The Full English Accompaniment – On Brexit, social psychology and market timing

What’s piqued my interest this week?
I’ve been reading Tim Hales Smarter Investing over the last couple of weeks, which appears considered essential reading by most FI/ passive investment sources (1). It has prompted me to write down a philosophy and a draft set of goals for my investment plans. One of the cautions is against market timing, because it’s very statistically difficult to be good at it, incorporating not a small amount of luck. Much better to go Bogle, and buy then hold a low cost tracker (2). So far, so sold.
There’s another section of the book which documents how one of the most important, most overlooked parts to a portfolio decision is target country allocation. This is where I’m currently stuck, as Brexit presents a big hit of unknown outcomes, and is turning my market timing milk sour. Oh look, another r/UKPersonalFinance post triggered me (I’ll cut out all the Reddit relevant-only bits)…

Everyone, put on your tin-foil hats and join me on a journey considering a Brexit scenario…

I’ve personally suspected that Brexit is being pushed along despite it outwardly, appearing to be in no-one’s interests perhaps as a textbook example of Naomi Klein’s ‘Disaster Capitalism’ but maybe just as a way for massive money to be made from the lurches in exchange rate and FTSE etc.

So one outcome I suspect is that the pound will stay relatively weak to the EUR/USD etc, keeping the FTSE reasonably high, until we suddenly hit a point where it gets revealed we’ll basically stay in the EU (or EEA), perhaps after a 2nd referendum, so…

If the timeline of this is the next 6 months, how will the politicians and their chums be looking to maximise the person financial benefit to themselves? Assuming a, say, 15% increase in the value of the pound, and 10% drop in the FTSE 100, would they be looking to sell most investments, have cash and then be ready to re-invest after the correction?

What would you do in this scenario if you had this inside information? (3)

This is a little tinfoil hat brigade, although the murmuring the Nigel Farage shorted the value of the £ when he found out the result of Brexit before it was officially released could provide some evidence (4). An ex-investment banker wouldn’t call up his mates still in the industry with privy information would he? The main issue I have with the above is that it appears to go against the political wind and public opinion polls. The Conservatives and Labour are both loath to go back on the stated plan to exit (would be seen as weak?), and YouGov’s last poll in July found that a fraction greater percentage thought Brexit was the wrong decision than didn’t (5). Opinion polls may be a pretty poor judge, but they’re not so bad as to miss half the nation suddenly decided they do want to stay in the EU, after all (6).
Brexit therefore represents a challenge to the efficient market hypothesis (7). Pre-Brexit vote, a commentator in Forbes discussed how the referendum would represent an excellent testbed for efficient markets (8). It truly did, as the unexpected (to the city) voter decision was integrated into share prices in a number of hours. The fact that the referendum result was unexpected and therefore prompted such a dramatic shift in the markets challenges the efficient market hypothesis, and specifically what makes it efficient. The efficiency relies upon the sum of all the traders individual access to information. To bring it round to psychological terms, it is a form of social Gestalt theory, where the individual chaotic pieces of information/ action contributes to a total pattern (9, 10). Market traders were unaware of the depth of feeling in favour of Brexit prior to the vote (those pesky polls again), and were suddenly exposed to it and integrated it into the markets on referendum day.
But why were market traders so unaware? I wonder that the possibility of a Leave vote did not comply with the collective conscience of market traders and ‘the city’ and therefore was not appropriately considered by the markets (11). To go back to Durkheim’s original use of collective consciousness (very separate from Jungian collective unconsciousness), it is the ‘general feeling’ towards a position, experienced and perceived by the individuals in the collective (11). A shared unconscious understanding of social norms. In the city, it was a social norm to be pro-EU. In the general populace, not so much. Therefore the true risk of a Leave vote to the markets was a Rumsfeldian ‘unknown unknown’. To be pro-Leave in London pre-Brexit went against social norms, it didn’t fit with the social reality constructed in that environment, even if it did fit with the social norms and social reality of the wider UK (12).
Which brings me to my market timing and allocation conundrum. The market is efficient when it is integrating information which makes sense within it’s system; IPOs, sales data, quarterly returns etc. It appears less efficient at integrating popular opinion and behaviour. The market is vulnerable to collective psychological effects (herd behaviour etc), and changes in the market are made by people. The people who change the market (traders etc) operate in a different social world (‘social reality’) to the general populace, by nature of their social interactions. Yours is visible in day-to-day life in your twitter or social media sphere, which may differ from general public opinion. The markets will therefore be generally running on the market traders social reality, whilst the rest of us live in a slightly different social reality. Politicians span the divide, but take their lauded mandate from the general populace’s social reality. The difference comes to the fore when the market has to integrate decisions which are made by the wider populace that didn’t fit with it’s reality, e.g. Brexit. The reddit comment quoted above appears to sit well within the market reality bubble; we’ll stay in the EU in the end, it’s all a sideshow. My concern is that the general populace appears fairly relaxed about a ‘No-deal’ Brexit. Knowing that we’re a few short months out of formal Brexit, do I choose allocations based on that worry which insulate against this outcome. Does even thinking about this represent market-timing, and I should just bung my cash ‘somewhere’ and sit it out. Your opinion welcome here…
Have a great week,

