Short-term trader vs. long-term investor?

06 May 2024

Please note: All data referenced in this article are sourced from Bloomberg unless otherwise stated, and is accurate at the time of publishing.

Have you ever watched the stock market climb steadily, only to see it take a sudden dive? It can be tempting to constantly jump in and out, trying to chase those quick wins. But is this really the smartest way to go about investing?

This article dives into the world of trading versus investing, exploring the pros and cons of each strategy. We’ll also discuss a third way – a mix of both – that might be a good fit for some investors on the path to long-term success.

The trader: short-term gains

Traders are like surfers, waiting for that next big wave to catch and ride until the very peak before jumping off and cashing in. They’re forever scanning the horizon – constantly watching for price moves, and aiming to capitalise on those fleeting moments when an asset dips or surges. It can be a full-time job analysing news, data and market buzz – all in the quest for the so-called perfect moment to buy in or sell out. 

And while trading can be rewarding, it’s not for everyone. It takes a lot of time, research, and a high tolerance for risk. It’s generally also not for the faint hearted either – and to be successful you need serious discipline and maybe even a little bit of luck on your side.

The investor: patience is a virtue

In contrast to the trader’s short-term focus, investors generally take a more long-term view. They’re not out to catch every single wave. Instead, success for them isn’t measured in daily wins, rather years of cumulative growth.

Their weapon of choice is typically diversification – spreading their money across different investments, like stocks, bonds and real estate. They also diversify within assets, including holdings from different regions, sectors and company sizes – this way, if one area of the market dips, it’s less likely to drag down an entire portfolio. This diversification acts like a shield, aiming to protect them from the full brunt of market fluctuations.

Investors understand that short-term dips and news headlines are just bumps in the road. They focus on the bigger picture, building a portfolio that has the potential to grow steadily over time. Unlike traders glued to their screens, chasing the next hot stock, investors can take a more measured approach – knowing their diversified portfolio is built to weather the storms.

Trading too much, or not enough? 

While both investing and trading can be profitable, there might be a sweet spot in the middle. For instance, going overboard with trading can be risky. Markets can be fickle, and chasing quick wins can lead to impulsive decisions that can hurt your returns in the long run. Plus, our own biases, like overconfidence, can cloud our judgement.

However, ignoring short-term opportunities altogether isn’t ideal either. Missing out on even small gains can add up significantly over time. And a hands-off “buy and hold” strategy could leave your portfolio unintentionally concentrated, which ups your risk. 

The key to reaching your financial goals might be finding the right balance – a strategy that combines long-term investing with well-timed, short-term adjustments. 

A third way? Striking a balance

This is where the “core-satellite” approach comes in. Think of it as having a “core” portfolio – the bulk of your investments, built for the long haul. This gives you a solid foundation of diversified, quality assets – designed to weather market storms and grow over time.

While the smaller, more flexible “satellite” arm of your portfolio then allows you to buy that new stock or hedge against a downturn – potentially boosting returns, or managing risk with measured, short-term moves. 

The key, though, is finding a balance that works for you and your investments – helping to avoid those knee-jerk reactions during market jitters and staying focused on your long-term goals. 

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