The NCAA championship basketball tournament is an annual highlight for sports fans, earning the nickname “March Madness” for the frenzy that teams and fans alike become caught up in during the four weeks of tournament play. Filling out a bracket is perhaps the only thing more popular than watching the tournament games. Like investing, bracket picks are a matter of balancing expertise, expectation, risk and reward.
1. It’s about getting the most right, not being perfect.
Your investing, like your bracket, is not going to be perfect. The mathematical odds of correctly picking the outcome of every game in the NCAA Tournament are 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 (for the record, that first number is 9 quintillion). Statistically, each person on earth would have to fill out more than a billion individual brackets before one would be perfect.
The odds of all your investments continually producing above-market returns are probably even lower. Successful investing is about making as many wise decisions as possible and getting more investments right than wrong.
No one turns in a bracket with results for just one or two teams and expects to earn enough points to win. People fill out the entire bracket to gather enough points and ensure that losses in one region can be compensated for with wins in another. Diversification is hugely important to investors as well. No matter how sure you are of an investment, it’s never a good idea to put all your money in one place.
3. Anything could happen, but it usually doesn’t.
Although there are always some upsets, favored teams usually do reasonably well. Investors shouldn’t think that diversifying among long-shot stocks is a recipe for success. You could successfully score on every upset game of the tournament if you only picked underdogs, but there is no way those few successful games could make up for all the losses where things went as everyone expected.
4. Last year’s tournament was last year.
Past performance guarantees nothing about the future. Investors (and basketball fans) should never assume that their best picks from last year will have a repeat performance. A team wins because of skill and management; a hot stock should only be kept if there are sound reasons for its past (and future) success.
5. Lucky systems are a myth.
Humans are hardwired to see patterns. It’s a survival instinct that helps us find the things that we need and avoid dangerous situations. Superstitions form when people notice a pattern and choose to only remember the times when it worked, reinforcing useless behavior. A foolish investment (or bracket) is one that relies on superstitious or “hunch” decision-making. Investments are ownership in a company, not a gamble. Successful companies are the key to successful stocks.
6. The drama goes up the more you watch.
Though watching the action of a live game is the most exciting part of the NCAA tournament, it’s one of the worst ideas in investing. Drama is good entertainment, but it almost never helps an investor. Watching every twitch of the market only leads to bad decision-making. A wise investor stays as detached as possible from daily stock fluctuations.
How they’re different: Investing is not a competition
It’s important to remember that good investing is not about being the best investor in the world; it’s about securing enough money for your future. Unlike March Madness, you shouldn’t worry about “beating” others’ investment strategies. A sound strategy might not be as impressive as someone else’s high-risk approach, but it can still be successful.
Link to PDF of Alpine Trust & Investment Group newsletter: AB Newsletter March 2014