Preparation vs. Prediction

After a precipitous decline from February 19th to March 23rd, equity markets have rebounded significantly. Simultaneously, oil prices and volatility have experienced extreme fluctuations, central banks are implementing waves of stimulus, and governments are considering the relaxation of social distancing restrictions. This leaves many investors, including the famed and veteran varieties, unsure on a path forward. Morgan Housel recently published a piece addressing how to deal with uncertainty surrounding the immediate future. At this juncture it is easy to argue either side of the bull or bear thesis, but Mr. Housel takes a different approach by illustrating how studying history can better shape an investor’s expectations of the future, allowing them to rely less on otherwise baseless forecasts. Forecasts can lead to overconfidence and bets relying on knowing when something will occur with precision, whereas studying history allows investors to consider the range of probable outcomes given what has occurred previously in similar, though not exact, scenarios. Expectations conceived through historical study are more likely to accommodate the entire spectrum of possible scenarios, whereas few, if any, are able to forecast major events with a high degree of precision and consistency. This supports the thesis of portfolio diversification over concentration, the former accommodating copious conditions and embracing uncertainty in financial markets while the latter only has limited paths to success.