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Nassim Taleb Explains The One Thing An Investor Should Never Fail To Do

Authored by Nassim Taleb via Absolute Return,

Uncertainty should not bother you. We may not be able to forecast when a bridge will break, but we can identify which ones are faulty and poorly built. We can assess vulnerability. And today the financial bridges across the world are very vulnerable. Politicians prescribe ever larger doses of pain killer in the form of financial bailouts, which consists in curing debt with debt, like curing an addiction with an addiction, that is to say it is not a cure. This cycle will end, like it always does, spectacularly.

When it comes to investing in this environment, my colleague Mark Spitznagel articulated it well: investors are left with a simple choice between chasing stocks that have an increasing chance of a crash or missing out on continued policy effects in the short term. Incorporating a tail hedge minimizes the risk in the tail, allowing investors to remain invested over time without risking ruin. Spitznagel put together a video explaining the point.

 

To be robust, one must construct a portfolio as an engineer would a bridge and ask what your managers expect to lose should the market fall by 10%. Then ask them again what they’d expect to lose in the down 20% scenario. If that second number is more than two times more painful emotionally than the first, your portfolio is fragile. To fix the problem, add components to your portfolio that make the portfolio stronger in a crash, like actively managed put options. You will be able to build stronger, better bridges, with better returns, that will last for the long term.

By clipping the tail, you can own more risk, the good type of risk: upside with limited downside. And rather than helplessly watching your bridge collapse, you can be opportunistic in a crash, and take the pieces from others at bargain prices to increase the size of yours.