Inside talk on market action

It always seems to be that you get the best insights from departing colleagues on their last day, and you can't help thinking they would have come in handy 10 years ago.

It always seems to be that you get the best insights from departing colleagues on their last day, and you can't help thinking they would have come in handy 10 years ago.

So in my first midweek Money column, though I've been gracing Sunday for years, I'm going to do it the other way around.

First, here's the dirt from three decades in financial journalism, at the risk of being all downhill from here. You would be surprised what I've seen, because I sure have been.

The sharemarket is irrational

Take any rational explanation for why it did something, or perhaps didn't, with a grain of salt. Who really knows?

After all, the market is a herd and it can act irrationally for short periods. Come to that, it can act irrationally for long periods, too, especially with your stocks.

But the thing is you can make money out of it as long as you diversify and are patient. All right, very patient.

There's no such thing as an even playing field

Not in the sharemarket, anyway. Insider trading has always existed and always will because it's so hard to prove in a court, so the odds are stacked against you from the start. (As for the tricks of lawyers - well, that's another column.)

Mind you, just as damaging is the opposite - rumours about a stock that turn out to be false, though I have to say that, in my experience, where there's smoke you'll find a fire is on its way.

And as a minority shareholder, you don't count anyway because you don't have the numbers. Directors can be more brutal than politicians, I'm afraid.

Get in early

Often readers ask me about a stock that's been in the news as a performer, by which time the best is probably behind it. That or it's a tinpot explorer nobody, including yours truly, has heard of.

They should be asking if a plunging stock has become good value to buy, not that I'd know that, either. You should buy a stock before its price takes off, not in the middle or, worse, near the possible end of its trajectory.

Everything comes in cycles

Finance is as prone to fashion as, well, fashion. Not long ago, companies were bullied into borrowing for fear of a "lazy" balance sheet. Now they're outsourcing, including selling freehold property and leasing it back. It'll pass.

It's true what they say about putting all your eggs in one basket

Don't. Yet I've seen an entire life's savings invested in one or two, usually speculative, stocks. Sorry, putting everything in one place, such as the recently collapsed Banksia Securities or a mortgage trust that's since been frozen, is crazy. If you must put all your money in one place, stick it in a bank deposit because at least it's government guaranteed up to $250,000.

Banks aren't bastards

Didn't see that coming, did you? But I have to say that of the few altercations I've had with my bank over the years, each time I was in the wrong.

Still, I've also learnt that just by querying something, anything, there's a chance a fee will be waived.

That said, if you go to a bank for financial advice, expect to be sold a bank product.

Bluffing makes the world go round

I've come across a lot of financial experts, and they're smart, but not always right.

If they can't explain something to you, chances are they don't understand it themselves.

Anyway the financial system runs on psychology, and not mathematics.

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