Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Veryan Allen writes about: Investing, Trading or Gambling

What is the difference between investing, trading and gambling? The first two come down to a divide in the holding period continuum; microseconds to months is trading but years is investing. Superficially investing and gambling are quite similar; putting money at risk in the hope of making more money. But most investors would balk at the idea of being called a gambler.

Whenever I hear the argument for long term passive investing I wonder what temporal era is meant - geological or cosmological time? Over periods of relevance to living humans I'd rather invest in alpha than gamble on beta. Suppose in 2020 or 2030 major equity indices are LOWER than today? Lost year, lost decade? Gold may be above $900 today but remains far below its inflation-adjusted high set over 600 years ago. I'll take different strategies applied to assets over asset classes themselves every time.

Most investors cannot wait long enough for the beta bet to pay off and why should they when they can allocate to fund managers with the skill to generate reliable absolute returns from their edge? Investing and trading both have important roles to play in a portfolio but it is no place to gamble. The only trades to make and the only managers to pick are those with positive expectation and the odds in their favor.
Some of my earlier ruminations on the same here.

UPDATE: Felix Salmon has his take here. I agree with Allen that Blackjack and Poker biases against the individual player can be overcome, but agree with Salmon that Roulette and Dice cannot.

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