BusinessDesk's investments editor, Frances Cook, responds to readers' emails on a weekly basis to answer various questions about money. Below you'll find her expert advice. Send your own questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have $10,000 that I would like to invest but I'mnot quite sure where to put my money, especially with this unpredictable global situation that we’re in.
I started investing in two ETFs [exchange traded funds] on Investnow about seven months ago but I find that they're quite slow in terms of growth.
My question is, is it better to invest ($10,000) in ETFs or individual companies?
PS Thanks for your continued content helping people with financial literacy.
You’re right, everything is quite unpredictable and strange in the world of money. When things get like this, I think it’s good to come back to money fundamentals, and not try to overcomplicate it. It tends to be when we’re trying to be clever that we end up tripping ourselves up.
You say that you’re finding the ETFs (exchange-traded funds) you’ve invested in to be quite slow. The thing is, seven months is a very short time in the investing world.
What you’re aiming for is a good result over 5-10 years. In that time you’ll (hopefully) have some amazing booms, where values shoot up over quite a short period of time. There will also likely be long periods of boring nothingness, where it goes up slowly or is even a bit flat. There will be short periods where it even goes backwards for a while.
Combine all of those, and you usually come out ahead.
The trick is that even the best investing experts struggle to pick which one of those phases will happen, and when. You need to be in the whole time to catch the sudden, unexpected jump upwards that makes it all worthwhile.
Some people do get good results investing in individual companies rather than ETFs, but that’s because it increases your risk. With the possibility of a recession looming over us, it’s even riskier to do that in the current environment.
Generally, to reduce your investment risk, you don’t want to invest in just one, two, or even ten companies. Fifty, a hundred, or even five hundred is far safer.
One company could collapse – and it’s likely to be the business that you least expect to fall over. But 500 of them? It’s likely most of them will soldier on through recession, some even producing profits, and then producing much more for you when they come out the other side of the economic bad times.
It’s useful to be aware of the ways our brains can trick us at times like this. Humans have a dodgy bit of wiring that makes us prefer to feel like we’re doing something. Anything. Work harder, do more, get more, that's surely the way to get ahead.
Action is good. It’s how our ancestors dashed out of the way of the sabre-toothed tiger.
The problem is that the opposite strategy is usually the most successful in the investing world. You want to make a decision, make an investment once, and then sit back for a long period of time of doing nothing.
The hardest thing for most investors is to do nothing. Yet, it’s often the most powerful thing we can do at a time like this. Sit back, leave your investments alone, or at most keep drip-feeding your money into those ETFs you chose.
Spreading your money through good quality companies, then leaving it alone for a few years, is the boring but most likely way to build wealth for most of us.
It sounds like you’ve done your research, and already know this, but now have itchy feet. Trust your original plan and stick with it.
Get more money info when you listen to Frances Cook's Cooking the Books podcast here:
Send questions to email@example.com if you want to be featured in the column. Emails should be about 200 words, and we won't publish your name. Unfortunately, Frances is not able to respond to every email received, or offer individual financial advice.
Information in this column is general in nature, and should not be taken as individual financial advice. Frances Cook and BusinessDesk are not responsible for any loss a reader may suffer.