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Worse Than Chance? Performance and Confidence Among Professionals and Laypeople in the Stock Market

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In two studies, stock market professionals (N1 = 22, N2 = 21) and laypeople (N1 = 29, N2 = 34) provided thirty-day forecasts for twenty stocks and estimated the size of their own errors as well as their own and the other group's mean errors. Both groups predicted that the errors made by professionals would be half the size of the errors made by laypeople. In reality, the errors of both groups were about the size predicted for the laypeople. Participants also estimated their ability to pick the best performing stock from two options. Both groups proved to be overconfident. Professional predictions were only successful 40% of the time, a performance below what could be expected from chance alone. Self reports and correlations between forecasts and price movements sug- gested that the professionals based their predictions on specific information of the stocks without sufficient awareness of the unreliability of this information, while the laypeople used simple heuristics based on previous price movements. During the recent worldwide stock market turbu- lence, fortunes were rapidly made and just as rapidly lost. The great majority of participants did not antici- pate either the magnitude or the pace of these events. The bewilderment has been hard to hide. This paper addresses two questions raised by more than a few people in the aftermath: "How much do stock market professionals really know about the fu- ture development of stock prices, and how much do they think they know?" We first discuss psychological findings concerning expert judgments and experts' and laypeople's confidence in their own judgments.
Content may be subject to copyright.
The Journal of Behavioral Finance
2004,
Vol. 5, No. 3, 148-153
Copyright © 2004 by
The Institute of Psychology and Markets
Worse Than Chance? Performance and Confidence Among
Professionals and Laypeople in the Stock Market
Gustaf Torngren and Henry Montgomery
In two
studies,
stock market professionals (Nj
=
22,
N2 =
21) and laypeople (Nj
=
29,
N2 =
34) provided thirty-day forecasts for
twenty
stocks and estimated
the
size of their
own errors as well as their own and the other group's mean errors. Both groups pre-
dicted that the errors made
by
professionals would be half the size of the errors made
by
laypeople.
In
reality,
the
errors
of both groups were about
the
size predicted for the
laypeople. Participants also estimated their ability to pick the best performing stock
from two options. Both groups proved to be overconfident. Professional predictions
were only successful 40% of the time, a performance below what could be expected
from chance alone. Self
reports
and correlations between forecasts and price move-
ments suggested that the professionals based their predictions on specific information
of the stocks without sufficient awareness of the unreliability of this information,
while the laypeople used simple heuristics based on previous price movements.
During the recent worldwide stock market turbu-
lence, fortunes were rapidly made and just as rapidly
lost. The great majority of participants did not antici-
pate either the magnitude or the pace of these events.
The bewilderment has been hard to hide.
This paper addresses two questions raised by more
than a few people in the aftermath: "How much do
stock market professionals really know about the fu-
ture development of stock prices, and how much do
they think they know?" We first discuss psychological
findings concerning expert judgments and experts' and
laypeople's confidence in their own judgments.
Expert Judgment
People often turn to experts for guidance in coping
with complex and uncertain decision environments, es-
pecially those that could affect their standard of living
such as financial decision making. Although theoreti-
cal and empirical questions have been raised about the
efficacy of predicting fluctuations in the stock market,
a small but generously compensated industry is en-
gaged in providing investors with analysis and advice
aimed at differentiating winners from losers. This as-
sumes that an expert's knowledge helps investors make
better judgments and more accurate predictions, result-
ing in greater return on investment.
Gustaf Torngren is a Ph.D. candidate in psychology at Stock-
holm University.
Henry Montgomery is a professor of cognitive psychology at
Stockholm University.
Requests for reprinst should be sent
to:
Gustaf Torngren, Depart-
ment of Psychology, Stockholm University, S-106 91 Stockholm,
Sweden. Email: gtn@psychology.su.se
Research on expertise in general, however, does not
fully confirm this assumption. A simple linear model
can often provide more accurate predictions than ex-
perts are able to (Grove and Meehl [1996]). Moreover,
simple and basic training can provide non-experts with
sufficient knowledge to perform at the same level as
experts (Camerer and Johnson [1991]).
On the other hand, experts use information more
efficiently (Shanteau and Stewart [1992]). Because
experts are experienced in recognizing patterns, they
are able to analyze problems without using
cognitively more costly mental calculations. This ap-
parent contradiction has been labeled the "pro-
cess-performance paradox," and the question has
been "how can experts know so much but perform so
badly?"
