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What Is Contrarian Investing?


Have you ever considered going against the crowd in your investment decisions? This seemingly unconventional practice is not only exciting but also has the potential to yield significant returns. Welcome to the concept of contrarian investing – a strategy that encourages distinctiveness from herd mentality. In the complex world of investment, breaching the influence of popular opinion and market trends could be incredibly rewarding. Consulting a financial advisor can help in understanding and implementing contrarian investing. 

What Is Contrarian Investing?

Contrarian investing involves buying and selling in opposition to prevailing market trends. Simply put, while others panic sell, contrarian investors buy. And when others are enthusiastically buying, these investors sell. The philosophy? The crowd can often be wrong, and massive sell-offs or over-enthusiastic buying sprees can lead to stocks being overvalued or undervalued. 

So, how do you successfully swim against the current in the choppy waters of the stock market? A contrarian approach requires the investor to find undervalued stocks using indicators like low price-to-earnings ratios, high dividend yields and low price-to-book values. The ultimate goal is to spot companies that are fundamentally strong, but currently unpopular within the market at large.

Timing is everything in contrarian investing. The strategy can hinge on buying during market downturns and selling amid buoyant upturns, which can yield significant returns if executed right. 

Beyond intuition and guts, contrarian investing requires comprehensive market research and analysis. Whether it’s dissecting financial statements, paying close attention to industry trends or making sense of economic indicators – preparedness goes a long way.

Contrarian Investing vs. Value Investing

A contrarian investor surveys market activity on her computer to find potential investment opportunities.

Let’s compare this with value investing, another prevalent strategy that involves buying stocks trading for less than their intrinsic or book value. Both strategies seek undervalued stocks but differ in their approach to market trends. While contrarian investors may base their investment decisions on prevailing market sentiment, value investors rely on fundamental analysis to identify undervalued stocks – not necessarily the behavior of other investors. 

One might wonder which strategy is better. However, both methods come with unique merits and challenges. Market conditions dramatically influence the choice of investment strategy. Contrarian investing may shine during periods of market volatility, while value investing might be more apt during stable market conditions.

Pros and Cons of Contrarian Investing

While contrarian investing can potentially generate significant returns to those who nail their timing, the strategy poses certain challenges, too. 

Here are some of the advantages of contrarian investing:

  • Potential for high returns: Contrarian investing can lead to substantial gains when the market sentiment shifts in the anticipated direction. Buying assets that are currently out of favor can provide significant upside if they eventually revert to their intrinsic value.
  • Diversification and risk management: By going against the prevailing market sentiment, contrarian investors often hold assets that are not highly correlated with the broader market. This can offer diversification benefits and help mitigate risks during market downturns.
  • Long-term value recognition: Contrarian investors who are patient and have a well-reasoned thesis may benefit from the eventual recognition of value by the market. As the market adjusts and sentiment shifts, the contrarian positions could appreciate in value, leading to potential outperformance over the long term.

But keep these potential pitfalls in mind, as well:

  • Market timing challenges: Contrarian investing requires accurately identifying turning points in market sentiment, which is difficult to do consistently. Making incorrect timing decisions could lead to losses or missed opportunities.
  • Underlying fundamentals: Not all assets that are out of favor are undervalued for valid reasons. Some assets may be unpopular due to deteriorating fundamentals, and contrarian investors could end up holding value traps that don’t recover as expected.
  • Psychological and emotional strain: Contrarian investing can be emotionally demanding, as it often involves going against conventional wisdom and enduring periods of uncertainty. Staying committed to a contrarian thesis during extended periods of underperformance can be challenging for many investors.

Real Examples of Contrarian Investing

Warren Buffet, one of the most famous investors in the world, is a great example of a contrarian investor. After all, the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway once said to be “fearful when others are greedy, and greedy when others are fearful.” 

Buffett’s purchase of American Express stock during the salad oil scandal of 1963 is a classic example of contrarian investing. The company’s value took a massive hit after a subsidiary used a fraudulently inflated inventory of salad oil to obtain a loan. Capitalizing on the company’s slashed reputation, Buffet saw its intrinsic value and reaped substantial profit when the stock price recuperated. 

Similarly, hedge fund manager Michael Burry went against the grain and accurately predicted the subprime mortgage crisis of the 2000s. The audacious gamble netted Burry and his fund hundreds of millions of dollars and was chronicled in the book, “The Big Short,” which later became a film. 

Their secrets? Thorough research, accurate timing and remarkable patience led to their success stories. 

Bottom Line

A contrarian investor ponders her next investment move while sitting outside with her laptop.

Contrarian investing is an unconventional strategy that can pay off handsomely for those willing to go against the crowd. However, it’s not simply for investors with a high risk tolerance. Contrarian investing requires thorough research, apt timing and the nerve to make decisions that may not be popular. 

Investing Tips

  • A financial advisor can help you select investments and manage your portfolio. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three vetted financial advisors who serve your area, and you can have a free introductory call with your advisor matches to decide which one you feel is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • Asset allocation refers to the mix of investments within a portfolio. It’s often tied to an investor’s risk tolerance and time horizon. SmartAsset’s asset allocation calculator can help you determine how much of your portfolio should be invested in stocks, bonds and cash. 

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