What is a contrarian investor and how do you become one? (2024)

What is a contrarian investor?

Contrarians are a special breed of investor – they choose to allocate their capital to assets by going against the prevailing wind of market sentiment. When the stock market, or a specific share, starts to sell off, a contrarian investor will start buying. And when there's a flurry of buying, a contrarian will sell.

In financial markets, almost all investors follow the herd. If the general consensus is that the market is doing well and there are decent conditions for further growth, then most will predict that it will increase in value over time.

A contrarian investor will look for opportunities that are out of favour, then conduct thorough research to determine if there's a prospect for profit. Importantly, a contrarian doesn't disagree with the market for the sake of disagreeing; they will have spent a lot of time building the case that the market is acting irrationally and is simply wrong.

The concept was famously summed up by Warren Buffett – perhaps the most celebrated contrarian investor – when he advised investors to 'be fearful when others are greedy, and greedy when others are fearful'.¹

It can take months to fully develop a contrarian viewpoint and even more time for the strategy to pay off in cash terms. Contrarians have to be comfortable with the risks, and also with the sizeable paper losses that come with waiting for the market to turn.

If you make a contrarian investment before the consensus shifts in your favour, you can make very handsome profits. For this reason, contrarian investors are best suited to a recessionary environment.

How does contrarian investing work?

At the outset, a contrarian investor needs to thoroughly research the consensus view – whether about the wider market or a single asset. They then look for anomalies or poor assumptions in this investment case and develop a counterargument that underscores their contrarian view.

While contrarians occasionally look for overvalued assets, it's more common to hunt down undervalued assets with the aim of buying low and eventually selling high. They will use multiple techniques, including analysing revenue and profit margins, competitors, wider fundamentals and technical analysis indicators, such as MACD, to identify market trends.

For example, if the consensus view is that an asset is out of favour and has fallen foul of bearish sentiment, a contrarian might buy shares in that asset for the longer-term potential gains of capitalising on perceived mispricing. This is a common tactic of hedge funds, which often pool money from investors to make contrarian investments.

Like all investors, contrarians look to time their entry points to maximise returns. However, if they buy an asset that is falling and it continues to fall, they must be prepared to wait out the continued dip until their thesis is proven correct.

Of course, there is no guarantee this will happen. There is a reason why the markets follow the herd – the herd is often right, and investors who deliberately go against the crowd can find themselves in a psychologically challenging situation.

Contrarian investing vs other investing strategies

Contrarian investing is a form of active investing, as the contrarian investor actively seeks to outperform the market rather than passively seeking to match market performance. Further, this type of investing usually involves a long-term focus, as it often takes months or even years to be proven right.

Contrarian investing is most closely aligned with value investing. Value investors believe that the markets overreact to both good and bad news, such that short-term asset price movements are poorly tied to the underlying fundamentals.

Both strategies concern seeking out overlooked and mispriced opportunities. A contrarian value investor will centre around buying shares of companies where the stock is below what the investor considers to be its intrinsic value. While there are large overlaps, the key difference is that contrarian investing is about market sentiment, while value investing prioritises market fundamentals.

Where a contrarian investor aligns with a short seller, believing that an asset's price will fall, they may take very similar actions in the market. However, contrarians usually have a longer timeframe in mind when they place a trade, and further, they often focus more on undervalued opportunities than overvalued ones.

It can be unhelpful to label yourself solely as a contrarian, as many investors usually follow the herd and only occasionally spot a contrarian opportunity.

Examples of contrarian investing

Successful contrarian investors tend to become relatively well-known because the strategy involves original thinking, patience, mental fortitude and the capacity for paper losses.

Some of the most famous contrarian investors include:

  • Warren Buffett – well-known for going against the prevailing market winds and investing in undervalued companies that boast strong underappreciated fundamentals
  • Carl Icahn – a billionaire investor known for activist investing, often building up larger stakes in undervalued companies over time and pushing for positive changes
  • Bill Ackman – a founder of Pershing Square Capital Management, a contrarian-focused hedge fund. Ackman has a similar reputation for activist investing
  • David Einhorn – the founder of Greenlight Capital, another contrarian-focused hedge fund. Einhorn is well-known for his ability to identify the best-undervalued stocks and make successful conviction investments
  • Howard Marks – co-founder of Oaktree Capital Management, a hedge fund known for taking positions in troubled companies that others are afraid to even go near
  • Seth Klarman – head of Baupost Group, a hedge fund known for mixing contrarian investing strategies with value investing for optimal results

There are hundreds of notable contrarian investors who have garnered fame and fortune by being able to identify undervalued opportunities rejected by the market.²

However, there are some important caveats. Billionaires can hold onto their positions far longer than the average retail investor. History is littered with failed contrarian investors who incorrectly believed that the majority was wrong. There is a trade-off when it comes to contrarian investment extrapolation and risk.

How to invest with the contrarian investing strategy

You can invest directly with us while using the contrarian investing strategy.

  1. Learn more about what a contrarian investor is
  2. Create an account or log in
  3. Search for the contrarian opportunity you'd like to invest in
  4. Choose the number of shares you want to buy
  5. Open and monitor your position

It's always a good idea to keep in mind that past performance is no guaranteed indicator of future returns.

New to us or to investing in general? Open a demo account to build your confidence.

Pros and cons of contrarian investing

As with all strategies, contrarian investing has its own set of advantages and drawbacks to consider.

