Exposing the Illusion

Amar Pandit , CFA , CFP

Howard Marks in his book, “The Most Important Thing”, wrote, “Day traders considered themselves successful if they bought a stock at $10 and sold at $11, bought it back the next week at $24 and sold at $25, and bought it a week later at $39 and sold at $40.

If you can’t see the flaw in this – that the trader made $3 in a stock that appreciated by $30 – you probably shouldn’t read the rest of this book.” To this, I add that you probably shouldn’t read any book for that matter if you can’t see this as insanity.

This example highlights a common misconception in the world of investing (sorry trading) – the illusion of day trading success. Many novice and sophisticated investors get caught up in the excitement of buying and selling stocks frequently, hoping to capitalize on short-term price movements. However, this approach often leads to missed opportunities for substantial gains and increased transaction costs and taxes, ultimately eroding overall returns.

Unfortunately, the financial world is rife with individuals and firms that exploit this misconception. They lure investors with stories of quick riches and sophisticated trading strategies that promise to beat the market. These so-called “experts” often highlight their winning trades while conveniently ignoring their losses, creating a skewed perception of their success.

For example, consider a trader who makes a series of profitable trades and publicizes only those, while quietly absorbing the losses from their failed trades. This selective reporting creates an illusion of consistent profitability, convincing unsuspecting investors to follow their lead. The reality is that frequent trading increases the risk of making poor decisions based on short-term market fluctuations and emotional reactions, rather than sound investment principles.

The truth is real wealth is built through disciplined, long-term investing. This involves identifying high-quality assets, holding them over extended periods, and allowing the power of compounding to work its magic. Successful investors understand that market timing is a fool’s game and that the key to achieving financial goals lies in patience and a well-thought-out investment strategy.