Hello Ball

Golf and Investing: Back to Basics

Ups, downs, hot streaks, bad breaks & rallies… why do we keep coming back?

by Steve Selengut

Mr. Selengut is a private investor and a contributing editor to LIFE&Health Advisor. He is the author of the book ‘The Brainwashing of the American Investor: The book that Wall Street does not want you to read.’ He can be reached at [email protected]

Editor’s note: This is Part I in a four part series, originally published by the author in 2009, just as the markets (both income and equity) began their recovery from “the financial crisis” correction. As is so often the case in life, and in finance as well… past is prologue.

Is it luck or skill that gets us to the goals and objectives we set for ourselves— gimmicks and software programs or practice and understanding? How many golfers are still using the putter they started with decades ago at a nine-hole cow pasture? How many of you are still bouncing between investment gurus and hedges in your search for the investment holy grail?

The best athletes come to the competition with sound fundamentals, well thought out objectives, and the discipline to hone their basic technique with countless hours of practice. The most successful investors come to the process with sound fundamentals, realistic goals and objectives, and a consistently applied discipline that embraces the cyclical nature of markets and economies.

Look To The Fundamentals

Discipline is an ingredient in most long-term success recipes— business, sports, relationships, politics, cheffing, etc. Well, maybe not politics. There are “fundamentals” involved in each.

Favorite foursome conversations provide clues to the particular fundamental that just failed you, as your duck-hooked tee shot comes to rest at the base of the dead pine tree, and possibly, just beyond the white stake. “Have you weakened your grip?” comments Larry. “Nah, he was lined up that way; went right where he aimed it,” Curley offers.

“Might have worked out just fine if he hadn’t picked his head up so soon,” spouts Moe. “What are you guys talking about? I was set up to fade the ball but I swung way too hard at the bottom and closed down the club face,” you bark as you tee up a provisional.

Grip, alignment, focus, target, and tempo— some major golf fundamentals.

During the cocktail hour at monthly AAII and investment club meetings, or around the country club bar, you might overhear some of these:

  • “I can’t afford to play a lot of golf anymore. My junk bond fund has reduced its payout to barely 2%.” Yeah, my retirement plans have been put on hold too. I lost 60% of my net worth when the government killed Lehman Brothers and Washington Mutual.”
  • “I was counting on my short-term Munis, CDs, and T-Bills to provide enough income to pay the bills, but the yields have gotten so low.”
  • “Two years ago, my portfolio was worth twice what it is today; if only my advisor had taken the profits when we had them, and added to the income bucket of the portfolio.”

Amateurs constantly improving their game, but their investing? Not so much

A round of golf has its ups and downs, hot streaks and bad breaks. Investing has its rallies and corrections, scandals and frauds. Why are these two frustration producers so popular?

Quality, diversification, income, asset allocation, and profit taking— some biggies in investing. Surprisingly (or perhaps not), it is more likely that the newbie or high-handicap golfer will seek help with the game’s fundamentals than it is for the new or inexperienced investor to spend moment one on the basic concepts of investing. Serious amateur golfers work at their game constantly; amateur investors seem to, just as seriously, avoid the work required to fine-tune their performance expectations.

Neither seems capable of avoiding an endless parade of props, programs, and short-term panaceas as they make their way around and through the hazards that torment all levels of golfer and investor from the very beginning of their quest for brilliance.

A round of golf has its ups and downs, hot streaks and bad breaks. Investing has its rallies and corrections, scandals and frauds. Why are these two frustration producers so popular?

Fundamentally speaking (but not analyzing), investors need to wrap their heads around an asset allocation formula that is most likely to get them to a comfortable nineteenth-hole lifestyle. Golfers need to wrap their hands around their clubs in a manner that will help them get to shorter term targets often enough to keep their Nassau partner smiling.

A properly aligned investment portfolio will be constructed with regular income producers and equities expected to have capital gains potential. Each are viewed differently in terms of time and distance. Golfers attempt to align themselves in a manner that will get them to the safest and most opportune position for the shot that comes next.

A golfer without a clear target for every full swing, chip, and putt will be thrown off course more often than not, gaining only the exercise value. Similarly, an investor who fails to set multiple targets (at least three: buy more, sell, and hold) for every security will fail to gain full value from the investment exercise.

To be successful at either enterprise requires patience, reasonable expectations, and a mastery of the fundamentals. With that in your bag or briefcase, you’ll be prepared to follow in the footsteps of the Great One’s fundamentals coach and say:

“Hello ball.”