 

The Shrink

 

Side Orders

Other News

Opinion/ blogs:

What I’m reading:

Smarter Investing by Tim Hale – essential reading

Religio Medici by Sir Thomas Browne – the theological and psychological reflections of a C17th doctor. This is turning out to be real heavy-going.

Enchiridion by Epictetus – Bedside reading for a bad day

 

References:

  1. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Smarter-Investing-Simpler-Decisions-Financial/dp/0273785370/
  2. https://www.bogleheads.org/wiki/Getting_started
  3. http://www.reddit.com/r/UKPersonalFinance/comments/9cnsqj/the_potential_effect_of_a_massive_shift_in
  4. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/jun/25/nigel-farage-denies-shorting-value-of-sterling-on-night-of-brexit-vote
  5. https://yougov.co.uk/news/2018/06/23/eu-referendum-two-years/
  6. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-018-0330-7
  7. https://www.investopedia.com/terms/e/efficientmarkethypothesis.asp
  8. https://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2016/02/22/brexit-uk-financial-markets-and-the-efficient-markets-hypothesis/#31ab82161667
  9. https://www.britannica.com/science/Gestalt-psychology
  10. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gestalt_psychology
  11. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collective_consciousness
  12. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_reality
  13. https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/pensions/article-6130445/Will-council-force-sell-house-cover-dads-care-bills.html
  14. https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/cars/article-6138267/A-1979-Lada-Niva-estimated-sell-75-000-goes-just-4K.html
  15. https://www.theguardian.com/money/2018/sep/07/house-prices-rose-at-fastest-rate-in-almost-year-says-halifax-august-north-south
  16. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/sep/05/thinktank-calls-for-major-overhaul-of-britains-economy
  17. https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/property/article-6106049/A-downstairs-family-bathroom-lowers-property-value-6.html
  18. https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/news/article-6080099/Are-Monzo-Revolut-Starling-Transferwise-safe-bank-with.html
  19. http://monevator.com/10-things-you-can-do-today-to-reset-your-life/
  20. http://monevator.com/weekend-reading-what-is-your-reason-for-being/
  21. http://thefirestarter.co.uk/my-5-years-are-up-how-did-i-do/
  22. http://thefirestarter.co.uk/august-income-expenses-report-a-bit-of-an-odd-one/
  23. https://thefireeng.com/net-worth-update-august-2018/
  24. http://www.msziyou.com/yes-i-am-rich-now/
  25. http://www.msziyou.com/net-worth-updates-august-2018/
  26. http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2018/09/05/what-really-goes-on-at-mmm-headquarters/
  27. http://theirrelevantinvestor.com/2018/09/04/gold-what-is-it-good-for/
  28. https://www.ukvalueinvestor.com/2018/09/sold-senior-plc-after-recent-share-price-gains.html/
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The Full English Accompaniment – The neuroscience of a frugal mindset

What’s piqued my interest this week?

In a throwaway conversation this week MrsShrink said something which I’ve subsequently been ruminating on. In running our household I do most of the shopping, but MrsShrink does the toiletries. She remarked that she actively enjoyed going to browse in Savers, Home Bargains etc, as she enjoyed spending money she knows she has to. She’s learnt to be frugal, to penny-pinch, and spending is a treat. She gets a hit out of buying things most of us wouldn’t think twice about because to her it’s a forbidden joy.

Attitudes and behaviour towards money are learnt in childhood by observing your parents. On a structural level, the dopaminergic mesolimbic ‘reward’ pathway develops through your childhood and adolescence (1). This is the time when your brain is most sensitive to it’s reward system, and is setting down the pathways for a lifetimes use (2). The way I explain behavioural modelling to patients is to think of it as a parallel to learning your first language. As a toddler you observe your parents using sounds as language, try it out, see what works, gradually accumulating your understanding without consciously being aware of the process. Other behavioural processes also follow this unconscious accumulation process, including financial attitude. If you model your child’s behaviour at this time (consciously and unconsciously) you lay down the pathways for a lifetime of reward processing.

