The Power of Hindsight

The Power of Hindsight

Do you wish you had invested in Cisco when it went public in 1990? Or Microsoft in 1986? What about Qualcomm, which is up almost 10,000% since its inception in 1991 (just a bit higher than the S&P 500’s paltry 600% equivalent gain). I can’t tell you how many times I hear that regretful refrain from investors. Yet nobody talks about the losers. That’s primarily because they’re no longer around. Lest you think that you can’t go wrong purchasing hot tech stocks, here’s a brief reminder.

Remember Pets.com? Their innovation was perhaps less about buying pet supplies online than about using cute sock puppets to promote their brand. The company lasted less than three years. Then there was Webvan, another hot internet company that introduced online ordering for groceries to be delivered right to customers’ doors. That company enjoyed a five-year run before going bankrupt. How about 3dfx Interactive? They were in the business of producing graphics cards and were a big name in the computer gaming industry. It took eight years for them to fold.

What’s the point? It’s easy for us to regret missing out on what turned out to be, in hindsight, a tremendous investment opportunity. Sure you could have made millions investing in Qualcomm. But you could also have lost thousands if you had chosen to invest in 3dfx Interactive instead. Back in the 1990s it was not at all clear which one (if either) was going to succeed.

Even if you do happen to pick a long-term winner, the ups and downs of its stock’s performance is likely to try the patience of even the most placid of buy & hold investors. Take The Walt Disney Company, one of the highest-returning stocks over the last 60 years. Despite its long-term success, its stock price dropped by almost half during fifteen out of those sixty years. Would you have been willing to hang on after such a loss?

Since there exists so little data on which to base expectations of future stock price growth, many investors naturally turn to historical data. But past prices really don’t tell us much about the future., Rather than speculating on individual stocks, wouldn’t it make more sense to invest more broadly in the overall U.S. economy via market funds or ETFs since there’s no way to know in advance how a particular stock is going to perform? You might not get rich, and might even lose money from time to time. But as long as our society and economic system thrive, you should do well enough. And you will have little to regret!

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