Pros of contrarian investing

  • The chance to profit from opportunities where the herd mentality in the market is wrong and outperform other investors
  • By buying when other investors are selling, contrarian investments can pay off handsomely once prices start to recover
  • By taking contrarian positions, investors can diversify their portfolios and reduce their risk
  • Contrarians usually buy undervalued shares
  • Contrarian investors profit from market corrections by buying assets that have become undervalued as a result of market misalignment with reality

Cons of contrarian investing

  • It requires independent thinking and a significant time commitment to research individual stocks, sectors or even whole markets. This makes it hard for non-professionals to take part
  • It needs a level of mental fortitude to maintain an out-of-consensus viewpoint, particularly as investors often wait for months to see results. In addition, you can be swept up in your own psychological bias
  • It requires a lot of cash, especially as short-term underperformance can leave investors with initial paper losses
  • The large opportunity cost of tying up money that may take months to pay off. Further, contrarian investing is typically high-volatility and high-risk overall

Contrarian investors summed up

  • Contrarians allocate their capital to assets by going against the prevailing winds of market sentiment
  • When the stock market or a specific share starts to sell off, a contrarian investor will start buying; when there's a flurry of buying, a contrarian will sell
  • Warren Buffett, perhaps the most famous contrarian investor, believes investors should 'be fearful when others are greedy, and greedy when others are fearful'
  • Contrarians profit from opportunities where the herd mentality in the market is wrong
  • The strategy requires independent thinking and ample time to research individual stocks or market sectors

Introduction

As an expert and enthusiast, I have access to a vast amount of information on various topics, including contrarian investing. Contrarian investors are a unique breed who choose to allocate their capital by going against the prevailing market sentiment. They look for opportunities that are out of favor and conduct thorough research to determine if there's a prospect for profit. Contrarian investing is often associated with value investing, as both strategies involve seeking out overlooked and mispriced opportunities. Some well-known contrarian investors include Warren Buffett, Carl Icahn, Bill Ackman, David Einhorn, Howard Marks, and Seth Klarman [[1]].

What is Contrarian Investing?

Contrarian investing involves going against the herd mentality in financial markets. While most investors follow the consensus view and predict that the market will increase in value over time, contrarian investors look for opportunities that are out of favor. They conduct thorough research to determine if there's a prospect for profit and build a case that the market is acting irrationally and is simply wrong. Contrarians often follow the advice of Warren Buffett, who famously said, "be fearful when others are greedy, and greedy when others are fearful" [[1]].

Contrarian investors typically focus on undervalued assets and aim to buy low and eventually sell high. They use various techniques, including analyzing revenue and profit margins, competitors, wider fundamentals, and technical analysis indicators, such as MACD, to identify market trends. Contrarian investing requires patience and the ability to withstand paper losses while waiting for the market to turn in their favor. It is often best suited to a recessionary environment [[1]].

Contrarian Investing vs Other Strategies

Contrarian investing is a form of active investing, as contrarian investors actively seek to outperform the market rather than passively seeking to match market performance. It is closely aligned with value investing, as both strategies involve seeking out overlooked and mispriced opportunities. However, the key difference is that contrarian investing focuses on market sentiment, while value investing prioritizes market fundamentals. Contrarian investors often have a longer timeframe in mind and focus more on undervalued opportunities than overvalued ones [[1]].

Examples of Contrarian Investors

There are several well-known contrarian investors who have gained fame and fortune by identifying undervalued opportunities rejected by the market. Some notable examples include:

  1. Warren Buffett: Known for going against the prevailing market winds and investing in undervalued companies with strong underappreciated fundamentals.
  2. Carl Icahn: A billionaire investor known for activist investing, often building up larger stakes in undervalued companies over time and pushing for positive changes.
  3. Bill Ackman: Founder of Pershing Square Capital Management, a contrarian-focused hedge fund known for activist investing.
  4. David Einhorn: Founder of Greenlight Capital, another contrarian-focused hedge fund known for identifying undervalued stocks and making successful conviction investments.
  5. Howard Marks: Co-founder of Oaktree Capital Management, a hedge fund known for taking positions in troubled companies that others are afraid to approach.
  6. Seth Klarman: Head of Baupost Group, a hedge fund known for combining contrarian investing strategies with value investing for optimal results [[2]].

Pros and Cons of Contrarian Investing

Like any investment strategy, contrarian investing has its advantages and drawbacks to consider:

Pros:

  • The chance to profit from opportunities where the herd mentality in the market is wrong and outperform other investors.
  • By buying when other investors are selling, contrarian investments can pay off handsomely once prices start to recover.
  • Contrarian positions can help diversify portfolios and reduce risk.
  • Contrarian investors usually focus on undervalued shares and profit from market corrections.
  • Contrarian investing can be particularly effective in a recessionary environment [[1]].

Cons:

  • Contrarian investing requires independent thinking and a significant time commitment to research individual stocks or market sectors, making it challenging for non-professionals to participate.
  • It requires mental fortitude to maintain an out-of-consensus viewpoint and wait for months to see results.
  • Contrarian investing often involves initial paper losses and tying up money for extended periods.
  • It is typically high-volatility and high-risk overall [[1]].

How to Invest with the Contrarian Investing Strategy

To invest with the contrarian investing strategy, you can follow these steps:

  1. Thoroughly research the consensus view about the wider market or a specific asset.
  2. Look for anomalies or poor assumptions in the investment case and develop a counterargument that supports your contrarian view.
  3. Identify undervalued assets and consider buying low with the expectation of selling high in the long term.
  4. Use various techniques, such as analyzing revenue and profit margins, competitors, wider fundamentals, and technical analysis indicators, to identify market trends.
  5. Time your entry points to maximize returns, but be prepared to wait out market dips until your thesis is proven correct.
  6. Monitor your positions and adjust your strategy as needed.

It's important to remember that past performance is not a guaranteed indicator of future returns. If you're new to investing, consider opening a demo account to build your confidence before investing real money [[1]].

I hope this information helps you understand the concept of contrarian investing and its key principles. If you have any further questions, feel free to ask!

What is a contrarian investor and how do you become one? (2024)

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