Finance Is Not a Sport

Photo by  My Army Reserve

I love college football season. The pageantry, energy, and traditions are, in my opinion, unrivaled in the world of sports. The 12th Man at Texas A&M, calling the Hogs at Arkansas, Auburn’s War Eagle, tailgating in “The Grove” at Ole Miss, and the Michigan band playing “The Victors” over and over and over and over are just a few examples of what makes the experience so enjoyable.

But science has started to explain why that may be. Watching your favorite team win can increase your testosterone level according to some studies. Some people see their dopamine levels increase when their team does well, which literally increases the feeling of pleasure. Other hormones such as adrenaline, cortisol, and oxytocin have also been shown from endocrinology to increase in sports fans.

This may help explain why my family leaves me alone on Saturdays to watch my favorite team in solitude. I am not truly alone as inevitably up to a dozen college friends will engage in a group text or chat with the season seemingly riding on each play.

Just this last weekend, I received messages that alternately suggested the coach of my favorite team is grossly over rated and should be fired to being a genius deserving of a raise, all in the span of a couple of hours from the same person. Referees were accused of being biased until they were celebrated for making the right call. 

While my family may disagree while I’m screaming at the TV, it is the thrill ride of vicariously experiencing the ups and downs of my team that make watching sports so enjoyable. Unfortunately, mainly due to the proliferation of media into all areas of life, investing has taken on a similar dynamic.

It wasn’t that long ago that financial news and information were delivered in much less timely and dynamic ways. Closing stock prices were found in the back of the business pages of the newspaper. If you wanted an actual quote, if you didn’t work on Wall Street in New York, you either called your broker or went to his office.

On those days that the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) reached a milestone, such as breaking 1,000 for the first time in 1972, it may have warranted a small headline, below the fold, in major newspapers. During precipitous declines, like Black Monday in 1987 when the DJIA fell 22.61% (508 points to 1,738.74), Dan Rather led his 5:30 PM broadcast with the bad news, but then turned the page to other items such as the American response to an Iranian missile attack on US tanker in the Persian Gulf.

Compare that to today, when you can get real time quotes of virtually any stock in any market around the clock. Turn on the business channel in the morning and immediately see what the futures markets are doing. A headline this morning, for example, “BREAKING: Dow futures fall 150 points as Street digests jobs.”

Is that really any different of a feeling than if your team just fumbled the opening kickoff? If we do have a big selloff, rest assured that there will be at least 4 talking head “experts” on screen at once all trying to talk over one another to deliver us the play by play. All that is missing is a few hundred screaming fans with cleverly written signs in the background.

Much like in sports, you can follow social media for instant analysis, commentary, and even advice on what to buy or sell. You can even play “fantasy” by opening simulated trading accounts with any number of online ventures and compete against other “investors”.

As entertainment, it can be argued whether our addiction to sports as a society is a net positive. When it comes to our investments, allowing our emotions to get the best of us makes about as much sense as deciding to forfeit the game in the 1st quarter because the ball didn’t bounce our way.

Whether your plan is a risk averse approach designed to control the clock with a bruising ground game and strong defense or a wide open passing attack that is primarily worried about outscoring the opponent, successful teams typically have success by staying the course.

Investing is a 4 quarter game that rewards those that keep their cool when the momentum swings to the other team. Understanding the tendencies of the opponent, such as stocks tend to outperform bonds over time, help us keep perspective and stick with our game plan.

It’s a long season, do yourself a favor and watch more football and less CNBC.