(Camerer and Johnson [1991]).
Studies assessing financial analyst predictions of-
ten give a rather gloomy picture of their validity. As
early as the 1930s, Cowles [1933] showed how stocks
recommended by a number of financial services in
the years between 1928 and 1932 were outperformed
by the average common stock. This trend continues
today. De Bondt [1991] analyzed the results of a lon-
gitudinal study (1952-1987), and found that the ex-
perts could have improved their results by using his-
torical means instead of specific evaluations.
Similarly, Malkiel [1999] found that, from 1988 to
1998,
the average equity mutual fund in the U.S. had
a 3.3% lower average annual return than the Standard
& Poor's index during the same period.
Overconfidence
The degree of confidence people have in the cor-
rectness of their judgments and predictions is cru-
148
PERFORMANCE AND CONFIDENCE IN THE STOCK MARKET
cially important in judgment and decision processes.
Researchers on human judgment consistently find
discrepancies between individuals' subjective proba-
bility estimates and the relevant objective probabili-
ties.
Typically, calibration between the two is poor.
Moreover, participants' actual performance is gener-
ally lower than what they expected. So their confi-
dence level tends to be higher than their actual perfor-
mance would warrant.
This tendency toward overconfidence has been
found in both laboratory and naturalistic settings.
Studies have typically examined people's confidence
in their ability to answer general knowledge questions
(Fischoff,
Slovic, and Lichtenstein [1977], Keren
[1988]), but similar results have also been found in fi-
nancial settings (Lichtenstein and Fischoff [1977],
Russo and Schoemaker [1992]).
Studies that examine professionals in their deci-
sion-making environment produce a split picture as to
the level of overconfidence. Experienced estate
agents (Northkraft and Neale [1987]), physicians
(Christensen-Szalanski and Bushyhead [1981],
Detmer, Fryback, and Gassner [1978]), and business
managers making forecasts of such economic indica-
tors as input/output prices (Aukutsionek and Belianin
[2001]) have all been shown to make biased probabil-
ity judgments that are poorly calibrated.
Other studies, however, have shown that some ex-
perts provide well calibrated judgments. Bridge play-
ers predicting making contracts (Keren [1997]), expe-
rienced weather forecasters (Murphy and Winkler
[1984]), and horse race bettors (Johnson and Bruce
[2001]) have all proven their ability to make realistic
predictions about the accuracy of their judgments.
Certain factors have been shown to contribute to
overconfidence. According to Bradley [1981], people
with a high degree of perceived expertise in the area of
a general knowledge question are likely to have unreal-
istically high expectations of the probability of answer-
ing correctly. Davies, Lohse, and Kotterman [1994]
found that more information, even when redundant,
boosted the degree of overconfidence among finance
students predicting stock market fluctuations. Olsen
[1997] found that professional investment managers
tended to overestimate probabilities of outcomes that
were positive to the respondent and to underestimate
undesired outcomes, which we refer to as desirability
bias. Cultural differences (Yates, Lee, and Shinotsuka
[1996]) and gender (Estes and Hosseini [1988]) have
also been shown to influence overconfidence levels.
The cause of these effects has been the subject of an
intense debate during the past ten years. Until the early
1990s, cognitive bias was the dominant explanation for
the overconfidence phenomenon. In this account,
miscalibration is a result of cognitive biases that occur
as a byproduct of
the
heuristics used in the information
processes underlying people's judgments.
More recently, however, proponents of ecological
models have challenged this approach (see Gigerenzer,
Hoffrage, and Kleinbolting [1991], Juslin [1994], and
Bjorkman [1994] for examples). These models view
heuristics differently,
as a
"fast and frugal" way of using
the structure of information in its own decision environ-
ment to make reasonable judgments and decisions un-
der realistic conditions. An example of a "fast and fru-
gal"
heuristic is recognition, which implies the
inference of higher values to objects that are recognized
(Gigerenzer
et
al.
[
1999]).
Tested as a stock-picking de-
vice,
it was actually proven quite "frugal." Portfolios
based solely on company recognition by foreign
laypeople actually outperformed professionally man-
aged funds and the market index (Gigerenzer et al.
