Biases That Cause You To Make Mistakes

You are your own worst enemy.

Those are the six most important words in investing. Shady financial advisors and incompetent CEOs don’t harm your returns a fraction of the amount your own behavior does.

Here are 15 cognitive biases that cause people to do dumb things with their money.

1. Normalcy bias
Assuming that because something has never happened before, it won’t (or can’t) happen in the future. Everything that has ever happened in history was “unprecedented” at one time. The Great Depression. The crash of 1987. Enron. Wall Street bailouts. All of these events had never happened… until they did. When Warren Buffett announced he was looking for candidates to replace him at Berkshire Hathaway, he said he needed “someone genetically programmed to recognize and avoid serious risks, including those never before encountered. Someone who understands normalcy bias, in other words.

2. Dunning-Kruger effect
Being so bad at a task that you lack the capacity to realize how bad you are. Markus Glaser and Martin Weber of the University of Mannheim showed that investors who earn the lowest returns are the worst at judging their own returns. They had literally no idea how bad they were. “The correlation between self-ratings and actual performance is not distinguishable from zero” they wrote.

3. Attentional bias
Falsely thinking two events are correlated when they are random, but you just happen to be paying more attention to them. After stocks plunged 4% in November 1991, Investor’s Business Daily blamed a failed biotech bill in the House of Representatives, while The Financial Times blamed geopolitical tension in Russia. The “cause” of the crash was whatever the editor happened to be paying attention to that day.

4. Bandwagon effect
Believing something is true only because other people think it is. Whether politicians or stocks, people like being associated with things that are winning, so winners build momentum not because they deserve it, but because they’re winning. This is the foundation of all asset bubbles. (more…)

Quotes from -Walter Isaacson’s biography on Steve Jobs

For those of you who have never followed or read about Steve, this book may be a shocker. He was not a nice man, but he did get things done and was very successful. CEOs view him as a visionary business leader. I found some really great quotes that I like to highlight and share.

On motivation:

(Y)ou should never start a company with the goal of getting rich. Your goal should be making something you believe in and making a company that will last.

On impressions:

People DO judge a book by its cover. We may have the best product, the highest quality, the most useful software etc.; if we present them in a slipshod manner, they will be perceived as slipshod; if we present them in a creative, professional manner, we will impute the desired qualities.

A great Jonny Ive quote:

Steve and I care about things like that, which ruin the purity and detract from the essence of something like a utensil, and we think alike about how products should be made to look pure and seamless.

On Apple stores:

Jobs decided that Apple stores should have only one entrance, which would make it easier to control the experience.

On problems:

If something isn’t right, you can’t just ignore it and say you’ll fix it later,” he said. “That’s what other companies do.

On how ruthlessly focused he was:

“What are the ten things we should be doing next?” People would fight to get their suggestions on the list. Jobs would write them down, and then cross off the ones he decreed dumb. After much jockeying, the group would come up with a list of ten. Then Jobs would slash the bottom seven and announce, “We can only do three.” (more…)


Here’s the link to this year’s letter.  Feel free to point out anything you might like to discuss or anything you think might be worthy of a post.

Here are the key points:

  • For just the 9th time, Berkshire’s book value rose less than the S&P 500. Buffett calls the year subpar.
  • Berkshire pursued a couple of “elephants” but mostly came up empty, until the recent big Heinz deal.
  • Buffett explains his five guidelines for increasing shareholder value: “In summary, Charlie and I hope to build per-share intrinsic value by (1) improving the earning power of our many subsidiaries; (2) further increasing their earnings through bolt-on acquisitions; (3) participating in the growth of our investees; (4) repurchasing Berkshire shares when they are available at a meaningful discount from intrinsic value; and (5) making an occasional large acquisition. We will also try to maximize results for you by rarely, if ever, issuing Berkshire shares.”
  • Berkshire’s five biggest non-insurance companies (BNSF, Iscar, Lubrizol, Marmon Group and MidAmerican Energy) broke the goal of having over $10 billion in income this year.
  • Berkshire’s new portfolio managers Todd Combs and Ted Weschler both had portfolios that beat the S&P 500 in 2012.
  • Both Combs and Weschler now have portfolios of $5 billion to invest.
  • Buffett expects Berkshire to buy more Coca-Cola, American Express, Wells Fargo and IBM in the future.
  • CEOs who whine about “uncertainty” are silly (see more here)
  • Contrary to Buffett’s expectations, the “float” from Berkshire’s insurance businesses continues to grow. He doesn’t expect it to continue, but it grew another $2.5 billion last year. (more…)

10 quotes from Warren Buffett’s letter to shareholders

Warren Buffett is hunting for elephants and a bear.

You can look through the whole thing here, including as easily digested discussions of accounting as you’re ever likely to see.

But for those with limited time, here’s a look at 10 of the pithier comments.

1. On the search for new investment opportunities for Berkshire’s huge cash reserves after the acquisition of half of Heinz  HNZ -0.08% last month:

“Charlie and I have again donned our safari outfits and resumed our search for elephants.”

2. On strong performance at the GEICO insurance unit:

“The credit for GEICO’s extraordinary performance goes to Tony Nicely and his 27,000 associates. And to that cast, we should add our Gecko. Neither rain nor storm nor gloom of night can stop him; the little lizard just soldiers on, telling Americans how they can save big money by going to When I count my blessings, I count GEICO twice.”

3. On company headcount:

“Berkshire’s yearend employment totaled a record 288,462, up 17,604 from last year. Our headquarters crew, however, remained unchanged at 24. No sense going crazy.” (more…)

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