Understanding Markets

Understanding Markets

Markets reflect the vast, complex network of information, expectations, and human behavior. These forces drive prices to fair value. This simple yet powerful view of market equilibrium has profound investment implications.

Markets throughout the world have a history of rewarding investors for the capital they supply. Companies compete with each other for investment capital, and millions of investors compete with each other to find the most attractive returns. This competition quickly drives prices to fair value, ensuring that no investor can expect greater returns without bearing greater risk.

Traditional managers strive to beat the market by taking advantage of pricing "mistakes" and attempting to predict the future. Too often, this proves costly and futile. Predictions go awry and managers miss the strong returns that markets provide by holding the wrong stocks at the wrong time. Meanwhile, capital economies thrive--not because markets fail but because they succeed.

The futility of speculation is good news for the investor. It means that prices for public securities are fair and that persistent differences in average portfolio returns are explained by differences in average risk. It is certainly possible to outperform markets, but not without accepting increased risk.

Investors are rewarded in proportion to the risk they take. Framing decisions around compensated risk factors in the equity and bond markets connects investors to the forces that create opportunities to build wealth over time. Financial science offers insight into these risks.

Evidence from practicing investors and academics alike points to an undeniable conclusion: Returns come from risk. Gain is rarely accomplished without taking a chance, but not all risks carry a reliable reward. Financial science over the last fifty years has brought us to a powerful understanding of the risks that are worth taking and the risks that are not.

Everything we have learned about expected returns in the equity markets can be summarized in three dimensions. The first is that stocks are riskier than bonds and have greater expected returns. Relative performance among stocks is largely driven by the two other dimensions: small/large and value/growth. Many economists believe small cap and value stocks outperform because the market rationally discounts their prices to reflect underlying risk. The lower prices give investors greater upside as compensation for bearing this risk

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