One-hundred years ago a person was lucky if they could find weekly stock quotes. Fifty-years ago most traders lived off of daily quotes from the newspaper’s financial section. Thirty-years ago we got 24-hour news networks. Twenty-years ago the internet gave us 20-minute delayed quotes. Five-years ago real-time and after-hours quotes came free with most trading accounts. And now countless phone apps give us access to global stocks and futures around the clock.
The question few are asking is if this abundance of information is actually helping the average investor? Given the success rates of the typical retail investor, the answer is clearly not. The question then becomes if this is not helpful, is it actually hurting investors? There is a pretty compelling case that information overload causes a person to make more mistakes, especially when it comes to something as tricky as the market.
Who among us hasn’t found themselves transfixed by an intraday move? We get an alert on our phone and stop what we were doing to read the linked article. Then we tune the TV to the financial news to find out what the “experts” think. All of a sudden we went from having a good day at work to being worried the latest selloff means will delay our retirement five years. But we won’t be innocent bystander. We won’t be a victim to the market’s wrath. Instead we take control of our financial destiny by whipping out our phone, logging into our brokerage app, and start selling. And best part is we do it all in the five minutes before our next meeting.
Unfortunately what started the day as a buy-and-hold investment quickly turned into a “sell everything before things get worse”. The problem for most long-term investors, turned spur-of-the-moment traders is that over the last 30 years, there have only been two instances when “sell now before things get worse” was actually a good idea. The 2000 dot-com bubble and the 2008 financial crisis. Two and only two times over the last 30 years was reacting to the fearful headlines a good idea. Compare that to the 1,000+ plus phony stock market crashes that spooked investors out perfectly good positions just before rebounding. Would you rather put your money on the 499, or the 1? Unfortunately most retail investors are so afraid of the next stock market crash that they have an irrational fear it is hiding around next corner. Combine those emotions with an endless stream of market headlines and stock quotes and that is the perfect recipe for over trading.
And I will be the first to admit this happened to me. I used to trade newspaper quotes. Buy something, forget about it for a few weeks or months. Check the newspaper and “wow, I just made 20%, cool!” Then the internet revolutionized trading and let me follow the market more closely. But the 20-minute delay kept me from obsessing over it too much since the prices I saw were already old news. I’d buy what I wanted to buy and then get on with my day. Then high-speed internet came along with real-time streaming quotes. Now I could put charting programs and stock tickers on my second monitor (because one monitor definitely isn’t enough), and now I could start counting pennies. It would have been nice if it stopped there, but now my phone gives me access to S&P500 futures around the clock. (speaking of stock futures, they are up nicely in Asia as I write this at 10pm MDT) And the worst of all, if I wake in the middle of the night, it is hard to resist the temptation to see what the futures are doing in Europe. If my trade isn’t working, then I have to pull out my iPad and find out what happened. And people call this progress???
I’ve been there and done that, as have many of you. I can and will attest this most definitely didn’t help my trading. In fact, the access to endless information made me miserable and my trading suffered. These daily gyrations got to me, even small moves against me inevitably lead to second thoughts. Second thoughts lead to doubt. Doubt lead to anxiety. And anxiety lead to impulsive and emotional trading. All of this certainly makes me miss the old days of waiting for the daily newspaper, looking up my stocks, and then spending the rest of the day not thinking about the market.
More is most definitely not better and the addiction to endless streams of information is something we need to resist. Without a doubt the worst thing a person can do is check stock quotes in the middle of the night. Don’t do it. It doesn’t help and all it does is lead to crushing anxiety and sleepless nights. Same goes for getting alerts on your phone. Turn them off. If you are not a day-trader, you don’t need to have real-time quotes and charts on your computer. If you are a buy-and-hold investor, don’t look at daily quotes. Don’t even look at weekly quotes.
The most important thing to regaining control of your trading is only looking at the market with a frequency that is appropriate for your holding period. Retirement accounts? At the very most look at them quarterly and even then only for rebalancing. It would be better if you limited checking retirement accounts to once a year. Swing-traders who hold positions for days and weeks should limit themselves to daily quotes. Only day-traders need streaming quotes and live charts. For everyone else, all it does is shake your confidence and lead to impulsive and emotional trades. The first step to beating the market is getting your addiction to stock quotes under control.
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Jani Ziedins (pronounced Ya-nee) is a full-time investor and writer who has successfully traded stocks and options for more than a decade. He earned a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the Colorado School of Mines and an MBA and M.S. Marketing from the University of Colorado Denver. His prior professional experience includes manufacturing engineering at Fortune 500 companies, structural engineering, small business consultant, collegiate instructor, and managing investment real estate. He is now fortunate enough to trade full-time from home, affording him the luxury of spending extra time with his wife and two young children.