As an investor, you're in the business of predicting the future. No matter how good you are at analyzing business trends and projecting consumer behaviors to come, there is a certain amount of luck involved. After all, not every trend lasts forever, yesterday's innovators can get displaced by tomorrow's disruptors, and even great ideas can get sidelined if the money runs out before they can get a foothold.
You can't perfectly predict the future, and some of your investing ideas will not work out. What you can do, though, is set yourself up so that you can benefit more from the good luck that comes your way in the market than you suffer from the bad luck that will also head your way. With that in mind, here are three ways to make your own investing luck.
1. Don't plan to trounce the market
While we would all like to earn tremendously strong investing returns, it's dangerous to base your investing plan around the belief that you will trounce the market. Instead, it's a smarter idea to build your plan around an assumption that your returns will trail the market's long-run returns. That way, you are more likely to meet or beat your expectations than you are to trail them, and thus you'll feel the benefits from any outperformance you do see.
To illustrate, let's say you're starting from scratch with a goal to become a millionaire within 20 years. If you plan around earning a market beating 15% per year, you might think investing $667.90 per month would be enough to get you there. If, on the other hand, you plan around a more modest 8%, you'd want to try to figure out a way to sock away closer to $1,697.73 per month.
In either case, if you hit your plan, you'll be fine -- but what happens if you aim for the 15% returns but only hit 8%? In that case, you'd wind up with only around $393,400 after 20 years -- far short of your goal. If, on the other hand, you invested enough to reach your $1 million target with 8% returns but instead did reach that 15% goal, after 20 years, you'd wind up with a whopping $2.54 million.
That way, you weren't counting on trouncing the market to wind up with a million-dollar nest egg, but if you did manage to do so, your rewards would be that much sweeter. In essence, by doing so, you're putting luck on your side instead of relying on it just to hit your goal.
2. Spread out your risks appropriately
If all your money is tied up in one stock and the company behind that stock fails miserably, then your entire plan could very well be derailed. If, on the other hand, you spread your risks out evenly across 20 stocks, then it's easier for your portfolio to absorb the loss of any one company. By kitchen table math, if the market returns around 10% per year, then the loss of one company in an evenly weighted 20-stock portfolio would cost about half a year's worth of expected returns. That's a much more manageable risk.
On the flip side, say you've invested $1,000 in each of those 20 stocks, and 19 of them go nowhere, while one of them turns out to be a 10-bagger investment. In that case, your initial $20,000 overall would have grown to a substantial $29,000 ($1,000 each in 19 stocks, and $10,000 in one of them). Even with your money spread out over 20 stocks, the outperformance from one massive winner can potentially outshine the pain from an otherwise mediocre portfolio.
In addition, since not every stock is going to outperform, having your money invested across multiple companies that could outperform increases your chances that at least one of them will do so. Is it a guarantee? No -- but investing with an eye toward diversification in your portfolio can set you up to have a better chance for at least some luck to be on your side.
3. Recognize that patience is your best advantage over Wall Street
Wall Street hires an army of very sharp stock analysts, runs a bevy of artificial intelligence programs, and has ultra-fast connections to news and markets. When it comes to speed and information, Wall Street will beat us mere mortals every time. Wall Street has one major disadvantage over ordinary investors, however. That disadvantage is that Wall Street investment firms tend to manage a lot of other people's money.
When the Wall Street firms' picks turn sour, the people whose money they're ultimately managing tend to pull that money out of those firms' control. That leads to an incredibly short-term focus and mindset on Wall Street. That then gives you the opportunity to win if you approach your investments with a more patient and long-term outlook.
If a great company stumbles temporarily, those Wall Street firms often get forced to sell because of that short-term focus. That usually holds true even if the investment managers know that the company's long-term prospects remain strong.
Since you're managing your own money, you can look past those short-term worries and recognize when that type of herd action puts great companies' shares on sale. As long as the company's longer-term prospects remain strong, buying while Wall Street is selling could very well turn out to be a recipe for stronger long-term returns.
From a luck perspective, this means you don't necessarily need to identify the greatest businesses before anyone else does to have a chance at outsize returns. After all, if you build a watch list of great companies you'd like to buy if the price is right, then all you need to do is wait for at least one of them to stumble. Odds are, one of them will at some point, and that gives you the chance to pounce -- as long as the company's long-term prospects remain strong.
May more of your luck be the good kind
In a world where your investing success depends on successfully navigating an uncertain future, luck will always play a role. With these strategies in place, you can't eliminate luck in investing, but you can improve the odds that you'll be able to receive and benefit from good luck that passes your way.
The key to all of these strategies, though, is that you need to have them in place before they can help you in your journey. So get started on them now, and improve your ability to make your own investing luck.