[1999]). However, in a replication of this study con-
ducted during a period of bearish market behavior
(rather than the bull market that prevailed during the
original
study),
the results were reversed (Boyd
[2001
]).
Despite the criticism by proponents of the ecologi-
cal approach, the concept of overconfidence is still on
the judgment and decision making agenda. Recent
studies in naturalistic settings (Aukutsionek and
Belianin [2001]), as well as experimental studies de-
signed to avoid the problems of underrepresentation,
have still reported overconfidence (Brenner et al.
[1995],
Griffin and Tversky [1992]).
This article continues the small volume of research
on perceived and actual accuracy in predictions of
stock prices (see, e.g., Davies, Lohse, and Kotterman
[1994],
Olsen [1997], and De Bondt [1991]). Contrary
to previous research, we compared professional judg-
ments with laypeople judgments, and we asked our
participants to estimate their own group's accuracy as
well as the other group's accuracy. Although many
studies suggest that professionals do not outperform
laypeople who use simple strategies (Grove and Meehl
[1996]), there seems to be a lack of research on how
these two groups perceive their own accuracy and the
accuracy of the other group.
It seems reasonable that the market would work
more efficiently if laypeople and professionals could
judge each other's predictive abilities more accurately.
Overconfidence can cause excessive trading, which
can be risky to financial well being (Barber and Odean
[2000]). To better understand the background of the
two groups' performance with respect to their actual
and perceived accuracy, we explored how each group
makes predictions. Professionals often use information
that (more or less erroneously) supports their identity
as experts, such as specific information about stocks.
Method
We conducted two studies: a thirty-day study that
ended on March 10, 2001, and a replication that took
149
TORNGREN
AND
MONTGOMERY
place between March
8
and April 7,2002. All
the
partic-
ipants in both studies submitted their contributions on
the same day, which was vital because stock prices
change continuously. Study
1
was based on twenty-two
stock market professionals and twenty-nine laypeople.
Study 2 was based on twenty-one stock market profes-
sionals and thirty-four laypeople.
"Stock market professionals"
were
defined
as
people
that regularly and on a professional basis engage in the
evaluation of and/or investment in
stocks.
This includes
portfolio managers, analysts, brokers, and investment
counselors. One person at each company was contacted
by the author, informed about the study, and asked to
find colleagues with working duties who fulfilled the
criteria. With one exception, all the professionals were
men, and they had a mean experience of twelve years.
The laypeople were undergraduate students in psy-
chology at Stockholm University. In Study 1, six par-
ticipants were male and twenty-three were female. In
Study 2, ten participants were male and twenty-four
were female. It is likely that most of the professionals
in Study
1
also took part in Study 2 (uninformed of the
results of Study 1), while the laypeople were not the
same in the two studies.
The questionnaire used twenty stocks from
well-known blue-chip companies (Ericsson, Volvo,
etc.) and from a broad spectrum of industries listed on
the Stockholm stock
exchange.
Participants were given
the name, industry, and monthly percent price change
for each stock for the previous twelve months and
asked to predict the rate of change for the share price
over the next thirty days. They also picked one of two
stocks shown on each page that they expected to per-
form better during the same period, and they estimated
the probability (between 50%-100%) that they would
choose the best performing stock. Participants rated on
a ten-point scale the extent to which they used each of
four strategies (previous monthly results, other knowl-
edge,
intuition, or guessing), with "not at all" and "to a
very high degree" as extremes. Finally, participants es-
timated the mean errors of their own predictions (in
percent), as well as the collective mean errors of the
professionals and laypeople.
Results
We calculated mean values for both groups to illus-
trate the participants' own expectations and their expec-
tations for the two
groups.
Table
1
shows significant dif-
ferences between the professionals' and the laypeople's
estimates of their mean errors: t (43) = 3.22, p < 0.05
(Study 1); t (52) = 4.39, p
<
0.05 (Study 2). Thus, the
stock market professionals had higher expectations than
the laypeople about their ability to make accurate pre-
dictions
.
Clearly these expectations
were
not warranted.
The differences in performance, displayed in the actual
mean errors, were small but marginally significant in
Study 1, / (46) = 2.29, p < 0.05. Interestingly, both
groups shared the erroneous belief that the professionals
would produce better results.
Table
1
also shows a good consistency between the
estimations of participants' own performance and the
estimated performance of other group members. Fur-
thermore, both professionals and laypeople seem to
agree
with the expected performances of the two groups.
