Face-Off

Markets are about returns.

Just as many roads lead to Rome, so do multiple paths lead to returns.

The two basic approaches in this game are investing and trading. We are keeping things basic, and are not even going to talk about scalping, arbitrage etc. We are looking at paths taken by most players.

So who has got it better, the investor or the trader?

Markets have this characteristic of collapsing. Unless the investor has bought with a decent margin of safety, he or she can be sitting on a huge loss. This can lead to irritability, sleepless nights, ill-health and family problems. An investor needs to slay these demons before-hand. Allowed to grow, these demons can wreck havoc.

The nimble trader on the other hand treads lightly. Technicals alert him or her well before a collapse, and when the collapse comes, the trader is ideally already fully in cash. Such a trader has no professional reason for a sleepless night.

However, when the bulls roar, the investor’s entire portfolio adds to the roar, and very soon the investor is sitting on huge gains. The trader on the other hands builds up positions slowly, and might miss a large portion of the up-move during the staggered entry process. To be fair, the investor’s exposure (risk) has been large in comparison to the trader, and thus the reward in good times will be proportionately large too. Given a choice, I’d personally take the comfortable nights throughout the year.

Then there’s active and passive playing. Investing is a passive play. One doesn’t need to man one’s portfolio on a daily basis, and can focus on other things instead. Trading, on the other hand, is very much an active play, and needs to be attended to on a daily basis.

So, unless the investor likes action, this is a favourable scenario. Unfortunately, the majority of long-term investors mess up their long-term portfolios owing to the need for action.

Trading can lead to action overload. A bad day’s result can cause mood swings. The trader needs to be in control of emotional machinery and ready to withstand a pre-determined level of loss. Unfortunately, most traders fail badly in the emotional and stop-loss department. On the whole, I feel this particular round is won the by the investor. So, it’s 1 round each.

The last round in today’s discussion is about life-style. The bored investor can either use the spare time for constructive activities, which is a great scenario, or for useless ones, like surfing adult sites. The point I’m trying to make is that a bored investor is a prime candidate for sowing wild oats.

The sensible trader uses non-market hours to finish research for the next day and then to give the mind and body relaxation and rest. However, all the action makes most traders less sensible and more flambuoyant, and equally likely candidates for sowing wild-oats during non-market hours. I think this round is a tie.

So who’s got it better, the trader or the investor?

This is actually a trick question.

What’s the proper answer?

The answer is that YOU have got it better if you fit into the profile of a sensible trader or a balanced investor, and that YOU have got it bad if you fit into the profile of a reckless / flambuoyant trader or a bored and thus trigger-happy investor.

Both investing and trading are about YOU.

You need to see how good or bad YOU have it, and forget about the rest.

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