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The Virtues of the Humble Investor

Articles & Blogs - Silver Commentary

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Ironically, there are few if any virtues in our society which are as under-appreciated/under-respected as humility. Living in a me-first world which worships the “Alpha wolf”, who aggressively takes what he wants in life; humility is mistakenly confused for weakness or timidity.

Yet being humble in no way implies being meek. One can be humble while still refusing to be anyone’s doormat. In fact all that is implied by humility is the opposite of arrogance. The arrogant individual is prone to being impulsive, over-confident, and careless (if not reckless). The humble person is none of these things, instead leaning towards prudence and caution.

While so much of what is taking place today in the global economy is confusing (and frightening) to the ordinary person, what is utterly unequivocal is that people need to be completely focused upon prudence and caution when handling their financial affairs. We have already seen once (in the Crash of ’08) what happens to the arrogant; and as many commentators (including myself) are warning people, 2008 was nothing but a warm-up for the economic chaos which lies ahead.

Clearly it is the Humble Investor whom people should be placing upon a pedestal as their role-models to emulate, were it not for the fact that their humility prevents these individuals from accepting such a position in the spotlight. And it is “humble” investment strategies which investors should embrace today, as opposed to the world of high-frequency trading, exotic financial products, and endless acts of paper-fraudepitomized by the ultra-arrogant bankers of Wall Street.

Understand that with the most rigged, corrupt markets in history, with unprecedented volatility, and with entire governments literally declaring bankruptcy; now more than any time in our lives (no matter how old we are) we must be “playing defense” with our investing. It is important to note this explicitly, because of what playing defense implies.

When we are in a defensive mode as investors, the primary objective of any/every investor is preservation of capital. Period. I completely understand that because of the gross economic mismanagement of our corrupt, incompetent governments that many people feel they need to focus (first) on maximizing return. That is the path to financial suicide. It was the people who were looking to “maximize return” who were especially devastated in 2008, and it those people who are certain to be wiped-out (again) in the years ahead.

Fortunately, we can demonstrate with both logic and empirical evidence that not only should the Humble Investor outperform his more arrogant rivals, the Humble Investor does outperform all other investors in our markets.

Recalling our definitions, as Humble Investors we should be seeking investment options which reflect prudence and caution, and with the ultimate objective of preserving our capital. For nearly 5,000 years, no asset class has come remotely close to preserving wealth (i.e. capital) as perfectly as gold and silver. One cannot get any more prudent or cautious than that.

What have we in fact seen in our markets over the past decade? Precious metals has been (by far) the best-performing class of assets. Humble Investor: 1; Everyone Else: 0.

However, advising people what to do to become Humble Investors is obviously only half the battle. Equally daunting to the ordinary person (especially in a world of manipulated markets) is how to become a Humble Investor – i.e. how do people accumulate holdings in gold and/or silver in a prudent and cautious manner?

As a commentator, I have simply abandoned attempts at forecasting gold and silver prices. It is literally nothing but a pointless exercise in guesswork. Over the long term, as I regularly remind readers our most likely fate is extreme inflation and/or hyperinflation across most of the Western world – making “prices” nothing but nominal/arbitrary fantasy-figures.

Short-term forecasting has become an even greater exercise in absurdity. With fundamentals totally out of the window, we are left with nothing but the hocus-pocus of “technical analysis” – an exercise which by definition has zero mathematical validity in manipulated markets.

What have we seen in recent months? Gold and silver achieve impressive technical break-outs, only to immediately (and mysteriously’) get stuffed right back into their trading range. Alternately, the prices are suddenly and inexplicably driven down below key support levels – only to be quickly rescued, as the Strong Hands of the big-buyers step in equally abruptly to “heal” the supposed technical damage. If people want to gamble, they should simply go to Las Vegas – their casinos are much less stacked in favor of “the House”.

Fortunately there is a humble investment strategy which we can use to accumulate our humble investments in gold and silver: dollar-cost averaging. For the novice investor not familiar with this term, dollar-cost averaging is nothing more than investing one’s quota of capital in even, (more or less) regular intervals.

For example, if an investor had $10,000 to invest each year then dollar-cost averaging would dictate investing 25% of that (or $2500) each quarter; or perhaps investing $1000 ten times a year if someone wanted to micro-manage their investments more actively.