The predictions made by stock market professionals
were negatively correlated to the actual outcomes in
both studies. The correlations, -0.17 in Study 1 and
-0.16in Study
2,
were significant: r(20)=-2.75,p<0.5,
and t
(20) =
-2.25,p
<
0.5.
For laypeople, no correlation
was noted. Respondents as a whole were too optimistic
when predicting stock
prices.
In Study
1,
the average es-
timation for
the
twenty stocks was
+1.9%
by the profes-
sionals and
+2.9%
by
the
laypeople.
In
reality,
the stocks
lost
-3%
during the thirty days. In Study 2, the estima-
tions were
+2.8%
by
the
professionals and
+3.3%
by the
laypeople. The actual outcome was
-6.6%.
In estimating their ability to pick the winner be-
tween two stocks, the participants were again too opti-
mistic. The laypeople were moderately overconfident,
predicting a 58% rate of correctness in Study 1 and
59%
in Study 2. The actual rate was closer to 50%,
which could be the result of chance alone. But the pro-
fessionals displayed an even higher degree of overcon-
fidence, rating their probabilities of success at 63% in
Study 1 and 67% in Study 2.
Remarkably, as Table 2 shows, the performance of
stock market professionals is repeatedly worse than the
performance of laypeople: t (44) =
-1.85,
p < 0.10
(Study 1); t (52) =
-2.81,
p < 0.05 (Study 2). In addi-
tion, their performance was below the 50% expected
from chance alone: t (20) = -2.63, p< 0.05 (Study 1); t
(20) = -2.90, p < 0.05 (Study 2). The best calibration
occurred when participants estimated their probabili-
ties of having chosen the best performing stock to be in
line with chance. Higher confidence judgments did not
reflect more correct predictions for either the profes-
sionals or for the laypeople.
Finally, participants were asked to rate the extent to
which they used four strategies
to make
their judgments.
Not surprisingly,
as Table 3
shows,
the
experts perceived
that they used strategies based on expert knowledge.
The laypeople reported that they were mainly guessing:
r(48)=-3.50,/7<0.05inStudyl;?(53)=-7.51,/?<0.05
in Study
2
(significance
levels
denote
the
differences
be-
tween professionals and laypeople). They also reported
looking
at
previous results for
the
stocks:
t (49) =
-4.38,
p
<
0.05 in Study 1; / (53) =
-2.81,
p < 0.05 in Study 2.
The professionals, however, considered knowledge
(other than monthly performance over the last twelve
months) as the most important influence when making
150
PERFORMANCE AND CONFIDENCE IN THE STOCK MARKET
Table 1. Estimated and Actual Mean Errors in Percent for Stock Price Predictions
Study 1 Study 2
Laypeople
Professionals Laypeople Professionals
Estimated error in own predictions 8.67
Estimated error of professionals 4.3
Estimated error of laypeople 8
Actual error 10.84
4.71
5
8.74
9.84
12.7
5.78
12.27
11.61
5.33
6.8
12.55
11.37
Table 2. Calibration Data on Probability Estimations of Picking the Better Performing Stock Out of Two
Study 1 Study 2
Rated probability
Laypeople
Professionals Laypeople Professionals
0.50-0.59
0.60-0.69
0.70-0.79
0.80-0.89
0.90-0.99
1.00
Mean prob. rating
Mean correctness
0.50 (147)
0.48 (49)
0.49 (43)
0.60 (10)
0.61 (8)
- (0)
0.58
0.50
0.50
0.37
0.39
0.00
0.33
0.29
0.63
0.40
(80)
(75)
(41)
(9)
(3)
(7)
0.49
0.63
0.57
0.56
0.37
(193)
(62)
(45)
(26)
(11)
(0)
0.59
0.52
0.33
0.40
0.48
0.35
0.45
(52)
(63)
(49)
(25)
(22)
(0)
0.67
0.40
Note: Figures in parentheses denote the number of estimations behind the mean in each cell.
