Opinion: Research is important to your investment portfolio
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At university I had a slightly eccentric tutor, John Moore, who offered undergraduates the opportunity to study medieval economic history as part of our second year studies.
It was considerably more interesting than it sounds, not least because it involved visiting public record offices in Gloucestershire and Wiltshire, but mostly in Somerset, handiest of all when driving from Bristol.
Only four of us signed up for the course, so every Thursday lunchtime John would squeeze us into his modestly-sized car and drive to that week’s chosen West Country location, providing a non-stop commentary on where we were headed and why.
Once we had finished our day’s research, John would invariably track down a pub he knew in the middle of nowhere and buy the first round of drinks (and usually the second) before his quartet of poor students dug deep to buy the next round between them.
I’ve retained an image of those public record offices as remote, musty places curated by enthusiasts delighted to see John again and meet his latest batch of students. As our numbers were so small, we were usually offered a cuppa and told to be careful when leaning over original documents. We always were. The experience was a million miles from that which you encounter when visiting the National Archives in Kew.
While researching the family tree, my wife and I had reached a point where our next series of leads necessitated a trip to the National Archives.
Opportunity knocked after our overseas summer holiday was postponed so we booked a short trip to the capital which included our first visit to what has been described as a palace of hand-written data. There must be mountains of the stuff behind the scenes; what a fantastic place.
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We’ve been trying to track down details of a relative who served on the Californian during the early twentieth century, a journey that has taken us as far afield as Melbourne, Australia.
At one point, the Californian was the closest ship to the Titanic before the latter collided with an iceberg and sank. For many years, notoriety plagued the Californian and it took more than 80 years for the ship’s captain to be exonerated of any wrongdoing for not being first on the scene as the Titanic went down.
We had access to original ship records at the National Archives which meant we could verify the relative’s signature, although even this left us tantalisingly short of the conclusive evidence we sought.
However, a chance examination of the 1911 census revealed several previously unknown relatives, adding a fresh, exciting dimension to our research and the probability of some rich pickings in the near future.
As we returned to our hotel, satisfied with a full day’s work, it struck me that the truth unequivocally summarised by the old adage: “You don’t get ‘owt for nowt” applies wherever hard work is involved, whether that’s researching your family tree or researching investment opportunities.
When it comes to investment returns, the inescapable truth is it’s impossible to avoid the grind of research if you want to give yourself a chance of generating longer-term returns capable of meeting a specific objective.
Despite this, the majority of investors and a sizeable number of professionals avoid the heavy lifting, using ideas from elsewhere without modifying them or, worse still, establishing whether they’re suitable for their own circumstances and longer-term objectives. The problem with this approach is obvious: it’s akin to buying an item of clothing because it’s a specific colour without checking whether it fits.
Of course, investors have always relied upon authoritative sources for ideas and suggestions, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re always ‘one-size-fits-all’. In fact, it would be a miracle if they were.
In other words, when it comes to undertaking your own research – not just into a specific share, bond, fund or other security – there are no short cuts.
To do the job properly, it is important that you also consider where any proposed investment will sit in your portfolio and what type of realistic performance are you expecting from it.
It follows that investors must take the time and effort to conduct their own broad research; alternatively, they should rely upon an independent source capable of undertaking the necessary research with reference to the investor’s longer-term ambitions and targets.
Earlier this year, a report revealed that people spend more time researching their holidays than they do examining and researching their investments, a revelation which suggests there’ll be an awful lot of folks who come up short on their financial targets.