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The Investors’ Creed

Illustration of male investor with facemask looking toward gold trophy
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“Akela, we’ll do our best…”

Those words, part of the ‘Grand Howl’ when I was in Cubs, are forever etched in my memory.

Akela, of course is the adult in charge. And is the ‘Old Wolf’ of the pack. The other adult leaders also took their names from Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, including, for a time, my old man, who was known as Kaa at the 1st Yarrawarrah Cubs.

Some years later, Kipling’s other best-known offering — his poem, If, is a constant companion for me, as an investor.

The poem, ostensibly a letter from a father to his son, is Kipling’s template on living a good life.

To try to describe it, piece by piece, would essentially just be to repeat it — so if you haven’t read it, either ever, or for a while, I’d highly recommend it.

But, in short, Kipling exhorts us to remain true to ourselves: to find our own way in life, being open to the ideas of others, but not to make others our masters.

There are other ways, and other templates to rely on, when it comes to developing character, but none better, in my humble opinion.

There is, of course, also a sense of how, well, bloody difficult it is, too.

I don’t know if Kipling is serious or humorous as he offers ‘everything’ in return for that good life, as he says the reward for all of the ‘Ifs’ is that: “Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it”.

Maybe he’s offering such a grand prize, because it’s inherently unachievable. I like to think he’s suggesting that, if you can live your life that way, you’ll not want for anything, and that the life well lived, free of imposed constraints, is its own reward.
Whatever the intention, though, his poem could well be re-titled The Investor’s Creed.

And man, have we been tested recently!

Some stocks are absolutely flying. Yes, I’m looking at you, Afterpay Ltd (ASX: APT).

Others, like Flight Centre Travel Group Ltd (ASX: FLT), have taught shareholders a lot, but have cost them a lot in the process, too.

The market itself has experienced both the fastest bear market and the fastest recovery in history.

It has tested us all.

Mentally. Emotionally. And yes, financially.

Some of Kipling’s tests are easier than others. Turns out I’ve never been someone who ‘looked too good or talked too wise’

But two lines have been playing, over and over, in my head this week:

“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster,
And treat those two impostors just the same”

It’s something I could write a book about. And I’d end up in the same place as Kipling.

Made some money from your portfolio recently?

Lost some?

My congratulations, and commiserations, respectively.

But that’s that.

They’re done.

I’m sorry to burst your bubble if you’re riding high on the euphoria of recent gains.

And I’m sorry to interrupt you if you’re in the middle of some self-indulgent misery from recent losses.

Actually, no. I’m not.

I don’t mean to sound rude, but you really need to move on.

Unless you’ve just sold your last ever winning (or losing) stock, and you’re going to be in cash until your last day on this mortal coil, you’ll have to cut short your victory laps and tales of woe.

Because the next race has started. And each new race starts from zero.

Your portfolio might be worth $10,000 today.

Whether that’s up from $5,000 or down from $15,000 is irrelevant.

The only thing that matters is what you do with your $10,000 from right now.

And I have to say, whether you’re enjoying Triumph or lamenting Disaster, you’re likely not as responsible for your present state as you think you are.

A lot of people got very, very lucky, making money on Enron, selling out before it was uncovered as a fraud. Unless their thesis was ‘I know this thing is a fraud, but I know with certainty that I can buy today and sell the day before it gets exposed’, then they owe their Triumph to luck, not skill.

Moreover, unless you can show a pattern of wins and losses, and clearly demonstrate how your process delivered those outcomes, you might just owe more to luck — good or bad — than you’re prepared to admit.

And even if you can… you’re still going to get lucky (or unlucky) from time to time.

Which is the point of recognising them as imposters in the first place.

Too often, their presence is fleeting, and caused by factors other than our own skill and hard work.

Trying to diagnose them as completely within our own control is about as self-indulgent as it gets.

Of course, such a view isn’t that common in my industry.

I haven’t read it, but I’m pretty sure the Financial Services Handbook suggests I should claim all of the winners as my own great ideas, and the losers as the result of unpredictable black swans.

Not me.

Now, to be fair, I’ve made around 100 ASX recommendations (one each and every month) since I started running Motley Fool Share Advisor back in April 2012.

And our average recommendation is up 48.1%, while the market’s average is up less than 30% in that same time.

I think — I’m never certain about anything — that owes more than a little to a process that has delivered strong results over time.

But it’s important to know I still make plenty of mistakes and am just as subject as anyone else to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

In other words, it would be silly of me to put all of my winners down to my own excellence. It would be silly of me to take all of my losers to heart, and push me off my process.

And of course, whatever my past successes or failures (and thankfully more of the former than the latter, allowing us to beat the market thus far), it’s only the future that matters from here, when it comes to the results we hope to deliver for ourselves and our members.

Remember, not only is volatility a constant companion for the investor, but so are wins and losses. Being able to accept the good and the bad, and to stick to your process regardless, is likely the difference between success and failure.

As Kipling would say, if you can “…keep your head when all about you are losing theirs…” I can’t promise you the world and everything that’s in it, but I’m pretty sure your investment results will improve — and you’ll likely find it more enjoyable and less stressful, to boot.

Fool on!

Where to invest $1,000 right now

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Motley Fool contributor Scott Phillips has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool Australia owns shares of AFTERPAY T FPO. The Motley Fool Australia has recommended Flight Centre Travel Group Limited. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Scott Phillips.

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