Thursday, November 8, 2007

Why you're not a rational investor

We like to think we make investment decisions based on facts. But we often end up paying to express our beliefs, to acquire status, or to seem smarter than our peers.

From Fortune via CNN Money:

...The advice is symptomatic of a more general tendency to separate an investment's "utilitarian" characteristics of risk and expected returns from its "expressive" characteristics -- those that convey to us and to others our values, tastes, wealth, and social class.

Almost all products combine utilitarian and expressive characteristics. The utilitarian characteristics of a car include gas mileage, reliability, and safety, while its expressive characteristics include style, status, and social responsibility.

Both a Hummer and a Prius would get you from home to work and back. But a Hummer expresses dominance, while a Prius expresses environmental responsibility. There is no way to separate the utilitarian characteristics of a Hummer or Prius from its expressive characteristics.

The same is true for investments. For example, hedge fund investors may or may not attain high returns from their investments, but they surely attain high status. Mention your hedge funds, and we instantly know that your income is high and so is your wealth. We might even think that you are a smart, sophisticated investor. Mention your shares of the AWM Fine Wine fund, and we might think that your tastes are refined. (Or we might think that you are a wine snob.)...MORE

"...and next week, I'll be traveling to Bordeaux."
"Really? Who's Doe?"