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Investor Psychology

The Secrets of Women Investors

For starters, they do more research and they panic less. And­ guess what—they get better results.

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Women used to get a bad rap on Wall Street. Industry observers maintained that women started too late, saved too little and invested too conservatively. But research is increasingly proving otherwise. Just as Little League pitching phenom Mo’ne Davis turned the phrase “you throw like a girl” into a compliment, author LouAnn Lofton says you should be flattered if someone says you invest like a girl. After all, says Lofton, who wrote Warren Buffett Invests Like a Girl, the nation’s best-known investor does.

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A raft of surveys indicate that women do more research, are better at matching their investments to their goals, trade less and remain calmer during market upheavals. If you’re unsettled by this year’s stock market swoon, you may be interested to know that, on average, the portfolios of female investors hold up better than those of their male counterparts during a downturn. An analysis of the 60,000 users of Openfolio, an online investment-sharing platform, found that in 2014, a stellar year for the markets, the women investors it tracks outpaced their male peers by an average of 0.4 percentage point. In 2015, a poor year for markets, women lost an average of 2.5%, compared with a loss of 3.8% for men. In both years, women on average achieved their results with smaller swings than men had, adding luster to their already impressive achievements.

Of course, men can be marvelous investors, too, and in some areas women would be wise to take their counsel. But women have a different and valuable approach that can help almost anyone become a better investor.

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To that end, Kiplinger’s asked a group of accomplished women from Wall Street and beyond to share their investing advice. From bringing everyday experience to bear on stock selection to rehearsing your reaction to market upheavals, these nuggets can help you improve your investment performance.

Invest in what you know

Women make roughly 70% of household purchases, putting them in a great position to benefit from the strategy that once made Peter Lynch the best-known mutual fund manager on the planet. Lynch, who ran Fidelity Magellan (symbol FMAGX) from 1977 through 1990, said in his book One Up on Wall Street that investors’ best research tools are their own eyes and ears; he got many of his best investment ideas while walking around shopping malls and talking with his friends and family. In fact, Lynch wrote, his wife was responsible for turning him on to what turned out to be one of his best picks ever, Hanes Co., when she told him how much she liked L’eggs panty hose, which Hanes makes.

Investing in companies that make products or deliver services that you use can be a great way to discover winning investments when the firms are still young and have the potential to grow rapidly, says Nicole Sherrod, managing director and head of trading at TD Ameritrade. She invested early in Amazon.com (AMZN), Apple (AAPL) and Disney (DIS) because they provided products or services that she, as a working mother, couldn’t live without. All of the stocks have had great runs in recent years at one time or another. “When you see a product that’s really unique or is flying off the shelf, find out who makes it,” Sherrod suggests. “You’re choosing products every day, so you have tremendous exposure to great companies.”

Not sure who makes the great product you’re buying? With TD Ameritrade’s smartphone app, you can scan a bar code on any product and find out the name of the company that makes it. Of course, you’ll need to undertake more research before you invest. But using your own experience to find potentially attractive stocks is a great place to start.

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Temper risk

Women approach risk differently than men do. Studies show that men are more inclined to behave like baseball sluggers, who swing for the fences, even if it means running the risk of striking out far more often. Women, by contrast, are more like contact hitters, who are satisfied with a string of singles. These tendencies show up in various forms. For example, a 2013 study by Fidelity Investments found that men were much more likely than women to hold 100% of their assets in stocks. Openfolio’s data show that portfolios owned by men are subject to far wider swings in value. The problem is that investors who strike out frequently because they’re always trying to smash home runs can undermine their results.

Consider a male slugger who puts $1,000 each into two speculative stocks versus a female lead-off hitter who invests the same amount in two dividend-paying blue-chip stocks. The high-quality stocks each return 10% over the course of the year, leaving the female investor with $2,200. Meanwhile, the male investor hits a home run with one of his picks, which doubles, but strikes out with the other, which loses 90% of its value. His total after a year is $2,100.

The lesson, says Ramona Persaud, manager of Fidelity Global Equity Income Fund (FGILX), is that it’s important to manage risk and avoid huge losses. If you invest in individual stocks, says Persaud, look for strong companies that are willing and able to pay generous dividends. “Your investment return is a combination of dividends and price appreciation,” she says. “If you have enough dividend yield, it dampens the downside.”

Before she invests in a stock, Persaud asks a series of questions: Is the company well established, and does it have clear competitive advantages? Is it profitable and capable of generating enough cash to pay a healthy dividend? Can you buy the shares for a reasonable price? Affirmative answers to all of those questions are likely to result in investments that provide competitive returns with a minimum of volatility.

