Investing Myths: Gain Required to Make you Whole
Everyone knows Buffett’s rules number one and two, never loss money and don’t forget rule number one. They’re great rules and if we could apply more patience in our investing and weave in as many complementary rules like capital is scarce opportunities are plentiful then maybe we wouldn’t suffer many losses. My reality is that I incur losses and the same is probably true for you.
So how much profit does it take to recover from a loss? The following chart highlights conventional wisdom. The greater the loss the ever greater the gain required to make you whole again. For example a 10% loss only requires an 11%, a 50% loss requires a 100% gain and a 90% loss requires a massive 900% to make you whole again.
Scary stuff isn’t it? 10 baggers don’t come along very often.
As I said that is the conventional wisdom and one that is often used to promulgate stop losses and small position sizing opinions. I say the conventional wisdom is bollocks. It takes exactly the same percentage gain to make up for a loss. If you loss 10% it takes a 10% gain to make you whole. If you loss 90% it takes a 90% gain to make you whole.
Why conventional wisdom is wrong
Conventional wisdom is based on serial betting an entire stake. If you make serial bets (one after the other) of your entire stake then it does indeed take a 100% gain to make up for a 50% loss. Do you make serial bets of your entire stake? I doubt it. If like me you have a portfolio of stocks then you’re making parallel investments. If one investment losses 10% you are made whole by another similar sized investment gaining 10%. You never invest your entire stake in one stock, you spread your investment over many stocks.
Pull the weeds and water the flowers. Peter Lynch’s phrase was so good that Warren Buffett asked if he could use it in his annual report. While you may make a 100% loss on an initial investment, I know I have a few times, hopefully you’ll have headed Lynch’s advice and added to your winners. So your wins are magnified as they have more capital invested in them.
I’m not trying to encourage you forsake patience or forget the all important rule of never loss money, just realise that when viewed from the perspective of a portfolio some conventional wisdom is not so wise after all. Mental stop losses also make a lot sense in some cases and are almost essential for traders.
Long term investors, especially those investing in special situations, growth stocks or any other companies where major losses are a possibility should view their investments within the framework of a portfolio and cut their losers and let their winers run.
I’ll conclude with one of Peter Lynch’s 20 Golden Rules:
If you invest $1,000 in a stock, all you can lose is $1,000, but you stand to gain $10,000 or even $50,000 over the time you’re patient. You need to find few good stocks to make a lifetime of investing worthwhile.
If you want to read more then this post on position sizing is in a similar vein.