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“Experts” in the media get it so wrong so often you have to wonder what’s going on.

By MediaStreet Staff Writers

Research shows that investing in the stocks least-favoured by analysts yields five times more than buying the most recommended.

But we often defer to experts, especially those in the media. So, we listen to them, then assume taking their stock analysts suggestions would make us better off than doing the exact opposite, right? Well, no.

Recent research by Nicola Gennaioli and colleagues shows that the best way to gain excess-returns would be to invest in the shares LEAST FAVOURED by analysts. They computed that, during the last thirty-five years, investing in the 10% of stock analysts were most optimistic about would have yielded on average 3% a year. By contrast, investing in the 10% of stocks analysts were most pessimistic about would have yielded a staggering 15% a year.

Gennaioli and colleagues shed light on this puzzle with the help of cognitive sciences and, in particular, using Kahneman and Tversky’s concept of representativeness. Decision makers, according to this view, overweight the representative features of a group or a phenomenon.

After observing strong earnings growth, analysts think that the firm may be the next Google. “Googles” are in fact more frequent among firms experiencing strong growth, which makes them representative. The problem is that “Googles” are very rare in absolute terms. As a result, expectations become too optimistic, and future performance disappoints.

“In a classical example, we tend to think of Irishmen as redheads because red hair is much more frequent among Irishmen than among the rest of the world”, Prof. Gennaioli says. “Nevertheless, only 10% of Irishmen are redheads. In our work, we develop models of belief formation that embody this logic and study the implication of this important psychological force in different domains.”

So it looks like the talking heads in the media needs to give us better advice, or we need to forget them and trust our instincts.