Many investors express discomfort when things are uncertain. This is especially true when experiencing “heightened uncertainty,” such as with the current Eastern European conflict.
However, uncertainty is not just a fact of economic and investment markets, it is a fact of life. Our future, by definition, is uncertain. There are times when the future is perceived as less uncertain (the sun will rise tomorrow), but there are seldom, if ever, guarantees of future outcomes. In other words, life happens in probabilities. Learning to consider probabilities into our decision-making process will help us become more comfortable living with uncertainty.
The Probability Problem
Perhaps the greatest challenge to thinking in probabilities is that it is just not natural. While our brains are filled with gray matter, they hate gray areas. They want to think in terms of certainty and will often convert a probabilistic scenario to either “will happen” or “will not happen.” An 85% chance of rain? The brain defaults to, “it’s certain to rain.”
When it comes to investing, we often hear terms such as “risk on” and “risk off” as if investing is just a switch. Many investors similarly think in terms of “all in” or “all out.” This type of binary decision-making is natural, easy, and reinforced by the media. But it may lead to costly investment decisions.
Investing probabilistically is about making adjustments to your allocation, rather than making a significant move that amounts to a bet on which way the market will go. When the risk/reward balance is perceived as unfavorable, perhaps a small shift to safer assets is in order. And vice versa when the risk/reward balance is more favorable.
Since we can’t define the future, an investment decision should be based on strategy and probability, not the outcome. Guessing what the market will do in the future isn’t a good investment strategy because it can't be known. Instead, consider making adjustments commensurate with your tolerance for risk that will help you become more comfortable investing amid “heightened uncertainty”.
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