The (humble) theory behind dollar-cost averaging is that we don’t pretend to be able to out-smart (or out-guess) the market – obviously a very wise course of action today. By investing equal amounts of capital at regular intervals, if we are fortunate and happen to buy when prices are relatively low, then we will obtain a greater quantity at that favorable price. Conversely, if we have the bad luck to buy when prices are relatively high, then we buy a reduced quantity at that (unfavorable) price.

We acknowledge that doing our buying at “the perfect time” is impossible, on any kind of consistent basis. So we instead adopt the conservative (and humble) strategy of regularly buying a little at a time, knowing that (based on the Law of Averages) at least sometimes we will do our buying at opportune times.

However, a strange (and wonderful) dynamic develops when we stop trying to time all of our buying for the perfect moments, and simply begin buying in this methodical manner. First of all, dollar-cost averaging eliminates the bane of all investors: “deer in the headlights syndrome”, where we are so paralyzed waiting for the perfect time to buy that we miss our opportunity – and are left holding nothing.

With dollar-cost averaging, investors immediately begin accumulating their desired holding, and in doing so they remove much of the urgency (and pressure) in their future buying. Suppose an investor has $25,000 which they wish to convert to silver. If that investor seeks to make one purchase at the proverbial bottom of the market, he/she will rarely (if ever) achieve that outcome.

The psychology of such investors is that as long as prices are falling they expect them to continue to fall, and so no matter how low prices go they continue to wait for “a better price”. Invariably, these investors only recognize the “bottom” after the market has already turned higher – and then end up chasing prices higher with their buying. Often their one purchase ends up being made closer to a (short-term) top in the market than a bottom.

On the other hand, with dollar-cost averaging that same investor would immediately purchase some silver with a portion of his capital, and with each subsequent purchase (and a greater accumulation) there would be less urgency and less pressure with future buying. Obviously when we remove urgency and pressure from the psyche of any individual, what we are left with is a more patient individual. Patience is a “kissing cousin” with prudence and caution, and thus another tool in the arsenal of the Humble Investor.

However, the dynamic goes deeper than that. As we do our dollar-cost averaging we are on the one hand conditioning ourselves to buy regularly, while at the same time (as explained above) we are conditioning ourselves to be more patient. This is a wonderful frame of mind in which to be to make calm, rational, effective decisions. And so even in a crazy, volatile, manipulated market like the silver market; our dollar-cost averaging may allow us to develop at least a bit of a rhythm in our buying – and begin to allow the market to work for the average investor rather than always against them.

Meet “Kevin”. Kevin is a real-life investor, and a long-time reader/member of our site. Given our focus on education, I was delighted when he recently posted on our forum his own experiences in purchasing silver as a Humble Investor.  Despite his background in mathematics/statistics (his username is “Some_Math_Guy”), Kevin shunned the chicanery of technical analysis and opted to make dollar-cost averaging his default strategy. He has had no cause to regret that decision.

Below, Kevin was kind enough to chart his silver purchases over the past year or so:

We can make several observations from this pattern of purchases. To begin with, the general pattern of buying is clear: purchases made at fairly regular intervals. At the same time we see two obvious exceptions to that pattern.

On two occasions Kevin made two purchases in close proximity to each other. One doesn’t have to be a mind-reader to know what was going through his mind. While it is impossible in manipulated markets to know in advance when silver will make one of its intermittent plunges (in the process of rising by more than 800%), any idiot (and certainly all Humble Investors) can tell in hindsight when such a plunge has occurred.

So on two occasions when Kevin knew that he had made his purchase at a (relatively) advantageous price – and then the price went still lower – he made another purchase. Note that such behavior is totally in keeping with the behavior of the Humble Investor, and in no way demonstrates any of the short-comings of the arrogant/greedy investor.

On the two occasions when Kevin made his additional purchases, such behavior doesn’t/didn’t imply that it was impossible for prices to go any lower. Rather, it was simply recognition that the current price was “a good price”, and thus it was both prudent and rational for him to get a little ahead of schedule on his regular purchases.

Looking at the pattern of purchases as a whole, we can make a more general observation. While dollar-cost averaging does not always mean Kevin can/does buy at the bottom of the market, it has been a very effective strategy to prevent him from buying at the “tops”. As Humble Investors, that should be more than enough to satisfy us.

Obviously dollar-cost averaging is not some magical formula which guarantees we will never make a bad purchase. But neither is it merely some simplistic mantra, ‘beneath’ the supposedly sophisticated investor of the 21st century. It is a tried-and-true method of playing defense (in an era when playing defense should be our sole focus), and it is a strategy which can be employed by novices just as well as experts.

