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Your Take: What Are You Clueless About?

I’m clueless about a lot of things but the number one thing on my mind lately has been risk in investing. I don’t mean stock market investing or real estate investing, I meant the concept of investing and risk (specifically, determining and being paid for taking risk).

Most people associate investing with the stock market because that’s the easiest way to invest. The stock market is the perfect investment system in that your assets are pretty liquid and the barriers to entry are low. It’s absolutely free to open a brokerage account and trades are dirt cheap (cheapest is $0 a trade at Zecco [3], but that has gotten mixed reviews; second cheapest reputable brokerage is TradeKing [4]). You can buy and sell stocks pretty easily as there is never a scramble to find interested parties, though the price you get may not be to your liking. You hope for good equity appreciation (increase in stock price) and perhaps take some cash flow along the way (dividends). The rate of return on the S&P has been around 10% for the last 80+ years.

Now take the second thing people associate with investing – real estate. In real estate, the assets aren’t as liquid (especially now!) and the barriers to entry are much higher. At best you have to come up with a downpayment and transaction costs (Realtor fees, lender fees) are high, fewer people get involved in real estate investing. (Over the next two weeks I’ll have four guest posts going over real estate written by Trisha Allen [5], a seasoned real estate investor, so if this is up your alley keep your ear to the grindstone) With real estate, again you hope for good equity appreciation (increase in home value) and perhaps some cash flow (rent) along the way. The rate of return on this has generally been about inflation (surprisingly) according to some experts (they could be wrong).

There are other means of investing (such as owning your own Rita’s Italian Ice [6]!) but the gist is to put your hard earned money to work for you. However, how do you analyze risk?

Every risk analysis class I’ve taken, be in undergrad or for the MBA, has always explained the same thing. You take the severity of a bad event times the probability and that’s your risk. They never talk about how to guesstimate the severity or the probability, just that you multiply and some magic number comes out. Also, they never talk about how much of a payoff you should get for shouldering how much risk. Real estate seems riskier to me than the stock market (higher barriers, more money involved, more headache), yet the stock market has greater returns [7]. One expects riskier investments to yield greater returns.

Anyway, that’s what I’m clueless about, how about you?

(Photo by Patrick Haney [8])