Hundreds of websites and blogs have signed onto this, offering to teach us the ways we can consciously train our children to be better financially. This doesn’t have to be as intense as paying your child through an investment account, or making them buy fractional shares in Netflix as some would recommend (3). The piggy bank, pocket money, weekend job development path will work just fine (4). I clearly remember learning the value of money calculating how many penny sweets I could buy with my 50p pocket money. The pre-frontal and frontal cortex projections of these pathways continue to develop into your teens and early 20s, forming your conscious awareness of pleasurable responses as you grow into adulthood.

The unconscious processes are far harder to model, alter or change. These are the deep cortex projections close to the archaic midbrain structures, projections which develop during early childhood through modelling. These are learnt through observation of those around you. This is why teaching your child to be a spendthrift can only go so far if your own approach is spending all you have to keep up with the Joneses. This is also why, in my opinion, people such as Little Miss Fire struggle with her Shop Floor Mentality (5). If you have grown up in an environment of thrift as a necessity of poverty the rewards from saving, investing and watching wealth grow are not hard-wired in your cortex. There is no unconscious drive for these goals. The Stanford Marshmallow experiment on delayed gratification is a case in point example, and potentially a way of teaching your child the benefits of patience (6).

Which is where I bring things full circle. Many rich people are innately frugal; look at Warren Buffett (7, 8). These winners derive their pleasure from the process not the outcome. MrsShrink is innately frugal as she was brought up in an environment where frugality was a necessity. She observed her mother being able to afford the things they wanted by saving wherever possible. I secretly suspect she is much more likely to become FI than I because of this innate drive, but will be hampered by her mistrust of investment vehicles. She has no desire and gains no pleasure from making non-frugal choices. Consciously training thought processes to be the same way is far harder.

Have a great week,

The Shrink

N.B. There won’t be a Full English Accompaniment next week as I’m on holiday AFK.

Side Orders

Other News:

Opinion/ blogs:

What I’m reading:

An exam textbook

Religio Medici by Sir Thomas Browne – the theological and psychological reflections of a C17th doctor

Enchiridion by Epictetus – Bedside reading for a bad day

References:

  1. Walker et al. Adolescence and Reward: Making Sense of Neural and Behavioral Changes Amid the Chaos. The Journal of Neuroscience (2017)
  2. Galvan, A. Adolescent Development of the Reward System. Frontiers In Human Neuroscience (2010)
  3. https://www.marketwatch.com/story/how-to-teach-your-kids-to-be-better-with-money-than-you-are-2017-07-26
  4. https://www.independent.co.uk/money/spend-save/how-to-teach-money-children-kids-personal-finance-tips-guidelines-property-a7789381.html
  5. https://littlemissfireblog.wordpress.com/2018/03/24/do-you-have-the-shopfloor-money-mentality/
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_marshmallow_experiment
  7. https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/how-do-life/201503/why-many-rich-people-are-frugal
  8. http://time.com/money/4861261/billionaires-spending-habits-frugal/
  9. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-45194019
  10. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-45201155
  11. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/aug/17/elon-musk-says-past-year-has-been-excruciating-and-worst-is-yet-to-come
  12. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-45216551
  13. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-45199034
  14. http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/news/article-6064685/Fears-grow-house-prices-fall-fastest-rate-financial-crisis.html
  15. https://www.ig.com/uk/shares-news/mining-in-the-uk-and-ireland-is-well-and-truly-alive-180815
  16. http://thefirestarter.co.uk/can-we-afford-an-electric-vehicle-lets-run-the-numbers/
  17. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-44953607
  18. https://www.ukvalueinvestor.com/2018/08/ted-baker-dividend-growth-stock.html/
  19. https://www.ig.com/uk/commodities-news/is-investment-in-renewable-energy-drying-up-180809
  20. https://www.etf.com/sections/index-investor-corner/swedroe-determining-esgs-nature
  21. https://firevlondon.com/2018/08/13/recalibrating-my-portfolio/
  22. https://firevlondon.com/2018/08/09/july-2018-the-trade-news-sweetens/
  23. https://simplelivingsomerset.wordpress.com/2018/08/13/there-be-a-rumbling-and-a-sound-of-clucking-chickens-in-the-air/
  24. http://eaglesfeartoperch.blogspot.com/2018/08/garden-gate-repair-and-new-fence.html
  25. http://monevator.com/weekend-reading-funny-money/
  26. http://monevator.com/taking-more-risk-does-not-guarantee-more-reward/
  27. https://deliberatelivinguk.wordpress.com/2018/08/13/savings-rate-revisited/
  28. http://quietlysaving.co.uk/2018/08/12/phone-free-day/
  29. https://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2018/07/25/the-twenty-dollar-swim/
  30. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/09/cognitive-bias/565775/