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  • Writer's pictureJoe Cardello

The Belief That You are in Control is an Illusion


June 26, 2024


“We need to believe we live in a predictable, controllable world, so we turn to authoritative-sounding people who promise to satisfy that need.”

-Philip Tetlock, University of Pennsylvania



The belief that you are in control is an Illusion:


From Morgan Housel’s book: The Psychology of Money where he references Daniel Kahneman (author of the seminal book, Thinking, Fast and Slow) on the topic of how we overemphasize our abilities, our control, and we neglect the role of luck when it comes to investing in businesses. Kahneman describes how these impact businesses in the following ways:


“I have had several occasions to ask founders and participants in innovative start-ups a question: To what extent will the outcome of your effort depend on what you do in your firm? This is evidently an easy question; the answer comes quickly, and it has never been less than 80%. Even when they are not sure they will succeed, these bold people think their fate is almost entirely in their own hands. They are surely wrong: the outcome of a start-up depends as much on the achievements of its competitors and on changes in the market as on its own efforts. However, entrepreneurs naturally focus on what they know best – their plans and actions and the most immediate threats and opportunities, such as the availability of funding. they know less about their competitors and therefore find it natural to imagine a future in which the competition plays little part.”


At August Wealth, when I ask sometimes difficult questions about an investment product or idea, people sometimes think I am being “negative”; this is not the case. Without understanding the potential risks (known and unknown), how else could we decide to part with your (our) money?


As I have said many times in these monthly commentaries, I don’t know what I don’t know. As much as “expert” commentators on television, or skilled salespeople may try to convince you that their view is “correct”, the reality is that they don’t know either.


I used to speak on radio and television in the late 1990’s, and I didn’t enjoy it. Why? Because I was more interested in asking questions about what I didn’t know, and that doesn’t really work in media. Television and radio must give their audience what they want, and what they want is to feel in control. The reality is that none of us have control over anything except:

• Accepting our reality (what is happening now).

• Our ability to let go of our fears so we can realize more fully our potential.


If I have any advantage in my approach to life and markets it is in dealing with the above two points. Many people place too much emphasis on their fear, their (self-imposed) limitations, or their feelings. Just because you have feelings does not make them meaningful in the wider world. It took me a long time and a lot of work to recognize this.


An important aspect of advising people is to help separate how someone feels about uncertainty vs. how much uncertainty they should probably accept to help reach their goals. These conversations can sometimes be difficult because it can push people outside of their comfort zones.


“The trick is not minding that it hurts!”

-Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia


There is science-based evidence of what is happening in the brain when we take on difficult challenges. If you can power through, be disciplined and “not mind” the small sacrifices, there is evidence that your brain will start to change in a way that makes it easier to continue to take on future challenges. The part of your brain, the anterior mid

cingulate cortex, increases in size when people take on difficult challenges on a regular basis, and it decreases in size if you do not. It’s a highly plastic area of the brain.


The below Instagram recap of the podcast from Andrew Huberman describes this:


Andrew Huberman, Ph.D. | PERSEVERANCE IS A SKILL THAT CAN BE BUILT UP BY ACTIVATING YOUR ANTERIOR MID CINGULATE CORTEX: A NEURAL HUB ALSO LINKED TO LONGEVITY. HERE... | Instagram



Be conscious of the present moment and limit distractions:


One of our interns from last summer, Tucker Lawrence from Notre Dame, took this message to heart. In addition to being gifted intellectually, he has recognized the importance of working towards living a well-balanced life. He has made changes to his own life by purposefully limiting the use of his phone to be more conscious and open to life’s experiences. He has graciously allowed us to share a paper he felt compelled to write on the topic. If anyone would like to see the full document, let us know and we will forward it to you. I think this message is more powerful coming from a young man like Tucker instead of an old guy like me!


Dealing with Market Uncertainty:

The changes to our lives from artificial intelligence already astonish me, and the future changes will likely increase at an exponential rate. In the charts below, we can see that the technology sector in the USA is garnering attention compared to the rest of the equity market, and it is pushing up valuations accordingly.



Will adding to technology funds at these valuations be a good investment strategy going forward?


Nobody really knows whether owning certain technology companies at current prices will be a good investment over a time frame that works for you. Ultimately, you achieve your goals or not. However, asking questions like:

  • What would I like my wealth to achieve over the various time frames into the future?

o Protect my purchasing power into the future?

o Provide me with steady income?

o Grow my wealth?

  • To match the S+P 500 returns, am I willing to accept the regular intra-year declines in my portfolio value? JPMorgan estimates the average intra-year decline from 1980 to 2021 was 14%.


This is why we aim to diversify risk for ourselves and the families we work with. Many of us would struggle to stay with a plan that accepted portfolio declines of over 40%. Many of us are tempted to buy when everyone else is buying, and sell when everyone else is selling, but we know that can be painful for our wealth over time.


For example, what does some of this diversification look like today at August Wealth?

  • We believe fixed income (bonds) today are more attractive because rates are far higher than they were in 2021.

  • We like US Treasuries relative to other types of bonds presently.

  • We utilize Exchange Traded Funds that are diversified across companies in the USA and international markets.

  • The companies that utilize artificial intelligence in their businesses may be able to grow more profitably as costs decline and efficiencies rise. We hope to capture this growth by owning a diversified portfolio of these companies in the USA and globally.

  • We are more inclined to increase our international equity exposure because:

o Recent elections have presented price declines in several countries providing potential opportunities.

o It may be interesting that the market capitalization of Nvidia is worth more than the market capitalization of the stock markets individually of France, the UK, and Germany. CNBC reported this on June 20 as did many others.

o If the Federal Reserve does start to deliver rate cuts, the dollar may fall, and USA investors would potentially benefit from currency appreciation of international markets.

  • Because we view as the investment landscape in the USA and globally to have a lot of unknown inputs currently, we will continue to be patient:

o Political shifts in the USA and Europe.

o China turning insular.

o Russian willingness to support state terrorist countries.

o Middle East War.

o Demand for electricity is rising partly due to tech data center expansion.

  • For a more detailed analysis of our views, please see our commentary of April 26, 2024: https://www.augustwealthadvisors.com/post /investing-is-more-art-than-science . Our stance has not shifted dramatically.


As always, if you have questions, please reach out to the team and me. We really enjoy hearing from you.


We are extremely grateful to you for trusting August Wealth to manage your wealth.

We hope you have a wonderful summer!


Best regards,

Joe



i Investment advice offered through Stratos Wealth Advisors, LLC, a registered investment advisor. Stratos Wealth Advisors, LLC and August Wealth Advisors are separate entities.

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