Investing in the stock market offers numerous opportunities for profit, but it also carries inherent risks. Market participants have used two popular investment approaches — the contrarian and trend following strategies — to try to enhance profits and minimize risk, to varying degrees of success.
In this blog post, we’ll explore the merits, drawbacks, and intricacies of each approach, providing insights for investors seeking to make more informed decisions in their pursuit of long-term success. We’ll also look at real-life examples of these strategies in action, including the pitfalls and challenges associated with each approach.
The Contrarian Approach: Seeking Value in Unloved Stocks
Contrarian investing involves seeking out-of-favor stocks with low valuations, as they often have most of the negative factors already priced in. While this approach may sound simple in theory, it requires a keen eye for detail, patience, and the discipline to execute an investment effectively.
Strengths: Contrarian investing can uncover hidden gems in the market, as undervalued stocks may offer significant growth potential once their true value is recognized by the broader market. This approach can also lead to lower portfolio volatility due to its focus on fundamentally strong companies trading at discounted prices.
Pitfalls: Identifying true value in out-of-favor stocks can be challenging, and investors must be prepared to weather disappointments and potentially prolonged holding periods. For instance, AT&T and Verizon are businesses that, on paper, appeared to be great contrarian investment opportunities due to their low valuations. However, the negative price action ultimately proved justified due to managerial overspending and a continuing decline in revenues. These cases illustrate the importance of being meticulous about which businesses you select for contrarian investing.
Example: Unilever, which underperformed due to the management’s search for a “purpose” for their brands, resulting in a price multiple difference between the European conglomerate and its US competitor Proctor and Gamble. Contrarian investors saw potential in Unilever’s valuable brands and the involvement of activist investors. Today, the company has caught up to P&G — and significantly outperformed this competitor — as it has focused on profit, changed its business divisions, and announced an external CEO with a great track record of growing brand-oriented businesses, who will be taking over in July 2023.
The Trend Following Approach: Riding the Momentum of High-Performing Stocks
Trend following investors seek to capitalize on the momentum of stocks with strong price performance, trusting that better-performing companies will continue to outperform their competitors. This approach requires investors to buy and hold more expensive stocks, often in the face of market noise and short-term fluctuations.
Strengths: Trend following can generate significant returns when executed well, as market leaders often continue to deliver strong performance over time. This approach can also benefit from the compounding effect of reinvesting gains into high-performing stocks.
Pitfalls: The trend following approach carries the risk of entering positions too late or failing to exit before a trend reversal. Additionally, trend followers may be prone to herding behavior, driving stock prices to unsustainable levels and creating market bubbles. In such cases, investors who do not exit in time may experience significant losses.
Example: In the beginning of the last decade, Apple began to outperform and grow bigger than Nokia, the leader in smartphone manufacturing at the time. Apple’s stock price became very expensive as it factored in a higher market share for phones, and many investors fled for less expensive Nokia shares. True trend following investors stayed invested in Apple, which dominated the smartphone industry over the next decade.
Strategies for Success in Contrarian and Trend Following Investing
To maximize the potential benefits of these investment approaches, investors should:
1. Develop a clear understanding of their risk tolerance, investment goals, and level of expertise.
2. Conduct thorough research on the companies they invest in, analyzing fundamentals, competitive position, and management quality.
3. Stay informed about market trends, economic indicators, and geopolitical events that may impact their investments.
4. Regularly review their investment portfolio, rebalancing and adjusting positions as needed based on changing market conditions and individual circumstances.
By considering these factors and understanding the potential pitfalls of each approach, investors can make more informed decisions and increase their chances of achieving long-term investment success.
At Grey Ledge Advisors, we believe that a successful investment strategy cannot be bound by a single approach but should rather be adaptive to various market environments. Our investment philosophy is rooted in a holistic blend of contrarian and trend following methodologies, allowing us to take advantage of opportunities across the full spectrum of market conditions. We strive to take a nuanced, opportunistic view of the market landscape, considering both the potential undervalued gems and the high-performing trendsetters in our decision-making process.
By integrating these complementary approaches, we aim to balance risk and reward, seek consistent returns, and ultimately, strive towards fulfilling our clients’ financial goals.