Warren E. Buffett offers the following advice on the qualities of a successful investor. Buffett essentially suggests that a successful investor does not need an extraordinarily high IQ, exceptional business acumen, or inside information. To enjoy a lifetime of successful investing, you need a solid decision-making framework and the ability to maintain your emotions.

A successful investment strategy requires a thoughtful plan. Developing a plan is not difficult, but staying with it during times of uncertainty and events that seem to counter you plan’s strategy is often difficult. This tutorial discusses the necessity of establishing a trading plan, what investment options best suit your needs, and the challenges you could encounter if you don’t have a plan.

The benefits of developing a trading plan

You can establish optimal circumstances for experiencing solid investment growth if you stick to your plan despite opposing popular opinion, current trends, or analysts’ forecasts. Develop your investment plan and focus on your long-term goals and objectives.

Maintain focus on your plan

All financial markets can be erratic. It has experienced significant fluctuations in business cycles, inflation, and interest rates, along with economical recessions throughout the past century. The 1990s experienced a surge of growth due to the bull market pushing the Dow Jones industrial average (DIJA) up 300 percent. This economic growth was accompanied by low interest rates and inflation. During this time, an extraordinary number of Internet-based technology firms were created due to the increased popularity of online commerce and other computer-reliant businesses. This growth was rapid and a downturn occurred just as fast. Between 2000 and 2002, the DIJA dropped 38 percent, triggering a massive sell-off of technology stocks which kept indexes in a depressed state well into the middle of 2001. Large-scale corporate accounting scandals contributed to the downturn. Then in the fall of 2001, the United States suffered a catastrophic terrorist attack that sent the nation into a high level of uncertainty and further weakened the strength of the market.

These are the kinds of events that can tax your emotions in terms of your investment strategies. It’s times like these that it is imperative that you have a plan and stick to it. This is when you establish a long-term focus on your objectives. Toward the end of 2002 through 2005, the DJIA rose 44 percent. Investors who let their emotions govern their trading strategies and sold off all their positions missed out on this upturn.

The three deadly sins and how to avoid them

The three emotions that accompany trading are fear, hope, and greed. When prices plunge, fear compels you to sell low without reviewing your position. Under these circumstances, you should revisit the original reasons for your investments and determine if they have changed. For example, you might focus on the short term and immediately sell when the price drops below its intrinsic value. In this case, you could miss out if the price recovers.

An investment strategy that is based on hope might compel you to buy certain stocks based on the hope that a company’s future performance will reflect on their past performance. This is what occurred during the surge of the Internet-based, dot-com companies during the late 1990s. This is where you need to devote your research into a company’s fundamentals and less on their past performance when determining the worth of their stock. Investing primarily on hope could have you ending up with an overvalued stock with more risk of a loss than a gain.

The greed emotion can distort your rationale for certain investments. It can compel you to hold onto a position for too long. If your plan is to hold out a little longer to gain a few percentage points, your position could backfire and result in a loss. Again, in the late 1990s, investors were enjoying double-digit gains on their Internet-company stocks. Instead of scaling back on their investments, many individuals held onto their positions with the hope that the prices would keep going up. Even when the prices were beginning to drop, investors held out hoping that their stocks would rally. Unfortunately, the rally never happened and investors experienced substantial losses.

An effective investment plan requires that you properly manage the three deadly sins of investing.

The key components of an investment plan

Determine your investment objectives

The first component in your investment plan is to determine your investment objectives. The three main categories involved in your objectives are income, growth, and safety.

If your plan is to establish a steady income stream, your objective focuses on the income category. Investors in this category tend to be low-risk and don’t require capital appreciation. They use their investments as an income source.

If your focus is on increasing your portfolio’s value over the long term, your objective is growth-based. In contrast to the income category, investors strive for capital appreciation. Investors in this category tend to be younger and have a longer investment time frame. If this is your preferred category, consider your age, investment expectations, and tolerance to risk.

The final category is safety. Investors who prefer to prevent loss of their principle investment. They want to maintain the current value of their portfolio and avoid risks that are common with stocks and other less secure investments.

Risk tolerance

While the main reason for growing your portfolio is to increase your wealth, you need to consider how much risk you are willing to take. If you struggle with the market’s volatility, your strategy should focus more on the safety or income categories. If you are more resilient to a fluctuating market and can accept some losses, you might favor the growth category. This category has the potential for higher gains. Nevertheless, you need to be honest with yourself and the level of risk you are willing to take as you set up your investment plan.

Asset Allocation

As discussed in the previous sections, part of your investment plan is to determine your risk tolerance and investment objectives. After you establish these components, you can begin to determine how you will allocate the assets in your portfolio and how they will match your goals and risk tolerance. For example, if you are interested in pursuing a growth-oriented category, you could allocate 60 percent in stocks, 15 percent in cash equivalents, and 25 percent in bonds.

Make sure your asset allocation reinforces your objectives and risk tolerance. If your focus is on safety, your objectives need to include safe, fixed-income assets such as money market securities, high-quality corporate securities (with high debt ratings), and government bonds.

If your strategy focuses on an income category, you should focus on fixed-income strategies. Your investments might include bonds with lower ratings that provide higher yields and dividend-paying stocks.

If your focus is on the growth category, your portfolio should focus on common stock, mutual funds, or exchange-traded funds (ETF). With this category, you need to vigilant in managing your portfolio by regularly reviewing your objectives and adjusting them according to your risk tolerance and objectives.

Effective asset allocation helps you establish a guideline for properly diversification of your portfolio. This enables you to work toward your objectives and manage a comfortable amount of risk.

Investment choices

Your trading strategy includes deciding what types of investments to buy and how you will allocate your assets.

Growth

If your strategy is based on growth, you might consider mutual funds or ETFs that have high market-performance potential.

Wealth protection/income generation

If you choose to pursue a wealth protection method, you might choose government bonds or professionally-managed bond funds.

Choosing your own stocks

If you prefer to select your own stocks, establish some rules for how you will enter and exit your positions. You objectives and investment strategies will determine these rules. Whatever approach you use, one trading rule you should establish is to use stop-loss orders as a form of protection against downward price movements. For example, if your investment drops 60 percent, it will need to increase 110 percent in order to break even. You choose the price that you will set the order, but a good rule to follow is to set a stop-loss order at 10 percent below the purchase price for long-term investments and a stop-loss order at 3-to-5 percent for short term trades.

Your strategy might also include investing in professionally-managed products such as mutual funds. These give you access to professional money managers. If you hope to use mutual funds to increase the value of your portfolio, choose growth funds that focus on capital appreciation. If your intent is to pursue an income-oriented approach, choose income-generating avenues such as dividend-paying stocks or bond funds. Make sure your allocation and risk structure align with your diversification and risk tolerance.

Index funds and ETFs

Index funds and ETFs are passively-managed products that have low fees and tax efficiencies (lower than actively-managed funds). These investments could be a good way to manage your asset allocation plan because they are low-cost and well diversified. Essentially, they are baskets of stocks that represent an index, a sector, or a country.

Summary

The most important component in reaching your investment goals is your plan. It helps you establish investment guidelines and a level of protection against loss. It’s important that you develop a plan based on an honest assessment of your investment style, level of risk tolerance, and objectives. You also must avoid letting your emotions influence your investment decisions even during the more discouraging times.

If you are still uncertain about your ability to effectively develop and follow a plan, consider employing the services of an investment advisor. This person’s expertise can help you adhere to a solid plan to meet your investment objectives.


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