For most us, the word ‘stocks’ or ‘shares’ is associated with feelings of it being risky, a gamble, incomprehensible, scary, involving the luck factor and so on. Understandably so, betting on the future value of a stock, is no easy task. Even the experts get it wrong a lot of the times. But I would like to drive your attention to a particular behaviour related to stocks, which shows how we make mistakes when selling stocks from our portfolio.
Consider this situation. You need money for an important event in your life and need to sell some stock. Amongst the stocks you own, say, Mata Power according to you is a winner, because if you sell it today you will have achieved a gain of Rs. 3,00,000. You hold an equal investment in Mata Airways, which you consider a loser, is currently worth Rs. 3,00,000 less than you paid for it. The value of both stocks has been stable in recent weeks. Which are you more likely to sell?
What happens is that our minds see the choice like this: I could close the Mata Power account and score a success for my record as an investor. Alternatively, I could close the Mata Airways account and add a failure to my record. Which would I rather do?
Daniel Kahneman, psychologist and nobel laureate in Economics, says if the problem is framed by us, as a choice between giving yourself pleasure and causing yourself pain, you will certainly sell Mata Power and enjoy your investment prowess. He calls this the disposition effect.
He says, investors set up a mental account for each share that they have bought, and want to close every account as a gain. It is only the very savvy expert, who would take a comprehensive view of the portfolio and sell the stock that is least likely to do well in the future, without considering it a winner or loser.
The disposition effect is a costly bias. If you care about your wealth rather than your immediate emotions, you will sell the loser Mata Airways and hang on to the winning Mata Power. But closing a mental account with a gain is a pleasure, but it is a pleasure we pay for.
Companies fall into a similar trap of continuing to fund a project even though the returns are now less favourable, simply because they have already put considerable amount of money. When faced with a choice of investing money in a new project that is considered likely to bring higher returns, it most often leads to favouring the option of continuing to fund the existing project.