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Why Less Trading Means More Profit For You (Trading Hazard For Your Wealth)

Last Updated on 17 February, 2024 by Trading System

In the late ’90s, a groundbreaking research paper by Brad M. Barber and Terrance Odean shed light on an uncomfortable truth: for individual investors, frequent trading often led to underperformance compared to more passive strategies. The message was that trading is hazardous for your wealth.

Trading in the stock market has long been a pursuit that has captured the imaginations of millions, each hoping to strike it rich by skillfully timing the markets. Yet, Their paper was published in The Journal of Finance and has since then gone on to become one of the most highly referred trading manuals for people.

Trading Is Hazardous to Your Wealth

This article is a summary of the findings in the original paper by Brab Barber and Terence Odean:

Trading Is Hazardous to Your Wealth: The Common Stock Investment Performance of Individual Investors

Download Research Paper Here: Trading Is Hazardous to Your Wealth

This article is a summary of the findings in the original paper by Brab Barber and Terence Odean. Here you can find the original paper: Trading Is Hazardous to Your Wealth: The Common Stock Investment Performance of Individual Investors

Why Is Trading Hazardous to Your Wealth?

We quote the abstract directly from the paper “Individual investors who hold common stocks directly pay a tremendous performance penalty for active trading. Of 66,465 households with accounts at a large discount broker during 1991 to 1996, those that trade most earn an annual return of 11.4 percent, while the market returns 17.9 percent. The average household earns an annual return of 16.4 percent, tilts its common stock investment toward high-beta, small, value stocks, and turns over 75 percent of its portfolio annually. Overconfidence can explain high trading levels and the resulting poor performance of individual investors. Our central message is that trading is hazardous to your wealth.

In a nutshell, this means that when regular people actively buy and sell stocks, they often end up making less money compared to those who just leave their investments alone.

In this article, we revisit Barber and Odean’s findings.

The Perils of Overconfidence

Barber and Odean’s research pointed out that overconfidence was a significant driver of excessive trading.

Investors tended to overestimate their abilities, leading to excessive trading, which, in turn, resulted in underperformance. This aspect of human behavior appears as relevant today as it was when the research was first published.

Overconfidence remains a deeply ingrained human trait, often luring investors into thinking they can predict the unpredictable. Many believe they have a unique ability to time the market, despite ample evidence to the contrary. Behavioral biases continue to influence trading decisions, leading to impulsive buying and selling of assets.

It’s essential for investors to recognize the persistence of this overconfidence bias and its potential impact on their portfolios. Whether in 1999 or 2023, avoiding the siren call of overconfidence is crucial for long-term financial success.

The Costs of Churning

One of the key findings of the research was the high cost associated with frequent trading, such as commissions and bid-ask spreads. These costs significantly lowered the overall returns of individual investors. In the age of online trading and commission-free platforms, have these costs been mitigated, or do other hidden costs still undermine the performance of overactive traders?

While it is true that today commissions have almost become a thing of the past due to the rise of commission-free trading platforms, the hidden costs persist:

Bid-ask spreads, taxes, and the impact of slippage on large orders are still very real considerations. Additionally, the psychological toll of constant trading, often leading to increased stress and emotional decision-making, must not be underestimated.

In essence, while the expense of trading has shifted, it has not disappeared. Hidden costs, both financial and psychological, continue to diminish returns for those who overtrade.

Thus, the importance of keeping trading activity in check remains as critical today as it was when Barber and Odean’s research was first published.

Passive vs. Active Investing

The central message of Barber and Odean’s research was that trading, especially for individual investors, is hazardous to their wealth. Does this assertion still hold true in a time where actively managed funds and robo-advisors are on the rise, promising to outperform the market? Have investors heeded the warnings of the research and shifted towards a more passive investment approach?

The debate between active and passive investing remains as lively as ever. While passive investing has gained momentum, actively managed funds and robo-advisors still have their place in the market. However, even in the active management space, a long-term and disciplined approach is often favored over excessive trading.

Investors seem to be increasingly recognizing the wisdom of a buy-and-hold strategy, especially when coupled with diversification and low-cost index funds. The allure of outsmarting the market has lost some of its luster in favor of a more measured, less risky approach. Thus, the central message from Barber and Odean’s research, advocating caution in trading, is echoed and emphasized in today’s investment landscape.

So, Do Barber and Odean’s Assertions Still Hold True?

Over two decades have passed since Barber and Odean’s groundbreaking research, yet the core insights remain relevant. Individual investors continue to grapple with the perils of overconfidence, the costs associated with frequent trading, and the enduring debate between active and passive investing.

In today’s world, where technology and access to information have reached unprecedented levels, the lessons from this research serve as a reminder of the potential pitfalls that individual investors may encounter. The hazards of trading are still very much a part of the investment landscape, making it crucial for investors to approach their portfolios with discipline, a long-term perspective, and a clear understanding of the impact of frequent trading on their wealth.

Ultimately, while the financial world has evolved, human behavior remains remarkably consistent. Barber and Odean’s research reminds us that trading, unless approached with caution and a deep understanding of the market, can indeed be hazardous to your wealth. It’s a lesson that stands the test of time and deserves the attention of investors, novice and experienced alike. In today’s ever-evolving financial landscape, the wisdom of their findings remains as relevant as ever, offering a timeless guide to successful investing.


Why is trading considered hazardous to individual investors’ wealth?

The abstract from the paper indicates that individual investors who actively trade face a performance penalty. Of households with accounts at a large discount broker during 1991 to 1996, those that trade most earn an annual return of 11.4%, while the market returns 17.9%. Overconfidence is cited as a major factor contributing to poor performance.

How does overconfidence impact trading and investment performance?

Overconfidence leads investors to overestimate their abilities, resulting in excessive trading. This behavior contributes to underperformance as investors make impulsive decisions. It’s crucial for investors to recognize and mitigate overconfidence to achieve long-term financial success.

What are the hidden costs associated with frequent trading today?

Hidden costs include bid-ask spreads, which impact the execution price, taxes on realized gains, and the impact of slippage on large orders. Additionally, the psychological toll of constant trading can lead to emotional decision-making and increased stress, affecting overall financial well-being.

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