Many years back an elderly relative of a family friend of mine passed away. The next day, while I was at the funeral, I had a really strange experience. I noticed that a man who looked really stricken with grief was continuously staring at me, I vaguely remembered seeing him somewhere too. A few minutes later, he left the group of people he was with and came and stood next to me.
“I‘ve seen you at so and so office, you are the guy who talks Financial Services, am I correct?” he whispered. I nodded, not knowing whether I was expected to carry on a conversation. And then, having surreptitiously glanced around to make sure no one was listening, he whispered again, “Is the market going to go up?”
“I don’t know,” I said. It was an honest answer because I never do know what’s going to happen to the markets (nor, do I think does anyone else but that’s not the point). The man looked hurt and angry, perhaps because he felt that I should have done my bit to lighten his sorrow by predicting the future direction of the stock market. Once he realized that I was too heartless to oblige, he stalked off and kept glaring at me till I left.
Later, I couldn’t help thinking about this incident and wonder at the vast range of attention levels that people pay to investing. I’m not talking about those who have a legitimate professional connection with the markets like investment managers, family astrologers of stockbrokers and perhaps even editors of mutual fund magazines. I am talking instead of ordinary people who have a non-financial profession.
I‘ve observed that there is a long scale along which people can be placed based on their interest in investing. There are those who never, ever think of savings or investments. This isn’t particularly bad if all you can afford to save is what gets cut from your salary as compulsory company schemes, although even this category will need to build a little awareness.
Then there are those who think about investments once a year, normally around the time when they wake up to making some tax-savings investments. At the other extreme are people who obsess with investments all the time without any justification. This is the category that the person who harassed me at that funeral belonged to. This category seems tormented by the thought that if only they had some real information about the markets–some secret that others know and are not telling–then they too could earn millions without any effort.
I really like what I do as a profession but I must tell you that while the above incident is the only time I’ve been harassed by a mourner at a funeral, most people who are in professions similar to mine are frequently waylaid by these obsessive seekers of the markets’ secrets.
I think there’s a correct level of interest in investing. Perhaps this correct level should be calculated by looking at the proportion between your real income and the returns from your investments. I mean if your main professional income is fifty times the amount of your investments’ returns then you surely should limit your investment research to perhaps reading this blog for maybe one day in a month. At the very least, we should all realize that investment returns are not correlated with the amount of time you spend obsessing over them or by the number of people you ask for advice, specially at funerals.