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7 investing lessons from my years at Morningstar

Emma Rapaport  |  20 May 2022Text size  Decrease  Increase  |  
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This is my final Editor’s Note. It’s been an honour to write for one of the most engaged, intelligent and thoughtful communities of investors in Australia. Here are 7 investment lessons I’ve picked up along the way. I hope they resonate with you.

Have a goal in mind and everything falls into place

When I walked into Morningstar in 2018, I thought I’d get the inside scoop on what stocks to buy. While that’s true, what I actually got was far more valuable – a crash course on goals-based investing.

The biggest mistake I see first-time investors make is jumping straight to ‘what should I invest in’, rather than ‘why am I investing’. Picking a stock or ETF is more about who you are than the asset’s characteristics or growth potential –put yourself first. Sit down with a piece of paper (or excel – it’s not just for people who aced math in high school) and layout your net wealth (assets, liabilities). Know how much of your wealth you can invest while still maintaining a buffer of emergency money. Think about your financial goals – whether it’s buying a house or an education – and when you want to achieve them by. Picking a stock or an ETF is then made much simpler. For example, if you want to buy a house in 5-years’ (a relatively short period in investing), risking everything on small-cap stocks is liable to end in tears. Got 30 years? Take more risk.

Go beyond the label

From sitting alongside Morningstar’s fund analyst team, I learned that product labels provide clues, but it pays to go deeper. ‘Ethical’ is a classic example – one person’s ethics are another’s sins. Finding out requires looking at a manager’s intentions, portfolio holdings, or if they’re not available (not cool fund managers), asking some pointed questions. Risk is another big issue. A fund might advertise ‘technology megatrends’, but unless you investigate the holdings you might miss the risky stocks, sector concentration or exposure to one region. A plug for Morningstar Investor here – a lot of this information is available on the individual fund pages. Those without a subscription can also read product disclosure statements (snooze fest) or fund fact sheets. If you don’t know, ask.

Beware of complacency, things change quickly and without warning

Making short-term predictions is nigh impossible. My time at Morningstar included one of the fastest and shortest market crashes and rebounds in history – trust me, no one saw that coming. Add to that the US tech wreck of 2018 and China’s stock rout. Even if you sell at the right time, the odds of re-entering correctly are incredibly low. My advice: you never know when the downturn is coming. Don’t put off the changes you want to make to your portfolio because everything seems fine.

Know you super

Australian workers are forced to put away 10% of their income each month. It avoids falling short of retirement in your 50s. However, a system based on delayed gratification has produced disengagement. Those who started with a low fee outperforming super fund are ok. Those less lucky must face issues surrounding multiple accounts (and multiple insurance policies), serial underperformance and underpayment of super. Federal government policies are working to improve this system, but it’s far from perfect, for example people being given the option to raid their retirement accounts – potentially putting them back decades in retirement. Take an hour to get to know your super fund, its investment options, performance and fees. Compare it to other funds and consolidate multiple accounts. Superannuation comes with incredible tax breaks – dig into the salary sacrifice options, particularly if you plan to take time away from the workforce.

Beware the hype – good investing is boring

This one I learned from Morningstar personal finance extraordinaire Christine Benz. As investors, we like simple narratives – a clear and simple stock story, the promise of a 10-bagger or a magical formula to financial success - but rarely does this lead to long-term success. If something is too good to be true, it probably is. If you’re lucky, the hype survives a few years, but I’ve seen many faddy products crash and burn. Boring doesn’t mean disinteresting. Good investing requires deep analysis of companies and sectors, uncovering mispricing, and then sitting and waiting for the idea to come good. If you don’t have the skillset or conviction to do that, index investing (within certain asset classes) has proved time and time again to outperform active management (after fees). Develop a sane asset-allocation mix that’s right for your stage of investing, automate your investing to drip-feed from your salary, ignore the sensationalist headlines written to put you off investing forever, and check your investments once a quarter.

Read widely, challenge yourself

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Every time I read a book about investing it changes the way I invest for the better. Many top investors have given themselves to text – learn from their experiences. My favourite remains The Little Book That Still Beats the Market.

When markets freak out, get excited

My grandmother used to get excited when markets dropped. When I first started investing, I always thought her reaction was insane. Watching my gains vanish overnight felt awful to me. But soon I realised she had the wisdom to understand that these terrifying moments were opportunities to pick up great companies on sale. This became crystal clear in the 2020 market rebound as Morningstar analysts were begging people to stay invested and highlighting incredible bargains. I’m not as mentally strong as she was but I’m working on it.

is the editorial manager for Morningstar Australia. Connect with Emma on Twitter @rap_reports. You can email Morningstar's editorial team editorialAU[at]morningstar[dot]com

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