Why People Lose Money in the Market

And How to Bounce Back When It Happens

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Soon after I bought my first stock, its value dropped in half. It was a disappointing introduction to the world of investing, but it also proved to be a valuable wake-up call, inspiring me to learn everything I could about investing in the markets. While investing in financial markets over the long-term is an excellent path to wealth, it’s not unusual to experience occasional losses as investment values go up and down

Here’s what you need to know about why people lose money in the market — and how to bounce back from a loss.

People lose money in the markets because they don’t understand economic and investment market cycles.

Business and cycles expand and decline. The boom cycles are fostered by a growing economy, expanding employment, and various other economic factors. As inflation creeps up, prices rise, and GDP growth slows, so too does the stock market decline in value.

Investment markets also rise and fall due to global events. After 9/11 the stock market fell 7.1 percent, the biggest one-day loss in the exchange. By Friday, September 15, 2001, the New York Stock Exchange had dropped 14 percent while the Dow Jones and the S&P 500 fell 11.6 percent.

If you sold during the week following 9/11, your investments most likely would have lost money.

But if you’d held fast and did nothing after the decline, you would be rewarded you’re your steadiness: Within a month of the attacks, the Dow Jones, Nasdaq, and S&P 500 were before the attacks.

To avoid losing money during a market-wide drop, your best bet is to just sit tight and wait for your investments to rebound.  

People lose money in the markets because they let their emotions drive their investing.

Behavioral finance — the marriage of behavioral psychology and behavioral economics — explains how investors make poor decisions.

Understanding basic behavioral finance concepts can save you a lot in losses during your investment lifetime.

In investing, herd mentality is one of the worst behavioral finance mistakes, and plays out when you follow the investing crowd. Herding in investing occurs when you follow the group, without evaluating current information.

In the late 1990s venture capitalists and individual investors were pouring money into , driving their values sky high. Most of these companies lacked fundamental financial stability. Investors, afraid of missing out, continued to follow the herd with their investment dollars.

A glance at historical S&P 500 stock market returns shows how buying and selling with the herd can damage returns.

Annual Returns of S&P 500

Year

Return

1995

37.20 percent

1996

22.68 percent

1997

33.10 percent

1998

28.34 percent

1999

20.89 percent

2000

-9.03 percent

2001

-11.85 percent

2002

-21.97 percent

To avoid losing money in the markets, don’t follow the crowd and don’t buy into overvalued assets. Instead, create a sensible investment plan, and follow it.

People lose money in the markets because they think investing is a get-rich-quick scheme.

You can quickly lose your investment dollars by heeding the outrageous claims of penny stock and day-trading strategies.

A recent showed how investors are their own worst enemy. From 1997 through 2016, the average active stock market investor earned 3.98 percent annually, while the S&P 500 index returned 10.16 percent in returns. The reasons are simple: Investors try to outsmart the markets by practicing frequent buying and selling in an attempt to make superior gains.

To avoid losing money in the markets, tune out the outlandish investment pitches and the promises of riches. As in the fable of the Tortoise and the Hare, a “slow and steady” strategy will win out: Avoid the glamorous “can’t miss” pitches and strategies, and instead stick with proven investment approaches for the long term. Though you might lose a bit in the short-term, ultimately the slow-and-steady approach will win the financial race.

Barbara A. Friedberg is a former portfolio manager and author of Invest and Beat the Pros-Create and Manage a Successful Investment Portfolio. Her writing appears on various websites including  and Barbara Friedberg Personal Finance.com.