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Paul's Insights: Avoiding infoxication: Staying on course as an investor

There's never any shortage of macroeconomic commentary around investment markets. The trouble is, it's often confusing and a minefield of differing opinions. One expert says one thing; another says something very different.

I read macroeconomic commentary carefully. But it’s at those times when 100 percent of commentary favours one position that I tend to question what’s being said.

It’s not that I’m a contrarian. Rather, I see myself as a ‘commonsensian’. If everyone’s telling me that we’re in a boom and I should ‘buy now’, I get nervous. On the flipside, if everyone tells me that from a macroeconomic viewpoint the sky really is falling in and Chicken Little is right, I see it as a time to buy.

If an overload of macroeconomic commentary is leaving you confused and uncertain, the solution is simple: Switch off the ‘noise’ for a while. Research shows that information overload – also known as ‘infoxication’ – doesn’t just fuel anxiety, it can also impede our ability to make rational decisions.

One thing I do get fretful about is unrealistic expectations around investment returns.

It’s surprising how often people tell me they’re looking for returns in the order of 20%. These sorts of expectations are way out of whack. Once in a while asset markets dish up significant double digit gains but it doesn’t happen very often. Fortunately, those years when markets record big losses are equally uncommon.  

We’ve just come through a period where Australian and international shares have delivered healthy returns, and understandably, this has fostered high expectations.

However, over the long term – by which I mean 10 years-plus, I’d expect a diversified portfolio with exposure to multiple asset classes, to deliver returns of around 4-5% above inflation. This is the sort of benchmark we should be anchoring our expectations to.

Of course, there are no guarantees over returns. The one thing I am of certain of in life is that returns are a hope but fees are an absolute certainty.

While none of us can control investment markets, we can all take control of the fees we pay. And in this day and age there is no reason for anyone to be paying high fees on investments – it’s just not necessary with modern technology.


Paul Clitheroe is Chairman of InvestSMART, Chairman of the Australian Government Financial Literacy Board and chief commentator for Money Magazine.

 


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