7%. The implication here is that investors are foregoing 20 years of 5% compounded interest, which could easily mean millions of dollars in opportunity cost. Not good.

Dozens of books have been written about why investors have a tendency to underperform so often, and by so much. But, one mistake I want to briefly address in this column is how investors react to positive news versus negative news, and why it matters.

Investors Mistakenly Care More about Negative News than Positive News

In my view, investors make the most mistakes when they make strategy changes in response to negative news. And therein lies a major problem for many investors: at any given time, there is far more negative news than positive news. The implication is that investors are constantly being tempted to make knee-jerk decisions to sell stocks or to suddenly switch an investment strategy, which can lead to underperformance over time.

Just think about the slate of negative news in circulation today:

  • The bubbling threat of war with North Korea
  • Major banks warning of an impending recession, as I wrote about last week
  • The looming possibility of a government shutdown
  • The receding likelihood of comprehensive tax reform happening this year
  • Stocks approaching over-valued territory
  • Low inflation inhibiting the Fed’s ability to raise rates

Any of these stories is capable of making an investor reluctant to stay invested in stocks, but only if no consideration is given to the positive news stories happening at the same time:

  • U.S. GDP grew faster than expected in Q2, at an annual rate of 3.0%
  • The acceleration in real GDP in Q2 primarily reflected upturns in private inventory investment, increases in personal consumption expenditures (PCE), and increases in nonresidential fixed investment that were larger than previously estimated
  • Profits from current production (corporate profits with inventory valuation adjustment and capital consumption adjustment) increased $26.8 billion in the second quarter, in contrast to a decrease of $46.2 billion in the first quarter
  • On the earnings front, the first half of 2017 has been rock solid. Looking at Q2 as a whole, total earnings are on track to be up +9.4% on +5.1% higher revenues. This would follow +13.5% earnings growth on +7.1% revenue growth in Q1
  • Near record low U.S. unemployment at 4.3% has been supporting cyclical consumer spending
  • The U.S. remains in a 98-month expansion. Monthly labor market evidence is as follows: the U.S. created +209K jobs in July, +231K in June, +145 in May, +207K in April, +50K in March, +232K in February and +216K jobs in January.

Ask yourself this: when weighing the positives versus the negatives, which one makes the stronger case?

Bottom Line for Investors

In my view, the positives are still winning. That does not mean the negatives are irrelevant – they matter, but markets tend to be very resilient in the face of negative headwinds if the positive forces still point to growth, which in our opinion they do. Rising earnings, an upward sloping yield curve, high and rising leading economic indicators, and ample jobs at full employment tell us rising U.S. stock indexes remain the base case in the second half of 2017 and the early part of 2018. As such, we think investors should stick to a constructive view of stocks looking forward, and we can help you position your investment portfolio for what lies ahead.

Are you currently allocated for a positive outcome in the next six months to a year? Could your investment portfolio use a second set of eyes to make sure you are positioned in accordance with your goals and our market outlook? Answer both of these questions today by simply giving us a call at 1-800-701-9830 and having one of our Wealth Management Advisors give you a free portfolio evaluation.

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Disclosure

DISCLOSURE

Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Inherent in any investment is the potential for loss.

Zacks Investment Management, Inc. is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Zacks Investment Research. Zacks Investment Management is an independent Registered Investment Advisory firm and acts as an investment manager for individuals and institutions. Zacks Investment Research is a provider of earnings data and other financial data to institutions and to individuals.

This material is being provided for informational purposes only and nothing herein constitutes investment, legal, accounting or tax advice, or a recommendation to buy, sell or hold a security. Do not act or rely upon the information and advice given in this publication without seeking the services of competent and professional legal, tax, or accounting counsel. The information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable but we do not guarantee accuracy or completeness. Publication and distribution of this article is not intended to create, and the information contained herein does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. No recommendation or advice is being given as to whether any investment or strategy is suitable for a particular investor. It should not be assumed that any investments in securities, companies, sectors or markets identified and described were or will be profitable. All information is current as of the date of herein and is subject to change without notice. Any views or opinions expressed may not reflect those of the firm as a whole.

Returns for each strategy and the corresponding Morningstar Universe reflect the annualized returns for the periods indicated. The Morningstar Universes used for comparative analysis are constructed by Morningstar (median performance) and data is provided to Zacks by Zephyr Style Advisor. The percentile ranking for each Zacks Strategy is based on the gross comparison for Zacks Strategies vs. the indicated universe rounded up to the nearest whole percentile. Other managers included in universe by Morningstar may exhibit style drift when compared to Zacks Investment Management portfolio. Neither Zacks Investment Management nor Zacks Investment Research has any affiliation with Morningstar. Neither Zacks Investment Management nor Zacks Investment Research had any influence of the process Morningstar used to determine this ranking.