Table 3. Reported Use of Judgment Strategies
Previous month's results
Other knowledge
Intuition
Guessing
Study 1
Laypeople
5.93
3.95
5.84
6.70
Professionals
2.75
6.55
4.91
3.79
Laypeople
6.24
3.65
5.50
7.62
Study 2
Professionals
3.32
7.60
6.00
3.14
Note: Values represent ratings on a scale from 1-10, where
1
= "not at all," and 10 = "to a very high degree."
theirjudgments:f(48)=3.65,p<0.05inStudyl;f(53)=
6.43,
p
<
0.05 in Study 2.
Further analysis of the forecasts showed that the
laypeople were influenced by the historical price
movements of the stocks. More specifically, the results
of the past month apparently served as an anchor for
their extrapolations. This was shown as a positive cor-
relation between predictions and stock results for the
past month across stocks in both studies: The mean
correlations were 0.18 and 0.28, respectively. Both
mean correlations differed significantly from zero: t
(28) =
2.01,
p < 0.05 and t (33) = 4.72, p < 0.05. This
was not true for the professionals, and the differences
were significant: t (50) = -2.07, p < 0.05 in Study 1; t
(54) = -2.77, p
<
0.05 in Study 2.
Discussion
Our results indicate clear differences between
stock market professionals and laypeople. However,
the two groups did not differ clearly with respect to
forecast accuracy. Both groups expected the profes-
sionals to outperform the laypeople by a large
margin, but the professionals made as many errors as
the laypeople. When participants estimated their
probabilities of success in picking a winner between
two stocks, the tendency was the same. Both groups
were overconfident, but the professionals overesti-
mated their ability by a greater margin.
In addition to being more overconfident than
laypeople, the professionals' performance was
signif-
icantly worse than the 50% correctness rate expected
from chance alone. Furthermore, there was no appar-
ent connection between certainty of having picked
the right stock and actual success for either group.
In expressing their perceived use of different judg-
ment strategies, the two groups differed. Professionals
mainly relied on knowledge, while the laypeople based
their judgments primarily on chance and on the previ-
ous monthly results.
It seems clear that the benefits of experience
and knowledge, which professionals ostensibly
have greater access to, are overrated. Our results
151
TORNGREN AND MONTGOMERY
suggest that professionals do not have advantages
over laypeople. It is possible, however, that the
judgments participants were required to make here
did not fully correspond to real-life investment de-
cisions. This might help explain the exaggerated
expectations laypeople had for professionals, but
surely the professionals should have been able to
ascertain whether their backgrounds would help
them gain greater accuracy.
Our results agree with prior research that exper-
tise (Bradley [1981]) and access to information
(Davies, Lohse, and Kotterman [1994]) can result
in overconfidence. The results show that profes-
sionals perceived their judgments as having been
based mainly on "knowledge." It seems reasonable
that basing predictions on "knowledge" would gen-
erate higher levels of confidence than "guessing,"
the primary strategy used by laypeople.
Another factor previously shown to contribute to
professional investor overconfidence is the desirability
bias (Olsen [1997]). For stock market professionals,
bull markets are desirable because they offer the possi-
bility of receiving higher bonuses, and research has
suggested that optimism can be career-promoting
(Hong and Kubik [2003]). These factors contribute to
the recognized surplus of recommendations to "buy"
versus "sell" (Carleton, Chen, and Steiner [1998]).
One of our most intriguing findings is the low level
of correctness when professionals were required to
pick a winner from two stocks. The results suggest that
a chimpanzee, a symbol of randomness in economic
contexts, could have outperformed the stock market
professionals in this study. And chimps do not possess
cognitive advantages. On the contrary, the repeated and
significant deviations from the 50% level of correct-
ness predicted by chance as well as the significant
(negative) correlations between the professionals' pre-
dictions and the outcomes suggest that the profession-
als did use some common judgment strategies.
We attempted to determine whether the profession-
als'
predictions were correlated with the volatility of
the stocks or other industry variables, but no clear-cut
evidence was found.
One possible explanation for our results (which was
not ruled out by our study) is that the high expectations
on the performance of the professional could have been
fulfilled under different circumstances, as both studies
were carried out under bear market conditions (falling
stock
prices).
It would be interesting to examine the re-
sults under bull market conditions.
In summary, despite the ecologically realistic set-
tings,
both groups displayed overconfidence, and it
was most evident among the stock market profession-
als.
The results suggest that the information-based pre-
dictions of the professionals did not outperform the
simple heuristics used by laypeople.
Acknowledgments
This research has received financial support from
Sparbankemas Forskningstiftelse.
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