Graham considered foreign bonds no better a bet than junk bonds.3 Today, however, one variety of foreign bond may have some appeal for investors who can withstand plenty of risk. Roughly a dozen mutual funds specialize in bonds issued in emerging-market nations (or what used to be called "Third World countries") like Brazil, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia, and Venezuela. No sane investor would put more than 10% of a total bond portfolio in spicy holdings like these. But emerging-markets bond funds seldom move in synch with the U.S. stock market, so they are one of the rare investments that are unlikely to drop merely because the Dow is down. That can give you a small corner of comfort in your portfolio just when you may need it most.4
DYING A TRADER'S DEATH
As we've already seen in Chapter 1, day trading-holding stocks for a few hours at a time-is one of the best weapons ever invented for committing financial suicide. Some of your trades might make money, most of your trades will lose money, but your broker will always make money.
And your own eagerness to buy or sell a stock can lower your return. Someone who is desperate to buy a stock can easily end up having to bid 10 cents higher than the most recent share price before any sellers will be willing to part with it. That extra cost, called "market impact" never shows up on your brokerage statement, but it's real. If you're overeager to buy 1,000 shares of a stock and you drive its price
3 Graham did not criticize foreign bonds lightly, since he spent several years early in his career acting as a New York-based bond agent for borrowers in Japan.
4 Two low-cost, well-run emerging-markets bond funds are Fidelity New Markets Income Fund and T. Rowe Price Emerging Markets Bond Fund; for more information, see www.fidelity.com,www.troweprice.com, and www. morningstar.com. Do not buy any emerging-markets bond fund with annual operating expenses higher than 1.25%, and be forewarned that some of these funds charge short-term redemption fees to discourage investors from holding them for less than three months.
up by just five cents, you've just cost yourself an invisible but very real $50. On the flip side, when panicky investors are frantic to sell a stock and they dump it for less than the most recent price, market impact hits home again.
The costs of trading wear away your returns like so many swipes of sandpaper. Buying or selling a hot little stock can cost 2% to 4% (or 4% to 8% for a "round-trip" buy-and-sell transaction).5 If you put $1,000 into a stock, your trading costs could eat up roughly $40 before you even get started. Sell the stock, and you could fork over another 4% in trading expenses.
Oh, yes—there's one other thing. When you trade instead of invest, you turn long-term gains (taxed at a maximum capital-gains rate of 20%) into ordinary income (taxed at a maximum rate of 38.6%).
Add it all up, and a stock trader needs to gain at least 10% just to break even on buying and selling a stock.6 Anyone can do that once, by luck alone. To do it often enough to justify the obsessive attention it requires—plus the nightmarish stress it generates—is impossible.
Thousands of people have tried, and the evidence is clear: The more you trade, the less you keep.
Finance professors Brad Barber and Terrance Odean of the University of California examined the trading records of more than 66,000 customers of a major discount brokerage firm. From 1991 through 1996, these clients made more than 1.9 million trades. Before the costs of trading sandpapered away at their returns, the people in the study actually outperformed the market by an average of at least half a percentage point per year. But after trading costs, the most active of these traders—who shifted more than 20% of their stock holdings per
5 The definitive source on brokerage costs is the Plexus Group of Santa Monica, California, and its website, www.plexusgroup.com. Plexus argues persuasively that, just as most of the mass of an iceberg lies below the ocean surface, the bulk of brokerage costs are invisible—misleading investors into believing that their trading costs are insignificant if commission costs are low. The costs of trading NASDAQ stocks are considerably higher for individuals than the costs of trading NYSE-listed stocks (see p. 128, footnote 5).
6 Real-world conditions are still more harsh, since we are ignoring state income taxes in this example.
month-went from beating the market to underperforming it by an abysmal 6.4 percentage points per year. The most patient investors, however-who traded a minuscule 0.2% of their total holdings in an average month-managed to outperform the market by a whisker, even after their trading costs. Instead of giving a huge hunk of their gains away to their brokers and the IRS, they got to keep almost everything.7 For a look at these results, see Figure 6-1.
The lesson is clear: Don't just do something, stand there. It's time for everyone to acknowledge that the term "long-term investor" is redundant. A long-term investor is the only kind of investor there is. Someone who can't hold on to stocks for more than a few months at a time is doomed to end up not as a victor but as a victim.
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