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Think long term

In nearly three decades on Wall Street, Sallie Krawcheck says she has never heard a group of women investors swapping tips on hot stocks or bragging about their portfolio performance—topics you’re more likely to hear in a gathering of men. “Men are all about the competition; women are all about the goal,” says Krawcheck, the former head of Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch division and chair of Ellevate Network, a financial networking group for women, and cofounder of Ellevest, an investing platform for women that is due to launch this year.

Focusing on the goal is smart because it forces you to consider your personal needs rather than some arbitrary measure of success. “It’s not that women aren’t concerned about getting a great return,” says Zaneilia Harris, a certified financial planner and president of Harris & Harris Wealth Management, in Upper Marlboro, Md. “But they don’t care what their friends are doing; it’s all about their individual goals.”

Focusing on your goals rather than on, say, how your portfolio stacks up against Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index provides another benefit: It helps you tune out market noise, which can make you jittery and prone to trade more frequently.

Trade sparingly

Studies going back decades reinforce a simple point: Men trade more often than women, and that hurts their investment returns over time. The seminal study on the topic, by University of California–Davis professors Brad Barber and Terrance Odean (the latter is now at UC-Berkeley), tracked the trading patterns and results of nearly 38,000 households, over a six-year period during the 1990s, for which they could identify the gender of the primary account holder. The finding: Men traded 45% more frequently than women and, as a result, earned an average of 0.94 percentage point per year less than women did. More-recent research has shown much the same pattern. For instance, Openfolio’s data show that in 2015, men traded an average of 7.4 times, while women traded an average of 5.1 times.

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Trading can result in three problems, according to the Barber and Odean study. Whenever you buy or sell a stock, you’re likely to pay brokerage commissions. If you sell a stock at a profit in a taxable account, you’ll have to share some of your winnings with Uncle Sam and, possibly, with state and local tax collectors.

Finally, you need to find a new investment that performs better than the one you sold. That turns out to be really tough to do. The Barber-Odean research found that, on average, the investments that were sold delivered about two percentage points more return over the subsequent 12 months than the investments that replaced them. Women and men fared about the same on this score, but women earned more than men simply because they traded less. “Some people think that if you’re not doing something, you’re not investing,” says author Lofton. “Warren Buffett’s favorite investment strategy is lethargy bordering on sloth. Inaction is not a bad thing.”

Sell with discipline

Every investor makes mistakes. Sometimes it is an error of commission: You buy a real stinker. Sometimes it is an error of omission: You hang onto a loser, or a winner, for too long. But knowing what and when to sell is at least as important as knowing what to buy. “You have to know when to pull the plug,” says Sarah Ketterer, chief executive of Causeway Capital Management and the longtime comanager of her firm’s flagship fund, Causeway International Value (CIVVX).

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Because women are more inclined to do research and more likely to exhibit patience than men, they’re well equipped to take the same disciplined approach to selling as they do to buying and are less prone to unloading their stocks during a market panic. Ketterer suggests establishing triggers that prompt the reevaluation of each holding. A trigger could be a set date (say, at the end of a quarter or the end of a year), or it could be a specific rise or fall in the share price. Ketterer sets a target price for each stock she buys and reevaluates it when the price approaches that level. A falling stock price is not a reason to sell, she says. But it may indicate that your initial analysis was flawed and requires review. “The greater the frequency of review of a company, its industry and the economic environment, the better,” she adds.

When considering whether to sell a stock, apply the same analysis you used when you weighed buying it. That’s likely to involve a look at the company’s products or services, its position in its industry, its balance sheet, its history of profit growth, and its share price relative to such key numbers as earnings and sales. After reviewing the case, Ketterer asks herself two questions: First, would I buy today given the firm’s outlook and its share price? Second, if I choose to sell, do I have a better place to invest the proceeds?

Discipline is the key. “Great investors are disciplined about the price they’ll pay when they buy and will buy even if the world is falling apart around them,” says Ann Kaplan, a former Goldman Sachs partner who is now a partner at Circle Wealth Management, an advisory firm with offices in the New York City area. “They’re the same way when they sell. Even if the markets are frothy and could continue to go up, once a stock hits the point where it’s overvalued, you should have the discipline to sell it.”

What about selling mutual funds? Evaluate them at least once a year, says Christine Benz, director of personal finance at Morningstar. She says three factors might warrant selling a fund: year-by-year results that are consistently worse than a fund’s benchmark index or peer group, wildly erratic performance and management changes.

Rehearse your script

If you’ve invested long enough, you know that stock markets are prone to bubbles and busts (the sharp drop early in 2016 was an example of the latter). The problem for most of us is that we tend toward euphoria during bubbles and depression during busts. As a result, we often make the wrong decision at the wrong time—-that is, we tend to buy when we’re euphoric and prices are high, and sell when we’re depressed and prices are low.