Hail to the Humble Investor! Our markets would be immeasurably saner and more rational realms of commerce if we had far more of these individuals.

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Jeff Nielson
...
written by Jeff Nielson, March 15, 2012
Jeff: perhaps a better answer for Silver Trax would be to not compare any stock index chart, but rather the purchasing power of a pre-1964 quarter which bought a gallon of gas back then, and is worth $5.83 (coinflation website) and would buy 1.5 gallons today.


Interesting number Apberusdisvet, but it actually "demonstrates" something different. It shows how artificially LOW current U.S. gas prices are. Don't forget that Americans live in a gasoline fantasy-land - where everyone else pays AT LEAT 30% more for gas than the U.S., and in some cases more than DOUBLE.

I'm not saying that gas prices don't "seem" high to Americans already, but that it TOTALLY a function in the collapse of your standard of living - which is STILL being SHIELDED from you due to the level of the USD being many times too high.

Value the U.S. dollar in REALISTIC numbers and suddenly that gallon of gas is $12-$15/gallon - and your silver quarter would have actually LOST value versus gasoline, because petroleum is one of the FEW quantities where the long-term supply is even MORE of an issue than with silver.

But that is totally a function of scarcity. For example, if all of the worlds chickens started to turn infertile, suddenly EGGS would be more highly-valued than gold or silver. Apart from issues of scarcity, gold and silver are absolutely reliable stores (i.e. receptacles) of wealth.


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apberusdisvet
...
written by apberusdisvet, March 15, 2012
Jeff: perhaps a better answer for Silver Trax would be to not compare any stock index chart, but rather the purchasing power of a pre-1964 quarter which bought a gallon of gas back then, and is worth $5.83 (coinflation website) and would buy 1.5 gallons today.
Jeff Nielson
...
written by Jeff Nielson, March 14, 2012
You state:

"What have we in fact seen in our markets over the past decade? Precious metals has been (by far) the best-performing class of assets."

I've heard similar statements by others and I have no doubt that it's correct, but is there some sort of chart available that compares things like gold/silver/dow/s&p/nasdaq since around the year 2000?

I have no knowledge or experience making charts so I've been searching for a chart like with such info depicted in either (or both) nominal and inflation-adjusted terms, but I've had no luck. I'd like to show such a chart to friends and family who think I'm nuts - if you know of one or two floating around the web please share the link(s).

It may be difficult to make a chart like that because you'd have to include dividends - that might explain why I haven't been able to find one...


Point noted SilverTrax. The problem of course is that when you compare something to "all asset classes" then the only chart which is ADEQUATE would be one with precious metals vs. ALL other asset-classes (lol).

Conversely, I could find a chart comparing gold and silver with indices like the Dow and the NASDAQ, but the Dow spent most of that DECADE going from 10,000 to 10,000, while to this day the NASDAQ is little more than half of its bubble-peak. So if I compare it to THOSE indices I would likely be accused of comparing gold and silver to the WORST asset-classes.

smilies/cheesy.gif

However there is actually a more fundamental reason why such charts should not be necessary. The entire THEME of this piece is not "maximizing return", but rather "playing defense" and "wealth preservation". I have provided plenty of explanation/justification (along with the links provided) to show that gold and silver are the best means of wealth preservation and playing defense.

Outperforming all other asset classes should be thought of purely as a BONUS, and any interested investor can shop around and find out for themselves that they cannot do better. If our friends/relatives cannot be convinced to PLAY DEFENSE, then all the charts in the world won't be enough to convince them. And of they CAN be convinced to do so, then they shouldn't need any.

smilies/wink.gif
SilverTrax
...
written by SilverTrax, March 14, 2012
Another good article and a very sound strategy. Thanks to both you and Kevin!

You state:

"What have we in fact seen in our markets over the past decade? Precious metals has been (by far) the best-performing class of assets."

I've heard similar statements by others and I have no doubt that it's correct, but is there some sort of chart available that compares things like gold/silver/dow/s&p/nasdaq since around the year 2000?

I have no knowledge or experience making charts so I've been searching for a chart like with such info depicted in either (or both) nominal and inflation-adjusted terms, but I've had no luck. I'd like to show such a chart to friends and family who think I'm nuts - if you know of one or two floating around the web please share the link(s).

It may be difficult to make a chart like that because you'd have to include dividends - that might explain why I haven't been able to find one...

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