How Your Children Can Win the Stock Market Game

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Antoine DeneriazGood things do come from France. Frenchman Antoine Deneriaz captured Olympic gold in the men’s downhill skiing event beating out favorites Austria’s Michael Walchhofer and America’s Bode Miller. Deneriaz skied last of the 53 competitors in the event but won the gold medal with a time of 1:48.80, beating second place winner Michael Walchhofer by 0.72 seconds.

The difference between gold and silver may seem infinitesimally small, but in the world of Olympic downhill skiing, hundredths of seconds dramatically separate the winners from the rest of the pack. Deneriaz’s 0.72-second margin of victory may seem razor-thin, but it marks the largest spread between gold and silver since the 1964 Olympics.

Winning means flying madly off jumps and yet staying in a tuck position to shave every millisecond off your time. It means coming back from a year long injury to risk your health to win a race. It means being determined to either win or break every bone in your body trying.

Your investments shouldn’t be like that.

Even if you have the risk profile of an Olympic skier that doesn’t mean you need to have a do or die investment portfolio. When it comes to money, every investor should avoid the three cardinal investment sins: fear, greed, and pride. Fear keeps you off the slopes, greed makes you ski faster than is safe, and pride makes you risk everything in order to get a place on the podium.

I’ve advised several teams of school children participating in mock investment competitions. Usually, the team whose imaginary portfolio does the best in three months wins. Three months in investing is like a minute and 48 seconds in downhill skiing.

To win a short-term investment contest you have to invest like a downhill skier. Bet everything on your one trip to the bottom in hopes of being elevated to the top. But, the strategy to win such a competition is almost exactly the opposite of a good investment philosophy in real life. In a mock investment competition you shouldn’t diversify. Diversifying your investment smoothes returns guaranteeing a return toward the middle of the pack. Instead, you want to put all your capital in one risky investment and hope for the best.

In the Olympics, no one remembers fourth place. In a school competition, few will remember the team that finishes second. A guaranteed finish in the top half isn’t a worthy goal. My advice to students who want to maximize their chances of winning the competition is to find a single volatile stock and invest everything in that one stock for the duration of the contest.

Your investments are real, and your financial goals are real. To meet your goals you don’t need to beat the investment returns of everyone else. Instead, you want a decent return in order to retire comfortably and to ensure a cash flow which will support your standard of living.

Why risk breaking every bone in your body when you can snowplow your way safely to the end of the race and maintain your financial security? Instead of madly chasing the highest returns, diversify your portfolio, decrease the volatility of your investments, and avoid the possibility of a wipe out.

If our investment philosophy were modeled after a downhill skiing run, we would gladly take any of the returns received in the Olympics. But trying to be on the podium isn’t worth the additional risk. We’d rather get to the bottom of the hill in one piece with a decent return.

Let’s assume the skiers’ performance on the slopes corresponds to their stock market return. The US stock markets average about 10.5%, but they are inherently volatile and risky, like downhill skiing.

Imagine that Deneriaz’s 0.72-second margin gives him a return of 10.5%. Scott Macartney, the third-best American, finished 15th with a time only 1.88 seconds longer than Deneriaz. In stock market returns, this would be the equivalent of getting 98% of the possible return, or averaging 10.3%. Not bad.

Florentin-Daniel Nicolae, the skier who finished last in 53rd place, took only 12.13 seconds longer than Deneriaz. In stock market returns this is the equivalent of only getting 90% of the possible stock market returns or averaging 9.4%. I’d gladly take returns like those. If you can get 90% of market returns averages but make sure to finish safely you will get the gold even if it isn’t a medal.

While being a little more conservative will eliminate your chances of having the highest returns, diversifying will increase the likelihood of meeting your financial goals. In other words, you won’t finish with the best time, but you’ll have a much greater chance of finishing in one piece.

We advise our clients to reduce their exposure to unnecessary risk by investing in more than just US stocks. To diminish risk, we utilize multiple asset classes and invest globally, balancing between markets which do not move in sync with each other.

With the news that American skier Lindsey Kildow was hospitalized after a devastating fall on a downhill practice run, it appears yet another medal contender has suffered a punishing loss on the race to the bottom. Don’t let your investments do the same.

Follow David John Marotta:

President, CFP®, AIF®, AAMS®

David John Marotta is the Founder and President of Marotta Wealth Management. He played for the State Department chess team at age 11, graduated from Stanford, taught Computer and Information Science, and still loves math and strategy games. In addition to his financial writing, David is a co-author of The Haunting of Bob Cratchit.