Your goal, therefore, is to try to keep your emotions in check. Although there’s little direct data to suggest that women are less susceptible to market euphoria, they do seem a bit calmer during panics. The Vanguard Group looked at whether customers of its retirement plans were moving money out of stocks during 2008, when the U.S. market plunged 37%. Overall, the fund giant found, investors were fairly steadfast, but women were more so, proving to be 10% less likely to sell their stock holdings than men.

To keep from acting impulsively, Kaplan suggests writing a script that outlines how you will react to a plunge or a rapidly rising market. Following that plan—-be it reading from an investment policy statement that you’ve prepared for yourself or simply calling your adviser—-should help you in both booms and busts, tempering the inclination to invest the rent money in stocks during run-ups and to bail out of the market with money you might not need for 30 years.

Work with a team

Investors perform better when they don’t act alone, says Ketterer, whether you consult friends, colleagues, a spouse, other family members or even a paid adviser. “You are going to do much better with a team,” she says. “Have people around you to support you when times get tough.”

And women are nothing if not team players. In Vanguard’s 2014 study “How America Saves,” which tracked the behavior of participants in the retirement plans it administers, the fund company found that women are more likely than men to seek professional help in managing their portfolios, mainly through the use of balanced and target-date mutual funds. (The former hold a fairly static mix of stocks and bonds; the latter adjust their asset mix as the fund approaches the target date.) And Vanguard’s research shows that participants who use professionally managed portfolios have better results than those who don’t. “Women are natural collaborators,” says Ketterer. “Building a team is playing to our strengths.”

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Moreover, the evidence suggests that your team will be stronger if it consists of both men and women. A 2011 Harvard Business Review study discovered that single-gender teams were less effective at problem solving than mixed groups. The Barber-Odean study found that married men performed better than single men in the stock market and concluded that this was likely due to a spouse’s influence. “When you ask if men or women are the better investors, you’re asking the wrong question,” says Suzanne Duncan, global head of research at the State Street Center for Applied Research, a think tank sponsored by the big financial-services firm. “We are better together. Men and women should have an equal voice in the investment process.”

When men are better at investing

When it comes to investing, men have their own strengths. Studies show that they save aggressively—both inside and outside of retirement plans—and are better than women at running the numbers to ensure that they’re on track to a comfortable retirement. They are comfortable both with discussing finances and with their knowledge of the topic.

These factors, coupled with women’s lower average wages and greater longevity, go a long way toward explaining why men’s poverty rate in retirement is half the poverty rate of women. “My real concern is that the retirement-savings crisis is a gender crisis, and we are not talking about it that way,” says Sallie Krawcheck. “Women can save more and invest more. They have to find a way that works for them and just do it.”

The numbers are stark. Although women contribute an equal or larger share of their earnings to workplace retirement plans, they have saved about half as much as men have, says Liz Davidson, CEO of Financial Finesse, an employee-benefits consulting firm. That’s partly because women earn less, on average, and partly because they take time off from work for child-rearing and other family-related matters.

Saving less. But other factors are at play, too, says Davidson. About 20% of women don’t contribute enough to get the full benefit of employer matching contributions, according to Financial Finesse research. Only 14% of men leave that money on the table. Additionally, 63% of men have an emergency fund, compared with just 48% of women.

Women don’t appear to compensate for their workplace shortfalls by investing outside of company plans. Nicole Sherrod says that 69% of the individual accounts at her firm are held by men, as are the bulk of TD Ameritrade’s IRAs.

The reluctance to invest outside of company plans may be related to women’s lack of confidence in their investing abilities, which can make them prone to procrastination. “Women hold back because they think they need to know everything before they invest,” says Alexandra Lebenthal, chief executive of Lebenthal & Co., a New York City money-management company. Krawcheck agrees, saying that wanting to know more before getting started can be a trap. “There’s always a desire to know more. But if you wait, it just gets harder,” she says.

Knowledge shortfall. In truth, women do appear to be less knowledgeable about investing than men are. A 2015 study by Financial Finesse found that 67% of women answered yes when asked whether they have “general investment knowledge regarding stocks, bonds and mutual funds,” compared with 84% of men. And the figures don’t just represent women’s lack of confidence, says Kathie Andrade, president of personal advisory services at TIAA. The financial-services firm asked men and women a series of questions about bonds, asset allocation, inflation and interest rates and found that men scored considerably higher overall.

This problem may also result from a reluctance to talk about money. Women talk about marriage, kids, college, politics, religion, shopping and sex, but money matters tend to be taboo. “Men have no trouble talking about money, but it’s the one thing that women are hesitant to discuss,” says Zaneilia Harris, a certified financial planner and author of the book Finance ’n Stilettos. “If you won’t initiate that conversation, you’re hurting yourself. Sharing stories about money is a great way to learn.”

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