Classes in Behavioral Bias: The COVID-19 Fairness Markets


The inventory markets over the past two years have been variously nerve-racking and exhilarating relying on who you ask and when.

But for behavioral finance aficionados, the COVID-19-era fairness markets have supplied a uncommon alternative to witness an nearly endless sequence of behavioral biases in motion.

Indeed, we are able to draw straight traces from numerous market phenomena noticed since March 2020 to particular behavioral biases and units of biases.

Staying Away

One mistake traders made early within the pandemic was not shopping for high quality names after the preliminary COVID-19 plunge. To make sure, cruise traces and different companies within the direct path of pandemic-related associated disruption had been going to be a tough promote, however many corporations that skilled sharp corrections had lengthy monitor data of extremely worthwhile operations throughout a number of enterprise cycles. They had been cash-generating machines with robust steadiness sheets, highly effective manufacturers, large and constant buyer bases, important pricing energy, large moats, and so on. The pandemic was not going to sink them. Demand was certain to get better.

Share Price
1 January 2020
Share Price
16 March 2020
Change from
1 January 2020
Share Price
3 May 2022
Change from
16 March 2020
Coca Cola $55 $45 -18% $63 40%
Nvidia $60 $51 -15% $196 284%
Salesforce $167 $124 -26% $178 44%
McDonald’s $200 $149 -26% $250 68%
Apple $74 $63 -15% $166 163%
BlackRock $501 $357 -29% $631 77%
Merck $92 $70 -24% $90 29%
Charles Schwab $48 $31 -35% $69 123%
Facebook $210 $146 -30% $212 45%
Caterpillar $151 $93 -38% $214 130%

So why did so many people — together with yours really — hesitate and miss out on the chance of a lifetime? Because of a mixture of the next biases:

Myopic Loss Aversion: We overfocused on short-term losses and underemphasized the potential for long-term positive aspects. This led us to keep away from property that had skilled current volatility. 

Continuation or Extrapolation Bias: This additionally performed a job. Because we had simply been on the volatility rollercoaster, we assumed the experience wasn’t over, that it could proceed indefinitely into the long run.

Regret Aversion: This was one other key bias. We feared the results of errors of omission, of not shopping for the appropriate inventory, simply as a lot as these of fee, or shopping for the improper inventory. So many people stayed on the sideline.

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Chasing Pandemic Winners

The huge financial and monetary stimulus that started in March 2020 mixed with the work-from-home (WFH) phenomenon assured that many stay-at-home shares would change into enormous pandemic winners.

Share Price
23 March 2020
Share Price
31 October 2020
Fiverr $24 $146 508%
Peloton $23 $116 404%
Pinterest $14 $59 321%
Sea Limited $43 $158 267%
Zoom $135 $461 241%

Despite the surge, nonetheless, many of those had been absurdly priced loss-making corporations even again in April 2020. It was additionally clear that demand was being pulled ahead and that the stupendous income progress achieved through the pandemic was unsustainable within the medium to long run.

So why did so many people leap on the bandwagon and refuse to get off?

Self-Enhancing Bias: Who deserves credit score for our success? We do. If we purchased Peloton and its worth quadrupled in six months, it was due to our stock-picking genius somewhat than dumb luck or a market fueled by low cost cash.

Herd Behavior: Much like a faculty of fish that swims in the identical course, we people mimic the habits of others. When unsure, we go together with the gang in forming our opinions or making fast choices. And that’s very true in a bubble or disaster.

Confirmation Bias: We select what data we eat about our choices and we gravitate in the direction of knowledge that validates them. So we encompass ourselves with folks and media that inform us what we wish to hear. From April to October 2020, monetary information media trumpeted the pandemic winners, the Pelotons and the Zooms. A well-known funding publication to which I subscribed wrote solely about these kinds of shares, speaking up the positives and ignoring any negatives.

Trust Study Tile

Missing the Clues on Inflation

Few anticipated inflation to soar so excessive or to remain excessive for therefore lengthy.

We underestimated the magnitude of the splurge on client items amid the lockdowns and overestimated the energy and resilience of worldwide provide chains. And the demand and supply-side shocks drove inflation to 40-year highs.

Why did we miss the alerts? Because inflation had barely budged in 10 years. Massive quantitative easing (QE) within the aftermath of the worldwide monetary disaster and report low unemployment had had little inflationary impact. Since inflation hadn’t elevated in so lengthy, we assumed it by no means would. If $4.5 trillion hadn’t achieved the trick, what was a couple of trillion extra?

Availability Bias: That’s what behavioral economists name this. It comes all the way down to the three Rs: We recall what’s current and contemplate it related. The first two Rs are nice, however the final is a catastrophe. Many of us weren’t alive for the final stagflation, when rates of interest hit 20% within the early Nineteen Eighties, and know solely the somewhat benign inflation that has been the story ever since Paul Volcker tamed the dragon again in 1982. So we believed the long run would appear like the current previous.

The Robinhood Effect

Remember the meme inventory mania in early 2021? When Jim Cramer and firm couldn’t cease speaking about GameStop and Hertz and AMC? AMC shares jumped 250% in 5 buying and selling days and GameStop’s shot from round $17 to $350 in January 2021.

The Wall Street Bets subreddit was largely accountable. The discussion board grew 400% in lower than every week, from two million customers to over eight million. Many discussion board members had by no means straight invested out there earlier than.

