Business / Markets

Market success is a lesson in human psychology

By HUANG XIANGYANG (China Daily) Updated: 2015-07-24 08:09

On the night of July 8, talking with colleagues on the social networking platform of WeChat, I confidently predicted the stock market would rebound the following day.

"I have seen the market touching bottom," I said.

Some thought I was joking, and they were right to think so.

Until that point, the situation had been perilous.

The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index had undergone almost a free fall from 5,178 points to 3,507 in just 15 trading days.

The regulatory authorities had rolled out a series of measures-ranging from cutting interest rates to halting the issue of new shares-to stop the decline, but to no immediate avail.

That morning, the People's Bank of China, the central bank, announced it would provide unlimited liquidity to the market to "uphold its stability"-a move interpreted as like issuing a credit card without limits for State investors to buy stocks.

There were pervading fears, and I could sense them-from the measures to buttress the market, and the warnings about possible systemic risks, on the top of the massive sell-offs in the weeks before, during which thousands of stocks were hitting their daily drop limit of 10 percent.

For me, it was like déjà-vu.

The same sense of fear prevailed when the stock bubble popped in the 2008 financial crisis. Then the benchmark index had dropped to 1,664 from its high of more than 6,100 just a year before, and many were expecting it to continue to slide below the psychological level of 1,000, a level not seen since July 2005.

Yet a floor was formed just when fears had peaked.

Would history repeat itself this time? It wasn't long before we had an answer.

Stocks rebounded by more than 5 percent the following day, and the rebound extended until this Thursday, a rise of nearly 20 percent from its nadir.

I modestly attributed my accurate forecast to luck rather than astuteness.

But seriously, no one can predict the market. It can only be understood backward.

After more than 15 years dabbling in stocks and watching it rise and fall, I sometimes find that I can get my finger close to the pulse of the market.

In hindsight, the signs for a U-turn could not have been more obvious.

As the saying goes, "never bet against the Fed", and neither should you bet against the PBOC.

The stock market in China is always about politics. Actually the very reason for its creation was to alleviate funding strains for State-owned enterprises.

No one understands the market better than Yang Huaiding, better known as Yang Baiwan, a nickname which literally means millions of yuan in wealth.

The man, dubbed China's No 1 individual investor, once said: "You have to listen to the Party to make money from stocks."

That explains why investors tend to base their investment decisions on the People's Daily editorials rather than corporate profits.

There is nothing new happening with China's stock market this time around.

This is a market still dominated by small investors whose trading volume accounts for 80 percent of the market's total-but a place where making money is more difficult than in a casino.

Actually only 10 percent of investors leave it with some extra bucks in their pockets. The majority are destined to lose.

After the latest rout, it was reported that the average trading account suffered a loss of 420,000 yuan ($67,700), or eight times the national annual income per person.

It was estimated that about 600,000 people have been removed from the middle class as a result. That is why the China stock market has become known by some as "the wealth terminator".

But there is no better place than here to study human traits, such as crowd behavior, as well as fear and greed-the two forces that fundamentally drive the market.

That's why I have been drawn to it for all these years. It is like attending a course on human psychology, and if I am lucky enough and can make some money, I see it as a scholarship.

Actually I do know someone who has made a fortune. A woman colleague of mine pocketed 500,000 yuan to pay off her mortgage before the latest market disaster started, and ducked out three months before the market peaked.

"I started buying only when no one was talking about stocks, and selling when everyone was talking about them," she said.

The crowd generally loses, though, because the crowd is always wrong.

"Every natural human impulse seems to be a foe to success in stocks," wrote Fred C. Kelly in his book Why You Win or Lose, in which he concludes "the way to win is to do exactly the opposite from what nearly everybody else is doing".

That's just what my colleague has done.

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