Stimulus checks had fattened financial institution accounts and we bid up these shares to ridiculous ranges. A couple of hedge funds had shorted a few of them and lots of retail traders noticed an opportunity to stay it to the large pictures. Some hedge funds bought caught within the ensuing quick squeeze. But quick ahead a couple of months and the meme shares collapsed, leaving many traders with enormous losses.

Herd Behavior: Again, we had been following the gang. Only this time, it was enhanced by a wave of social contagion.

Framing Bias: This was additionally at work. Investment choices weren’t made primarily based on info, however on how data was offered or “framed.” The populist David vs. Goliath narrative of retail traders taking over the big-time hedge funds was too interesting for a lot of to disregard.

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Vaccine Skeptics

Vaccines take time to develop. Ten to fifteen years was the benchmark pre-pandemic. Few anticipated COVID-19 vaccines lower than a 12 months after the primary lockdowns. We anticipated the pandemic lasting for much longer.

We didn’t see all of the progress on the bottom. Scientists had been finding out coronaviruses for greater than half a century. Medical know-how had change into so superior and computer systems so highly effective that genomic sequencing had uncovered the viral sequence of SARS-CoV-2 in lightning pace. 

Volunteers queued up and the medical trials had been quickly accomplished. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) streamlined its approval course of. Rather than the standard 10-month assessment course of for a brand new drug, the FDA skipped the coronavirus vaccines to the entrance of the road. The Pfizer vaccine was reviewed and licensed for emergency us simply 21 days after it was submitted.

Conservatism Bias: We favor pre-existing data over new knowledge. This could make us gradual to react to new and important data.

Anchoring Bias: When making choices we frequently focus our focus one one reference level. We over-rely on the very first piece of data we encounter. That can cement a story in our minds that we’ve a tough time breaking out of even within the face of newer and higher knowledge. With vaccines, we anchored on that prolonged vaccine growth window.

Financial Analysts Journal Current Issue Tile

Taking a Bath by Buying the Dip

Buy low and promote excessive. We all know the phrase. There had been loads of dips through the pandemic, and traders rushed to purchase the falling shares. But had been they actually good bargains? In a couple of instances possibly, however many had been nonetheless priced at nosebleed ranges primarily based on the price-to-sales valuation metric, even after hefty declines.

Pandemic Peak
Share Price
Share Price
3 May 2022
Decrease Price-to-Sales
Shopify $1,690 $453 -73% 13
Unity Software $192 $69 -64% 17
Snowflake $398 $178 -55% 42
Zscaler $369 $211 -43% 34
The Trade Desk $108 $62 -43% 25

By comparability, on the identical date, the S&P 500 and the NASDAQ traded at price-to-sales ratios of three.1 and three.6, respectively. The rush to purchase the dip is way much less now.

Anchoring Bias: Once once more this was the perpetrator. Investors had been fixating on the upper, earlier worth and therefore jumped on the massive proportion drop not realizing that one thing alarmingly costly had change into solely barely much less so. Moreover, after realizing positive aspects at a better worth, traders weren’t anxious to promoting at a decrease on.

Trusting the Fed

Inflation was speculated to be transitory. That’s what Jerome Powell and the US Federal Reserve advised us. And we believed them, hook, line, and sinker. Turns out, the Fed was improper and is now behind the curve. The chance of a tough touchdown is rising.

By my estimates, solely as soon as within the final 11 tightening intervals has the Fed achieved a “excellent comfortable touchdown.” That’s an terrible resume. And the Fed has by no means tightened into such a vortex earlier than. Think about it: hovering inflation, an unpleasant warfare, provide chain disruptions, an ongoing pandemic, and a frothy, anxious inventory market — it could be a tough atmosphere for even essentially the most prescient forecaster. And let’s be sincere, with its horrible monitor report, the Fed hardly suits that invoice.

So why did we belief the Fed forecasts?

Authority Bias: The US psychologist Stanley Milgram popularized this time period for the misplaced belief we place in formal authorities, “the specialists.” We’re extra prone to imagine the data they provide us. Plenty of traits improve the authority bias. Finance is a male-dominated career and gender can play a job. So, too, can race and ethnicity and academic background.

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Watching Our Biases

The pandemic inventory market was a veritable bias fest. But it was additionally an important laboratory experiment. The massive lesson I’ve culled is that the extra we get rid of biases from our funding course of, the higher our funding returns.

The query is: Will we be taught from the pandemic inventory market? Hopefully. But don’t wager on it. Our reminiscences are alarmingly quick. That’s why I discover it useful to maintain a mistake diary to assist keep in mind the motivations and thought processes behind my funding choices that didn’t pan out. Rest assured, my journal has gotten a lot, for much longer since March 2020. But it is a useful useful resource, so I’ll be mulling over these biases for a very long time. 

But then once more, possibly that’s simply one other bias.

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All posts are the opinion of the writer. As such, they shouldn’t be construed as funding recommendation, nor do the opinions expressed essentially replicate the views of CFA Institute or the writer’s employer.

Image credit score: ©Getty Images/Nick Dolding

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Binod Shankar, CFA

Binod Shankar, CFA, is a Dubai-based blogger, keynote speaker, government coach, and host of the The Real Finance Mentor, and seems ceaselessly on CNBC Arabia and Asharq Bloomberg as a market analyst. He is a CFA charterholder and a chartered accountant.


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